It's been a few years since I shot my Hot Summer Nights series in 2014, and subsequently took a Photo 1 course at Arizona State University. Now lacking any sort of direction for my creative energy, I've been buying and selling cameras like crazy in search of the perfect daily carry.
An aside: shortly after I became enamored with film, I worked for Lomography, a period in which I carried multiple cameras every day and documented almost every aspect of my life. Although I'd hardly consider that "art", there was value and meaning and joy in the photographs I was making, and I'm trying to restore some of that energy to my routine.
The LOMO aesthetic was never about perfection or precision, and thus never necessitated fancy equipment. The need for a certain amount of control and a quality of results came much later as I became more confident. Although I was once happy with a Canon AE-1 and a Holga, after later owning a Mamiya 7 and a Chamonix 4x5 it's a little hard to go back. But what is it that I truly want out of a camera?
Some non-negotiables for me:
- Integrated light meter
- Interchangeable lenses
- Sharp glass!
- Lightweight and compact
- Unique aesthetic
That last bit may seem a little ambiguous, but pretty important. I've always held the goal of experimenting with as many film formats and camera types as possible. I'm always entertained by the challenge that comes with learning to "see" and shoot in new ways. I've shot 110, 35mm, 120, 4x5, 8x10, Instax, Polaroid, and alternative process. There's only been one real unicorn on my list for a long time - a high quality, dedicated panoramic camera.
While I have shot with the Horizon Perfekt, a swinging-lens camera similar in function to a Widelux or a Noblex, one thing that concerned me was the lack of actual focusing. All of the aforementioned are fixed-focus cameras with depth of field being linked to the selected aperture - the more you can stop down, the more scene you'll get in-focus. Panoramic cameras with focusing mechanisms are rare - you can shoot 6x12 or 6x17 images on roll film with large format cameras using ground-glass to compose. The Fujifilm GX617, Horseman 617, and Fotoman 617 are slightly more portable but definitely not intended for shooting on the go. So what does that leave me with? Well, the Hasselblad Xpan and Fujifilm TX-1.
The TX-1 checks all of my boxes - its small and lightweight, just a bit wider than a Leica. It has interchangeable lenses of high quality - the negatives this produces can be razor sharp! It's got internal metering, although it can tend to underexpose in some situations. As an added bonus, it's also very beautiful. The Xpan shoots normal 24x36mm negatives, but in panoramic mode it shoots 24x65 - almost a 1:3 aspect ratio! Therefore, for some shooting the Xpan is like shooting cinema stills.
I'm about 10 rolls into using this camera at this point. It's a great daily carry, but I'll definitely admit that it's hard to compose panoramic images. It's quite easy to fall into a trap of keeping your subject centered, or to look for long subjects that fill the frame. Neither of these produces very compelling images; the negative space is super important with this camera.
Having used it, I'm not sure that this camera will stay in my inventory either, but I'll say that it's the most interesting camera that I've ever owned and it's been pushing me to think about shooting in new ways. Here are some of my favorite images from the first few rolls... Check back in the Xpan page of my site for updates as I finish rolls.