User Report: Shooting Portraits with the Hasselblad 501cm

brettprice501

User Report: Shooting Portraits with the Hasselblad 501cm

By Brett Price

Hey Steve,

I thought I’d write up an article after somewhat rediscovering a camera that I’ve always had but not necessarily always shot with, the Hasselblad 501cm.

I started shooting medium format after purchasing a 500cm several years ago and the format has always been one of my favorites. I’ve owned almost every single medium format camera that exists minus a few but the Hasselblad has always stayed in my setup due to its versatility and the excellent images it can produce. It has always been the one camera I return to after experimenting with other formats and negative sizes. 6×6 has always been my favorite shooting ratio although I know it’s not the best for every situation. I’ve always found 645 to be too close to 35mm to be worth it and 6×7 cameras are typically too large and heavy to carry around for on-the-go usage. (Minus the Mamiya 7, which is fabulous but a little clinical for portrait work).

I primarily shoot people. I love the reactions and images this camera can produce for portraits as the Zeiss lenses are fantastically sharp but also offer a 3D look and separation for OOF backgrounds that looks extremely pleasing. Its a relatively small camera in a basic setup and without a prism it is relatively lightweight meaning you can take it with you just about anywhere if you’d like. I think the only camera that comes close in category would be a Rolleiflex, which is much smaller and lighter but not nearly as versatile as it has a fixed lens and no film backs which means no switching lenses or films mid roll if you’d like to, which can come in handy if you like shooting a mixture of B&W films along with Color Negative (or even chromes).

I quite like the sound of it too. People usually crack up when I fire a shot off. It’s a big shotgun cocking of a sound, which usually comes up in conversation. I think the reason I’ve settled on this camera and the Leica system I have is because out of all cameras out there, people react very differently when being shot with them. With a Leica its so small and unobtrusive that they rarely change their attitude to it or pay attention, with the Hasselblad its so loud they have to make mention of it somehow which starts a conversation and ultimately leads to some excellent fun and good shooting.

I used to own 7 or so systems but recently narrowed down and sold everything except my Leica M7, my Leica M typ 240, and my Hasselblad 501cm with a couple of lenses for both. I’m probably in the market soon for some sort of backup system for the Hasselblad, probably a Mamiya 7 or Rollei depending on what I ultimately decide. It can be frustrating because there really is no perfect system out there for this format. I think the Mamiya 7 would be it if the lenses were faster but alas, they are not. I think the experimentation with different systems and different formats, ultimately buying and selling them over the years and finally filtering them down to my dream setup really makes this camera special to me. Its how I first learned medium format, its what I’m most comfortable with, what I’ve found most reliable. It excellent for almost any situation and full mechanical, needs no batteries and rarely needs service due to the fantastic build quality. Hasselblad’s have barely changed over the years so you can find them at extremely low costs nowadays. If you’ve ever wanted to shoot film and medium format I would highly recommend them to anyone.

I don’t think ill ever part with this camera. It’s easily my favorite. It’s my desert island camera, the one I could use and grow bored with and then rediscover over and over again.

Anyways, I hope you like my photos!

Technical details for the gear heads:

All images shot with a Hasselblad 501cm w/ Zeiss planar 80mm f2.8CB and Zeiss 60mm f3.5CB

On Kodak Portra 400/800 & Kodak Tri-x 400 (developed in Rodinal 1+25)

Scanned on a Fuji Frontier Scanner.

 

I also post regularly to my website:

www.iambrettprice.com

 

As well as my tumblr account:

brettprice.tumblr.com

 

And not to forget flickr:

www.flickr.com/photos/brettprice

 

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76 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for the article, I am looking to buy my first medium format camera, think i have narrowed it down to the 501CM with 80mm CT lens. I havent shot on film for years, though had a love affair with my LeicaM8 and M9, though sold them now to buy a Harley! Love your images will follow you.

  2. Your article makes me want to find my dad’s Zeiss Iconoflex and see what I can do with it. Very good photos. Variety is always fun.

  3. Brett,
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful images. Question: How do you meter? Does the 501 have a built in meter or do you use an external meter? I’m considering a 501 coming from a Mamiya 645ProTL with built in metering.

    P.S. F the haters.

  4. Oh, what a lot of squabbling! I have and use a Dynax 9, E-M1, 1909 Sanderson half-plate camera and a Blad 500CM. They all significantly different qualities DOF-wise, and my main pleasure is trying to get the best I can out of all of them. One may wonder why I haven’t also a RF camera, well much as I love their compactness and may other qualities they deliver, I just can’t get on with rf focussing. it’s a case of ‘One man’s meat is another’s poison’, extreme views of which can be regularly encountered between Nikon and Canon owners.

  5. Brett, you have convinced me to keep my 501, doesn’t get used so much now but after seeing the shots you posted and your write up, I cannot get rid of it – in fact I will probably take it to South America next week instead of my M9 – many thanks

  6. Hi Brett, Hassy 501 shooter here too 😉 interesting you like square but not considering Mamiya 6 instead of 7. The lenses are collapsible on 6 and make the system portable – that’s my travel setup with 50mm lens on it. For Hassy I use 80mm and 150mm.

  7. I love these, Brett…Wonderful depth and character!

    Sadly, you have forced me to buy a 501cm (Yes, at gunpoint…).

    (At least that’s what I told my wife!!)

    Happy New Year,
    M.

  8. Brett,

    yet more cinematic images. it seems it doesn’t matter what camera you’re using. So are the xpan and pentax 670? I especially liked your images on the latter.

    cheers

    Richard

  9. Hi Brett

    The Hasselblad V System is my favourite system. I love your photos and I appreciate the hard work that went into creating them. I do not consider any digital system comes close to matching it’s quality and magic in image making but that’s just my opinion. A comment for the 35mm full frame digital users out there. if you think 35mm full frame digital is special, try Full frame Medium format.

    I mount a Leaf Aptus II10R digital back on my Hasselblad. It is limiting in that there ain’t no such thing as good quality high ISO shots on a medium format digital system but at low ISO, it’s the digital version of transparency film and leaves 35mm digital in it’s wake. That said, it’s hard work and not really simple (or subtle with the load shutter sound) at capturing the “decisive moment”. They know you have taken a photo of them.

    I am reminded by a comment by the great Ansel Adams when asked what camera he used, he replied:-

    “”The heaviest one I can carry!” Obviously, this is not the equipment for casual snapshots, but I believe that the greater the effort and restrictions of the large camera lead to the precision of seeing and a higher level of mechanical perfection…” (Ansel Adams, The Camera, Series 1, 2003 reprint, page 29).

    I suppose that is a benevolent way of saying “no pain, no gain”. The comment was made in the context of using large format cameras. Nevertheless, to me, your images appear to be a reflection of Ansel Adam’s comment and it is what I strive for in may own image making.

    I wish you all the best for 2014.
    Noel

  10. Gorgeous photos! I love your color shots. Portra 400 looks a lot better in MF than 35mm, IMHO. It really pops with the Zeiss lens!

    At first I was going to say something about how FF digital could also create this image quality. But then I thought: not for anywhere near the same cost! Checking around, a 501 C and Zeiss 80 can be had for $1,200 – and it will probably retain that same value for many years to come. FF digital with a similar quality lens will start at $3,000 and will lose half its value within three years. So your Hasselblad kit is a smart and wonderful way to create amazing portraits!

  11. If you like 6×6 I encourage you to also try out the Rolleiflex Hy6. I own both a Hasselblad 503CW and the Hy6 but the Hy6 gets used all of the time when shooting MF film: autofocus, built-in meter and the ability to use the excellent legacy Schneider and Zeiss PQ/PQS glass.

    • There are some good deals on the Hy6. You can get a Hy6 with 120 back and 80mm Planar plus extras for LESS than a Leica. check out DW’s website.

      Or you can get a 6008AF or Integral (which I have)

  12. Great pictures Brett! I shoot with film aside digital as well and absolutely love it, especially the medium format (Yashica Mat 124 G). You’re very talented!

  13. Brett, Interesting focus, lighting and depth of field on these. Enjoyed your photos on tumblr too. Soul less-seriously?

    I’ll need to dig out my 501 and MP again and use more film, been concentrating a bit too much on digital recently.

  14. Nice work. The CZ Planar 100mm F3.5 is an other great lens. For portraits I used the 150 Sonnar with a short extension tube.

  15. Beautiful photos – fantastic shallow focus and beautifully rendered out of focus areas. Really lovely to see such great film photos. I must try a Hasselblad – hear so many good things about it.

    Good luck.

  16. Well done Brett! I’m with you. I know digital is the name of the game but you can’t beat a Hassy. I’ve 3 of them from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s as well as the Leica M9 & M 240, and the best shots for me were with the Swedish wonder cameras! Happy new year and thanks for the post.

  17. Thanks Brett. I enjoyed all of those very much.

    I can tell you know what you’re doing, a great way for me to finish 2013. Thank you again

  18. Nice work Brett, good to see medium format around the web. I agree that the mamiya 7 lenses are almost too clinically sharp for portraits (although I have seen good stuff with them), but what about the mamiya TLRs, they have some good wide lenses? I’m thinking of getting my old C330 out- it’s either that or stick with the holga!

    • Mamiya c330 is a fabulous portrait camera. Love that system. I shot with a Mamiya 7 and it does look super clinical and harsh with portraits. You should break it out and do some shooting with it!

  19. Nice pictures, Brett ! I own a Hassy (201F) for some time now and I love it. Shooting B/W most of the time. I use an old transformed enlarger to photograph the negatives ( Nik D800 ) and it works fine.
    Film in not dead ! I would encourage everyone to try an old MF camera.
    happy new year to everyone.

  20. Interesting stuff Brett! As we all know, a portrait is only a portrait if it is a portrait, and these images demonstrate that you have embraced that concept wholeheartedly. I particularly like the portrait of the dangling camera (is that a Kiev? Maybe a Zorki); it has a moody quality that seems very fitting for this time of year.

    On a (slightly) more serious note, even on this grotty office laptop the image quality really jumps off the screen.

    One question: do you find the square format to sort of inevitably lead you to almost always center your chosen subject?

    Cheers,

    Michiel

    • Thanks Michiel,
      I actually find that I tend to center subjects regardless of the camera I am using. I owned a Hasselblad X-pan for a while, I even wrote an article on here about it if you’d like to look it up, and a great deal of the shots I liked from it were centered subjects. I think I like it even more for that fact because it almost juxtaposes the frame by wasting so much of it. I actually find 6×6 to just tend to be all you can do with the framing is just put it in the center. Theres just not a lot of room elsewhere. ha.

      • Hi Brett,

        Ha indeed! I had a Hasselblad on loan for a few weeks, couldn’t get used to it so gave it back. The looking down inverted view etc. Maybe I should have given it more time, just as those few weeks some yeras ago I had a Leica M5 with a Nokton 50/1.1. Got some interesting images (a guy cycling in the rain in his swimming trunks, holding an umbrella, whilst being photographed by a friend. And me) but couldn’t get used to it.

        I guess I’m an slr guy (FM2n, FE2, FM3a, F2AS, D800); that’s how I like to look at the world and have done since my Zenit over forty years ago.

        I do love how you look at the world; there’s no such thing as traditional rules for you and it shows in your images.

  21. I do not know if I like any of these images maybe a girl walking along a beach. (composition and framing are two different things)
    It feels like i have seen all this before.

    I usually enjoy the pic on my TV or projector screen (9:16)
    1:1 2:3 3:4 5:7 8:10…….. PP is your friend!

  22. Sorry Mr. Price, not too impressed with those images, save one or two. Could have been done wiht any “PS” camera. And the topic of a medium format Hassy for people pictures is just your preference. As for those comments about needing something larger then 35 mm, I suggest you all to get acquainted with the works of Duane Michals, Henri C. Bresson and W.E. Smith who all used 35 mm. As a note, you can use a pamper box (pinhole!) to make photos. If sharpness is needed for “quality” then you have to go to 4X5, but quality is more elusive a concept. Shoot with what makes you more comfortable and helps you produce the pictures you envision. And yes… it takes a while to come up with a style, your own voice! Film has a distinct character all its own and as far as I have been researching, a CMOS C sensor can produce in digital quite some detailed pictures with a good dynamic range. As a note, a picture called “elder” in my site, has been taken with a 50 years old Elmar f4 lens on a Leica M4. The pictures posted is a scan from an 8X10 print on a sub-par scanner. I could print that considerably larger with lots of detail (Kodak panchromatic film 25 ASA)

    • To each his own. I typically don’t respond to comments that are negative, especially if the writer shows no constructive criticism in the comment other than “I just don’t like it.” I mainly wanted to refute the comment about these photos being taken with any PS camera. I don’t believe that to be true at all. I don’t think that the sharpness, tonality and DOF can really be achieved in the same way with any PS camera, not to mention 35mm system at that. I shoot 4×5 and I shoot 35mm and they each hold a special characteristic that cannot be replicated in another format. I should also point out that the entire article was entirely to speak my preference toward the Hasselblad system and how it affects how I approach my work.

        • Wladimir is seeing something which I am not. there is no 35mm sized sensor or frame which could ever hope to render the scene such as no. 13 and 22 for example. Not even 645 Digital could do that as this is 6×6 and above only

  23. Lots of great examples. The tone and focus and lighting all look very very good… everything looks worthy to print and display proudly!

  24. My Leica, my Leica, My blad. Blah. What kind of iWorld we live in. What have we become ?

    I’ve been following your work at tumblr for a while and sadly – most of it is soul less, just a showcase of how much of a shallow depth MY Leica’s can produce.

    Have you ever tried to shoot on the street at f/8, from your waist level, focusing without viewfinder ?

    • Yup. I’ve tried that. Recently actually. I don’t prefer it. I don’t find it challenging. Almost turns a camera into a point and shoot. Most of my work is extremely shallow because I like what I can isolate using focus. Its harder to achieve especially in critical moments where you don’t have a lot of time to make a shot. If I nail a shot on the street wide open its because I’ve gotten good enough at shooting that I can do that, that feels like an accomplishment to me. Nothing about shooting at f8 off the hip and praying for something decent sparks me as interesting at all frankly. Its just someone getting lucky most of the time.

      Shots at f8 on the street can be jumbled and boring. I love street photography but if you look at the greats in the field they use high DOF as a tool, hiding things in an interesting composition, but the technique can also create a very dull photograph as well.

      As far as soul… well. I really just shoot because I love doing it. What could have more soul than that?

  25. Darren,
    Digital MF is not as simple as you might think? You have to know how to shoot in MF first then you must learn how to shoot with a digital back. Sony is not the panacaea for high pixel photography. If the MF business was so easy Sony and Co. , would have been already in that segment.
    Now about the photos of Brett. I find them very interesting and intriguing. I think I will take my Hasselblad for a ride.
    Regards,
    Dimitris V. Georgopoulos
    Photographer at Large
    Athens, Greece

  26. Really cool shots here! Not always convinced by the power of film (although I have use it a long time), but these shots show it. And you’re a very good photographer!

  27. Nicely done. For film shooters, Medium Format is a must. 35mm film looks great as a print, up to 5×7. After that, you really need MF so grain doesn’t overwhelm and colors remain saturated.

    • (sarcasm on) Yeah all those 8×10 prints from Velvia 40 when I used to shoot with my 35mm were just awful. So unsaturated and grainy……(sarcasm off)

      Really now…where do people come up with this stuff….

      “a must” for larger than 5×7″ ……yeah

      • It’s a shame people feel the need to be so clever/rude online. Trust me, pro wedding and portrait shooters used MF exclusively for many years due to 35mm film’s limitations. Sure, Velvia could go large, but Portra 400 (and its predecessors), enlarged to 8×10, doesn’t hold a candle to medium format.

        • Oh I’m just as clever in person, don’t you worry….

          Seems your changing your story though John….First it was a blanket statement that 35mm couldn’t go past 5×7, but now Velvia can can large…..whats next ?

    • They do not look OOF. This is called “shallow depth of field” – some call it “selective focus”. What is meant to be in focus is..what is meant NOT to be in focus is not.

      • I don’t want to bother but… what was in the focus then?

        I found one eye in the focus on one picture. With every other picture I was unable to find a single thing that was in the focus.

        Is it done on purpose by not focusing with the camera or is it done in post processing?

        Pictures look nice but are hard on eyes, naturally we tend to put attention on sharp/focused part, but this time… I don’t know where to look so my eyes wander.

        Is it a special style of photography?

        • Zoran, after reading your comments, I went back up and looked at Brett’s photos again… for the life of me, I cannot figure out what you’re talking about. As Steve said, Brett very effectively utilized shallow depth of field to create “atmosphere” or “mood” or whatever – but his point of focus is certainly discernible in all of his images. If he’d been shooting at f/11, they’d have had a much different look about them. But he chose much larger apertures for a much different effect. You should try it yourself; you’ll find that the difference between f/2.8 and f/8 is dramatic.
          So… mystery solved, right?
          Nice images, by the way, Brett.

          • Look at the 4th and 5th pictures from the top.

            There is absolutely nothing in focus.

            When I use f8 it’s to make my DOF larger so usually everything is in focus. Here, there is nothing in focus. All is blurry.

            How does he do that? Deliberately not focusing well and using small aperture or doing post processing?

          • It is probably scanner, not the camera, if you’re talking about overall softness of the images. Or you may not be familiar with the film look, which is rather softer compare to the digital images.

          • You can see his hair at the top of his head is in focus in number 5. His fringe is slightly out of focus as with his face but would not consider it out of focus my self, just not very sharp. Thats just film with manual focus for you. Its doesn’t have to be be pin sharp to be a good photo.

  28. Very nice shots, very nice mood. :^)

    I have to say, they don’t look like output from most medium format film that I’ve seen, they look more like 35mm or some instamatic. But in an extremely likeable way, I mean: Warmth; Texture!

    If you love your camera, and love the results, then you’ve got the absolutely perfect setup — how many of us digital “perpetual gear improve-ers” can say that?

    Cheers and all the best for the new year.

  29. Gorgeous, I love the colours and tones. Very nice portraiture too, it seems like not many of your images have the subject making eye contact with the camera and that’s quite enigmatic and compelling. Draws me in as a viewer.
    If I had the money I’d clear ebay of medium format gear so I could give it a go. Absolute respect for those who can command it as well as you, I’ve heard it’s tricky.

    • Not as tricky as it seems. Film is actually hugely forgiving in a lot of areas. I recommend it purely out of a learning experience and enjoyment and not for its quality (although its very good stuff in general!)

      You should give it a go.

      • I like shooting 35mm when I can afford the processing. Medium format is a money issue for me really.

  30. Brett, lovely work, glad to see someone with some hasselblad love here as that is truly a timeless brilliant camera which i think ALL should try – especially those enamoured with the Leica as they should (if they haven’t) have a go at this. and the lenses render beautifully!
    If you don’t mind me asking, which lenses with which lens please?

    An alternative to the Blad would be the Rolleiflex 6000 series.

    More MF stuff please guys!

      • Tell that to the companies that make film. If film was doing fine we wouldn’t be down to a dozen or so professional films.

        • Yes, a lot of films have been discontinued. Slides might disappear completely in a few years.

          But negative film is not dying out. In BW a few new films appeared (like my favorite Rollei RPX400 and 100), in color a few new films appeared (like Ektar 100 and the new Portras), so there still is development and research.

          And even if Kodak and Fuji stop producing any film, they still can sell the recipe to small companies that continue to produce the stuff for a small market (at a higher price of cause). As long as there are people buying the stuff, it will be available.

          The only problem I see is the fact, that the cameras will die out over the time. I have Hasselblad 501CM now, I used a Bronica SQ-Ai untill recently. I cannot see the difference in image quality, but the Bronica was damaged and I could not find a place to repair it for a reasonable price and as I was not willing to buy another used camera that might break down in a month, I switched to the Hasselblad system. Now Hasselblad discontinued the V system as well. Five years from now, there will be no new film cameras available at all and that means, that every dying camera is a camera, that cannot be replaced. This will be the demise of film, but it will take a long time from now.

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