The Hasselblad XPAN II is a camera that I honestly thought I'd never find a use for. To be honest I don't particularly enjoy landscape photography, but I do travel to some really beautiful places in the world that are crying out to be photographed as a panoramic. For a recent trip to Sri Lanka I knew that I'd get the chance to use it so took an XPAN II along with a couple of lenses to try it out. Now those of you who are experienced landscape photographers will know all about the XPAN II, the purpose of this short review is to show how it might be useful for those photographers, like me, who had little or no exposure to it.
The first thing I noticed about the XPAN II was it's size. To be able to record the panoramic format the camera naturally had to be longer than a 35mm SLR, what I didn't expect was it to be so compact. It wasn't too heavy either, balancing nicely in my hand and giving me the confidence to shoot it hand-held if I needed to, Of course the major difference for me, child of an autofocus world, was getting used to a rangefinder focussing system. I must admit that it did take me a few attempts to feel confident with it and I wasn't entirely convinced at first as to it's merits, but slowly and surely I got the hang of it.
Of course most photographers buy the XPAN II for it's ability to shoot in both 35mm and 35mm Panoramic modes. Each mode is controlled via a switch on the rear of the camera and I must admit that increasingly I started shooting exclusively in panoramic mode. If you haven't ever tried it before then you'll soon be hooked, it sounds a cliche but I really did see the world through new eyes. The XPAN II allows 20 panoramic shots per roll of 35mm film, but cleverly allows you to mix up straight and panoramic shots on the same roll, automatically adjusting the frame counter to compensate.
Metering wise I'd been advised to "trust the meter" which I always take with a pinch of salt. So I dug out my old hand-held Sekonic lightmeter and used that to verify what the XPANII meter was telling me. Mostly, when faced with eutral tone scenes I found that the XPAN II was pretty accurate, although I should say that with a few seascapes it was slightly underexposed. This is perhaps hardy surprising as the white waves would play havoc with any lightmeter so is hardly a poor reflection on the XPAN II. I negated this problem anyway, firstly by using a hand-held meter, but more importantly by using the inbuilt bracketing function of the XPAN II. Exposure compensation is either in 1/2 or 1/3rd stops, programmable via the small LCD menu on the rear. I shot mainly in aperture mode, using the hyperfocal distance marks on the lens ring, but of course there is the usual choice of TV, P and M too.
At the end of the day the proof is in the pudding so to speak. So below are some images that I took with it of the beautiful Yala National Park in Sri Lanka.
The quality of the Hasselblad lens is superb, with the images being razor sharp to the horizon and with no fall off at the edges. I used both the 45mm and 90mm lenses, although I have to say that I much preferred the view through the 45mm. All in all I think that the XPAN II did all that I asked of it and I'm sure I could find a use for it on any future trip of mine. More than that, I actually enjoyed using it so much that I'd make time to use it again, and you can't say fairer than that.