Hasselblad XPan/Fuji TX-1 Pano Rangefinder Review
The One and Only19 min read by
Hasselblad XPan, a.k.a. Fujifilm TX-1 panoramic 35mm film rangefinder, is one of the priciest film cameras you can own today, with some units going for well over $10,000. Introduced in 1998, this camera truly makes the most of 35mm film.
A panoramic rangefinder with auto-exposure mode, Xpan also consumes film the fastest. And for this review, I’ve run the “most expensive film money can buy” through this hungry camera (along with half a dozen of modern emulsions) with its two lenses: the 50mm/𝒇4 and the 90mm/𝒇4.
Why is XPan so expensive?
Of course, XPan isn’t just a rarity or novelty. There are no gemstones or outlandishly rare materials in this camera. But the technology that makes XPan photographs unique to just one film camera is both impressive (a 6x9 medium format lens mount on a compact rangefinder body) and advantageous: unique — distortion-corrected — perspectives, the highest print resolution from 35mm film, and brilliant controls with modern assist modes.
Unfortunately, the production of XPan cameras ended in 2006, with the total number of these cameras limited to just 16,800 for XPan and 5500 for XPan II — totalling 22,300 units. In a world where a million-camera run isn’t unusual to be distributed by a known brand (Fujifilm and Hasselblad are well-known), XPan’s numbers are very few.
And since XPan uses relatively modern electronic components, replacement parts are becoming harder to find, with a few of these expensive cameras bricking every year for the past 25 years.
The replacement value of my XPan, which is in pretty rough shape, is over $5,000 — and that’s probably the cheapest you can ever find these cameras in working condition today.
Photographers aren’t strangers to dishing out a few months’ worth of rent on equipment. Ask any carpenter the value of their tools — it’ll be in tens or hundreds of thousands. But with XPan, you also have to consider the limited time that you have with the camera, no thanks to the degrading electronic components — and that’s a lottery.
What are the chances of XPan breaking?
Everything breaks. Unfortunately, XPan belongs to a group of cameras that are particularly prone to failure and are exceptionally difficult to fix: the 00’s bodies with advanced electronics.
XPan bodies are now nearly 25 years of age; in that time, a few of these cameras became broken beyond repair while the others survived to be usable for decades to come.
I’ve read anecdotes of these cameras being in heavy use for over ten years with few issues and having little or no flaws — even after a few serious bumps. My copy had seen some rough wear, and yet the only issue I’ve noticed with it is a misaligned rangefinder — which is something that could be adjusted at home.
But there’s always a chance your expensive camera will stop working. Keeping it on a shelf without use will only accelerate the process as the mechanical gear — as is the case on all film cameras — need periodic exercise. If the awful happens, there are still some repair shops that may be able to take care of your problem. Hasselblad offers no repairs on their website, although some users managed to get a more favourable answer out of them: limited repairs are still possible.
If you’re serious about this camera — or any expensive camera at risk of breaking — I’d advise seeking insurance. Alternatively, if you feel like you need guarantees no one can offer, you can start by contributing 8% of your total XPan purchase price for the first six months and then half that every six months until the size of your fund is equal to a new XPan body. This way, you’re more likely to afford a replacement should the need arise.
Is a panorama really necessary?
The simplest format to design a camera body for is probably a circle — as that’s what a round lens will project onto the film plane. However, film is a continuous flexible strip of valuable material that’s better utilized with rectangles. When Oskar Barnack built his first Leica (the first 35mm still film camera) in the early 1900s, he decided that those rectangles looked best when they are 36×24mm, which is a 3:2 aspect ratio. It remains a standard for all still cameras to this day.
Movie studios, however, use many aspect ratios, almost all of which are wider than 3:2. They did it to compete with the TV by attracting viewers with a more immersive experience.
The immersiveness of wide aspect ratios was discovered at least 2,000 years ago via Pompei’s panoramas. In modern media, we seek it constantly with long rectangle mobile device designs, multiple screen arrangements at work, and double-page spreads in books.
This could be due to our eyes’ inherently-panoramic field of view (~1:1.8 by some estimates).
Vertical panoramas, on the other hand, are optimized for visual scanning, where we “use vision to search in a systematic manner, such as top to bottom and left to right.” — src. They could be found hanging on a wall in a shape of a tall mirror, in every mobile device, and in tall street posters.
In photography, panoramic aspect ratios offer unique opportunities for novel compositions, which could be creatively liberating and a way to stand out in a crowd of almost-square boxes.
Some photographers, notably Jeff Bridges, commit to primarily using panoramic film cameras. Unfortunately, making long rectangles is more difficult and expensive than shapes that are more equilateral. This comes down to lenses’ circular shapes and most screens and papers’ established standards. And thus, panoramic aspect ratios, along with their advantages, come at a cost.
Other ways to make panoramic exposures on film.
You don’t have to own an XPan to make panoramic exposures on film. Sadly, along with their lower price tags, all alternative methods have drawbacks when compared to the one and only (XPan).
A number of swinging-lens designs, notably Horizon and WideLux, can expose long strips of 35mm film. They are much cheaper than an XPan; however, these types of cameras produce pincushion distortion that can’t be corrected without cropping out significant amounts of the image. These cameras are also known to break due to their complex mechanical assemblies.
Some cameras, like Olympus LT-1, come with built-in masks that crop the exposures in-camera to produce panoramic images. But as you’d imagine, these cameras reduce the resolution of the image and can’t produce the characteristically wide-angle view XPan and swing-lens designs do.
You could always shoot ultra-wide and crop in post. Although that will reduce resolution, same as masking, and you won’t have the advantage of composing through a panoramic viewfinder.
Loading 35mm film into medium format film cameras will get you past lost resolution during cropping and distortion corrections. However, your viewfinder may not show you the crop lines, and your camera will almost certainly not be as compact as an XPan.
If size and ergonomics aren’t particularly important, you may try Fuji GX617 (over 2kg/4lb with lens) in medium format. Or even build something custom. Neither solution is as discreet as XPan nor significantly cheaper.
Or you could try shooting with an anamorphic lens and stretching your images in post. Alas, the resolution will still be affected, and this solution does not address non-panoramic viewfinders; plus, these lenses aren’t particularly cheap, and the resulting aspect ratios aren’t as wide as XPan’s immense 1:2708.
A brief history of the XPan series.
All Hasselblad XPan cameras were made in Japan by Fujifilm. Hasselblad was merely a marketing partner. Fujifilm’s own home market version of this camera was sold as TX-1 in titanium varnish (a.k.a., “champagne,” same as Minolta TC-1 and select other titanium-body cameras).
XPan launched in the US and the rest of the world in 1998 with a price tag of $1995 (with the 45mm lens included), which translates to $3660 in 2023 bucks. The cost of this camera has certainly outpaced inflation.
The cameras we re-released in 2003 as XPan II and TX-2 with improvements to the ISO dial position, the viewfinder, and long exposures.
Another notable improvement in the XPan II and TX-2 was the infrared film counter inside the camera bodies. The early versions of XPan cameras would fog infrared film; this was resolved in the later iterations and solidified in the XPan II and TX-2 cameras.
In addition to the standard 45mm lens, Hasselblad and Fujifilm sold the 90mm and the 𝒇5.6 ultra-wide 30mm. The latter lens is rare (even by XPan standards), extremely expensive, and requires a matching viewfinder attachment.
The XPan/TX series was discontinued in 2006 — only three years after the v2 entered production. Hasselblad cites the switch to digital cameras and: “new EU regulations came into place in 2006 that banned certain elements from being allowed in electronics, which would have led to extensive rebuilding of the XPan II.”
XPan size, weight, setup, and ergonomics.
XPan isn’t pocketable, but it’s small and light enough to feel comparable to other 35mm film rangefinders.
It weighs ~1kg/2.2lb with a lens or 720g/1.6lb without one. The body is 51×166×82mm or 2×6.6×3.3”.
This makes XPan only slightly bulkier than the famous Yashica Electro 35 — a popular “normal” rangefinder.
In hand and in use, XPan feels just right. Its controls are perfectly simple yet fully featured. I admit I looked up the manual to verify the meaning of the [P] in the frame counter window vis “A” on the shutter speed dial.
☝️ The [P] in the frame counter indicates panoramic aspect ratio — since XPan is a dual-format camera, capable of making standard 3:2 aspect ratio exposures (though most reviewers agree: once XPan, always panorama). The “A” on the shutter speed dial is the aperture-priority mode switch.
The built-in grip rests the camera comfortably in hand. XPan cameras have it made of resin, while TX-1 comes with a wooden handle. These can be swapped for custom XPan grips.
The shutter and film advance are surprisingly quiet, nearly vibration-free, and well-balanced, making 1/15s hand-held exposures possible.
XPan takes two CR-2 batteries, loadable at the bottom of the camera, under a metal cap that can be unscrewed with a medium-sized coin.
The film door release latch is a pull-type on the left side. Thanks to XPan’s motorized film transport, loading film is as easy as stretching a h,uge leader from your canister and aligning the tip with the green “FILM TIP” marker. Thin emulsions, such as Aerochrome and Kodak Aerocolor IV may have trouble getting caught by the motor; it took me a few tries.
XPan immediately winds the entire roll once you close the door (and the camera successfully catches the leader):
When shooting with the XPan, as the film was exposed, it was wound back frame-by-frame into the cassette, thereby protecting the exposed section in case the camera was accidentally opened. This useful feature – combined with the XPan’s extremely quiet exposure and film transport – also reduced the risk of unwanted noise, since the camera wound film when the photographer decided to load film, not at the unexpected end of a roll.
XPan controls and viewfinder.
XPan is a pro-grade camera. However, its controls are so intuitive that photographers of all levels could use it — as long as this isn’t the first time loading film or using an aperture-priority rangefinder.
Hasselblad XPan’s power switch has three modes: “C” (continuous), “S” (single), and a seven-second self-timer ⎋. The continuous shooting mode will get your camera the fire three frames per second in the 3:2 aspect ratio or two panoramas per second.
The ring around the power switch is the exposure compensation dial that lets you quickly step up or down the built-in meter’s readouts in half-stop increments up to +2 or down to -2 stops.
The ISO dial at the front of the camera is helpful for selecting film speeds between ISOs 25 and 3200; for automatic speed recognition, it can be set to DX.
XPan uses through-the-lens center-weighted metering, which means that it will prioritize areas in the middle of the frame and largely ignore the sides.
Switching to manual shooting mode is done by engaging the shutter speed dial (i.e., pointing it to any number other than [A]). Despite its oblong size, XPan’s shutter can fire anywhere between 1/1000s-8s, syncs with flash at 1/250s, and can stay open up to 270 seconds in Bulb mode.
Exposure hints are shown in the viewfinder in both manual and aperture priority shooting modes. The red, filled circle (counter-intuitively) indicates correct exposure, while the +/- symbols show various degrees of over or under-exposure. Unfortunately, the “slow shutter” in aperture priority mode is only shown when the exposure time is over two seconds — way beyond the usable hand-held 1/30s.
The only way to verify shutter speed in aperture priority mode is by looking at the LCD on the back of the camera. Under that display, along with the backlight and film rewind buttons, is “AEB” control, which sets the camera up for automated exposure bracketing.
Switching between panoramic and normal aspect ratios is as easy as flipping the toggle next to the viewfinder. And since the camera measures available footage as it winds the film, it displays the number of frames remaining in the small LCD next to the shutter button. This number gets updated whenever you switch your shooting modes.
The viewfinder on XPan is excellent. Though slightly dim (which is fixed in the XPan II version of this camera), it works very well with both lenses and all aspect ratios:
The viewfinder is o coupled rangefinder type with the additional feature of automatic field-of-view frame change according to the focal length of the lens and chosen format. The field-of-view frame also moves automatically to compensate for parallax error when photographing close subjects. The 90mm lens produces a larger rangefinder double-image compared to the 45 mm lens. The viewfinder eyepiece is interchangeable to suit individual eyesight.
Hasselblad XPan build quality.
XPan and TX-1 cameras are exceptionally well-made. They use titanium for the shell — in line with the premium compact cameras of the time — and aluminum for the chassis, giving them a durable yet light profile.
All controls and assembly points feel tightly aligned yet not stiff by any means.
However, the paint on the Hasselblad versions of the cameras and, later, on the Japanese TX-2 is both unique and brittle. The paint is off-black, showing warm brownish tones in a certain light, which is quite special but is also hard to photograph and virtually impossible to keep intact.
XPan was built during the early stages of the digital revolution when advanced materials and electronics were entering a state of perpetual progress and public adoption. These were expensive cameras, designed to last a long time, with the same intent as many previous generations of premium mechanics and optics that still work as new today. They were made tough, but unfortunately, they could not live as long as their mechanical predecessors of the mid-century. The electronics weren’t nearly as fault-proof as some modern devices are capable of achieving, and the paint itself is evidence of advanced (for the time) but still imperfect material science.
XPan 45mm 𝒇4 lens.
The 45 mm 𝒇4 lens that came as part of the kit with most of the XPan cameras is the most useful out of the two I tried. Like all XPan lenses, it is essentially an ultra-compact medium-format lens.
Adjusted for the standard 3:2 aspect ratio, this lens is closer to 24mm, which is very wide. Though when looking at the images taken at this focal length, the perspective looks natural; it is easy to visualize and frame.
The lens is very sharp, with all visible aberrations corrected and barely any noticeable vignetting.
Being an 𝒇4 prime, it’s not fast enough to take subdued light photographs — unless you load a high-ISO film. Even then, I found the rangefinder becoming a little dim to focus efficiently.
Moderate flaring still happens with this lens — which is why a hood is recommended — however, it isn’t prone to loss of contrast in a certain light that vintage camera glass often suffers from.
As with the 90mm, mounting the 45mm lens onto XPan Bayonet switches the magnification factor in the viewfinder to match the focal length.
All XPan lenses are manual-focus with about a 90-degree throw, which works well with the rangefinder. They feel nice in hand and unusually compact for what they offer.
The aperture blades on the 45mm lens also look very cool, especially when stopped down.
XPan 90mm 𝒇4 lens.
The 90mm lens takes a slightly different perspective.
This lens creates panoramas that seem like crops from a “normal” 50mm focal length. However, it is not the same thing.
Being a medium-format lens, the 90 can produce an impressive amount of background separation/bokeh at 𝒇4 — and even smaller apertures.
The quality of the out-of-focus renderings is modern (no significant swirl) but pleasing and free of abrupt transitions. I think it can look fantastic — and irreplicable on any other panoramic-type camera — in the right context.
Same with the 45mm, the 90mm lens is very sharp with moderate contrast and minimal vignetting.
It’s worth noting that vignetting can occur in a certain light with all XPan lenses. A special anti-vignetting filter can be bought to counteract that.
I’ve noted some minimal stretching and distortion in the corners of the 90mm lens when shot wide-open. But I really had to look for it.
As is the camera, XPan lenses are very impressive. So much so that nearly 20 years after their release, Hasselblad launched an official adapter and software shim so that they could be used with their very expensive X1D system.
Scanning XPan film.
Scanning panoramic exposures out of XPan is not easy. If you’re using a dedicated 35mm film scanner, allowances must be made for stitching frames.
Each panorama is only slightly less wide than two standard 3:2 exposures line next to each other. This is a good thing as if it were twice as wide, you’d have to make three scans per frame. Essentially, I scanned both sides of the frame and overlapped them in the middle in Photoshop to ensure complete stitching.
Because film tends to curl and the edges of the scanned frames aren’t typically as sharp as the middle, stitching panoramas sometimes involved blending the center line by softening the edges of the top layer in the upper and bottom parts of the image and some additional cropping if one of the layers had to be shifted up or down.
This is certainly more involved than any other format I’ve tried scanning so far. On the plus side, each panoramic scan yielded 60+ megapixels — and that wasn’t even the full resolution that my scanner is capable of.
Getting creative with the panoramic aspect ratio.
You might’ve noticed that I’m sometimes prone to turning my XPan onto its side for some of the panoramic shots in this article. Indeed, this was my most anticipated orientation to try it in. In this mode, especially when the frames are stretched edge-to-edge, the reader gets the largest amount of detail regardless of the screen.
Though I haven’t had the opportunity to do so, a full-body portrait printed life-size would suit this mode perfectly.
The colour-IR image above is a series of stitched panoramas that I shot on Kodak Aerochrome. They aren’t seamless, but together, they pack about the same amount of resolution as a large-format exposure — which is immensely expensive with this film and practically impossible given the nature of these images.
With that film specifically, this improves the final work’s resolution significantly, which is exactly what I needed as Aerochrome, especially when developed in C-41, can get very grainy.
If you fancy shooting infrared film in your XPan, beware that the earlier versions of this camera may fog it with their IR frame-counting diodes. I got lucky, and thus I suggest you test your camera with something cheaper than Aerochrome if you aren’t sure what the results may bring.
Of course, the major advantage of using this camera is the superior resolution in print. However, you may need to come up with a creative solution (or a custom order) for an unusually-long frame, glass, and paper. Printing with an enlarger in a darkroom is possible; however, it’ll require some masking, cutting, and cropping.
Where and how to find a good, working Hasselblad XPan camera.
Despite their dwindling numbers, XPan cameras are very much available online and in a few physical stores that sell film photography equipment. Long-time users suggest picking bodies that had some recent use. I strongly suggest buying only seller-tested cameras and giving them a fair test if you’ve got a return window. As with any other film camera, check the seller’s reputation and ask questions ahead of time.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Hasselblad XPan camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!