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501cm a street photography camera


New Member
Hey All,

I have owned a 501cm for a little under a year now and have used it primarily for controlled shots. By this I mean either in the studio or for photos in which I control all the variables. This summer and next semester (I am a student!) I am traveling to Italy and I was wondering what your thoughts were on this 501 as a street camera. The pros obviously being the 6x6 negative and amazing optical abilities, but in comparison to say a Mamiya 7II, it seems much less appropriate for the street.

Hi Erik, I too have the 501CM and have used it in the street. Your question is a very valid one and I think there are 2 parts to consider, but the overall answer is why not

1. how comfortable you are in using this camera "by touch" - ability to quickly zone focus; take a short glance into the WLF and snap; and how comfortably you personally can work while on the move with the image reversed in the WLF. A WLF is a great help to being discrete in the street; nothing is "aimed" at anyone.

Here it's just a personal thing - my personal best street shooter is my Leica M7; I'm aided by the AE exposure; the rangefinder for quick grab framing; 35mm lens ease of zone focusing.

But, I do use my 501CM in the street but rarely since I also have a 503CW and for MF street I use that since I'm aided by the CW winder - ease of handling and auto wind on; plus I add my PM 45 since I'm a goof trying to frame a reversed image in the street with a WLF.

Guessing exposures is quite easy and good practice when using print film.

2. the gear itself and one's desire to be less obvious - the 501CM is actually quite compact say with a 60mm or 80mm lens fitted. But if you add a PM45 or like, then you are aiming a big unit at subjects and then you are not so discrete.

This is where a Mamiya 7II would be preferred in most hands in the street - benefits of size and bulk and rangefinder viewing (see around the area of lens AOV so can predict movements etc).

But, IMHO a 501CM is more discrete than a 35mm SLR aimed from the eye at the scene. It also is harder to zone focus and see outside the lens AOV with a 135 format SLR (MF SLR with WLF allows a glance).

BUT, a key aspect of street shooting is DOF and ease of sharp zone focus - many would say a MF camera is not a good choice (I just like doing it myself reagrdless and I learn a lot about handling the equipment that way). But,

Remeber an 80mm MF lens may have a similar AOV to a 50mm lens in 135 format but its DOF is that of an 80mm lens - a bit too limited in the street sometimes. It's one reason I am adding a 60mm to my Hassy kit.

Finally, there is no reason why your 501CM cannot be a very good street camera - it's up to you to master it and up to you to decide how much you actually like using it that way - horses for courses and no "rules"

I even use old 6x6 folder cameras such as Zeiss Ikontas and Voigtlander Perkeos in the street with B&W film - sensational and so much fun.

There are no rules. Try it out in your own neighbourhood first. Enjoy
> There is another concern, depending on "where you are" . Will an > expensive, professional looking camera make you look like a target > for pickpockets, muggers, etc? In broad daylight on a busy main > street is one thing, side streets at night might be something > else. Professional crooks can quote you the price of specific > camera gear, electronics, radios, mp3 players, etc to within a > dollar, so they will know what you have. When in doubt, I leave the > Hassy at home and take a 45 yrs old Spotmatic with a Takumar SMC > 50/1.4 lens. Even if it gets stolen, I can get another for $60 off > Ebay, plus it still takes good pictures!!!
Erik, Robert makes a good point although I loathe considering such factors when out and about because I insist on using the gear I paid good money for.

However, taking his advice is sensible in certain locations.

A good tip is to apply copious amounts of gaffer or similar tape to the body; not to just cover the brand, but to make the camera look tatty overall.

Then you will need a bottle of eucalyptus oil to rub on the gum the tape leaves behind when you remove it. That oil works a treat and I've used it myself to good effect.

I use mine and like the WLF for most situations it works fine, the camera is lighter and tends to hang better without the PM 45 finder, however I do use too.

The thief issue is something you have to be aware of, but can easily overcome, by not looking like you are vulnerable. Use a neck strap instead of letting it dangle over your shoulder, perhaps a coat and pay attention to where you are and looking people in the eye are a few things you can do. If you are in a parking lot and put your gear in your trunk be sure you move your car to another location.

Living in southern California I made up my mind to wear or use what I own when I want to, though not carelessly, and I always have done so.

So enjoy it! After all your home could be burglarized while you are out with a throw away point an shoot.


Ditto Gilbert's comments - having good insurance for valuables inside and outside the home provides great peace of mind.

Funnily enough, when you become quite proficient at street shooting - having one eye on your subject and another eye taking in what is going on around you - you become quite clever at noticing suspicious behaviour too - develop eyes in the back of your head
I had been using my Hasselblad for about 18 months before it was stolen from my home. I mostly took photos of children. My experience outdoors was that for fast action it can take a bit more time getting the planets into alignment than say a 35mm camera. The Hasselblad is not as fast as a 35mm camera and it can be quite heavy lugging around all of the lenses you require.

Having said that, I think it is worth the effort because the negatives are exponentially superior and I can say that I have become a better photographer due to the effort that is put into this.
... and Daron, that is the real point - "become a better photographer..". It is akin to exercise - camera exercise, we are all the better for it.

I found it an experience of discovery; training to more nimbly handle an MF SLR; training the brain to think of all the elements in total manual exposure and control while under time pressure.

Of course, street images rarely benefit all that much from a bigger neg - just look at Cartier-Bresson's work

But I have become so much better with my 6x6 kit as a result.

I was even tempted ..... wait for it.... to take my Linhof Technika V (4x5) out for street shooting since it has a cam coupled rangefinder and the anatomical left hand grip - gee the weight of that!

But I do find that setting oneself tasks like going out with a 180mm lens on the 'blad to street shoot trains the eye and mind so much. And the bonus is that you learn so much about that lens.
...oops. I owe Doron an apology - I mistakenly called you (typed) Daron. My sincere apologies for the mistake Doron.
Like anything, practice makes perfect.

If you rarely use the camera, it is slow. If you use it a lot, you learn lots of tricks to speed up the process of shooting. After awhile you become one with the camera.

Here are a few things I've learned while shooting "on demand" candid style weddings that are better suited to an AF wondercam ... but I do just fine with a 503CW.

Anticipation. A keen eye for what is about to happen is better than a knee-jerk reaction as it happens. AKA, "The Decisive Moment" almost always telegraphs its' intention. Ala HCB: See the man walking. See the puddle in front of him ... See the French Policeman walking. See the gaping mouth structure ... and so on ... : -)

Focusing. Get into the habit of returning the focus ring to infinity after a Decisive Moment shot. It will train your reflexes to always turn the ring in the same direction rather than "hunting".
Plus, most shots are closer to the infinity mark than you might imagine. That means you need turn the ring only a small amount to achieve focus.

Learn Hyper-Focal Distance focussing. This is the number one street shooters technique when using manual focussing.

Learn to pre-focus, and to trust it once done. If you anticipate a shot coming, pre-focus, then you can concentrate on shooting at the correct nano-second with the precise composition you want.

Thanks everyone with the responses. Honestly it is a lot of help. Do not get me wrong, I would much rather bring my Hassy into the streets of Italy instead of my old Nikon F series, but the theft issue is a pretty big of a deal from what I hear. I do agree with the gaffing tape over the camera. I know that my Dad did that when he traveled to Indonesia with his Nikon N90.. only AFTER the first one was stolen
. Thanks so much for all the help.
> I can relate to that. I still have my father's Speed Graphic (4x5). > I bring it out every one and awhile. It still works flawlessly, but > talk about HEEAAAVVVYYYYY!!
>I think this is right, unless you have adequate insurance cover - it is the same sort of good advice as the one about only carrying a photocopy of your passport in the street and travelling with a second, cheap, wallet with only a bit of local currency and some out-of-date/bogus/otherwise-useless credit and store cards in it, to be handed over if robbed.
When shooting in the street with Hassy, I take two accessories with me: (1) monopod and (2) a friend to watch my back... preferably my burly brother, the cop.
I take my Giant Schnauzer with me. Plunk him next to the camera bag and . . . no problems.

I envy you guys who are quick using a Hasselblad in the street. The older I get, I don't trust my eyes for focusing as I used to. Though I use manual focus on my AF cameras for the most part, in street shots I find I rely on AF.
Robert those speed graphics are something. I borrowed one from a friend who, in his early days as a pro, worked for a newspaper - they let him keep it. Just love that focal plane shutter clockwork mechanism

I've often thought if I see one in full working order I might grab it - just for the sake of enjoyment. The top mounted wire "cage" is a hoot

Maybe some of thes big oldies are so obvious in the street they become not so obvious to those around you - if you get what I mean.

Erik, I think that even in "civilised" cities where street theft is a common risk, how you appear is an important deterrent. If you look vague, green and wet behind the ears, or careless - you're a real target.

Street thieves look for quick and easy prey. If you look organised and alert with gear well tied to you, bag well done up and carried in front rather than behind etc etc, you're at far less risk.

I travel a lot in Asia especially hugely populated busy cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh City etc..

2 key tips: look and act like you demand personal space and be confronting to those who "crawl all over you" or try to engage you in conversation like street vendors do. Talk with a deep and commanding voice - use single tough words like NO! and use strong hand jestures. It's like dealing with flies in the hot sun. Of course you can still smile and otherwise conduct yourself in a friendly manner.

In Bangkok I found myself in a crush with a western woman actually rubbing herself against me (of concern no matter how luck I may have thought I was getting
). I gently pushed her aside and demanded my personal space - she asked if I was accusing her of pick pocketing - I just dismissed her - who knows but my guard stays permanently in place. After a while you adjust and don't get stressed and do these things as second nature and get on with enjoying yourself.

So have no fear, use your gear, take some reasonable precautions, but just do some personal training before you dump yourself in a strange busy city carrying your beloved gear - all regardless if you are in Rome, Bangkok or Sydney.

Criminals are not unique to any culture nor country/city, they are just humans who happen to be criminals.

Enjoy and don't become a prisoner or victim in your own mind
> Been there. In the last couple of months, I have been having eye > problems that sometimes "blur" parts of my right eye temporarily > ( they are called "floaters" and the increase in most people as you > get older). Naturally, the right eye is dominant and previously had > the best "vision" . I am looking seriously for an eyepiece > magnifier for the 501cm/553ELX, and have been using the H1 more and > more just because of the AF.
Last week while in San Pedro in an attempt to photograph the QM 2, although there were many police officers, I was careful when I opened my trunk, because the police were acting just like spectators and were more interested in dignitaries.

Now, I was the only that I saw with a Hasselblad there, but also I am the only one I have noticed with one at the Beverly Hills car show.

Is that the norm elsewhere? I would think so, but I am interested if it is different elsewhere.


Yes, Gilbert, I think I have never seen another with an MF camera of any type when I've been "out and about".

.... ah yes, once when visiting the city of Newcastle - I had my M7 kit and a bloke I met up with had his 501CM kit. The only one I have ever encountered. He impressed me greatly

A couple of years ago , BRONICA brought the RF645 rangefinder camera on the market . I have that camera , with the available 3 lenses and find it very very handy and fast . And its weight ! ! , ideal for MF street photography