Latest and greatest:
I posted the old version above in error:
Things to consider when purchasing a used Hasselblad 500C Series 6x6cm medium format camera:
Models included; 500c, 500cm, 500 Classic, 503c, 503cm, 503cx, 503cxi
What continues to make these cameras a compelling choice is their ideal mix of features & functionality, light weight, small size, ease of handling, extreme reliability & optical quality. As a camera with a great design, right out of the gate, changes have been very minor over the last 50 + years. They are still being sold new today.
In the days when film was king these were no compromise top of the line professional cameras with Zeiss lenses and were outrageously expensive. Their price new was in the thousands of dollars for a complete kit and so created a market for less expensive cameras out of Japan – Bronica, Mamyia, Kowa, etc. Some of these Japan made cameras were reasonably good some were really ugly performers.
The 500CM was manufactured from 1970 to 1994 was the most widely acclaimed medium format camera in the world during that period. A completely mechanical SLR with a cast aluminum body structure featured a very long service life. Like all the 500C series cameras much of its reliability is inherent in its design philosophy.
The main body structure:
• Is made from a single large machined casting ensuring the key dimensions critical to sharpness and mechanical robustness are maintained;
• Minimizing the number of fasteners and moving internal parts;
• The light and dust seals made of materials resistant to degrading over time and;
• The use of shutters of proven design that are well protected internally to the lenses.
It is not unusual to run thousands of rolls of film through these without any malfunctions. All 500C series cameras have a between the lens shutter that flash syncs at all speeds. This is a key feature as it allowed for using flash in bright daylight environments to fill up the overly dark shadows in a scene. I was once told the “C” stood for “Compur” as in Compur brand shutter. This was the shutter type used in the earlier lenses. In addition to the 80mm a 150mm F 4 Sonar lens is nice for portraiture and a 60mm Distagon is a nice slight wide lens great for group shots around tables at gatherings.
Although these cameras have safety interlocks to avoid functional failure there are two well documented situations where one may have usability issues with these cameras:
• On the older lenses the flash synchronization has positions for strobe “x” and flash bulbs “m”. If inadvertently the lever slips off the proper strobe setting a photographer’s strobe lit images will not be exposed. There is no functional indication that something is wrong until the film is processed. This can be especially embarrassing when shooting social gatherings that cannot be recreated later. Consider ways to block the ‘m” position or consider having a technician remove the “m” setting option from your older lenses to completely rule out this failure mode.
• Common to all these cameras is the interface that mechanically synchronizes the camera body’s film advance / viewing states, to the lens’ shutter state. If this interface is out of synchronization the camera will not function. To avoid this issue only attempt to remove or mount lenses when the camera body and lens are in the wound “ready” state. If for some reason you are able to remove the lens from the body with both components not in the “ready” state or the shutter is inadvertently triggered off the camera the lens’ shutter must be reset to the “ready” state before it is remounted to the camera.
A photographer having experience with a 35mm SLR may find the 500C series viewfinder not quite as bright and also requiring a little more effort to focus. This is due to the larger film format and lenses with generally smaller maximum apertures of F 2.8 or F4. For this reason photographers have found that prefocusing with the use of the depth of field scales, also called “zone focusing”, is very useful when shooting hand-held. If on-camera strobe is used a unit capable of an f16 exposure at 10 feet (Guide Number 160) minimum is ideal.
The lens barrels have changed styles over the years however even the early chrome barrel lens are superb and they are all compatible as long as they are equipped with a between-the-lens shutter and as such labeled “C” or “CF” lenses not “F” only lenses.
The vast majority of used lenses out on the market are “C” lenses. C lenses are ergonomically a little harder to use as the focusing grip is smaller in diameter than and not as wide as the later CF lenses. An accessory for these lenses was a clamp on plastic focusing handle to mitigate this issue.
Hasselblad lenses take bayonet mounted filters most C lenses share the same filter size (B50) & most CF lenses share a different size (B60). To use the same filter on both lens series a filter bayonet step up or step down adapter will be needed. One can also consider a bayonet to threaded filter adapter as well.
I cannot recommend purchasing any of the “F” series cameras used. Their complexity, I feel, makes them a poor choice.
When looking at a used 500C series camera one the easiest way to see if it has lots of miles on it is by inserting the dark slide, removing the film back and looking to see how worn the anodized black camera-to-holder mating surfaces look. For the lenses, remove the lens and look at the bayonet tabs on the lens for brassing and dings to see if the lens has seen lots of lens changes. There are a surprising number of low mileage Hasselblads out there that were purchased by wealthy amateurs ultimately becoming shelf queens later sold on eBay. For the 500cm there was a user upgradable focusing screen that improved viewing brightness considerably. Many of these 500cm cameras have had their screens updated by now.
I have heard of, but not seen, where the Secondary Shutter (light trap door on the camera body), on older cameras, located where the body mates to the film back, can dry out and leak light. This door supports the ability to change lenses without inserting the back’s dark slide. For this reason check the door seals on the body for light leaks when considering a used camera purchase. A few pops of a strobe through the camera body in a darkened room will reveal if this is an issue.
The earlier model called a 500c (no “M”) did not have interchangeable focusing screens and were quite dark to look through. For this reason many of these cameras had their screens updated to a brighter one by a service technician early on. Even these 500c cameras are nice and ones with low miles can be found. The earlier lenses offered with both the 500c & 500cm had a really neat and useful depth of field scale markers that moved as you changed apertures. The early “12” magazine unlike the “A12” and later 120 magazine could be loaded with 120 or 220 film for up to 24 exposures. Later on the use of 220- 24 exposure film required the purchase of an additional, and expensive, dedicated 24 exposure back initially known as an "A24”. In my opinion later versions after the 500cm such as the 500cx did not offer much in useful features beyond the 500cm. They are great cameras although I would not pay much of a premium for one.
Years of Manufacture, Models & Key Features:
1957-1970 500c, Flash synchronization at all shutter speeds, a foundation feature;
1970-1997 500cm, User interchangeable focusing screens with original and aftermarket bright focusing screens available, a significant upgrade;
1997-2005 501cm, Change in mirror design to minimize viewfinder vignetting with shorter focal length lenses. A minor functional upgrade that introduces a significant internal design change;
1988-1994 503cx Added through the lens, off the film automated flash exposure control. A minor new feature useful if using a zoom, long focal length lens or in certain scientific applications, applications rarely done with this type of camera.
Might I suggest you try a Cokin ring system, I only had to buy the B-60 to 72mm ring then all my filters on the Cokin system can be used or I can share with my 35mm gear.
Originally Posted by Sirius Glass
You might research and add information about the "Palpas" coating on some of the later C models. I own a 503cx that has this rubbery anti-reflection coating inside. It is shrinking and cracking from age. This is not uncommon. It has not caused any problems for me yet, but it will become a problem someday. I believe it was used on several models, but I don't know which ones. My repairman said replacing it would cost more than the camera is worth. Replacement requires a complete strip-down of the camera body.
Alas neither the SWC or the 50 C lenses used B50. I do use the adapter on a 100C lens and both lens hood and filters work the same as on the CF lenses.
Originally Posted by Ed Bray