Hasselblad: My Latest Film Camera Shopping Spree

Hasselblad 501CM, PME-5 Meter Prism, 40mm CF, and 100mm CF.

If you read the blog entry about my experience buying a new Rolleiflex Hy6 a few years ago, then you already know it was not a pleasant affair. I have been able to fix or work around the Hy6’s multitude of problems and I do use it, but it’s not a system I will be investing any more money in. The automation of the Hy6 is wonderful, but questionable reliability, lack of domestic repair options, and scarcity of indispensable accessories like film backs makes it a poor choice going forward.

In the past, I had done some research into Hasselblad and Bronica SLRs, so I wasn’t jumping into it cold. I was impressed by both systems, but ultimately decided to go with the Hasselblad V-series. It has an excellent reputation, a full line of Ziess optics. a large user base, is readily available in quantity from multiple sellers on the used market, and can be serviced by a number of domestic repair facilities.

What to Buy

I quickly narrowed the search to either a 501CM or a 503CW body which are newer members of the V family and have a few improvements over earlier models that are nice to have, but not essential. Also on my shopping list was a meter prism, a waist level finder and an A12 film magazine. I planned to start with two lenses. Since the 40mm lens for my Hy6 was recently declared unrepairable (at least domestically) due to the unavailability of parts, I decided that I would definitely be getting a 40mm Distagon lens for the Hassy. I also decided against getting the usual 80mm kit lens since I already had an 80mm lens for the Hy6. Instead I decided on the 100mm Planar lens which has impressive MTF curves. I went with CF rather than C lenses because I didn’t want lenses that were more than 40 years old. I can see myself getting a 60mm lens in the future.

Where to Buy

I gave a lot of thought about how to mitigate the risks of buying used equipment. In the end, I settled on buying everything from KEH in Atlanta for multiple reasons.

  1. They had everything I wanted.
  2. They have a 6 month warranty and an in-house repair facility.
  3. Having a sizable inventory, they are able to replace an item if it falls short of expectations.
  4. They have a 21 day return policy.
  5. They have a generally good reputation and I’ve had good experiences with their repair shop.
  6. They are are domestic, so they are subject to US law.
  7. They sell on ebay and with feedback from >100,000 transactions.

There are two downsides to shopping at KEH:

  1. First, they don’t provide actual pictures of items for sale, instead opting to use generic pictures of the product. For me, that was not a trivial shortcoming, but it was outweighed by the benefits. Given their large inventory and turnover, I can understand why they don’t provide a full batch of pictures of every individual item. Furthermore, I also don’t think pictures of the actual item are a substitute for a good reputation and a buyer friendly return policy.
  1. Second, they don’t list serial numbers for camera bodies and lenses, so you can’t look them up and find out how old they are. This can be helpful if it allows you to determine whether an item is ten years old or 30 years old. An older item may be more likely to need service for decaying seals or gummy lubricants. But, not all manufacturers provide a means to cross-reference serial numbers with manufacture date, so this is limited only to some brands.

I am not suggesting that KEH is the only reliable source of used analog equipment. Hasselblad is one of several MF systems where used equipment is plentiful and available from numerous reputable sellers with hassle free return policies. Competition is our friend. But, for the equipment I was shopping for, KEH offered several options for each item on my list, with different price point and condition ratings. No other seller I looked at matched KEH in that regard. They must have a considerable inventory.

Buying used carries a risk that the camera may have problems and may need service the moment it arrives. Sellers often don’t recognize defects in items they sell or hope the buyer won’t notice them. With their in-house repair facility KEH has the capacity to rectify such problems should any arise.

Other used equipment sellers include Roberts Camera (UsedPhotoPro), Samy’s Camera, and Cambridge World (which also has a repair shop, but doesn’t appear to list condition ratings on many items). If you buy pricy equipment direct from any merchant, I recommend you check that seller’s feedback from buyers on ebay. If they don’t sell on ebay, it may be because they’re unwilling to comply with ebay’s customer protection policy.

One thing I made up my mind not to do is purchase from Japanese sellers on ebay. I’ve seen too many of their listings where they rate a product as EXC+++++, but then note that lens haze, which can easily render a lens useless, does not factor into their condition ratings. While many accept returns, dealing with international shipping and customs just increases the cost, risk, and hassle of returning an item. Furthermore, many Japanese sellers have limited buyer feedback, which makes me think they just create new accounts when they get too many bad ratings. While some buyers swear by them, buying from Japan is not for me when there are reputable US sellers with buyer feedback in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

Pulling the Trigger

The Hasselblad 501CM, accessories, and lenses that I ordered were well packed, arrived quickly, and all worked right out of the box. I made it a point of selecting items that KEH had rated EX or better. I wasn’t bargain hunting. I was willing to pay for items that, while not perfect, were in good working order.

The only problems I encountered were a somewhat stiff focus on the lenses and slightly sticky mirror-up button on the body. The mirror up button loosened up within a few frames and hasn’t reoccurred since. The focus on the 40mm lens now turns quite smoothly just from use since I got it. The 100mm lens is still stiffer than what I’m used to, but not enough to warrant sending it in for a CLA. Cosmetically, I was pleased with everything the moment I unpacked it. I couldn’t have expected it to be in better condition if I had owned it myself. After several days of rigorous testing, I was unable to find any functions that didn’t work. That was impressive and it suggests KEH is better than average at rating the condition of items they sell. It was the exact opposite of the experience I had with the factory fresh Rolleiflex Hy6 in 2020.

  • The body, lenses, and accessories looked nearly new, inside and out.
  • No light leaks.
  • The film back didn’t scratch the film.
  • The focusing was spot-on and out to infinity at full aperture.
  • The frame spacing is even with no overlapping frames.

I went through several rolls of film hunting for defects. There were none.

About Focusing Screens

The 501CM camera body came with a 42204 Acute-Matte D focusing screen which has no focusing aids. During the focus testing phase, I ordered a BrightScreen with microprism and split image focusing aids specifically because the 40mm lens has such extreme depth of field that it’s hard to focus precisely even on a flat contrasty target for focus testing purposes. While I prefer the Acute-Matte D over the BrightScreen for viewing, the focusing aids are indispensable for me. Ideally, I’d like to get an Acute-Matte D with focusing aids such as the 42215 or 42217, but they are outrageously expensive compared to the $100 BrightScreen. The BrightScreen is not a bad screen, by any means. It looks very similar to the screen that came with My RB-67 Pro S that I used without issue for decades. Also, the BrightScreen with the supplied shims, focused identically to the Acute-Matte. I couldn’t have been happier about that.

Bottom Line

I thought long and hard about how to reduce the risk of buying used equipment. For expensive items, I have limited my ebay purchases to reputable domestic sellers that accept returns and have a well established track record. I have also lowered my expectations of getting an item in good usable condition at a bargain price. I am now willing to pay more to get more.

A merchant who plans to be in business for the long term protects his reputation by pleasing customers and nurturing repeat business. There are good arguments for buying from KEH and, as long as they are a reliable seller with a commitment to customer satisfaction, I will continue to shop there. The worst thing you can do is just assume a seller is honest and hope for the best.

This is, of course, just one man’s opinion.

First Pictures From The Hasselblad

After shooting a few test rolls of film to check shutter seeds, apertures, focusing and other functions on the 501CM, I took it on a local outing in downtown Huntsville, Alabama. While I took both the 40mm and 100mm lens, the only lens I used was the 40mm. While optically not as good as the later (and much more pricy) Hasselblad IF CFE lens, it has about half the distortion. Since I shoot urban landscapes and Photoshop can’t fix a darkroom print, straight lines are important to me. One setting if the FLE covers the range of 2 meters to infinity, so I didn’t find much need to change it for the kind of shooting I do.

Need I mention that Hasselblad doesn’t make any cockamamie claims that their lenses are only designed to focus out to the hyperfocal distance?

Below are a few shots from that excursion. All are scans of darkroom prints with 8″ x 8″ images on Ilford Cooltone RC paper from Tri-X and Delta 400 negatives developed in Ilfosol 3 (my first experience with that developer).

2 thoughts on “Hasselblad: My Latest Film Camera Shopping Spree

  1. LOL! Good catch! I fixed it, but for any future visitors wanting to know what the problem was, here is the line as originally written:

    “After shooting a few test rolls of film to check shitter seeds, apertures, focusing and other functions on the 501CM, I took it on a local outing in downtown Huntsville, Alabama.”

    Thanks for taking the time to point it out. I really need to sharpen my proof reading skills.

    Very nice work on your website. I spent a couple years in Iceland when I was stationed there while in the US Navy in the 1970s. I also bought my Nikon F2 there and almost went over a water fall when I nearly dropped it. Iceland doesn’t put up barriers to protect idiots like me from themselves.

    Also, I really like the tractor picture in the 50/1.2 gallery.

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