Digital Back for Hasselblad 503CW

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by leonard_borger, Aug 24, 2016.

  1. I have a Hasselblad 503CW, 500C/M, and 903SWC, plus assorted lenses. I am a FILM person. I tried digital with a consumer camera, a few years ago, and not really happy.
    Anyway, thinking of buying and trying a digital back for the Hasslebalds, but do not want to sell my car to buy one. OK with used? Thought and suggestions greatly appreciated. I have NO idea about what models to buy or even to consider.
    Researched old posts on this forum but they were too old.
  2. I have a CVR16, and am very pleased with the results. It tops out at ISO 400, which is limiting but okay for landscapes and studio lighting. It will mechanically couple with a 503CW via an extension on the shutter release, You need to use a sync cable from the lens on a 501CM, and is still the best way to use it in a 503CW. The sync is more reliable and you don't have to program in a delay equal to the longest shutter speed. Results on a 903 SWC are not very good. The lens is too close to the sensor, causing excessive vignetting and color shifts toward the edges of the frame.
    The CVR50c is priced very competetively these days, and would be the best choice, IMO. It has a rectangular (horizontal) format, and 500 cameras are not easy to use on their side. You have the option of shooting in a square format, at 36 MP. Used Hasselblad backs still command a premium, but $9K for a new 50 MP back is a good price, and will keep your legacy cameras in service for years to come.
    I used my 16 MP back for landscapes and portraits since 2007, in preferrence to a Nikon. Now I have a Sony A7Rii which produces better results and is much more flexible.
  3. You might want to read this before you invest in a back for your Hasselblad:
  4. Like Edward I have the CFV16 back. Initially I was disappointed with the results I was getting and thought there was a problem with the alignment of the back. Eventually I sent it in for service and when I got it back I felt the results were better. More recently I went to a Hasselblad test day and tried out the CFV50 back (only two shots) and was pleased with what I saw. When I checked the settings they were using in Phocus (the Hasselblad software) I noticed that the Sharpness settings were much stronger than I had been using. I have since been using these settings and have been very pleased with the results. My concern now relates to the fact that my current back is 'only' 16MP and so if I want to print to 300dpi they are not going to be that big. Having said that I have just had this photo of a derelict fishing boat at Dungeness (on the south-east coast of England) enlarged to 40cm square and it looks very good. I am considering upgrading to the CFV50 back. As Edward has noted this is a rectangular format and so you would have to turn it on its side for Portrait mode. I have read on various websites that the viewfinder magnification with a 90-degree prism may not be the best for focussing so I am hoping to have another trial run shortly. Then again the new X1D looks very interesting. As Edward has also said there are issues when using the back with a 903SWC. I had intermittent partial frames and some 'purple' images. I understand that the CFV50 back may be better - although it may be down to the linkage between the camera and the back. I have recently come across the Blog (almost daily) by Ming Thien a (young) Malaysian photographer who uses both a CFV50 back with his 'V' Hasselblad as well as a H50C. He comments that the performance of the two are very similar (it is the same sensor after all). I thoroughly recommend visiting his website. I will send a couple of other images in subsequent e-mails (I cannot work out how to attach multiple images to a single posting). The other images are of the model shoot with the CFV50 and of a classic Ford Mustang at a recent race meeting.
  5. Here is the photo taken with the CFV50 back at a test session.
  6. ..and here is the one of a classic Ford Mustang.
  7. Thanks for all the help. Just received back my film from a vacation to the BVI's. Usually shoot 6X6 B&W but had grand kids so shot color. Pictures came back from the lab, better the beautiful, IMHO. I get the enhanced scans. Just called the lab and she said they are over 65MB. Do not have to sit in front of the computer for hours. Can have large prints made with almost no post work. Will stick with film, but appreciate all the help. The link from Alexander O very helpful. Thanks again.
  8. I'm glad I was able to help. Good luck!
  9. ...who uses both a CFV50 back with his 'V' Hasselblad as well as a H50C. He comments that the performance of the two are very similar (it is the same sensor after all).​
    Actually it's a different sensor - very different!
    Be careful of the nomenclature. The "50" backs are traditional 48 x 36 mm CCDs without microlenses; while the "50c" backs are newer 44 x 33 mm CMOS with microlenses, much lower noise, high ISO, video frame rates etc.
  10. Ray - this is my fifth or sixth attempt in responding to your message due to the changes in My first replies were not posted because of the impending transfer. Then, when I managed to negotiate V2.0 I couldn't find the posting after I had made it. I was considering giving up on for a while only to discover that they have reverted to V1!
    Thank you for pointing out the differences in Hasselblad nomenclature. I rechecked Ming's Blog and he is using a H5D-50C so I assume that uses the same sensor as the CFV-50C. I am hoping to go along to a Hasselblad event later this week to look at the X1D, and in another couple of weeks I will be going to another at which they should also have the H5D-50C and CFV-50C so hopefully I should be able to get further information. Do you have any experience of using the CFV-50C? I am trying to gather as much information as I can before committing to a purchase.
  11. Ian - indeed, we seem to be back-to-the-future in V1, after all that changeover fuss!
    Yes, with that revision of adding the C, Ming Thein's H5D-50C does have the same sensor as the CFV-50C.
    Sorry, I've no experience of using the Hasselblad backs. It must be exciting for you to be close to a purchase decision.
  12. Hi there.

    I've had experience with both a CFV II 16MP back and the CFV-50C with my 500C/M body. I love the experience of
    photographing with this masterpiece of engineering and craftsmanship.

    Under very controlled conditions, the CFV II was lovely - the colors from this CCD sensor were so very vibrant, and the
    resolution was seemingly so much better than with other "16MP" sensors (where smearing/filtering of the image reduces
    the information from a true 16MP with each pixel independent in content from its neighbors to an effective 10-12MP or
    so). However, the noise was unbearable for ISO 200 and 400 - i.e., only the results for ISO 50 and 100 were acceptable.
    Hence, my comment that this was OK with controlled lighting.

    And then there is the CMOS CFV-50c digital back. The resolution and detail is truly breathtaking. Very good color, but not
    quite as nice as the CFV II, though this is a comparison with a very high achiever. Focus can be problematic with 500
    services bodies, but when I get it right, the detail amazes me. The ISO performance is very good up to 1600, and
    sometimes to 3200, making this back far, far more versatile in different lighting conditions and in allowing me to chose the
    aperture and shutter speed based on artistic desire. The CFV-50c also has a maximum exposure time of 34 minutes
    compared to the 32 seconds of the CFV II - an enormous difference in very low light conditions with static subjects (which
    I photograph a lot).

    Both backs have a very simple screen and menu system. They are both relatively "dumb" backs - ISO and time are the
    only pieces of information that can be recorded. I'm not a pixel peeper having grown up in the world of film cameras which
    is fortunate because I wouldn't want to use the screen to decide if I had the optimum focus or lighting. It only tells me that
    it recorded an image that has some resemblance to the scene in front of the camera! In sunlight, the screen is very
    difficult to see indeed. But as I said, I'm not fussed about that.

    The CFV II showed me that the V-series has a place in the digital world. The CFV-50c has been very much worthwhile for
    showing me that results equal to anything out there can be matched under good and moderate conditions. It is not just a
    toy / curiosity.

    :) ... MomentsForZen (Richard)
  13. it


    I just picked up a like-new 503CW and would love to get a digital back for it, but after talking with a couple of commercial photographer friends who only shoot MF they strongly argue that it's not worth it for this body.
    I am a full-time natural light portrait photographer, so I would need it to generate income and obviously make my images look better than they do coming out of the 5DMK3 and Sony A7R2 combo I am presently using.
  14. Hello Ian.

    This is a tough assignment - the 5DMK3 and A7 rII are top players, especially in natural light. I have no experience with
    portrait photography, so forgive any "strange" questions and comments from me.

    I am pretty sure that the CFV-50c is the only Hasselblad digital back that you can use with your 503CW that has a ghost
    of chance for this role. The CFV-50c has a resolution advantage over the 5DMK3, but the A7 rII is more or less on a par
    with it in terms of resolution.

    Can you define "make my images look better" ? This would make it easier for me (and possibly others) to make

    Is the manual focus for your 503CW versus auto-focus for the competition an issue??

    Can you describe the nature of your sessions - i.e., what happens in a typical session?

    :) ... MmentsForZen (Richard)
  15. Ian, you might want to read the review I did on B&H, I actually own and use the back a lot in my commercial work. As posted to B&H:
    I am a full time professional photographer who specializes in commercial, editorial and fine art, I use both film and digital in 35mm, 120mm medium format and 4x5 in film only. I have been using the Hasselblad V system since 1988, some 28 years in my career so when Hasselblad introduced this back at the non-discounted price point, I asked Hasselblad Bron for a demo to try out, I use it with a pair of 501CM bodies. I had it for about a week and used it on several paid shoots, got to know the limits of it and strengths as well. The primary factor for me to buy it was if it would at least equal my Nikon D810 in using the best glass I have in either system, if it did that then it would be worth it because I could then just use the V system on shoots that I really wanted to produce my black and white fine art with but needed to have a digital back for color.

    Well it worked, in most cases it equaled or improved upon the image quality of my Nikon D810 and in the case of tonal range and color, exceeded it by quite a margin. So I purchased it directly from Hasselblad in the Fall of last year when the price promotion went into effect.

    So here are the pros:

    The back is compact, only a little bigger than a standard A12 or A24 back and gets a tad taller with the battery connected. The battery life is very good and spare batteries are fairly inexpensive so I have 5 batteries, have never needed more than two on a heavy shoot day with average use of live view. The integration into the system is flawless, I swap between film to digital to film and back again all day long and it is a breeze and I don't find the crop lines in the dedicated screen to confuse me at all. The fact that the sensor is so exposed may seem spooky at first but it is actually a blessing because it is by far the easiest sensor to keep clean, easy to get to, usually one swipe of an anti static brush or cloth is all that is needed. The image quality is excellent even at high ISO's and as mentioned before, even though on paper the dynamic range is less than a Nikon D810, in actual use it is considerably better with fantastic color quality right out of camera. The back also is great for really long exposures and the fact that the status light blinks during the exposure is a boon for knowing when to close the shutter without needing an external timer, if you set the back for 30" seconds, the sensor simply stops recording the image after that time even if you have left the shutter open longer. This makes for super consistent "B" setting times in post. The fact it is a cropped sensor might actually be a blessing as it really puts lenses to the test and for my commercial clients, they would not be using the images I give them in square anyway. I feel like I have two camera systems in one because of that. The menu and layout is pretty simple, there is a learning curve but it takes no time at all. I feel the RAW files do equally as well in LR5, ACR as they do in Phocus so one is not locked into proprietary software if they choose not to be.

    The cons:

    Using live view can be clunky and the refresh rate makes it to where if using it in daylight, you either have to stop down or do what I do and put on a polarizing or ND filter to not have the image wash out. Waiting a few seconds for the image to materialize can help in some cases, but most often it is washed out if no filter is used. Also, I am not sure why it does it but when using mirror pre-release, sometimes the back gets confused and does not detect the shutter going off and you get blank frames. I had it do this 4 times in a row during a magazine shoot and it really got on my nerves, I hope there is a firmware fix down the road. Speaking of mirror lockup, you will have to use it in a lot of cases with lenses longer than 100mm as mirror slap is a very real and potent threat to getting a sharp image on a lot of Hasselblad V cameras, it simply shows more at this crop factor and resolution. In addition to that, using a tripod or at least a monopod with lenses longer than 100mm is strongly recommended even at the top shutter speed of 1/500th. The CF card slot should be reversed from where it is now as the lip of the CF card is not easy to get to being closest to the hinge for the access door. I had to put a piece of tape on the non-lipped side of the card to create a false lip to grab it by when ejecting it. The back is not at all weather sealed at the CF card door so one has to be extra considerate of this fact when using the back in inclement weather or a dusty location, it is my only area of concern for this however as the rest seems to be fairly tight. As the back does not rotate, you will simply have to employ the use of a 90 degree prism in order to comfortably compose vertical images. This adds bulk and weight but it is the only option as using any other angle of view is simply far too counterintuitive to be of any real use in a vertical orientation. I strongly suggest a PME-90 as it has both a great meter and a built in diopter adjustment. And finally, focus is *critical* with this back so as clunky as live view can be to use, it really helps to confirm if your screen mounts are in spec and if your camera body is too. You pay thousands for a back like this, don't sell your self short in *thinking* it looks in focus, make 100% sure it is.

    All this said, I simply love this back. It has made my 3 camera body, 9 lenses Hasselblad V system the most powerful and versatile I have and is a great thing, because that is why a lot of us chose the V system decades ago in the first place.
  16. Daniel - the other Ian here - thank you, I found your review very useful.
  17. Ian! Lovely picture of the Derelict Boat. I photographed it from the side using a 50mm lens using Provia 100F and am moderately pleased with the result. I hired a 503cw and meter and lens for a long weekend to dip my toe in the water of MF photography. I now have a 501cm, 40mm FLE Distagon lens and A12 back. When I become a little more confident and capable with my set up I will revisit that Derelict Boat and try and improve on it.
  18. it


    Thanks for the great pro/con Daniel. It is definitely under consideration. I make most of my living as a kids photographer in Hong Kong, Singapore etc, so travel weight is a bit of an issue, but not a deal killer. My sessions can be a bit frenetic, but I would use the MF for quieter portraits and still use the Canon for action. I tried to work the Sony into my workflow, but it's not really for me. (Amazing camera nonetheless.)
    The digital MF would be great for travel stuff. I shoot far fewer pictures on those trips, so it would be perfect, probably just with a Ricoh GR. I had been using an M9, so I'm used to slowing down. I was even using the Leica on kids sessions.
    Anyway, I am going to shoot film on every job this fall as an extra for my clients. Get used to it and hand over something that nobody else is really giving their clients anymore. I usually do 70 or so sessions in Sept-Nov, so I should be up to speed on working with the thing by then.
  19. Hi there Ian.

    If it were me, then photographing kids running around with a manual camera and high-resolution back would be a very
    certain failure - focussing is "delicate" at the best of times!

    Great assessment of the CFV-50c Daniel. Right down to the detail that the card slot is too close to the hinge on the cover
    - that annoys me, too. And the genius (or serendipity) of making the status light blink during the image capture period.

    One question for you though, Daniel, if I may. You mention that you can use the PME-90 with the back. I agree that it fits.
    But how do you access the slide at the top of the back when the PME-90 is fitted? You can't get your finger in there to do
    it. The gap between the bottom of the PME-90 and the top of the digital back is only a few mm.

    :) ... MomentsForZen (Richard)
  20. it


    "If it were me, then photographing kids running around with a manual camera and high-resolution back would be a very certain failure - focussing is "delicate" at the best of times!"

    Thanks Richard. I think you missed the part where I said I would still use Canon for action. Half of my work is static portraiture which is what I am considering the back for. I reckon I can figure out how to focus the thing.
  21. ;-)

    Ian - My apologies if I did not express myself very well - I did not mean to imply that you would be using the Hasselblad
    under "active subject" conditions, nor that you would have the same issues with focusing that I can have.

    The CFV-50c has such wonderful resolution and it shows the flaws in my technique if I am not very careful. But that is one
    of the reasons that I like this back - one of the challenges for me is to try to utilize its capabilities as broadly as I can, whilst
    recognizing and working with any of its shortcomings.

    I know that it is possible to swap to other camera/sensor systems that provide auto exposure, auto focusing, etc. if I
    wanted to produce more consistent and reliable results, but given that photography is a hobby not my source of income, I
    can indulge and challenge myself with a predominantly manual system such as the V-series. If I mess up, the only person
    affected is me.

    :) ... MomentsFrZen (Richard)
  22. You mention that you can use the PME-90 with the back. I agree that it fits. But how do you access the slide at the top of the back when the PME-90 is fitted? You can't get your finger in there to do it. The gap between the bottom of the PME-90 and the top of the digital back is only a few mm.​
    That issue is solved by the same way it is solved with any back in use, the locked slider on the left hand side of the PME90.

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