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Got Hasselbladand questions on how to actually use it


New Member
I am new to this forum and to medium format in general and would very much appreciate some expert advice. I am a photography student and had been shooting mostly DSLRs before I decided it was time to slow down, learn medium format and produce better quality images and overtime, hopefully, take my skills to the next level. Very exciting so far.

I now own a Hasselblad CM501 and an 80mm Zeiss lens and I am still hunting for a A12 back. I am most interested in portraiture, both in and outside of studio settings. I also plan to use my Hasselblad during my travels to various parts of Europe this summer for people, travel and street and landscape photography.

My questions relate to how to best take advantage of my new system without having to waste too much time (and film and money) in the process.

1.) How important is it to use Polaroids and how can I avoid using them? In a slow studio settting they are easy to use, but for less formal outside shots, I doubt they are. They are also expensive and as I understand not easy to find?

2.) Relating to the question above, yes I have a light/flash meter and know how to use it. But for situations when there is just not enough time to use a light meter, are there any good tricks for esimtating exposure values?

3.)If I am using my 80mm lens, what is the slowest shutter speed I can use with a handheld camera to still end up with sharp images? Are the rules similar to what I am used to in 35mm format? I have not had enough time to play with my 501 yet, but it seems like the shutter is fairly noisy and there is quite a lot camera shake as a result of the mirror movement.

4.) I recall having heard of a back that can be used to change the camera's inherent 6 x 6 format into a panoramic? Is this true? If so, what back should I be looking at?

5.) Finally, I have spent some time researching Hasselblads and Mamiyas before I purchased my CM 501, but I am still agonizing over the question as to which system would be better for me. I ended up with the Hasselblad primarily because of its weight advantage (I am a young woman and already has seen the chiropractor a few times). I realize that the best thing to do is to just get both systems and see for myself, trouble is that that is time consuming and expensive. So if any of you have interesting thoughts and/or experience about Hasselblad 5 series vs. Mamiya RZ67 and the 6 x 6 versus 6X7 format, I would very much appreciate that as well.

Thank you all in advance.

Welcome, Judit! I'm a relative newcomer to 'blads, too, but after using all types of cameras for about 45 years, I've picked up a few little tips and tricks here and there, so I'll give some of your questions a try...

1. Polaroids are valuable for checking exposure and composition, but no more so than with other formats. Since I do alot of architectural photography, I use Polaroids a good bit, but I don't think I would if I were doing portraiture...folks don't want to wait around for alot of test exposures. Fuji makes good instant film that fits in the Polaroid 100 backs for the Hasselblads.

2. The same rules apply as for any other camera...if you are a good judge of light values with other cameras, you will be with your new Hasselblad, too. I'm not very good at guessing exposure values and, since I shoot alot of transparancy film that doesn't have the exposure latitude of negative films I usually rely on a meter.

3. Your slowest hand-holdable shutter speed will depend greatly on you, but will probably be a little faster than you can use on 35mm or with a TLR. I can hand hold 1/2 second and, if I'm in particularly good form that day, sometimes longer with a 35mm or a 6x6 TLR, but the 'blad mirror shakes more when you shoot and its more arkward in its configuration for hand holding; while I haven't tried to see how long I can hand hold it, I'm sure I'll have to use a faster shutter speed than with the 35mm or with a 6x6 TLR. I also have benefited thru the years from being a competitive pistol shooter and have learned to tense muscles in such a way to steady my stance and hold, probably more than the average person.

4. The Hasselblad is going to have a 2 1/4" square image area regardless of the back; you can get a 4.5 x 6cm back or you can crop down to a panoramic crop, but you can't make it take an image more than 2 1/4" wide.

5. I have used 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9 for years on TLR's and view cameras, and I'm still not sure which is best or if any one is. They're all fun to shoot, and I've never felt disadvantaged with any of the three. I guess that 6x7 might be marginally better than a cropped 6x6 for a 30" x 40" print, but only a little if the same film is used for each format and each is well exposed (but if I were planning to go that big or larger, I'd probably set up a 4x5 view camera anyway and use sheet film). I don't think the camera and lense quality of the Hasselblad system will be easy to beat. I think you'll be happy with your choice.
Hi Judith:
I'm new too to these forums. I've been pro for a while. I bought my first and only Hasselblad body in 1988. My relationship with this camera is been a love/hate situation. Just after 15 days with my brand new 50mm, the diaphragm got stuck. Diagnosis: Lack of lubrication. Maybe my copy was in shelves too long, who knows. 6 months later my camera got blocked with lens while i was trying to remove it to put on another one. Later, I found out that if you don't turn the crank (to advance film and cock the shutter) all the way till it stops, that's what happens. It had to go to the shop.

Back in 1991 I bought a used ELM body. A bargain, so I couldn't resist. focusing was way off. The problem was the reflex mirrior was not parking properly forom some reason as dry out linnings or something. It had to go to the shop. One day, I started getting fogged film. Diagnosis: The felt inside where you stick the blind needed replacement. It had to go to the shop. Later on, the same thing happenned to my other magazine. Same action too.

One day, my 150mm started missexposing. Diagnosis: something was wrong with the shutter. It had to go to the shop. On another ocassion, my 500Cm started missfocusing. The same thing as with the ELM. Guess what? It had to go to the shop.

Last year, just when I was finishing an assignment, the mechanical conection between the lens and the camera got broke. It had to go to the shop.

"Had to go to the shop" means packing, insuring and sending the gear to another city.

The V system is sometimes like having a expensive Rolls Royce that you have to put on a cargo plane to fly it across a continent for a tune up.

But this camera system is a joy to use. nothing compares to it. Rollei 6X6 comes close. But if you enjoy, setting things manually, this is the camera to own.

About your questions:
In order to learn how to use it economically, do your own b&w processing. Or if you can't do that, shoot slides very carefully and writ notes of everything.
Polaroids are expensive, get yourself a trustfull incident light meter and learn how to use it properly. Better yet, learn to use a dslr as a Polaroid proofer.

Use the "fig-rule" for exposures. That is: F16 Rule. Sunny days outdoors are always 1 ISO @ f16. Up'date: This rule should be the F11.5 rule. Try it.

For minimun shooting speeds, the rules applies if you translate your 6X6 glass to 35mm values. Your minimun speed for your normal 80mm is 1/50th of a second.

Actually the shutter is not that noisy. It is the slaps of the big reflex mirror and the rear auxiliary curtain that are noisy. For avoidind internal vibes, learn to always use mirror-up techniques.

The panoramic is a mask you put over the film plane. what it does is crop the area, but you are still using the whole 55mmX55mm area in each shot. You are better set croping later.

A 500 system is no feather weught, but comparing to a RB 6X7 system it is.



Welcome to the forum.

Polaroids can be very usefull.
The backs can be found at very reasonable prices as most other gear.
Look for a Pola 100 back and avoid the older and rare 80 backs.
Films are available from Polaroid and Fuji.

The slowest shutter speed you can use is a matter of body mass against camera mass and operating method like controlling your breath. In general 1/15 should be possible with good results.
It pays to check the d&ing of the mirror.
Take the lens of, trip the shutter while you look at the mirror.
If it stops without a shake it is allright.
Have a CLA when you have no idea of your cameras history.
David Odess in Mass. is a factory trained repairman who does a terrific job at reasonable cost.
He is a forum member.

Your camera accepts masks at the film side to alter the exposed area.
With a corresponding mask in the viewfinder it gives you a chance to
control format and composition when you do not make prints yourself.
A set of masks was about 45 USD when they were available new.
It has 6x3 and 6x4.5 masks.
Now they are obsolete but can be found second hand like anything Hasselblad at very reasonable prices.
When you use 6x4.5 a lot look for an A16 back not A16s and a mask for the viewer.
Evilbay and KEH in Atlanta are good sources for anything you need.

I chose Hasselblad 40 years ago and have used the system ever since.
It is not the body but the lens that counts.
That is a personal choice. I like Carl Zeiss lenses very much.

For portraits you may want a longer lens.
A 150 CF with or without an eight or ten mm ring is very usefull.
I am glad you chose Hasselblad. It is a great camera and with older
accessoires that are in good supply s/h the most versatile MF system.

Make a habit to transport the film/camera allways after an exposure.
Leave the camera in this position also when it is out of use.


I am sorry to hear you had some problems with Hasselblad gear.
These are all mechanical sytems that appreciate a good CLA every
couple of years or more often when they are used daily.
Anything bought s/h is best serviced before use.

Service in time will give you a very reliable camera to use every day.

Hi Judit, welcome : -)

1) Use Polaroid in critical lighting situations where bracketing exposures is not an option, or where a great deal of money and time is involved in doing a re-shoot ... such as a session with paid models and a client deadline. Polaroid are often used to check studio lighting ratios after using a flash meter to get it close. Transparency film is less forgiving than negatives in terms of exposure. Unlike digital capture that is sensitive to overexposure, neg. film has more latitude toward the overexposure side, and less toward underexposure. So your experiences with DSLRs has to be altered for negative film use.

2) I do a dump truck full of rolls when shooting wedding with my 503CW, and use a Hasselblad metered prism to check exposure settings using the EV lock on the Zeiss lenses. While I carry a meter with me to all shoots, I've found the metered prism to be so accurate that I haven't used the hand meter in years. There is a way to estimate exposure using the "Sunny 16 rule" but I've not used it for 3 decades since using a metered prism, ( like using a calculator, I've forgotten how to add : -) I'm sure some veteran here will explain it.

3) Hand holding is an area where folks love to exaggerate abilities like it was a contest or something : -) The fact is, it's unwise to use a Hasselblad at slower shutter speeds since it defeats the whole quality advantage of MF photography. I've found that one shutter speed above the lenses focal length is a place to start. 80mm = 1/125th. Like some others I have a real ability to hold steady, but that's only if you have time to do it right... which you often don't when shooting street work or event photography. I try to never go below the lens focal length or close to it unless I'm using flash. If you want to cheat the shutter speed for available light MF photography, get a TLR which doesn't have a mirror.

4) For panoramics just shoot the regular back and crop. It leaves you wiggle room. There is a 645 back, but it is not that practical since you cannot rotate it, or the camera to shoot in the portrait mode. However, you can buy or make maskes to place in the viewfinder to aid in panoramic composition when using a standard 6X6 film back. If you want to shoot exclusively panoramic shots on MF film, you bought the wrong camera.

5) I have and use two Hasselblad 503CWs and two 203FEs as well as a Mamiya RZ Pro II ... with a full array of lenses for all three systems. Portability of these systems has to be measured in both body size and weight as well as lens size and weight ... IF you intend to get the full measure of usefullness from a MF SLR, then that means multiple interchangaable lens use ... which is why the lenses have to be taken into account concerning portability. The Mamiya RZ system is larger and more cumbersome than the Hasselblad 500 system, and mine rarely leaves the studio. If you intend to never use other lenses than an 80mm, then once again (IMO) you got the wrong camera and a TLR with an 80mm taking lens would have been the better choice.
G'Day Judit:

Your presence on this forum is very welcome. :)

You have been given some great advice above.

I often send students out for the day with an old twin lens Rollei (TLR), some 400 ASA Ilford XP2 (which is BW with great latitude) and the Sunny 16 Rule in their head. Sunny 16 = Shutter Speed is 1/ASA @ f16. XP2=1/400 @ f16 for bright sunny conditions. The XP2 has so much lattitude (forgiveness) that you can make this 1/250 or 1/500 and get better shadow detail or not !! :) If you use the EV lock on your lens, you can keep a constant Exposure Value (wow, that's EV) but change Depth of Field, or speed, as desired. Constancy !

Have a look at this wonderful free download. It's fun, and instructive. A web based Exposure Wheel. CNET is a safe spyware-free site.

Good light! Your camera will appreciate lots of rolls of film.




PS ... I forgot to say that, if you don't know, Ilford XP2 is 'chromogenic', that is, it is processed like colour negative film, and gives you more options where to get local processing. (Fine grain, too. you may get to like it.)

Welcome Judit.

I won't repeat the great advice you have been given. But 3 points to consider:
1. Sunny 16 - it is a very good idea to practice this in a range of light situations. It is quite easy to get the hang of it and it is a great capability to have in case you face a situation where you have no meter available. Once I was doing indoor portraits for a man on a paid basis (I'm not a pro) and forgot my light meter! Some shots had fill flash too. I can say that I was very glad I was good at the Sunny 16 rule - every shot was 100% perfectly exposed - saved my skin!

2. XP2 is excellent to use in 120 film and a cheap way of having good B&W work processed. I also suggest you try to never let film costs get in the way of testing - test new gear or your technique. To skimp on film is similar to buying a car and leaving it in the garage for fear of spending money on petrol!

3. A suggestion re light meters. In addition to my wonderful Sekonic 558, I have one of those marvellous tiny Voigtlander (Cosina) light meter II. It is very reliable and in more complex situations you just need to factor in things like back-light. It is very small and fits to any hot or cold shoe. So I often keep mine in my pocket (half the size of a box of matches) or on an un-metered body's shoe. Consider getting one.

Good luck.

Steve Gandy's Camera quest web site has them for sale.
Hi Judith,

just to pick up on point 3.) so that there is no confusion, the slowest shutter speed recommended at 1/15 by Paul Kirchoff may cause a situation.

General rule is, the focal length of the lens identifies the slowest hand held shutter speed.

For ex&le, 250mm lens would be a shutter speed of 1/250th, so an 80mm lens would be a shutter speed of 1/80th which as Marc Williams mentioned would be the closest at 1/125th setting.

happy shooting!

Judits kit consists of an 80 mm lens, body and filmback.
For a 80 mm lens the 1/15 is perfectly possible with some training.

The reciproke rule you mention is meant for 35 mm.
It does not apply to MF.

As Marc said true quality needs short exposures and ultimately
a tripod.

Good light!
Judit, many have mentioned the "reciprocal" rule for hand held shooting. I think (but will stand corrected) this rule was initially for 35mm photography - use the reciprocal of the lens focal length as a guide to the minimum shutter speed for sharp shooting.

BUT, in MF photography, I tend to add one stop faster shutter speed because of the overall BULK of the camera and lens combo from 6x6 camera upwards. So when I shoot 80mm lens I shoot 1/125 second hand held. When I use the 250mm lens I shoot at 1/500 second.

And by the way as an ex&le the Hassy 50mm FLE is quite heavy and big and more so than the 60mm; so it does not make sense to me to shoot it at 1/60 sec expecting a pin sharp image. Others here may very well disagree.

Certainly unless I knew I have rock steady hands I'd avoid shooting at a speed just the equal of the reciprocal of the focal length.

Maybe I am over-cautious, but I have never yet been disappointed.
G'Day Judit:

What Simon said.

Note that he is referring to the mechanical means you are using to expose your film - a Hasselblad in normal mode (not mirror up) flaps and shakes and whirrs more than, say, a 35mm rangefinder. Hence the extra danger of shake (blur) being introduced to your image. The actual ability of the film to capture light (we are guided by ISO numbers) is constant when in the film's normal range of use (any common format).

The "reciprocal" rule, by the way, has nothing to do with "film reciprocity", about which, I trust you are aware.

Having said all that, a 500 with 80 (or 50) can be used as a fun street camera especially with the waist level finder (WLF) and some 400 XP2 shooting in good light at 1/500 f11 with the lens set to hyperfocal distance. The WLF means you can point the camera at right angles (etc.) to the way you are facing, for some candids. (See the hastily scanned, unspotted shot here).

Get cracking, and shoot lots of film !!!

Cheers, Colin
Give us a break! It can be applied to medium format, as taught 30years ago at School of Photography, it has not given any problems since, therefore it works. It is a rule of thumb, I do not give a monkeys if it does not work, try something else, it is not that important as to warrant a debate about it. 80mm lens at 1/125th ? this is what the lady was talking about. Unless she has severe shakes then it is not seen as a problem. All these parameters are there for experimentation and to find what works for the individual.

Agree I would not shoot 1/60th for a 50mm lens but so what? if I was pushed then I would, leaning against a wall or supported with a 'plaster cast' on my arm. grief!
I think you can shoot at any shutter speed you want, as long as you know the consequences.

The assumption is that when one uses a MF camera, there is an expectation of improved image quality over that of a smaller format. The first line of defense for image quality is a steady camera ... technically, I'd speculate that more poor MF images are due to camera movement than any other cause.

Of course, this precludes the use of slower shutter speeds for creative effects, and the use of the technique known as "dragging the shutter" when using flash.

Our MF quality expectation is often based on printing the images larger than one would when using 35mm film. However, IF a MF image is printed smaller, camera movement is less apparent. Which is why contact frames may look pin sharp, but rapidly reveal they are not when taken up to 30" X 30".

So, in some cases you can get away with a slower hand held shutter speed. I "cheat" sometimes when shooting weddings because I know the shot won't be reproduced larger than 7"X 7" in a wedding album. I cheat then because I may have reached the limits of making a proper exposure and am in danger of underexposing ... so it's "cheat the shutter speed" or miss the shot.

It amounts to on the fly creative decisions and knowing the end intent.

For ex&le, I often add "emotionally theatrical" effects to my wedding shots in post, which mitigates razor sharp issues to some degree. Like this shot done with a 100 mm @ 1/80th of a second shutter speed ... where I used a PS "action" called Dream given to me by the famous wedding photographer Jeff Ascough to beta test for him.

G'Day Carl:

Judit said "I am a photography student and had been shooting mostly DSLRs before I decided it was time to slow down, learn medium format and produce better quality images and overtime, hopefully, take my skills to the next level."

As I see it, that is the topic here.

I feel that Simon was simply extending some general comments to Judit based on her self professed MF (and maybe analogue) entry level status, and his obviously great experience. I didn't see any "debate" here. I think a lot of us know "f8 and be there".

If I were Judit's instructor on MF, and she had only become a photographer in the digital age with instant feedback, I would be suggesting that she have a tripod, a release cable, a meter of some type (although I have a spot meter, I also always carry my old Weston Master in the bag), 20 rolls of film, and some patience. She said "it was time to slow down, learn...". Deliberate, studied, MF/LF photography can be very calming, and perhaps meditative for many practitioners.

I put up the 'candid' street grab to demonstrate that, just the week after 9/11, with police everywhere, a Hasselblad 'pointed sideways' can produce the goods. Very sharp at 13x13 printed. (Having a quick release on the tripod certainly helps!)

I agree with you "if I was pushed then I would, leaning against a wall or supported with a 'plaster cast' on my arm". Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. (Photographer: Asian War Games 68-71)

Cheers, my friend. May your sky always be a giant softbox, and may the dust never enter your drying cabinet...

p.s the mirror can always be locked up before exposure, on appropriate occassions when you know what you are doing, if there is concern about the 'Hasselblad', mechanism sound, best wishes, Carl

I could not agree more

I think you can shoot at any shutter speed you want, as long as you know the consequences.

The assumption is that when one uses a MF camera, there is an expectation of improved image quality over that of a smaller format. The first line of defense for image quality is a steady camera ... technically, I'd speculate that more poor MF images are due to camera movement than any other cause.

Of course, this precludes the use of slower shutter speeds for creative effects, and the use of the technique known as "dragging the shutter" when using flash. unquote