Hasselblad Zeiss Telephoto Power Pack
A 300mm f2.0 APO Redefines MF Sports Photography

Hasselblad Zeiss Telephoto

When you think about really long, really fast glass, you naturally think of 35mm. I have owned both Hasselblad and Mamiya RZ systems for years, and the longest lens I own is a 180mm. I'm like most shooters--I think of compact and portable 35mm as the long lens sports format, and 21/4 as the normal lens, studio strobe kind of system. Then I got hold of the Hasselblad Zeiss Telephoto Power Pack!

The Hasselblad Zeiss Telephoto Power Pack is not some sort of new battery power system. It's the bleeding edge of medium format telephoto lens technology, consisting of a robust Carl Zeiss 300mm f/2.8 "Tele-Superachromat" T*, a Zeiss APO-Mutar 1.7x tele-extender, a couple of filters, and a big impressive flight case to hold it all.

Cornerback Tony Scott tries to make the 2002/2003 Patriots team. This image was shot from about 80 yards away, and is super sharp--so sharp that I can clearly see the "NFL Equipment" logo on his shorts--just to the right of the number 39.
Photos © 2002, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved

When the box arrived from Hasselblad U.S.A. I was both intimidated and impressed. I've never handled such a large and impressive piece of glass on a Hasselblad body, and just putting the whole thing together took a few minutes. The lens and tele-extender are part of the FE series, and require a 200-series Hasselblad body. Since these lenses have no leaf shutters they require a focal plane shutter body. As with most things Zeiss this is a remarkably well-crafted item. Fit and finish are beyond reproach. The silver finish seems to glow, all of the markings and engravings are crisp and clear, and the large blue "Zeiss" logo brings a smile to the face of any certified equipment nut. Even the tele-extender is a typical Zeiss piece, its large "Made In Germany" label carefully engraved into the body of the lens.

While I can see this lens winding up as a very, very popular rental item among most fashion photographers (at close to $22,000 I'm not sure it will be on the "must-have" list of too many pro shooters), Hasselblad assured me that there are sports shooters going with this lens. Really? Sports guys using Hasselblad bodies with giant 300mm f/2.8 monster lenses with 1.7x tele-extenders? Really?

Linebacker Larry Izzo tries to cool off during a hot training camp session. I was really, really far away for this shot, but the 300mm f/2.8 and the 1.7x tele-extender brought me this close. Not quite as sharp as the other image taken without the extender, but this is still plenty crisp.

I had to find out. I'm sort of a studio guy, with the weekly location shoot, usually in an office building or factory. Mine is the world of carefully controlled conditions, beautifully lit scenes and plenty of time to study the Polaroids. Sports guys have to shoot first and ask questions later. To really put this beauty through its paces I gathered up my kit of Hasselblad bodies and lenses as well as my EOS D60 and 1D bodies, my 70-210mm L and 300mm f/2.8 L lenses, and enough Fuji Provia 100 film to cover me and packed up the car.

Since I did this test in late August I figured I'd head down to world champion New England Patriots training camp in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Unfortunately for me the temperature was forecast to top the 100Þ mark, with plenty of steamy New England humidity to boot.

Setting Up Shop
Once I arrived I set up shop. The first thing you notice about this rig is that it definitely draws attention. Forget about sneaking into an event with this beauty--I was immediately spied by a PR guy and had my credentials checked. Once I passed muster I was allowed to shoot. Shooting football, even practice football, is all about position. You've got to be mobile, so I bolted the 300's sturdy tripod block to a Bogen monopod and slung it over my shoulder. Once I got to where I needed to be I set up both my 300mm f/2.8 EOS "L" lens and the Zeiss 300mm.

The excellent Zeiss APO-Mutar 1.7x extender turns the 300mm into a fire-breathing 500mm f/4.8 lens. Unlike most tele-extenders, this 1.7x has almost no effect on image quality.

"What the hell is that?" asked a local photojournalist. "Why, this is my Zeiss 300mm f/2.8 APO with 1.7x APO-Mutar extender on a 203FE body with PM 90 prism," I casually remarked. Impressed, he shrugged and walked away. Needless to say, when I staked out a position the print journalists cleared a space for the guy with the prettiest lens.

First I shot with the EOS bodies. Of course, the luxury of the EOS autofocus lens on the speedy 1D body is undeniable, but after banging off a few hundred AF shots with the 1D, switching to the Hasselblad viewfinder was a revelation. Holy cow, this thing is bright! After shooting with the D-SLR, the film-based Hasselblad and the remarkable lens was way bigger, way brighter, and with much more contrast. While there is no autofocus, the 203FE body has excellent and very accurate autoexposure, and manual focusing is a breeze. The 300mm f/2.8 has probably the sweetest and most well damped manual focus ring, and a surprisingly short throw. The result is that images snap into focus with startling clarity.

Hasselblad has really done their homework on this lens. The satin finish silver barrel stayed extremely cool in blazing 100Þ sunshine. The included metal screw-on lens shade is really tough, and should protect the huge front element should you drop it or bang it into something else. (Hey, it happens.) A really nice touch is the tripod collar, which has the same quick-coupling plate featured on all Hasselblad camera bodies. Got a quick release attachment? Just pop the lens on and it's rock-solid.

I shot several hours with this lens, both with the tele-extender and without. Without it the lens is super bright and the viewfinder image is ultra-crisp and contrasty. With the extender things get a bit darker, since you've now got a whopping 500mm f/4.8 lens. My test rolls of Fuji Provia 100 all looked very good. Exposure was spot-on, whether I was shooting into the sun or with the sun over my shoulder. Even with the tele-extender, images looked very contrasty and colors were bright and very saturated, a bit of a departure from my nearly 20-year-old Zeiss glass.

The internal filter slot makes it simple to insert ND or colored filters, rather than cart out Frisbee-sized chunks of glass to cover that front element.

Through The Loupe
Looking at the entire shoot through a strong loupe revealed a couple of things. First of all, this is one sharp lens. Second of all, a 500mm f/4.8 shot wide-open at 1/1000 sec has seriously shallow depth of field. The sharpness is quite impressive. I found the lens to be just as sharp corner-to-corner as my 35mm EOS lenses, and in fact quite a bit crisper, even wide-open, than my older T* lenses. With the tele-extender sharpness is affected very little. Wide-open there is some noticeable corner softness, but it disappeared after stopping down just two stops. The lens is also remarkably resistant to lens flare. Since some of the great sports images are shot with strong backlighting, this is really important.

Comparing the film images shot with this amazing lens set with digital images shot with Canon glass it is clear that film, especially big medium format film, still has a look that is hard to reproduce. I found the Hasselblad chromes to be very, very rich and pure, with crisp edges, solid blacks, and sublime colors. Certainly for magazine reproduction this rig is a serious contender.

Although this is one of the most expensive lenses in the world, the $21,290 Hasselblad Zeiss Telephoto Power Pack will find an audience. While most great medium format systems offer a 300mm f/2.8 APO lens, Zeiss has crafted perhaps the best lens of its kind in the world. While slick handling AF systems from Mamiya and Contax may seem like a more natural fit for the sports photographer, the reliability, robustness, and image quality of the Hasselblad system continues to make Hasselblad the camera to beat for professional photographers.

I loved the week I had with this exotic and desirable lens system. There are several shoots a year where the 300mm lens would be useful for me, even though I rarely shoot anything that moves very quickly. The combination of the long reach, sharp images, and vivid viewfinder are hard to resist. While it may be on a lot of wish lists, the lucky few who get to own this lens system will surely be proud of their investment.
For more information, visit Hasselblad U.S.A.'s web site, www.hasselbladusa.com.