Hasselblad 903SWC … rambling thoughts

The image is a another from Shafter, TX done with my Hasselblad 903 SWC. The picture from my previous post today was taken about an hour earlier.

Interestingly, this picture was published in a January 1997 Shutterbug article for reasons that now seem strangely outdated. In those days, the magazine devoted one issue per year to the latest and greatest 120 film cameras, with additional articles about photographers working in that format. Due to the equipment discussions, there was excitement generated by that particular Shutterbug, and it was probably the closest the magazine ever came to having a “swimsuit” issue.  Back in 1997, it was an honor to have one’s work  show up on those pages.

Things changed quickly. These days it’s hard to imagine a time when none of us knew what a pixel was. To their credit, Shutterbug made the transition too. Nowadays the discussion revolves around the mystique of the digital SLR and the latest revolution in point and shoot.

In spite of all that, there are still those (including myself)  who savor the look and feel of 120 film cameras such as the 903. Like most people these days, I own a digital camera, but I’m not giving up my Superwide anytime soon. I keep a few rolls of film on hand and have no issue with scanning it. An extra step to the digital work-flow is barely a hassle and more than worth the effort.

Some technical thoughts about using the 903 Superwide:

The detachable viewfinder made for this camera is the easiest way to view an image. Over the years when taking a picture, I’ve generally left the viewfinder on and used it to compose my photograph. If you’ve never owned the camera, keep in mind that when using the detachable viewfinder, the lower portion of your view is obscured by the lens barrel. I’ve always gotten around this little snag by turning the camera sideways in order to view the lower part of my image. For focusing, I use the hyperfocal-focusing marks on the lens barrel.

If greater precision is needed for composing and focusing, a ground glass back is available from Hasselblad and may be used in conjunction with any of the prism finders. I use it with the PM 5. Using the ground glass back with a prism finder requires that you remove the film back, and that you’re okay with viewing an upside down image. It also requires a shutter locked in the open position with a good cable release. Once you’ve done all that and your picture is composed and focused, the ground glass back (and prism finder) is removed and the film back is reinstalled. Obviously, all this is done with the camera on a tripod.

Additional photographs I’ve taken with the 903 may be seen by clicking on this link:


Keep in mind that colors and contrast of the images at this site will be most accurate when viewed on a calibrated MAC monitor. This is most relevant to photographs that have a wide range of contrast such as many of the ones I photographed with the 903.

If you’ve got any other questions about the camera, feel free to post a comment.


2 thoughts on “Hasselblad 903SWC … rambling thoughts

  1. I just picked up a used 903 and absolutely love it. I have been a 503CW user for about 10 years and love that system too. I didn’t realize there was an option for a ground glass and prism. Any more info you can provide on that?


    1. As far as I know the ground glass is still available as an accessory, but if not there are plenty of them on Ebay (and elsewhere) for under $200. To use it, you snap it onto the back of the SWC (instead of a film back). It’s a little difficult to view without a black cloth, so what I usually do is slide the ground glass onto a Hasselblad PM 5 viewfinder and then snap the ground glass (attached to the prism) onto the SWC.
      Any Hasselblad prism can be used to do this.

      After locking open the shutter with a cable release, you compose and check focus and then remove the ground glass/prism and replace it with a loaded film back. At that point you’re ready to take the picture. It’s important to keep the ground glass clean and free of scratches.

      In truth, I don’t always use this system because it’s time consuming and requires a tripod. On the other hand, it’s the only way to accurately see what you’re photographing with the SWC.

      My favorite way to use the SWC is to handhold the camera… something which is quite difficult to pull off successfully with any other Hasselblad.

      Best of luck with yours!


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