Sunday, July 24, 2022

Hasselblad XPan Panoramic Camera: How to Handle the Film? (XPan 03)

Hasselblad XPan camera with 30mm, 45mm, and 90mm lenses
XPan with 30mm ƒ/5.6 lens and special viewfinder
Center filter on 30mm ƒ/5.6 lens

The amazing hardware

A friend in town generously loaned me his fabulous Hasselblad XPan camera with its three unique lenses. The Hasselblad XPan (and the identical Fuji TX-1) were innovative cameras that used regular 35mm film to create a negative that was 24×65 mm in size rather than the usual 24×36 mm frame common in most 35mm cameras. 

For me, the wide frame was a revelation. Through the viewfinder, I could see topics that I might have skipped with a normal camera or would have found boring without the wide frame to show the context of the scene. The wide frame provides a narrative to the main topic. I will post a series of XPan articles in the next few months. 

A recent guest author on Casual Photophile also wrote about how the wide view gave him a new way of viewing his world. An author on 35MMC found his XPan to be his favorite travel camera. But Hamish Gill of 35MMC found that the XPan just did not suit his type of photography enough to keep the valuable camera. It is a specialist tool to be sure.

However, this camera's wide frames require different handling than normal 35mm negatives. I did not see much on the internet about how people process or scan this unusual 24×65 mm frame. This article will describe my procedure.*

XPan negatives (converted to positive). Oh, oh, what to do with the odd shape?

Optical enlarging

If you print in a darkroom optically, any medium format or 4×5" enlarger like a Beseler would be suitable for the XPan negatives. I was surprised to see that Beseler still sells an XPan film holder. It is rather expensive at B&H, but at least is available. 

Years ago, some commercial labs developed XPan negatives and printed 4×12 inch machine prints. Nice. I have some albums with pages just for this size.

4×12 inch prints in plastic album. Lake Union, Seattle, Washington

Some companies made plastic print booklets specifically for the 4×12 prints.

Scanning options

Most people today probably scan the negatives and then post the results on the web or make ink jet prints. But how to scan these odd-size negatives? Some options:

  1. Use a digital camera with macro lens and a copy stand to take a picture of the negative, and then reverse with software. My friend who owns the XPan uses this technique. 
  2. Scan the negatives on a medium format scanner. My Minolta Scan Multi will fit the 65mm length, but I would need to cut a 24×65 mm mask. Minolta may have once sold a frame and mask in this size, but I doubt I could ever find one. Nikon's medium format scanners could be used for Xpan negatives. They used to sell a glass negative carrier that came with a mask for the Xpan format. It worked but was clumsy and very slow. 
  3. Scan left and right frames of 24×36 mm in a regular 35mm film scanner and then combine them with software. I used this method with my Plustek 7600i scanner and then merge the two pieces with Photoshop CS6 (details below). 
  4. Commercial scanning. Some laboratories may offer this service via the Imacon Flextight scanner (alas, no longer available new and staggeringly expensive)

Digital camera scanning

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona. © Bill Stripling
Acueducto de Segovia, Segovia, Spain. © Bill Stripling
French Pyrenees. © Bill Stripling

This is Method 1 above. These are all scans made with a Nikon Z7 camera and reversed in Lightroom with Negative Lab Pro software. To my eye, these results look fantastic. If you have a high-resolution digital camera, this is an excellent technique. The quality of the light source is important if you are scanning color negatives. For LED sources, the spectrum needs to be as smooth as possible. Gaps or spikes in the spectrum can cause color shifts. 

Merging 24×36 mm scans

Plustek 7600i scanner with 35mm negative holder. Note how one XPan frame overlaps into the second opening.

I use Method 3, where I scan left and right sections of the XPan negative sequentially. For the two frames to blend properly, there must be some overlap (possibly 10-20%). You need to set the exposure and color balance for one of the frames and then be sure to not change those settings for the second frame. What I do:
  1. Preview the left or right section in a 24×36 mm frame (i.e., the full size for this scanner).
  2. Adjust color, gain, and contrast as needed.
  3. Make a final scan at 3600 dpi and save as a 16-bit (full color) TIFF file.
  4. Remove the film holder, pull the XPan frame so that the other side is in the 24×36 opening.
  5. Reinsert the holder in the scanner but leave gain and color unchanged. This means I cannot preview this second piece.
  6. Make a final TIFF scan of this second section.
  7. If needed, clean scratches and chemical blobs with the heal tool in Photoshop.


It sounds confusing but is relatively simple. Then I use the >Automate>Photomerge tool in Photoshop CS5 or CS6 to combine the two sections. Make a final check if the wide frame needs some cropping and you are done. It is a bit time-consuming but works well. 

Below is an example from the rail line south of the Amtrak Station in Jackson, Mississippi and one from a junk yard in Edwards.

Pascagoula Street overpass left frame

Pascagoula Street overpass right frame

Final panorama from Pascagoula Street overpass (Kodak Portra 160 film)

I-20 junk yard left frame

Junk yard right frame

Final panorama, I-20 North Frontage Road, Edwards (Portra 160 film, 45mm ƒ/4 lens at ƒ/5.6½)

Despite the work, this Xpan is a lot of fun and an amazing creative tool. Standby for more examples. Thank you, Bill, for letting me use your camera.

* I am not going to use the term "workflow." That is a cliche on photography web pages, especially the infamous DPreview. "I returned from my weekend in Paris and did my special workflow to my 15,000 shots." Bleech.


Suzassippi said...

Wow, that was impressive and fun. I really enjoyed seeing the results! said...

Thank you! You need one of these amazing XPans.

Mike said...

That's a nice kit, and your scanning method seems faultless.

Neal Wellons said...

I use my Epson V600 Photo scanner to scan longer 35mm negatives without a hitch. Just put them in the 35mm carrier and scan away. Alternately, I use a Lomo carrier if I want to show sprockets.

I scan Sprocket Rocket negatives at 24 X 70 and my FT-2 at 24 X 110. It would be just as easy to scan an X-Pa at 24 X 65, of course. said...

Neal, thanks for the hint. I have an old Epsom flat bed, but it does not handle 35mm very well. But big negatives/positives of 4×5" size look great.

Anonymous said...

I use my Nikon LS-8000 with the glass holder and a hand cut mask from card stock. I don’t find it too cumbersome or slow, but it would certainly be a lot faster with the LS-9000. said...

Hi Anonymous, I will experiment with my Minolta Scan-Multi in the future. I wish I had a Nikon LS-9000. However, the 35mm Plustek has the infrared scratch and flaw tool that works automatically with C-41 films.