5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Hasselblad 500C and Kodak Portra 160 – By Christian Schroeder

It follows a pattern, every time: I am convinced that I have tried enough, that I have found the photographic technique I like the most. Then there comes another photographer who showcases great work done with [please fill in: a camera / lens / film type / film format / aspect ratio]. At first, I am just curious. Sentences like “Really nice, but that’s nothing for me.“ will cross my head. Then, doubts start to creep in: “Why not? What if I miss great fun?” This process culminates in panicking: “I am sure, they will stop producing film X any moment.” Or: “Camera Y has seen an enormous price increase during the last months. If I don’t buy one now, it will become unaffordable!” At this point, I typically place an order.

In this particular case, my inspiration originated from Jan Staller’s Frontier New York. His colorful 6×6 photographs of a dirty and dark 1980’s New York hit me hard. I felt spurred on to try the square format myself. A year ago, I had dealt with panoramic compositions – I enjoyed working with the width, and thinking about how to fill the frame. The square seemed to be the exact opposite. How can I compress a scenery to fit into the square?

From a Zenza to a Hasselblad Medium Format Camera

Initially, I bought a Zenza Bronica EC for my 6×6 adventure. The Zenza impressed me with its sophisticated detail solutions, an ingenious marvel. HOWEVER: It had serious focusing problems, I encountered a pronounced front focus. I suspected a mirror misalignment and/or deteriorated foam under the ground glass (a common issue with Zenzas). My attempts of a do-it-yourself repair failed, as the repair of professional camera service failed – twice! The wasted film frustrated me, the spoiled photographs even more. Enter Hasselblad. Confronted with this situation, I stumbled across a 500C in fine condition, offered by a dealer with a good reputation. Order placed.

Teething Problems

Love, peace, and harmony with the Hasselblad? Definitely not in the first place: Although I generally mounted the camera on a tripod and used the mirror pre-release function, every photograph suffered from camera shake! Damn. As it turned out, the cable release was the culprit. The cable’s relatively stiff jacket transferred a light nudge onto the camera body each time I pressed the button. This resulted in further 24 – more or less – spoiled frames. Now I use a cheap and far more flimsy cable release I found in my dad’s boxes and got rid of the camera shake.

Still Work in Progress…

Unfortunately, after more than ten exposed rolls I’m still struggling with the focus, especially when shooting wide open. I got suspicious after a fair amount of my images had suffered from a minor back focus. The effect seemed to be just a tad too consistent to be random. On the other hand, I also obtained complete rolls without any issues.

I eventually contacted the dealer: He suspected increased humidity and temperature could cause the film to slightly bend itself (in the range of hundredths of a millimeter). The uneven film plane would result in a shifted focus plane. The Hasselblad medium format cameras should be further prone to this behavior due to their film magazines: They redirect the film strip two times what would literally torture the material. I’m not quite sure whether his explanation is accurate – and how to deal with this effect as it would be difficult to foresee. Maybe one of you can help?

Lucky me: The factory gate of this cable maker stood open, allowing me to snap this picture (I was standing just outside the private property.)

Wooden waste taken with a Hasselblad medium format camera on 6x6 negative.

You know it: Nothing can STOP me!

Covered straw bales taken with a Hasselblad medium format camera on 6x6 negative.

I took this one during dusk (approx. 20 mins at f/8). Under these light conditions, focusing turned out difficult: Although there are fairly contrasty structures in the tarpaulin, I rather relied on scale focusing.

Rural scene taken with a Hasselblad medium format camera on 6x6 negative.

Old warehouse taken with a Hasselblad medium format camera on 6x6 negative.

One of the three remaining old warehouses at the Nordhafen inland harbor (2 mins at f/11).

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21 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Julian
    August 1, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Beautiful photographs Christian, you’ve channeled Jan Staller’s aesthetic really well. I’ve shot extensively with a Hasselblad 503CW and the 60mm, 80mm and 120mm lenses, mainly for portraits. It’s definitely tricky to focus on the ground glass at f/2.8, but I find it much easier with a 45 degree prism. You can pick up a non-metered prism pretty cheaply, give it a try. I’m not convinced by the film flatness issue – Hasselblad were the workhorse cameras of commercial photography for 30 years and that would never have been the case if film flatness impacted the image quality.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 1, 2019 at 10:38 am

      Thank you very much, Julian! I will check out the prism approach, although I love using the waste level finder. – I don’t really believe in the flatness issue either. If that effect was a common problem, why does nobody seem to talk about it? Maybe I’m sensing a conspiracy theory here… 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Terry B
    August 1, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Christian, thank you for this interesting post and your “industrial decay” series of images.

    I’ve never owned a Hassy or Bronica EC and so I was very interested in the focusing issues you had with both. My 6×6 shooting was with Yashicamat, Rollei 3.5f and Mamiya C330F/S cameras. No moving reflex mirror, but still the slight possibility of mirror misalignment and/or the lenses not being exactly matched. Needless to say, though, I never had focusing errors as you describe here.

    Curious about your problems with both cameras, I googled them and found that they were both prone to focus errors as they aged. A link here is relevant now to your Hassy. https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/hasselblad-500-c-m-focus-issue.5509048/

    I must say that I’ve never come across any report of the focus error being due to the reason stated by the dealer. I was an avid reader of photographic magazines over many decades and feel sure if this was a problem someone would have highlighted it, especially as the Hassy was a favourite of professional photographers. With such a large mirror, wear and tare on the linkages seems feasible.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 1, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Terry, thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it!
      Meanwhile, I established a provisory workaround: By focusing back and forth, I determine the point with the highest perceived sharpness. Then I slightly turn back the focusing ring so that the image in the viewfinder still remains fairly sharp. This seems to work well – however, it’s not a procedure I prefer with such a precision instrument.

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Terry b
        August 2, 2019 at 1:10 pm

        Hi, Christian.
        This morning I came across a comment about the very early Yashica Pentamatic, c.1959/60, courtesy of Paul Sokk’s Yashica TLR website. This is a 35mm slr, but interestingly at the time the technical team at “Asahi Camera” used to dismantle cameras to assess them. In June 1960 they indicated “that the mirror position slightly deviates before and after cocking” so that it was necessary to focus after cocking the shutter (advancing the film).” I should think you could test this without a film by focusing before winding on and then checking if there is any focus shift after winding on. If you wish to be doubly certain, then you could run a test film focusing before and then winding on to take the picture, then focus after winding on, then shoot.. Testing a film this way will be more meaningful as it introduces the lens to film optical path.
        Keeping fingers crossed, you may find one position always works, hopefully.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Daniel Fjäll
    August 1, 2019 at 11:09 am

    I just got a Hasselblad 500c yesterday and the ground glass is very dim and has no split image. Its doable but I find myself still focusing back and forth to make sure I’m on the right spot. There are ways to replace the ground glass on the 500c, I for one will look into that.

    I always keep a thumb on the advance knob when advancing the film to ensure the film is tight through the roll on most of my medium format cameras.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 1, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Daniel, thank for your comment! Hope you will enjoy your 500C – with or without a different type of ground glass.

      I’m going to try out your “rule of thumb”!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Lee J
    August 1, 2019 at 11:26 am

    The Hasselblads are awful to focus wide open, although if you’re using it on a tripod and (going by your images here) focusing at mid to far distances then you shouldn’t be seeing a problem. I would normally advice getting a split prism focus screen, but you can’t change the screen in the 500C model so you’re out of luck there. A 45 degree prism might help.

    I don’t buy the film flatness issue either. You’re only going to see this problem if you’re shooting macro shots wide open, not on far field work like this. The problem may well be the mirror or focus screen being slightly out of alignment, given the age of the camera, so the camera needs a CLA.

    I wrote about focus issues with Hasselblads a bit in a recent blog post – Google “Ten years with a hasselblad” to find it.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 1, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Hi Lee, you’re right, the camera screams for a CLA. The dealer sold it as recently cleaned and checked – I’m not sure he did it correctly.

      I just googled your article. Did PetaPixel repost it? The guy on street in Ginza looks so familiar to me… I think I already came across your report – but this had happened before my own Hasselblad experience started. So, I’m going to carefully read it again – thank you for your help!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Scott Edwards
    August 1, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Glorious! Thank you for sharing.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 2, 2019 at 7:50 am

      Thanks Scott!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Seth
        August 3, 2019 at 10:48 pm

        I absolutely love the warehouse picture. Thank you for sharing. Did you use a level to get your verticals to avoid convergence or just eyeball it? Does your focusing hood have the flip-up loupe in it? I can’t focus without mine.

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Christian Schroeder
          August 4, 2019 at 8:34 am

          Hi Seth, thank you very much! I took several images of the warehouse that evening. During dawn, the wind calmed down and the reflection became more and more defined. The one I showed is the last one of this mini series.

          I use the small spirit level made by Hasselblad; it’s mounted to the accessory rail. And yes, my camera also has the flip-up loupe – and I use it all the time, too.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Ilya Inov
    August 2, 2019 at 4:05 am

    Beautiful photos, and I agree with the post above that your work continues in the spirit of Jan Staller’s work. I like the night photos, it’s the kind of photography I really enjoy doing myself. The quiet meditative emptiness of the warm nights in the city where I have the entire place to myself and can take my time to discover interesting angles without any rush. We should make time for that sort of thing in our busy lives.
    Thank you for sharing!

    For focusing in the dark in general, with any camera, I find it helpful sometimes to point a flashlight at a place I want to focus on, just while I focus, and then turn off the flashlight and take the photo.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 2, 2019 at 8:03 am

      Couldn’t agree more with your words, the night offers this special magic. What has been standing on my bucket list for ages is a portrait of the busy places at sunrise during summer. Between 5 and 6 am especially on Sundays, you won’t see any people. Facets of a strangely abandoned city form in my head…

  • Avatar
    Reply
    AJ
    August 2, 2019 at 4:51 am

    Christian: Try this method below for focusing…it works for me in sunlight

    https://octoroonc1.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/19th-century-photograph.jpg

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 2, 2019 at 7:53 am

      A large piece of cloth and a fashionable top hat – I definitely will consider that! 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Bent_Brent
    August 2, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Great shots! A few years ago, while shopping for my first medium format, I tried to convince myself that I was being clever buying a Bronica ETRS and that it was every bit as good as a Hasselblad. Boy, was I wrong. The Hussy has a look all of its own, and it’s beautiful. Love that first shot the most, I’d put that on my wall.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 2, 2019 at 9:26 am

      Hi Brent, thanks! I’m still not convinced which camera suits me better (the malfunctions put aside). The Hassy is indeed beautiful, also comparatively small and light. The Bronica appears a little more forgiving to hard use – and it provides a storage pocket for the dark slide (very convenient!).

      If you like, I’m happy to email you a high-resolution scan of the first shot.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Peter Lukáč
    August 3, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    Cool picture! Especially the last one.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      August 4, 2019 at 8:26 am

      Thanks Peter!

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