Home Features Hassle with my Hasselblad: Is film dead (again)?

Hassle with my Hasselblad: Is film dead (again)?

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Five years ago I bought myself a Hasselblad film camera outfit. The motivation for this purchase were two photographer friends in the UK who told me that “‘Blad” gear was selling very cheaply in the there and they had just bought ‘Blads.

 I checked the Australian market and there was very little Hasselblad gear around but what there was certainly well priced — even more so than the UK.

King of Cameras

Now years ago a Hasselblad was the top of the tree as far as cameras went. Very expensive, Swedish precision and quality. Medium format (6×6), superb Zeiss lenses, interchangeable backs so you could swap films mid-roll and a wide galaxy of accessories.

I never for one minute thought that I would ever own a ‘Blad but suddenly this king of cameras seemed within reach. Within a few weeks I had assembled a superb ‘Blad outfit in excellent condition — one body, three beautiful Zeiss lenses, two film backs, a “meter-prism” viewfinder and an extension tube. All, it has to be said, for quite a modest sum. I also bought a handheld exposure meter and a Pelican case to protect the outfit.

Taking the plunge

At this point I was keen to get back into film photography. Not at the expense of digital — I was more than happy with the photos I was taking with my Leica X1 at that time — but as an experimental project.

Anyway I took the plunge and bought film processing gear and chemicals. This is the same gear I had given away five years earlier …. Ed: I know the feeling…

And then it was time for some photos. I bought Kodak Tri-X black and white film because I used to use it and Kodak Portra 400 colour negative film because the film-using community raved about. They were right — it is an excellent film.

Despite all my preparations and planning my foray into Hasselblad film photography was very shortlived. Just five rolls (60 exposures) of Tri-X and six (72 exposures) rolls of Portra.

What happened?

Well it was not the quality of the photos because interestingly many of the photos turned out very well and one made it to the finals in a major local competition.

No, my enthusiasm rapidly dulled for a number of reasons:-

  1. The camera and lenses are so heavy. Maybe if I was twenty years younger I could manage it but in my advancing years walking anywhere with this camera and lenses was just not on.
  2. Film photography is expensive. The film is expensive and the processing is exorbitant. And the only labs in Australia are in capital cities so you have to post the exposed film to the lab and they post it back. This really compounds the cost as Australia Post really know how to charge nowadays.
  3. It is not easy to obtain film locally.
  4. When I processed the black and white film at home, dust and cat hairs were a major issue. I needed a proper drying cabinet.
  5. The shutter and related mechanical movements in the Hasselblad create serious noise and vibration and hence camera shake when you fire the shutter. This means that unless you are in bright light you have to use a tripod which really slows you down and makes the weight issue worse.
  6. I found myself scanning in the negatives on my flatbed scanner. So I ended up with “hybrid photography” — analogue at the front end and digital at the back. All that effort for a digital file — why bother? Finally I realised that the pedestrian technique dictated by the Hasselblad was not my style of photography. It is just too “old school”. My personal photography has moved on from there.
  7. Finally I realised that the pedestrian technique dictated by the Hasselblad was not my style of photography.It is just too “old school”. My personal photography has moved on from there.

So my ‘Blad experiment rapidly came to an end in about six months. The outfit is still here in its Pelican case. I have not tried to sell it but the market still looks weak. My two UK friends both tired of their ‘Blad fads too and managed to sell their gear easily — but not before they had a final unsuccessful dabble with digital backs on their cameras.

If anyone is not put off by my tale and would like a Hasselblad outfit in very good condition for a very fair price please drop me an email via the Rolling Road (link below). Meanwhile it’s digital for me.

What do you think? Is film dead at last?

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11 COMMENTS

  1. There is a site I follow Bunyan Velo, they go all over the touring on bicycles, one of the tours was 600 miles thru Kyrgyzstan. Mr Lucas Winzenberg who runs above site uses Leica M2 and M9 and your M F Hasselblad, on tours who uses M9 and doesn’t have to worry about charging batteries or batteries weighing him down, space on bike limited. His M9 is his tank carries some how on handle bars film secreted else where, does not worry weather conditions knows mechanical MP not going fail him. So is Film dead, I have no clue, like your Q and M owners I think all in the eyes of the beholder! I just happy your healthy!

  2. I used the 500 & 503 CW for 25 years but last year I too decided to sell all the gear : too heavy and also the head position caused severe pain in the neck. But the quality was superb and I loved the square.

  3. So funny, how one person decides to shift their focus and then ask the question whether something is dead. Something may be dead to you but that does not equate to an overall reach that it’s dead to all. I suppose it’s human nature to think that everyone feels the way that we do.. But this is a big ole’ world and there are many ways to create, address and do things. Get over yourself and realize your way is just one of those options and not the only way.

    • Dear Larry,

      The question (which I added rather that the author, John) was tongue in cheek. I love film, although I use it mainly in Leicas rather than Hasselblad which I don’t own, and the question was intended to draw out the opposite view. Both John and I realise the point you make is correct.

    • Larry,your comment is way too harsh for a well mannered blog such as Macfilos and unfair on me.
      As Michael points out in his response the question "is film dead?" was asked by him and was added to my copy.
      My story was my personal experience and at no point was I being in anyway judgemental about the state of film photography generally or inferring that it is dead. I fully understand that many people really enjoy film photography.

      • John, apologies if it came off as harsh… Not really my intent and I must have missed the fact that the question had been added by someone other than you.

        • Just blame the editor! But seriously, no offence taken. I hoped we would get some contrary views because, as we all know, film is definitely not dead — it seems to be getting more popular by the year.

  4. I do have a Hasselblad, and do agree with the part about weight and bulk. In fact, I think there is truth in everything you specify about the camera and film. It sounds like you are blessed with the characteristic of seeking satisfaction in the image, rather than the process. I admire that in folks. I am the opposite. I mean, I do admire and seek great images, but I get so much out of the process that there is a part of me that is joyful when the negative is a disappointment: it means I get the pleasure of going out and going through the whole process again. I think the bulk of my Hasselblad 500cm was one of the main driving forces behind my decision to buy a Linhof 4×5 Master Technika field camera……………"How much more inconvenient could a Linhoff be?" plagued my mind. The Linhof has certainly not disappointed in the areas weight, complexity of operation, inconvenience, or……..the need to go back and try again. Maybe I will get an image or two as pleasing as the ones you included in this excellent piece.

    • Wayne, thanks for your kind comments re my photos. It is certainly true that I now seek satisfaction in the image rather than the process but it was not always so and over the years I wasted a lot of time and money messing around with the process in many variations.
      Fortunately this messing around never included a Linhof 4X5 Master Technika field camera…I presume you have taken out a gym membership at the same time as you purchased it?

      • I supose it was because of the point you made about bulk of the Hassy. In my case, too, it became apparent the 500cm could not be used, practically, in the same way I use a rangefinder or SLR camera: when I use it, the Hassy, it rides around with me in the passenger seat of my car so that it can be used in specific places where I have seen, or anticipate seeing, something I would like to photograph. The Linhof fills that role about as well, and without too much additional effort in transportation.

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