02 01 15
As I spend hours that spin into days tank developing Tri-X I shot on this last trip to Steamtown and the Southern Tier of NY, I have to ask: “Is shooting with a big, near-antique, medium format Hasselblad camera worth it?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!!!”
You get zero automation, and no image preview. You don’t really know what you got until afterward. The image making chain is prone to all manner of irrecoverable mishaps and has a fairly steep learning curve. The gear itself is not that expensive compared to what is currently out there, but film is fairly costly, as is developing in either money or time, depending if it’s DIY or a lab. At some point you’re going to need two complete cameras since necessary (and expensive) major overhauls can take months due to the shortage of repair technicians.
The 500cm with the larger CF T lens is a big chunk of metal and glass to lug around. Still, with the normal lens and no accessories in my bag save a Pentax 1 degree digital spot meter, lens shade, extra film, and a few other goodies, the kit, ready to deploy, fits in a Billingham bag made for Leica enthusiasts. All told it weighs about the same as a Canon 5d with a 28-105 zoom. I’m willing to go a little heavier and carry an extra loaded film magazine since threading roll film outdoors, especially in the cold is no fun and puts the camera at risk with all the pieces you have to juggle. A full kit with wide angle and a telephoto (which I don’t own) plus a sturdy tripod would be unworkable except as an endurance exercise. Keeping it fairly light, I’m packing an instrument that can capture nuances of light and detail like nobody’s business. It sees the way I see, or have grown to see from using it. Even after months of owning the camera, it still makes me smile every time I hear the kerplunk of the rather complex capture mechanism.
Mary Ellen Mark said in a recent lecture at The University of Pennsylvania that shooting medium format made her a better 35mm photographer. It forces me to see more carefully, examine what I’ve done and what I’m doing; to do something that Ansel Adams talked about repeatedly: pre-visualizing the final image. It could be argued that all the technical issues I have to handle cut into the spontaneity of shooting, but I’ve found with practice I can dispense with such fairly quickly as I grow to understand the camera’s strength and weaknesses. Every time I open the developing tank it’s like being a kid again and getting that perfect present; I still gasp a little when I do the scans.