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…

Getting My Mind Blown By A Little Wonder Called The Agfa Isolette !!!

Back in late Feb of this year, I happened to stumble across another awesome camera store, this time down in San Mateo, CA, that also had a full range of film and digital camera offerings and accessories for me to lust over. This Shangri-La of camera collectibles is none other than Kaufmann’s Camera on 25th Ave just off of El Camino Real. Although the part of me that remains loyal to Adolf Gasser’s screams all bloody hell every time I set foot in Kaufmann’s, I’ve found ways to appease my tendencies and have been favoring both equally. Sometimes its just as easy as whether or not I want to drive into the city or take the easy route into the Peninsula.

It’s at this treasure trove that I have come to find refuge in the vast knowledge of Ron Kaufmann, the original owner’s son, and where I cross paths with today’s blog topic. While perusing in the extensive used film camera display cases that contain many consignment and store owned pieces, I came across a very unassuming folding camera tucked off to the corner and amongst other cameras that called out for much more attention. I asked to see the camera and was quickly attended by the staff.

Although I won’t bore you with the gist of the conversation with the salesperson about the camera that almost certainly has become exaggerated in my mind and ends in my getting a complete steal for a camera that I undoubtedly knew would be an incredible hit, I’ll just say that I was shown how to work it and was offered a deal I couldn’t turn down. If I remember correctly, I paid no more than $40 dollars for it.

I brought it home and instantly jumped on Google to find out as much as I could on it. What the hell did we do before the internet??? That doggone, fandangled Google!!  Anyway, I found an online manual, figured out how to take it apart, clean everything, put it back together CORRECTLY (ha!) and adjust the focus ring to correctly match up with the markings. I won’t go into the process since a simple Google search will undoubtedly lead you to the same tutorial that I followed, but perhaps I’ll make comments in a future post.

The Agfa Isolette was an inexpensive camera made by the German film company, Agfa, who was trying to capitalize on market share away from Kodak by offering a cheaply made camera with decent optics to promote their film and keep customers coming back for more. This particular model was manufactured between 1952 and 1960 and sold for approximately $65 dollars in the early fifties according to a Popular Photography magazine I happened to come across. At the time, most medium format camera were being sold for nearly two to three times that amount, which is why the Isolette was such a bargain. The camera takes 120 and 220 spool medium format film, shooting a 6 cm X 6 cm image frame size with an Agfa Agnar 85mm f/4.5 lens with 3 coated elements. The camera also feature a Pronto shutter capable of 1/25 to 1/200 of a second with no double exposure prevention, for all you artistic double exposure types. The flash sync was at 1/25 and no flash option was available, although a provision atop the camera was made to allow the mounting of a few accessories. The camera measures 143 x 96 x 39mm (closed) 143 x 96 x 99 ( open) and weights approximately 520g.

So, I now have what I presume to be a fully operational medium format camera that shoots 6X6 frames for a total of 12 images per roll of 120 film. What am I going to do next? Test it out, of course!! The following images are the results of the first roll of film I put through the Agfa Isolette I. Keep in mind that these images are a result of a completely manual camera that required the use of a light meter app on my iPhone for correct exposure settings and my best guess on focusing using the estimated distance gauge found on the rotating lens. All images were shot on Delta Pro 100 b&w film, scanned using my Canoscan 9900f mk II and passed through PS for auto everything just to clean up the images. Not bad for my first time shooting a camera at least 64 years old!!

There will be plenty more to come from this little treasure. Enjoy!!!

While not the exact model I have, the Agfa Isolette II had all the same features and options as the original Agfa Isolette with the added right side knob in case the operator wanted to reverse the film once shot back into the original spool.

While not the exact model I have, the Agfa Isolette II had all the same features and options as the original Agfa Isolette with the added right side knob in case the operator wanted to reverse the film once shot back into the original spool.

Backside of building on the corner of Oak and Embarcadero in Oakland.

Backside of building on the corner of Oak and Embarcadero in Oakland.

Railroad tracks

Railroad tracks

2nd and Oak St in Oakland

2nd and Oak St in Oakland

Peerless Coffee storefront on Oak St.

Peerless Coffee storefront on Oak St.

Parking lot view from my former office in the Portobello complex.

Parking lot view from my former office in the Portobello complex.

Front courtyard in Portobello complex.

Front courtyard in Portobello complex.

Walkway to Embarcadero West lined in maple trees.

Walkway to Embarcadero West lined in maple trees.

View from driver's side through Pacifica while pulled over...

View from driver’s side through Pacifica while pulled over…

View from driver's side on I-280 N without looking through viewfinder.

View from driver’s side on I-280 N without looking through viewfinder.

Waiting for a truck driver that couldn't back into the receiving bay to save his life!!

Waiting for a truck driver that couldn’t back into the receiving bay to save his life!!