Mixed Emotions

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by stripmonkey, Apr 21, 2019.

  1. Having just developed my fourth roll from my Hasselblad 500c/m since its full service, I keep finding myself comparing the images with those from my old Bronica SQ-A and I can't help but think that those images were just better, mostly the fact they are pin sharp - something I'm not feeling so much with the Hassie. I've dreamed of owning a Hasselblad since starting out in film photography, so I'm having mixed feelings on whether I did the right thing 'upgrading'. Anyone else had similar experiences?
  2. Sharpness could depend on the quality of the lenses and whether the films were exposed and processed correctly
    mag_miksch likes this.
  3. you have been younger
    Stephen_Prunier likes this.
  4. Way back in the early 80's I did a comparison test between Blad, Bronica, Mamiya RB and Mamiya 645. Back then any medium format system was a major investment and I wanted to make sure the Blad was worth it. I seriously looked at image quality, ease of use, system accessories, reliability, ease of repair, cost of repair plus a few other things that I can't remember now. In terms of image quality the Blad won hands down. Bronica was a distant second, then RB and the 645 last. All 4 did an excellent job, its just that the Blad was much more excellent. Of course sample variance can make a big difference in any test or actual daily use results. I went with the Blad and have been very happy with the results. If you perceive a problem then you should have the camera checked by a Blad certified repairperson, they are quite complex and require special tools/training for proper repair.
  5. A lot has to do with our eyes too. I just got my first pair of prescribed eyeglasses and I already notice a difference as I look at my previous prints. The prints look good but they look just a little soft. Not bad but I noticed right away. If I view the prints wearing the reading glasses the prints look sharper. So you need to ask yourself, how are your eyes and if you wear glasses are they the correct ones to use? I have a new pair of prescribed readers coming and that should give me a better gauge. I would check your eye's before judging a camera. I use a Mamiya RZ ProII.
  6. "my fourth roll from my Hasselblad 500c/m since its full service..."

    Any chance of focus screen misalignment?
  7. This happens more often than you might think: a small percentage of long-term Bronica SQ photographers has always ended up somewhat regretting their migration to Hasselblad. Mostly because the later Bronica glass was really quite good in its own, and the crushingly expensive "magical Zeiss lenses" sometimes aren't so obviously better (compared to Bronica) when shooting common 6x6 subjects like portraiture. Those who regret the switch, tend to regret it because they don't experience the dramatic difference the legend promises, while giving up several nice Bronica conveniences (reliable shutters, consistent shutter speeds across lenses, compact modern wide angle designs, focusing ease, auto-exposure options, integrated side grips).

    Hasselblad is a marvelous system, and much of its quality legend is justified. When prices cratered fifteen years ago as pros migrated to digital, I snapped up enough Hasselblad gear to open a local KEH outpost. Eventually I sobered up and sold off the crazy excess so I could acquire complementary MF systems: Bronica, Mamiya TLR, Mamiya RB67, and recently Mamiya Press. Hasselblad is my sentimental favorite: I love the Zeiss lens character and beautifully crafted hardware. But in practice, I don't use it as much as my other options that are more comfortable and intuitive.

    The Hasselblad is uncompromising: not always such a good thing, especially if you started out with a "lesser" but far more modern Bronica system. Handling and ergonomics are underwhelming, the film backs prone to errors in loading, mirror/aux shutter shock has tremendous impact on handheld sharpness, and obtaining good focus is a real chore compared to other similar cameras. That last is likely your sharpness killer: the most common 'blad lenses focus like a Mack truck steers, the most common focus screens dim and difficult to judge accurately. None of that stopped working pros and artists from making stunning images decades ago, but there was no viable 6x6 alternative from 1957 thru 1980: you picked up a Hasselblad and learned to harness its quirks to best advantage.

    But those who started later with Bronica SQ were often thrown when they could finally afford their dream Hasselblad 10-30 years on: a lot of 'blad gear is archaic by direct comparison, much harder to use successfully. Even today, Hasselblad is "affordable" only if you limit yourself to pre-1985, Jurassic-era components. To truly approximate the feel of a Bronica SQ-A, you need to double your Hasselblad budget. Traits that are common, everyday, expected aspects of nearly all other MF systems are still costly optional "upgrades" for Hasselblad.

    Want a focus ring feel that matches every other camera you might ever have handled? Dig for coins under your sofa cushions, because only the very latest 'blad CB, CFi or CFe lenses will give you that, and they cost nearly double the far more common CF or C optics. Want a focus screen that actually nails focus with the fabulous Zeiss lenses? Pull your jaw off the floor when you price an Acute Matte with split image. Want a finder that doesn't vignette with lenses above 150mm? A 501cm or 503cw will cost double or triple the price of the common 500cm.

    Another "gotcha" is the lurking design gremlins the average photographer today wouldn't suspect. More than a few techs who worked on Hasselblads in the past were not dedicated 'blad specialists: without specific training and expensive arcane tools, a repaired body could be re-assembled a hair off, resulting in slightly softer results. The mirror in the the 500cm, 501c and 503cx is mounted on three foam pads that disintegrate over time, which will throw your focus off sufficient to kill ultimate sharpness. Etc. In the pre-digital era, such flaws would often still pass in a print, but expectations are so heightened today that your average random Hasselblad can't hope to meet them unless its been fully vetted and overhauled.

    Hasselblad is a unique system capable of distinctive, beautiful results- but one must always bear in mind its origins. It was a freakishly, hellishly expensive system in its heyday (the price list made Leica dealers faint). It was made for pros (or wealthy enthusiasts) who could afford to write off the equally expensive cost of regular servicing, which was baked into the bodies, lenses and backs. Hasselblad expected its gear to be used frequently and serviced perennially. Today, there is no way of knowing for sure a used 'blad outfit is tuned properly unless you buy it from a dedicated tech. If you want repeatably sharp results, in keeping with the Hasselblad reputation for excellence, you'll need to have the entire kit looked over and serviced by a tech like David Odess. An overhaul of lens, body and film back will cost about 70% of what you paid for it: a random $900 ebay 500cm with A12 and 80 Planar could easily run up a $700 service tab. The end result will be a phenomenal camera, but it will cost you more than you anticipated when perusing ebay or dealer listings.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2019
    jo_dad and kmac like this.
  8. A 500c/m via eBay in need of repair? What a surprise. I bought my Hasselblad gear mostly from KEH. The price might be higher but the products are in good repair and come with a limited warranty. This camera was first made in 1982, 37 years ago. Including my used Nikon D1x in 2003, I am on my ninth generation of digital cameras (all but two are still in service).
  9. Sorry, I somehow missed that you actually did just get this Hasselblad serviced. So the two-thirds of my reply re most used 'blads needing an overhaul to perform their best might not apply in your case. It still may take some time for you to get more comfortable and accurate with focusing vs your Bronica SQ. Make sure the focus screen is not installed upside down, as c_watson mentioned: it should go in shiny side up with the four raised corners facing down. Double check the silver film clamp on the insert edge before locking it into the magazine back: the film and backing paper should be underneath the edge clamp, not riding over it. Handholding a 500cm at shutter speeds below 1/250th risks shake related softness.

    If at all possible, borrow/rent another lens and/or film back to cross-reference against yours. If your film continues to show very similar degree of unsharpness on every frame, from one roll to the next, theres a chance whoever overhauled your 500cm didn't completely check for body plane trueness and the mirror pad issue I alluded to. Techs may not necessarily perform these checks unless you specifically request it. Some don't own the dedicated Hasselblad body alignment jigs, and the mirror pad issue is easily missed. Its also a royal pain to fix (so techs won't bother with it unless you ask, and agree on the expense). I've owned a 503cx and 500elm that had the mirror pad issue: it can take awhile to realize its a problem (focus drift can be very slight, just enough to make you suspect the fault is your technique or the lens, and not the camera mechanics).
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  10. Thanks all for your responses. I have to say although it's always a gamble going through ebay, my Blad is in mint condition. There's not a mark on it. Before I had it serviced, the focus was definitely out (I bought an acute matte D with split image). Afterwards, it really is A1 like new. Even the technician was surprised.

    I'm starting to think that maybe it is the hand holding that is my main issue, as I very few of my held shots were above 1/125th. I will practice and persevere, there's no way I'm giving up on it now. The very thing that I fell in love with film was the fact it does force you to try harder and think before you hit that shutter.
  11. Use a tripod and a cable release for a couple of films as a test, see what sharpness you get with that method
  12. This is great advice while you are in the mode of trying to figure out what is wrong. All I can add is to make use of the mirror lock up for each of your test exposures. The 500C has the mirror as well as the auxiliary shutter flaps moving when you release the shutter so you might want to dampen any camera shake with the tripod and also get the mirror up so it doesn't add any vibration of its own.

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