The Hasselblad V-System master guide: film magazines, instant and sheet film backs
This section of the Hasselblad V-System master guide covers roll film, instant and sheet film backs (magazines) and outlines the variations in types, generations, compatibility, film formats and film types. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll jump right in.
Here’s what I cover in this article:
Table of contents
- 1 Hasselblad roll film magazine overview
- 2 Hasselblad roll film magazines in depth
- 3 Hasselblad roll film magazine compatibility
- 4 A final film magazine gotcha
- 5 Mythbusting: Matched magazine inserts and shells
- 6 Instant film backs and sheet film holders
- 7 Wrapping up
- 8 Lend your support
Hasselblad roll film magazine overview
Every single Hasselblad roll film magazine from 1948 until 2013 uses the same basic dark slide design and material. Dark slides for Polaroid film backs shouldn’t be used with roll film magazines. They might look like they’ll work but in the long run, you’ll end up with light leaks, bad seals or, bent slides. If you need a spare dark slide, there are plenty on eBay.
There are six types/generations of Hasselblad roll film magazines:
- One type of older “manual” magazines (mistakenly known as “C” or “M” type).
- Three generations of “A” type (automatic) film magazines.
- Two generations of “E” type (electronic) magazines.
Each roll film magazine is comprised of a shell and insert (spool holder). With “A” type and later magazines, you load the spool holder with film, insert it into the magazine shell and finish winding the film on to the first frame.
In the case of the A70 70mm film magazine, up to 16ft of film is first loaded into metal canisters resembling oversized 35mm cans, which are then loaded into the spool holder before that is in turn loaded into the shell.
The numeric designation on each roll film magazine denotes the number of frames it is able to shoot on a single roll of 120, 220 or 70mm film.
With the exception of the “manual” magazines, the letter denotes the family of magazine. Excluded from these simple rules are the instant film backs and cut sheet film holders, which I discuss later in this article.
Hasselblad roll film magazines fall into one of three categories as follows:
- General purpose
- Special purpose / limited run
General purpose Hasselblad film magazines
When sold as a kit, the 12/A12 film magazines were typically the ones included. The remaining 6×4.5 and 220 film magazines were sold as optional extras.
|Designation||Film type||Exposures||Image format|
|A16||120||16||6x4.5 - landscape orientation|
|A32||120/220*2||32||6x4.5 - landscape orientation|
*1 – A plug could be purchased to block-out the film window on these magazines and therefore allow the use of 220 film (with a bit of guess work depending on the serial number of your film magazine).
*2 – 120 film can be used in 220 film magazines without modifying the magazine’s gearing. To use an unmodified 220 magazine with 120 film, simply ensure that the start mark on the film is lined up OPPOSITE the red mark on the film insert. You may need to employ some trial and error. Alternatively, your local camera repair service should be able to help you re-gear your film magazines to suit. It is also possible to use 220 film in 120 magazines. Shoot 12 frames then wind up the roll and then reinsert to shoot the next 12. The frame spacing might be off slightly but you should still end up with 24 (or 36) useable frames.
Electronic film magazines
Electronic film magazines can be used with all Hasselblad V-System cameras but include some functionality dedicated for use with 200 Series bodies.
Not listed here are the TCC-Ex and FCC-Ex film magazines, dedicated for use with the 205TCC and 205FCC cameras and their Zone System metering modes. These film magazines are covered in detail later in this article.
|Designation||Film type||Exposures||Image format|
|E16||120||16||6x4.5 - landscape orientation|
|E32||120/220*1||32||6x4.5 - landscape orientation|
*1 -120 film can be used in 220 film magazines without modifying the magazine’s gearing. To use an unmodified 220 magazine with 120 film, simply ensure that the start mark on the film is lined up OPPOSITE the red mark on the film insert. You may need to employ some trial and error. Alternatively, your local camera repair service should be able to help you re-gear your film magazine to suit. It is also possible to use 220 film in 120 magazines. Shoot 12 frames then wind up the roll and then reinsert to shoot the next 12. The frame spacing might be off slightly but you should still end up with 24 (or 36) useable frames.
Special purpose / limited run Hasselblad film magazines
The first film magazine listed below is the rarest film back Hasselblad created for the V-System. It had an incredibly limited production run and after years of searching, I have only come across two examples in the wild.
The A70, whilst still relatively abundant on the second-hand market suffers from two issues: film is no longer made to support it, except via custom order, and many examples are incomplete, lacking the canisters required to hold pre-loaded film.
|Designation||Film type||Exposures||Image format|
|A12V||120||12||6x4.5 - portrait orientation|
|A16S||120||16||4x4cm - superslide format|
Film magazine indicators
Every “A” type and newer magazine shows a frame counter and blank/white/red status indicator on its right-hand side. The indicator shows the readiness of the film magazine as follows:
- Black: not loaded / not wound to position “1” / roll finished.
- White: loaded and ready for use.
- Red/Orange: loaded and exposed (needs to be wound to the next frame).
“A” type and later roll film magazines also have a progress bar of sorts on the left side of the film magazine. As the take-up spool winds-on more film, it pushes on a small lever and in true analogue fashion, causes the progress bar to turn red. It’s not dead-on but good enough for a quick look.
Dating your Hasselblad roll film magazine
Insert obligatory, “not that type of dating” joke here… Find the year your Hasselblad film magazine was manufactured using the same VHPICTURES cipher as for camera bodies.
Assign each letter in VHPICTURES with a letter from 1-9, then finished with zero. See below:
For example, if your film magazine has a serial number of “EV123456”, we can see the “E” matches up with 9 and “V” matches up with 1. This gives us a manufacture date of 1991.
Film magazine do’s and don’ts
- The dark slide must be inserted into the film magazine before the magazine can be mounted or removed.
- When mounting a magazine to a body, don’t just push it home. Hold the magazine release button in the open position, bring the magazine to meet the body and then release the button. This approach may or may not save the spring but I can tell you with certainty that it is more civilized 😉
- The dark slide must be removed before you can make an exposure (when inserted, the magazine engages a lock to prevent the shutter from firing).
- Do not lose or bend your dark slides! You may not be able to insert them, or they will not be light-tight. Without a dark slide inserted, the magazine cannot be removed from the camera body.
- Always ensure the camera body is wound-on and ready to shoot before mounting your film magazine. If you don’t, when you attach the magazine and wind-on the camera body to cock the shutter, you will lose a frame.
Hasselblad roll film magazines in depth
Let’s take a closer look at each of the main film magazine variants in the three categories outlined in the previous section.
Click or tap on any of the thumbnail images below to view them full screen.
Hasselblad Magazine 12 (1947-1970)
Magazine 12’s with serial numbers over 20000 work on all Hasselblad V-System bodies and the earlier Series One and Two 1000F and 1600F cameras.
As with the “A” magazines, you thread the film through the insert and then load it into the shell. Unlike the “A” magazines, there is no need to wind the film on to its start position before loading the insert.
As soon as you are happy that the take-up spool is secure, load the insert into the shell. Next, flip the port on the rear of the shell open and wind the film on until you see “1” on the film backing paper. Close the door and flip up then rotate the film crank above the counter window counterclockwise until the number “1” clicks into place in the frame counter window below.
Hasselblad used to sell a small plastic/rubberised plug that could be used to make the hole light tight and allow users to shoot 220 film.
The door on the rear of the magazine also acted as a film reminder and allowed the type of film to be set (BW and positive, negative, tungsten or daylight), as well as the ISO.
Hasselblad A-type Magazine – 1st generation (1970-1989)
“A” type film magazines were introduced in 1970 and continued to provide support for older Series One and Series Two cameras. The “A” stands for “Automatic”, which stretches as far as allowing the film to be loaded up to a start mark on the film insert and then automatically wound on to the first frame without the need to peek through a port like their predecessors.
With the film port and door gone, Hasselblad added a small flip-up film reminder slot, which came inset with a toothed ring. The ring allowed a film speed reminder to be set. Hasselblad also added a red progress bar on the left-hand side to show rough film consumption.
These magazines can be easily identified by their release button, which has an engraved “=V=” logo.
Hasselblad A-type Magazine – 2nd generation (1990-1994)
2nd generation “A” film magazines use the same basic gearing as the 1st generation but with improved film transport, an updated film progress mechanism and improved tolerances for the film insert advance mechanism. The rear of the film magazines was updated to remove the ISO reminder and flip-up film reminder slot. Instead, there is a small square slot that users can slide a piece of card/film box flap into.
These magazines easily are identified by a magazine release button: the “=V=” was replaced by a disc of black leatherette with the number of total possible frames 6-9 months after the new generation was introduced.
Hasselblad E-TCC magazine (1991-94)
In 1991 Hasselblad introduced the 205TCC “Total Contrast Control” camera, which had a number of electronic metering and shooting modes, the most famous being the Zone System mode, which calculated where exposures would fall, taking the desired film development into effect.
For the system to calculate the effects of film development, the TCC magazines have additional dials for film speed and exposure compensation, which ranges from -3 to +3 stops.
All 200 Series bodies, dedicated film magazines, lenses and prisms/viewfinders are easily identifiable by the parallel blue stripes you can see next to the bottom dial in the image above.
Hasselblad E magazine (1994-2013)
The Hasselblad 203FE and 201F were added to the 200 Series line-up in 1994. The 203FE dropped the Zone System computer, and the 201F had no meter at all. Since these cameras had no need to transmit exposure compensation information, this dial was removed. The film ISO dial (top, first image) was retained.
These magazines work on all Hasselblad V-System cameras but do not work with the Series One and Series Two bodies. When used in conjunction with the 205TCC, they will assume you are developing your film normally; the “0” setting on the TCC magazines.
Hasselblad A magazine – 3rd generation (1994-2013)
A minor upgrade, which removed legacy support, improved gearing reliability, film insert/shell operation and added a much welcome dark slide holder to the rear of the magazine.
Aside from the obvious dark slide holder, these film magazines can be identified by a solid black leather insert in the release button and small metallic lettering denoting the model of the magazine (top).
The A12 pictured above also has a white star sitting above the numeric designation on the magazine release button. This signifies that the magazine was produced for exclusive distribution in Japan and a few other Far Eastern territories by Shriro Corporation, who acquired a minority stake in Hasselblad in January 2003. You may also come across this symbol on some V-System camera bodies.
Hasselblad roll film magazine compatibility
The V-System largely allows all film magazines, accessories, focus screens and finders to be shared across the various V-System families. Some compatibility is extended down to pre- V-System Series One and Two cameras.
However, there are a few occasions where this compatibility breaks down:
V-System film magazines and Series One / Two cameras
The original Series One and Two Hasselblad cameras (1600F and 1000F) have a small pin which protrudes from the top right of the rear of the body when the body’s winding crank is cocked. The pin releases an advance lock on the film magazine and lets it wind-on.
Every Hasselblad roll film magazine manufactured up until ~1994 has a small hole where the magazine meets the camera body in order to maintain compatibility with those cameras.
You can check to see if your film magazine is compatible with Series One and Two cameras by removing your magazine from the camera and with the film plane pointing towards you, check to see if your magazine has this hole near the top left corner. If your film magazine has one, you can use it on the 1600F and 1000F series cameras.
This legacy support was also one of the reasons for the protruding glass plate of the Hasselblad 80 instant film back described below. The plate was added to allow the holder to be set far back enough from the body, so that the pin would have adequate space to fire.
Older film magazines and the V-system
Film magazines with serial numbers lower than 20000 have a slightly different construction to their modern counterparts and will not fit later Hasselblad bodies. These early magazines can be recognised by the position of their film counter window, which sits below the magazine’s winder.
These magazines are fantastic for shooting 220 film, as they have no exposure lock once the 12th frame has been exposed. Simply reset the counter and continue shooting.
A final film magazine gotcha
There is one extremely important film insert/shell compatibility issue you need to be aware of: you must make sure that you use 6×6 or 6×4.5 inserts with their appropriate shells.
The pressure plates of the inserts are different sizes and loading a 6×4.5 insert into a 6×6 shell will NOT provide pressure across the entirety of the soon-to-be-exposed square of film – the bottom of the exposed film (the top of your developed frame) will be curled back by the insert’s rollers and lend an interesting result to your photographs:
The first image above shows the effect of using a 6×4.5 insert in a 6×6 magazine. Click to expand the image and pay note of the distortion at the top of the frame. This is because the film roll sits higher up the insert than on 6×6 versions. When a 6×4.5 insert is used in a 6×6 shell, the film isn’t all perfectly flat.
Still, some of you may see this as an artistic option, so don’t let the ramblings of someone concerned with film flatness stop you!
Mythbusting: Matched magazine inserts and shells
All Hasselblad roll film magazines comprise of individually numbered, matched shells and inserts (aka spool holders). There many, many, MANY stories of film magazine shells and inserts needing to be used in the same matched pairs as they left the factory – that is, the insert should have the final three digits of the serial number of the shell printed on it.
I have not found this to be true with A12 and newer film magazines produced after 1970, although in conversations with various current and former repair folk, it is recommended for two reasons.
- The first is simple economics: you get more money when selling a matched film magazine.
- The second is a little more complicated and relates to a patent awarded to Hasselblad in 1963.
The film magazine shell provides all gearing for specific image formats and film types, the insert is “dumb”. Inserts engage with the gearing in magazine shells by means of a notched cog (male) on the take-up spool. The cog fits into a matched (female) port inside the shell and the film insert is guided into the shell by way of a tapered pin.
In the above patent, Hasselblad describes their film magazine design, which eliminated bulging, or bubbling of the film when left inside the film magazine for extended periods of time.
The design requires that the film maintains a specific tension as it is spooled out from the roll and into the take-up spool. Tension is maintained by ensuring that the insert’s notched cog and shell’s port are matched as closely as possible.
Ensuring that inserts/shells were matched – tested and paired in the factory – was initially the best way to ensure required tolerances were maintained but as manufacturing materials and processes improved, the need to match shells and inserts was not as important or required.
The short version: if you have an early Hasselblad film magazine you might benefit from having a matched set if you have it lying about with film loaded for extended periods. But the likelihood that you’ll find an objective difference with newer “A” type film magazines is slim to none.
Instant film backs and sheet film holders
Hasselblad and various third-parties made and supported a number of instant and sheet film holders for use on Series One, Two and V-System cameras. Sheet film holders are a bit of a curiosity. They required 2 x 3 sheet film to be cut down to size and were sold with an accompanying film cutter – more on that a little later.
Understandably, instant film backs were far more popular and covered Polaroid Type 80 and Type 100 film.
A quick word on Polaroid Type 80 and Type 100 film
Hasselblad instant film backs supported only Type 80 and Type 100 film. Being native 6×6 cameras, images exposed on instant film sheets do not cover the entire available frame.
Type 100 packfilm (8 sheets per pack, later changed to 10):
Sheet size: 10.8 x 8.3 cm / 4 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches
Image area: 7.2 x 9.5 cm / 2 7/8 x 3 3/4 inches
Type 80 packfilm (8 sheets per pack)
Sheet size: 8.3 x 8.6 cm / 3 1/4 x 3 3/8 inches
Image area: 6.9 x 7.2 cm / 2 3/4 x 2 7/8 inches
Hasselblad instant film back types and compatibility
Speaking only to Hasselblad’s first-party options, they break down into the following five flavours:
- Polaroid 80: Type 80 film only.
- Polaroid 100: Type 100 film only.
- PolaBasic: a renamed Polaroid 100.
- PolaPlus: Type 100 film only and has a “notched” dark slide, meaning it only needs to be partially pulled out when exposing the frame.
- PolaCombi: As above but with support for both Type 80 and Type 100 film,
Every first-party Hasselblad instant film back mounts flush with the bottom of the camera body. This means that they can be used with every single V-System camera body variation.
Importantly, these film backs protrude upwards from the camera body, so you will not be able to use them if you have a prism finder installed (45, or 90 degree).
Hasselblad Series 2000 and 200 users beware: do not under any circumstances use the Polaroid 80 back with your cameras. This film back has a protruding glass plate mounted to the film plane, which can obstruct or damage the focal plane shutter and should be avoided at all costs. If you have one of these cameras, you use a Polaroid 100, PolaBasic/Plus/Combi film backs.
Other instant film back types
Other vendors including NPC and ARCA Swiss also produced instant film backs for the V-System. ARCA’s are largely similar in form and function to those made by Hasselblad. NPC produced a multitude of instant film backs for nearly every major camera system and created two options for the V-System: the MF-1 and MF-2.
The MF-1 mounts flush with the top of the camera body, meaning that it can be used in conjunction with a prism finder of any type.
The MF-2 mounts flush to the bottom of the camera body, meaning it will clear the tripod plate of the SWx series, or the extended foot of the EL series.
Hasselblad Sheet Film holder and cutter (1948-1990)
This is interesting and quite unique film holder allowed users to cut down 2×3 inch (6x9cm) sheet film into 6×6 squares and load it into dedicated holders. An adapter plate was used with the holders to allow the use of multiple frames in a single sitting.
A special film cutter was produced to allow users to cut down their own film as needed.
In today’s world, we might wonder what benefit this offered to anyone at all but it’s worth bearing in mind that at the time of release, 2×3 sheet film was not only prevalent, it also offered a host of film stock options not available in other formats.
Interestingly, a modification existed to allow users to shoot 6×6 glass plates, although I have yet to find concrete evidence that this was a first-party Hasselblad product or a user modification.
And that’s it for this part of the guide. Thank you so much for reading. As ever, if you spot any errors or inconsistencies, please do let me know. I’ve drawn together years of snippets, experience and hard fought learning to put this guide together but if you know something not covered here, please do let me know.
The next part of this series starts off a long discussion about Hasselblad lenses and will be kicked off with a breakdown of the very first generation of C and C T* lenses. Optically stunning but ergonomically flawed, these were, and in some cases still are the bane of many Hasselblad users’ lives.
Thank your preferred deity for the quick focus grip!
Brace yourselves, it won’t be short.
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