We all have our dream cameras. Personally, it was the Hasselblad XPan. I loved the idea of owning a piece of unique machinery that could capture filmic and cinematic photos all at the simple click of a button. Like most people dreaming about the XPan, the biggest hurdle was the price. I’ve heard many photographers talk about it and say “I've had my eyes set on this camera for a while. One day I'll own it.” That one day came last month. So did the Hasselblad XPan live up to my expectations, or was it another case of the adage ‘never meet your heroes’.
The Hasselblad XPan was introduced to the world in 1998. The intent in releasing the XPan was to provide medium format image quality on 35mm film. The XPan utilised the entire area of the 35mm film for either panorama or 35mm format, providing a panorama effect without masking the film or reducing image quality. This technique produced a panorama negative almost three times larger than traditional masking! The dual personality made the world fall in love with the XPan.
Operating the XPan is pretty easy. The film loading is straightforward, and automatic film advance and rewind are smooth and relatively quiet. The body is superbly built and the quality shows. It’s heavy but balanced, the lens is smooth and compact, and you feel the tactile satisfaction of the ergonomics. However, the most common cosmetic issue with the XPan is the paint chipping due to the poor finishing by Hasselblad when covering the titanium body.
So how did it feel like when I finally met my hero and went shooting with the XPan?
Let’s start with the negatives. Firstly, the biggest blocker for most people with the XPan is the price. They’ve gotten expensive. If you want to buy the XPan in Australia, expect to pay $4000+ for the XPan body & lens kit. As a result, you definitely feel extra cautious when using it. You become paranoid of everything. From the gust of wind carrying sand to a menacing glance from a suspicious-looking person, your situational awareness & analysis doubles to a point of paranoia. This ends up feeding into your photography confidence and experience as you think twice about where you’re going to be using your XPan.
Secondly, it’s a beautiful piece of complex digital machinery. Like all digital machinery, it will one day die and it won't be repairable due the intricate design and difficulty of finding anyone who knows how to work on them. When you fork out this amount of cash, it can be a bit unnerving.
How about the positives? For me, there’s only one that matters. It leaves me with a stupid smile across my face every time I get the negatives back. It feels like I’ve captured a cinematic moment in time. Ever seen classic films such as Ben Hur, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Hateful Eight or Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk? They all used 70mm film to capture a wider scope and immerse the viewer into the picture. It's an effective format to use when capturing epic landscapes, complex set pieces and stunning vista. Now you have that power in the palm of your hand with the XPan. How cool is that?
Here’s some photos for you to get a rough idea.
So is it worth lusting over getting one? Absolutely! It’s versatile enough to use as an everyday camera but also perfect for any of those more indulgent moments life throws at you. Each image has that cinematic look and feel, and dares you to chase storytelling in your photography. It really helps to develop your ‘photography eye’. It teaches you the importance of framing, composition and use of negative space.
So with that adage of ‘never meeting your heroes’, I guess in my case I have found an exception with the XPan. Now whenever I go on a photography trip, the XPan has become a staple and will always tag along with my other gear.