Thoughts on Cameras

A Few Frames More, with the Hasselblad XPan – by Simon King

The XPan is everything I have ever needed from a film camera. It serves the purpose to me of being fundamentally different from the regular frame shape which most film, digital and (non-square) medium formats offer.

It is compact compared to medium format options, which offer signature dynamic range and depth of field, both of which I can reasonably achieve with bright lenses on a 35mm camera with a modern sensor – but its unique frame is different enough that it requires a mindset shift, and cannot be easily replicated with stitched or cropped panoramas.

The issue I found with my 35mm film cameras was that they were simply a novelty when compared to my digital full frame options. I could achieve the same results – better results, simply by using my regular gear. 35mm film cameras are not “different enough” for me to be able to justify using them.

The practical useage is different, and the workflow does shift, but at the end of the process it is still a standard 6×4 photograph. The XPan has satisfied me by offering through its unique application of 35mm film something unique to help me think and consider composition, and to justify augmenting film into my professional and personal workflow.

I previously wrote about my early thoughts with the XPan in my “5 Frames With” article. This post is a follow up, and contains images based on a much longer period of shooting (and importantly developing and scanning) along with a few more thoughts and opinions – a little more informed than before, based on longer time spent with the camera!

My early rolls were mostly AGFA, but I’ve since switched to using Ilford XP2 (@800) as standard. I keep a small stock of Superia, and also managed to get hold of some Neopan 400 and I’m looking forward to using those on special occasions. XP2 is the easiest to work with, and gives me the most consistent results, I find.

It is really important to push my slower films, as the f/4 maximum aperture of the XPan really is limiting. I’m not much of a “bokeh photographer” in most of my photography, but I’m used to the luxury of sharp lenses, and f/4 did take a while to adjust to in terms of light-intake. Although I can handhold at very low speeds I still to prefer to have a steady subject (and its difficult not to shiver when shooting London scenes at night, in the winter), and the weight of the camera does help provide some degree of stability.

It’s no trouble at all for me to carry the XPan with me at all times. Usually in my Billingham, but when shooting and switching quickly between the two I can use the strap around my neck (which I recently replaced with a much shorter option to keep it from bashing against my hip). It is not the lightest machine, but I barely notice the weight in day-to-day shooting.

The XPan seems very precise in use, which is important for a camera with (to some) an off-putting, gimmicky approach to image creation. The frame-lines are accurate, which I appreciate, and makes it very easy to frame up a panoramic shot. Everything that happens after pressing the shutter is done electronically, and after maybe ten rolls or so it is still showing a full battery. The controls are minimal, and similar to my rangefinder Leica’s, which made it very easy to transfer my “language” between the two camera systems.

Most importantly of all, the XPan is fun. I find myself actively searching for repeating patterns, or long stretching lines to use in my compositions in a way that is distinct from the way I search for moments and scenes in regular 35mm shooting. I was very happy when using the camera at London Fashion Week, and really seeking out ways I could use the panorama to capture scenes differently to the other photographers there. It is also refreshing to be forced to shoot in landscape, as although the XPan can work well for portrait oriented shots I haven’t really found any compositions that work that way for me.

My long term opinion of the XPan is very, very positive. Although the longer frame takes a while to get used to I really appreciate the unique narrative a panoramic frame can offer a scene. I’ve had no issues with the 45mm f/4 lens, which is the only one I have been using; although I do wonder whether the 90mm would be better suited to my photography style (if anyone has one they’d like to lend me do get in touch!).

I will be posting many more images from the XPan as and when I get them developed. These will be most readily available on my instagram and blog, but I will also write more follow up posts here, so stay tuned! The XPan is a very special camera, and I had several people message me on instagram after my 5 Frames With article was published. I’m more than happy to answer any queries and field any discussion in the comments here if anyone wants to know anything specific about this camera.

Thanks as always for taking the time out of your day to read my thoughts and look at my photographs!

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    George Appletree
    March 12, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    Not ungrateful.
    I sold it after twenty years because it started becoming a dinosaur.

  • Reply
    Terry B
    March 12, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    “35mm film cameras are not “different enough” for me to be able to justify using them.”

    Sadly, this is my personal reaction to these images. I don’t see one that is a compelling enough reason to shoot with the XPan. I suspect the reason is I don’t feel it works very well as a street camera.

    I can tell it is a camera you very much enjoy working with, so perhaps that this is enough.

    • Reply
      Simon
      March 12, 2018 at 10:28 pm

      It’s fantastic that there are already so many formats to shoot on, and it’s always better to have more choice than less. The XPan offers something unique, and that is enough for most photographers who choose to use them!

  • Reply
    Stéphane
    March 12, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    Totally agree with you about the unique format offered by this fantastic camera! I recently bought the 90mm lens and didn’t shoot a lot with it for now, but it’s a great (and sharp) lens to use for a narrower perspective in panoramic format…. see these links for my first test shots with it https://www.lomography.com/homes/vicuna/albums/2165305-xpan-90mm-lens-test-1 and https://www.lomography.com/homes/vicuna/albums/2165425-xpan-90mm-lens-test-2

  • Reply
    jeremy
    March 13, 2018 at 5:06 am

    Hi Simon — I’ve long admired the Xpan and the creative opportunities it opens up. Have you made much use of it for vertical, ‘portrait’ format images? It would seem to have the potential for some interesting ‘tall’ compositions.

    • Reply
      Simon
      March 13, 2018 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Jeremy! Aside from a couple of uninspired images I don’t think the XPan works for me in portrait orientation – which is odd, because the vast majority of my actual photography is shot in portrait – I prefer the way it reduces a scene down, and minimises the context for exactly what I need to show in-frame. The XPan forces me to think horizontally, which is something I really appreciate.

  • Reply
    Cal Stewart
    April 9, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    Hi Simon,

    I didn’t see your review of the XPAN. Had I, I would have posted a link to it in my review.

    Great imagery by the way. You have some great shots.

    Cheers
    Cal

    • Reply
      Simon
      April 9, 2018 at 6:13 pm

      Thanks Cal! I haven’t used it nearly enough, but I’m pleased with the results I’ve produced so far!
      I enjoyed your review, agreed with a lot of points!

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