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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