Review: Hasselblad 503CW medium format film camera

There are just a handful of camera brands that have achieved truly legendary, truly iconic status, and for me, at least, there are just three: Rollei, Leica, and Hasselblad. Of those, only Leica doesn’t (yet) grace my camera collection; I’ve not been bitten by that bug enough yet to overcome the price points. But Hasselblad? Hasselblads have been the camera in my mind for decades, and I frankly never thought I’d be able to hold one, let alone actually use one. And now, I not only use one, I own one. So, has it lived-up to its reputation in my own mind?

The Back Story

When I was first shopping for a medium format film camera back in early 2019, I did so with a twin-lens reflex (or TLR) camera firmly in-mind. That was in (very) large part due to this blog post at B&H, coupled with the fact that I wanted something along the lines of my Kodak Duaflex II in terms of the user experience, but with the added benefit of being able to adjust the focus, aperture and shutter speed. (The Duaflex is fixed-focus, fixed-aperture, fixed-shutter speed.) It was also reinforced by some of the homework I’d done on the various cameras that the above blog post talked about.

I had my sights set primarily on a Rolleiflex Automat MX-EVS (also known as a Model K4B, or sometimes as a Rolleiflex 3.5B), thinking that if I found a Yashica Mat-124G first, I’d get that instead.

At that time, I had pretty limited awareness of the sources of used gear, so my searches were limited, but I wasn’t able to turn-up any Rolleis, or Yashica Mats. One of my sources, and the only local one, was Englewood Camera. When I was checking for cameras, all they had in medium format was a Hasselblad 500C outfit for about $800, and a Pentax 645 for $500, which I previously discussed and reviewed. I didn’t buy the Hassy, not because I didn’t want it, but because at that time, spending $800 on something I wasn’t even 100% certain I was going to be into for long (film photography) seemed a little dumb. So, the Pentax came home with me — but the Hassy didn’t exactly leave my mind.

To be clear, when I think of a Hasselblad, I think specifically of what is today known as the V-System, or sometimes as the 500 Series. Hasselblad made other stuff, obviously, but for the remainder of this piece, any mention of “Hasselblad” refers specifically to the Hasselblad V-System.

In any case, as much as I love my Pentax 645, I kept thinking about Hasselblads, and kept trying to learn about the various models, the benefits of each, pondering issues of age, C lenses vs. CF lenses vs. CB lenses, understanding the various film backs, and keeping an eye on pricing. It could be my imagination, but it seemed like every time I looked, prices went up. (When I poke around now, after owning my 503CW for months, that seems to continue to be the case, but I can’t imagine that the price ceiling could possibly continue to move upward indefinitely.)

The standard online sites, including KEH, Roberts’ used gear site, and National Camera, not to mention eBay listings, had tons of stuff for sale. The problems were (and remain):

  • Breaking
    I’ll admit that this is speculation on my part*, but it seems glaringly evident that KEH and others make more money breaking complete cameras apart and selling the constituent parts than they do selling complete outfits, so they do exactly that.** Admittedly, this can be good for buyers who damage something and need only a certain component. But if you want a complete camera, you can pretty well count on buying the body, the viewfinder, the lens, the back, and even maybe the focusing screen separately. You can also expect that one or more of the caps (front and rear body caps, front and rear lens caps) are missing as well, and will have to be purchased separately if you want them.
  • Mismatched Components
    If you buy a late-model camera outfit or body, you may very well find that the focusing screen has been replaced with an earlier version. Since 1989, V-System cameras were supplied with “Acute-Matte” focusing screens, offering exceptional brightness and accuracy. The last Acute-Matte screens were called “Acute-Matte D,” and are generally recognized as an improvement over earlier versions, and bring good money when sold on their own. I’ll decline to name the retailer, but in my travels, I’ve examined two different Hasselblad outfits (complete cameras) whose components were not matched (not of the same vintage). In one case, the screen had been swapped with an earlier one, and in the other, the camera had an earlier film back than belonged on the camera. Buyer beware.
  • Prices Can Skyrocket for Proper, Complete Outfits
    As I already explained, the prices on the various broken-apart pieces can be high, especially from sellers like KEH, and bringing them together to form a complete outfit can add-up — fast. It’s exceptionally difficult to find and assemble the correct parts together into something that resembles how the camera would have originally been sold, vs. a “frankencamera” with different vintage or otherwise non-matching parts.

When it comes to Hasselblads, you can easily find the bodies and other key components across all the various models and various vintages across over six decades of production, and you’ll find them in various aesthetic or functional conditions, from junk to mint. And while it’s nice that the pieces are interchangeable, I wanted a complete outfit consisting of pieces that actually belonged together. And while I could do that with the online stores, the grand total rapidly began to approach $3,000 — too rich for my blood, and as much as these cameras cost new (albeit not adjusted for inflation).

eBay would have been an option, I suppose, but I refuse to spend any more than about $200 on eBay (it’s above my risk tolerance level), so the complete outfits there were not an option. If they were, they too were well in excess of $2,000 in most cases for gear that appeared in good shape. Like this recent example that matches my camera in model, equipment, and condition, but is priced well beyond what I paid:

Here’s a random eBay listing for the same camera that’s the subject of this review. Same condition as mine, judging by the photos. But wow, the price…

To be honest, I finally got to a point where I’d decided a Hasselblad was not in the cards for me. It was too hard to put together a good solution, and the prices were ridiculous.

Then, before a recent business trip to New Jersey, I Googled camera shops out of curiosity, and found Bergen County Camera in Westwood. Checking their used inventory sheet, I discovered they had a couple of Hasselblads in the store, both marked as being in excellent condition. Moreover, they were complete outfits, not merely separate pieces, and the prices seemed unusually reasonable based on what I’d seen, so I decided I’d stop by the shop on the way out of the town. It turns out that was a good move — or a bad one from the perspective of my wallet.

Brief digression: Westwood, New Jersey is a charming little borough in what I suppose could still be called the New York City suburbs, and Bergen Country Camera is a fabulous little camera store. While they focus primarily on modern equipment, they stock a modest selection of used film cameras, and sell film. The staff is friendly, the used gear prices range from “competitive” to “excellent” in my view, and it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area.

The Camera

The camera they had and that I was most interested in (and which I now own) was a Hasselblad 503CW. This was the very last model of the V-System produced; the company ended production in April 2013. My particular example was manufactured in 2000, so it wasn’t among the newest, but still relatively new in V-System terms, considering that the line started in the late 1940s. It came with a Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm CF T* lens in flawless condition, a Hasselblad lens hood, waist-level viewfinder, the appropriate (and bright) Acute-Matte D focusing screen, and the latest iteration of the A12 film back, known widely as a Type IV back, sometimes as a “black button” back, or very specifically as the Hasselblad 30212. They wanted just under US$1,600 for the outfit, and while I was reluctant to invest the money in yet another film camera, especially that kind of money, I did — primarily because I’d done my homework, and this particular camera, manufactured in 2000, was in outstanding condition, at a really compelling price point.

Indeed, the camera was excellent both inside and out, with barely a mark on it; primarily it was limited to some of the black anodizing on the lens rings showing a tiny nick here and there from handling. And internally, there was crazing on the camera’s anti-reflective coating.

Late model Hasselblads have such a coating, referred to as Palpas. (It’s sometimes — incorrectly — called Palapas.) Where the name comes from I have no idea, but it’s prone to cracking and splitting, and this 503CW has some of that issue on the secondary shutter among other areas. Googling this reveals a lot of opinions, but the consensus of Hasselblad experts is basically that the coating is prone to this cracking and splitting, and it’s nothing to worry about. Some references online suggest that the Palpas material could be replaced, but according to repair experts I’ve asked (including David Odess, who makes a living repairing Hasselblads), the material is longer available, so replacement is no longer an option. Even when it was, the cost was apparently often higher than what the camera was even worth. And in addition, it would only split eventually anyhow. Most sources suggest just leaving it alone; unless it’s coming-off in chunks (which seems unusual), nothing needs to be done, and even then, removing any shedded pieces is about the only real option.

My camera isn’t shedding any pieces; it’s just crazed, like all of them, and it’s not worth worrying about.

Crazed Palpas coating on the secondary shutter on my 503CW.

In any case, my camera sports an Acute-Matte D focusing screen. Noticeably brighter than earlier generation screens, the Acute-Matte D appears to be pretty highly sought-after, and can easily be retrofitted to earlier models. This explains the seemingly high price of Acute-Matte D screens on the secondary market, and why in some cases newer cameras might end-up with older, less vibrant screens in them as I described above. No matter the situation, or the history, I can vouch for the brightness of the screen; it’s far brighter than any waist-level finder I’ve used, enabling easy and accurate focusing in all but the most challenging lighting conditions.

Not sure if you have an Acute-Matte D? I’ve been unable to completely verify this, but apparently, this generation of focusing screen can be identified by two small cutouts on the edge of the frame on the screen itself, as shown in the image below.

Note that authoritative information on the Hasselblad focusing screens is very hard to come by, and even Hasselblad books are vague on the topic. My advice is not to buy a Hasselblad sight-unseen; examine the camera carefully in-person, and see if the focusing screen is satisfactory to you, for your uses, and factor that into your buying decision — regardless of what screen it is, or which generation it comes from.

Acute-Matte D focusing screen, with two cutouts on the lower left edge of the metal frame.

Hasselblad film backs come in a number of generations, types and trims. You frequently see references to Type I, Type II, Type III and Type IV film backs. I don’t know if those are official terms; in used stores, you see all types of name references: black button, V-button, “labeled as 6×6” and many others.

The co-called Type III and Type IV backs can be identified by the fact that they both have a place to slide the end of a film box to identify the film you loaded in the back, while Type IV has a dark slide holder — something conspicuously missing from all the earlier generations. (There also appears to be molded or 3D printed retrofits for the dark slide holders can be be stuck to Type III backs.)

Film box end in one of my Hasselblad film backs. The dark slide is not shown since it’s in the blocked position when this image was snapped.

Also unique to the Type IV is a separate raised-letter emblem that says, for example, “A12 6×6” — this is why KEH in particular calls these “labeled 6×6” backs. They are sometimes referred to on other used gear sites as an “A12 black button” back, and sometimes by the Hasselblad part number, 30212. While earlier backs are not that unaffordable (US$200 to US$250 or so in decent condition, but prices are all over the place), the 30212 backs seem to be consistently at or above the US$400 mark at this writing, and seem to be on the upswing. A16 backs of the same vintage — marked with a tag that says “A16 645” — are part number 30216, and generally are less expensive, but obviously provide only rectangular, 6×4.5 images. Hasselblad made backs for 220 film as well, the A24 (6×6) and A32 (6×4.5), but with 220 film out of production, these backs are of limited interest, and of no use unless you have a cache of expired 220 sitting around that you’re aching to use.

Type IV back, identifiable by the black button, raised-letter A12-6×6 legend, and barely in-frame, the dark slide holder on the rear.

Switching now to lenses; Carl Zeiss lenses are highly regarded, and they supplied a number of different lenses to Hasselblad over the decades. The 80mm f/2.8 lens that came with my camera is the first time I’ve experienced Zeiss glass, actually, and there are a few things I’ve come to love about the lens:

  • Sharpness
    First off, the lens is incredibly sharp. As in, the images are sharper than any other camera I own, or have ever used. The razor-sharpness coupled with medium format quality produces some breathtakingly good images in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. (I may not be that person, but I’m trying.)
  • Focus Ring Throw
    I’m speaking specifically of my prime lens here (80mm CF T*), but part of the sharpness, I think, is another thing I love: The focus ring has a massively long throw, providing incredible accuracy of focus like no other lens I’ve experienced. I sometimes find it tricky to get it right, because you’re moving the ring and not really seeing major changes in the viewfinder, at least when focusing relatively close, on the low end of the scale. This 80mm lens has about 270° of rotational throw. Contrast that with the 75mm prime lens for my Pentax 645, which has 180° of throw. While 90° doesn’t sound like much, viewed another way, it’s 50% more rotational travel, and that additional accuracy makes a very real difference in my experience.
  • EV on the Lens
    This is a nod to both the manual nature of the camera, and its use of leaf shutters: The ability to take the metered EV from the exposure meter, and dial it in directly on the lens. After that, the press of a button on the lens locks the aperture and shutter speed adjustments together as you move the ring so you can choose the desired effect within the constraints of the EV that applies to the scene. A dedicated meter has become a part of my workflow for all my cameras, no matter what’s on-board the camera, and I like the direct transfer of EV from meter to lens, then working those creative tradeoffs on-lens, vs. on-meter.
The EV scale on the 80mm CF T* lens; it’s set to EV 12.

The Experience

Using the 503CW has been a nearly magical experience. The first time you shoot a Hassy, I’d like to think you get an immediate understanding of why they’re so renowned. From the satisfying shutter action and sound, to the tactile experience of winding, everything just feels right — and incredibly satisfying — not to mention incredibly precise. But let’s start at the beginning.

Coming from a lot of intense use of the Pentax 645, handling a Hasselblad is… different. I’d go so far as to say that the Hasselblad feels delicate; the waist-level finder even seems flimsy. Given the hard life and massive volume of use that many Hasselblads were exposed to in the heyday of film, it’s clear that they’re more durable than they feel. But when you’re used to holding a few pounds of solid mass when shooting, moving to the Hassy feels weird.

Metering the scene is where I always begin, using my Gossen Sixtomat F2. As I mentioned above, I transfer the EV from the meter to the lens directly, then work the tradeoffs of aperture vs. shutter speed from there to achieve what I want, within the constraints of the film’s ISO anyway.

My Gossen Sixtomat F2 exposure meter, in EV mode; it’s metered a scene at EV 9.

As I do with other waist-level finder cameras, I always deploy the close-up lens and hold the camera to my eye for fine focus. The long-throw focus ring, as I said earlier, provides amazing accuracy of focus, and the bright Acute-Matte D focusing screen makes it easy to see the image you’re working on. After I get it right, I push the close-up back out of the way, and compose the image within the frame.

Close-up lens deployed in the viewfinder for more accurate focusing.

Once the focus is locked-in, and the image is composed, a press of the shutter button is of course all it takes. The sound? Well, the sound is Hasselblad all the way. Earlier in my career, I managed a number of photo shoots in my marketing and advertising jobs, and the professional photographers I worked with back in the 1990s all used Hasselblads — every single one of them. The sound of that shutter going-off brings back memories of those days; it’s that distinctive a sound.

It’s typical practice with Hasselblads to wind the film immediately after the shot, which in turn cocks the shutter for the next shot. On my 503CW, you can simply twist the knob in its folded state, as I always do, or if you prefer, you can fold-out a crank handle instead. There are power winders available for this camera, as is the case for some other Hasselblad models, but I see no real point to using one, frankly. (My Pentax has a motorized winder, and while it’s nice, I actually find I miss the manual cranking when I use it.)

Worth noting is that shutter cocking state is critical on Hasselblads; lenses must be removed and installed only with the body and the lens in their cocked states. Any attempt to remove the lens with the body and shutter in an uncocked state can result in a jam that requires a service technician to resolve. This fact surprises me, and adds some firepower to my statement that the Hasselblad feels delicate. Clearly they assumed that the users of the camera were professionals who did not need handholding on such matters.

Given that Hasselblads have removable film backs, there’s obviously a dark slide involved, and the dark slide must be in-place to remove a back from or install a back to the camera body — and the dark slide must be removed before attempting a shot. Frequently I forget that small detail; I’m ready to shoot, and the shutter isn’t working. 99% of the time, it’s the dark slide being in-place. This is a benefit of the Type IV backs; there’s an integrated dark slide holder on the back, which is not featured on earlier backs; on those, you have to figure-out where to put it (without bending it) during shooting.

Loading and unloading film in a Hasselblad back is not difficult, but it is a bit fiddly. First off, the dark slide has to be in the right position, and that’s a problem (sort of). Hasselblad dark slides have a small handle on them, and the bend in the metal sheet of the slide that wraps around that handle protrudes in one direction from the centerline of the slide, which you can see in the photos below. When you use the camera, it’s natural to have the bend “hinge” facing the rear of the camera. When you remove the slide and transfer it to the slide holder, that means the handle is in the right position to fold into place in the holder, and the hump on the handle clears the film insert knob. However, to get the film insert in and out, the hinge need to face the front of the camera, or the slide completely pulled-out, otherwise, it’s in the way of removing the film insert. To be honest, it’s a minor a thing, but nevertheless a constant annoyance.

The dark slide inserted with the hinge toward the back of the camera. Notice the hump in the handle clears the film insert knob. But, it’ll make it hard to get the insert in and out.
The dark slide must be turned around for the insert to clear during removal and insertion.

Also fiddly is that on the film insert, there’s a clamp that locks the film and its backing paper against the pressure plate; this keeps the film edge from snagging as you put the insert into the back. Lifting and releasing the clamp requires turning the locking key which fixes the insert within the film back body, and you do need to lift it to get the film underneath that edge. One quickly gets the hang of it all, but it does sometimes feel like I wish I had three hands when getting film into the back.

This snap from the owner’s manual illustrates the clamp (just below the upward-facing arrow in the upper-left part of the image). You need to turn the key (shown lower-right) to raise the clamp, then back it off a bit to clamp it down.

Once the newly-loaded film insert has been replaced into the body of the back and locked down, a simple wind of the film back’s crank is all that’s needed; the crank action will stop when the first shot is reached. Wind backward to get the crank aligned properly so the knob seats into its space, then fold the crank. You don’t need to touch it again until all the shots are exhausted, and you’re ready to wind the film fully onto the take-up spool for removal and processing.

The first roll I shot, I loaded incorrectly; I didn’t get the film under that clamp as I described earlier, but it worked fine in the end. And as I previously wrote, the lab cross-processed my lovely Portra film as black and white in error. But the shots were amazing, crisp and clear.

Shifting to other aspects of the camera, while I don’t currently have any other lenses than my prime, removing and replacing a lens is a simple affair, with a bayonet mount like most modern cameras. As I said earlier, make sure that the camera body and lens are both cocked (i.e., wound) before removal or replacement.

The 503CW has a built-in TTL meter, but unless you have a specifically compatible accessory — namely a Hasselblad D-Flash 40 or something like a Metz SCA 390 — it serves no actual, useful purpose. I’ve seen several D-Flash 40 units for sale, and the prices aren’t terrible. But I don’t personally think that the benefits really justify it, when I already have a perfectly usable Godox TT600 flash that works well with the Hassy — and countless other cameras in my collection. In any case, there is a film ISO setting wheel on the left side of the camera body, as shown below. This serves no technical purpose unless you’re using the TTL meter with a compatible accessory. While you could use it as a sort of reference for the speed of film you have loaded, given the changeable backs, if you have more than one back, its value for that purpose is suspect.

The film ISO setting dial for the in-built TTL meter. Also visible here is the accessory rail, the rectangle in the center of the side of the body.

Speaking of flash units and my Godox, it attaches easily to the Hasselblad. Given the leaf shutter system of the Hassy, the PC (flash sync) connection is on the lens itself, and the leaf shutter lets you use the flash at any shutter speed. I’ve used my Godox extensively with the Hasselblad, with great results. But without an ability to tap into that TTL feature, you will have to have an exposure meter with a flash mode; my aforementioned Gossen Sixtomat F2 fills that bill quite nicely. The Godox takes good advantage of the adjustable flash shoe adapter, which I’ll discuss below.

The Godox TT600 attached to the adjustable flash shoe (see below), connected to the lens’ PC cord. The rotation of the shoe, and repositionable head on the Godox means the flash can be aimed in pretty much any useful direction. And — added bonus — it stands away from the camera body sufficiently that my (big) head is not in the way when using the viewfinder.

The Accessories

While Hasselblads themselves can really add-up in price, you can accessorize to your heart’s content — if you can justify the cost. As I mentioned earlier, the primary components are expensive, and when it comes to accessories, they are too; the Hasselblad name itself seems to justify (in the sellers’ minds, anyway) a super-premium price. Here are some comments and thoughts on some of the possibilities — some of which I’ve jumped on personally, and others I have not:

  • Backs
    As I explained earlier, Hasselblad V-System backs are interchangeable; you should be able to put any V-System back (Type I, II, III or IV) on any V-System body. Whether you want to do that or not, I suppose, is a matter of personal choice and your sensitivity to whether something is “correct” for your Hasselblad body. The correct back for the 503CW is a Type IV, and while there were limited edition versions in things like gold-tone trim, the basic ones are either chrome or black trimmed. Given that my camera is chrome trimmed, the chrome Type IV is what “belongs” on the camera, and as luck would have it, they generally command the highest prices among Hasselblad backs. At this writing, market price for a Type IV A12 6×6 back in chrome trim seems to be right around US$400 each. To be honest, I find that to be completely insane to the point of stupidity. And yet, people — including me — seem willing to pay the exorbitant price. I have picked-up two more backs since buying my camera, and I honestly somewhat regret being suckered. Be that as it may, what exists today constitutes all the Hasselblad backs that will ever exist, so get them while you can, I suppose. Had I been willing to mismatch the cosmetics, I could have saved a few bucks getting one in black trim, or saved even more by settling for a Type III which would cosmetically match the camera, but would be missing the dark slide holder. I didn’t consider older ones; most are pretty well-used at this point, and would not match. Also note that A16 6×4.5 backs are less desirable, and cheaper. I thought about one of them, but honestly, I take 6×4.5 with my Pentax 645, and don’t need to do so with the Hassy.
  • Lenses
    There are myriad lenses and camera bodies available in the V-System, and many of them are interchangeable. The devil is in the details; for my purposes, a better way to say this is that any C-series lens (C, CF, CB, etc.) will work on any 500-series camera. I would encourage you to do some research online on the differences between the common identifiers, which include the aforementioned C, CF and CB, among others. The T* suffix (e.g., CF T*) indicates a multicoated lens, which all after 1974 apparently carried. The C lenses are the older original lenses with a Compur shutter; the CF has a Prontor shutter and support for Hassy models with a focal plane shutter. CB lenses came much later, ostensibly as a way to lower the cost with a simpler design. Some sources suggest the CF is “better” than a CB lens, but I would take that with a grain of salt. It would appear, anyway, that the Zeiss glass is going to give you good results regardless, but obviously fungus or scratches can affect these lenses as they do any other brand or type. In addition, these are leaf shutter lenses; as such, shutter problems are very much a thing, and fixing them is neither easy nor cheap. Obviously excellent condition lenses without issues command a very significant premium. I’d love to have other lenses for my Hassy, but I just can’t justify the cost of a lens that’s not beat-up. If I need wide angles or telephotos, I have those for my Pentax, and I’ll use that camera for those situations. Or, I’ll use a teleconverter…
  • Teleconverters
    Like many other changeable lens cameras, the V-System has teleconverters available for it. The one I have is the one labeled “2XE,” it’s Hasselblad item number 20605, and it (obviously) doubles the focal length of your lens. The 1.4XE model has a 1.4x increase, but my understanding is that they work only with specific lenses, while the 2XE version will work with any of them.
  • Extension Tubes
    I do enjoy macro photography, so extension tubes were a must. When I saw a set of three for sale online, I jumped at them. In retrospect, I wish I’d done my homework; the three tubes I got are, cosmetically anyway, for earlier Hasselblads with C lenses. While they do work with my newer camera and its CF lens, I prefer the period-correct approach where possible. In any case, my set consists of item 40363 (10mm), 40010 (21mm) and 40029 (55mm). Newer extension tubes would appear to be 40649 (8mm), 40654 (16mm), 40655 (32mm), and 40656 (56mm), although there’s ample evidence that there are still others.
Extension tubes — two of which are stacked — and the teleconverter 2XE.
  • Adjustable Flash Shoe Adapter
    The adjustable flash shoe is basically a cold shoe that attaches to the accessory rail on the left side (if looking from the rear, as you take a picture) of the camera body. The item number is supposedly 43125, and I’ve seen photos of two versions: one with a solid metal base (classic old style cold shoe), and one with a carve out in the base that prevents the contacts of the flash unit from shorting. The one I have is the solid version, but my Godox flash is smart enough to ignore the situation when the contacts are shorted (as they are when I use this adapter). I actually really like this method of attaching the flash unit, as the adapter has a rachet-rotating base that allows you — between the flash’s own movement and the adapter base — to point the flash pretty much anywhere you choose.
  • Straps and Strap Lugs
    The Hasselblad has metal posts for connecting strap lugs. Many used gear dealers, including KEH, have straps and even just plain lugs that connect to them. My retailer, Bergen Country Camera, kindly dug both an old Hasselblad strap (with lugs) and a pair of strap ends (also with lugs) specifically for the Op/Tech strap system, and threw them in for me at purchase. Regrettably, I damaged the leather Hasselblad strap attempting a repair on it, but since I’m an Op/Tech user anyway, I’m making good use of the strap ends, and you can see them in various shots on my 503CW.
The adjustable flash shoe attached to the accessory rail. The end of one of the strap lugs for my Op/Tech strap is visible in-frame as well here.
  • Filters
    There are myriad filters available with the Hasselblad name on them. My lens is a Bay 60, and I was able to pick-up a few beautiful and mint condition filters for my camera from Bergen County Camera. They had several on consignment, including a yellow filter, a red filter, and a terrific polarizer. I’d never used a polarizing filter before, but all I can say is: Wow! They really work! The color filters screw-on as you’d expect. The polarized does too, but once attached, it continues to rotate — on purpose. While looking through the viewfinder, just rotate the filter clockwise (as viewed from the front of the camera; counterclockwise will remove the filter) until the desired light filtering effect is obtained. The situations where a polarizing filter helps may be somewhat limited, but when you need one, you need one, and I wish I had them for all my cameras. Alas, not a cheap thing to acquire across myriad filter sizes and styles. If my memory serves me correctly, the color filters were US$50 each, and the polarizer was US$75. I’ve seen them for more on various used gear sites (and eBay).
My collection of Hasselblad filters: red, polarizing, and yellow.
  • Focusing Screens
    As I mentioned earlier, authoritative information on Hasselblad focusing screens is difficult (or actually, impossible) to come by. What I do know is that Acute-Matte D screens were the latest made (from 1996 to the end as I understand it), and they seem to be revered by Hassy enthusiasts. You can find them used, but as with any used purchase, conditions vary, and it’s not something I’d personally feel comfortable buying online, sight-unseen. In any case, part numbers to look for include:
    • 42204: Standard Screen
    • 42207: Screen with Metering Circle for PME90 Prism Finder
    • 42203/42210: Screen for 203 Bodies
    • 42167/42213: Screen for 205 Bodies
    • 42215: Screen with Microprism and Split Image
    • 42217: Screen with Grid Lines and Split Image
    • 42219: Screen with Grid, Split Image and Metering Circle for 203 (although this appears to be what’s in my 503, which also has a meter, making the metering circle relevant)

The Results

As always, the quality of a photograph depends a lot on who’s taking the image, and I’m not going to suggest that I’m all that skilled a photographer. But it does sometimes seem like the Hasselblad makes me a better photographer than I actually am; while I still have to compose the image well, as long I do that and dial-in exposure appropriately, well, the results can be magical. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites taken with my 503CW to-date.

Pay Here, the first image I ever shot with my Hassy. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
NYPD White, from the only roll of color I’ve shot with the 503CW so far. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Tattoos, shot in Manhattan. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Mail With Heart, Manhattan. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Tow Needs a Tow, Sedalia, Colorado. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Pilot Sport, shot with the 21mm extension tube attached. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Go!, Castle Rock, Colorado. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.
Deere, Littleton, Colorado. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King.

The Specifications

Rather than repeat the information here, if you’re looking for specifications, I would direct you to the Hasselblad 503CW manual. I’m pleased to make a nice quality copy available to you here in PDF format.


* I don’t actually think it is speculation on my part. If you observe the listings on KEH carefully, you’ll know that they frequently highlight “just back in stock” merchandise. I’ve hit that list of stuff on numerous occasions where a pile of Hasselblad stuff hits the inventory at the same time, and the parts are all the same vintage — but are separated, not offered as an outfit. Sometimes that makes sense (e.g., a lens filter). Usually it doesn’t — the separated-out lens, body, back, and viewfinder, for example. When you add the cost of the separate components can compare the prices to complete outfits you find from other sources, the total cost is considerably higher.

** In speaking with a camera store owner recently, I also learned that the decision about breaking a camera depends on the circumstances. One dealer (for example) specializes in Leica, carries numerous new and used models, and for them, it simply makes more sense for their customer base to break Leicas, which in their case means taking-in complete cameras and selling the bodies and lenses separately. When they get other makes in, including Hasselblad, they resell the cameras as a complete outfit. This honestly makes sense for them, and their customers.