In this article, I’ll be showing you how to very simply modify your Fuji medium format rangefinder to shoot wide-format 35mm film (aka make your own TEXPan). It doesn’t matter if you have the very first Fujica G690, the final Fuji GW690III Professional or any of the 12 other models of cameras that came in between, this quick mod will work on all of them.
The mod that will take you all of about 3 minutes once you have all the things you need and is 100% reversible (not that you’ll need to).
Here’s what I cover:
Why wide-format 35mm photography?
I’ve wanted to and have tried shooting wide-format 35mm panoramic photographs for years. The scale, the aspect ratio, the cinematic look…what’s not to like? I have an itch that won’t go away.
To date, I have:
- Used panoramic masks on 35mm with point and shoot cameras like the Ricoh R1 (~36x13mm).
- Shot 35mm film in my Hasselblads and TLRs (~35x56mm in portrait orientation).
- Modified a Holga 120 Pan to use a Schneider Angulon 90mm f/6.8 (~108x24mm with the 135 mask).
- Built a 6×17 camera to use a Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f/8 MC (no 35mm yet but I will find a way…)
I’ve considered and avoided Widepans, Horizons and Noblexes, which leaves only one, well, two choices for purpose-built 35mm wide-format photography:
I’ve thought about buying one or the other for a long time but even as far back as four years ago, I was still baulking at the idea of paying $800 for body and a couple of lenses. Given 2019’s prices, present-day me is giving dagger eyes to that idiot.
With that itch for wide-format 35mm obviously not going anywhere, at the end of 2018 I went back and resurrected an old idea: shoot 35mm film on either a Pentax 67 or Fuji GW690III/GSW690III. The former would allow me to use multiple lenses and has a dedicated 35mm panoramic kit but the latter offered a bigger negative and a lighter solution…even though there was no first-party panoramic kit for it.
Long story short, despite my adoration for being able to see the image being composed through the lens, I decided to go for the Fuji: more compact and a bigger negative.
(Truth be told, I’ll probably get a Pentax 67 at some point in the future.)
35mm wide-format negative sizes compared
Not all wide-format photography was created equal. Here’s how the negatives produced by the most popular 35mm wide-format options stack up against a “full frame” of 35mm (ordered by negative width and assuming a landscape orientation with sprocket holes masked).
Technically speaking then, the Pentax 67 would give me a 35mm negative image that’s bigger than the XPan / TX.
“But what about just shooting medium format film and cropping to size?” I hear you ask…
My take on this – and yours may differ – is that it’s cheating. I liken it to “doing it in post“. The challenge of shooting to a format and producing the result in-camera is a big part of learning and satisfaction in a job well done.
“But that’s still pre-cropping. You’re still shooting a lens designed for one format on another. Use an XPan.”
Let me stop you there. It’s worth noting that XPan/TX negatives are created by medium format lenses. These are systems which have image circles large enough to fill a 6×4.5 negative, if not larger, and like other medium format cameras, the height of the image projected onto the lens is cropped (cut off), while the width is captured. There you have it. If you’re shooting an XPan, all you’re doing is shooting small format with a medium format lens. You bloody heathen.
Right then, on to the build.
Making a TEXPan: what you need
This is your shopping list. You don’t really need the last two items on the list. Your call.
- A suitable medium format camera.
- One used 35mm film canister with a small tongue of film left sticking out (this is your take-up cannister).
- One unexposed roll of 35mm film (this is your supply cannister).
- Silicone tape (not electrical tape).
- Sellotape / Scotch Tape (1/2″ wide is ideal).
- 4x 135 to 120 adapters (two pairs).
- 120 backing paper or exposed 35mm film to make a “leader”.
- A 35mm film mask for your camera (optional).
- A film changing bag (optional).
IMPORTANT: If you develop film at home and pry open your 35mm canisters when you develop film, you can ask a local lab if they can give you a few spent 35mm canisters to use as your take-up canister. Just make sure that a small tongue of film is left protruding from them. Alternatively, sacrifice a roll of film and make your own.
If you have reloadable plastic 35mm canisters, they are essentially useless here. Your take-up canister will be put under much greater stress than normal and you honestly don’t want to risk it when such a simple solution exists.
To recap: recycle spent canisters from a lab or use a leader retriever when developing film at home instead of tearing open your canister.
Regarding items 8 and 9 on the shopping list, 35mm film mask will ensure the film sprockets are not exposed but if you shoot through them, you’ll be able to gain another 1mm or so in height when you crop your scans or print your negatives. The changing bag will help you save your final frame, although you could do what I do and just waste it (or make another shorter leader…)
“Build” is too big a word for this. It’s a hack. Assuming you have the materials above, it’ll take about 1 minute to modify your camera and two more to prepare your film.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Prepare your film
A normal roll of 135/36 film in this camera will yield 13/14 frames on the GW690III Professional. Because 35mm film has no paper leader like 120/220 film, you’ll waste about 1ft of film at the beginning of the roll (worth about three).
If we make our own leader, we can extend our film to take up to 16 frames (the max possible by the camera) and have some space left to wind film into the take-up canister.
To do this, first take the film you want to shoot (your supply canister) and snip off the curved part of the film leader giving you a square edge.
Next, you’ll need to make a new leader that’s roughly the same length as the paper leader on a roll of 120/220 film. Take a 20cm (8″) length of wasted/developed 35mm film or cut down some 120 backing paper to the height of 35mm film.
Getting the height right with the latter is IMPORTANT. It will make sure the take-up canister, leader and supply canister are properly aligned.
A NOTE ON ALIGNMENT: If your film, leader and take-up canister are not aligned, you suffer a good chance of the camera eating your film.
For simplicity, 35mm film makes a great choice for leader material but I’m demonstrating using paper and proving that not following my instructions can still yield a workable result.
Take your new leader and tape one end to the tongue of film sticking out of your take-up canister. Tape the other end to your supply canister.
When you’re done, wind the leader into the supply canister and go get your 135 to 120 film adapters.
The first image below shows two sets of 135 to 120 adapters (four pairs in total). I’ve used plastic/3D printed versions in the past but they will wear out over time. Your take-up canister is going to suffer quite a lot of winding stress, so bear that in mind.
Assuming you’ll be using metal adapters, each set will come in two pairs – one short and one long. The short adapter fits into the top of the cannister. The long one fits on the bottom. Camerahack sells a set of one pair of plastic adapters and a pre-cut paper leader in case you want to go down that route.
Whatever route you go down, when you’re done, set it all aside and go get your silicone tape or painter’s tape.
A NOTE ON A SECOND LEADER: For those of you out there who bulk load your own film, you have the option to add a second leader to the end of your film. It’s something that Diz and I discussed while putting this article together and will ensure that your last frame is definitely wound into your take-up canister. Play with the lengths but another 8cm/3inches of material should be added between the end of your supply canister film and the canister itself. Be aware that you will not likely be able to fully wind the second leader into your take-up canister. If you try it out, let me know how you get on in the comments below.
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Step 2: Tape the film roller
Fuji rangefinders will not advance the shutter count or cock the shutter unless a roller is moved when the camera is wound on – normally by 120/220 film and paper. 35mm film is not wide enough so we need to give it some help.
The photo below shows what we’re trying to achieve and here’s a link to the silicone tape I used.
The tape will provide the friction necessary to move the roller as you wind on your film – simple and effective. Importantly, it’s self-fusing and will stick to itself but not your roller within 24 hours. Don’t worry if you make a mistake, slide a knife under the tape (thanks for this and the other tips, Diz!)
You will need to cut off a 4.5cm (about 2″) length of tape, peel it off its backing material and roll it onto the film roller. It’s quite thick, and that length will be enough to cover the circumference of the roller plus a bit more.
Step 3: Load your film
Load the film (with adapters installed) just as you would a normal roll of 120 film – supply side on the left and take-up on the right. Remember the note I made about aligning the film and leader? Take a peek at the right image below to see how it should not be done.
There’s a near-100% guarantee that the film will be chewed up by the camera.
The right image also shows an 80x24mm mask installed (they can be purchased from Taobao/eBay, etc.) It’s your call to use one or not. Unless the film you plan on using is especially curly, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. I got mine as a gift, which is surprising because most people have no idea what to get me for birthdays, etc. 🙂
With the film installed, turn your attention to the pressure plate on the inside of the film door. It’ll likely be set to “120” and we want to change it to “220” as per the pictures below. This to account for the film’s lack of backing paper (just like 220 film). Slide the plate to the right, flip it over and put it back.
Close the film door and set the film counter dial on the top of the camera to “16EXP / 220” as per the photo below. This will ensure that you’ll get as many shots from your roll of 36 exposure 35mm film as possible.
With the film loaded, pressure plate set and film counter set, wind the camera on until the wind-on lever locks up ready for frame one.
You’re ready to shoot.
Shooting the TEXPan – tips and gotchas
Close focus consideration
As with all rangefinder cameras, the viewfinder offset from the lens – what you see is different from what the lens captures. This offset isn’t a big deal when shooting subjects at infinity or in the middle distance but as you get closer, it becomes more pronounced.
Fuji GW690III I am using has built-in parallax correction – the finder’s framelines automatically adjust to show you what the camera will be shooting depending on how far away you are. This comes in very useful for framing for 35mm film.
The images above show how the viewfinder framelines change when you focus from infinity down to the camera’s 1m closest focus. The rangefinder patch in the center of the viewfinder does not move.
Framing for 35mm wide-format
My trick to frame at infinity is to use the left/right framelines along with the rangefinder patch (the gold dot in the middle) as a guide.
When focusing on closer objects – and when centering the image vertically is important, I will use the left/right framelines only.
Here are two photos which illustrate the difference between using the rangefinder patch and the framelines to center your image when close focusing the camera:
The top/bottom framelines come in useful for making sure the image is level (I’ll often align them with a reference point).
In short, as long as you remember that the rangefinder patch is not always the center of the film, you should be ok. Take a couple of test shots on your first roll so you have some examples for future self.
Resistance is futile
Once you’ve figured out framing, it’s a simple case of setting your exposure, pressing the shutter button and winding on each frame. As with 120/220 film, you will need to wind on one and a bit times. The “bit” changes depending on how much film the camera needs to wind on as it goes through the roll.
It’s natural to feel some resistance as you wind the camera on but if you feel anything that’s stopping you from making a full wind-on immediately after making an exposure, don’t force it.
Open the camera up inside a film changing bag or in a darkroom. Misaligned film might have caused it to have become torn, the take-up canister might have spun around a bit in the film bay, or you may have loaded a 27 exposure roll of film by accident (I’ve done that).
Experience will ultimately solve all these problems.
It’s all backwards
If you’re developing film directly from the take-up spool, it will come out in the “wrong” order. Something to bear in mind if you have a scanning workflow that might be affected by it. Ricoh GR and some Canon et al shooters will already be familiar with this.
If you are using the paper/film leader approach and will take your take-up canister to a lab to get developed, you really should let them know what to expect.
What to expect (results)
It’s a quick, fun and totally reversible mod, so why not? 135 to 120 adapters are cheap and unless you’re terrible with scissors, there’s really no reason why you’d fail at modding the camera yourself.
In terms of the results, if you’re not a fan of wide-format 35mm photography, you’re probably not going to like them. From the perspective of image quality, the Fujinon lens on this particular model produces results that are just as great on “small format” 135 as they are on 120.
So the big question: has it scratched my wide-format 35mm itch?
I love the results and although I’ve only had the camera for a few weeks at the time of writing, I cannot fault it for what it is. At 1.5kg (3 1/4lbs), it’s not a light camera and yes, it seems absurdly large when set next to a Leica-M but that camera has a certain charm about it and with the exception of the shutter/aperture settings, is absurdly ergonomic. To my hands at least.
Expect more in an upcoming review but for now, I’ll leave you be so you can go try the mod yourself. Drop me a line in the comments section below with any questions.
Ps. TEXPan? For years (at least since the mid-1990’s), Fuji medium format rangefinders have been known as “Texas Leicas” – like their German cousins, they’re rangefinders and everything is bigger in Texas. Get it?
Considering this hack allows you to shoot 35mm film in a wide-format like the Hasselblad XPan, TEXPan seems a reasonable moniker.
Also, I stole it from Matt Parry. Cheers Matt.
Fuji GW690III Professional specifications
|Manufacturer||Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd (Japan)|
|Camera name||Fuji GW690III Professional|
|Camera type||Medium format rangefinder camera|
120 half length roll film - 4 exposures
120 roll film - 8 exposures
220 roll film - 16 exposures
|Manufacture dates||Fujica GW690 Professional (1978-1985)
Fuji GW690II Professional (1985-1992)
Fuji GW690III Professional (1992-2003)
|Viewfinder||Double image rangefinder patch (parallax corrected)
95% coverage at 1m
92% coverage at infinity
|Rangefinder||59mm base line length (44.3mm effective)|
|Shutter||Copal #0 interlens shutter
T, 1-1/500 sec + release lock
|Lens||EBC Fujinon 90mm f/3.5 lens (5 elements in 5 groups)
f/32 minimum aperture
1m closest focus
Integrated lens hood
67mm filter thread
|Flash||X-Sync (hotshoe and sync contact)|
|Other||Shutter actuation count (underside)
Spirit level (top plate)
|201mm x 119mm x 129mm (WxHxD)|
|User manual link||Download from butkus.org|
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