Hasselblad Focusing Issues

Matthew Osborne Photography / Mr Leica

December 2017


If at first you don’t succeed try try again!

Hasselblad Backfocusing
Hasselblad + Sonnar 180mm f4 CF

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…

She's arrived! 😁 #selfie 3 #hasselblad #hasselblad501c #mediumformat #filmcamera #film #6x6 #hasselbladlove #ilovefilm #filmisnotdead #beautiful #cameraporn www.MrLeica.com

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.

Meet the gang! My new Hasselblad trio - 50mm, 80mm, 150mm. Fresh back from yesterday's wedding in London! #hasselblad #hasselblad501c #zeiss #distagon #planar #sonnar #prism #filmcamera #filmwedding #film #mediumformat #6x6 #cameraporn #ilovefilm #ishootf

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.

IMG Paris Model

Hasselblad 500cm Portrait

Paris Fashion Week

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.

Hasselblad 500CM
Horse Model Portrait
Hasselblad 500CM + T-Max
Hasselblad Portraiture
Hasselblad Classic
Hasselblad Classic

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.

Hasselblad Headshot
Zeiss Planar 100mm f3.5
Hasselblad 500CM Fashion
Hasselblad Zeiss 100mm CF
Fuji Velvia 100 Cross Processed
C41 Crossed Processed Velvia 100

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 180mm Sonnar f4
Zeiss Sonnar 180mm f4 CF
Hasselblad 500CM Fashion
Zeiss Sonnar 180mm Portrait
Hasselblad Model Photography

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)

Mamiya 6 Wedding

Fingers Crossed!

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.

Zeiss Distagon 60mm f3.5 CF
Hasselblad +  Zeiss Planar 100mm f3.5
Hasselblad 100mm f3.5

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 Studio Shoot

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 acute matte d split prism focus screen

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

hasselblad focus screen 2 -.jpg

Happy Ending!

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! 🙂

Hasselblad Wedding

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”).

Leica M3 Calibration

Camera Cafe

Thanks for reading!


Related Posts

Hasselblad 500CM Studio Shoot

19 thoughts on “Hasselblad Focusing Issues (500cm Focus innacuracy / Backfocus problems)”

  1. Hi Matt,

    very interesting post! It must feel good to have such a focus issue resolved.

    I did also a great finding about my cameras this week. I have bought a Phochron XA shutter speed tester and could therefore test the shutter speed of my cameras. Lots of surprises! The high shutter speeds (1/1000) was sometimes one full stop off. Usually the 1/125 speed was fine but it really helped to understand which cameras overexpose/underexpose at high shutter speed or already at 1/250. Among the Leicas, I only have one that is well calibrated! Cheap Canon A1, Nikon FM and FE were usually spot on. New F1 had mixed results, i have a few bodies and one is close until 1/1000, but 1/2000is closer to 1/3000. The other bodies were way off already at 1/1000.

    So in case you have unexplained under/overexposures, shutter speed accuracy could be a potential explanation.

    Kind regards,


    Envoyé de mon iPad


    1. Hi Alex, thanks for your reply! Ah the Phochrom XA sounds a great piece of kit. I will have to check it out. Thanks for the heads up! I don’t have any cameras that seems totally off but many camera from shops that said they tested them before sending etc etc. It sounds like you have had your monies worth from it already!


  2. I have to admit to a great sense of relief for you when I read that your focus issues had been resolved at last! Lovely work.

  3. I can’t tell you how useful this post was! I’ve owned my Blad for about 5 years. But I’ve been constantly frustrated by focus issues. I’ve written several posts about it APUG.org along the lines of “how on earth do you guys focus?” and “why do the pictures come out slightly out of focus even when in focus in the WLF?”, to the point that I even bought a 45 degree prims, only to find that made no difference either. People were suggesting I get corrective lense diopters and all sorts. I even nearly sold the thing tw or three times such was my frustration (don’t get me wrong – the pictures were not always widely out of focus, but just enough to annoy me)

    The other night while working away I was in my hotel I stumbled across your site by looking for examples of wedding photos taken using a 501CM, and I noticed your “Focus difficulties with Hasselblad” post and read it. Reading your story sounded exactly like my issues. And reading your final resolve, I couldn’t wait to get home to check.

    And yes – I have also seemingly put it upside down at some stage! It just doesn’t look natural to have the corner metal bits pointing up so I must have placed them down at some stage (not long after I got it, I took the screen out to clean it and obviously put it back wrong). So I’ve corrected it this evening. And now I pray for success!

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. You may well have helped a lot people with this post. I will be sure to link to it in my other posts about focus issues!.

    (PS…good to hear of a fairly local fellow 501 film shooter….I am in Derby!)

    1. Hi Ted, Thanks for your reply and I’m happy it could help you. I hope it fixes your issue! I now have a similar frustration with a Mamiya 7 camera I picked up where it just doesn’t feel quite sharp enough, stopped down or wide open. Ah yes Derby is not far. I’m from Coalville and lived in Kegworth and Beeston before which are your way too. Yes I have a 501C and 2x 500CM..and a SWC/M.. Some need repair when I get time to send them off. You might find the prism gives sharper results than the WLF ..I think.. due to balancing the camera pressed against the face for more stability… unless using a tripod. (for my model work anyway). Yes please feel free to share the link to help others. Happy shooting! Matt

    2. Hi all can I just check as I’ve read both your post and this comment – with the screen should the sharper cut edges face up to the viewfinder or down in to the camera? the post seems to say that should be down (which looks correct) but in your comment you mentioned “It just doesn’t look natural to have the corner metal bits pointing up so I must have placed them down at some stage” so did you put the sharp cut edges up facing up to the viewfinder? Sorry if that sound a bit of an odd question! Thank you

  4. Focussing screen upside down, haha you plonker lol (but easily done). Have had 2 Hassies, first was a 503CX which was stolen. Not even finished the first roll of film 🙁 Second was a 503CW Millennium, gorgeous camera. Had the standard 80mm CF and a 50mm C T* (older silver one). Loved that camera but after finishing college I rarely used it so sold it. Still miss it tbh. Used an older metering prism as well, but you have to compensate for the brighter focussing screens in the newer models, as the older ones (500c fixed screen for eg) is slightly darker and adjust the ISO setting on the prism accordingly.

    Looking to get a Leica now (older LTM iiif maybe) and watching your vids and reading your reviews on lenses. Leaning towards the f2 Summitar for the bokeh (f2.8 Elmar looks nice as well), but you’ve thrown me a curve-ball and now thinking about a 500cm… I hate you!! lol

    Anyway, keep up the good work, and love your images. Poland is indeed full of beautiful women (and I’m lucky to be engaged to one)

    Regards, Rhys

    1. As I read your focussing problems it occured to me that you could’ve tried a ground glass focussing screen from a SWC to check. Just googled it and your blog came up with you’ve used one so was just a thought. 🙂

      1. matthewosbornephotography

        Thanks Rhys, i’m not the brightest so I don’t think that came to mind at the time! I have since used the same approach to test some folding cameras 🙂 Thanks for great suggestion.

    2. matthewosbornephotography

      Haha thanks Rhys! I like your direct approach writing 🙂 Yes Leica LTM are excellent.. as is the 500CM 😉 I just returned from Poland so new work to follow on social media + Patreon! 🙂 Good work with your engagement! 🙂

  5. This is very interest and thanks for sharing! I have also committed this error for my first 501C. I remember my first trip with the Hasselblad was a train trip in Japan. Half way into the trip I was sitting on the train and noticed a big dirt on the split screen, I took out the screen the clean it off. Sure enough the pictures was sharp *before* that incident and all the subsequent rolls were misfocused. I took out the screen again and realized what I did wrong.

    Anyway there’s a simpler way to verify focus than shotting precious film to test the focus. You can buy the the focus screen adapter (part 41025 or 41050) which is a ground glass that mounts just like the film back. This is used for focusing with the SWC or Flex Body. You can use a loupe to compare focus in the mirror image and the ground glass. There are 4 screws under the focus screen that adjust the focus. Of course you can always send it to Hasselblad or a credible shop to fix this for you.

    My issues has to do more with the lenses than the body though.

    1. matthewosbornephotography

      Thanks for the info! Yes I have the focus screen.. see my SWC video. I have not used these cameras for a while as have been shooting more 35mm .. or with my H2! But they wait patiently 🙂

  6. Hello, Thank you for interesting blog. I figured out that, when I’m focusing lens at Infinity and looking through 45deg. prism object at infinity distance are still split a little. In this situation, what is the issue. Searching internet and getting information that there are some screws and need to be adjusted.

    1. matthewosbornephotography

      Thanks, I hope you get it accurate once you adjust the screws. You can take to a repair shop if it is not working after.

  7. I’m working from distant memory but I have a couple of observations. First, for a camera that promised easy and compact hand held shooting for medium format I found the 500C(M) cameras to be quite violent (vibration). The mirror simply slams into a strip of light foam rubber which is not enough dampening to prevent moving the camera. Seems like it needed a shock absorber to slow mirror more gradually. Either using tripod or pre releasing the mirror greatly improved sharpness even at shortest exposures. At one point noticing softness I did some extended testing shooting newsprint at 45 degree angle. My focus point was a thin gold chain laid across mid point of paper. Even on tripod pre releasing mirror gave improvement. The big surprise was that the focal plane of the film shifted from beginning of film roll to end of roll which of course moved focal point. This was observed using several film backs. I hypothesized that the winding tension must be varying as film shifted from supply spool to take up spool, I was never sure. Regardless the film was not being held in constant registration. I thought about trying to increase spring tension on the backplate in the back to hold film flatter and firmer—never got around to it though.

    1. matthewosbornephotography

      Thanks Mark! That’s really interesting, thanks for sharing. I wonder if my 501C is more dampened than my 500CMs. I’ve always found the cameras sharp when used correctly, even without mirror lock. I’ve not used for a long time as i’ve been enjoying 35mm but I hope to get back to them soon. I will look out for the blur from the slap. I also wonder if some backs are better than others. I have newer and older style backs and again haven’t noticed a difference but I will look for it in future. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: