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