Hasselblad Focusing Issues
Matthew Osborne Photography / Mr Leica
If at first you don’t succeed try try again!
This is a big article so you may want to make a cuppa and find a comfy chair before you begin!
*(Update – Skip to the end to cut a long story short if you prefer a quick answer!)
*Model photos included in this post were all taken throughout this period but seemed less effected than others photos by the focusing issues I was experiencing.
Recap of my history using Hasselblad V-Series cameras…
My first Hasselblad camera (Hasselblad 501C) + the holy trinity of Hasselblad lenses
My first Hasselblad camera was a near mint Hasselblad 501C camera with matching Hasselblad A12 film back and the standard 80mm f2.8 kit lens. As part of the Hasselblad camera bundle I got two additional lenses and that gave me what some people class as the holy trinity of Hasselblad lenses, 50mm, 80mm, 150mm (Zeiss Distagon 50mm f4 CF, Zeiss Planar 80mm f2.8 CF, Zeiss Sonnar 150mm f4 CF). With this trio of lenses I was able to obtain sharp pleasing results with the Hasselblad 501C almost every time.
My Hasselblad 501C camera died 😦
Life was good with the new-to-me Hasselblad 501C and I was using the camera on most of my film photography photoshoots. I was then on a shoot following a full day of using the Hasselblad with a cable release and the shutter release button pushed inside the camera body and jammed when I went to take a shot. The weight of the shutter release cable had sheared off the outer housing surrounding the shutter release button meaning it was then hanging lose and so jammed inside the Hasselblad camera body. The Hasselblad 501C is still in this state until I find time to get it repaired.
Replacement Hasselblad Body – Hasselblad 500CM
With no time to repair the Hasselblad 501C and more film photography shoots booked in the diary I went on eBay and bought a Hasselblad 500CM camera body (only) as it looked the cheapest solution. I moved the Acute Matte cross hair focusing screen and A12 film back from the Hasselblad 501C to the Hasselblad 500CM and had my lens to attach. I then went through a phase of using my 35mm film Leica cameras more and also quite a long period passed with me not developing any film due to time constraints (training for the Ironman event). Many months later when I developed the film from the Hasselblad 500CM camera that I used on my Paris model photography trip, Poland trip and others I noticed I had misfocused a high proportion of my photos which was both surprising and disappointing (as unusual). By the end of me using the Hasselblad 501C camera I had got into a routine of using the Zeiss Distagon 60mm f3.5 CF for most of my portraits (see my Hamburg Hasselblad portraits blog post). When I moved over to the 500CM I thought it would be nice to go back to using a longer lens again so opted for the Zeiss Macro-Planar 120mm f4 CF lens. Once I saw all these misfocused photos I thought it must be my eye sight not being good enough at focusing with a longer lens. (I do wear glasses to drive but don’t wear them day to day otherwise). I didn’t think any more of it.
Zeiss 100mm Planar f3.5 CF lens – Tenerife Photoshoot
In autumn 2017 I got fully back into Hasselblad camera shooting mode and invested in a new lens, a Zeiss Planar 100mm f3.5 CF for my model photoshoot in Tenerife. I took the Hasselblad 500CM camera with a waist level finder (WLF) (rather than the usual 45 degree prism finder setup) and shot the camera handheld rather than with the usual monopod. (All because I was travelling light so could carry less gear). I eagerly developed the film from my shoots with Lindsay in Tenerife and to my huge disappointment most of the photos were again misfocused.
Zeiss 180mm Sonnar f4 CF lens – Poland Photoshoot
(..and for Hasselblad wedding)
Following my disappointment in Tenerife I pinned the blame of the misfocus issues on the WLF focusing being less accurate than the 45 degree prism finder and me being less stable handheld that with a monopod. I then bought a Zeiss Sonnar 180mm f4 CF lens to take for my next model photography trip to Poland. I refitted the 45 degree prism finder to the Hasselblad 500CM and use the camera with a monopod for every photo. I also took with me the Zeiss Distagon 60mm f3.5 CF lens. I used both the 180mm Sonnar and 60mm Distagon lenses in Poland and again returned super excited to develop the film. I scanned the 6×6 negatives and to my horror the photos were still not sharp and some were completely out of focus (focus not on the eyes). After closer inspection it seemed all the photos were back focused. That being, the focus point on the final image is further back on the subject than intended compared to what was seen when looking through the viewfinder. For example I focused on eyes and hair at back of head was sharp instead with the eyes being out of focus. This was the case when using both the 180mm Sonnar lens and 60mm Distagon lens. Some photos were just about postable and could be recovered a little in post processing but others were straight to the bin. What a huge disappointment (again). I need camera I can rely on and expected better from Hasselblad.
Hasselblad Focusing Issues / Misfocused images – Possible Causes
I trawled the internet for possible causes of the Hasselblad back focusing issues and people wrote about it being due to user error – perhaps tired eyes (no – not for every photo), camera shake (no – used monopod (and release cable for some photos) and shot at a shutter speed of 1/125 mostly) or the subject/ models moving (likely for the worst out of focus examples but not every photo). Other possible causes documented for Hasselblad focusing issues were – focusing screen loose and not flat / aligned, mirror not aligned / become lose, film back does not match film body or film back defective so film plane not flat to camera focusing plane. I checked the Hasselblad mirror and it seemed OK. The acute matte screen I was using in the 500CM was out of the Hasselblad 501C but it looked flat (if a little lose in the clips). The film back I was using on the 500CM was also from the 501C. Perhaps this mismatch of newer A12 film back on older Hasselblad 500CM camera body was the issue but it is the only working Hasselblad A12 film back I own.
Replacement Hasselblad 500CM camera, lens, film backs bundle
I decided to keep my eye on eBay for a bargain and managed to win an auction for another Hasselblad 500CM bundle with an older 45 degree prism finder (TTL version), an older/ smaller 80mm Planar f2.8 C kit lens and 2x older A12 film backs. I now planned to try my own Hasselblad lenses on the new-to-me Hasselblad 500CM camera body and film back combination and fingers crossed I will be back to sharp and beautiful high definition 6×6 film scans for my portraiture, fashion and Hasselblad wedding photography.
No Hasselblad Wedding Photography 😦
I had an all analogue film wedding photography booking just days after returning from Poland and I had to make the decision not to pack the a Hasselblad camera as I knew the results would be sub-standard and not 100% sharp (in focus where I planned to be in focus). I was looking forward to using the new Zeiss Sonnar 180mm for Hasselblad wedding photography (part of the reason for my purchase) so I hope I get the opportunity to give more wedding couple some beautiful Hasselblad wedding photos on their big day once the camera is working again. (Below – I used my Mamiya 6 camera)
The new Hasselblad 500CM camera was due to arrive soon so fingers crossed the matching camera body and film back will resolve my Hasselblad focusing issues.
New Hasselblad Camera 🙂
My second Hasselblad 500CM camera bundle arrived and had its own issues! A lag between pressing shutter release button and me having to wiggle the film advance lever to release the shutter)(annoying!). I did however do a test roll with my Zeiss Planar 100mm f3.5 CF lens and the resulting photos were in focus and sharp with the lens wide open! Hooray! I can see skin pores again on a models face. Back to the image quality I expect from a Hasselblad camera. So at least I now have one Hasselblad 500CM camera setup that focuses correctly.
Camera Museum London
I am a regular visitor (every time I visit London for photoshoots) to the Camera Museum London which is a one stop shop for Hasselblad cameras. I had been mentioning my frustrations and Hasselblad out of focus problems over a few months and they contacted me to say a guy had been into the shop describing similar Hasselblad misfocus difficulties. Apparently he had ordered himself a Hasselblad split image focus screen so he could see better and hoped that would fix the issue. The Camera Museum suggested to me that a split image focus screen may also solve my focus issues and perhaps I should try that option next. For my close up Hasselblad headshots at least this shouldn’t be the case as I can see clearly each eye lash (but still the photo is not focused) but for further away subjects a split screen would 100% help my focus accuracy.
Hasselblad Acute Matte D Split Image Focus Screen
Despite being able to see well close up after a distance of a few meters I do find it difficult to focus accurately. I reconsidered a Hasselblad split image focus screen (after ruling it out until now) as I love rangefinder focusing (such as my Leica M cameras). I got back on eBay and managed to pick up a boxed mint Hasselblad Acute Matte D split image focus screen ahead of my next Hasselblad photoshoot. Hasselblad focus screens are expensive even for the non-acute matte glass but I needed a screen to benefit my sight and accuracy so I invested in the Acute Matte D version. The glass should hold its value and if the split screen focusing view doesn’t work for me I can always sell it.
Hasselblad Focus Screen Upside Down?
Camera Museum London got in touch with me again and apparently the guy that bought the split image screen was still having focus issues. They checked his camera and his focus screen was mounted upside down (with the straight/ cut metal edges up and the rounded edge down into the camera). My heart sunk! I had already checked my first Hasselblad 500CM focus screen orientation against my Hasselblad 501C and both were the same direction. They were both.. rounded side down! I checked my latest Hasselblad 500CM screen that was focusing correctly.. rounded edges up! When I had bought the first 500CM I had put the screen from the 501C into the 500CM upside down unknowingly.
*Picture below shows the “straight /cut” metal edge which should point into the camera
I flipped the existing Hasselblad focus screen in my first Hasselblad 500CM camera and shot a test roll. Sharp images! I then fitted the Acute Matte D split image focus screen. Again sharp images but also WOW love the new split image view! I can see beyond 1-2 meters distance and focus accurately and with confidence! This is a first in my Hasselblad photography era! Good times ahead! 🙂
To Conclude and Thanks
It took a while but I got there eventually! I now have two Hasselblad 500CM cameras that both focus accurately and I use them side by side on my Hasselblad shoots, whether model photography or Hasselblad wedding photos (see mock wedding shoot with models Harriett and Ash to follow)(preview example above). I will also get my Hasselblad 501C camera repaired once I get chance.
A big thank you to Ward at Camera Museum London for solving my issue. I highly recommend you drop in to say hello to them if you are ever visiting London. They have endless cameras to look at (and buy!), hold a wealth of Hasselblad knowledge and serve great coffee in their cafe too! (Formerly known as “Camera Cafe”).
Thanks for reading!