Film continues to surge in popularity, and our team at The Phobographer is here for it. Nothing is better than hearing a shutter’s sound and advancing film. Plus, the slower pace is refreshing. Medium format remains at the top of many wishlists. You really can’t go wrong with any selection here. That being said, the Hasselblad 500 series is always a good idea, and the refreshed Hasselblad 501cm does not disappoint. If color is your jam, you might score one of the rare jewel-colored options from the early 2000s.
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I bought my beloved sun yellow Hasselblad 501cm when I was a sophomore in college. The experience changed my life, and the trajectory has led me on an incredible journey. I fell in love the moment I stepped foot in the darkroom. Photography has always been and will continue to be an instrumental part of my life. Does the 501cm still hold up twenty years later? Absolutely.
The Big Picture
The Hasselblad 501cm kit continues to be one of the most beloved and highly sought-after medium format film cameras. This entirely analog system is revered for its beauty and impeccable image quality. It is well-built and has a simple, user-friendly design. If you are versed in film, the Hasselblad 501cm is easy to use. It isn’t built for speed; it’s a camera meant for slowing down, relishing your senses, and indulging in the scene.
The waist-level viewfinder takes a little getting used to and provides a unique viewpoint that’s fun to use. You can buy a PM90 viewfinder to correct the image and focus faster. The CFE 80mm f2.8 lens boasts a built-in leaf shutter with a sync speed of 1/500th of a second. It is perfect for working in the studio. Grab a sync cable and some gaffer’s tape to shoot with your favorite wireless lighting.
I’m giving my beloved Hasselblad 501cm five out of five stars. It’s a workhorse and retains its value. In fact, we’ve seen their prices increase recently.
You can pick one up from Amazon, Blue Moon Camera (if it’s in stock), or eBay. A special thanks to Blue Moon Camera for developing our film.
Pros and Cons
- Superb image quality
- Its simplistic design is easy to use
- Ideal for most genres of photography
- Completely manual means infrequent problems
- Compatible with many lenses
- 1/500th of a second sync speed
- Able to shoot with wireless technology
- Multiple film backs available for quick transition between films
- Digital backs are available
- Holds value
- Its timeless design is pretty to look at
- Heavy, but that’s the price you pay for quality
- It isn’t the fastest film camera, although I don’t think that’s a bad thing
I tested my Hasselblad 501cm with the CFE 80mm f2.8 kit lens, a PM 90 viewfinder, and a Sekonic light meter. The studio lighting consisted of my Broncolor Siros L 800ws, RFS 2.1 transceiver, Broncolor Para 88, and an old-school sync cable. Some of the sample images were captured on Fujicolor Pro 400H, which has sadly been discontinued. I also used Ilford Delta 400, Kodak Portra 160, Kodak Ektachrome, Kodak Ektar, and Kodak Gold 200. Most of the film was developed and scanned at Blue Moon Camera.
The Hasselblad 501cm was built on the success of the original 500 series. Its actual body design isn’t innovative. The introduction of the built-in leaf shutters found on the CFE lenses allows for faster sync speeds and better performance. It was revolutionary at the time and made the system more competitive in the film world. Additionally, the PC port was a great addition, perfect for shooting with modern wireless monolights.
The Hasselblad 501cm and CFE 80mm f2.8 lens weighs just under 3.5 pounds. It’s seven inches long and 4.5 inches wide. Although boxy, it’s surprisingly convenient to carry around and fits comfortably in the hands. At the front of the 501cm kit is the all-purpose CFE 80mm f2.8 lens. It has the traditional depth of field scale followed by the aperture and shutter speed dings. There’s a depth of field preview knob and a PC-sync cord port on the bottom left of the lens.
At the bottom, there are two silver buttons on either side of the lens. The shutter button will be on your right. Press the silver button on the left to remove the lens. It has a 60mm filter thread.
This is the top of the 501cm. Pull the tab to extend the waist-level viewfinder. Slide the black button inside the waist-level viewfinder to access the focusing hood magnifier. Squeeze the middle to store it when not in use.
You can exchange it for another viewfinder, like a PM90, that corrects the image if you like. Push the yellow button to remove the film magazine and switch it out.
You will notice the dark slide on the left side of the camera. Extend the half-moon-shaped film holder key and turn it to remove the film tray. The orange ring indicates that there’s no film, and it turns white when you load a fresh roll.
This is the film tray. Load the role on the left and insert the film’s backing into the center slot of the empty spool on the right. Keep turning it until the arrows on the film line up with the red arrow.
The camera’s right side is home to the winding and film winding crank. The small circle at the bottom is the frame counter. You can attach a neck strap to the two silver buttons on the right and left side. And a tripod plate is on the bottom.
Hasselblad’s 501cm is built like a tank. Its mechanical design is cast in a single aluminum alloy shell. The lens is made of premium Zeiss glass. It is not weatherproof, but it does fine in moderate moisture and extreme temperatures.
Ease Of Use
There is a learning curve to using the 501cm if you haven’t shot film photography or it has been a while. However, it becomes second nature once you have loaded a few rolls of film and removed the film magazine a time or two. Be prepared for a slower pace and enjoy it. A light meter will be your best friend for a little bit.
The 501cm’s waist-level viewfinder feels foreign at first. It is an entirely different vantage point than modern cameras, and the image is flipped. It can be challenging to see your subject and achieve focus in particular light at waist level. A simple remedy is to utilize the focusing hood magnifier. I enjoy using the waist-level viewfinder, although some situations are better served switching it out for the likes of a PM90 viewfinder. It is my go-to when photographing fashion or model tests in the studio.
The Hasselblad 501cm has a sync speed of 1/500th of a second, which is fantastic in the studio. You can also use it with wireless monolights if you have a sync cord. I recommend grabbing gaffer tape or a rubber band to secure wireless transceivers. Hasselblad’s all-around CFE 80mm f2.8 lens is a workhorse and easy to use. If you’ve shot with a Fuji X-series or a Leica, you will have no problem with this lens.
Achieving focus with a Hasselblad 501cm isn’t tricky. Pick your desired aperture and shutter speed. Then turn the focusing ring until you see it is sharp on the focusing screen. The flipped image in the waist-level viewfinder may throw you off at first, but it’s easy to get the feel of it. In bright conditions, I recommend accessing the focusing hood magnifier. It makes it easy to watch the image come into focus. If the waist-level viewfinder isn’t your favorite, you can always purchase an extra viewfinder.
The Hasselblad 501cm proved to be very accurate in our Sunny 16 tests. Images are well exposed with details in both the highlights and shadows. Tonality is wonderful. Ansel Adams would be proud.
Hasselblad is revered for its image quality, and the 501cm retains that legacy. Images are sharp with plenty of bokeh when you want that. The CFE 80mm 2.8 lens creates beautiful colors and excellent contrast. The 6×6 film format provides enough details for high-resolution film scans. There’s enough information to edit them in Capture One or Photoshop if you choose.
The Hasselblad 501cm kit with the 80mm lens produces creamy bokeh that melts into the background. Get close to your subject and photograph wide open for the best bokeh. It also creates sufficient background separation in tight spaces. It’s great for capturing portraits.
Images will be beautifully sharp as long as you take the time and achieve focus. Landscapes offer fantastic sharpness with soft corners at f2.8. Stopping down minimizes the softness and reduces it to the outermost corners of the frame.
The Hasselblad CFE 80mm f2.8 is equivalent to a 50mm full-frame lens. There’s minimal distortion with a slight natural vignetting along the edge. Highlight fringing isn’t an issue. Your film choice and lighting conditions will heavily influence the contrast and colors. This is where you get to have fun and choose between poppy and vibrant, retro, pastels, or gold during golden hour.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phobographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. Some of these images are from very old scans; please be gentle. But from this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy a Hasselblad 501cm?
Medium format has always been a favorite amongst portrait photographers, and the Hasselblad 501cm is a magnificent choice. It’s also a great workhorse for any application. Any photographer would be happy to have this beautiful piece of art in their collection. I my 501cm for a little over $3,000, and purchased it’s maintained its value. The kit has sold for over $4,000, depending on its condition. And I would gladly pay it all over again.