Camera Review – Hasselblad Xpan

hbad xpan

Damian Young takes a wide view of his XPan


Originally posted at http://damianyoung.com/2013/02/03/camera-review-hasselblad-xpan/

On the request of a mate, here are my thoughts and guide to the Xpan.

You check out all the technical details on a technical forum if you are technically minded – because I am not…

The Xpan is a panoramic format 35mm film camera. A standard 35mm frame is 24mm high x 36mm wide. The Xpan frame is 24mm high x 65mm wide, a little bit less than twice as wide as a standard frame. You can switch between standard and panoramic format – but anyone that uses it for standard frame shots is just plain silly…

So this is what you get. Same height as standard 35mm, but almost twice as wide.

So this is what you get. Same height as standard 35mm, but almost twice as wide.

My photog buddy Mike LeFevre was on the money when he described the XPan as “The World’s Most Expensive Toy Camera”. I agree.

When people ask me why I like shooting with the XPan, the response is single minded – everything looks cool in panoramic format… The interesting proportions of the format can make up for considerable weakness in your composition technique. Movies look great in 16:9 format – it is pleasing to the eye. Panoramic format is the same. Point it, get the rangefinder spot lined up, and shoot. It will probably come out looking awesome!

Whilst it is easy to get aesthetically pleasing shots straight away, it is more challenging to master at a high level. The field of vision is very narrow, top to bottom, in landscape format. Composing for the format needs conscious effort – and a clean break from standard frame proportions.

Some standard compositions that I think work :

A story that starts at one end...

A story that starts at one end…

A story that starts at one end. Put your main subject at one end and then use the panoramic format to show the rest of the story. In this case, the guitar player who is also in the band.

Lead into the subject, or away from the subject.

Lead into the subject, or away from the subject.

Lead into or away from the subject. Get up close and pop your subject at one end. Use the rest of the frame to draw the eye into or out from. Always be prepared to crop your subject… the frame is simply not high enough to do anything else. Watch movies in widescreen and see how they compose things…

Highlight the subject.

Highlight the subject.

Highlight the subject by plonking them in the middle. Leading lines are always your friend in pano format…

Show breadth of the scene.

Show breadth of the scene.

You can show breadth of a scene in a unique way in pano format. Generous in layout. The width with tight top and bottom suggests generosity and helps the viewer enter the scene without being distracted by vertical distractions. We all read left to right, after all, not up and down.

Again, read the story left to right.

Again, read the story left to right.

Using the pano format to focus on a particular story or part of the scene is strong too

Capture lateral movement.

Capture lateral movement.

The Xpan is pretty good at capturing a suggestion of lateral movement – the wide frame helps the viewer imagine where the subject is heading.

Crop Crop Crop and then Crop.

Crop Crop Crop and then Crop.

You gotta crop. Crop. Try something different. The pano format welcomes something a bit different. The format requires you to sacrifice subject matter to create a pleasing image. No matter what you do, you are never going to fit everything into the vertical space available. I have done some portrait format with the XPan, but won’t confuse things here with some examples.

Some more random thoughts and tips.

You can find them on Ebay. $1800 for one in decent nick with a 45mm lens. Look for the Fuji branded models if they are a bit cheaper for the same condition – they are the same camera.

Try to get an XpanII if you can – it has more info in the viewfinder. I have the XpanI and it is fine – go for the one in better condition if you have to choose though.

It is a rangefinder. If you don’t know what a rangefinder is, don’t buy it.

It is big but still relatively compact compared to an SLR. It has a nice heft in the hand. It feels indestructible, but probably isn’t!

It has a motor drive rather than a manual film wind on. I have not heard of one breaking down, but if it does, the camera is bye byes – to repair it you will probably have to buy another body. I am not sure anyone sells spare motors.

I like the panoramic format, but I do not shoot wide angle. I spend more time with the 90mm lens on the camera than the famous 45mm. Don’t mistake the two. If you want to see some great examples of wide angle use of the Xpan, try Matt’s best stuff here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotodudenz/sets/72157622078731976/

Yes, it has aperture priority mode, and the rangefinder spot is bright and nice.

If you think you might like an Xpan, start by cropping your existing medium format or 35mm photos into pano format. You will start to get a feel for the composition challenges. I started this way.

Who could resist such a moody ad? Shot in glorious standard format rather than panoramic! Way to sell the XPan Hasselblad!

Who could resist such a moody ad? Shot in glorious standard format rather than panoramic! Way to sell the XPan Hasselblad!

 
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