This Problem with the Hasselblad 203FE Will Drive Photographers Mad

Alastair Bird’s latest photos, shot with the Hasselblad 203FE, were ruined because of this problem. Did you ever encounter it with your Hasselblad system as well?

One of the most frustrating things that could happen to film photographers is getting ruined photos because of a camera issue. It’s always a risk when you’re working with an old camera, especially one that hasn’t been serviced, or one with lenses that haven’t been CLA’d (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust) in a long time. In his latest video, Alastair Bird shared with us a recent issue he encountered with his Hasselblad 203FE, which caused a roll of medium format film to get ruined. You might want to keep this in your bookmarks if you also have a Hasselblad system.

“After a couple of weeks’ vacation at the lake this year, I received my film back from the lab. Several frames were ruined with a wide bar across the frame. Two rolls of 220 were affected. One roll was completely, one with a single frame,” Alastair wrote to us. “And there are a few rolls of 120 film that I haven’t processed yet. Hopefully, they’ll be all right. Thankfully, there were several rolls that were spared the problem.”

In the video below, Alastair talked about this bunch of shots from his latest roll showing a black gash across his photos. The negatives show it as a clear strip, which indicates that light was blocked from exposing that part of the film. “Additionally, the edges of the problem spot were rather defined so whatever was blocking the light was fairly close to the film,” he added. He was able to deduce that the problem was with the camera itself because all the films he loaded in different camera backs had the same strip at the exact same spot. So, with that as his clue, he proceeded to examine his camera to find out what caused the problem.

With Hasselblad system cameras like his, it’s relatively easy to break it down to its main components: the lens, the body, and the film back. After ruling out the film back, he pointed out that the shutter wasn’t the problem either. If it was the shutter, it would show a dark spot on the negatives (overexposed spots on the photos) and would change location depending on the shutter speed.

Next was to check the lens, which was also fine. “It was unlikely that the problem occurred in the lens, as anything in the lens that would block the light would cast a larger blurry spot on the film,” Alastair further explained. “This could come from something on the lens or a large spot of dust. Even if the elements were separating or if there was fungus, anything that made it to the film would be soft and diffuse.”

One last thing left was to check the mirror. “Lo and behold, I’ve got it right here — that fell out,” Alastair said. There was a black strip that was most likely stuck to the mirror. He wasn’t sure what it could be, but he thinks it’s flocking, a material used to keep any stray light from reflecting around. ” I have no idea what happened, but I can only assume that it broke off and was jammed in the shutter, creating that mark on every frame I shot. Not only that, but the piece of flocking blocked the meter and all of my images were woefully underexposed.”

If you’re having the same problem with your Hasselblad 203FE, check your camera to see if you have one of those pieces of flocking stuck in the mirror. For those who are thinking of buying the same Hasselblad model, it’s best if you can check the camera body for this issue before you buy.

Check out Alastair Bird’s YouTube channel for more of his photography videos.