Over a year ago, I got the urge to try out instant film with my Hasselblad 500CM. I had read online about how famous fashion photographers would take instant Polaroid shots in their studio to evaluate lighting before taking a shot on their Hasselblad. Those Polaroid backs took the peel-apart film which has long been discontinued. While left-over stock emerges every now and then, it is pricey.
So, in my research, I found the infamous Escura which has had folks who supported their kick-starter campaign over three years ago still waiting for the Instax mini back with a manual handle. Pass.
Then, I found out about Hassy PB made in Thailand and was enamored by it. I spoke to John the person who designed it by hacking away Instax SQ cameras and putting a metal front which attached to the back of the Hasselblad. Nicely made but, the more I used it, my infatuation wore off. You had to shoot only at f16 or f22 or f32 because otherwise, your images lacked sharpness. John explained it as being nothing unusual that you had to do 'focus-shift.' Pass.
Around July or August 2023, I saw an article talk about the upcoming Instax back by a company called Nons based in Shenzen, China. I reviewed their website and was cautiously impressed. What impressed me is that they had been in the business of building film backs for camera bodies they produced in 6x6 and other formats. This spoke to me that they may know how to design a back for the Hasselblad. Also, impressive was the fact that they weren't hacking any Instax cameras to make their cameras or backs. Ground up, they were designing their products. So, I placed a pre-order. They promised delivery to start in September - yeah, right. And, the price was a modest $279 inclusive of shipping as a launch offer. Compared to the HassyPB price of $435, it was a no-brainer.
I managed to reach DingSheng from Nons through WeChat and he spoke English well and was friendly. I asked how the production was coming along and he informed me that all was on track to ship in September. Cool.
September 19, 2023 - the Nons back arrives. I had stashed away a dual-pack of the Instax square color films that I retrieved. The product packaging was simple as was the product. Precisely engineered. From the way it fit the camera back and the way the Instax cartridge inserted, it was evident that they had adhered to the strictest of tolerances. Everything was nicely tight.
The QR code linked to a quick 1-minute video and a short manual. Essentially:
- charge battery - light turns green from red when fully charged (2,200 mAh)
- drop an Instax cartridge in aligning it with the yellow marker
- remove the razor sharp dark slide (nice slot on the back to store it)
- turn on the back using a physical on/off switch
- eject the protective sheet on the Instax cartridge
- meter your shot (Instax is an 800 ISO color film), focus, and shoot
- press the eject button to eject your film
- put it face down for ~15 minutes
- turn it up and be thrilled
- to take the next shot, forward the crank as you would if you had a film back attached
The nice thing about Instax compared to Polaroid is that you get 10 frames instead of 8. The film is 800 ISO compared to 640 on the Polaroid. The colors are more vibrant or vivid. It is easy to blow through $19 (one Instax cartridge) before you know it.
If anyone ever told you that film photography was affordable or didn't tell you that film photography of any kind is an expensive hobby, you have been suckered. Big time. It is an expensive hobby. Instant film photography is more expensive than medium format film photography but, not as much as 4x5 large format film photography.
I shot various scenes with my 50mm wide-angle lens, 80mm (most popular lens on a Hasselblad), and 150mm (truly a joy to shoot portraits with it) lens. Remember, these are focal distances on a 6x6 film so, 35mm equivalent are wider. You have to apply a factor. Visit this site to calculate the 35mm equivalent and the DOF.
No issues with shooting at any aperture. In other words, no focus-shifting needed. Images produced were as desired. Sharp, soft, bokeh filled. Plain and simple - liberating. The back operates like a regular Hasselblad film back - if the dark slide is not removed, you cannot click the shutter. The print orients the wider band on the right as it ejects the print to your left. If you want the band in the bottom, turn the camera 90 degrees clockwise when shooting. If you attached the Hasselblad grip, get used to disengaging your hold with the left hand to allow the print to eject and then hold it again in the left hand. Or, use a different grip.
Having learned from my mistake of infatuation with the HassyPB and then losing interest due to the limitations of the product, I am going to take a cautious approach in getting to know the Nons film back before proclaiming my love for it.