There are so many articles extolling the virtues of the Hasselblad XPan that when I was recently offered the chance to borrow one for a few days I leapt at the opportunity.
There were plenty of 35mm panoramic cameras made, some mask part of the frame, like Ricoh R1 (I’ve got one, bought it new 30 years ago, now I call it “the light leaker”) which shoots both a standard 24x36mm frame along with a 12x36mm ‘panoramic’ frame.
Then there are cameras like the Horizont, a swing lens camera deigned and built in the Former Soviet Union. There’s a contemporary Lomo version as well. As the name suggests, the lens swings across the film, giving a 24×58mm frame.
Hasselblad, being Hasselblad, did things differently. The first thing they did was outsource the job to Fuji, who released the same camera for the Japanese market as the TX-1. The internet being what it is, you can find articles telling you that the Hasselblad is the superior camera and others arguing for the Fuji. Having only shot the ‘Blad, I’m not taking sides.
The camera shoots both a standard 24x36mm frame and also a 24x65mm ‘true’ panoramic frame, resulting in an almost medium format sized negative. A regular roll of 36 exposures will result in 36 standard frames or 21 panoramic images – or some combination of the two, as you can switch back & forth as you feel like it.
Like lots of film cameras, especially those made in smaller numbers, or with unusual features, the XPan has jumped in price in recent years and there are currently a few listed in eBay from A$7,000 (around US$5,000) and up.
When an Instagram buddy of mine posted a pic of his XPan, as I’ve never used one before (I’d probably never seen one in the flesh until I picked it up) I messaged asking if I could borrow. “No problem” was the reply, and a few days later I collected the camera. Thanks again, Danny!
My first impression was that it’s big for a 35mm camera, although at about 1kg not heavy (but I also shoot a Nikon F4)
Just like my Ricoh R1 when you load the camera all the film is pulled out of the cassette, then wound back in after each exposure – something to do with not fogging/ruining the exposed film if you open the back by mistake.
The ergonomics are excellent – despite it’s size, it’s easy to handle and one-handed operation wasn’t an issue. As you’d expect on something branded Hasselblad the lens – this one has the 45mm – was brilliant, although the lens shade had to be taken off to take off or put back on to get the lens cap on or off, which seems a bit of a crap design/an oversight.
And it’s just a pleasure to shoot with. It’s quiet, the focus throw is short enough that it’s quite quick, and despite viewfinder patch moving around a little as you focus, it’s easy enough to pin focus.
Pros: Cinematic! Panoramic! Choose your own adjective, but the wider frame can turn a very mundane image into something quite exciting.
Despite it’s size, it’s a camera you could carry all day without it getting in your way.
Cons: I believe it’s all electric, so a dead battery means an unhappy photographer, and I’d be concerned if something went wrong: it’s one thing to fix a 60 year old fully manual camera, it’s another to repair 25 year old electrics.
I blasted through 6 rolls in the few days I had the camera, mainly Kodak Tri-X 400, a roll of Cinestill (wasted) and some Fuji Velvia that I was lucky enough to shoot on a sunny winter day, outside of Melbourne in the countryside, just before our Lockdown 2.0 started.
Lots of fun to shoot with, but I don’t think I’d buy one, it’s a bit of a one trick pony, but a it’s still a very pretty pony.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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