Panoramas: a great format for (in my opinion) most photography. Dramatic landscape? Make it panoramic. Artsy architectural photo? Panoramic. Wanna make that softball game look a little more like Ben-Hur? Panoramic of course. Weddings? Well… never mind. So as a panoramic enthusiast, and someone who enjoys shooting film, I’ve had my eye on several panoramic film cameras. Unfortunately, a true, full panorama camera can be very costly, like the Hasselblad XPan (>$3,000) or the Fuji GX617 (>$2,000).
There are also swing lens cameras, which use a mechanical method of capturing a panorama. The lens of the camera pivots or “swings” in a horizontal arc, exposing the film to the panorama as it moves. This mechanical motion can add distortion to photos which may be a desirable effect for some. A handful of companies produced these cameras, like the Widelux F7 (<$1000) used notably by Jeff Bridges behind the scenes of his films, or the more affordable Horizon Kompkat (<$200). Regardless, what makes these cameras all true panorama cameras is their ability to expose the entire panoramic photo onto film. For example, a standard 35mm film camera exposes an area of 24 x 35mm, meanwhile something like the Hasselblad XPan exposes 65 x 35mm. This uses more film, but results in a larger, more detailed image and a true panorama. However, there exist a type of camera which “fakes” the panorama.
The “Faux” Panoramic Camera
There are many film cameras that emulate the effect of a true panoramic camera by reducing the area of film exposed to the dimensions of a panoramic photo, cropping it, rather than expanding it. The Ansco Pix Panorama (<$10) is a camera that does just that, exposing a minuscule 13 x 35mm compared to a standard 35mm camera at 24x 35mm or the Hasselblad XPan at 65 x 35mm.
Along with this, it is incredibly simple, having a static shutter speed of 1/125, a 28mm fixed focus lens, an aperture of f11 and no light meter to speak of. The camera is completely mechanical, the film is advanced, and the shutter is charged by winding a knurled plastic disk. So, with its tiny frame size, nonexistent settings, this little plastic box is truly a point and shoot; hardly a Hasselblad. A few simple modifications to the Pix Panorama would go a long way to improve it.
Yes, this camera even lacks a tripod mount. Something as simple as using a tripod alters how I take photos with any camera, as I spend more time framing and adjusting shots. Now, since the shutter speed of the Pix is 1/125, handheld daylit photos should be just fine but having the option of using a tripod is better than not having it, so I made a mount.
The design for it is very simple, in Autodesk Inventor, I made a trapezoid with a hole in it. This hole is a little smaller in diameter than a ¼” brass nutsert. I 3D printed this mount on an FDM printer using PLA filament with 100% infill. When the mount was finished printing and removed from the print bed, I moved it to my bench and used some forceps to hold the nutsert over the hole.
I heated the nutsert using my soldering iron, applying a small amount of pressure. As the nutsert heated it melted the PLA and buried its way in, and when it was flush, I removed the soldering iron and let it cool. With the mount complete, I then adhered it to the bottom left side of the camera using double-sided tape. Glue or epoxy would work, too but I wanted something less permanent, as I may alter the design in the future. Although simple, this worked quite well.
Filters may not be the first thing to come to mind when modifying such a basic camera. However, since this camera lacks any kind of control for exposure, the use of an ND filter would never be more appropriate. In addition, using color filters when shooting black and white film can enhance aspects of a photo. Whether it be a red filter to boost contrast or a yellow filter to bring out clouds, using filters would be a beneficial addition. Back in Autodesk Inventor, I designed the base of the filter holder to conform to the curved face of the Pix Panorama. I then designed the part responsible for holding 58mm filters. The filters are held in place by two small “fingers” 180° apart from one another, the distance between them is a little less than 58mm, meaning the filters fit snugly in place due to friction but can be easily changed.
Like the tripod mount, both filter mount models were printed in PLA at 100% infill. I made the choice to print this using a matte black filament, so it absorbs light, as it’s being placed around the camera’s lens. In my mind, this will mitigate the chances of light reflecting oddly into the lens if using white or another light-colored/colored filament. Once the models were printed, they were removed from the printer and brought to the bench where they were adhered together using WELD-ON 4, one of the best solvents I’ve found for adhering PLA together.
Likewise to the tripod mount, the filter holder was adhered to the front of the camera using double-sided tape. Once installed, the inexpensive set of Neewer 58mm filters that I use could be mounted and changed with ease.
Much like my life, I expected loading the Pix Panorama to be easy, however disaster struck almost immediately. When loading the camera with film, for reasons unknown, I didn’t believe the film was winding properly, so I hit the rewind release and rewound the film… completely. I wasn’t planning on doing this, I thought I could rewind it just enough to leave the film leader exposed and then try again.
Nope. Normally saying goodbye to the film leader wouldn’t be so bad, as I would pull out another roll of film and save the process of retrieving the leader for home. Double nope. Not only was I an hour or so away from home, I also didn’t bring an extra roll of film. In a panic, I began trying everything to recover the leader, using my Leatherman to cut up bits of random plastic and cardboard found in my car to make a makeshift leader retriever but nothing was working. About to give up, I realized that I could turn my jacket into a makeshift darkroom bag by zipping it up, sealing both top and bottom openings by rubber-banding them closed and sticking my arms through the sleeves. Before doing this, I loaded the jacket darkroom bag with the roll of film, the modified Pix Panorama, and my Leatherman.
Once my arms were in, I was able to pop one cap of the film roll off using the Leatherman’s bottle opener tool, remove the spooled film just enough to feel the leader, and slot it back through the opening slit in the case. I popped the cap back on best I could and proceeded to load the camera with the roll. With a few prayers said, the camera was removed from the jacket-darkroom-bag, and was ready to shoot.
The Final Product and Results
Fortunately, it appears my Macgyvered methods to load the camera worked. I shot a roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS, which I developed in old ID-11 developer. The age of the developer likely contributed to the grain seen in the photos. Regardless, I’m quite satisfied with the outcome, even if they aren’t “true” panoramic photos, the effect is still impactful.
The Pix Panorama also has unique focus, with it being sharpest in the center and some blurring and vignetting in the corners. The use of various colored filters achieved what I wanted, and the tripod mount was incredibly helpful. So, in the end, is there really any reason to use, let alone modify a camera like this? Absolutely. I had a great time designing the parts for it, and I had an even better time shooting and developing the film, even with the initial mishap accounted for.
Being able to change out filters was made easy by the filter holder, and many of the photos were taken with the camera on a tripod. While it certainly isn’t a Hasselblad or Widelux, it’s still a distinct and fun camera.
Thanks for reading,
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