Hip to be square

Anyone who follows my blog will know that earlier this year I started my adventure into film photography. From the first roll I shot, I was hooked. 

I knew I also wanted to try medium format. There are many photographers whose work I regularly follow who produce beautiful photographs from medium format cameras. Also, my 35mm camera will be mostly tied up all year with the 365 project I recently started, so it was the perfect excuse to pick up another film camera!

The question was.....which one. There were a couple that initially took my interest, the Mamiya 7 for a start. However these are incredibly expensive, and despite being a rangefinder camera, not that different in practice from my 35mm Olympus. A twin reflex camera also looked appealing, but I couldn't find enough about them to know which one would be best. The more and more I looked into medium format cameras, the more I liked the appeal of the 500 series Hasselblads. The more and more I looked into the 500 series Hasselblads, the more I knew this was the one. I struggled to read anything other than people expressing what a joy it is to use these cameras, and I was also really attracted to the 6x6 square image format too. I had read a lot of advice stating the 500c/m was the minimum model you should pick up, and this variant had a number of advantages over the 500c. The newer 503CW etc models were also much more expensive, for reasons I never quite figured out. After scouring the internet for camera shops selling second hand film cameras, and advice on where to buy them, I eventually came back to good old eBay. After watching various listings for a couple of weeks, to see what sort of price they tend to go for, I eventually found an excellent condition 500c/m, with the Zeiss 80mm f/2.8 T* lens. After a few messages to enquire about the camera's history, everything felt right and I hit 'buy it now'. A few days later.....I was the proud new owner of this stunning camera. 


It doesn't take long to see what a beautifully engineered item this really is. It's also much heavier than I anticipated! I'll definitely be looking to buy a nice strap, as I'll be constantly paranoid about dropping it, and to make it ever so slightly more.....portable, if that can be done! 

The camera itself is elegantly simple, comprising of three main components......the lens, the body and the film back. It's also very modular. The body can be further dismantled to allow the fitment of a different viewfinder, or focusing screen. I may pick up another film back to allow swapping films mid roll, or just to have more ready-to-go film on hand.


After extensively playing with it, without any film loaded, to get accustomed to the process needed to take a photograph, I eventually loaded the first roll of film. I watched a few videos on how to operate the camera itself, including how to load rolls into the film backs. These proved essential as the camera has a couple of odd quirks to get used to, which can be costly if you aren't aware.  I picked up a 5 pack of the only 120 film my local camera shop stocks, Portra 160. I've never shot this film stock before, and it's not a film I would normally buy, but I didn't want to wait for other film to be delivered, so it was this or nothing. 

Unfortunately, the camera didn't come with an empty film spool. These cameras have a very simple and elegant way of moving the film through the camera. A new roll is loaded on one side of the back, with an empty spool on the other. The new film is fed into the empty spool, and once inserted in the camera, advanced.....then the film is ready for the 12 exposures. Once finished, the film is wound completely onto the second spool. This can then be removed from the camera as your finished film ready for development. The now empty spool is transferred to the other side, the new film loaded, and the process repeats.

But because I was missing the empty spool, I had to sacrifice a new roll of film to obtain one. Not the ideal solution, but again, it was a case of wait for one to be delivered, or have 4 rolls of film to shoot over the weekend. I'm not a very patient person!


I initially thought moving to 35mm would slow the shooting process down, coming from digital, but shooting on the Hasselblad takes things to a whole new level of slow! Firstly, you're seeing the world in a completely new way due to the waist level viewfinder, and due to the mirror, everything is reversed horizontally. This took a couple of days to get used to, and it still takes time to get the exact composition you want because of this oddity.  As weird as it sounds, this camera also sounds great! This satisfying sound and feel is what I really miss when shooting on digital. It's pretty addictive, and it certainly gets people attention when they're used to horrible fake shutter sounds on their cheap point and shoots!

The next hurdle is that this camera is fully manual. Manual focus is nothing new since I've become used to it on my 35mm Olympus, but at least that camera has a light meter, albeit one that takes some getting used to as well (coming from the digital world). Enter......the external light meter! I've never used one of these before, primarily because like many.....I've never needed to. Although not tricky to use, I was still unsure about taking readings in scenes with strong lighting and shadows. Johnny Patience has a brilliant post on his blog about metering for film, and like many others the general advice is.......expose for the shadows. This is what I tried to achieve for each frame, but with this camera, you only get 12 shots per roll. Not a lot of room to make a mistake, and costly if you do! The general advice most say is, rate the film at half speed and expose for the shadows.......so that's what I did......or tried to do at least.


I received the camera on a Friday, and with good weather forecast for the weekend coupled with the Autumn colours being in full swing, everything was set up for a great couple of days.