Sunday, May 17, 2015

V for Victor (Frankenstein's Hasselblad)

OK folks - 'scuse the rather strange title - I was going to call it "Channeling Fay Godwin", but decided against it . . and why? Well I rather like the above . . oh . .  and I've also bought a Hasselblad.
I know, you're weeping and clutching your heads and saying:
'No Sheephouse! Not another fecking camera . . . '
Well folks I make no excuses.
However I will switch on the Corm-Thrusters and whisk you back in time . . .
Back . . . Back . . . to A Time!
A Time when the Iron Lady ruled the country and your humble, lonesome writer stumbled out of the Art College doors with a degree in his hand and the words "Shit - I've got to make a living!" being spat from his ugly gob.
A Time when your hero would stand and stare at Zenza Bronicas in Jessops window, thinking, if only I had one of them, things would be different.
A Time when the word Hasselblad was whispered into his ear at night by the ghosts of those old photographic legends, desparate to see another lover of silver-based photography take to the international stage.
But sadly, the truth will wring your withers, for, rather than being asked to print exhibition folios for all sorts of well-known photographers (such was my ambition), rather than striding the hills of his chosen country photographing light and land (I could truly see myself doing it) and being poorer than a church rat, your hapless Sheephouse blundered deeply into the mire that is unrewarding but paid employment, and with that, his ambitions and love of the monochrome print were carefully filed away, until a chance conversation with his brother and the love and encouragement from his wife Ali brought the young photographer back out of his cave and into the light of day again, dusting him down and setting him on a path that has led to (amongst other things) this blog.
It's all about film.
It's all about printing.
It's all about the print as a physical, tangible, exquisite reflection of the briefest of moments of light captured for posterity.

I'll not bar any holds - I have too many cameras now - even medium format ones:
Rolleiflex T (broken - possibly repairable)
Minolta Autocord (working, knackered and seen better days)
Koni Omega Rapid 100 (perfect, fully serviced, working condition, but never gelled with)

So why on earth do I need another one?
 Well, like I say, it's that young photographer's fault, because I always wanted one, but never had the money, and then never had the inclination. Now, however, with my fervour for making the most of the light whilst I still can see something I want one.
Or shall I say I wanted one.
Real bad.
It was like that itch inside your plaster-cast when you were 14.
It had to be scratched, but like all good things it took time to get to it.
Time and saving.
Och, all right, and a little pauchling here and there.
No excuses - I've been a saver all my life, but sometimes you have to weigh in the old calculations and realise that (in my case) you're not getting any younger and are you really prepared to wait another year to save up for it, when even now the prices on these things are clmbing.
So pauchling it was and a chunk saved by me and now a payback to the fund I borrowed it from.
But is it worth it?
Hell yes!
It's exciting. This is the second most large amount of money I have ever spent on myself (not including the car and the mortgage). The largest was a custom built Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 guitar back in 1990. It has proved to be a fine instrument and also a fine investment having approximately tripled its value in that short 25 years.
But enough of my spending - you want to know about the 'Blad or the Hassy . . or in my case, VICTOR for that is the cameras new name, or me being me, just plain VIC.
Well I studied and studied and I sort of knew what I wanted - a nice 503CXi or 503CW. The 501CMs (the last incarnation of the Classic 500 Series) were way out of my league. I felt that a newer body would be the way to go and then maybe economise and get a slightly old C series lens.
This went arse over tit when I found a nice, boxed 500CM body on ebay with a 'make an offer' price. It had been regularly serviced and was last checked over by Hasselblad UK in March of this year. It was sounding good and didn't look hammered, so I made an offer, which was accepted. On speaking to the vendor I got the history of VIC. The vendor bought a 500CM in 1980, and then VIC from Robert White's in 1985 (£550 for the body alone!) and then, when they came out, a 503CX.
VIC remained as a second back-up body but stopped being regularly used in about 2004.
The vendor is a professional, so it was important to him to keep his gear in tip-top shape, and that's what he did. He's now moved over completely to digital so the old gear is going, hence my offer of £320 was accepted. The camera is in nice condition. yes it has been used, but it is smooth.
I am delighted.

VIC and his nest (non-matching)

Nice and clean


Very Tidy

As for the lens - well this was a thorny dilemma.
I knew now I could afford a lightly better lens so set myself on something from the CF range. These were introduced in the 1980's and featured a few changes (like moving from Synchro Compur to Prontor shutters).
I decided that having made oodles of square photographs with a standard 75mm lens on my Rollei T, something new was needed so opted to move into the world of Wide Angle MF, hence my choice of the venerable 50mm Distagon (non-FLE version).
This lens tends to get disparaged, however how can one deny these two photographs, both made with one.

So, some bidding and winning on eBay and the lens arrived - my goodness it was beautiful and big and heavy and virtually as new.



Ooh, that's luverly innit?


However as soon as I opened the mint Hasselblad bubble I knew something was up - indeed my nose told me so. The Leica Sniff Test never lies. This lens was pristine, but it had fungus - shite - I got my torch and had a butchers and there it was on the rear element.



Haze and fungus and an internal smear!
Was I annoyed - too bloody right and let this be a caution to all of you purchasing lenses off the internet. It might look mint and beautiful, but unless you can get a guarantee that it has been inspected internally, I would approach with caution!
I am becoming something of a fungal expert these days, so I will repeat again - sniff yer purchases - it's amazing what it will show. Yes, with older gear there will be some smell, but fungus is noticeably smellier - you can't miss it.
Anyway, the vendor was hugely apologetic - indeed he was very decent about it . . so, lens returned . . where did that leave me?
Well, in search of a new lens of course!
TBH the 50 Distagon felt really heavy, so that sort of gelled my thinking and I thought, well how about just using a 60mm Distagon for the moment. it's equivalent to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. The Distagon isn't as heavy in the 60mm form and is slightly less large . . .
The only problem I found was that the 60mm Distagons out there were expensive or hammered. I couldn't afford a newer CFi version, so it would have to be a CF. Given that these could be dating from the 1980's and would maybe have seen who knows what sort of life, I was a bit flumoxed. Then I read about CB lenses - a short-lived line (from 1997 to 2001) that never took off. According to the Zeiss literature, optically the 60mm was the same as the older CF and the newer CFi except it lacked full automation with an electronic camera. It still had improved baffelling, improved lens mount, smoother focus, identical glass, identical coating and was assembled in Germany on the same production line that produced the now famed Super Achromat! And yet, the line was regarded as 'cheap' and 'prosumer' - probably named as such by people who didn't compare the two Zeiss sheets for the CB and CF - both attached. 
Anyway, I looked around, and found one. £449 from Mifsuds! That was awful cheap considering Teamwork were selling one for over £700. So I badgered them, hauranged them, wanted desparately to know the condition, but was assured that they were super-picky in their grading so E++ could be relied on. Suitably calmed, I ordered it. And they were right.
It's still a heavy lens, but there is nothing cheap about it at all - the world looks beautiful through it, the focus is incredibly smooth, and everything works well from the DOF preview slider, through to the EV link (why do people complain about Hasselblad EV links on lenses? - using EV is about the easiest way of using a camera). The front of the lens is a 'stay black' material (carbon fibre?) which means it stays black when using filters, and the shutter has a really nice even buzz to it.
So that was another problem out of the way - what next? Ah yeah . . film backs!
I had initially thought I would go down the 645 route and chose a A16 back (16 frames on one roll of 120), however all the ones I saw were dog-eared and battered . . . so hunting around again, I came across a nice 'later' back (with the dark slide holder) non-matching body and insert with a 6 month guarantee at Ffordes, so I got that (£125) and whilst I was there, a nice condition UV Filter (£15) a Tripod Quick Coupler (£20) .. oh and a Bubble Level (£29 - always wanted one, even without a Hasselblad - they're so cute and useful). 
So suitably armed and checked and everything seemed to be OK, working together as it should.
Next step was to go and take some photographs . . 
Aha . . but I'm not going to let you off that easily - you thought I'd put it all in here didn't you! 
Well, nope - next time you'll see them, because, truth be told, this is current stuff and I haven't been out with the camera yet (well I have now, but nothing printed).
Anyway . . here he is. VIC - Frankenstein's Hasselblad.

TTFN - nuts, whole hazelnuts, Sheephouse takes them and he covers them with chocolate!


  1. Congrats Phil!

    One word of warning from my repair meister: you have too keep them working. Letting them sit idle for prolonged lengths clogs up their backs can develop the overlapping frames syndrome for example.


  2. Thanks Omar - that's my intention - do you ever feel that life is running out? It has started happening to me, so I want to try and keep pushing myself. I've only put two films through so far (Saturday and Sunday just gone) but I felt that me and VIC really connected - to the extent that I am wondering why I have the rest of my stuff . . .

  3. Life running out? Oh's started to creep in (is that normal at 43?) Have I told you that I've started to write short notes/messages onto the back of my most cherished pictures of my son?? In the hope that he'll discover them one day and hold onto them after I'm gone :)

    Well, that looks like a sign of...sth...not sure whether good or bad.

  4. It gets worse Omar - I have 10 years more on you, and believe me it gets a lot worse.
    When I think of me at 20 (seems like yesterday) . . in another 20 years (all being well) I'll be 73 . . doesn't bear thinking about.

  5. Good catch with the 50mm Distagon. I wonder how many would have just seen a gorgeous lens and passed off a whiff of something offish as nothing. Maybe you could make a little on the side by starting a camera sniffing service. Sellers could ask more for their old cameras by advertising them as Sheephouse certified.

  6. You've got a point there Joe, so any donations of Summicrons, Summiluxes, Distagons, Planars, Sonnars and Cooke Portrait Lenses that need sniffed, can be sent to me - just let me know and I'll do my best to ensure they get thoroughly checked.
    They can be sent to

    Mr H.Sheephouse Esq
    Sheephouse Turrets
    Sheephouse Lane
    Lower Sheephouse
    BA1 1AA

    As I said, you'd be amazed what it can uncover!

  7. Looks like a very nice combination, Phil. Just don't drink too much or you might end up trying to rub it on your chest or shove it up your nose.

  8. You will not regret buying this, I did the same late last year, I've owned them before and stupidly sold it when I let my film kit go having thought I'd not bother with analogue again.

    The trouble is I grew to miss it so i decided to replace it, I managed to find a mint 501cm boxed complete with 80 cf I gave £950 for it and the guy even included the 80 lens hood he'd bought it to use in his design studio but had put only three films through it before the digital rush came.

    There is something so evocative about the shutter sound on this camera it transports you back in time when life was simpler and altogether nicer. Since this purchase I've bought a handmade pinhole and the last purchase was acquiring an OM2n complete with 28 50 and 100 (I again used to own them).

    I have decided to sell my remaining digital kit and just stay with the film it always gives me pleasure using it and it just has its own unique narrative. I cycle a lot and so the kit is always stuffed into panniers ready for whatever I come across, not I hasten to add all of it invariably it will be blad and tripod or pinhole and tripod or just the om2 never all at once.

    My favourite though has to be the blad it renders like no other and those beautiful large negs are a joy to behold. In my early years with a camera I never shot colour primarily due to cost, b&w was always first choice bulk film developed at home and selectively printed. I have decided that I will once again as far as film is concerned pedal only the monocycle.

    Once again thanks for an interesting and stimulating post.

  9. Hi Shooter - thanks for reading and thanks for the comments!
    I think you are right - I am already finding myself obsessing about finders and stuff - there's a certain something about it that, like I said, takes me back to the time I hankered after such stuff but couldn't in a million years afford it, so all I can say is God bless an understanding wife - it's all her fault! Nah, she did agree with me though, that it seemed pointless to carry on scrimping and saving for it. So here's hoping I can produce photographs worthy of the system - it feels bigger than me if you know what I mean.
    My one thing so far is difficulty in focusing, but that is my eyes mostly - I'll get used to it, however it is amazing how much your eyesight degenerates without you noticing . . .
    Next post will be the results and hopefully some prints!

  10. Congratulations.
    You'll be wanting a lens hood. And perhaps an second matching chrome back. How clever of you to get a black one so you'll be able to distinguish them at a glance without reading the film box end. Does your viewing hood have exchangeable magnifiers? Hmmmm... There are other viewfinders and they all fit.
    Sooner or later, a longer lens might seem attractive... 150...120... 250... Who knows? Skies look better with a filter – a proper bayonet-mount filter from a reputable maker, of course. Even a couple of filters. An extension ring for getting closer? A new cable release? The leather neck strap is lovely, even if you never use it.
    Perhaps a nice clean Weston to keep in the same bag, ready at a moment's notice. A new bag? A much bigger new bag?
    How do I know all this? You may have guessed. I haven't got it all yet, nowhere near. Is there an eBay Anonymous?
    And try to remember that at seventy-three, you'll be coming into your prime. All that extra wisdom and an amazing collection of valuable antique Hasselblad kit. Possibly a knighthood. Sir Herman sounds good, eh?

  11. Hi David - yeah I know - no need to remind me I am getting tempted!
    The bubble is beautiful though isn't it . . and I also got a very reasonably priced leather strap - superb quality Swedish leather work, just needed some Pecard's Antique Leather Treatment and has come up beautifully - strong as an ox!
    And I am thinking about a finder too . . . . .

  12. Have you noticed that everything Hasselblad makes its own special noise? The lovely plop of those big shutters, the nearly invisible sound of the mirror-locked leaf shutter alone, the incredibly discreet whisper as you attach a lens and the soft, calm click as it locks in place? If you have a lens with the EV settings, that little reassurance that precision gears are at work. And so on...
    If only it was a little easier to replace the dark-slide with cold hands...

  13. Oh yeah, and the remarkable series of sounds as you re-cock the shutter and drop the mirror - very satisfying!


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