Hasselblad 500C – First Impressions

I’ve always felt attracted to medium format photography and the square format, and unfortunately didn’t get enough of that in the last two years of A Level Photography.

Last week, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to take photos with a Hasselblad 500C Camera.  On it I had a 12a film back and a Carl Zeiss 80mm f/2.8 C Planar.


Some history and background: the Swedish Hasselblad 500C was introduced by the Victor Hasselblad AB, and was in production from 1957 to 1970.  It replaced the original focal plane shutter models 1600F and 1000F.  The model name 500C refects the fastest shutter speed and the shutter type: 1/500th of a second and Compur shutter.  It is known for its robustness as well as its mechanical accuracy,  and its reputation among professional photographers was reinforced when it was chosen by NASA to use in space (with moderation).

The Hasselblad 500C is like Lego bricks. Everything is interchangeable: the lens, the viewfinder, the winding knob, even the film back. You can load and bring film backs with different films, and change to the one you find suitable for the shot.

The waist level viewfinder was very strange at first.  Everything I saw from the viewfinder was left-right reversed, and it took me the first 3 or 4 shots to get used to it.  Took me quite a long time to compose my first few shots, I was tilting and shifting left and right and unable to find a balance!  I found the waist level finder an excellent composition tool, and I absolutely love it.  However, if you find the left-right reversal troublesome, you can always swap the waist level for a prism viewfinder, solves everything!

One thing to note is that it is harder to compose and focus in dark conditions, as the viewfinder is significantly less bright indoors and at night.

(I didn’t see that the railing was inside my shot when composing!)

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Sunset at Wanchai Promenade (1s f/5.6)

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The shutter clack was legendary.  It was so loud compared to my DSLR, it made my heart pound every single time a press the shutter release.  It is also worth noting that the fastest shutter speed is 1/500s.

I find the 500C quite heavy, but I don’t see that as a complete drawback.  The camera is robust and heavy, therefore is less likely to be affected by camera shake.  On a sturdy tripod and without a remote shutter release, my 30-second exposure of the Sai Wan Swimming Shed wasn’t affected by my shaky hands locking the mirror up and down.

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The 500C does not come with a built-in light meter.  I used the manual settings on my DSLR for every photo to ensure the correct exposure.  Not having a light meter in the camera is actually not a big problem as there are so many phone applications that can act as an external light meter.

The lens allows great flexibility and technical possibility when composing the shots.  Apertures, ranging from f/2.8 to f/22, create great bokehs and depths of field.  The Carl Zeiss lens delivers images that are very sharp and high in contrast.

The fact that you can switch film backs also mean that you can do multiple exposures on one single frame easily. Remove the film back before turning the winding knob, and return the film back after making a full turn. Just remember to insert the darkslide before you take the film back off!

Here’s a double exposure I tried, not exactly what I had pictured but still a successful double exposure.  I love the vibrant colour of the curtains.

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