The 13th frame on a Hasselblad 500

Hasselblad 500 cm 12 back

Turns out that the oldest 12 magazines (6x6) for the Hasselblad 500 have a distinct advantage over the later automatic ones. You can start the roll a little earlier to fit a 13th picture on the end of the roll. Most of the time...

How to get the extra frame

  • The paper backing of HP5 120 film is numbered so that on really old cameras you can visually set the first frame starting point after loading. The trick on the Hasselblad is to start the roll on the first circle symbol rather than on the number 1 that you would usually aim for. Other films will have different symbol conventions on the paper, but should work in a similar way.
  • Another way to figure out where to start is to look at the paper of a used roll. By leaving the tape on the film side of the paper you can visually inspect where the film starts and the corresponding symbol needed on the reverse of the paper. Remember that the symbol is referenced to the center of the first 6x6 frame, not the top of it. The starting point, therefore, is 3cm further into the roll from the tape mark.
  • After taking the 12th picture, the frame counter needs to be reset to prevent the camera locking the shutter button. 

What could go wrong?

  • Firstly you must avoid starting the roll too soon. This might take some trial and error for your magazine, but if you start the roll too early the first frame might expose over the tape that attaches the film to the backing paper.
  • The camera is not designed to take the 13th frame, otherwise this would just be the normal number to expect. I often find there is a large gap between frames 12 and 13 - sometimes so large that the top of the last image is lost over the edge of the roll. I'm not sure why this happens because sometimes I get the entire 13th image without issue. 
Sometimes the bonus 13th square frame is cropped at the end of the roll of film. 

Sometimes the bonus 13th square frame is cropped at the end of the roll of film. 


Given the risk, the 13th frame should be seen as a bonus and not used for any critical shots. It is nice to get the most out of a roll of 120 film and the old magazines are the most desirable in my opinion for this reason.

Images of Halifax

I'm from a small industrial town nestled in the hills of West Yorkshire in England. Halifax was in its prime when the Victorians set up textile factories along its rivers during the industrial revolution. A lot of this architecture still remains, though most of it re-purposed for the modern world. Cold soot-stained stonework against the gently rolling hills defines the landscape. The air is fresh.

I appreciate the aesthetics of the town more now I live thousands of miles away than I did when I lived there. I started to bring my Hasselblad with me on trips to capture Halifax on film. For certain subjects, using black and white film makes the image look almost as if it were taken a hundred years ago. 

Camera Kit: Medium format film, Hasselblad 500


There is something special about an old Hasselblad. Even though it is a cube with no ergonomic considerations, it feels right in your hands. The cla-chunk thud from the curtain/mirror/shutter movements is satisfying. Its looks are timeless. Gooey sentiments aside, there are serious benefits to film medium format.


What is it good for?

  • Negative size larger than digital can offer.  There is no digital equivalent to even the small 6x4.5cm format (all digital medium format sensors are 'crop' formats smaller than traditional medium format, but larger than 35mm - more info here). So you can spend $10,000 on a digital crop camera, or $500 on a 6x6cm classic. The negatives are huge, dwarfing the grain to make images look clean rather than gritty.
  • Square format. Though other aspect ratios are available through interchangeable camera backs or other cameras, a square format is often used. It is no better or worse than 4x6 or 4x5, but changing things up is often refreshing. I like the square format to exploit symmetry or make a subject dominant by having it in the center of the frame. The rule of thirds is in the back seat here.
  • Seeing your images sooner. Though you get only 12 or 16 images on a roll, that means you also get to the end of a roll quicker than you would with a 35mm roll. One of my pet peeves of 35mm is having taken some great images and not being able to develop them quickly because there are 20 images still to take.

What's the compromise?

  • Equipment cost. A Hasselblad 500 used to be out of reach of the masses in its heyday. Today, they are relatively cheap, but still more expensive than building a 35mm film kit. KEH and UsedPhotoPro are good places to start looking.
  • Film cost. A roll of 120 film is almost the same price as a roll of 35mm, but you are only getting 12 or 16 pictures on the roll. This triples the cost of film per image.
  • Size. These are not discrete cameras. They are easily strap-mounted for hand-held use, but are heavy and I often use a backpack if i need more than one lens with me. They take up a lot of room and add weight to luggage making them a commitment if you want to travel with them. My Hasselblad with 3 lenses outweighs my large format camera kit with 3 lenses.

What's in my camera bag?

  • Cameras: Hasselblad 500cm with rapid winding crank, waist level view finder, focusing screens (x3)
  • Film magazines: 12 magazine (2), 16 magazine.
  • Lenses: Distagon 50mm f4 CT, Planar 80mm CT f2.8, Sonnar 150mm  f4 CT, Sonnar 250mm f5.6C.
  • Accessories: Extension tubes (10mm, 21mm, 55mm), Hasselblad to Canon EF mount converter, lens focus handles, UV filters, red filter, circular polarizer, cable release

Heartbreak of chewed-up film

During a weekend to the Hill Country, Texas, I shot a roll of 120 HP5 using a Hasselblad 500cm and a 16 magazine. A tree reflected in the river. A long flight of stone stairs. Portraits of friends. The roll was slightly harder to wind than usual, and I thought nothing of it at the time. But once I'd finished the roll and I thought I had re-wound it, I found I couldn't remove the insert form the magazine.

I investigated in the safety of a dark-bag. It took brute force to remove the insert and i found the film tightly folded on the inside.  I developed it (loose, as it wouldn't load onto the developing reel) and found all the exposures were layered on the first frame. The backing paper was neatly wound on the receiving spool.

This is an unsettling problem. Usually, if I make a technical error, I have myself to blame and I learn from the mistake. But this time, it seems to be a manufacturing anomaly - either the tape wasn't holding the film to the backing paper, or the initial winding separated them.

I kept the negatives as a reminder that if something feels wrong through the camera, it should not be ignored.