Photoessay: XPAN-eriments, part I

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…Or, evolutions of a scene. I admit to having more than a passing curiosity towards the original XPAN cameras* – mainly because of the very unusual panoramic format, and the relatively accessibility compared to say a 6×17 with movements. Whilst I work a lot in 16:9 for a more cinematic feel and a perspective that perhaps matches natural human vision more closely than the taller 3:2 and 4:3 formats – going wider is rare and either requires stitching or throwing away so many pixels you are limited in your printing options. The latter is less of an issue with the latest generation of 35mm cameras and MF, but one simple problem remains: it’s very difficult to compose for this aspect ratio if you have no means to visualize it. Few cameras have 16:9 previews or lines, and almost none have wider. My H6D-100c has 16:9 and Cinema 2.4:1, but only because I sacrificed a focusing screen and scored it with a razor blade. Other than that, it’s pure guesswork. Given that focusing screens are not readily available for any of my other cameras, I didn’t want to add any more confusing lines to the H6D’s finder, and scoring lines on an EVF is probably a bad idea, experiments had not really progressed further – until recently, when we got a whole slew of aspect ratios with the most recent firmware. This of course means it’s time for some experiments.

*For those unfamiliar – a 35mm rangefinder in two versions co-developed with Fuji and also sold as the TX1 and TX2, but with a 65x24mm film gate for a 2.7:1 aspect ratio; close enough to 6×17’s 2.83:1. There were native 30, 45 and 90mm lenses – no coincidence we also have these on the X1D. It took normal 35mm roll film to give 20-21 panoramic frames per 36 exposure roll, and could also shoot normal 24x36mm frames – but why on earth would you buy the camera to do that? They are fairly rare now and finding a lab to do the development, even rarer. Of course there’s always DIY, but for reasons explained earlier here it’s no longer really an option for me.

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Two things to note: firstly, the whole sensor is still recorded; secondly, the crop is only appended when files are opened in Phocus. For an Adobe-workflow, you have to do it manually. This is a bit of a pain but also gives you the option to fine tune the crop as well as apply virtual shift: hold the camera level, but move the crop up or down to match the desired portion of the image. So: we have a quasi-Linhof 617-XPAN-device, with the convenience of digital. And not to mention: given the required image circle for 35mm lenses is about 44mm, 55mm for 44x33mm, but only 47mm for 44×16 (44×33 cropped to XPAN aspect ratios) – there are a lot of interesting lens choices. This series was shot with the X1D, and a Nikon 45/2.8P and a converted Contax-Yashica-Zeiss 2.8/85 Sonnar, both of which will cover 44×33 and do very nicely on the cropped format. I treated this series of images as I would a roll of film and an afternoon of meditations, or a sort of stop motion evolution of sky – including the processing, which was intended to somewhat mimic the way I used to shoot and process Acros with a red filter. Personally, I quite like the results – which makes me feel as though this will likely be the first of many…MT

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


More info on Hasselblad cameras and lenses can be found here.


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  1. samchoo says:

    Nice work. I always love xpan.
    To be frank, if X1D has a decent e shutter on day 1, I will get it instead of M10…though I do enjoy my M10 a lot now.
    And now I look forward to a square format 50C or X1D(square)…is it too much to ask?

    • Not possible with this sensor, unfortunately – it is really a first generation live view design. But, we’re working on it 🙂

      Square – use the square crop. A square sensor is hugely wasteful (cut down a larger one) or expensive (custom, small runs) – neither of which translate into an economically viable product. We could build it, there would not be enough people who want to pay for it.

  2. Christian says:

    Good morning,

    interesting. It’s nearly the same I do in the moment. But only not with a X1d (thinking about it because of Xpan-mode… By the way: Is this mode seen in the EVF…?)

    But – I’m using Phase One, not a Hasselblad. But, perhaps the same way could be possible. For the Phase One you could find a mask for the finder.
    Anything like this:

    I took this as template – and made myself out of an other piece of thicker foil. Same relationship for the mask (in mm) from the original mask for my one – and then drawing some lines on it for my own digital back.
    But it in the camera – and now I own a Phase One with lines for my P45+, P20 (love it from time to time…). And – since some weeks – additional lines in orange for Xpan-Mode. Love it 🙂

    • Yes, it’s visible in the finder and opacity of the masked area can also be changed (in case you want to see what’s outside and compose accordingly). Would be even better if the mask could be moved up and down to mimic shift, but perhaps it isn’t necessary as the whole sensor area is recorded.

      I’ve marked my finders previously – you can score a line with a scalpel on the dousing screen (but of course only if it’s removable and a separately available part, should you want to restore it to originality later.

  3. by the way, you say “There were native 30, 45 and 90mm lenses – no coincidence we also have these on the X1D”. … why is that ? The FoV is quite different… An XPan lens mounted on an X1D will be “cropped” in the horizontal direction compared to the XPan. So if 30/45/90 was ideal for XPan, I’m not it follows that it is ideal for the X1D. Do you mean that the actual lens designs have been re-used? Just curious.

    • No, optical formulae were not reused. But during the pre studies it turned out (or so I was told as it predates my involvement) that this group was a commonly requested FL set for 645, but adjusted slightly for the smaller 44×33 sensor.

  4. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    I bought a Fuji TX-1 with all 3 lenses late last year. What a BEAUTIFUL camera, so fun to shoot. The image quality is simply amazing. The best part is how challenging it is to make good images with it. Not all scenes work very well in a panorama format so I have had to really work hard to see properly. I simply love developing the film that comes out of that camera.

    • Agreed – the left and right sides of the frame have to be linked together with strong underlying structure so there’s a sort of narrative flow, else it just looks chaotic…

  5. Speaking as one who has been using the XPan continuously more or less since it was released, the Sigma dp0 Quattro has a 21:9 preview/crop, which makes it quite a good choice for those wanting to experiment with an XPan-like format in the digital world – 21:9 is about halfway between the XPan 24×65 and 6×12 format, which for me personally is the sweet spot (I think the other dp & sd Quattros may have this crop as well, but they don’t have the fabulous 21mm lens..)

    I have to say this feature does tempt me towards the X1D, but then again, the Fuji GFX has it as well, and then again, the Sigmas are massively less expensive and within given limits, just as good….

    • If you feel daring, it’s possible to score the desired guide lines into the focusing screen of any DSLR, too – and some of the existing grids guides might correspond to one of these aspect ratios. Doesn’t work so well with an EVF though unless the guides are in place 🙂

  6. Charles says:

    I love this aspect ratio, and love the XPan.
    When things come together, it just makes for a visually delicious composition.
    I can see how the X-1D offers far greater flexibility, and a greater range of lens options though.

    I’ve been looking for a reasonable, used copy of the XPan 30 mm f/5.6 lens kit for quite some time now. (On eBay, there is a very large proportion of frankly fraudulent listings.)
    Given that the cost of the X-1D is slowly falling and the cost of the coveted XPan 30 mm f/5.6 lens kit is rapidly becoming ridiculous, one is tempted just to hang out and make the switch to MF digital someday.

    I have found absolutely no problems developing XPan film commercially (other than the increasing, universal incompetence with developing colour films generally). One just have to ask that the rolls remain uncut, and scan the film at home.
    Having said that, I still prefer to develop at home. It is inefficient but, for me, gives greatest control and is part of the meditation that is film photography.

    Thanks for this series, Ming. The tonality of your monochrome images is delightful. Looking forward to the next part!

    • Silly thought, but perhaps the native 30/3.5 XCD might be a better choice since you’d also get a leaf shutter and an extra stop and a bit? 🙂 I think the optics are also likely to be better…and you don’t need the center ND filter, either.

      • Charles says:

        Yes, exactly.
        The used XPan prices start to make the X-1D look affordable!

  7. For film processing, I ask the lab to leave the negatives uncut, so I get 1 big roll that I can cut into however many pieces I need. Both my Widelux (same pano size to the XPan), and my Noblex MF 6x17cm cameras work fine like this with the commercial labs I have near me.

    For movements, Shen Hao sells a knock-off of the now-defunct Ebony 6×17 large-format camera. You focus on ground glass like a normal LF camera, and then replace it with a 120 roll film back to make the exposure. Of course, you have to get lenses that can cover 17cm across with whatever movements you need. I’ve been tempted, but fortunately the system is expensive enough that it’s not a whimsical purchase. Nick Carver on YouTube has excellent work done with this camera.

    • I really want to try one of those too, but as you say – even the knockoff is phenomenally expensive and definitely not a casual experiment!

    • L. Ron Hubbard says:

      That Shen Hao large format panoramic camera looks wonderful! I am sorely tempted to get that camera. I’ve seen Shan Hao cameras in person and they are of very decent quality. For some reason, my VERY expensive medium format scanner only scans up to 6 x 12 so that has stopped me from getting this camera. I’d have to get another scanner too.

  8. Interesting experiment and great results! E-M1.2 doesn’t have the resolution for such extreme crops and I have doubts if the high res mode can cope with the clouds. Need to give it a try!

    • Clouds are an odd subject – there’s no real fine detail most of the time because the subject is quite fractal, but at the same time you need some crispness at the edges and microcontrast becomes paramount else you just have white blobs…

  9. Gerner says:

    Wonderful work Ming. Congrats !

  10. Dirk De Paepe says:

    Composition is indeed a different matter than in more “traditional” formats. I really like #3, 5, 9, 11 and 12, because it feels to me that they fully use the format – in a more dynamic way. Hard to explain. The main lines (that I see) within the composition deliver a more complex play of subareas, without making it too entangled. Again, it’s a question of balance, I guess.

    • Thanks – it’s not easy to keep the rhythm of the composition going across such a wide frame without feeling as though the top and bottom elements are purely vestigial…

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Indeed, that’s exactly what I meant. In mentioned pictures, I feel this worked out the best, probably because of the obliquity of those main lines – in a meaningfull way – that is: it feels as if those images NEEDED this format. I believe one can say he has succeeded when that is the case.

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