Hasselblad 202FA Film Camera Review For Portraits and Weddings
Hasselblad 202FA Film Camera Review For Portraits and Weddings
Sept. 6, 2020, 4:43 p.m.
Hasselblad 202FA Medium Format Film Camera System Overview
The Hasselblad 202FA is a focal plane shutter medium format film camera from Hasselblad. It's designed and built with the same ergonomics as the classic Hasselblad, modular, square body camera system but with the addition of a few extra electronic bits. The 202FA features a focal plane shutter, as apposed to the traditional leaf shutter that is incorporated into the lenses of the 500 series cameras. The focal plane shutter has the benefit of a faster shutter speed, but most importantly it allows for the design of faster lenses since you don't have to incorporate a shutter into the design. This was my main reason for purchasing the 202FA camera. I wanted to shoot the legendary Hasselblad FE 110mm F2 lens. The 202FA is one of a few cameras in the focal plane shutter line from Hasselblad. Hasselblad first introduced the focal plane shutter in a 2000 series, but most people avoid those cameras for their poor build and lack of features. The 202FA sits ahead of the 2000 series, but slightly below the top of the line 203FE and 205TCC/FCC cameras. The features are similar among the 4 cameras, but the 202FA has a 1/1000th max shutter whereas the others have a 1/2000. There are other features that differ between the cameras, but none that were a deal breaker for me. So, I decided to save a bit of money (about $500 or so) and go with the 202FA. If I had found a good deal on a 203FE, I would have bought it just for the extra stop of shutter speed.
The legendary, FE 110mm F2
Hasselblad 202FA Camera Specifications
I won't go into crazy detail about specs or minute details of the camera's operation, as I mostly care about real world experiences, pros and cons, and image quality.
- 1/1000s Top Shutter Speed
- Interchangeable Film Backs, E12 and E24
- In camera TTL metering
- Interchangeable Lenses
- Multi-Exposure Mode (infinite). A decouple lever to disengage the film advance from the shutter cock.
- Flash sync at 1/90s, and TTL capabilities with dedicated hasselblad flash units.
- Aperture Priority
- Full Manual Operation
- Manual Focus
- Self Timer
- Manual Film ISO Setting on Back
- Comes with the Hasselblad Acute Matte D bright screen
- Takes Hasselblad FE lenses. All of the standard hasselblad focal lengths, but the FE lenses are 1 stop faster
- Can use Hasselblad CF and CFi lenses but only in stopped down mode. You cannot use the leaf shutter of the lens like you can on the 203FE
It's just as beautiful as every other hasselblad camera but with just a bit of modern lines and controls. Shown here is the 202FA with the 45 degree prism finder, FE 110mm F2 lens and E12 back.
Prism and Waist Level Finders for the Hasselblad 202FA
The 45 degree prism is removable and can be swapped out for the traditional hasselblad waist level finder, 90 degree prism finder or even metered prism finders....which is strange because the camera already has TTL metering and a readout right above the matte screen that is visible through the prism. I bought the camera with the 45 degree PM5 finder but quickly ordered the PM90, non metered, finder. The downside to using angled finders is that they force your perspective to be a bit lower for portraiture. I shoot a lot of close up portraits, and this 'nose up' perspective is generally considered unflattering. I ordered the PM90 prism so that I could shoot at a higher, more flattering perspective. I will say, however, that Hasselblad cameras are ergonomically terrible when using a 90 degree finder. A lot of the rotational resistance and stability from holding a hasselblad comes from pressing the camera into your palm, both when looking through the viewfinder and when depressing the shutter on the front of the body. When you are using a 90 degree finder, the camera tends to sit less cradeled in your palm and and pressing the shutter button can often cause the camera to want to move. I still use the 90 degree finder, but am just a little more careful about how i grip the camera. The PM5, 45 degree, finder is significantly more ergonomically friendly.
IMPORTANT: If you are going to buy this camera, make sure it comes with a waist level finder. WLFs are nearly impossible to find for these cameras and when you do find one, expect to pay around $600 for one. I assumed that a normal WLF would fit from a 500 series onto my 202FA when I bought it, but I quickly realized that there is a cutout on the front of the prism mounting channel where the metering readout slides into so that it is visible in the prism and the WLF that comes with the camera. You can identify the meter window WLFs by 2 blue lines, same with all prisms for the system, on the side of the unit. They are often called "blue line" finders. I didn't want to spend the money, so I painstakingly modified the 500 series WLF I purchased off ebay with a dremel tool. It was quite difficult to get the size and cuts right and it still doesn't sit perfect as there are other slight design changes to the mounting tracks on blue line finders.
Another important note to mention with waist level finders on the 200 series cameras is that the meter display will read upside down. This is because it is meant to be used with a prism which is flipping, 180 degrees, what is coming through its mount and into what you are seeing through the eyepiece. It's a bit annoying and you wouldn't think so, but it is actually quite hard to read shutter speeds upside down, particularly 5s and 2s since they look like one another inverted.
Hasselblad 202FA Lens Options - FE Lenses
The 200 series cameras take a new series of lenses, designated FE. Most of the Hasselblad FE lenses are most easily noticeable by their 1 stop faster aperture, except for the 80mm which still remains at F2.8 maxium aperture. You can tell the FE lenses apart in pictures by 2 blue lines on the side of the lens, just as the prism finders have. I own the 50mm F2.8, 80mm F2.8, 110mm F2 and 150mm F2.8. All lenses except the 110mm F2 came with the camera. All I really wanted for the camera was the 50mm and 110mm. I told myself I would sell the other two as soon as I got the camera. I decided to hold onto the 80mm, because it's such a good do it all lens, especially when the 110 is too long. I will most likely sell the 150, however. I just don't often find a need for it.
- Zeiss FE 50mm F2.8 Distagon
- Zeiss FE 80mm F2.8 Planar
- Zeiss FE 110mm F2 Planar
- Zeiss FE 150mm F2.8 Sonnar
- Zeiss FE 250mm F4 Tele-Tessar
- Zeiss FE 350mm F4 Tele-Tessar
Here are two examples of where the two lenses I primarily use for the Hasselblad 202FA really shine
Hasselblad Planar FE 110mm F2 Lens for 200 Series Cameras
The 110mm F2 lens is legendary for its ultra shallow depth of field. As far as I know, it is the shallowest DOF lens for a medium format camera system. The mamiya 80mm F1.9 is faster, but given the Hasselblad's longer focal length, it has a significantly shallower DOF. The DOF is so shallow and the focal plane is so flat that it renders close to large format. When I am shooting this lens, I am shooting it at F2 at least 80% of the time. It's super sharp at F2 and only suffers from slight vignetting in the corners. Otherwise, you can just shoot at F2 all day long. You do have to be really careful with focusing, which isn't always the easiest thing to do on a hasselblad.
As you can see in the image, above, the bokeh of the lens is really beautiful and not at all distracting when shot wide open. The bokeh is pleasantly circular, with just a touch of hexagonal shape from the large aperture blades. It's also really really sharp in the center. It doesn't have the surreal rendering of the Zeiss 80mm F2 for the Contax 645 system - Contax 645 Review Here. Honestly, the Zeiss 80 at times appears to have a shallower depth of field because it has such creamy, blended bokeh and the focal plane isn't perfectly flat, but if you want that large format rendering then the Hasselblad Planar FE 110mm F2 lens is the only way to go in medium format film.
Zeiss Distagon FE 50mm F2.8 Wide Angle Lens for Hasselblad 200 Series
This is the other legendary lens for the Hasselblad 200 series medium format film cameras. Nearly everyone who shoots medium format film knows of the Hasselblad 50mm distagon lens design, the F4 version for the 500 series cameras. It's a storied lens with beautiful rendering and very little distortion. The FE 50mm F2.8 lens is stellar...nearly flawless. The lens has 4 floating elements so distortion is nearly non-existent. It's the most beautiful wide angle lens I have ever used, having about a 28mm lens equivalent on 35mm full frame cameras. I tend to never shoot 35mm. It's a relatively boring focal length for me. I always gravitate toward 50mm equivalent, and if I go wide, I tend to go really wide.
I haven't used the 50mm nearly as much as I would like to. I want to take it traveling with me and use it more for scene setting portraits at weddings, but the lens is SO heavy. It weighs nearly 5 pounds. It's exhausting to carry around. I don't think I could ever use it as a dedicated lens on the camera because it would make my neck and shoulders so sore at a wedding or portrait shoot.
Hasselblad 202FA Medium Format Film Camera for Wedding Photography
Shooting Manual Focus Film at Weddings
Honestly, it isn't easy manual focusing at weddings. Even when you take your time, there is still that ever existing pressure of the schedule or timeline weighing on you and I find that my hit percentage for manual focus is much lower at weddings than it would be during a portrait or studio shoot. That being said, I would rather miss by my own mistake than relying on finicky AF systems of film cameras. I also enjoy the process of slowing down at weddings.
I also think that square format is something so timelessly cool and there is something to be said for a format and look that not many other wedding photographers pursue. I think using the Hasselblad is a good way to make my work stand out, with the unique 6x6 negatives.
Speed and Usability of the Hasselblad for Wedding Photography
Honestly, this is the only area where I would ding the Hasselblad for being a great medium format film camera for wedding photographers. You really have to be diligent and make sure you don't run out of film near a critical moment because winding and changing the film is not a fast process. I definitely recommend having a spare back or two for quick swapping. It isn't particularly hard to load the camera...honestly, it's quite a nice experience, but it isn't nearly as fast as a auto camera. If I am shooting the hasselblad 202FA at a wedding, I typically have an auto film camera on me as well, like my Canon EOS 1V. It takes a lot of practice to be comfortable with the Hasselblad as a primary wedding film camera, but it is doable if you commit to loving the process of slowing down. This is what I have done, but I do stress that you should have a backup camera of some sort that is very quick to load. The square format, though...it's just cool.
Additional wedding photography information and Hasselblad 202FA images on the site
Film Wedding Photography by Brian D Smith
Review - Photographing Portraits with the Hasselblad 202FA Film System
Why the Hasselblad is my Favorite Film Portrait Camera
Nobody shoots film regularly and isn't intrigued by the square format, and particularly the Hasselblad system. It's a legendary camera, and almost every famous film photographer in history used it in some fashion in their work. I initially started by purchasing a Hasselblad 500 c/m and fell in love with the top down viewfinder and the classic approach to photography that the system seemed to coerce me into. It was never my end goal, however. I wanted the focal plane system, so as soon as I scored my 202FA, I sold the 500 c/m and then I really fell in love with Hasselblad. I think there is something huge to be said about the camera that feels cool, the camera that wills you to go out and shoot more. That is the hasselblad for me. I feel so connected to the process, to the bright viewfinder, to the manual focus lenses, to the hand crank to advance the film. I genuinely feel like this connectedness makes me a better portrait photographer. The other main reason is the lens selection. I bought this camera, intentionally, for the lenses. The lenses are unlike none I have ever used and that is enough to justify a camera...much like the Contax. However, if I was only allowed to have 1 camera for the rest of my life, it would be an easy decision picking the Hassy over the Contax 645.
Shooting a Hasselblad 202FA Film Camera in Studio
The hasselblad is also my go to film camera for studio work that is LED lit or naturally lit. I still use the contax 645 for studio strobe work. I find that subjects seem to connect better with a familiar camera and one that is maybe less "technical" looking like a modern AF film camera or digital camera might be. When all of the other movements involved with the shot are slower and more thought out, I find that I am more patient waiting on that exact moment where the subject's expression is what I want. The only downside to shooting a Hasselblad as a studio portrait camera is that it can be hard to focus in dim lighting. My 500 c/m, without the bright screen was so difficult to focus in studio settings (light reference, ISO 400, F2.8, 1/60). I missed focus about 40% of the time with my 500 c/m. With the bright screen and proper split prism of the Acute Matte D focusing screen, my percentage is much higher. That being said I still miss...maybe 3 shots per roll of 12. It's just one of the quirks of the camera that I deal with because I love the process and results so much.
I even use the camera when I shoot fashion work. It's just such a joy to use and I'm often okay with a bit of motion blurr and out of focus images that a slower camera like the hasselblad can be susceptible to.
Viewing the World Through a Waist Level Finder is Magical
If you've never used a WLF, waist level finder film camera like a Hasselblad or TLR...go out and do it now. It's hard to explain just how enjoyable it is. There is a presence to the viewfinder. Colors are vibrant and light is beautiful. Subjects seem to exist in your camera. That's why I own a WLF for my Hasselblad 202FA, even though a prism finder is better for portrait work because it puts the perspective closer to subject eye level. I use my WLF when I am doing more documentary work, like photographing my family. This film portrait of my family on vacation was shot on Portra 800 film. You can see all of those film documentary portraits, here.
Cons and Downsides of the Hasselblad 200 Series Film Cameras
Really, the only thing that would ever keep me from buying into the 200 system from Hasselblad, or using it as my primary medium format film camera is the price and the lack of repairability of the shutter. It's an expensive system to buy into, bodies alone cost upwards of $2000 and that is if you can find one. Most for sale on ebay are buy it now auctions from Japan with inflated prices. The biggest downside, however, is that the silk focal plane shutters cannot be repaired, so you'll just have a brick of a body. If you don't mind just continuously buying new bodies when they inevitably fail then this won't be a problems. However, the cameras will get harder and harder to find and more expensive because of it.
Why You Should buy a Hasselblad 202FA - One Reason
The FE 110mm F2 Lens is One of the Greatest Medium Format Film Lenses Ever
The 110mm Planar F2 lens is just surreal...literally surreal. It so nearly obtains that large format surreal rendering, that it almost convinced me to sell my 4x5 camera. The focal plane is so razor flat and the rendering is so pleasant. It's just a dream lens and the only way to shoot it is to buy a 200 series camera or find one that was strangely adapted to a Pentax 67 or digital camera. I wrote a detailed review of that lens, here.
Thanks for reading my review of the Hasselblad 202FA medium format film camera system for weddings and portraits. I am an experienced film photographer, shooting all my work on film, and having shot most of the popular camera systems on the market. If you have any questions about the Hasselblad 200 series film cameras and my exerience as a wedding and portrait photographer, please reach out! Be sure to check out the rest of my blog for more camera reviews, galleries and other film photography work.
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