Hasselblad broke routine a few years back when they introduced the XPan. Having been a stalwart of the 6x6cm roll-film camera for decades it was a surprise to see a 35mm camera, but the XPan and its latest version, the XPan II, are no ordinary 35mm models.
Built with the assistance of Fujifilm Japan, the XPan II shoots 21 extended 24X65mm "panoramic" frames on a 36 exposure roll of film. It's also the world’s only truly dual-format 35mm camera which can be set to take normal 35mm shots too. In the panorama shooting mode the camera produces an image just as high, but nearly twice as long as 35mm. Its length is much the same as the 6x7cm format film so the XPan could rightly be classed as medium-format.
The XPan is the first dual format camera offering 35mm and medium-format width panoramic photos on the same film.
Hasselblad XPan II specification
- Dual-format - 24x65 mm and 24x36 mm.
- Integral viewfinder LCD.
- Shutter speeds from 8sec to 1/1000sec and B (max 540sec).
- Frame rate 1.2 (0.9) frames-per-second for 24x36mm (24x65mm) format.
- Flash sync speed up to 1/125sec.
- Front or rear exposure flash sync.
- Aperture-priority center-weighted TTL metering system.
- The viewfinder LCD shows the shutter speed and exposure information.
- You can take up to nine multiple exposures.
- The self-timer has a choice of 2sec or 10sec delay.
|Some SLRs, such as the Pentax MZ, and APS cameras offer a panorama mode, but they crop off the top and bottom of a standard frame. You could do this manually and ask your film processor to print accordingly. The diagram to the left shows the size of each type of panoramic frame. These are not to actual size but are proportional so you can see how much extra area a 35mm has over APS and how domineering the XPan format is.
This interchangeable lens camera has a stylish look and a robust feel that you'd expect from Hasselbald. They claim it's built to withstand rigorous professional level use and I don't doubt their claims. The right-hand grip is rubberised and helps hold the body that's just over a kilo with 45mm lens, film and batteries. As a right eyed user, the viewfinder is over to the left so it didn't feel natural to the eye position when I first started using the camera, after using centrally placed viewfinders on SLRs for so long. You do quickly get used to this though and the benefit is your nose is a support on the left. It's solid feeling and very easy to use.
The camera has only a basic range of features, but I found these are more than adequate for most situations. The A mode puts the camera in aperture-priority and the aperture can then be adjusted in half stop steps, while the camera finds the necessary shutter speed. The apertures are positively click-stopped on the lens and very smooth to adjust.
|The LCD panel on the back indicates the automatically selected speed. This also appears through the viewfinder. If you need to override you have the option to either switch to manual or use exposure compensation. I found the button used to change modes was a bit hit and miss - it sometimes took a fair amount of frustrating pushing before it allowed the press through options... and then I realised you have to hold it down briefly for it to kick into action. That will teach me not to read the instruction manual first! So press and hold down to bring up the exposure compensation option and then you use the up/down arrows to select between -2 and +2 in half stop steps.
Press the mode button again and you reach the auto-exposure bracketing mode where you can set the camera to shoot a series of three shots in half or one stop exposure increments. Next is on or off for the multiple exposure mode with up to nine exposures per frame; then normal or rear curtain flash sync; this is followed by ISO settings. The XPan II has DX sensors in the film cassette chamber that detect film speed when the camera is set to auto DX, but you can override when necessary between IS025 and ISO3200.
The LCD shows the ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, auto bracketing, self-timer delay time, sync mode, rewind mode, multi exposure, battery status and exposure history.
Next to the mode button is a manual film rewind button to rewind halfway through a film. When a film's loaded it goes to the end of the roll and works backwards. The beauty with this is if you accidentally open the back mid-roll, all the exposed film will be safe in its cassette. There's also an LCD illumination button for viewing in low light.
Above the LCD is the panoramic/normal switch. When switching back and forth from 35mm to panorama the camera’s film counter shows the number of remaining shots at your current format.
A closer look
When looking through the viewfinder you see a bright-frame around the edge and in the centre is a coupled rangefinder. It's just like one of the early compact cameras, such as the Olympus 35RC or Leica Screw and M.
|I was surprised at the view looking through the 45mm - it appeared that the lens was acting like a wider angle and creating a touch of barrel distortion, but this turned out to be the viewfinder and the results are fine. Well almost! I noticed slight pincushion style distortion which is very noticeable on seascapes where the horizon is a stretch of sea, such as this example.
The LCD display in the viewfinder that shows shutter speed, exposure compensation, and symbols for exposure pokes up and gets in the way of the view. I'm sure there's a good reason why this couldn't be positioned a bit lower down, but it's a suggestion for mark III. A smaller LCD display, showing format and number of exposures remaining, is conveniently located on the top of the camera.
I attached a Cokin A series holder so I could use a polarising filter and infrared gel in the Cokin gelatine frame. This caused focusing problems because part of the holder blocked the rangefinder making it appear not to work. I had to rotate the holder to get it out of view and enable use of the rangefinder again.
|Three light, interchangeable and compact lenses are available for the XPan II – the 30mm f/5.6, 45mm f4, and 90mm f/4. These have multicoated glass elements to deliver what we've come to expect from Hasselblad optics. You can buy a dedicated center filter to ensure even exposure when using the 30mm f/5.6 Aspherical and 45mm f/4 lenses. I didn't use one of these and only had illumination problems on a couple of shots when using the 45mm. The lenses are bayonet fit and attach firmly in a quarter turn.
The 45mm I used has an infrared focus mark, depth of field scale and distance scales in feet and meters. The filter thread is a compact 49mm screw thread with an outer bayonet mount of a lens hood.
The metering is very basic by today's standards, having just center-weighted TTL exposure metering - spot would be useful, especially as you're often covering such a wide vista that could be very variable in light and dark areas. Having said that I shot on slide film and the results were more often than not correctly exposed. Once you are aware of situations that catch the meter out you can compensate accordingly. I would imagine compensation is one of the most used modes so it's a shame that it's tucked away with the others as a single dial or one-touch button would make it quicker to apply. Currently it's too time consuming to change for the odd shot.
Exposure compensation was used for this shot taken in a dark abbey ruin. It's been handled surprisingly well by the centre weighted metering. I changed to normal 35mm format for this as the panoramic format was not necessary.
||Volcanic mountains of Tenerife shot on the aperture-priority mode at f/16, polarising filter attached.
Flash users can connect a hot shoe mounted unit or plug in to a PC sync socket around the front you have a choice of front or rear curtain sync by programming the flash to trigger at the beginning or end of exposure. A standard screw thread cable release socket can be found on the left hand side.
Having been a full digital convert for the last few years I thoroughly enjoyed a film revisit, especially on a camera as unique as this. It's heavy in the hand for the size, which is something missing from the latest plastic digital cameras. It's also slower so an "every shot has to count" approach is refreshing to return to. The shutter sounds good, the operation is quiet compared with an SLR and the focusing is smooth. Picture quality is razor sharp with no distortion or darkening at the edges.
Overall the XPan II is a joy to use, but a touch expensive, and that's partly because it has no real competition. If landscape photography is your main subject and you've been considering medium-format you should add this to your shortlist. You have a much more cost effective system here with a wider choice of film and the format soon becomes easy to work with.