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!
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!