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XPan II Review summary


Active Member
Since some have suggested posting an abreviated version of my field review, it follows here. I hope it's helpful to those considering purchasing the XPan.

This abreviated version covers the key issues. Of course it simply reflects my own feelings about what I have found to be an excellent camera and system.

I have tried to convey how I feel one can get the best from it and wher it really fits in my photography.

Hasselblad XPan II.

Unwisely I used to dismiss the XPan because of an aversion to this system’s “apparent” slower speed lenses. But, I never really understood where this wonderful system fits or even what it really was.

In use, I realised the XPan is NOT a “135 format camera with panorama capabilities”. It IS an “MF camera using 135 film with the convenience of 135 frames”. This was fundamental to my discovery and my appreciation of the XPan’s capabilities. Like all MF camera lens’ design, size and weight restrictions result in relatively slow lenses – so too are the XPan lenses.

After a trial with a well worn XPan I, I began to understand and appreciate this outstanding camera system.

My Leica M is my day-to-day shooter when convenience is paramount. In 135 the widest angle of view I prefer is 24mm and I acquired Leica’s wonderful 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH. I also feel the 135 format frame is not big enough to do justice to the detail crammed in.

But, here was my dilemma: I realised that all my 24mm images end up cropped to panoramas (leaving me with too small a piece of film for large prints). It is the way I see wide angle images. I was learning more about how I see what I see.

The XPan is now my perfect “dedicated wide-angle” tool – it compliments my Leica-M and my Hasselblad 6x6 shooting.

How good is the XPan in the field (panorama IMHO, its primary purpose)? Excellent. Not just good. Not perfect - it does have an Achilles heel.

The camera is superbly made in the old tradition of great cameras such as Leica M - robust and capable of taking heavy handed use for many years. One of the best quality constructed cameras around. Well balanced and easily held steady at low shutter speeds.

Overall functionality is a no-brainer – no excessive use of electronics. A good blend of traditional controls and electronic features. Nice details like the very welcome metal latch and hinge on the film door! Film is easy to load with the great idea of having film fully wound out so that each exposure is kept in the light tight canister.

The viewfinder/rangefinder is excellent. Some compare its brightness and the rangefinder patch less favourably to Leica-M. The viewfinder in the XPan II now has everything one needs in manual and AE shooting. It's intuitive with very good eye relief.

Focusing is superbly smooth (45mm + 90mm) with just the right amount of “throw” from close to infinity; aperture ring click stops are smooth if not too smooth and a bit hard to isolate; grip is good; lens hood bayonet fit with the locking feature is great. I was a little disappointed that the lens barrel DOF markings – too few.

Both are very high quality lenses in use – as expected (Fujinon’s LF optics are highly rated). In pan format they produce very sharp images with no discernable distortion. Under a loupe, trannies show little performance shift from axis to the extreme edges. Well resolved fine details; nice colour characteristics (more German than Japanese); well corrected aberrations; flat field of view. 11x30 inch prints come up beautifully from relatively basic scans. But, don’t expect current ASPH type Leica M characteristics where wide open the subject “pops out”. OOF is very smooth and well structured.

Many discuss the need for ND grad filter on the 45mm in pan mode – it is essential! The 45mm is very affordable so just buy the filter with the lens and accept the overall price. Hassy should bite the bullet and bundle in the filter.

The shutter is superb in every respect – one of the nicest I’ve used – very quiet and smooth. Settings like ISO override, auto-bracketing, exposure comp. and multi-exposure are easily selected on the rear LCD.

But, the XPan II does have an Achilles heel, its exposure meter. While competent and quite reliable (take care in panorama mode – wide format can trick it and you), it lacks features that IMHO should be there:

1. No TTL flash. IMHO, fundamental. Even Leica addressed that years ago in the M6TTL!
2. No spot meter. While not essential, this could be a great enhancement;
3. Badly limited auto-exposure range - EV4 to EV19. A real weakness even if this camera’s main low light work is likely to be very long exposures in manual mode. I just could not believe how limited it is in AE mode in low light.

In conclusion: The XPan II is a joy to use especially in the hands of users who are experienced and want a tool that does not interfere though excessive use of electronic automation. Its superb build and finish are matched by excellent functionality and image results. It has a logical niche place in high quality photography.

I’ve not used the 30mm lens, if it is as good as the 45mm and 90mm, it deserves its reputation.

With great fast film about, it is also a capable general use camera. But to think of it as a 135 camera is to miss the point.