Kodak Panoram No.1
Medium & Large Format

Kodak Panoram No.1 – Photographing Yosemite with my 120 year old Panoramic Camera – By Dan Cuny

August 15, 2020

My love for cameras and photography goes back to when I was a young boy living in Chicago. I believe the majority of the people I know with this kind of passion always starts at a young age. The fascination began when my uncle would photograph the family and would line us up for the obligatory holiday photos. It was Easter, Christmas, or just a casual Sunday family dinner with aunts, uncles, and cousins, watching the unbelievable bright flash of the flashbulb (yes flashbulbs), blinking my eyes, and seeing the bright dot for what seemed like minutes. That just drew me in.

Fast forward 40 years, where my fascination turned into a profession, and my collection of cameras grew from a couple to the hundreds. I’ve always loved panoramic photos as they showed me the expansive view that I see through my own eyes. Being a full-fledged collector, my friends and I bought about 40 panoramic negatives taken just after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, which you can view here. Upon researching the photos, I found the size of the negatives resembled the size taken with a Kodak Panoram No.1.

Kodak Panoram No.1

Front view of the camera

The Kodak Panoram No.1, manufactured between 1900-1926, so the time frame fits when the photos were shot, and the camera used 105 size film that produces a 2 1/4″ x 7″ negative. The significant part of this camera is that 105 film is the same size as 120 film. The camera has a sweeping lens, and the back has a curved film plane, so when the lens swings after you press the shutter button, the lens swings on the axis of the film plane, exposing the film.

There is a handle on the top which regulates the movement of the lens and two notches you can put the handle into to set the shutter speed for either fast or slow lens movement. You can expose the film with the lens moving left to right or right to left, so there is no difference. This action on the camera was something I need to get used to when exposing photos.

On top of the camera is a bubble level along with two lines displaying the angle of view, which is 112 degrees. The camera has a waist-level finder to view the subject, which is extremely small and hard to use. There is no viewfinder to look through, so the angle guides on the top of the camera are helpful. This is especially helpful when you’re looking through the waist-level finder and looking at your subject.

Kodak Panoram No.1 curved film plane

Curved back film plane

I had one of these in my collection and thought it might be fun to take it off the shelf, clean the lens, and give it a whirl. My wife and I planned a trip to Yosemite on a short holiday. I thought this would be the ideal time to put a few rolls of film through the camera and see the results. I felt for the first roll of film since I wasn’t too sure about the shutter speed, I’d shoot film with more exposure latitude. I loaded up with Kodacolor II, 100 ISO.

Loading the film was a bit more complicated than you think, given the extra-long film plane you need to load the film across. On the back of my camera is a piece of paper with the numbers 2,6,10,14 taped to it. Once loaded, I wound the film to the first exposure. Looking through the red window, I turned the advance to exposure number 2, guessing that the paper taped to the back is correct.

We had driven to Yosemite Valley, checked into the lodge, and were going to walk through the valley. Time for my first exposure with the Kodak Panoram No.1. I was setting up the camera, and different thoughts were running through my head. Keep it level, wind the camera, look through the waist-level finder, look at the angle of view on the top, set the shutter, and press the shutter button. Watching the lens swing as it was making the first exposure brought a massive smile to my face. Shooting with this camera was fun!!!.

Looking at Yosemite Valley from Lookout Point.

Half Dome

Looking down on Yosemite Valley

I even tried the odd and unusual vertical subject shot, which was fun, but the results weren’t the best. We walked and drove around Yosemite for the next couple of days, where I took the Kodak Panoram No.1 out to record different subjects. Shooting with this camera was much more fun to shoot with than I anticipated. The photos are pretty clear for a 120-year-old camera. I’d encourage anyone to go try out some older cameras for themselves!

You can see my website here. Follow me on Instagram here.

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    D Evan Bedford
    August 15, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    …and I betcha even back then, they pronounced it yo-SEM-ih-tee. (not YO-sem-ite, like Trump recently did).

    But all politics aside, thanks for this. Your photos turned out really well.

    • Reply
      Kurt Ingham
      August 15, 2020 at 10:34 pm

      Why not leave politics completely aside and not even mention them?

  • Reply
    Graham Spinks
    August 15, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    Wonderful images! But I’m intrigued to understand what drives the lens around.

    • Reply
      Dan Cuny
      August 15, 2020 at 7:38 pm

      Graham, The lens swivels on spring tension. There are two slots you can start from to make the lens swing faster or slower depending on the lighting conditions.

  • Reply
    Peter
    August 15, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    Wow! What a fantastic story and photos! Thanks for sharing this!

  • Reply
    Trevor
    August 15, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    Teddy Roosevelt had this camera, as did the fabric designer Fortuny. It was used brilliantly by Geoffrey James in The Italian Garden, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1991. A marvellously informative essay by Robert Harrison introduces the gardens and James’ comments on the work he undertook add context to the images. Wonderful.

  • Reply
    Michael J
    August 16, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Love the kit, the pics and your article. You’re right- it doesn’t take an enormous brain to operate an old folder or a box camera, there are lots of them around on duty as paperweights or tchotchkes and one simple way to find out whether or not they work!
    We used to have huge panorama cameras for school photos and I should do some research- what are they and can I get one cheap or free? There’s a great game of running from one end to the other to appear twice, or turn identical twins into quads, and so on.

    • Reply
      Dan Cuny
      August 16, 2020 at 12:58 pm

      Michael,

      The large panoramic cameras are Cirkit Cameras which would rotate with gearing systems which is what I’m thinking you’re talking about. They were more popular in the 1920-40s though. They aren’t cheap now but maybe it was a different camera.

      Regards,
      Dan.

    • Reply
      Matthias
      August 17, 2020 at 8:55 am

      ” it doesn’t take an enormous brain to operate an old folder or a box camera”. Indeed. after all as often as not these things were purchased and used for family snaps by people with no particular training, and it worked.
      As for Panoramic cameras, Lomography is selling two different versions of the Zenit Horizont, for a couple hundred Euros. You might want to look into that. They also have a couple of cheaper options which are more toyish in nature, including one that you spin at the end of a string.

  • Reply
    Leo Tam
    August 16, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Cool! An early Widelux style camera – so it’s about 6x17cm give or take?

    • Reply
      Dan Cuny
      August 16, 2020 at 1:10 pm

      Leo,

      Yes, and a very fun camera to use.

      Regards,
      Dan

  • Reply
    BG
    August 17, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    Love these images, and love a good weird-camera-story!

    • Reply
      Dan Cuny
      August 17, 2020 at 5:58 pm

      Thank you. I do too.

      Regards,
      Dan

  • Reply
    Kate Johnson
    August 18, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    What a Lovely Camera and Lovely Images. A bit older than my Cameras, but very inspiring to continue my work with antique cameras.

  • Reply
    Michael
    August 19, 2020 at 2:29 am

    I have one of these. It was brought into my office, which happens often, when people see my display case full of cameras I don’t use. Might have been 18 months ago and I recall playing around with it trying to figure out how it worked. Once I corrected the spring tension I saw the lens move. Now I just have to recall where it is in my office. Didn’t think about it actually taking photos till now.

    • Reply
      Dan Cuny
      August 19, 2020 at 2:42 am

      Michael,

      Yes, if/when you find it, take it out for some photos. It’s really fun to shoot with.

      Regards,
      Dan

  • Reply
    Xiong Chiamiov
    September 2, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    I’m having a hard time finding much information on 105 film (Wikipedia helpfully says they are both larger and smaller than 120 spools). Are you using 120 spools directly in this camera, or do you need to hand respool?

    • Reply
      Dan Cuny
      September 2, 2020 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I’m using 120 film directly in the camera. I’m not re-spooling film.

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