The Hasselblad XPan is a very niche camera. Specifically designed to make panoramic photographs, it is not something most people would buy as a daily shooter. Even with that qualification, this is a hot item on the used film camera market in 2019. It is so highly in demand that it is priced way into the stratosphere.
The XPan is not the only panoramic camera available. Where it differs, it is one of the very few that use the whole film size rather than masks. It also does not require a rotating lens, so the quality is better. Speaking of quality, did I mention it is a Hasselblad? Sure, it was built by Fujifilm, who are no slouch either, but it is built to Hasselblad branding standards.
The XPan was a joint project between Hasselblad and Fujifilm and can be found also branded as the Fujifilm TX-1. For all intents and purposes, they are the same camera. With these two giants in camera and lens manufacturing working together, it is no surprise the XPan has become a camera which demands a cult following. Throw in a full 65x24mm frame size and you have something really unique and special.
The surprising part is that the camera and lens combination is not that much bigger than a regular SLR. This allows you to get a full frame panoramic while hand holding the camera. Where it gets a bit tricky is the framing of such a format. Your mindset has to shift a little to get the most out of this camera.
The XPan camera in this review was lent to me from my good friend Andrea Francolini. Andrea is a well known and award winning photographer in Sydney, Australia and you can find his website here. It is well worth checking his work out. The hard bit is now I have to give the camera back!
I have had the Hasselblad XPan for a couple of months. Keep reading to find out how I fared with it once we find out a bit more about it.
Hasselblad, the company, was originally formed as a marketing company in 1841 by Fritz Victor Hasselblad. Based in Göteborg, Sweden, Hasselblad entered photographic product manufacture in 1887. In 1908, the photographic division separated into its own company and was even the Kodak distributor in Sweden.
From there Hasselblad even produced a large format camera, but are well known for their medium format, square frame studio cameras. These cameras were so well regarded that it was the 500C that was the camera chosen to be used in the moon landing, albeit heavily modified.
In 1998 the market was saturated with all sorts of cameras. Hasselblad and Mamiya had the studio and wedding market pretty much wrapped up. Nikon and Canon had the 35mm SLR market taken as well as sharing the compact market with the likes of Olympus, Minolta and Pentax. Leica still had the 35mm rangefinder market pretty much to themselves, while Fujifilm had a really good grasp on the medium format rangefinder niche.
In an effort to produce something different, Hasselblad went into a partnership with Fujifilm who created the Fujifilm TX-1 and the more well known Hasselblad XPan. Manufacture of the XPan lasted 4 years, until 2002, where only 16,800 units were made. In 2002 it was replaced with the TX-2 and XPan II.
The XPan was truly something unique. Unlike the Noblex, the main other 35mm panoramic camera of the time, it did not require a rotating lens. The other main competition of this format, the Mamiya 7 with the 35mm panoramic adaptor, produces the same frame size as the XPan, but comes with a lot more bulk and a viewfinder which is not specifically designed for this format.
Even more unique is that it can shoot both panoramic 65x24mm frames but also regular 35mm frames at 36x24mm. This really set up this camera to become another iconic camera within the Hasselblad stable.
The Hasselblad XPan is a dual format panoramic 35mm interchangeable lens rangefinder camera. It will shoot both 65x24mm and 36x24mm frames controlled by a switch at the back of the camera. The XPan is a metal camera generally with black paint finish. This has been known to be a bone of contention amongst XPan owners as it is well known the paint flakes off. That can be seen by this well used copy.
There are three lenses available, 30mm, 45mm and 90mm. The 30mm lens requires a viewfinder attachment. The lens mount is a unique design especially for the XPan and TX-1 camera range. Lens hoods are available for the lenses.
Next to the lens mount is a film speed selector, which allows selection of ISO 25 to 3200 and automatic DX selection. Under the film speed selector is the hand grip, which is contoured to allow easy and steady holding.
The top of the camera has the shutter speed selector with options from 8 seconds through to 1/1000thsecond, aperture priority mode and bulb. With the slowest speed of 8 seconds, it is pretty safe to assume the designers had landscape photographers in mind. The on/off switch is also on top, and doubles as the shooting mode selector of single frame, continuous frame and self timer. Within the shooting mode assembly is a wheel selector to select exposure compensation within +/- 2 stops.
The shutter release is nestled between these two, with a small LCD behind it. The LCD confirms which mode the camera is in, e.g. P for Panoramic. The LCD also displays how many frames are left unexposed on the roll of film. Generally a roll of 36 normal frames translates to 20 panoramic frames. Important to note is that the camera automatically pulls out the film and “rewinds” it back into the canister as you shoot each frame. The film rewind/advance is motorised.
On the back of the camera, apart from the film reminder window, is another LCD. This reminds you of the film speed setting, the shutter speed selected, and the current state of the battery. The XPan uses 2 CR2 batteries which are inserted through the bottom. There are some buttons under the LCD including the illumination and film rewind.
Loading the film is easily done by opening the hinged back and stretching the leader across to the green mark. The camera then advances the whole film in preparation for rewinding after each shot.
It would be remiss not to specifically point out a very important accessory. Due to the way the lens image circle is reduced to a very wide rectangle, it causes vignetting on the sides. It is not necessarily noticeable on negative film but on positive (slide) film it can be quite obvious. It is effectively a stop difference. This can be countered with a centre weighted neutral density filter, which are notoriously expensive. Even more so if you buy the Hasselblad branded one which considering the metering is geared up for it, it is worth considering.
Speaking of the metering, it is a centre weighted metering system, through the lens measured at the shutter plane, with the manual claiming it is within 1/3 stop accuracy from EV 4 thought to EV 19.
The viewfinder is set up for the panoramic format and is fully adjusted for parallax correction. The rangefinder patch is a yellow rectangle in the centre. The meter advises on the exposure using an LED in the viewfinder with appropriate symbols -/+ and circle.
Earlier in the year I was out shooting with Andrea when he suggested a review of the Hasselblad XPan might be a nice article. I agreed, as it is one camera I have always wanted to try but am put off by the cost for something that I would use sporadically. He then offered his as he is currently working with other cameras.
A few days later Andrea dropped by and handed me the XPan along with the 45mm f/4 lens and a centre weighted ND filter. I must admit I was taken aback a bit, I was expecting it to be bigger. It is actually comparable to a Leica rangefinder, albeit considerably wider. It sits in your hands very comfortably, and I had no issues holding the camera for some extended periods.
I was advised that the panorama switch was finicky and that it may have problems changing into 36x24mm frame size. I must admit now, that I never even thought of doing that. Why would you get a XPan and then not shoot panoramic? I shot the whole time in panoramic mode.
The first couple of times I took it out I used Kodak Portra 400 and Tri-X 400 as I knew these were forgiving. I was a little concerned at needing to use the centre weighted graduated filter right off the bat.
Pulling the camera to my eye, I am not sure what I expected, but the frame lines seemed very wide and skinny. Especially as there is so much room around the frame lines to allow for the parallax correction adjustments the camera makes. My understanding is that the 45mm lens is equivalent to 24mm wide horizontally but still 45mm vertically.
I knew right away that I was going to find a new challenge in framing. In fact, that is something you do not realise till you use the XPan. While the pictures can be stunning they are very hard to frame if you are not used to it. It is very easy to fall into the trap of just getting excited with the wideness and forgetting to ensure there is a subject placed correctly.
As I used it for a couple of months I started to get in tune with the frame and became more comfortable with it. I appreciated the metering, knowing from Andrea that this camera was quite accurate. The LED in the viewfinder advising on exposure could be a little brighter though, as in bright light I sometimes did struggle to see it.
I found the controls quite handy and did not have an issue with where any of the placements were. Reaching above the camera for the shutter speed change was easy enough, but it would have been nice to see the settings in the viewfinder. A couple of times I found I had moved to a very slow shutter speed without meaning to. Luckily this camera is smooth. Really smooth.
After carrying it around for a few weeks I started to use some Ektachrome and thus put on the centre weighted filter. I also found that as my filters are sized for the Nikon 77mm size, I could stack a few. At one point had a standard two stop graduated ND and an adjustable ND filter on top to get the effect I was after. It made for a bit of a sight, but worked a treat.
All fun and games, but how does it perform? The results are outstanding! The lens, as expected, is super sharp. The photos are rendered with the classic way I see in other Fujifilm made lenses, for instance the GSW690iii. Sharpness is right across the whole frame, I could not detect any softening. The design of this lens is really something special.
The fear on the vignetting was founded as it is visible in some frames, but nothing that is overwhelming, at least with the centre weighted ND filter on. I wish I had taken a few frames without the filter on the slide film to test the effect, but I can at least say the filter works well. Even with my filter stack I did not get significant vignetting wrecking the photograph, but there is some subtle darking of the edges.
Something to look forward to with the XPan is when you use slide film and you first lay out the film on the light table. Those wide slides are something really special!
Verticals do converge especially on some architectural photos. Even when the lens is kept perfectly straight, but this can be expected on a lens so wide horizontally. It would have been good to have a bit more correction though.
Scanning the frames was a bit of a challenge though. I could not use my Nikon Coolscan, as the frame size is not covered and I had to use the Epson V850 flatbed. Being in the middle of medium format and 35mm, the results are not as great as I would have liked from the scanner. The Coolscan is considerably sharper, but needs beats wants. After a bit of effort and adjustments I have results that I am quite happy with though.
With a few months use, I have not been convinced to buy one. I still cannot justify the cost for what I want to do with my photography. Is it worth it though? If you do want a panoramic camera using 35mm film, then this is the best camera you can buy. That means it commands a premium due to demand, so yes it is worth it as the best of anything will cost more. As for me, I do like the format, so I will look for a panoramic 35mm kit for my Mamiya 7.
The Hasselblad XPan – Fulfilling a vision, on 35mmc.
Hasselblad XPan on Luminous Landscapes, with a funny secret internal memo intro.