Hasselblad 2000 FCW

The The Hasselblad 2000 FCW : the classic 6×6 SLR: revised, corrected, and cheap. As long as you can avoid damaging its fragile, fragile titanium shutter, you’ll have nearly all the advantages of the most recent models – excepting in-body metering, AE, TTL flash – for less than than a quarter of the cost.

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To be expanded – these are just some notes to consider. Skip to the summary, which is complete. Much of the below is applicable to other V bodies. In time the summary notes will be fleshed out in this section.

Lenses I own in this mount:

50/4 C Distagon, broken shutter.
80/2.8 C Planar
80.2.8 CF Planar
80/2.8 F Planar
150/4 CF Sonnar (no longer own)
250/5.6 C Sonnar (Black, likely T*)

I don’t usually comment directly on the “camera as object” aspect but admittedly, the traditional Hasselblad V-system body is a beautiful object, especially in its fully chromed form. As these are usage notes, it seems forboding that my first comment should be about form and not function. Aside from the fact that appearance tends to influence human subjects, this really shouldn’t be counted as a slight against the V bodies. It strikes certain notes of pure function – perhaps unequalled in providing a readily available, compact, high quality 6×6 system – which is inextricably linked to its streamlined form.

On the other hand, sometimes the design tries too hard. If calling it an engineer’s camera is too much a slight, then consider this the evolved product of a fine watchmaker. If any (common) camera demonstrates that well made and rugged are not the same, it is the Hasselblad. The 2000FCW is the epitome of this assertion – everything works, controls are placed in reasonable locations despite the constraints of a body designed some 60 years ago, yet internally jammed bodies abound, the titanium shutter is a teacup atop a bull, film inserts need match their backs, backs need care to maintain their light tightness – both their on own and when mated to the body. The leaf shutter only bodies – the 5xx series – prediliction for desynching body and back – the fact that a double ended “Hasselblad tool” exists, that people with years of experience with the system still consider pennies an essential Hasselblad accessory, exemplifies the design concept – effective, minimalist, elegant design only for the effective, minimalist, elegant user. No errors permitted.

As a result, to the system’s detriment, certain system interlocks are absent, ones that would aid even the most conscientious, experienced large format photographer. In the 2000FCW one must take care to sync the shutter with back removal. As a safety to prevent damage to the fragile shutter when changing backs – a problem which ended the 1000/1600F series in 1957 and plagued the 2000 bodies introduced decades later – when a back is removed, the first shutter fires automatically to clear the film gate. As a result, when the next back is mounted, the shutter must be recocked (taking note of the state of the back – sometimes it need be advanced too) for the camera to function. In time, it does become second nature, but frankly, it’s sad that I need to worry and silly that these “bugs” remained in the V system for years. On the plus side, the 2000 series seems less likely to suffer lens removal jams.

V system backs are a very mixed bag in their own right. They are efficiently small. Two 6×6 V backs are about the equal of one 6×7 RZ67 back. They don’t have any hooks or protrusions that might catch in packed bag or pocket. On the other hand, be careful putting them in bags or pockets. There is no darkslide safety lock. Nothing. Even large format sheet film holders have a simple catch. One trick I use (even on film holders) is to put the backs in whatever is holding them with the darksilde facing away from me. That way, so long as the back stays in that orientation, it is nearly impossible for me to pull the darkslide out while pulling the back (out of a bag or pouch) towards me.

While on the matter of Hasselblad darkslides, let me add two things. They can fit in one of two ways – with the loop of sheet metal that secures the handle facing front or back. If it faces the back then pulling the insert knocks the darkslide out of its slot. It it faces the lens, then when the back is removed there is an increased risk of the darkslide catching on something and accidentally fogging film. Second, the darkslides are easily creased, easier than any other system I know. According to others (whom I believe, having taken them apart) having flat darkslides are critical to maintaining the lightfastness of the film backs.

The whole matching back to film insert is beyond me. (For the uninitiated – the back has a full serial number, the film insert has three digits which should match the final three numbers of the back. I certainly understand it, but frankly, I’ve done no testing of my own, nor have I seen a good test presented, so in practice, I ignore it.) As a result, nonmatching magazines go cheaper than matching ones. True or not, this myth of hand adjusted backs is an example of the system being a “well made” product by craftsmen – to the point of being an outmoded design. Frankly, inserts should mate to backs without a second thought. It’s not a matter of cheaper production costs – I should be able to preload an insert without worrying that I’ve returned it to its matched back.

Tolerances are an issue. I find that Hasselblad backs just don’t mate well to the bodies. Too often, there is too much play. The raised lip on the body should be a better placement index, lock, and light seal for the backs. If you are buying used – and new costs for these systems are prohibitive, often five to ten times the cost on the use market – some of these components have seens years of use and ad hoc repairs. It doesn’t seem fair to critique a back system for its longevity and the bad repairs that people do, but I don’t feel the same about the much, much older 2×3 Graflex or Graflok systems, or any post 1950s Japanese system – RB, RZ, GS1, S2, SQ, etc.

The gearing for a Hasselblad back is actually remarkably complex. While I wouldn’t call them fragile, spacing issues do arise. Do read the manual on how to properly load the magazine. One experienced, accomplished friend of mine, upon seeing me load an A12 back, cautioned that he always made sure to move the start mark on the backing paper just a bit past the insert arrow (while holding the source spool taught, of course). It’s nice that the film can be easily cranked to the first frame but the lack of an advance lock after the initial loading means that once the first frame is shot, you are at risk of accidentally advancing the film ever so slightly. Irregular spacing makes negative strips harder to cut and fit in archival storage pages. Of course, film is wasted and you run the risk of cutting in to the final frame. This happens often enough that my magazines have their cranks gaff taped down.

Finally, be aware that the Hassy backs rely on the a sheet metal shim with flocking to maintain its light seal. Not only must these seals be replaced periodically (minor surgery; don’t pay to have it done) but keeping the darkslide in the back compresss the flocking and shortens its life (again, not my experience, but I believe it). On the other hand, as above, the slides are fragile and creasing is detrimental to lightfastness so leaving them outside of the back is a dubious, but the best solution. Of course, you could just slide them into the storage pocket on the back.

Wait, what pocket? One commonly cited oversight – the lack of integral darkslide storage (except for the most recent and expensive of backs) is a non starter. The Lindahl press on holders are still available, now sold under the Norman label. Between an A12 with the “inbuilt” holder and without, you’ll save at least $100. I don’t need pay Hasselblad $90 or more to tape a $10 piece of plastic for me. One note though – they easily come apart. Separate the frame from the back and carefully super glue them back together. Using a pin or toothpick as an applicator, fill the plastic pin slots with glue and then drizzle it lightly along the surface of the lower edges. The single adhesive strip use to bind the holder to the magazine is also insufficient. Add some double sided Scotch tape to contact surfaces as insurance.

Don’t read this as doom and gloom. It’s actually a rather nice back system. Be careful with the condition of what you buy, watch the darkslides, tape the crank down, and add a Lindahl darkslide storage frame and be happy.

For some reason I often forget from a distance whether the shutter release is the shutter release or the mount lock, but once picked up it’s a non starter. It actually fits well in a single hand. The Hasselblad manuals mention the “proper” way to hold and use a V (i.e. traditional) body: held by the left hand with the its index finger used for shutter relase, right hand for everything else – popping the viewfinder, focus, and cranking. I use this method often, but certain aspects bother me. There are stability no-nos. The weight supporting hand (given to muscle exhaustion) is also the (fine motor) actuating hand. The left index finger has to strech – putting it under tension – from left to right in order to reach the shutter release. There once was a method of handgun shooting taught called point shooting. Think 60′s James Bond barrel sequence. It was a one handed shooting technique that relyed on the ability of a person to accurately direct the dominant hand’s index finger – to point – at a target. Trading stability for innate, unthinking, immediate accurracy, it is what was taught for combat shooting for years until the rise of the (modified) Weaver and Isosceles. In many cases, especially shooting “from the hip,” I hold the camera in the right hand, prefocus, prerelease the mirror, point the AOV cone where it imagine it belongs, and fire.

In short -

Composition – Well, now this depends, doesn’t it? Where are you coming from? Axial flips are bread and butter for those bred in TLRs and moreso, large format. Sure – pentaprisms can be had, but the difference in weight between a Hassie with pentaprism and a 6×7 is… negligible. However, if one axis reversed is nearly natural born perception, you’ll literally be at home. LF shooters will consider complaints, well, plainly weak. There is a now useless ground glass option (yes, I own current 2×3 sheet film – it’s still useless) which I suppose is good for quick mirror alignment checking.

Ergonomics – Rather nice, actually. The Hasselblad manual has a valid suggestion as to how to use the camera, but it has its drawbacks and other positions should be used as the situation demands. The 2000FCW should come with a late rapid wind crank which can be used folded in or out. If a previous owner hasn’t done it already, you should probably swap the original screen for an Accu Matte as most (but not all) prefer. Most modern prisms are too heavy and unbalance the camera, consider old and Kiev prisms instead.

Format – God. 6×6. What can I say? If you print square, it’s worthwhile. Otherwise… buy a full-frame (35mm) digital camera. It’s no sacrifice: square has its place and perhaps 6×6 is enough to exceed the last generation (5DII, D700) of under $5K digicams. I’m not going to rehash the 6×6 vs 6×7 debate. I prefer to use the format that most closely matches the apect ratio of my expected finishing medium. Sometimes that is square.

Packing – Glorious. the camera when equipped with the standard waist level finder is an almost perfect hexahedron. That results in the least amount of packing waste of any system I own. The body itself is a simple cube; carrying a spare is a minimal concern. Backs don’t really have any protrusions, but there are other issues (see below). I have a tendency to pick a C Planar over my more recent (and expensive) CF and F versions because it is the smallest version (with the black C T* -which I don’t have – being marginally smaller and lighter).

Weight – The 2000FCW picks up about a quarter of a pound from the 500C/M, which in turn picked up roughly the same from the 500C. It’s neither here nor there – the added weight is sometimes better in hand or sometimes tiring, immaterial when carried in a backpack or slingbag, but somewhat noticeable in a shoulder bag or when slung over the shoulder.

Low  Light – A few pluses – while the system is notably missing an 80/2, the standard 80/2.8 Planar in it’s various forms is good enough. Flash sync on the focal plane is an impressive-for-medium-format 1/90th; shutter leaf lenses offer sync on all speeds. F/FE lenses, which have no leaf shutter, add 50/2.8, 110/2, and 150/2.8 options. The 110 is a standout feature of the focal plane V bodies and the Hasselblad system as a whole.

Rain -  Fragility of the focal plane shutter aside, it’s pretty simple mechanism and was designed to high standards. I have seen better back systems (below) and am concerned about capillary action drawing water into the space between back and body.

Polaroid – Forget it. 6×6 polaroid is silly for pictorial purposes. Worse, some of the Hasselblad polabacks can protrude far enough into the body to destroy the focal plane shutter. Instant film stock is too precious at this point to waste on proofing – use a digicam.

Backs – Average – but by averaging a strongly bimodal distribution. Good: perhaps the most compact back MF system, no real protrusions, readily available, cheap darkslide holder add-on. Bad: spacing issues can arise from a moderately complex back system, no interlock to prevent pulling the darkslide on an unmounted back can be disasterous when pulling a back from a bag, backs only lock on the first exposure so more advance issues may arise, the flocking could be better, it should be baffled better, many backs aren’t as flush as they should be, silly insert matching issue.

Interchangeability – Better than expected. Unfortunately, since most people associate V bodies with having leaf shutters, few adapters to larger systems (e.g. Pentax 67II) have been made. Still, the 2000FCW does have a focal plane shutter so it’s up to you and your hacking abilities to make it work. On the other hand, the Hasselblad has been a professional system since day one and has seen some noteable scientific use. As a result, there are some obscure adapters out there and the system continues to have adapters made for it for the most recent of MFDBs as many notable high end photographers feel at home with it. The lenses from the Hasselblad V system are easily taken to smaller systems that have their own in-body shutters.

How and When – When I need small or light, reasonably fast glass and precision focusing and interchangeable backs. If I can forgo the interchangable backs, I could use my Kiev 60 or better, my Pentax 67II, especially with the leaf shutter lenses. If neither speed nor closeup nor backs matter, I’d go straight to a 3.5 Rollei. In some ways, you buy a Hassy for the size when paired with an 80, then add the other lenses because you’ve already bought in to the system. The V bodies pack so much usefulness and quality into such a compact form that it, on it’s own, is a sufficient argument against ever using a 6×4.5 camera. Careful – people will be curious and art industry and photographers likely mark you a poseur.

Value – The 2000 series – 2000FCW and 2003FCW specifically – and the motorized body series represent some of the best deals out there for well featured 6×6 systems. The 2000FCW is sometimes $100 more than a 500C and is younger, has a non vignetting mirror, and provides a selection of faster lens option by virtue of the focal plane shutter. Not that it really matters in 6×6 and larger, but lens quality is generally superlative, making older lenses with broken shutters a particular bargain. More recent optics and accessories can be pricey; the latter can vary significantly, so shop around. Pretty, crafted camera, but don’t think it’s magically better than anything else 6×6.

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