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…

Messing Around At The Sand Dunes By Mussel Rock in Pacifica

This weekend was jam-packed with all sorts of photographic adventures up and down the San Mateo Peninsula in efforts to avoid the city and all its festivities going on that I’m sure made traffic horrible. After the adventure of Point Montara Lighthouse on Friday, I wasn’t about to just let the weekend roll on by, oh no siree!! Saturday was an early rise day in order to make it to Filoli Gardens in Woodside, CA close enough to opening time at 10AM to make sure we were able to enjoy everything. We did make it by 10:30AM and didn’t leave until about 2:30PM. I’ll be sharing that adventure with everyone shortly, cause I fell in LOVE with that place. I will be back and with a more focused vision as to what I would want to photograph. It turns out that Filoli Gardens has a family year pass for around $65 that sounds like the way to go. Whether it’s just me and the camera, or the whole gang, it sounds like a great deal and pays for itself by the second visit!!

Today was another early rise day. I would have wanted to shoot up to Marin to visit Point Bonita Lighthouse, but I rethought that after remembering the Pride Parade that would be happening in the City. Even though the Bridge is far enough away from where the Parade would be happening down Market Street, I didn’t want to find myself in severe traffic trying to make it to Marin. The good news is that Point Bonita will be there next weekend, so I decided to shoot for something else. But, staying with the lighthouse theme, I decided to hit up Point Pigeon Lighthouse just south of Pescadero, CA.

Pescadero is beautiful coastal country about 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay. If you live in the Bay Area and have never driven down Hwy 1 to Half Moon Bay or Pescadero, YOU MUST DO IT NEXT WEEKEND!! Well, you don’t have to do it next weekend, but put it on your soon-to-do bucket list. Hwy 1 hugs the coastline almost the entire way down, so be sure to drive with the sun up to take in all that beauty. I loved Point Pigeon and will also be returning sometime soon. It is run by the same non-profit organization that runs Point Montara, so it also has a hostel with similar amenities.

So, with this packed weekend of photographic adventures, why would I want to share some images that I took earlier tonight before dinner while my son and I took a leisurely stroll over to the sand dunes a few blocks from my in-laws? Great question, folks!! I’m bumping the many photos that I took at Filoli and Point Pigeon first and foremost, because there are MANY and I didn’t want to sit here looking through them all only to have to work them up through Photoshop in order to share them. I did a LOT of walking, and my fat ass can’t take all that abuse. From all the squatting and walking, both my hips and legs are killing me. So, I want to make this a quicky…

But, just so that you don’t all think that I’m just a lazy sack of shit, I do have a valid point that did come in play with the decision-making process to share these images with you tonight. As I may have mentioned before, I’m a photographer on a budget. This means that I don’t have a LOT of equipment, cause frankly, folks, I’m not getting paid for this shit just yet!! So, it’s just me and my Canon 1D and Tokina 100-300mm setup. Obviously, I can’t photograph everything with that focal range that my AWESOME Tokina offer, so I have to explore other options.

My favorite option for all of my weekend adventures is the camera equipment rentals houses. They provide access to name brand lenses that I couldn’t hope to afford for a very long time at reasonable prices. Adolph Gasser in San Francisco is my favorite due to their convenient location on my way home from work in Oakland and their 40% off discount on any non-reserved equipment that may be sitting on their shelves. For the longer sessions, such as my week-long trips to New York or Chicago, I use Borrownlenses.com down in San Carlos. Occasionally, Borrowlenses.com doesn’t have what I really want (usually cause I waited until the last-minute and someone else reserved what I wanted) and then I use LensRentals.com out of Tennessee. They are huge!! The down side is the added shipping cost that usually kills you with the UPS 2 day express charges.

But, I’m not going to rent forever, right? So what other options are there for a cost conscious photographer using a modern-day digital camera? God, you are on a roll with the questions today!! Well, there is a PLETHORA of manual focus lenses getting thrown out every day, my friend. With a little homework online to figure out which ones are the better ones and can work with your camera setup using a suitable adapter, you too can have access to many lenses that are DAMN good for next to nothing compared to today’s fancy lenses.

Is there compromise? Of course!! First, you have to manually focus. We have gotten accustomed to all the hype that the big name camera manufacturers have given us with the auto focus over the last 40 years that we forget that our parents had to manually focus their cameras while having to buy rolls of film to get developed only to find that they had messed up the shot. Today’s world of instant gratification has us a little spoiled with auto-focus lenses. Not only this, but most DSLR cameras tend to lock up if they don’t receive a signal from the lens installed. Of course, setting the camera in full manual mode fixes this real quick. So, now in full manual, the photographer is responsible for setting not only the ISO speed, but the shutter speed and aperture setting as well. Certain cameras will allow you to use a manual focus lens in AV or Aperture Priority Mode. This is the mode that lets you decide which aperture you want while letting the camera’s computer brain determine the other settings based on the information being received by the internal light meter and sensor readings. But, I don’t want to turn this into a hands-on lesson on how to work your camera with a manual focus lens.

Where I’m going with all this is that I picked up a Tokina 80-200mm f/4.0 II lens in M42 (Pentax thread) not too long ago at the Alameda Antique Fair and hadn’t gotten a chance to test it out properly. Well, I had plenty of instances, but it was just another paperweight sitting over by my desk until today. I dusted it off and took it with me knowing that we’d be heading over to the dunes later. And I was sooooo impressed by what I came home with, that I HAD to share these with you tonight.

Now, I had a little trouble with the settings myself at first. It took me at least half a dozen shots to figure out that I wasn’t looking closely enough at my internal light meter to tell that I was over exposing all the images. So, I adjusted my shutter speed to compensate, and BINGO!! For such a light weight lens that is very unassuming, this lens is scary sharp!! Just look at some of these images!! It was very contrasty and the colors were very rich! The only post processing I performed on Photoshop was slapping through the auto functions (which I do for all my images prior to determining if I want to go back and tweak a few things) and adding my watermark. That’s it!! I did notice that on the shots of the water, probably since I was standing to high up, my light meter was misreading the light coming in and they were under exposed. The auto exposure feature took care of that, and I was very pleased with how they turned out.

Did I have to stand for a few extra seconds establishing perfect focus when compared to the auto focus lenses? Sure, but this is a lens that cost be all of $20!! Compared to the equivalent Canon L series lens of a 70-200 f/4.0 L, I would have paid almost $800. For a savings of almost $780, I’ll not only stand there a few extra seconds, but I’ll even consider doing flips while trying to take the picture as well. Is the image quality comparable? Nah, I’m sure the Canon lens would kick this lenses ass, but I’m looking at the dollars signs right now, folks.

This was the first time I had gone over to the sand dunes on Palmetto Ave near Mussel Rock. My in-laws live not even four blocks from there and have driven it thousands of times over the last 12 years. I’m glad I took the time. It was a beautiful vista of some of Pacifica’s cliff side coast in the Pacific Manor area.

In one of the images, my son had written the word “too” on the sand with his finger. I was so impressed with the detail in the sand that was captured by the lens, that I had to include it. There is another shot of one of the sand formations I walked around. I found it funny cause the sunset light had cast a shadow to the right and towards the bottom it appears light the profile of a man’s face. A man with a HUGE nose, that is!! There was also a telephone pole that had so many nails in it, the texture intrigued me. There is even one image of a parked car that at 200mm, the license plate numbers were sooo crisp, that I decided to erase the plate number in Photoshop for the owners sake. If you notice closely, there is a row or two of homes behind it along with a steep cliff that jets up with other homes on top. That steep cliff that you see is actually the different tectonic plates of the North American and Pacific that rub up against each other. I SHIT YOU NOT!!!

Did you also know that the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was actually centered at Mussel Rock where Pacifica and Daly City meet up??? Ah, now you know!!!

I hope you enjoy the images. If I need to go into greater detail on the use of manual focus lenses, I’d be glad to on another occasion. For the time being, I give this little Tokina lens a HUGE two thumbs up for being a great value and being super sharp. It is a push-pull design that I’ll have to get used to, but for such a bargain, I’m all over it!! Have a great night, everyone.