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Shopping for a Blad

I can’t remember when my obsession with having a Hasselblad started, but it was a long, long time ago and the main thing that has stopped me from ever bringing this desire to a conclusion was the fear that either, I was never going to live up to the camera or heaven forbid, the camera wouldn’t live up to the pedestal I put it on decades ago.

What I do know is that the desire started as a very general picture of the camera as an icon of photography and over the years became much more specific about the actual model, the lens and the finish of the model and lens that I have been searching for.

As part of the journey to the Hasselblad, eighteen months ago I bought a Kiev 88 – otherwise known as the Hasselbladski due to it’s uncanny  resemblance to the early Hasselblad 1600F.

The camera comes at less than half the price of the Hasselblad I wanted and as I already had the fabulous Kiev 60 Medium Format SLR, it meant I could share lenses between the cameras.

Now many people will tell you never to buy the Kiev 88 or the 60 or any other Kiev camera and I guess these are either people who have had unlucky experiences with the cameras or just people repeating what is actually a complete myth. The Kiev cameras are fabulous and in fact so good that I found my desire for a Hasselblad reduced as I found so much joy using the MF Kiev 60 & 88.

In writing this article I also had a reason to relive my time with the Kiev 88 and so here are some of the memories in images;

This first one was from the 3rd film through the camera and was our new boy (when he would sit still for more than 5 seconds at a time..).

And I had to include this one using a T64 film and dark orange filter in very poor lighting conditions on a moving ride at HK Disneyland for it’s unbridled joy;

Like the Hasselblad, the Kiev 88 is best as a portrait camera and there is no excuse not to get shot after shot of memories from the camera.

It was also the camera that I first used to start developing my own B/W film (35mm would have been easier but who wants easy…).

These are my Father in Law and Father – members of the family happy/compliant enough to have a camera in their face.

And finally, as readers of previous posts will know; I permanently fixed a Zodiak 30mm to the Kiev 88 and so this is what it looks like today. Still an amazing camera – clunky, heavy (especially due to the weight of the glass on the front and the massive metering prism on top) and to date completely problem free.

The other big lesson here that I learnt is that Medium Format is just so much better than 135. I’m sure that is a view that many people will disagree with but let me elucidate.

-The negative are so much bigger so you are going to get a phenomenal amount of detail from the negative – about 4 times more than you are used too on your 35mm.

-Using a film with 12 or less exposures on the film and a removable back means that you can change films and specifically the ISO you are using much quicker than with a 36 exposure film (this is probably stating the obvious but until you use MF it isn’t something you think about).

-And finally everyone’s negative about MF is my positive – the cameras weigh so much that you take them out specifically to take photographs and not just in your hand or bag in case you fancy taking a picture or two.

So when it finally came to buying the Hasselblad that I had been dreaming of; I actually felt guilty that I was letting my Kievs down….until I used the Hasselblad and realised that everything I had struggled with on my 88 was made perfectly on the Blad.

The  film cartridge works perfectly, all the parts fit together without having to jiggle them like I do on my Kiev. The shutter winder is smooth, aperture is on the lens and uses the classic method of matching shutter speeds and apertures. The dark slide actually is light fast and stops you from depressing the shutter when inserted, the lens automatically stops down before the shutter activates (this was the earliest auto stop down camera) and the shutter is in the lens not the body.

Overall, no effort was required on turning knobs, making settings or loading film unlike the 88.

So what was the camera I wanted, dreamed of and lusted after? The 500 C/M with chrome trim and an earlier fully chrome 80/2.8 planar from Carl Zeiss with the essential T* lens coating.

I know the 500 C/M originally came with the black lens and plastic bits on it but I wanted the lens from the older 500 C with the benefits of the C/M as it allows different screens to be fitted to the body.

The one I ended up with also came with the older 12 Shot cartridge and not the A12 that was standard on this camera and again this was a choice to have no plastic interrupting the chrome trim on the camera. Having used a Kiev 88 cartridge for 18 months that is based on the 12 Shot it also meant that I am not worried about the automatic frame finder on the A12.

The other big difference between the Hasselblad and all other cameras  of the time was the flash synchro at every speed and all the way up to the maximum speed of 1/500th.

The following are from the first few films I put through the camera – and I didn’t manage to put as many through as I would have liked because my Hasselblad came down with the classic disease – the shutter stuck with the mirror up and the rear curtain open and it was game over.

So this is my favourite B/W film – Fuji Acros Neopan 100 – with Lola posing after tumbling off her scooter.

The same film and the same day at the playground in Sai Kung.

And these three are all using Fuji Provia 100F developed conventionally in E6. This is a fantastic film for correct colour reproduction.

This is Eva with her Dad Simon; in Barefoot Cafe in Colombo – bright sunlight and we were sat in shade.

This is also in Sri Lanka, but this time in the Galle Fort Hotel in heavy shade with very bright light behind me and behind the horse. Metered for the shade and with no adjustment to the image.

And finally, on the same day as the above B/W images of Cassius in Sai Kung – very grey and extremely cold day for Hong Kong.

So if only I had read up about the problems with the older Hasselblads, I would have found that a stuck shutter is really common. Looking on ebay you will even find people selling bodies with frozen shutters – and unfortunately this didn’t ring an alarm bell.

It was when I took my camera to the Uncles in TST who specialize in repairing old film cameras that I realized just how common it was as they laughed and smiled at me and the classic Hasselblad condition.

Thankfully the repair was only HK$ 550 including a CLA – but it is something that I think is going to plague me over the years that I hope to use this body.

And so finally, what are my thoughts about a Kiev 88 vs the Hasselblad?

– The difference between the cameras is not as great as I thought it was going to be.

– Framing is better on the Hasselblad – but a little overlap adds to the character of film cameras.

– The winder is smooth and fast on the Hasselblad – but the winder on the 88 doesn’t ever let me down.

– The shutter issue on the Hasselblad worries me and to this date I have never had an issue with the 88.

– Both cameras are heavy but that is what you would expect.

– Accessories are readily available for the Hasselblad – I have a Left Handed Flash Handle on mine that helps shooting in hand.

– The Kiev 88 Prism (spot metering) and WLF fits on the Hasselblad 500 series.

– The Kiev Lenses are not as sharp as the Carl Zeiss T* but give a DOF and softness that is unique to them. They are as fast as the Carl Zeiss lenses and cover the same range but are a fraction of the price.

And the Million Dollar Question – is the Hasselblad 500 twice as good as the Kiev 88? In my humble opinion – it is a better camera but not so much better that I wouldn’t suggest getting a Kiev 88 to anyone.

Personally I love my Kiev cameras – the 88 is much more reliable and hard wearing than the 60 – and I hope to have one that I use regularly for years to come.

It is early days with the Hasselblad and it is a joy to use – but if the truth be told, for me it is 6×6 MF that makes both of these cameras what they are as 120 is an amazing format with great films to choose from.

If you are looking to get one of these cameras – then pick the one you want at the price you are happy to pay and don’t be swayed by the conventional thinking that Hasselblad is the only choice – as it is one of many.

Posted by simon on January 31, 2012
6 Comments Post a comment
  1. 01/31/2012

    Nice article Simon! I really love when you are honest and don´t tend to buy the myth that the Kiev 60 or 88 are bad cameras. You have been using them all for a while and really know what you are talking about. I have to say I am very pleased with mine Kiev 60 and the Arsat lens is amazing. In fact I love my Kiev 60 I had to order an Kiev 88. You get much value for the money you pay.

    • 02/1/2012

      film itself is what it is all about. if we wanted the perfect image with no soul and zero character then we would all get a digital SLR instead and spend hours on photoshop with raw files – and this just isn’t what taking pictures is about – thankfully…glad you got the 88 too as it is an amazing camera. you know a zodiak is going to happen soon too then….

  2. 02/1/2012

    Thanks Simon! This makes me think again if I really need a Hasselblad, as my Kiev 88 also works almost perfectly.

    • 02/1/2012

      I think choice of film for MF makes the biggest difference and the use of slide film makes average shots look fantastic.
      The money you save on a Hasselblad buys a lot of slide film too!


  3. 02/8/2012

    Congrats Simon! I have the same camera, though with a black lens. Potato potato. It is truly a fabulous camera, and I am sure you will love it and make great snaps with it. Also good that you got a CLA for it, I might give that as a X-mas gift to my Hassy this year.

    • 02/8/2012

      Thanks for the comments and I was really happy with my 500 C/M until it stuck, was Cl
      LA’d and stuck again and so now it is a 503 CX body and I am waiting for the shots I did for an interior that I did with it.
      The most amazing thing with the 503 is that Hasselblad did some amazing thinks to the inside of the box and made it the brightest screen ever.
      I pick up the slide film on Friday and so am really worried as I didn’t take back up pictures apart from on my iPhone….


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