Hasselblad “The Holy Grail” XPan – Is it worth it?

The Hasselblad XPan II, the successor to the Hasselblad XPan

In the sneaker community, every sneakerhead has a “grail,” ie: a shoe that is highly sought after, most likely a shoe that is next to impossible to obtain because of age, rarity or a very limited release. Each sneakerhead has their own grail, with their own reasons on why the shoe is “worth it” to them. For example, the idea of spending $30,000 on sneakers might not be the most alluring thought to most, but to some (myself,) owning a pair of the Jordan 4 Retro Manila’s would be the final step in sneaker collecting.

Wait, I thought this was a blog post for a camera store? 

Although this term is popular in the sneakerhead world, it’s also relevant in the photography scene. Everyone has that camera that they treat as their grail. To some, it might be a camera that is a joy to shoot with like the Mamiya 7II or the Leica M6; to others it’s a camera that is hard to find due to limited releases such as an Olympic edition Canon F1, or this Leica O-series that sold for 15 million dollars to a private collector

A question that gets asked often at the store is “Is the XPan worth it?” The Hasselblad XPan, known in Japan as the Fujifilm TX-1, is known to be one of the most expensive cameras on the market, ranging anywhere between $5000-8000 on the resale market (going upwards of $11,000 in its successor XPan II.)  The XPan is a very popular grail for most, due to the crisp images it produces in its panoramic format, with its high resale price and fragility attributing to the caution people have in purchasing it.

I’ve been a frequent holder of the XPan we have in rentals, holding it from the rental desk all the way to the front desk when I sit. Jokes aside, I’ve shot with the XPan numerous times, and each time I would put my clown mask on and tell myself that this camera will be mine someday. After a year of using this camera, I believe the XPan is worth it.

Wait.. WHAT? 

Yep. The Hasselblad XPan is worth it. Before jumping to any conclusions on how this answer came to be, let’s go through the obvious. Yes, the camera is expensive. Yes, the camera is fragile. Yes, the camera is expensive. Yes, the camera is next to impossible to get repaired. Did I mention it’s expensive? The XPan is notorious for being overpriced, with its resale value rising $2000 just in the last 5 years. And yet, with many in the analog community still drooling over the XPan, the question of “should I buy an XPan” still lingers on the lips of photographers everywhere.

Okaaaaayyyy. So why is this camera worth it?

It’s wide. Before talking about the camera itself, one thing must be mentioned that sets this camera apart from most: its panorama format. While most 35mm exposures have an exposure area of 36x24mm, this camera’s main feature is the inclusion of a wide, 65x24mm format, allowing the user to shoot 21 exposures in this frame ratio. With the ability to stretch the frame, images that come out of this camera have a cinematic feel to them, where every photo tells a story.

Sure, the camera can shoot wide. But what makes the camera so special?

This question is one that is said by everyone who sees the price tag of the XPan, and for good reason. The XPan is a camera that needs to be used and held to fully appreciate its grail-like status. Built with the attention to detail that Hasselblad and Fujifilm put towards their medium format cameras, the XPan was made with everything in mind. From the standout points like its strong chassis, large viewfinder and a flawless centre-weighted lightmeter to the little things like auto wind, burst mode and a sticker underneath the pressure plate reminding you to read the manual regarding developing panoramic images!

The shooting experience is a whole ‘nother beast when taking this camera out for photo walks. It’s been said to be a landscape trap – AKA a camera only used for landscapes and nothing else, but I beg to differ. While heavier than most other 35mm cameras, the simple ability to capture more in a frame allows me to tell that much more of a story in each frame captured, thus making the weight of the camera bearable.

Getting the negatives back is something that is an experience on its own. The frames on a negative strip are a joy to behold, and will make any user want to shoot more.

There’s got to be a catch though, right? No camera is truly the perfect camera right? 

Very true! There are points to the camera that do need to be mentioned. One main gripe about the camera is that the exposure information is not readily available in the viewfinder (although the XPan II improved this by including exposure reading in the camera.) This gets really annoying especially when that 1 second of checking the exposure on the back is the time between capturing the perfect photo or not.

Also, the weight of the camera, although having a strong build, is fairly heavy. Normally this would be alright if the camera was mechanically pleasant, like using a Leica M3, Nikon F3 or a Mamiya RZ67, but due to the electronic nature of the camera, as well as the cumbersome build (especially with smaller hands,) the XPan leaves much to be desired.

That being said – if one were to ask if the camera was still worth it because of its imperfections, I would STILL say yes. This camera has given me lots of joy, with the feeling of wanting to use it more.

There’s got to be alternatives to the camera though – because dropping the price of a used car on the XPan isn’t always that feasible.

There are! Although there are a few alternatives to the XPan for panoramic photography, they do not compare to the greatness of the XPan. A few of those alternatives are:

  • Widelux: Fun to shoot with, but the camera has quite a bit of distortion due to the swing nature of the camera.
  • Lomography Sprocket Rocket: Not as sharp as the XPan (although neat if you want the image to stretch out all the way to the sprockets.)
  • Panorama Mask in Point and Shoots: Essentially the same thing as cropping the image in post, thus reducing the resolution.
  • 35mm Back in 120 Cameras: Utilizes a camera photographers may already have, with the drawback that 120 cameras are much bigger than the XPan.
  • Flic Film 35mm to 120 Adapters: See above.

The XPan is my Jordan 4 Retro Manila –  a camera that if given the chance (and the funds,) I will gladly cherish with all my life.

This camera is a grail.

This camera is my grail.

This camera is worth it.

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5 replies on “Hasselblad “The Holy Grail” XPan – Is it worth it?

  • Bill

    The Mamiya 6 and Mamiya 7 both have reasonably priced panoramic kits that allow shooting 35mm panoramic images. The Mamiya 7 version produces a 24×65 negative.

    Yes, they are bigger, maybe heavier. They are also less expensive. The Mamiya 7 has a wider range of interchangeable lenses than the Xpan does.

  • Ed Araquel

    Another XPan alternative is the Bronica ETR series of 645 cameras with their 135W back (there’s also one for their SQ-i 6×6 cameras) which allows you to shoot 56x24mm pianos on 35mm film. There’s also the option of using their normal (and much cheaper) 135N back and 3D printing a panoramic mask but I leave that to the more advanced students (there’s a YouTube video documenting the conversion process).

  • Mike Mander

    One thing that should be mentioned, which sets the XPan apart from other panoramic options, is the ability to switch between panoramic format and regular 35mm format at the touch of a switch. The camera smartly shuffles the film as needed to ensure accurate frame spacing, even when regular frames are interspersed with panoramic frames, which is absolutely brilliant. Of course you’ll definitely want to tell the lab not to cut your film after processing, lest they accidentally chop up your panoramics!

  • Bill Laidley

    Hi Mike, Yes the Xpan does support the two formats; but I have to say that in owning and using an Xpan for about 12 years I only used the 35mm format a handful of times. If you are going to carry a panoramic camera shoot panoramic. 😉

  • Mike Mander

    Hi Bill, Back when the XPan originally came out, I borrowed one from the rep at the time for about a month and personally, I did use the regular 35mm frames quite a bit, switching back and forth often, but to each his own! 🙂 In the end, when I found out the steep price of the Hasselblad 30mm, I decided to get a Pentax 67II kit instead, especially since I wanted to do a lot of macro at the time.

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