I recently said goodbye to my Contax 645AF camera and invested in a Hasselblad H1 to photograph weddings on beautiful medium format film. I’m in no way a reviewer of cameras, I just take pictures, so I’ll keep things very simple. I loved shooting with the Contax – a lot! It is a very refined camera and a pleasure to shoot with. Why then did I change to the Blad? I didn’t have 100% faith in the Contax following a series of small blips. The camera would freeze up for no reason. Reset the battery or the prism and it would go again, no sweat. The battery life wasn’t great and it produced heart in mouth moments when it went mid roll on a shoot. OK so I could have got the AA battery grip but it adds a bit more bulk and I’m not really all that big a bloke! I could have lived with these quirks but I was also having an issue with film flatness which I couldn’t quite pinpoint and that was what bothered me most about the Contax.
So, I did a bit of research and ended up with the Hasselblad H1. I’d shot Hasselblad V’s for the bulk of my wedding and commercial work years ago so I was no stranger to the brand but I’d no shooting time with H cameras. I’m delighted to say that it was a good move! I love shooting with the Blad. It’s not as refined as the Contax in my opinion. It sounds a little clunkier, not much but a bit. However it does feature a leaf shutter which means I can hand hold at slower speeds and sync flash all the way up to the top speed – 1/800th of a second. Now coming from the Contax 1/800 doesn’t sound much – how can you shoot wide open in bright light for instance? Well, I’m shooting lower ISO films or overexposing a touch more. To be honest the light here in the UK tops out at 250th or less some days anyway! Now let me tell you about the viewfinder: it is without doubt the brightest image I have ever seen in a camera! Like, scary bright! I have no idea how they’ve done it but it is a dream to use. I shoot fast lenses on my Canon kit and the Blad is significantly brighter. It makes focussing a joy. Now, the AF is pretty decent, much improved on the Contax (which I only ever manually focussed) and you’d expect improvements considering it’s a much later system. But the AF is usable and I find myself using it a fair bit, even in less than favourable light. The camera handles much like a DSLR or Mamiya AFD in as much as you control speed and aperture by jog wheels on the grip. I kinda liked the manual layout of the Contax to be honest but it’s no biggie.
The camera can be customised to suit your preference and saved to a custom profile say for outdoor work, studio work etc. The menus are reasonably intuitive and the manual although hefty does a good job of explaining the options. Backs have built in dark slides and inserts aren’t matched to mags unlike V cameras so you can shoot with mixed mags or inserts no bother. The backs are a lot easier to change than the Contax which was a bit fiddly to say the least. The 80mm lens is very sharp and contrasty. I think to produce images more akin to the Zeiss 80mm f2 then I’d look at the 100mm f2.2 but it’s a pricey chunk of glass. In the meantime I’m more than happy with the 80 f2.8.
All in all I’m very happy with my move. I’ve shot a good few jobs and a ton of personal work on the Blad and my keeper rate has increased somewhat over the Contax. It has to be said though that shooting at f2.8 is more forgiving than shooting at f2 so that has to be taken in to account. If you are considering the Blad then take a look at this review over at the Luminous Landscape.
I didn’t have these two cameras hanging around for long so didn’t really have a chance to do many comparison shots. Below however is a shot on both cameras wide open on Kodak Portra 400. I grabbed my son on his way to school. Not an ideal test I know and could have probably been done a bit better. Contax at f2 top and Hasselblad at f2.8 below.
I’ve taken the liberty of sharing a video by Josh Moates from Indie Film Lab where he explains the cameras functions which is pretty decent and well worth watching. If you are considering the Hasselblad H1 or have any questions on shooting medium format film then please fire me a question here and I’ll do my best to answer!
I should add that there are many amazing photographers producing equally amazing work on both cameras and at the end of the day it’s all down to a matter of preference what you choose to shoot with. After all the best camera you have is the one that’s with you as is quoted many many times! Thanks for reading!