Panoramarama – Hasselblad Xpan Camera Review

The Xpan is the most expensive toy camera ever made!

The Xpan is a panoramic format 35mm film camera. A standard 35mm frame is 24mm high x 36mm wide. The Xpan frame is 24mm high x 65mm wide, a little bit less than twice as wide as a standard frame. You can switch between standard and panoramic format – but anyone that uses it for standard frame shots is just plain silly…

 

mcollect-xpan-tx400bw925

So this is what you get. Same height as standard 35mm, but almost twice as wide.

 

My photog buddy Mike LeFevre was on the money when he described the XPan as “The World’s Most Expensive Toy Camera”. I agree.

When people ask me why I like shooting with the XPan, the response is single minded – everything looks cool in panoramic format… The interesting proportions of the format can make up for considerable weakness in your composition technique. Movies look great in 16:9 format – it is pleasing to the eye. Panoramic format is the same. Point it, get the rangefinder spot lined up, and shoot. It will probably come out looking awesome!

Whilst it is easy to get aesthetically pleasing shots straight away, it is more challenging to master at a high level. The field of vision is very narrow, top to bottom, in landscape format. Composing for the format needs conscious effort – and a clean break from standard frame proportions.

Some standard compositions that I think work :

 

A story that starts at one end...

A story that starts at one end…

 

A story that starts at one end. Put your main subject at one end and then use the panoramic format to show the rest of the story. In this case, the guitar player who is also in the band.

 

Lead into the subject, or away from the subject.

Lead into the subject, or away from the subject.

 

Lead into or away from the subject. Get up close and pop your subject at one end. Use the rest of the frame to draw the eye into or out from. Always be prepared to crop your subject… the frame is simply not high enough to do anything else. Watch movies in widescreen and see how they compose things…

 

Highlight the subject.

Highlight the subject.

 

Highlight the subject by plonking them in the middle. Leading lines are always your friend in pano format…

 

Show breadth of the scene.

Show breadth of the scene.

 

You can show breadth of a scene in a unique way in pano format. Generous in layout. The width with tight top and bottom suggests generosity and helps the viewer enter the scene without being distracted by vertical distractions. We all read left to right, after all, not up and down.

 

Again, read the story left to right.

Again, read the story left to right.

 

Using the pano format to focus on a particular story or part of the scene is strong too.

 

Capture lateral movement.

Capture lateral movement.

 

The Xpan is pretty good at capturing a suggestion of lateral movement – the wide frame helps the viewer imagine where the subject is heading.

 

Crop Crop Crop and then Crop.

Crop Crop Crop and then Crop.

 

You gotta crop. Crop. Try something different. The pano format welcomes something a bit different. The format requires you to sacrifice subject matter to create a pleasing image. No matter what you do, you are never going to fit everything into the vertical space available. I have done some portrait format with the XPan, but won’t confuse things here with some examples.

 

Buying Guide

You can find them on Ebay. $1800 for one in decent nick with a 45mm lens. Look for the Fuji branded models if they are a bit cheaper for the same condition – they are the same camera. Search for the Fuji TX. The camera is more gold in colour – not quite as cool, but a bit cheaper in the same condition as an Xpan branded camera.

 

fuji

 

The fuji branded lenses will work fine on any Xpan, but they just look a bit odd – a mismatch of colours…

Try to get an XpanII or Fuji TX2 if you can – it has more info in the viewfinder. I have the XpanI and it is fine – go for the one in better condition if you have to choose though.

There is a fair bit of light fall off / vignetting sometimes, particularly with the 30mm lens. There was a special centre spot filter to help compensate for this, but again, they are insanely expensive – $300 plus. Don’t bother with one… Most image editors have a tool to compensate for this built in. I suppose if you are going to do darkroom prints directly from negatives, you would need the centre filter?

When buying, make sure you only buy one that comes with an original hood. They are specially designed to suit the panoramic nature of the lens. If you don’t get one with your camera, budget to spend another $300 to get one separately as an accessory…

You can check the number of rolls that has gone through the body by turning the camera off, depress the AEB button and keep it depressed while you switch the shooting mode selector to ‘S’. Each unit of the frame counter signifies 10 exposures.

I have no idea how many rolls the Xpan is rated for, but I suppose I would look for a camera with less than 500 rolls on the meter?

There is no shutter speed indicator in the viewfinder of the XpanI. A little annoying, but probably not worth the price premium of the XPanII.

Most will come with the standard 45mm lens, which is a ripper. The 35mm equivalent focal lengths are :

Xpan 45mm = 24mm in 35mm lenses

Xpan 90mm = 50mm in 35mm lenses

Xpan 30mm = 17mm in 35mm lenses.

There are automatically switching framelines for the 45mm and 90mm lenses. The insanely expensive 30mm lens requires an external viewfinder. You won’t find the 30mm for less than two or three thousand aussie dollars.

It is a rangefinder. If you don’t know what a rangefinder is, don’t buy it. Or you can read more about rangefinders here :

https://melbournestreetphotography.com.au/2014/05/25/rangefinder-cameras/

It is big but still relatively compact compared to an SLR. It has a nice heft in the hand. It feels indestructible, but probably isn’t! It has a titanium body, which might come in handy to hammer in some nails… It seriously feels great in your hands. Heavy metal!

It has a motor drive rather than a manual film wind on. I have not heard of one breaking down, but if it does, the camera is bye byes – to repair it you will probably have to buy another body. I am not sure anyone sells spare motors. I would have loved the Xpan to have a manual film winder.

I like the panoramic format, but I do not shoot wide angle. I spend more time with the 90mm lens on the camera than the famous 45mm. Don’t mistake the two. If you want to see some great examples of wide angle use of the Xpan, try this link to Matt’s best stuff here.

Yes, it has aperture priority mode, and the rangefinder spot is bright and nice.

If you think you might like an Xpan, start by cropping your existing medium format or 35mm photos into pano format. You will start to get a feel for the composition challenges. I started this way.

You might also like to try the following alternatives to an Xpan if panoramic images are what you seek :

The Holga 120 Panoramic Camera takes medium format film and shoots 6×9 format.

holga120

 

 

There is also a kit for that fits a Mamiya 7 to shoot panoramic format on 35mm film. The Mamiya 7 is a much more versatile camera than the Xpan – so consider this as a viable option to purchasing an Xpan.

Here are a couple of images taken with the Mamiya 7 using the pano adapter. It takes a great quality image, but the viewfinder experience is a bit of a let down. There are some tiny markers on the viewfinder that you have to use to frame up. Nothing like looking through the viewfinder of an Xpan – where the whole world looks like a movie screen!
mmmm

 

 

 

The Sprocket Rocket is Lomo’s take on the panoramic camera. It is probably the cheapest way into the panoramic format. The viewfinder is a bit on the small side though. It does deliver a nice plastic lens / toy camera feel though.

 

sr

 

 

There is also a nice back for a Bronica Medium Format Camera which adapts the camera to shoot 35mm panoramic. I don’t know a lot about them though!

 

Who could resist such a moody ad? Shot in glorious standard format rather than panoramic! Way to sell the XPan Hasselblad!

Who could resist such a moody ad? Shot in glorious standard format rather than panoramic! Way to sell the XPan Hasselblad!

 

To finish off, here are some more of my own images captured with the Xpan. If you get one, make sure you make the most of the panoramic format to create very different compositions…

 

One Response to “Panoramarama – Hasselblad Xpan Camera Review”

  1. yum yum yum!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: