Hasselblad 500el

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Medium Format Cameras:
Classic SLRs:
Hasselblad 500EL
by Karen Nakamura

Overview and Personal Comments

The Hasselblad 500 series is a very successful line of single-lens reflex medium format cameras made by the Hasselbald Corporation of Sweden, using German-made Carl Zeiss lenses with built-in leaf shutters. There are two lines in the 500-series: the non-motorized 500C series and the motorized 500EL series. The motorized 500 EL series was widely used by studio photographers because it afforded excellent optics and great high-speed flash synchronization with the ease of a motor drive and remote control switch. The EL cameras are a bit heavy for handheld use. I wouldn't recommend one as your only 'blad but they make a nice second body for studio use. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

This page covers just the motorized Hasselblad 500 EL body. If you want more information about the non-motorized 500C, 500CM, etc., want more information about lenses, backs or prisms, or aren't familiar with the Hasselblad 500 system as a whole, then please go to my Hasselblad 500 system page first for background reading. If you want more information about the focal-plane medium format series, go to my Hassselblad 200/2000 series page.

Like the non-motorized 500 series, the Hasselblad EL is a system camera. This means that almost everything is interchangeable: lens, prism/finder, and film back. This allows for tremendous flexibility. The square 6x6 format (56mm x 56mm) on medium format film makes the most of the image circle from smaller lens, means that you do not have to turn the camera sideways for portrait photographs, and allows for cropping flexibility later on. It also allows for 12 shots on a standard 120 roll; or 16 on a 120 roll using a 6x4.5 format back. For more information on film backs, please go to the Hasselblad 500 page, I also have a dedicated page for metered and non-metered Hassselblad prism finders.

Some people (most notably school photographers) used to use long-roll 70mm film backs on their motorized Hasselblads because they could get 200+ shots from a roll. But 70mm film is becoming increasingly hard to obtain and develop. As a result, 70mm film backs are very inexpensive on the used market. I would not recommend getting one, however, unless you can secure film for it at a reasonable cost.


History of the 'Blad
You can read about the early Hasselblad history on my Hasselblad 500 series page. In fact, you might want to go there right now before returning here.

The first motorized 500 model, the 500EL, came out in 19xx it was was made until 1970.The next model, the 500 EL/M, was produced from 1970 until 1989. The 'M' means Modified. One of the major changes was user-replaceable focusing screens. In the photograph right, you can see the two tabs that hold the screen in. Pushing these outwards with your fingernail allows the screen to pop out.

Much later on (in the late 1980s), Hasselblad replaced the older Hasselblad screens in the 500C/Ms with the brighter Minolta-made Acute-Matte fresnel focusing screen. You can recognize the second-generation Acute-Matte D screens by the two small D-shaped notches in the bottom right or left corner (barely visible in bottom right corner of the screen in the photo above). Many photographers with 500EL/Ms replaced their older dimmer screens with Acute Mattes when they came out, so you'll find many 500EL/Ms with them. Ask before buying, though!

The 500 ELs took a special ni-cad rechargeable battery that isn't sold anymore, but you can buy adapters so that it can take a 9v alkaline battery or lithium CR-P2 or 2CR5 battery instead. You can see an example of such an adapter to your right here.

After the 500 EL/M, there were other models in the motorized 500 line, most with relatively minor revisions and some features removed for cost-cutting purposes. The 503EL/X with TTL OTF (through-the-lens off the film) metering was a god-send for some wedding photographers who shoot PJ (photo-journalist) style using wide, tele or other non-standard lenses; but it's not that critical (non-TTL auto-flash works well enough for most of us).

The latest EL model, the 500 EL/D was designed especially for digital film backs. It's still quite popular for this purpose, so they are much more rarer on the secondary market.

I believe the 500EL/M is the minimum model you should buy used. The 500EL models are now almost 40 years old and some were used pretty heavily in studio settings. Some are in good shape, but others need CLAs (clean-lube-adjusts). An Acute-Matte screen costs about $100-300 separately (depending on its vintage, D's are more expensive) so try to buy a 500EL/M which has one already installed. A good condition 500EL/M body should cost you less than $500, often much less.


Model Years C Equiv Features
500 EL 1957-1969 500C

+ in-lens leaf shutters
+ bayonet mount lens
+ automatic diaphragm
- body focal-plane shutter removed

500 EL/M 1970-1989 500C/M + user-interchangeable focusing screens
- body flash synchronization removed
500 EL/X 1989- 503CX + TTL OTF flash metering
500 EL/D     + Digital ready

+ winder capability
- body cocked indicator removed
- shutter release lock removed

  1994- 501C + new tripod mount
- body cocked indicator removed
- film removable crank removed
  1996- 503 CW + winder capability
+ gliding mirror system (GMS) to prevent vignetting in focusing with lens longer than 80mm
  1997- 501CM 501 C:
+ gliding mirror system (GMS) to prevent vignetting in focusing with lens longer than 80mm
Note: Using the text, images, or charts on this site in an ebay auction without permission is a violation of your ebay Terms of Service. I will report you to ebay or your ISP if I discover such a violation taking place. This may result in your account being cancelled. I also reserve the right to file claim for civil penalties.




Using a Hasselblad 500 EL
Using a 500 EL series camera is practically the same as a 500 series, the only difference is that you don't have to wind the film yourself. In the Hasselblad 500 series, the camera body is just the body, it provides very little functionality other than a mirror and film crank. With the mirror crank replaced by the motor drive, there isn't much left to do on the 500EL.

Right hand side of the camera:

The main dial controls the motorized winding and mirror behavior:

O = Single-shot (normal mode)
S = mirror prerelease
A = continual motor-drive burst mode as long as shutter button is held down
AS = continual motor-drive burst + mirror held up between frames
SR = mirror pre-release and mirror is held up after shutter release (for the 60mm Biogon and some other lenses with deep lens rear projection)

Right side of the camera (bottom half):


The L-O-T switch...

The DIN-type connector on the right side is for running the camera on mains power. You need an adaptor which provides 500 mA at 6VDC and remove the internal batteries.

Because the 500 EL motor always cocks the shutter automatically after each exposure, the EL doesn't have the lens-body jamming problem that occassionally crops up with the 500C series when you forget to cock the shutter properly each time.

Front right side of the camera:


The main shutter release button is located on the front right side of the camera (as you hold it). You can easily trip it with your right hand index finger.

Above the shutter release button is a socket for the remote shutter release cord. Since the EL series is designed to be used in the studio on tripods, you'll want to use a remote release much of the time.

Hasselblad sold remote releases with varying cord lengths. These are now getting a little bit difficult to find and since the connector is proprietary, it's hard to bodge together your own.

Left Side:

The left side of the camera is relatively sparse. If you remove the battery cover on the bottom half, you can see where the two rather large proprietary NiCad batteries for the EL fit. You can either use one or two batteries at the same time. In general, since the batteries are wired in parallel, you want to make sure to have two batteries with the same amount of charge in them. Or just use one battery at a time -- it's safer that way.

As mentioned above, the NiCad batteries used on the EL were proprietary and are now hard to obtain. It's much better to get a battery replacement kit so that you can use 9V alkaline or 6V lithium batteries instead. These are widely available on the internet or ebay.




Dating a Hasselblad
Don't go on a blind date and buy a camera that you don't know its age! You can date the manufacture of your Hasselblad bodies and backs using the following serial number code. Using the first two letters of the serial number and converting them against the chart, I find that my 500EL body (serial #USExxxxx) was made in 1970; my 500C/M in 84 (#RI1293xxx); and my film back (serial #UC47xxxx) in 1975:


Just as important as the age is how many rolls went through it. Cameras don't like to be abused - so don't buy a camera that's been retired from a professional photography studio. Cameras also don't like to not be used, so don't buy a shrinkwrapped camera from 1970 and expect it to work (keep it for its collectible value in the shrinkwrap). The best used camera is from a retired dentist who would use it once every few weeks to take a few snapshoots and otherwise babied it.

Dating Lenses: You can also date the lens manufacture for C and C T* lenses. Zeiss doesn't use Hasselblad's VHPICTURES, but if you take the lens off the camera and look at the rear element, there should be a 3-digit or 4-digit number in red lettering on the shroud. You may have to focus the lens to infinity or to the closest focus distance in order to reveal it. This is the manufacturing date code. In order to decode it:

  • The last two digits are the month
  • The first one or two digits are the year. Add this to 1957.

So my 50mm Distagon has a date code of '806'. This means it was made in June of 1965. My 80mm C T* has a date code of '1605'. This means it was made in May of 1973.

CF lenses use a different code: one letter and two digits. The letter is the month (A=Jan; B = Feb; C=March; D= April) and the two digits are the year flipped. So 28 = 82 = 1982. So F58 = June 1985.

I haven't discovered the code for CFE lenses yet.




Technical Details

Camera Name
500 EL 503 CW
Place of Manufacture


Date of Manufacture
1970-1989 1996~
Focusing System

Single-lens reflex
Lens helical focusing
User replaceable focusing screen

Early: Hasselblad screen
Late: Minolta Acute-Matte focusing screen

Gliding Mirror System (prevents vignetting)
Acute-Matte-D MP-SI (micro-prism; split image) focusing screen made by Minolta

Lens Mount

Hasselblad Bayonet Mount

Body Shutter
Winding Mechanism
Built-in motor-drive only
Manual crank or optional auto-winder CW (max 1 fps)
Metering System

No body internal metering (see meters above)

Flash Metering
None (flash auto-mode only)
TTL/OTF center-weighted through SCA flash module
Film type / speeds

Type 120 and 220 film (medium format) as well as 70mm long-roll
6x6cm and 6x4.5cm
Polaroid backs available from NPC and Hasselblad (check compatiblity first)

Battery type
Dimensions and weight
Body: xx x xx x xx mm
Body: 180 x 114 x 110 mm
With 80mm Planar T* lens and 120 magazine: 1550g.
Note: Using the text or images on this site in an ebay auction without permission is a violation of your ebay Terms of Service. I will report you to ebay if I discover such a violation taking place. This may result in your account being cancelled. I also reserve the right to file claim for civil penalties.




About the Hasselblad Corporation

Blah blah blah... from a press-release:

2003-01-30 Shriro acquires Hasselblad, the Swedish camera manufacturer. The Shriro Group acquires the majority shareholding in Victor Hasselblad AB. The purchase agreement was announced today at a press conference at the Hasselblad premises in the centre of Gothenburg.
- Shriro is well-known to Hasselblad, and has succeeded very well in selling our products into the key markets in Asia, says G?eY?Lan Bernhoff, President and CEO of Victor Hasselblad AB. Shriro is our distributor in several key Asian markets and has, amongst other things shown its capability together with Hasselblad in developing the Japanese and Chinese markets as major outlets for Hasselblad.

Shriro is a 90 year old family business with production and distribution of several well-known and worldwide brands. The company has its major operation in the Asian Pacific region. The head-office is situated in Hong Kong and Shriro employs around 3,800 people in 13 countries and has a turnover of more than 2.5 billion Swedish Kronor, equal to 300 million US dollars.

The Hasselblad family started its company in 1841. Since mid 1870 Hasselblad has had its centre of operations in the same building downtown Gothenburg. In May this year the company will move to new office and production premises in a newly established high-tech industrial and university area, named Norra a^?vstranden, Gothenburg.

The company has recently carried through a successful, worldwide launch of a new unique camera system, built for traditional film as well as digital photography. The H1camera, which took nearly 6 years to develop from "idea" to a "finished product", opens up new markets for Hasselblad. Deliveries of the new system started in December 2002.

Hasselblad today has the most wide spread camera system in the world within the medium format, the so-called V system. This system originates from 1948 and will also in the future be an important part of the sales.

During the latter part of the 90:s Hasselblad has gone through extensive structural changes and when the company moves into the new premises the efficiency gain will be substantial. This move marks the completion of this period of manufacturing and product renewal, and the company is now ready to embark into a new era.

On August 12, 2004, Hasselblad surprised everyone by merging with digital image sensor developer Imacon. The new company will be called Hasselblad Imacon. This is very good news as Imacon is one of the leading vendors of digital backs for medium format systems. This means that we can expect even better incorporation of digital technology into Hasselblad's cameras (most probably only their H1 line since the V system seems to be a dead end).


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