It wasn’t really a Christmas present, at least I don’t think it was, but my old pal Jason gave me a Russian-made Horizon 202 rotating lens panoramic camera as a gift.
I’ve always been fascinated with wide-screen images and had been reading Jeff Bridges’ book of panoramic images that he made using a Widelux camera on the sets of some of the movies he’s appeared in. I hadn’t shot very much film during 2010 and just a few rolls more than that in 2009 and here I was loading film and taking exposure readings using a Gossen hand-held meter. The Horizon, you see, is an all-mechanical camera, no batteries included, no batteries needed.
Having a camera with a 120-degree view on a 24x58mm film format and a 28mm focal length lens changes your way of looking at images and framing them. When combined with what must charitably be called an approximate view seen though the viewfinder and no focusing capability (I guess that’s tough to do with a moving lens) the experience puts spontaneity and maybe even a little inspiration into your photography.
Since I shot those original panoramic images, I upgraded from the Horizon (sold it on eBay) to a lightly used Hasselblad Xpan that is much easier to use with it’s built-in meter, auto exposure capabilities, and the ability to switch from standard to wide screen mid-roll. The Xpan’s format is 24 x 65mm but it also has a 24×36 mode and it is switchable between these two modes as many times as you like on a roll of film, except when there is only space for one 24 x 36 mm frame left on the roll. I love this camera and it is one of the three film cameras I still have. The others are a Leica M6 TTL and a Zeiss Ikon SW.
After having the panoramic film processed, I hand trim the negatives—haven’t shot slide film yet and don’t really plan to—and place the strips in one of the film holders that Epson provided with the one of their old scanners. After scanning and tweaking the images in Adobe Photoshop suddenly I’m Jeff Bridges, Nash Bridges, Brooklyn Bridges, or one of those guys.
Note: You can also capture panoramics by stitching together multiple standard-sized images.
Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available at collector (high) prices or used copies for giveaway prices—less than two bucks—from Amazon.