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September 13th, 2012

Adventures in Medium Format Photography.

Looking back over my receipts, I bought the Hasselblad in January of 2005 with the Kiev 45 degree prism and the 80mm Zeiss Planar lens and hood for just under a thousand bucks. Sounds expensive but they went for about that new back in the 70s when I was a poor teenager and a thousand bucks back then might as well have been a million. I’d wanted one ever since I saw what those amazing Zeiss lenses were capable of. But it was way out of reach. New ones are still way (way!) out of my reach. But used older ones are something I can afford now, and this one was in cherry condition…like whoever owned it had barely used it. Over time I bought another two film backs for it and a 50mm Distagon lens because I like shooting wide angle. But the camera mostly sat in the camera cabinet.

That was partly because Apple’s Aperture software just gaged on the large scans off it. To work with them in Aperture I first had to drop them down in resolution in Photoshop. It was a pain in the neck. The workflow completely broke with those scans. You couldn’t even bring the image up in the browser because it would just go gray and you would get an “unsupported format” error message. Eventually Apple just declared it would not support grayscale image scans altogether, that Aperture was for digital photography only, and that pretty much meant it would not be usable for photographers who still liked working in film.

I could have switched to Adobe’s Lightroom product, but after working with the Hasselblad for a while I was discovering that everything about working with that camera was a pain in the neck. The standard focusing screen had no focusing aid and my aging eyes could have really used one. Or at least a diopter. So I was never able to focus on a subject quickly. Plus I had to work with a hand-held meter which only added to the slow deliberate pace of taking pictures with it. Some photographers are fine with that but that just completely messes me up when I want to explore a subject. And it was a triple pain when I had the red filter on it and had to futz with calculating the filter factor in addition to everything else.

It was: see an interesting subject. Stop. Fuss with taking the meter out of my pocket and its case. Figure how to get a good reading. Do I need to walk in close? Angle the meter down a tad? Wait…I don’t have my reading glasses on. I can’t see what the meter is telling me. Put the glasses on…take a reading. Transfer the reading to the lens. Bring the camera to my eye and compose. Wait…take your glasses off.. I’ll just set them down over here. No…better put them back in my pocket. Now try to focus. No…I need my distance glasses to focus because I don’t have a diopter on this thing. Focus…focus…not sure that’s right but it’s the best I can do… Compose. Shoot. Put meter back.

So I became disappointed with it and mostly the camera just sat. And I never got a chance to see what an amazing camera it really is or how much fun it could be to work with. I figured I would just stick to my 35mm SLRs for expressive photography.

As I said, Apple eventually declared it would not support film photographers. I discovered this after an upgrade to Aperture completely hosed the display of all my black and white image files and I looked on their support boards to see what the problem was. (As an aside…Never tell Apple disciples…never even hint to them…that their holy computers and software are anything but perfect.) So I bought a copy of Lightroom. I figured since Photoshop had no problem with the scans off my film scanner it wouldn’t either. And it doesn’t. So I was finally was able to just wander around the shoots I’d done with the Hasselblad. as few as they were because I hadn’t taken it out much…and I was stunned.   (The following JPEGS don’t do justice really to what I saw…but to do that I’d have to upload the original size image files and at about 150 meg a shot you would wait a long time for those to load…)

My God…why hadn’t I been using this camera more…? Well..could be because I needed a diopter and a metering prism at least. Through the lens metering is much, Much faster, more accurate because you are getting a reading of exactly what you’re taking a picture of, and if you put a filter on the lens you get a meter reading on the light coming through the filter…you don’t have to futz with filter factor calculations (those two shots of Monument Valley were taken with a red filter, which darkens the blue sky and brings the clouds out into sharp relief).   Then this month KEH ran a medium format equipment sale and I decided it was time to spend the money to make the Hasselblad usable for the kind of photography I do. Light footed, hand held wandering around for what I like to think of as found images. What I figured I needed to do it right: a plus 1 diopter, a brighter grid lined focusing screen with a split image focusing aid, and a center weighted metering prism.

The pieces came in the mail over the past couple days and just a few hours ago I assembled everything and…whoa. Gonna shoot some test rolls this weekend. One roll of Rollei Agfa Retro 80 and a roll of the Fuji neopan 100. Because Kodak is not looking at all well and I need other sources of film to feed my habit. But already I am Loving what the Hasselblad has turned into with the new accessories. This is going to be fun. Finally.

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