Ok, you saw something that made you look again at this rather exotic part of photography. It could have been you love to shoot the panoramic aspect ratio with an APS
camera and got disgusted with the enlargements (a grainy 4x10 (but then what do you expect from a 30.2mm x 9.5mm negative?)), or went to a gallery and saw huge
photos that stood almost as tall as you, or maybe, you just got tired of pasting mosaics
of 4x6 prints together.
There are three different film formats that classically deal with panoramic photographs - APS (though this is just a mask on the standard size - not true panoramic), 35 mm and medium format. The APS format and medium format cameras typically deal only with fixed lens style.
The essence of panoramic photography is a very large aspect ratio. This
differs from standard 3:2 (35 mm and APS 'classic') and medium format (between 1:1 and 3:2). To get 'panoramic' photographs with a classic camera a wider angle of view is necessary. This is accomplished with a different lens. This doesn't change the size of the film and captures much more of the sky and or ground. The longer aspect ratio in essence crops the sky and ground leaving only the subject matter. These aspect ratios range from 2:1 to 3:1.
Ok, so I said 'fixed lens style' what does that mean? There are three basic styles of panoramic cameras: fixed lens, short swing, and the rather rare 360 degree.
- Fixed lens
- Fixed lens cameras do not refer to fixed focal length but rather that
the lens is fixed and does not move. This style most closely mirrors
how a standard camera works. The thing to realize here is that these
lenses project upon a flat focal plane and potentially project a 17+cm in
diameter circle (though only 6cm of it is used in one direction). These
cameras have the possibility of interchangeable lenses or being created
as disposable cameras (such as the Fuji panoramic disposable camera that makes a 4"x10" print instead of a 4"x6" print). The big advantage with
these cameras is that they are not that prone to errors - no unusual
moving parts. The biggest disadvantage is that there is a lot of glass
and that means lots of $$$ (Hasselbad XPan is in the $2000 range for a used one on EBay, the Linhof 612 has a comment of "choose your format and sell your house". The Fuji 617 (used by Peter Lik) is a $5000 camera)
- Short swing
- With these cameras, the film is not on a plane but rather curved. This
sounds odd at first, but then realize that the lens moves too, shining a
line of light onto the film as it moves past. Ok, diagram time...
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The outer half ring is the film. The inner half ring with the slit and the lens (the bar in the middle) then moves to expose the full strip of film. This arrangement of film and lens may cause some distortion (cigar distortion and end of the world distortion). The big advantage with this type of camera is that it has a simpler lens and only the center of the lens is used - lens designers don't have to worry about odd falloff at the edges of the lens and so it is less expensive than a comparable fixed lens setup (it needs much less glass - and glass is what you pay for on a camera (prices for the cameras below range from $300 to $800)). This type of camera is most often made in 35mm format and three notable examples of these exist:
- The Roundshot
- The Roundshot is a class of its own providing a 360 degree photograph on a strip of 35mm film. Similar to the short swing camera, these cameras move. However, instead of moving the lens and slit, it moves the camera and film to allow the picture camera to capture the entire 360 panorama. Realize that this is a very specialized system and, well, no one else really has tried to enter the market for 360 cameras. The cameras often sell for $3000 and up.