The Hasselblad X-Pan Is Pretty Cool – But I’m Not Running Out To Get One !!

Looking down Market St to the Ferry Bldg while crossing 2nd.

Looking down Market St to the Ferry Bldg while crossing 2nd.

What do you do if you’re Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad and want a panoramic 35mm camera? You go to Fuji and have them design and build it, of course!!!

The Hasselblad X-Pan is a fantastic 35mm film camera that can switch between standard 35mm frames  (24mm X 36mm) and panoramic frames equal to that of approximately two frames (24mm X 65mm) mid-roll. Yes, I said midroll. The film canister is loaded in the same manner as any 35mm camera, but the first thing you notice when working with this beast for the first time is an unusually long film winding process. What the camera is doing is winding the entire roll of film out into the take out spool. The idea is genius since the camera then continues to wind the film back into the spool as you shoot through the roll. Not only does this allow the camera to compensate mid-roll for the difference between standard and panoramic frames, but it has the added benefit of protecting any images already exposed within the film canister should the back door come open and the film be exposed to light. It would take quite a bit to make this mistake with this camera, but the redundancy gives you added comfort that the engineers really put some thought into this little baby.

The F streetcar line on Market St.

The F streetcar line on Market St.

Back in late Oct 2013, I found myself not knowing what I wanted to rent from my Friday afternoon go-to rental place, Adolf Gasser. I decided to try something different and the X-Pan happened to be there. Definitely a crowd favorite and rarely available for a weekend rental, I jumped on the opportunity and took it home with the 45mm f/4.0 lens option. The camera was manufactured with a removable lens and Hasselblad/Fiju manufactured three lenses for the system: a 30mm f/5.6, a 45mm f/4.0 and a 90mm f/4.0.

A row of old Victorian homes on Oak St in Oakland.

A row of old Victorian homes on Oak St in Oakland.

When previously researching this camera, I came across some information on the internet that basically said that the camera would have two different perspectives with any given lens choice because of the difference between the standard 35mm format and the panoramic format. Well, it must be true then because you can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true. Where did I read that, you ask? The internet, of course. Ha!

The walkway to Embarcardero from the Portobello Complex in Oakland.

The walkway to Embarcardero from the Portobello Complex in Oakland.

That’s not true, folks. The only thing that changes between standard frames and panoramic frames is the film format, but a 45mm lens remains a 45mm perspective regardless of the format. If not, the 45mm lens in a panoramic format would have all sorts of distortion and curvature to the image. I picked the 45mm lens simply because it’s the closest option to a human field of view perspective, but I’d be interested to see how the camera feels with the 30mm wide angle and the 90mm short zoom.

Hills behind the valley in Pacifica while on a hike.

Hills behind the valley in Pacifica while on a hike.

Speaking of feel, the camera is a freakin’ brick and heavy at that. It’s rather ridiculous, but at 720g, this thing easily weighs a little more than two mainstream 35mm cameras without the lens. The lens is no joke either and the whole kit weighs in at a little over 1,100 g. Built like a tank, the X-Pan is built for whatever task you want to throw at it.

Entrance to a horse ranch in the back of the valley in Pacifica.

Entrance to a horse ranch in the back of the valley in Pacifica.

Since I had a few other things going on that weekend, I only managed to put a single roll through the camera over the entire weekend. I had a roll of Ilford Pan F Plus 35mm b&w film handy so that’s what I went with. Pan F is one of the slower film offerings from Ilford with medium contrast and HUGE resolution capacity and an excellent choice for outdoor shooting. I do, however, develop a little longer than recommended to boost the contrast up a bit and love the look. It’s got bright whites, and very black blacks. Like buttah…

Horse ranch. Too bad the camera can't capture smells as well...

Horse ranch. Too bad the camera can’t capture smells as well…

After shooting SLR cameras for the majority of my photographic journey, shooting a rangefinder for the first time took some getting used to. And what you can’t imagine is how much this can affect your ability to properly focus. I found after developing this roll that a number of my images were out of focus and it left me thinking “WTF?!?!?!”

Hiking trail in Pacifica.

Hiking trail in Pacifica.

What does it mean to shoot a rangefinder? Rather than looking through the viewfinder and seeing the image as it comes through the lens and up the pentaprism, with a rangefinder, you are looking through a viewfinder that is off-center and focusing relies on a “ghosting” effect where duplicate images of what you’re looking at come together as you manually focus until the meet. Once the two ghost images meet as one, your focal point has been reached.

Trees...I think.

Trees…I think.

So, what don’t a like about this little magical image maker? For starters, the camera takes a bit to get used to working with the exposure settings compared to other SLRs. In AUTO, the photographer gets to set the aperture, since it’s located on the lens itself, while the camera’s meter adjusts the shutter speed to compensate for the center weighted average it’s set up for. The camera can completely work in full manual, but with no meter reading in the viewfinder due to it being a rangefinder, it makes it a bit more challenging. The camera has quite a number of modern camera features, but the lack of autofocus is really apparent as something that is missing. But, at the same time, it was done by design since the camera was rather expensive  when new and still remains a little out of my price range on the used side may years later. I can only imagine that the conversation was had during the design phase of the project and autofocus had to be left off for weight consideration and consumer cost.

So, do I really not like the X-Pan? Nah..it’s pretty awesome! I can work around the slight inconveniences mentioned above in order to obtain beautiful panoramic images, but I’m still not running out to get one! Boom!

Look, Ma'!! You can hold the X-Pan vertically as well...

Look, Ma’!! You can hold the X-Pan vertically as well…

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A Foggy Day at Muir Woods National Monument Near Mill Valley, CA

Yes, I know I made you wait a while for this next post, but believe me, it’s a good one. Well, the content is always subject to interpretation, but I think I came back with a few really good images from my latest outing that even left me asking myself “did I take that?”

Every once in a while I surprise myself, but it isn’t very often, folks. So, I’m excited to share today’s post with everyone in the hopes that I can break the monotony of my constant writing with only the spam commentary coming back telling me what a great site I have and don’t forget to visit my incredible sex-all-the-time website!! I mean, commentary from my readers is all I have, so when I get a notice that I have a comment, I jump for joy. When all I get is spam, it feels pretty lame, so go ahead and click the comment button and send me your thoughts. Stop by and say “hey, that was awesome” or “man, you suck!!” It doesn’t matter, as I’ll probably get excited to have someone’s feedback, although I probably won’t post the real bad ones. However, if you find a way to insult me while still making me smile, I’ll surely add it to the commentary for comic relief, just don’t mention your fabulous sex website, please…

So, back to the meat and potatoes of the post. We had some friends of the family that came out to the Bay Area to visit, so of course I want to play tour guide for them. Unfortunately for me, our friend lived in the Bay Area for many years before returning back home to the midwest. However, she was making the rounds with her niece that had never been out, so they had planned to hit a good number of the touristy spots in the area. On the list was our famed Muir Woods National Monument, so I offered to drive them over and come along for the ride. They took me up on the offer, so I made sure to make a pit stop by my friendly neighborhood Gasser’s photo rental spot and picked up a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens that was sitting there pretty for me to take home under the 40% discount program.

Now, I don’t know much about the history of Muir Woods, but I did take a quick gander at Wikipedia to have something to mention. Muir Woods is the result of major efforts of Congressman William Kent who took notice of the speed at which the logging community was cutting down the old growth redwood trees that had stood tall all along the northern California coastline all the way up to Oregon. Mainly due to its inaccessibility, a good portion of the land where Muir Woods now sits, was spared. President Roosevelt declared the area a national monument in 1908, making sure that future generations would have this incredibly beautiful place for all to enjoy.

Although Kent’s favorite tree was a douglas fir and not a redwood, it proceeded to lean at an alarming rate due to its height and weight. After a storm in 2003, the tree fell but still sits where it fell as a reminder of Kent’s love. Muir Woods is named after naturalist John Muir, who was instrumental in establishing the national park system. That’s all for the lesson today, so let’s get to the pictures.

The first one I’d like to share with you is just a testament to the fact that photography can be an accidental art form. In this image, which was one of the first I took as I was getting my settings down, was a result of not realizing that the previous renter of the lens I was using had left it in Manual Focus and my shutter button went off as I was waiting for the auto focus to kick in. You can barely make out the tree I had only two feet in front of me, but the soft haze on the entire image left me intrigued. Maybe you like it as I do, maybe you don’t. The point is that it spoke to me and this is my blog, so, damn it, I’m putting it in!!!

Turn on the auto focus, dummy!!

In this next one, I photographed the front entry signage, as I had a number of groups of people stand underneath the sign to get their picture taken. The one observation I made was that Americans as a group simply just don’t make use of the “peace sign” nearly enough as other nationalities do. Why is that? I don’t know. I have plenty of friends in Mexico that do that each and every time they have a camera pointed at them, yet when I ask them why they do it, all they can seem to say is that it’s almost a necessity when taking a picture. I vow to start a movement to get all Americans giving the peace sign in portrait shots along with bringing back most of the dance moves that the New Kids On The Block used in their videos. Awesome!!!

Winning!!!

For those visiting Muir Woods for the first time, here are a few pointers after having visited a few times. First pointer is to try to go during the week. Chances are that you’ll be able to find parking in one of their three parking lots that are at the entrance gate. If not, you won’t have trouble finding a spot on the road that leads to the Woods and parallel park there. If you must go on the weekends, be prepared to either arrive very early in order to get a parking spot, or use the website to find out which parking lot on the outskirts is most convenient for you and park there. The shuttle service is quick and easy, but will cost you $3 a person for adults and $1 for kids, and you must bring CASH AND EXACT CHANGE. They head out every twenty minutes and found it great getting in and out on Saturday.

The next tip I can offer is to dress in layers. That seems to be the recurring theme in all my suggestions in visiting sites in the Bay Area, but it’s true. You can never plan when the fog will decide to come in and lay a thick, cold blanket over everything and when the sun will come out. You can always point out the tourists since they usually show up freezing their asses off in shorts and a t-shirt.

The last tip I will offer is to remember that you’ll be doing some hiking when visiting Muir Woods. The main trail is a wooden boardwalk that will let you see just about everything the woods has to offer while never having to get your pretty little Prada shoes dirty. But, if you are a little more adventuresome and don’t have the babystroller with you, there are a number of very long trails that can be quite challenging. These are not boardwalks, but occasionally have wooden rails or stairs in the tedious areas. By no means is this a crack at folks that want to bring their babies or don’t plan on doing much walking. Heaven knows that my fat ass doesn’t do a lot of hiking, but I rather enjoyed the long walk we went on when taking the ocean side trail. The boardwalk takes about 45 minutes to walk all the way around. The ocean side trail would have taken a good part of about two and a half hours to make the roundtrip. That’s some good walking, folks!!!

A walk on the boardwalk

When I wasn’t getting my camera and lens setup checked out by every photo junkie that was walking by, I was trying to find the artistic view on things. One of my favorite things to try is to lay on my back on the floor to get an interesting perspective. If anything, I do this for the passerby that has the interesting perspective of looking at my ass crack as I’m trying to get back up from off the floor!!!

I think I farted trying to get back up from this shot…

At some point in time, there was a fire in Muir Woods. Some of the trees got burnt, but managed to survive because they are badass. There were a few that still had their burn marks like a tattoo or scar, so I took a few pictures. The texture of the burnt bark next to the living tree captured my attention. This one I took fairly up close and personal to get all that detail in the image and used a shallow depth of field to have the rest of the tree fall out of focus as it rose. Although I like the image, I probably think I should have gotten a little closer now that I think about it. Oh well, I’ll have to go back…

Look, mom, that’s a badass tree!!!

This next image worked for me because of the pattern in the image. Mating this with a shallow depth of field that goes out of focus off to your right gives the eye the illusion that it continues on forever. Sure, this behemoth went on for a good ten to twenty feet on the ground, but the person looking at the image can’t tell that. This kind of shot works well for me, but it’s real easy to go overboard and try this technique out on everything. So, give it a shot and maybe include it in with other types of shots without turning yourself into a one-trick pony.

Ribbed for her pleasure…

Not all the images I took when on manual mode came out properly exposed. I did my best, but I’m still trying to get all that stuff figured out on my own as well. This next image in particular came out a little on the dark side and trying to lighten in Photoshop netted a gross image. So, do I discard? Nope, go black and white!! I went B/W and punched up the structure and intensity of the image to give it a high impact look. I like it!!

Black and white badassery!!

Here is another using the same type of high impact black and white styling…

Whoa, I did it again!!

In this next image, my back was killing me and I was ready to toss the Tokina 100-300mm that I was lugging around off to the creek side, but I hung in there. I bumped up the shallow depth of field in order to get this singular tree amongst the woods surrounding it in a blur. I had to move around to compose the image just right, but it ended up working out in the end. Just like a portrait shot of a model, the tree is sitting pretty in the center of the frame with all the focus on itself. But, unlike a model, the tree won’t be asking you for any money for posing.

Sitting pretty

This next image almost gives the impression that I was using a fish eye lens of sorts, but this was taken at 24mm with the Canon 24-70mm I had on the whole time. Where I think this perspective is giving is in the fact that I am on the trail with the hillside to my right and it’s pretty steep.

In this next image, I purposefully underexposed the image to expose for the softbox being created by the thick fog over head and the bright sunlight coming through in a diffused fashion. This gave the image a black and white feel without being that way. As if they were silhouettes, I left them that way in post-processing.

silhouettes of the trees

These next two images were the main two that left me amazed that I had actually exposed them properly. Don’t give me too much praise, or it will go to my head…

Love that fog

Although we were only ten minutes from reaching the ocean side view, we decided as a group to cut down the Lost Trail back towards Muir Woods and the entrance. We were all pretty exhausted, as none of us had really planned properly on being out that long or going for that long of a walk. But, on the way back, I stumbled on this tree that re-affirmed the fact that Mother Nature is a female.

So, Mother Nature IS a female!!

Here are a few last images that I wanted to share and worked up. I greatly enjoyed my time at Muir Woods and is definitely a spot worth checking out with some frequency. With the annual pass only being $20 a person, you can pay for the pass with only your third trip to the woods. If you are a Bay Area local and haven’t been to Muir Woods yet, you are truly missing out on a great treasure. If you happen to not be a local, but will be visiting us sometime soon, don’t forget to add Muir Woods to the list of MUST DOs.

Thanks everyone!!