Pentax mz-3 panorama mode switch
5 frames with...

5 frames with Pentax MZ-3, Voigtlander 20mm in Panorama Mode with pushed Tri-X – By Aivaras

November 30, 2020

I’d like to get back to topic of shooting wide aspect ratio on 35mm film with crop mode. Pentax MZ-3 and some other MZ series models have panorama mode activated by switch. This mode activates curtains that covers top and bottom of the frame both in viewfinder and film frame, enabling to shoot more “cinematic“ format at the same time cropping effective frame size.

Last time I was shooting wide with same camera and lens on Kodak Portra 400 film, I noted that Pentax wide mode does make quite big negative impact on image quality. I associated this with cropped frame and bigger enlargement. Thinking about it with greater time perspective I’d like to say that wasn’t completely right about this.

You see, when you use half frame camera and scan, you enlarge frame in order to fill entire screen and what you get is enlarged image with so to speak “bigger grain”. Your scan has tendency to show coarser details and less perceptive quality. Talking about wide frames from MZ-3, in case you scan and leave them with black bars on top and above (as I usually do) – you get same scanned size as standard 35mm scans, so grain on your screen is the same size. So the image should stay with same quality. But it doesn’t. So where is the answer to the puzzle?

We are talking about loss of perceptive image quality here. When we cover part of finder, we compose in a way where main subject takes less space in overall frame area and its picture is formed from less amount of grain. We pay more attention to main subject of frame and it makes impression of coarser picture. So overall image quality in frame is not worse, it just looks that way because we are forced to pay more attention to smaller portion of frame. All “enlargement” of scan and associated image quality loss is performed in our head.

Anyway – it’s very fun to shoot those wide frames, especially combining shooting with ultra-wide lens. What I especially like is the process; seeing the world in such perspective and composing the frame in wide.

But image quality loss is there. There are several options to fight it. One is to look at cameras that enables to use all frame size and even use of bigger amount of 35mm film for one exposure.

As far as I know such cameras are:

– Hasselblad X-Pan, X-Pan II, or almost same cameras – FujiFilm TX-1 or TX-2 but they are astronomically expensive.
– Lomography Sprocket Rocket cameras. The Rocket even has possibility to use film perforation area as a picture taking space! But the lens is plastic and it has only rudimentary exposure and focusing controls.
– There are numerous ways to use medium format cameras to shoot panoramic frame on 35mm film – such as the Bronica Panoramic back. But that involves tinkering and some options still leave you without convenient way to compose in wide aspect. And even if you do all that – you lose ability to shoot spontaneously in 35mm SLR reportage style.
– DIY and 3D printed cameras such as the Oxygen or Fauxpan

And any of these solutions involve looking at other cameras, as I noted, this distracts me from actual shooting. I’m still on “less is more” mantra concerning photo gear. Good luck to me… 🙂

Another way to look at the situation is to embrace problem instead of solving it – to look at downsides as a creative opportunity. So, I just did that. There is potential image quality loss and bigger perceptive grain, less details? OK, let’s amplify all this and look where it will take me. Which is what led me to push Kodak Tri-X 400 film.

I thought this would give me more contrast, even more noticeable grain and if I’m aiming to achieve this look, then I won’t care about it as a negative issue. Instead of lovely high-quality picture with lots of gorgeous details I will go to direction where only two main aspect matters: overall impression and feeling.

I slapped Voigtlander 20mm Colour Skopar lens of my Pentax MZ-3, switched to panorama mode, put Kodak Tri-X 400 film, shot several rolls on ISO 1600 and pushed two stops in development.

And now it’s time to share results. Enjoy!

forest scene

woman with umbrella

girl in the forest

street with cars

glass shard

I’m quite satisfied with what I got for now and I plan to explore wide mode deeper in future. My next plan is to try this perspective for some lo-fi styled portraits with longer lenses – 50mm and more portrait orientated 77mm. So, most probably, “I’ll be back” with all this.

Thanks for reading!


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  • Reply
    Phil Snaps
    November 30, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    I really like the gritty result, almost painterly. Your use of b&w reminded me of another way to shoot cropped panoramas: panoramic disposables. I don’t think they are still manufactured, but after seing these shots by Deon Reynolds here I had to get one myself (still have to develop the first roll I shot)

    • Reply
      November 30, 2020 at 5:20 pm

      Deon’s work is impressive. Both from compossition and iq point. He got such high quality with disposable camera?

    • Reply
      November 30, 2020 at 5:29 pm

      Just studied Deon used camera “Fun Saver Panoramic 35”. Well thats a single use Xpan! I had no idea that such thing existed. Why on earth nobody tries to ressurect this idea and manufacture them these days!?

      • Reply
        Phil Snaps
        December 1, 2020 at 6:20 pm

        Well, not single use as we can reload them 🙂 They are a bit hard to find nowadays as they were discontinued I believe in 1999, but they pop-up on Ebay once i a while. Unfortunately they always seem to ship from the USA, and shipping costs are often more expensive than the camera itself if you live in Europe.
        Also many cameras from the 90s have a “panorama” mode that will give you almost exactly what that Kodak disposable has to offer, except the very wide 25mm lens.
        I tried to shoot one I bought with its original film, Gold 40 expired in 1994, and the result was even worse than you’d expect 😀

        • Reply
          December 2, 2020 at 5:36 am

          Yeah, I saw one on e-bay. 🙂 I suspect that some day I will pull the trigger on lomography Sprocket Rocket camera, that gives quite good impression about possibilities to shoot panoramas.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    These look great. I’ll probably try to get into this format some way or another in the not too distant future. Keep up the good work!

  • Reply
    December 1, 2020 at 12:47 am

    Why not try anamorphic photography? That way the whole film plane can be used. I would look at modern offerings from vormaxlens which should allow you to go wide. 🙂

    • Reply
      December 1, 2020 at 4:02 am

      Thanks for note. This definitely will be an area of study for me.

    • Reply
      Phil Snaps
      December 1, 2020 at 6:29 pm

      A couple reasons why few people actually do it:
      – anamorphic lenses are movie lenses, they are big, heavy, expensive, and usually don’t cover 24×26 (a typical movie frame is 24mm wide as the film runs vertically)
      – it is difficult to compose with a compressed view; Unless you tweak the firmware or add some contraption to “de-squeeze” the image in front of the viewfinder.
      So it definitely can be done but is not very practical.

      • Reply
        December 2, 2020 at 5:40 am

        I all-ready made a small check about it, so most probably no anamorphic lens on film…
        But I have one idea… Would be interesting to modify Helios 44-3 lens with oval aperture insert and shoot some on same Pentax MZ-3 with panorama mode on. 🙂

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    December 1, 2020 at 7:19 pm

    Great images, here! This is definitely something I’ve thought about, too. I really like shooting 6×12 in medium format, and am constantly looking at ways to shoot film in a panoramic mode without masking (and not having to spend boatloads of money!). I’m really intrigued by Cameradactyl’s Brancopan ( Happen pulled the trigger, quite yet.

  • Reply
    January 19, 2021 at 11:27 pm

    What is the version of your 20mm lens?
    how did you arange the flange distance?

    • Reply
      January 20, 2021 at 4:43 am

      It’s “PK” – native Pentax lens. I hadn’t do any tinkering for this lens.

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