When I delved deeper into the world of photography several years ago, I was particularly captivated by the panoramic format. Especially for enthusiasts of landscape, nature, and woodland photography, it provides a unique opportunity to capture the beauty of the surroundings. The width of this format allows for capturing expansive scenes in all their splendor.
I initially took my first steps with the Fujifilm GFX, an excellent digital medium format camera. Here, I could set the desired aspect ratio and shoot directly in the panoramic format. However, despite the cinematic perspective, I missed the authentic film look, and the desire for a camera specially designed for the panoramic format grew stronger.
While there are medium format cameras like the Mamiya 6 MF that offer adapters and panoramic capabilities, as well as other outstanding medium format cameras from Linhof or Horseman, when I first held the 35mm Hasselblad XPan in my hands, I knew it was the right choice for me.
The History of the Hasselblad XPan
The XPan was produced in collaboration between Hasselblad and Fujifilm, manufactured by Fujifilm, and was first introduced in 1998. This camera quickly gained popularity and continues to retain its status as a coveted collector’s item even today, long after production ceased.
My online search eventually led me to Japan, where I acquired an almost pristine Fuji version of the TX-1 with a 90mm lens on eBay. Later, a 45mm lens joined my collection.
A year later, the opportunity arose to purchase an additional Hasselblad XPan as a backup body on the local used market at an attractive price. This proved extremely practical, as it allows me to use both lenses without the hassle of switching them on the camera.
The heart of this camera is the 35mm format. Typically, one would expect to capture 36 frames on a roll of 35mm film. However, this innovative camera features a dual-format system that allows you to capture images on the same roll of film in both the large full panorama format of 24x65mm and the traditional 24x36mm format.
Although the camera was primarily designed for panoramic photography, this flexibility offers tremendous versatility. Especially while traveling, the ability to switch to the conventional format can be advantageous.
Personally, I have focused exclusively on the panoramic format so far. When using this camera, I am fully dedicated to composing panoramic images.
The fact that the panoramic format requires more film area means that only 20 frames are available per roll.
The Feel and Design of the XPan and TX-1
The tactile sensation of this camera is remarkable. It is remarkably compact, just slightly larger than a Leica M6 or M7, and barely thicker but smaller than a Mamiya 6.
Both together the Hasselblad XPan and the Fuji TX-1 easily fit into a standard backpack, making them ideal travel companions. The use of titanium and aluminum makes them lightweight yet robust. A plastic backplate ensures a secure grip, while a convenient front handgrip is attached.
While the XPan is adorned in elegant black, the Fujifilm TX-1 gleams in titanium. Depending on the lighting conditions, the color can vary slightly. The juxtaposition of the bright Fuji lenses with the dark body of the XPan gives the camera a distinct allure.
The viewfinder initially required some getting used to, as composing such a wide format in a relatively small viewfinder can be challenging. However, over time, this became second nature.
The frame lines automatically adjust when either of the two lenses, the 45mm or the 90mm, is mounted. A separate accessory viewfinder is required for the 30mm lens.
Operation and Features
The controls and design of the camera adhere to the typical rangefinder style. With a mode dial, you can select automatic mode or the manual selection of the shutter speed up to 8 seconds. For longer exposures, there is the Bulb mode.
There is also a second dial that allows for exposure compensation and self-timer settings. This is extremely convenient and eliminates the need to carry a separate remote release when using a tripod.
The light meter is generally reliable, but it requires special attention in dark areas of the frame. Here, it is recommended to meter for the shadows or slightly overexpose.
The camera automatically detects films with the corresponding DX code and sets the ISO settings accordingly. Alternatively, there is a front-mounted dial for manual ISO adjustment if desired.
Focusing is manual, as with most rangefinder cameras.
However, shutter speeds can only be read on the display, which can be somewhat cumbersome for handheld shooting. For tripod-mounted shots, this is less problematic.
A small display between the dials below the shutter release shows the frame counter, which counts down and adjusts automatically when switching between panorama and standard formats.
Lenses and Image Quality
The Hasselblad XPan / Fujifilm TX-1 offers rangefinder lenses specially designed for Fujifilm’s panoramic format. With focal lengths of 30mm, 45mm, and 90mm, you can fully embrace the panoramic format thanks to the generous image circles of these specially developed interchangeable lenses.
Hasselblad refers to these lenses as “medium format” lenses because they cover large image areas.
Although the maximum aperture is f/4.0, it is more than sufficient for most applications. Even for portraits and shots at wide apertures, impressive results can be achieved.
The compactness of these lenses, comparable to Leica or Fuji APS-C lenses from the X series, is impressive in everyday use. They deliver sharp images with a unique look and special atmosphere.
Fujifilm has once again confirmed its reputation as one of the best lens manufacturers. The 45mm and 90mm lenses especially provide consistent sharpness to the corners.
Open aperture photography is also supposed to cause possible vignetting. As I am more into landscape photography, I tend to shoot at higher apertures, so I have not noticed any vignetting. However, Hasselblad offers so-called center filters which ensure that no vignetting occurs. I’ve heard that is less of a problem with the 45 and 90 lenses.
When using the 30 mm lens at large apertures, it is advisable to use a center filter. Note, however, that this lens also requires an external viewfinder. This latter package is accordingly also expensive.
Challenges and Critical Points of the XPan and TX-1
Despite my love for the Hasselblad XPan / Fuji TX-1, there are some critical aspects to consider. One of the biggest is the price on the used market, which has significantly increased in recent years.
When I compare the price I paid and then look at the current prices on eBay, then you have to think about whether you really want this adventure. A nearly mint Hasselblad XPan body can cost between $3,500 and $5,000 at the time of this article’s publication, while the Hasselblad XPan II body can cost nearly twice as much.
A Fuji TX-1 is a few hundred dollars cheaper (find on eBay). This was one of the reasons why I initially chose the TX-1, which is also less prone to paint chipping.
Also, at extreme temperatures, the cameras may occasionally lock up, with a “P” blinking on the display. Typically, they can be revived by warming them up and removing the battery. However, caution is advised in cold winter conditions.
Regardless, in the event of a defect, repair can be challenging and costly depending on the nature of the problem.
Another point of criticism is that the shutter speed is only displayed on the screen, which can be inconvenient for handheld shots.
The Hasselblad XPan or Fuji TX-1 is undoubtedly an impressive camera. However, the high price on the used market should not be overlooked.
A look at local markets or photo shops shows that it is possible to get these panorama cameras cheaper after all. Sometimes it has signs of use, but the device works perfectly.
Another variant would be to invest in a specialized medium format panoramic camera, such as the Linhof Technorama 6×17 (find on eBay). These cameras are excellently crafted, feature top-notch lenses, and are devoid of electronics. But here you need a separate exposure meter, the prices are not cheap either, and the Linhof is a medium format camera. So these cameras cannot be compared 1:1.
In the end, it is a matter of taste. If you can overlook the mentioned critiques and are seeking a compact panoramic camera with outstanding quality that captures the unique look of the 35mm format, then the XPan / TX-1 is definitely an exciting option.
Transitioning to the panoramic format may take some time and practice, but with experience, it can lead to breathtaking compositions. The Hasselblad XPan / Fujifilm TX-1 is a camera with a unique personality that is worth discovering and appreciating.
Thank you so much, Renzo! You can learn more about Renzo and his work on his website and Instagram.
Leave your questions about the Hasselblad XPan and Fuji TX-1 below in the comments, and you can pick them up for yourself at KEH Camera or on eBay.