When I was about 18 I was getting into photography and I had a huge poster of Ansel Adam’s ‘Moon and Half Dome’ on my wall. I devoured everything I could about Adams which led me on to Edward Weston his friend and neighbour in Carmel – both remain great inspirations today.
I really had no idea about cameras beyond 35mm SLRs at that point but I did read that Adams had used a Hasselblad 500C camera to take that image. As many of you know when you are young (or maybe not so young) you can mistakenly equate the quality of the camera with the output, forgetting there is a human in – between. I had no idea Hasselblad was made in Sweden and whilst I continued to pursue photography for the next 30 years I followed the digital route like many people only returning to film last year – I wrote a previous blog on this for 35mmc here
At the end of that article I noted I was heading to my 50th birthday and the Hasselblad was in my mind. I had planned to go to Iceland with some friends in the spring for a week long photography trip but COVID-19 stopped that from happening. I had some cash, some time at home and the internet…
I found a nice 500C at Commercial Cameras. The owner Paul was really helpful and much to my delight I worked out from the serial number that it was made in 1970 – it was the same age as me ! It was the 500CM spec – the silver 80mm lens – all the things I was looking for.
So I bought it – it was a fair price but as many of you will know they ain’t cheap and I had never used or even handled one so I was a little nervy – this was a fifty year old camera after all.
The camera arrived – in great condition but lockdown was still in force so initial trials were confined to the garden. From the fist time I took it out the packaging and pressed that shutter I was completely hooked. It was tiny compared to the RB67 of course but the design, the engineering and the style was just wonderful. It felt like something that had developed over time as it had obviously and it made sense to operate like good design does. I have various digital cameras and their endless menus and settings really do annoy me I have realised – you can feel more like a computer programmer than a photographer sometimes – the Hasselblad was the antidote to that.
The sound of the mirror slap is addictive and my camera has the better focusing screen – the world looks fabulous through it. I constantly forget to take the dark slide out of course and it takes practice to get the focus right – but when you do its great. Put it on a tripod, put the mirror up and fire the shutter in the lens it makes no sound at all. I still struggle with the waist level finder but I am persevering because It makes sense for the camera and the prism viewfinder on the 500C looks like a beautiful girl wearing a very ugly hat…..
I have used HP5 Plus and some Portra regularly to get some consistency and now starting to experiment – Pan F plus seems to work nicely.
I have a wonderful Nikon F2 and growing collection of non AI lenses – I still love the F2 but the Hasselblad is compact enough that I find myself taking that instead. I have been looking at a 50mm lens to get a bit wider for landscapes but that will require selling some other gear to fund it.
Cheap and Hasselblad are not words that go together. £50 for a metal lens hood for the 80mm seemed a bit steep and the plastic version made now seemed a bit yuck. A really kind chap in Germany sold me one at a much more reasonable price through a Hasselblad Facebook Group. I am now looking for a red and yellow filter to get those dark Adams skies I like so much – I know I can do it in photoshop but thats missing the point maybe ?
I cant find a long enough strap to hang the camera on my hip as I like that is not a custom made job at eye-watering prices so I made one this week – quite pleased with the results.
So thank you Ansel for thirty years of inspiration and putting the Hasselblad in my hands. I have been fortunate to visit Yosemite a few times and photograph Half Dome – now I need to go with the Hasselblad and do it right…