The Hasselblad XPan was made as a joint project between the Hasselblad and Fuji companies (it is marketed by Fuji as the TX-1 in Japan). This camera presents a high end option of producing panoramic photographs to users of 35mm film without the use of masks.

In most cases (such as the APS camera and various disposable cameras), panoramic photographs are produced by masking part of the negative and then printing out what is exposed at 4"x10" or 4"x12". The important compromise that should be realized here is that this is using less than the total area of the negative and such enlargements are often poorer quality than if the full negative was used.

The XPan takes two formats of photographs - the classic 35 mm size of 24mmx36mm and the panoramic size of 24mmx65mm. Yes, thats right, rather than a panoramic negative that is half the size of the classic size it produces a panoramic negative that is twice the size. A larger negative means higher quality enlargements (think 8x24 or 10x30).

The XPan itself is a rangefinder (rather than SLR camera). This style of camera presents a viewfinder that does not look through the lens and rather uses two small viewfinders that are used to triangulate the distance to the subject - thus the distance to focus at (and how it gets its name). Within the viewfinder, focusing is a matter of lining up two images rather than trying to get it as crisp and clear - it is impossible to get a depth of field preview with a rangefinder because you are not looking through the lens. The rangefinder is often smaller and quieter than an SLR camera not having to worry about diverting the light to a second focal plane and all that. Furthermore, the rangefinder makes adjusting the viewfinder size much easier to deal with. In an SLR camera, such as the Nikon Pronea, this is done by having a mask in the viewfinder. With the rangefinder, it is a simple matter of changing the outline of the area to photograph (the viewfinder of a rangefinder camera often shows more than the complete area of area to be photographed).

Another feature that sets the XPan apart from other rangefinders (aside from panoramic capabilities) is that it has interchangeable lenses. One should be wary that these lenses are not cheap - after all, they do have the Hasselblad name on them. The standard lens is the 45mm f/4 that comes with most kits (equivalent angle of a 25mm lens in panoramic format) - then there are two other lenses, a 30mm f/5.6 and 90mm f/4 that provide 17mm and 50mm angles in panoramic mode. In the viewfinder, this changes the area of the photograph to be taken represented by a rectangle. Since the image in the viewfinder doesn't change, the astute reader will realize that this could mean an itsy-bitsy rectangle for telephoto lenses (which don't exist for the XPan and would be rather silly for a panoramic in general).

While the XPan is a panoramic camera, it is not dedicated to that as many others are. It does have the possibility of changing the format mid roll (this really confuses people processing the film). When film is inserted in the camera, it is first unwound all the way. This is becoming more common in cameras - it makes it easier to count frames and also as the photographs are taken, they are wound into the spool (an accidental opening of the case won't ruin the exposed film). Switching from one format to the other recomputes the number of exposures left in that format.

Now, before you rush off to get one of these neat cameras, there are a few things to take into consideration. First off, the price tag can be a bit staggering to most who pick it up to look at - its about $2000 USD for a kit with the 45mm lens in it. The 30mm lens costs another $2000 while the 90mm lens is 'only' $600.

The second thing to consider about the XPan is how often are you going to take panoramic photographs? Given the lenses and that these are all rather slow lenses compared to those offered by other camera systems. This makes subjects other than landscapes not the best choice for this camera.

While the larger areas on the film are nice when looking at them, this also because a problem for most places to print - minilabs just get confused and many darkrooms don't have the stuff to do it economically. Going to four different photo labs, none of them could print them (well, one could - but at $8/print, with 24 exposures, this would be quite pricey). To print the photographs the XPan takes, you have to go to a pro lab and pay pro costs, likely around $2/print or more. As a side note, there are no slide mounts for panoramic photographs - one has to use a 6x7 mount and then mask it.

All things considered, if I could go back in time and save a bit more, I would give the medium format panoramic cameras a more serious look - larger negatives and about the same difficulty to process the film. The advantage of the XPan is in its portable nature (rather than lugging a Fuji 617 around) and that the film is plentiful.

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