The Hasselblad SWC/M with CF Lens

After seven days of dealing with FedEx and Canada Customs, my special Christmas present to myself arrived: a Hasselblad SWC/M camera. It arrived just before we left for New Orleans, but I wanted to create some of that magical Christmas tension that happens when you are anticipating a gift that only exists in your imagination. I had only ever read about the fabled SWC and never really paid it much attention because I am not really a landscape photographer [so why would I need a 38mm Biogon lens?], but then I saw how it created depth through the frame and was mesmerized. Last week, I spent twenty minutes in a dark bathroom fumbling through the packaging blindly to make sure that the lens was not broken during shipment and that KEH Camera had sent the right camera.

So how would I rank the condition of the camera? Frankly, I was expecting a complete monster for the price I paid. It was rated BGN by KEH, which could mean anything from mint to rough. Given the rarity of these cameras compared to other items, I had expected it to be rough but fully-funtioning. I decided to go with a SWC/M that had a CF lens; I wanted something not too ancient, but knew that 903SWCs and 905SWCs were far beyond my budget and they were tough to get at any price these days. This SWC was made in 1987, and while not cheap, feels like a great investment in my photography.

The camera is worked in, but not in a bad way. The previous owner obviously took care of it, but also used it. I am not an Japanese collector, so I do not want it pristine for a cabinet. I wanted a piece that had a patina from use, but not with rough chunks and broken bits. The lens looks clean and it seems to be exactly what I had imagined in my Christmas imagination. This camera with its 38mm lens pretty much completes my Hasselblad arsenal of 50mm, 60mm, 80mm, 120mm and 150mm focal lengths. Given the work I have done with these during the past year they have slowly paid for themselves and will hopefully continue to do so for the rest of my time as a photographer. I don’t know, but I felt that the best investment I could make with the money I have earned from the commercial work I had was to put it into a full set of professional lenses. Digital will get “better” and the cameras will soon be able to brush our hair for us, but these lenses with their quality glass should always be able to give me a distinct look. Plus, the Hasselblad system has forced me to learned how to use a light meter, learn proper aperture to shutter speed ratios and to take my time with each shot. I think that is more important than pixel peeping to see which lens is the most razor sharp.

The SWC was never really anything more than a limited production camera, and it is no longer in production by Zeiss or Hasselblad. What is unique about this particular camera is that it has no mirror-assisted viewfinder; you do not look through the lens to compose your image. Like the Leica and other rangefinder cameras, the SWC uses a viewfinder to get a general idea of photo composition. It is not a camera for those in need of glasses.

While I can use a special ground glass screen to assist with focusing [it is similar to a view camera in this respect], my main goal for this camera was to learn how to focus based on hyper-focal distance. In other words, using approximate distances and depth of field created by the lens aperture, I hope to be able to focus without seeing through the lens. It should be a frustrating and enlightening experience that will get me closer to becoming a craftsman who actually understands the art of photography.

Which brings me to my next realization…when V. and I were in New Orleans we were lucky enough to be staying across the street from one of America’s leading photography galleries, A Gallery for Fine Photography, wherein we were able to view some of the world’s best prints in photography. There were images by Cartier-Bresson, Michael Kenna, Herman Leonard, Dianne Arbus and many whose work I had not been aware of. The sheer beauty of these prints sent me into a depressed tizzy: how could I ever hope to come close to these master works that held such depth and crisp precision?

While this entry is focused on the new camera, I would be amiss if I did not mention that I also received a beautiful print by Robert Lyon from V. that she picked up while working in New Brunswick this summer. It features Santa Claus being pulled along in his sleigh by birds. I must admit that I love it. While I am not one for bird images, the blending of the birds with Santa does create a magical emotion that I have always associated with Christmas. I cannot wait to have it properly framed.

Lastly, my brother was kind enough to pick up the Lensbaby Optics set for me. While I do not have the actual Composer lens yet for the optics, I am looking forward to trying these plastic, pinhole and glass lenses out in the upcoming year, and will write more about these after I use them. One never knows what a new year will bring.


3 responses to “The Hasselblad SWC/M with CF Lens

  1. I looking for one of these. What is your verdict of the camera after some years in use?

  2. You have the right camera.
    Now, expand it with a Lomopro 180 new manual flash. Add candid catches with this package.

    By selecting a 1987 SWC/M T* vintage you received an optical train that is a bit superior to the “Newer 900 series”. This is true due to the wholesale changes made in the field of optics through the 1990s and beyond. The changes were dictated by elimination of harmful metals/minerals that included Thorium, lead, lanthanum and even radioactive minerals.
    243 optical materials coefficients are in use at Carl Zeiss and have been since 2002. They replaced the bulky long list of non-linear math intensive catalog of the past.

    These dangerous materials were deleted from older designs–one of which was the SWC/M. Later designs made do with “cleaner” glass types that had a bit less performance. The MTF curves show this clearly.

    You have a winner.

    I came to the Hasselblad 500 series from the top down (8X10 view camera first; 4X5 next…). My top of the line Nikon hardly got used while the bulk of my best images came from a 56MMf/5.6 6X6 Schneider married to an A12 back.

    I could never afford the SWC but now … things are different.



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