Last week I stumbled twice over posts about Jeff Bridges panoramic photos from the film set of True Grid (great movie btw!). For those who don’t know, he uses a Widelux panoramic camera with a 26mm/2.8 swing lens that covers about 126° horizontal view and produces a 24x58mm negative. That got me thinking…
While I never used a Widelux, I had a brief experience with a cheap old Russian Horizon and used to own a Noblex 135u back in the dark ages of film for quite a while.
This cameras are great for snapshot’s or a more reportage style of work, like Michael von Graffenried or Jeff Bridges show in their pictures.
Unfortunately all this swing lens panoramic cameras have some quirks. The first is the fix focus lens. You have to stop way down to get sharp pictures under 3m distance.
The Horizon is a cheap (under 350 euro new) full mechanical camera, got a 28mm/2.8 fix focus lens calibrated to around 10m, but has not the most precise constructed gearbox that s prone to an uneven run of the lens drum, resulting in vertical light streaks in the negative. Somebody compared the shutter noise of the Horizon to a wrench thrown in a tin bucket. It’s not exactly a stealthy camera.
The Noblex 135 models have an electrical powered lens drum that give them the smoothest and most precise lens movement. It’s also whisper quiet! They are not cheap (hey this are German cameras!) but you can get a dedicated light meter that enables aperture priority automatic exposure. The light meter (Panolux) is slightly awkward to use but can even give you an exposure compensation across the frame! The Noblex 135u got shutter speeds from 1sec to 1/500sec and a double exposure switch. Unfortunately it has a somehow longish and slightly slow 30mm/4.5 fix focus lens (29.85mm/4.5 to be precise) calibrated to about 7.5m.
And as convenient as the shutter speed dial ist placed on the Noblex 135, as awkward is the aperture placed at the lens, in the lens drum. As far as I remember you have to turn the lens drum by hand, stick your finger into the opening of the lens drum and change the aperture on the little wheel beside the front lens with your fingernail.
What brings me back to the Widelux. It’s a full mechanical camera with a precision gearbox, it has a wide 26mm/2.6 fix focus lens calibrated to about 5m, but only three shutter speeds (1/15, 1/125, 1/250sek). And while the Widelux was built for about 40 years, only 20.000 cameras were made. That makes them quite rare and a Widelux in good shape hard to find. But it looks like a real camera and is no plastic covered design nightmare. The biggest issue of the Widelux is, I think, the lack of a bubble level in the viewfinder, like the Noblex or Horizon have. Because of the spinning lens, you have to hold the camera strictly leveled, or you get a curved horizon line. Point the camera down and the horizon gets curved like in the picture above, point it down and your picture looks like a big soup bowl. So, a bubble level you can check while looking thru the viewfinder is really helpful!
I’m still thinking about wich one to get. The Horizon is cheap, but the shorter lens of the Widelux is more tempting…
I got a medium format film scanner that can handle the 24x58mm neg’s, but I really hate scanning.