Hasselblad 203FE vs. Rolleiflex 6008i - 25 December 2011 [ prev | next ]

I took out my 203FE and 6008i today, with some Fujifilm Provia 400 slide film, and the 110/2 and 80/2.8 Zeiss lenses, respectively. My intent was to compare workflow and handling. I do own a strap for the Hasselblad but not yet for the Rolleiflex, so this was one disadvantage for the latter, which I will not describe further. Before leaving my apartment, the first difference is immediately obvious: The Hasselblad fits nose down in my camera bag in roughly 2/3 the space of the Rolleiflex. I cannot stand the latter nose down due to its greater height, and the handle on the right side sticks out further, making it wider as well. The difference isn't huge, but it is noticeable. The weight is of course also higher, but I didn't feel this difference in use.

I managed to misfire one shot with each camera, so there is parity there :) With more use, I would presumably eliminate this.

Loading film is a definite plus for the Rolleiflex. I am used to loading the Hasselblad, having owned one for something like 20 years, but in spite of some first-time uncertainty with the Rolleiflex, it was easier. Threading the film through it easier, loading the cartridge in is easier, the markings are clearer, and getting to the first frame is automatic, as is wind-up at the end. I can also buy extra internal cartridges and carry several preloaded in very little space.

In use, and on a tripod, the basic workflow is similar: pull out of bag (it was raining lightly), put on tripod if using it, remove lens cap, open finder, focus, frame roughly, set exposure, frame tightly, lock down camera, mirror up, shoot. There were no big differences anywhere except for metering, where the Rolleiflex is easier to see and quicker to adjust. Unfortunately the lights for under- and over-exposure go the opposite direction to my expectation, but I will get used to this. Perhaps it is even changeable with the Master Control. The numerals are bright red and easy to read even without the loupe, whereas you need to use the loupe to even see the Hasselblad readout, and even then, the colours are less contrasty and the numbers smaller.

I worked in M mode, as I find the Hasselblad A mode a bit weird and didn't feel totally comfortable with it. The Rolleiflex A mode is standard and easy to use. I didn't explore the ease of setting exposure compensation for this reason. The Hasselblad shutter speed ring is too narrow and too hard to grab, for my taste. The Rolleiflex shutter speed wheel is a little tricky to grab as well, but not as hard as the Hasselblad. The problem with the Hasselblad ring is that there are just two small knobs to grab, whereas the Rolleiflex wheel has knobs all around. The aperture settings are similar, in that the Hasselblad has one knob where it is easiest to grab, whereas the Rolleiflex is knurled all around.

The viewfinders and focusing are roughly equivalent. Both are large, bright and a dream to work with. The Rolleiflex loupe is slightly easier to work with, having a little lever which you flip open and flip closed, whereas the Hasselblad is spring-loaded, which makes it easier to open but harder to close. Sometimes I missed the catch and had to close it again. The Rolleiflex waist level finder is slightly easier to open and close, being larger and more positive.

The Rolleiflex film back has a built-in dark curtain, which is a huge gain day-to-day. I realized after having lunch that I had been sitting on the Hasselblad dark slide the whole meal, but luckily it had taken no damage. On the other hand, the Hasselblad lens cap has interior bayonet, and thus fits and can be operated inside the hood, whereas the Rollei has a standard lens cap which is too wide to be used while the hood is on, a definite win for the Hasselblad.

The motorized film drive of the Rolleiflex is too large and heavy for my taste, but reassuring in use. You always know where the film is at. Once I forgot to wind on the Hasselblad before trying to meter, and spent a few moments wondering why it wouldn't meter. I thought maybe my battery had died, but I just needed to wind on the film. The shutters feel roughly equally violent, but the Rollei is somewhat more audible. I like the sound, but am aware that more people can hear when I shoot.

In general, the difference between the ease-of-use of the cameras is somewhat less than I expected, but the Rolleiflex remains easier to use, and more logical and modern, with only a couple of small niggles. Its much more limited availability is a point of contention, and the often higher prices are also something to keep in mind, but if those aren't an issue, i.e. you are a relatively well-to-do European, then the Rolleiflex is a nicer camera.

My feeling that the most satisfying Hasselblads to use are the 500-series has been cemented now. The better shutter speed/aperture ring placement, the fact that the cameras hang nose-down in a strap, no metering weirdness (okay, no metering at all), and no menu weirdness (no menus at all) all add up to a smoother experience. If I buy a Hasselblad again later in life, it will likely be a 503CW, and I will simply use a hand-held meter, something I am quite used to anyway. I have both a Gossen Profisix and a Pentax Digital Spot meter. Then again, I just might be happy enough with my Rolleiflex that this will never happen.

Re-re-establishing the Blog - 23 December 2011 [ prev | next ]

Another change of year, another revival of blog. But this time I do have at least one thing to post, and the topic is medium format film cameras.

A long time ago, I traded a 35mm SLR (Olympus OM-4), three lenses, a winder and a flash for a Hasselblad 500C with the chrome 80mm f/2.8 Planar. I immediately fell in love with the 500C, but there were also some lessons to be learned. First of all, I got very little for the 35mm system, and I should have simply kept it. Secondly, I should have done some more research, saved up some more money, and bought a 500 C/M instead, which has interchangeable focusing screens. The 500C screen is very dark and difficult to focus. I recently gave this camera to my cousin, who is a pro photographer, but hadn't tried a Hasselblad. I still sometimes miss it. More recently, I bought a Contax 645 and three lenses (35/3.5, 80/2, 120/4 Makro), and also fell in love with that, but for very different reasons. The Hasselblad felt classic and classy, the Contax 645 supremely competent, a pro camera in every sense of the word. The 35mm Distagon is the 645 counterpart to the famous 21mm Distagon from the 135 format Contax system, a legendary wide angle lens. The 80mm is very good, and the 120mm Makro lens is one of the best macro lenses ever made. Everything is a joy to use, although the focusing screen is just a touch dark. At some point I bought a Hasselblad to Contax 645 adapter, and the Hasselblad 110mm f/2 FE lens, a legendary portrait lens not natively available for the Contax 645 system.

But then a strange thing happened: I missed composing for the 6x6 format. I decided to buy a Hasselblad 2000 FC/M, not too expensive, to allow me to use the 110/2 in the intended manner. I found one, paid too much (but still not a lot), but pretty soon I started missing the built-in meter of the Contax 645, so I started thinking about a 200-series Hasselblad, a 203FE or 205TCC/FCC. Eventually I stumbled across a great price on a 203FE and snapped it up. This was, according to a few pro photographers I knew, perhaps the ultimate film camera, the ne plus ultra, the cream of the crop, the peak. And I was happy. I now had the technically excellent Contax 645 and the wonderful, charming, beautiful Hasselblad 203FE. I added a 50/2.8FE and a 250/4FE and called it a day.

But then another strange thing happened. The operation of the 203FE was quirky. Really weird menus, strange buttons. Weird to the point that every time I picked it up, I needed to look up how to work it (I don't shoot MF film all that often, a few times a year, but I really love it when I do). And you can only see the LCD readout of the metering results when you use the loupe. Fold down the loupe, and you are back to no metering. Furthermore, due to the electronics attached the left side of the camera, Hasselblad had to move the lugs for attaching the strap, and now the camera doesn't hang straight down any longer, but on an angle. I used to hang my 500C straight down and tuck it under my arm as I walked, so this annoyed me. I am now thinking that the best Hasselblads are the classic ones, with no metering, no complex menus, hanging straight down from the strap. You need to carry a meter, but maybe that is okay.

Meanwhile, I still longed for 6x6, so I started looking at the Rolleiflex 6008 system, especially the integral/integral 2/AF. The problem with this system is that it was never as popular as the Hasselblad system, especially outside of Europe where a series of bad dealer choices soured the option for most. Additionally, the advertising strategy was horrendous at times, and many people just weren't aware of the existence of the system. Finally, Francke & Heidecke had deeply buried financial woes which eventually took out an otherwise viable business. As a consequence, the used market is modestly sized, and some items are over-priced. For example, the Hasselblad 110mm f/2 FE lens can be had for half the price (1000 Euro) of the Rolleiflex version, optically identical (2000 Euro). Other lenses follow the same pattern. Some are almost impossible to find, and the prices are outrageous when they do appear. So I have been hesitating.

Then, recently, a photo-friend picked up an integral 2 on a whim, to use his 110/2 again (he sold his Hy6 and replaced it with a Leica S2), and re-ignited my interest in the system. This came at the same time I was beginning to suspect that I would never be truly happy with the 203FE, and finally I decided to just get cheap 6008 with the 80 Planar, the cheapest (but not worst) lens in the system. It arrived, was in nice shape, apart from a couple of niggles, and I am much more happy with the operation than with the Hasselblad, but... it is much heavier, much bigger, and the looks are somewhat less classy, not that this is so important for photography, but the factoid does sit somewhere in my brain.

But then a third strange thing happened. I just left them sitting on my desk for a few days, Contax next to Hasselblad next to Rolleiflex, and wouldn't you know it, the Hasselblad started looking gaudy with all its chrome, like a man wearing white jeans, and the Rolleiflex started looking ruggedly handsome! The size difference stopped bothering me considering that in return, I got an amazingly flexible and quite advanced system with very easy to operate controls, and with the Hy6, a clear path to digital, should I want it. No re-reading the manual every time I pick the camera up either. As a consequence, I have decided to sell the Hasselblad and the 50 and 250 lenses, although I might keep my old 2000 FC/M and the 110/2, at least until I pick up a Rolleiflex 110/2. That really is a special lens. I have also decided that since I in recent times have moved away from shooting wide open so often, I would save a lot of money, weight and bulk by buying the cheaper, less flashy lenses, i.e. 50/80/150 instead of 40/110/180.

Another thing happened while the third strange thing was happening. I realized that there was still film in the Contax 645, so I started carrying it with me to finish the film off, and I suddenly remembered what a nice camera it is. However, I really don't need more than one medium format film camera, given the (in)frequency of use. And I do prefer 6x6 to 645 (most of the time). The rest of the time I can either crop or just use the 645 magazine I picked up for the Rolleiflex.

Hasselblad 203FE w/ 110mm f/2, Rolleiflex 6008i w/ 80mm f/2.8, Contax 645 w/ 80mm f/2.0. At least one, probably two of these system will soon be for sale (written 23.12.2011).