Cinema Panorama – XPanding Your Horizons

During these extended quarantine sessions we’ve been experiencing these past two months, I decided to play with something different from the usual fare of 35mm or 120 film cameras. I figured since our rental services were experiencing a slight downturn in business, I would see if Jason would lend out the elusive Hasselblad XPan that the store has sitting in a Pelican case at the back.

Ah, the XPan. With the resurgence of film photography these past few years, the prices and value of the XPan have gone through the roof, with examples going for anywhere between five to ten thousand dollars. This is exacerbated by the fact that only 16,800 XPans were manufactured between 1998 and 2002, while the XPan II had an even smaller and shorter production run, with only 5500 made between 2003 and 2006.

What makes it so special and desirable? Well, the XPans and its Fuji cousins were the only cameras that let you shoot both standard 24x36mm frames as well as the panoramic 24x65mm frame size. The lenses are closer to medium format lenses than they are to 135mm lenses to fit the 65mm frame width. What results are not only panoramic images, but incredibly sharp ones at that. There were three lenses made for it, the 30mm, the 45mm and the 90mm.

You might also wonder what makes the XPan different from some other panoramic cameras, such as the Noblex, or even the medium format Linhof Technorama 617, both of which we also have for rental. The Noblex is a swing lens camera, which means that the lens swings at a 140 degree angle from one side to the other, resulting in a curved effect. The Linhof is a beast of a camera that requires a tripod and zone focusing, with no automation whatsoever. The XPan has aperture priority, rangefinder focusing, as well as a flat plane, all in a small package that lets you carry it with you around the streets.

Our rental department has the XPan with two lenses, the 45mm and the 90mm in a kit that rents for $90/day. In use, I found myself vastly preferring the 90mm over the 45mm despite using 35mm and 50mm with my 35mm camera the most in my day to day life. This is largely due to the fact that with the rangefinder focusing, I was able to compose in the frame a lot easier, as I could see a lot of what’s happening outside the frame. The viewfinder is bright and clear, with the focusing patch easy to see. Its easy to use and carry, being not that much larger than a Leica or an SLR. The build quality is outstanding. Despite being an electronic camera, it can take a lot of abuse, and the example I used has a lot of scratches and dents on it.

The electronic elements are quite neat as well. Most of you would be familiar with aperture priority, but it also winds the film automatically. In fact, it winds the entire roll out upon loading, and winds the roll back into the canister after each shot. Its the only rangefinder camera that does this, or even to wind automatically, as all the other rangefinders out there require you to advance the lever after each frame.

Perhaps one major shortcoming of this camera is the fact that it only gives you 20 frames in a regular roll of 35mm film. It is a given considering that it’s a panoramic camera, but it also means that in the span of 2 weeks, I shot 8 rolls of film. I suppose if you can afford an XPan, you can also afford to go through rolls of film like digital files. Its also not the prettiest camera out there, being somewhat oddly proportioned. With that also comes the fact that there’s a certain fear of bringing such an expensive camera with you to certain places.

If I could afford one, I would certainly consider getting one just for the ease of use compared to swing lens panoramic cameras. Having used a Horizon Perfekt, it’s a lot more cumbersome and difficult to get right. The XPan is simply on another level when it comes to panoramic photography, occupying a niche so small, its only competitor is itself. The flat plane image really has a cinematic tendency without having to resort film masks like those on some point and shoot cameras, which I truly appreciate.

For many, the Hasselblad XPan is a grail camera, much like their medium format cameras are. It offers a unique proposition for those looking to expand their horizons. Unfortunately these days, you might have to mortgage your house and rent out your dog to be able to enter the exclusive club of XPan owners. So consider renting it from our rental department, and give it a go.






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