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XPan II update an enduring love affair


Active Member
Some months ago I posted a thread about first impressions and then a detailed review of the XPan II in the field. Now that I've shot nearly fifty rolls with my new XPan kit (45mma and 90mm lenses), I thought I'd share some further thoughts on this compelling camera and its MF panorama format.

First up I am just as enthusiastic about this superbly built and laid our camera as I was when I first bought it.
I hold my view that it is an extremely high quality kit at a very reasonable cost. It remains a very often used camera rather than a "seven day wonder". I continue to take it when I go out with my M7 and when I take out my Hassy 6x6 kit - a perfect compliment to both systems just as I felt initially.

My use of the XPan II is 95% in panorama mode - my M7 remains my 35mm camera of choice. But when I'm wanting to shoot wide when using the M7 or when using the Hassy 6x6 I prefer such images as a panorama and the XPan's 1.8x 35mm image (or better put as a 50% horizontally cropped 6x7 MF image) provides an optimally large negative (or positive) for superb enlargements.

My take on the XPan was and remains even more so now, that it should be seen as an MF rangefinder rather than a 35mm camera capable of panorama images - why? Simple really, first there are better 35mm rangefinders (read Leica) with a wider range of optics and accessories and secondly, with more capable 35mm exposure meters and faster optics.

Those who think the 45mm and 90mm lenses are slow for such a camera miss the point - this is an MF rangefinder camera and the f4 fastest lens is common among MF optics. The relatively compact XPan body provides a physical restriction on the lens speed and just one stop more would cause the body to lose one of its most appealing features -relative compactness!

This raises the point of a question many ask - is the ND centre graduated filter really necessary on the 45mm lens (causing it to be an f5.6 lens)? The answer is a definite yes - if you've just invested in a very high quality camera and lens, why impose a reduction in image quality! The 45mm lens on its own is surprisingly inexpensive by any measure of a quality optic and the relatively expensive filter makes the overall cost of the 45mm lens still very affordable.

Like many MF wide angle lenses, vignetting arises wide open and even a further stop or two closed down - especially when physical constraints are imposed on it design. This vignetting occurs noticeably even with negative films especially in images of a bright even background and is perfectly corrected with the ND centre graduated filter - don't risk penny pinching just when you're investing in a top quality kit!

Both the 45mm and 90mm lenses have met my expectations of Fujinon optics - fantastically sharp; resist flare; have superb tonality; resolve detail to a very very high standard; produce an image of a very flat field of view. In short they are "near Leica" (current)quality. My images have sat well among my Leica M images and among my Hassy (Zeiss) 6x6 images. The OOF attributes are lovely and well structured with good detail and gentle progression. Edge to edge performance is consistent and the balance among aberration corrections is excellent.

In the field these lenses are great to use - the updated lens hood design is the very best there is in terms of how it mounts, locks and de-mounts. It manages strong light very well and allows 2 filters to be used simultaneously - a lesson for Lieca (yes, of course the wider XPan body helps ensure the hood does not get in the view finder's way) whose 35mm ASPH Summicron hood will not let you mount a circular polariser or more than one filter and fit the hood too!

But, I do find the XPan lenses should have a more prominent aperture ring sitting proud of the focus ring - takes a bit of time to differentiate it and use it when your face is at the view finder. It's also a bit too smooth. The focus grip could/should be a bit coarser than it is for ease of firm grip. But I can live with all of that because the optical performance is sooooo good!

Funnily enough it's a bit of a shame the lenses could not be a stop faster simply because the extra size would make the overall camera/lens sit even more solidly in my hand. I know many Leica M users criticise faster Leica lenses like the Noctilux and 75mm Summilux for being too bulky and heavy - but they balance the M bodies so well in my hand.

So, that raises the question of the XPan body's ergonomics and functionality - my score remains 9/10 (one point lost for the Achilles heel I refer to later on). The body's build is simply superb - metal, metal and more metal with a beautiful painted finish and a very neat screwed on rubberised hand grip - just great and one of the very best. The extra width for the panorama imaging makes it really well balanced in use. Like my M7 I love handling this camera. And Like all M bodies, the appearance and feel of the XPan is inspiring. The film door has a great latch and the film wind out feature is excellent and sensible.

The viewfinder is excellent and I have never had any issues about its clarity ( as good as any Leica I have used), nor any issues about the rangefinder patch and ease of focusing - a very high standard. No, not exactly as good as the current Leica M rangefinders but very very close. The framelines could cover more of the image as, like the Leica framelines, they can disappear in some very bright lighting. The way the image adjusts from 35mm to panorama is superb - such a clever bit of engineering.

The shutter release is IMHO about the best in the game - so smooth and positive; easy to hold an exposure value as you reframe - superb. A friend commented that he found it better than his M3 and MP; I find it better than my M7.

While the XPan is a "semi-electronic" camera, the use of a big LCD panel for all other settings is great and very intuitive - for ISO settings; exposure compensation; multi-exposure etc etc. You can't get lost or mess up a setting (unless you are simply stupid).

All the functionality makes sense, is intuitive and simple. Overall it's similar to handling an M7. I'm still on the original set of batteries so the XPan does not "chew" batteries.

The inclusion of a spirit level (fits the cold shoe) and a Hasselblad standard QR plate are a nice touch. The QR plate has an extra feature over the normal Hassy plates - a small pimple that fits a tiny hole on the base of the camera to preventing twist when fitted to a tripod - a very nice touch (I've ordered a second plate for my Linhof Technika!)

But, as I said in my initial review, this camera has an Achilles heel and an annoying one at that - the exposure meter. Yes, accurate enough (but take care in panorama mode to be sure the very wide image exposure is not overly influenced but just one area of light value). But, it is unnecessarily limited in exposure range - from EV 4! This continues to annoy me because it is so unnecessary and messes with low light shooting.

However, users will not be too adversely affected by this limitation because such low light shooting demands a tripod and a handheld meter to calculate the optimal exposure anyway. But, all the same this is just not "up to scratch" in this era and in a camera that has otherwise good electronics. While I won't use my Xpan with flash, I also feel it should have been designed with TTL flash capability - even Leica has had that since the M6TTL! These issues should have been addressed in the release of the XPan II at least. But, none of these things have been a real problem to me, yet.

Finally, the images - the most important factor. Yes, it takes wonderful images of superb quality. When my film is processed I always have it scanned (Fuji Frontier Lab) and the XPan neg fits a 6x7 mask and the lab just adds a secondary mask to cover the 50% horizontal gap. This gives me scans of about 2500dpi and just right for inexpensive large prints of about 3' at 300dpi that look great.

The panorama format is a terrific creative tool making you think of new ways of seeing what you see, and one I won't tire of.

Next I plan to shoot a roll or 2 in 35mm mode and compare the results with my M7 and Summicron-M 50mm and Elmarit-M 90mm lenses - not that it matters but it will be interesting to see.

I have not had a chance to trial a 30mm lens (at 17mm in panorama mode probably too wide for me), but when my dealer gets one in I'll be interested to try it out.

Yes the XPan is a compelling and outstanding unique camera system of superb quality and performance.

And, alas unofficially (here in Oz anyway) it has been announced that production of the XPan will cease very soon - insufficient demand to justify Fuji's production line. And, no this is not because a digital-XPan is in the wings - too costly to develop for a niche market it seems!

A sad day.
... and for the sake of completeness I've include 4 images taken for fun and to trial aspects of using the camera and 45mm and 90mm lenses. There is no image manipulation.





Well Simon, you have helped me settle a dilemma I have been pondering as of late. I have been deciding if I should add another Imacon back to the mix, or simply stop the digital acquisitions where they are ... and focus more on my film work ... placing the available funds toward a Imacon 646 scanner. Seeing your post, I pulled out some X-Pan shots and they made me wonder why I shoot digital at all ...

Unfortunately, I am a fool that sold his X-Pan and started regretting it almost before it left my hand. A fool that let the 30mm go also. I can say from experience that the 35mm mode is quite good, but not quite up to my Leica M7. But I never used the 35 mode much anyway. The Pano mode is so fascinating it's hard not to use it.

I mostly used neg films and scanned them myself with a MF Polaroid scanner that offered a X-Pan holder. The Imacon also supplies one with the 646.

Not to hi-jack your thread, but here are a few X-pan shots you may enjoy ... sort of sharing in the enthusiasm for an excellent camera : -)

30mm shot at Greenfield Village...

A shot done while at a bed & Breakfast ... it's shots like this that really make me remember why I still shoot film despite having the top end digital capture. Can't remember what lens or how much I cropped it, I just know it was with the X-Pan because it's on the CD-ROM with all X-Pan scans ...

This is an interesting one of old Victorian mansions in Grand Rapids Michigan ... right in the middle of a decaying urban area sit these Lumber Baron extravaganzas ... 30mm again (which is incredibly well corrected for such a wide lens) ... it can show a bit of vignetting without the center filter, but there's a control in PhotoShop CS2 that allows correction of vignetting after scanning ...

One shot in low light. Probably would have been better with the Leica 35/1.4 ASPH, but it still worked okay ... can clearly read the "Boiler Plate" copy in the full sized scan file... Can't remember the lens, probably the 45.

Well, I was getting ready for a long stay in LA, and was almost finished packing a digital camera in a rolling bag ... after this thread, I just packing a little travel kit with a Leica M ... wish I still had the X-Pan.

The X-Pan is a great camera ... NO BULL!

Thanks Marc. Your images are superb. I really should have my "worthwhile" images scanned too.

I'm also impressed to hear about the 30mm - generally I'm not a fan of the 17mm AOV so have not saved the substantial bucks required for the 30mm. But seeing the relatively low distortion / flat fieeld of view I am now tempted!

But, the news is that today I received a link to a site where a guy in Europe has developed a PC-Nikkor to Xpan adapter enabling the 28mm Nikkor to produce a panorama (yes image to near enough to 100% the panorama frame) of 15mm AOV - just put your VC 15mm viewfinder on the cold shoe. That could be an "affordable" option.

I'll post the link later today. I have emailed the guy for digi pictures of the mount - at 200 euros it is not cheap!

Thanks again for sharing your beautiful images.

Alas, you should have kept the XPan especially now they have been discontinued! Sad day.

Do post a review of your Imacon scanner, many will be keen to hear your views on it.
> Does anyone have some comparison images ( one with a 30mm XPan > lens, the same scene with the adapter and a PC Nikkor?? What about > just an image with the adapter and the Nikkor?