Beyond full frame… Shooting with Hasselblad Xpan

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When I started photography I got no idea what sensor/film size means. To me they are the same, and I always wonder why the Hasselblad or Phase One camera cost a bomb to own. Fast forward to today, I have finally understand their difference and yes, it itched me to give it a try.

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Digital medium format is still quite expensive to spent on when I’m still not too sure whether if its something I will be enjoy using, and whether it’s something that I even need to spend on to begin with. The larger the format/sensor goes, you’ll certainly will capture more details and get shallower depth of field when you need it.

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At this point of time, I couldn’t justify to spend on such a system. Perhaps getting a simpler medium format camera like those TLR or fixed lens camera just to use it when I need it is a better option. Anyway, without drifting too far, while I was venturing on this topic, I came across this camera, the Hasselblad Xpan, and I decided to give it a try while I’m still trying to figure out about the rest of the things

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Hasselblad Xpan, also marketed as Fujifilm TX-1 in Japan, is a 35mm film rangefinder camera that take panoramic pictures. The width of the frame is about 2 frames of a 35mm frame, and coincidentally it’s pretty close to the width of a medium format film. In fact the specifications of the camera itself sounds pretty much like a medium format camera with top shutter speed at 1/1000 second and lens aperture at F4 wide open.

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After running a few rolls of film with this camera (a roll of 135 film of 36 exposure will give you about 20 shots in panoramic mode), I must say that it is much harder than I thought to use it well. The main problem lies in composition. With a frame so wide, one really need to spend sometime to think carefully on how to compose a shot without leaving too much boring spaces. As the frame span across, you’ll need to really fill them up effectively in order to guide the viewers to look through your picture from left to right.

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The panoramic frame is extremely unforgiving on slanted horizon. You better make sure you get it levelled when you took the shot, otherwise you will waste most of your frame trying to level and crop it during post processing. You should also be extra careful when trying to focus and recompose. The “field curvature” (I hope I used the correct term) is not that flat, so you need to compensate a little more as the focal plane will shift quite a fair bit as you turn the camera slightly.

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Other than panoramic frame, one can still shoot standard 135 frame with this camera by toggling the switch beside the view finder. The rest of the camera is just as simple and familiar for those who had fiddled with a film camera before. Titanium body gives it a solid feel and weight, and it is motorized, so you will need two CR2 battery to run the camera, and it will automatically wind and rewind your film. Another interesting fact about this camera is that it will wind out all the film to the opposite spool first, and you will start your first shot on frame 36. As you shoot, the film will get winded back into your catridge, so in case the back cover is accidentally opened, you will not lose any of the earlier shots, pretty neat I must say.

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The built in light meter seems to be working pretty well. The only issue is that the metered shutter speed is displayed on the back of the camera but not in the viewfinder, some might get annoyed by this, but I can live with it. Do note that Xpan II (or Fujifilm TX-2) is displaying the shutter speed in the viewfinder, so if that’s a must for you, you should buy that version instead.

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All in all, it is a very fun camera to shoot with, and being very demanding at the same time too. So what’s the down side or the camera? Well, other than the few items mentioned above (shutter speed display issue, rather slow lens, rather slow maximum aperture, need battery to power the camera in order to shoot), I think there isn’t much I would complaint about this camera.

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Perhaps people may complain that it only has 3 lenses available (30mm, 45mm and 90mm) and they are all dedicated lens for use only on this camera. The 30mm and the 45mm lenses actually require the use of centre filter, which is basically a graduated neutral density filter that only covers the centre portion of the filter, in order to get a perfectly even exposure throughout the frame. Otherwise you will notice light fall off at the edges when you are pointing your camera to the bright sky. The effect is less noticeable on the 45mm lens, if you are careful enough with your framing you can probably get away not using one. Bear in mind that adding the centre filter means you are cutting light that hits on your film.

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I think that’s about it. I highly recommend anyone who is interested with this camera to go ahead and get one. You will not regret owning one. For me, I really enjoy learning the panoramic frame, and hopefully I can master it and make full use of it soon to produce some great pictures out of it. Till then.

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More information: http://www.fototheque.com/xpan/

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