Hasselblad 500 C/M

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Origins and name

The Hasselblad 500 C was introduced in 1957 by Victor Hasselblad AB, replacing the original focal plane shutter models 1600 F and 1000 F, which, despite their innovative concept never got rid of the problems associated with the shutter used. Realizing this, Hasselblad decided to start almost from scratch in order to make a more reliable model. It was a major decision for the company to create a completely new camera, only keeping the physical shape of the original, while everything inside would be new. The single inspiring factor was the promising new Compur shutter, based on Zeiss Ikon’s Contaflex experience, and the fact that Zeiss committed themselves to manufacture the new range of lenses. The shutter would be an integral part of every interchangeable Hasselblad lens. The new design meant electronic flash synchronization at all shutter speeds, and automatic aperture stop down, the latter one year before the first 35mm SLR, the Minolta SR-2. The new model name 500C reflects the fastest shutter speed and the shutter type, already an established practice: a 1/500th second and the Central lens shutter made by Compur.

The 500 C, the first in the long lasting V-series, comprising the 500, SWC, 2000 and 200 range of cameras, was received with scepticism. Both the lens shutter concept associated with less advanced 35mm SLR cameras, and the moderate top speed of 1/500th of a second worried the critics. However, the decision was proven a sound one. Very short exposure time is easily and more accurately obtained using strobe light, in the studio anyway. The original model stayed in production until 1970. It was replaced by the 500C/M (M for modified according to the factory), featuring an interchangeable focusing screen and an improved automatic back, the A-series film magazines.

The new Hasselblad camera gained a reputation over the years for its robustness, mechanical accuracy and for having a wide range of high-quality lenses, making it the medium-format camera of choice for generations of professional photographers. Victor Hasselblad AB reinforced this reputation by making the most of the fact that their camera had been chosen by NASA for use in space, although not without modifications.

A modular system camera

Following the design principle of the previous models, the Victor Hasselblad AB made the V-series completely modular: Not only the lenses, but also the winding crank, the viewfinder and the film magazine are exchangeable during normal operation of the camera. With the introduction of the 500C/M, also the focussing screen became easily exchangeable. The 500C/M was also sold as the Hasselblad 500 Classic bundle that included a 80mm lens and A12 film back.

Victor Hasselblad AB put great effort to assist correct magazine handling: the presence of a dark slide in the film magazine prevents the shutter from being fired, but allows the removal of the back, whereas the back is locked to the body without the dark slide in place. Further: two small indicator windows opposite one another - one on the back and the other on the body - show the state of the film (exposed vs. unexposed) and shutter (cocked vs. released).

The above described effort is in strong contrast to the ease with which the shutter and body state dissociate upon removal of the lens. This can result in either (i) a released shutter and a body already in a mirror-down position or (ii) a cocked shutter and the mirror up. In either situation, re-inserting the lens can easily lead to irreversible damage. Over the years, this has led to the introduction of a great variety of tools from many vendors addressing these issues. It is recommended to always keep the camera wound before making any exchanges.

Magazines and film

a new A12 magazine and an older 12-shot magazine
with a hole to check the frame number

image by Dries van den Elzen
(Image rights)

Upon introduction in 1957, the Hasselblad came with a 12-shot magazine for 120 film. A 16-shot magazine for 6×4.5 was also available. When loading the film, the photographer had to find the first frame by winding until the number "1" was visible through a hole in the back. Unlike many manufacturers, Hasselblad deemed it unnecessary to obscure this with a ruby window.

The introduction of "automatic" magazines (1970) meant the end of all this: when film is loaded, winding the camera will transport automatically to frame 1. Hence the name Automatic: A12. Other available magazines include a Polaroid back, a magazine for 220 and another for 70mm bulk film.

A 12-shot magazine with dark slide (1) and the back of the 500C/M showing secondary shutter and mounting for film back (2). The magazine's inner life (3).


The camera can be fitted with a waist level finder, plain prism or a metered prism finder.



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images by Dries van den Elzen (Image rights)