Being GG has its perks, I guess, since I get to play with and write about the latest toys. However, my wife is not amused. By day, I am the creative director of Man’s World magazine, which usually entails photographing and laying out stories featuring some gorgeous women. And, by night, I morph into GG, feverishly responding to emails from gizmo companies and trolling the Internet, googling jargon like HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) vs EV-DO (evolution data optimized), standard in CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), not to mention HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Access).
Since I’m as much in the dark as you, dear reader, about the technology behind the aforementioned strings of letters, you can imagine how I’m burning the metaphorical midnight oil in order to keep you abreast of digital life. Weekends are consumed by my obsession with the Lambretta scooter restoration project and the hunt for a suitable second-hand 500cc Royal Enfield motorcycle, which I want to prepare for a ride to Ladakh later this year.
Like I said, the wife is not amused, specially when TataSky announces that the FA Cup match between Chelsea and Norwich City is about to begin, just when the family is settling in to watch Heroes (me) or Koffee With Karan (them) on a Sunday evening.
So, to appease the wife, I’ve decided to write about one of my favourite toys, the Hasselblad XPan panoramic film camera. Now you may well ask what a review of a niche high-end specialty camera has to do with mollifying the significant other? It’s a bit convoluted, but let me try.
Sometime last year, Amrit, the aforementioned wife, and I decided to spend a few days in Amritsar, a trip that we always wanted to make as her grandparents lived there for many years post-Partition and, as you may have guessed, since her name has a good, solid sardarni ring to it, to visit the Golden Temple for the first time. For the trip, I packed my usual digital kit and a Hasselblad XPan film camera borrowed from a friend, the very gifted photographer Santosh Verma. I find that I often see the world with a wide-screen eye and I had been packing my venerable Widelux F7 panoramic camera for the past few years in my travel kit. The panorama of the Golden Temple that you see on this page was taken with the XPan and is one of Amrit’s favourite photographs of herself. Happy, sweetie?
Domestic bliss restored, more on the XPan. Lovers of fine equipment will immediately recognize the build quality of the XPan and the tactile satisfaction of a high-quality instrument. The body has heft, yet is well balanced and it feels like it will last forever. Within the compact body are goodies such as auto-film-load, motorized advance and rewind, as well as aperture-priority auto-exposure and manual metering.
The real edge of the XPan comes from its dual personality. Flip a switch and this remarkable 35mm rangefinder camera becomes a super-35, taking a true panoramic double-width frame of 24mmx65mm. Normal and panoramic exposures can be mixed freely. The camera uses micro-motors to move the film, film gate and viewfinder frames each time the format adjustment switch is activated. Interestingly, when a roll is first loaded, the film is pulled out completely from the cassette allowing the film to be accurately positioned regardless of how often you change the format framing. Which also means that if the back is accidentally opened, no exposures will be lost—only unexposed film.
The viewfinder has a very clear parallax-corrected bright-line frame and a rangefinder spot that is adequate for fast focusing. There are very few bells and whistles in the exposure system of the XPan. Basically, it’s a centre-weighted meter and you’ll have to adjust exposure manually under difficult light conditions. However, I found exposures satisfactory even when running the camera in automatic mode. The camera can also be set to auto bracketing on its own, but I much prefer using the manual override.
There are three lenses available for the XPan: The standard 45mm; a 90mm short telephoto lens; and the 30mm super wide lens, which comes with its own finder that attaches to the top of the XPan body. It should be noted that the lenses have been designed and manufactured by Fuji, as is the camera body, and they are razor sharp, rendering a medium format look to the images. I have made superb large prints from a XPan negative that easily rival my Mamiya 645 medium format quality.
Though it’s possible to be intimidated with the wide format, especially coming from 35mm or square formats, just keep the basic rules of composition and balance in mind and apply them to the wider format. You’ll find that it’s a really fun camera to use. The often-stereoscopic sense of depth to panoramic pictures mimics our normal vision and produces some compelling images.
Spoiler: Hasselblad has stopped making the XPan and its more sophisticated sibling, the XPan II, after falling foul of the European Community’s Disposal of Hazardous Waste Regulations. These prevent electronics manufacturers using lead solder in their circuit boards. The XPan is evidently manufactured using lead and falls foul of these new rules. The cost of redesigning the circuits in a way that removes the need for lead solder is too high and, consequently, Hasselblad have been forced into the decision not to produce any more. However, collectors can find mint condition XPans on ebay from $1,000 (Rs44,000) to $1,500 (Rs66,000). It may be worthwhile to look at the UK site since the XPan was hugely popular there. Don’t bother to call Santosh—I’ve already laid claim to his XPan.
Life is a highway
Technology can enhance your life by being useful in ways you never dreamed of, or it can make you feel good by showing you just how boring it would be to be someone else. Which is the only remotely good thing about the strange claque of freeway/highway/motorway/autobahn webcam widgets cluttering, what we once called, the information superhighway.
Yes, the Internet can be a superb waste of time, and of late, for reasons I have yet to fathom, I have been staring at traffic in such godforsaken reaches of the world as Milwaukee.
If you’ve ever been afflicted by wanderlust, this is the cure. Because the fate of the world is to be wrapped in an infinite ribbon of concrete and asphalt. Does the Mediterranean sound alluring to you? Please visit EuroMediWBC3 http://www.widgetgallery.com/view.php?widget=40671, which will take you live to the dreariest intersections of Andorra, Valencia or the Balearic Islands. But hang on, was that a vintage Rover P5 that just shot by?
Tell Harsh what gizmos you would like to see reviewed at