Cinema continues to grow in popularity and our team at The Phoblographer is here for it. Nothing better than hearing the sound of a shutter and advancing the film. Plus, the slower pace is refreshing. The medium format remains at the top of many wish lists. You really can’t go wrong with a selection here. That being said, the Hasselblad 500 series is still a good idea, and the refreshed Hasselblad 501cm doesn’t disappoint. If color is your jam, you might score one of the few jewel-colored options from the early 2000s.
I bought my beloved Hasselblad 501cm sunshine yellow when I was a sophomore in college. The experience changed my life and the trajectory took me on an incredible journey. I fell in love as soon as I set foot in the darkroom. Photography has always been and will continue to be an essential 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 popular and sought after medium format cameras. This all-analog system is revered for its beauty and pristine picture quality. It is well built and has a simple and user-friendly design. If you’re into film, the Hasselblad 501cm is easy to use. It is not designed for speed; it’s a camera meant to slow down, savor your senses and indulge in the scene.
The waist-level viewfinder takes some getting used to and provides a unique vantage point that is fun to use. You can purchase a PM90 viewfinder to correct the image and focus faster. The CFE 80mm f2.8 lens has 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 tape to shoot with your favorite wireless lighting.
I offer my dear Hasselblad 501cm Five out of five stars. It is a workhorse and retains its value. In fact, we’ve seen their prices go up recently.
Advantages and disadvantages
- Superb image quality
- Its simplistic design is easy to use
- Ideal for most genres of photography
- Fully manual means infrequent issues
- Compatible with many lenses
- 1/500th of a second sync speed
- Capable of filming with wireless technology
- Multiple film backs available for quick transition between films
- Digital backs are available
- Retain value
- Its timeless design is pretty to look at
- Heavy, but that’s the price you pay for quality
- It’s not the fastest 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, an RFS 2.1 transceiver, a Broncolor Para 88 and an old fashioned sync cable. Some of the sample images were captured on Fujicolor Pro 400H, which has unfortunately been discontinued. I also used Ilford Delta 400, Kodak Portra 160, Kodak Ektachrome, Kodak Ektar and Kodak Gold 200. Most films were developed and digitized at Blue Moon Camera.
The Hasselblad 501cm was built on the success of the original 500 series. Its actual body design is not innovative. The introduction of the integrated leaf shutters found on 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. Also, 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 measures seven inches long and 4.5 inches wide. Although square, it is surprisingly convenient to carry and fits comfortably in the hands. At the front of the 501cm kit is the versatile CFE 80mm f2.8 lens. It has the traditional depth of field scale followed by aperture and shutter speed. There is a depth of field preview button 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 trigger will be on your right. Press the silver button on the left to remove the lens. It has a 60mm filter thread.
It is the top of the 501cm. Pull the tab to extend the viewfinder to waist level. Slide the black button inside the viewfinder at waist level to access the focus cap magnifier. Squeeze the middle to store it when not in use.
You can swap it out for another viewfinder, like a PM90, that corrects the image if you want. Press the yellow button to remove the film loader and turn it off.
You will notice the dark slide on the left side of the camera. Unfold the half-moon shaped film holder key and turn it to remove the film tray. The orange ring indicates that there is no film and it turns white when you load a new roll.
This is the film tray. Load the roll on the left and insert the film holder 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 right side of the camera houses 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 at the bottom.
Hasselblad’s 501cm is built like a tank. Its mechanical design is molded into a single aluminum alloy shell. The lens is made of premium Zeiss glass. It is not weather resistant, but it holds up well to moderate humidity and temperature extremes.
Ease of use
There’s a learning curve to using the 501cm if you haven’t taken film photos or it’s been a while. However, it becomes second nature once you’ve loaded a few rolls of film and removed the film magazine a time or two. Get ready for a slower pace and enjoy. A light meter will be your best friend for a little while.
The 501cm’s waist-level viewfinder looks foreign at first glance. It’s an entirely different point of view from modern cameras, and the image is reversed. It can be difficult to see your subject and focus in particular light at waist level. A simple remedy is to use the Focusing Hood Magnifier. I like to use the waist-level sight, although some situations are best served by replacing it with a PM90 sight. This is my go-to when shooting fashion tests or models 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 some tape or a rubber band to secure the wireless transceivers. Hasselblad’s versatile CFE 80mm f2.8 lens is a workhorse and easy to use. If you have photographed with a Fuji X-series or a Leica, you will have no problem with this lens.
Focusing with a 501cm Hasselblad is not complicated. Choose the desired aperture and shutter speed. Then turn the focus ring until you see it is in focus on the focus screen. The inverted image in the waist-level viewfinder might put you off at first, but it’s easy to get the feel of it. In bright conditions, I recommend accessing the focus cap magnifier. This makes it easier to focus the image. If the waist-level sight isn’t your favorite, you can always buy an extra sight.
The Hasselblad 501cm proved very accurate in our Sunny 16 tests. Images are well exposed with detail in highlights and shadows. The tone is wonderful. Ansel Adams would be proud.
Hasselblad is revered for its image quality, and the 501cm continues that legacy. Images are crisp with lots of bokeh when you want it. The 80mm 2.8 CFE lens creates beautiful colors and excellent contrast. The 6×6 film format provides enough detail for high resolution film scans. There is enough information to edit them in Capture One or Photoshop if desired.
The Hasselblad 501cm kit with the 80mm lens produces a creamy bokeh that blends into the background. Get closer to your subject and shoot wide open for the best bokeh. It also creates sufficient background separation in tight spaces. It is ideal for capturing portraits.
Images will be beautifully sharp as long as you take the time and focus. Landscapes offer fantastic sharpness with soft corners at f2.8. The stop minimizes 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 is minimal distortion with slight natural vignetting along the edge. Highlight bangs are no problem. Your choice of film and lighting conditions will strongly influence contrast and colors. This is where you can have fun and choose between poppy and vibrant, retro, pastels or gold during golden hour.
Additional Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing in this review is sponsored. Also, lots of people will post reviews and show lots of retouching on the photos. The problem then becomes that everyone can do the same thing. They don’t show what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show both edited and unmodified photos. Some of these images come from very old scans; Please be nice. But from there, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who should buy a Hasselblad 501cm?
Medium format has always been a favorite among portrait photographers, and the Hasselblad 501cm is a gorgeous choice. It’s also an excellent workhorse for any application. Any photographer would be happy to have this beautiful work of art in their collection. I bought my 501cc for just over $3000 and it held its value. The kit sold for over $4,000, depending on its condition. And I’d be happy to pay for it all again.