Home Cameras/Lenses Hasselblad Introducing the Leica Xpan

Introducing the Leica Xpan

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  Konjščica mountain cafe in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.
Konjščica mountain cafe in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.
  Hasselblad Xpan
Hasselblad Xpan

The traditional wood-slat roofed mountain café and its jumbled assortment of sheds I placed towards the right-hand side of the photo which meant that the dirt track led up to it from the left.

With the high mountains of the Slovenian Alps as a wonderful backdrop to define the subject, it was almost a cliché but it worked so well as a panoramic photo. I took the photo with the intention of cropping the top and bottom.

My long-gone Hasselblad Xpan came to mind again and I decided that I’d shoot with panoramic format in mind this trip to see if I could re-create the style that the Xpan gave me.

  Waterfall in the Voje valley Triglavski National Park,  Slovenia.
Waterfall in the Voje valley Triglavski National Park,  Slovenia.

I sold the Hassleblad Xpan to fund my Leica M9 some years ago. I had used the Xpan on my travels around Romania, with the photos being exhibited in many museums across Eastern Europe. The widescreen cinematic feel gives a new perspective on photography. Unlike photographing and stitching several images together, the Xpan is literally like a panoramic Leica, you can capture the decisive moment in widescreen. This just isn’t possible with any other camera, but of course, the Xpan is a film camera with all the constraints that analogue brings with it in the digital age.

The gorges, ravines and mountains of Slovenia proved a fitting subject to give this plan a try. The next few days saw me leaning over bridges, camera held vertically, looking down into rivers cutting through limestone rocks bordered with trees. On one occasion I was holding on to a small tree with the camera in my right hand stretch out to get the shot I wanted. It’s not easy holding a camera in one hand and shooting vertically. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean. Although vertical panoramas can prove a problem to display on computer screens, I really like the effect and am very pleased with what I got — waterfalls obviously being the easiest of subjects experiment with. 

  Children play on the veranda of their house in Danesti, Szekely region of Transylvania Romania. 2001. Hasselblad   Xpan and 45mm lens
Children play on the veranda of their house in Danesti, Szekely region of Transylvania Romania. 2001. Hasselblad Xpan and 45mm lens

I also managed a few candid shots of my family and fellow walkers as well, but I would like to have had more opportunity to develop this side of photography that I used the Xpan for so much in the past. 

  Haymaking on land near Szekelyderz Transylvania Romania. 2003. Hassleblad Xpan and 45mm lens
Haymaking on land near Szekelyderz Transylvania Romania. 2003. Hassleblad Xpan and 45mm lens

One possible way to cut out the unwanted parts of the 35mm format is to tape over the top and bottom of the Leica’s 21mm hot-shoe mounted viewfinder. This gives a very similar format to the Xpan. However, the big downside is that you can’t switch between panoramic and 35mm formats without buying a new viewfinder, something you could do on the Xpan with the flip of a dial. 

  Turning hay in a traditional wildflower meadow after cutting,  Voje valley Triglav National Park,  Slovenia.
Turning hay in a traditional wildflower meadow after cutting,  Voje valley Triglav National Park,  Slovenia.

Having worked on the images in Lightroom and cropped them, I am very pleased with what I achieved. They do have the Xpan feel. I just need to get used to imagining the images better as I frame them in the viewfinder, but it is something I intend to keep working on. Any chance Leica would even consider producing a digital Xpan? Never say never. Who would have thought about producing a digital camera without a screen?

To see more from Paul Glendell and to view the range of Classic Cases and straps see here.  Classic cases currently have an offer of free postage until the end of September 2018. Use the code freepost in the online shop.

All images © Paul Glendell 2018

  My wife and daughter taking a break,  Konjščica mountain cafe in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.
My wife and daughter taking a break,  Konjščica mountain cafe in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.
  Hikers arriving in a rainstorm at Konjščica mountain cafe in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.
Hikers arriving in a rainstorm at Konjščica mountain cafe in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.
  The mountain village of Rjavec, Triglav National Park,  Slovenia.
The mountain village of Rjavec, Triglav National Park,  Slovenia.
  Near Rjavec, Triglav National Park,  Slovenia.
Near Rjavec, Triglav National Park,  Slovenia.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Lovely work, Paul and a great idea about taping up the viewfinder. I am sure that you could make up something in your workshop that would slip over the front of the 21mm viewfinder.

    These remind me of a trip which we took to Slovenia in 2005 and I am sending you some of the photos from that trip by email. All of the photos were taken with relatively modest cameras. The high point was a trip to the Slaps (waterfalls) but we caused an emergency when we went out for a meal in a restaurant afterwards, instead of having the inclusive meal in the hotel, without telling the staff. When we got back, the hotel lobby was full of police and rescue personnel. It was assumed that we were lost up at the Slaps. The hotel were quite good about the matter and when we got back to our room there was a cold meal waiting for us. We had to take a few bites to ‘keep the peace’ even though we had just eaten.

    Slovenia is a ‘hidden gem’ and it is possible to visit other countries from where we were located in Kranjska Gora. We chose a nice day trip to Venice. I would highly recommend Slovenia for holidays for those interested in walking and climbing and photography.

    I look forward to a nice little viewfinder panoramic mask made from leather one of these days.

    William

  2. I really enjoyed these pictures and the format you worked with. They make it possible for the eye to move around exploring the picture, so that it becomes a real experience of being in the scene. I noted that you used a 35mm lens and wondered why not a 28mm or wider? I have a Zeiss 12mm (18 equivalent) on my Sony NEX C3. The lens cold be on the NEX 6 or the a6000, but I have other lenses on those and am not a lens-changer. And I use the same cropping technique on top and bottom. I have a rulle that the format must be at most 16:9 horizontal, but my end products are often much more than 16 in relation to height. A Swedish photographer I think would interest you is Jens Olof Lasthein who works with a swing lens Russian Lubitel. I’ve seen his originalsand a couple of his books. I’m not saying you would want to use that camera, but I think his compositions would interest you. Try googling him.

  3. Great pictures Paul, and a good item for the wish list, any company that ventures into such territory is definitely taking a risk since even fewer photographers can visualise in this format than the more common formats. Hamish at 35mmc, had a guest writer Cal Stewart, who also demonstrated (in my view) a pretty good eye: https://www.35mmc.com/07/04/2018/hasselblad-xpan-fulfilling-vision/

    During a recent dark-room printing course a fellow traveller printed a couple of XPAN negs, as a result, I nearly bought one of these but was ultimately put off by the combination of years and the ravages that takes on electronics, lack of support, and the slow speeds of the lenses… It did not immediately occur to me that this is in reality a medium format camera in all but the height of the film that runs through it, F4 is not at all slow.

    But maybe there is a solution, perhaps Boris Johnson has some advice on framing landscape format?

  4. Paul, your subject describes a surviving bygone age which I would have loved to have visited. Too late now, I suspect. Beautiful pictures. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for all the lovely comments everyone. David A – The slovenia photos were taken this year it is still possible to see those things. I haven’t been back to Romania since 2003, I suspect much has changed and gone but there will still be places where the things in my photo still go one. I have literally hundred of images of romania and they have been exhibited across eastern europe but not anywhere in the UK sadly. William, many thanks for your lovely photos, Slovenia is a really beautiful country. The trip was holiday for me not a photo trip but it would be great to go back specifically with photography as the purpose. Stephen J – thanks for the link to Cal Stewart, its a shame he has given up on the Xpan. I really like his pix. They are similar style to mine from Romania. To clarify a few of the photos were taken on 35mm lens on the Leica M9 but most in slovenia were taken on a 21mm, thus the use of the 21mm shoe mounted viewfinder comment. Sorry I don’t think I made that clear.

    • Thanks for the clarification on focal length. I agree with you about the difficulty of display on a computer screen. When I come up with something I think worth looking at for longer, I print on A3 for the extra length and trim the white strips away.
      Hope you will give yourself the treat of following up on Jens Olof Lasthein.

  6. Hi Paul, Nice images, and a new way of taking them thay I had never heard of, so thank you for the interesting read too.
    Also I have just read the BBC article, which is interesting, but sadly I drifted a little to looking at your images, rather than the article. (sorry).

    I will look forward to seeing more.

    Cheers

    Dave

  7. In the print edition of the Sunday New York Times of September 2 (I can’t find it online) there is an interesting special section of photos of empty storefronts shot on film by staffer Todd Heisler with a Hasselblad Xpan he and an editor rescued from an equipment closet in their photo department.

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