Vivitar IC 101 Panorama

A 35mm Fake Panoramic “Garbage Cam” for a Toonie (Canadian $2)

5 min read by Dmitri.

A true 35mm panoramic camera requires a medium format lens on a 35mm housing body. A motorized setup can use a smaller lens with added mechanical complexity. Both types of bodies can be pricey and awkward to operate; the negatives they produce are tricky to scan, project, and print as they don’t fit standard holders.

Despite its intricacies, the format is highly desirable. Wide aspect ratio images are found in movie theatres and museums — our premiere viewing venues. The human eye wants to see panoramic pictures.

Features and ergonomics.

Faux panoramic cameras became popular around the ‘90s as a way of adding the desired feature to a standard camera package. The experience they offered is an in-camera effect, which is a mask that covers part of the film — usually with a switch. The result is a reduced area of the negative exposed, with lower overall resolution.

Some cameras, like Vivitar IC 101 Panorama, shot in this format exclusively — likely to cut the costs on moving parts required for a switch mechanism.

IC 101 is a hallmark of cost-cutting. Few components aren’t plastic — perhaps just the spring in the shutter-winder mechanism. The lens is a 28mm 𝒇8 plastic blob, exposed by a fixed 1/125s shutter. It’s a single-stop, fixed-focus box.

IC 101 feels nice in hand. It’s incredibly light and fits comfortably in a jacket pocket. The camera features a lens cover slider, protecting the tiny piece of plastic that focuses light onto a slither of film, imperfectly.

Mine came in a golden tint (also available in black). Remarkably, IC 101 a well-designed gadget; only the viewfinder taking away from its sleek curves. Had the camera had better optics, variable shutter, and aperture, it would pass for a decent shooter. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Proper exposure with IC 101.

I made a mistake of loading my IC 101 with Ilford HP5, rated at ISO 400. This is way too bright for this camera. Given that this Vivitar shoots 𝒇8 at 1/125th of a second, every frame is to be over-exposed by four stops in full sun.

Sunny 16 rule implies that a proper exposure in full sun can be obtained by setting the shutter speed to ~1/ISO and aperture to 𝒇16. 𝒇8 is two stops brighter than 𝒇16; IC 101’s 1/125 shutter is two stops brighter than the ~1/400. Summing the two implies an over-exposure unless shot in early sunset or in the outdoor shadow. Something like Ilford Pan F Plus 50 or Rollei RPX 25 would have suited the situation much better.

The camera seems to have been designed for takers of sunset snaps. Colour ISO 200 or 400 film would have suited it well. Perhaps, Lomography’s Lomochrome Metropolis, as its extended range would work in partial sun, outdoor shadows, or during early sunset.

Thankfully, I was able to recover most of the detail from HP5 with Photoshop.

 ☝︎Further viewing: “Vivitar IC101 Panorama 35 mm Camera Review” — for better examples of images taken with this camera (YouTube).

In the above video, “Cameras & Cats” shoots sunsets and shade with ISO 400 Kodak UltraMax 400.

Overall, Vivitar IC 101 Panorama is a worthy “garbage cam.”

I found IC 101 in a bin, tangled with other cheapo bargains at a local thrift store at the shady part of Vancouver. It cost me $2. The camera broke after one roll, though I suspect there are copies out there that can last at least ten. The weakness being the winding/cocking mechanism.

Because I used the wrong film, the images in this article aren’t showing the camera’s “true potential.” Looking closely, however, should reveal that the lens is a little too blurry to print or display on screens larger than a smartphone. Passable on platforms like Instagram, which never show photos wider than 1080 pixels.

Your film options would also be limited; I would not take this camera anywhere but outdoors. Ironically, since my test film’s ISO was too high, the indoor shots are the ones that turned out to be decently exposed. But the variability of shaded light intensities can make creating consistent exposures a challenge.

Still, it’s worth a shot if you’d like to try composing panoramic images cheaply. The fact that the mask is fixed will force you to think of your composition differently. There’s no issue scanning or printing either, albeit small; all the results are standard frames with a black letterbox crop.

I think that it’s possible to get decent images with IC 101. Strong contrast on B&W will help overcome lens’ lack of sharpness. On colour, photos during the setting sun may provide a good balance.

Just the experience of framing your scene in a cinematic aspect ratio may be worth your try.