How did this happen?
I blame it partly on my discovery of Vivian Maier a year or two ago but, if I’m to be honest, medium format has been in the back of my mind for many years. I’ve seen the odd Hasselblad when scouring various camera shops over time but admiration was really as far as it went. The desire to try a larger format than 35mm never went away and it seems the Maier effect must have accelerated the inevitable. Drawn more to 6×6 than any other (645 too much like 35mm, 6×7 too bulky) I purchased a TLR* quite cheaply, restored it and love the results on film. Square format it would be, then, so a Hassy was bound to happen eventually.
This is a 501CM which was made in 1997 and came as a boxed kit with A12 film back, 80mm Zeiss Planar T* “new-C” f/2.8 lens, Acute-Matte-D crosshair screen and waist-level finder. It was less expensive than expected, partly due to the lens and partly the external condition. The lens is essentially a CF with the F bit removed (to distinguish from the original C-type), introduced to cut costs at the expense of a feature that not many would apparently need. Both body and lens were coated in a layer of grime which, thankfully, I was able to remove thanks to my OCD-fuelled cleaning but, unfortunately, years of filth has caused some pitting in the chrome. There’s nothing much I can do about that but I’m satisfied that both body and lens are now clean (the lens looks almost new now).
Of course, no auction-site purchase would be complete without an issue or two (OK, perhaps I exaggerate) and the first of these was immediately apparent: the screen was distractingly grubby and no attempt at cleaning would make it good. After some research I discovered that the shockingly-expensive AM-D screens are made of two layers, and it became clear that the dirt was in between. “Don’t ever take the screens apart or you’ll ruin them” was the message I was reading over and over, so I took it apart and very gently but thoroughly cleaned both layers. Whatever it was has actually permanently etched the top glass layer, sadly, although I was able to drastically improve things. I can only imagine that the screen had become wet at some point and some glass-etching fungus had grown in-between, where it had stayed damp for some time. Anyway, re-assembly was much more difficult; it can be done as long as swearing is permitted.
Issue #2 was more tricky because I was still getting a feel for how the camera operated as a unit. I put the occasional wind-on jam and A12 winder looseness down to my inexperience but more research indicated that there could be problems with sticky old grease in the back’s mechanics. Off came the cover (with this latest A12 the dark slide holder needs to be removed first: four screws hold it on to the rear of the magazine casing) to reveal no sticky grease but one gear wheel with two missing teeth! Said teeth were floating around inside but hadn’t caused any mischief themselves; the problems were down to the gap in the gear, resulting in it sometimes catching and sometimes another cog free-wheeling inside the gap. No idea how two teeth were sheared off without causing damage to another cog as well, but that was the situation and I can understand why the seller had missed it. I actually managed to glue the teeth back on – talk about intricate – and everything worked perfectly, but it didn’t last, of course. And, because I’d taken the back apart to check and fix what was meant to be a common issue, I couldn’t return the kit even if I’d felt inclined to. I couldn’t find any A12 parts here and the alternative seemed to be to pay for a full service and repair.
Whilst away on holiday I managed to find a service manual, the cog part number and a nice chap in the U.S. who happened to have one new. The part was waiting for me when we returned home a few days ago. I used SPG to lubricate the teeth of the new wheel, because the description is similar to that of the grease specified in the service manual (and I already have SPG!) and spent an hour or so fitting it and making sure all the bits were working properly. Success!
I’ve fixed the light trap (temporarily: it needs a new foil part but don’t have that yet, so I trimmed a small breakage to stop it catching on the dark slide) and I’ve adjusted the film progress indicator because its rotation was slightly off. This indicator should be red when no film is in, white when it’s freshly loaded, and should gradually turn to red as the film is used up; mine was slightly off and fixing it was more difficult than it sounds. Not essential, but since it’s there I want it working properly.
One last thing has been done prior to the imminent film test. I bought an extra screen (pre- Acute-Matte as I’m not made of money!) with a split prism. This confirmed my suspicion, when using the AM-D screen, that infinity focus (and, therefore, everything else) was ever so slightly off. At the lens infinity stop a distant image was still not quite aligned. I’ve corrected for this with a tiny adjustment of the mirror stop (right side whilst facing front of body). I’m aware of the factors which can contribute to focus alignment in Hasselblads and have confirmed that focus is correct across the whole screen, so I’m quite confident. Aside from impact damage (no sign of that) the mirror stop is the most likely factor following hundreds or thousands of shots and there are, thankfully, no foam pads to deteriorate under the gliding mirror of this model. Testing will confirm. If something such as body length needs adjustment, I’ll send it to a specialist. If it’s instead the lens, I’ll soon find out. Optimistically, though, I think this mechanical marvel is all good to go now.
*TLR = Twin Lens Reflex. Eg., Vivian’s Rolleiflex or, in my case, a Yashica Mat.