I came across this earlier this evening, buried with Stuart Klipper’s post-minimalist web site.
I enjoy the work of a lot of photographers, but there are very few I can honestly say inspire me. And Stuart Klipper is at the top of that very short list.
“That’s how we find ourselves in the world, by the edges of things”
I’m still trying to convince myself I don’t want a Linhof 612, even though I have my eye on a very nice looking one which I can almost afford.
The thing is, it’s a purely mechanical camera. There is no preview of focussing. No metering. It’s just a (extremely high precision-engineered) box with a (breathtakingly gorgeous) lens on the front. It’s heavy, a pain to use, and has this intriguing but rather eccentric 8mm fixed shift.
And I have a Sigma Dp0, which is not only a pain to use, looks plain weird, and draws attention like bears to honey. But it has auto focus, a screen (just about), and doesn’t need the film processing or scanning steps - albeit it does need Sigma Photo Pro, which rather evens the score. And it has a (breathtakingly gorgeous) lens on the front.
This is what the Dp0 can do:
Not bad - almost Ektachrome-like. The ratio here is 21:9, which is actually shown on the screen, allowing exact composition. Of course you can crop any image any way you want, but that doesn’t work for me. I need to see what I’m doing, and I need my composition to be preserved in the file. The Dp0 / Sigma Photo Pro combination does both.
If I’d shot this with a Linhof, I’d probably have framed it like this (although the lens field of view would be a little different, but I think the Dp0 17mm lens corresponds roughly to a Linhof 58mm)
Of course, had I shot it on a Linhof I’d probably have got the exposure and the focussing wrong. And then Silverfast and / or my scanner would have crashed trying to deal with the huge file.
Common sense says Sigma - and given how unlikely that sounds, in the general scheme of things, it says all I really need to know about the sense of buying a Linhof 612 in 2016…
I bought my first Hasselblad XPan in 2000, and in the following 15+ years, I’ve accumulated a large shelf full of binders of negatives and (mainly) slides. I bought it because I liked the widescreen format, and I still do. Although a niche camera, the XPan was pretty popular, initially principally with landscape photographers, many of whom used one alongside an SLR. For me, it was the other way around - the SLR was the “second camera”. The XPan started to fade from view with the advent of DSLRs, and Hasselblad/Fuji stopped producing it in 2006, citing some story about a circuit board not being compliant with some convenient European regulations on lead content.
In recent years it has seen something of a revival, and secondhand prices for good copies have risen higher than the original retail. It seems to be riding a lot on the “back to film” movement, and the accompanying mystique. But there do not seem to be many people around who, like me, bought one back near the release date and never stopped using it. And even fewer people who shoot slide film (still). It seems to be quite popular nowadays for “street” photography, where the unusual frame gives a novelty effect that compensates for many a shortcoming in the photograph. However, with the lenses having a maximum aperture of f/4, and rangefinder focusing, I’m not personally convinced it is that ideal for street. But I’m no authority on the matter.
For me the biggest frustration with the XPan has nothing directly to do with the camera, but with the rapidly shrinking availability of slide film. My favourites, Kodak E100G and Fuji Velvia 100F (nothing like the infamous Velvia 50 by the way) have long since departed, Fuji Provia 400X is more or less gone, and the only serious choice left is Fuji Provia 100F, which I never much liked. The revival of Ferrania Film is, so far, inconclusive - initial batches of new film are close to a year overdue. Of course the choices in negative film are a little wider. I like Kodak Porta 400, but it only really suits brightly lit urban scenes. Kodak Ektar 100 is ghastly. And I’m a colour photographer by instinct, not black & white. On top of all of this, the bottom has fallen out of both semi-pro E6 processing, and of the semi-pro film scanner market. So not only is the writing on the wall, but it’s on every wall in every direction.
So, there’s been a lot of calls, directed mainly at Fuji and Hasselblad, to produce a “Digital XPan”. There’s a snag there, though, because a digital sensor covering the full 65x24 XPan format - two “full frame” sensors side by side - would be horrendously expensive, even though this seems to be what people want. So the question arises, what do we actually mean by “Digital XPan” ? What are the key features ? Would everybody agree? The answer to the last question is obviously a resounding “no”.
The key features of the XPan, technical and otherwise, are:
Personally, the key feature is the first: a camera which records what-you-see-is-what-you-get panoramic format with a dedicated panoramic viewfinder. In-camera composition is very important to my way of doing and enjoying photography, and for me cropping in Photoshop as some kind of afterthought rarely produces a strong, satisfying image. I emphasise, for me: clearly other people have different opinions. As for film, I’ll fall back again on a quote from one of my heroes of panoramic photography, Stuart Klipper, who when asked why he (still) uses film, replied “because that’s what the Linhof takes”.
So, yes, you can certainly obtain a panoramic frame from any digital camera through post-processing. Many compact cameras also have a 16:9 framing option which you can squint at while holding the camera at arms length in front of your face. But this is simply not the “XPan experience” for me. It doesn’t inspire me, and it doesn’t give me the thrill that seeing the world through the XPan rangefinder does.
And that’s a good time to introduce you to the other camera on the stage here, the Sigma DP0.
I’ve been using Sigma cameras with their unique Foveon sensor since the 50mm-equivalent DP2 Merrill. As I, and many others have written, when these cameras get their ducks in a row, they are truly fabulous. The rest of the time they’re a disaster area. A while back, Sigma introduced a new lineup, using the revised Quattro sensor. They also introduced what would be politely described as an unusual body design. A lot of people were aghast at this. I thought it was fantastic. But I didn’t buy one at the time, as the DP2M & DP3M I already owned were quite enough. But then came the announcement of the DP0 ultra wide (21mm equivalent), and buried deep down in the specification, the 21:9 framing option. It seemed that somebody in Japan was thinking along the same lines as me.
So eventually, after a lot of indecision, I got one, along with the hood viewfinder attachment which allows eye-level composition, which as I have said is a must-have for me, and has the additional benefit of making an already strange looking device look downright weird. It’s certainly a conversation starter.
The 21:9 aspect ratio is a bit deeper than the XPan. It is about halfway between the standard 6x12 and 6x17 ratios - the XPan is slightly taller than 6x17. This is actually fine by me. I often found the XPan format a smidgen too wide, and I’ve always pined for a 612 camera. The resolution of the 21:9 DP0 image (5424 x 2324) is approximately half that of an XPan frame scanned at 4000dpi (around 12200 x 4700), but of course the two are not directly comparable. The actual information content is very similar. Of course, the DP0 has a fixed lens, whereas the XPan has three native lenses to choose from (as well as some other fairly dodgy choices via adaptor). The DP0’s 21mm equivalent lens gives a field of view roughly equivalent to the XPan 45mm lens. And they’re both f/4. And both extremely good quality lenses.
Anyway, that’s an awful lot of babble before getting on to the core of the matter: how do they actually compare ? Well, I don’t do “tests” as such, I really cannot be bothered. But recently I took the DP0 to make a few photos in the nearby Golle della Breggia, in a location I remembered shooting with the XPan a few years back.
Of course, these photos are taken at different times of the year, different times of the day, and with different framing, never mind with completely different technology. The only common factor was the photographer. Given that, to my eyes at least they have a quite remarkably similar rendering of colour and tonality. The Minolta scanner, which I have now replaced, also developed a tendency to exaggerate red in the midtowns, which I clearly did not sufficiently correct here. I could certainly get the two photos to look very close in rendition with a few minutes work, but that isn’t the point: what I’m looking to decide is if the DP0 can assume the role of the XPan for me, and I’m tending to believe it can, so far.
It is also interesting to compare resolution. Here again, there is a degree of subjectivity, as the scan is not necessarily optimum, and here no sharpening has been applied (although Sigma Photo Pro allegedly always applies some sharpening). I’ve tried to match two roughly similar areas of the photos, with the DP0 crop at 1:1, and the XPan reduced more or less to match.
So, very, very subjective, but it does look like the Sigma’s Quattro sensor is a match for 4000dpi scanned 35mm Kodak E100G. Not actually a big surprise, although it is probable that with a bit of work I could extract a little more detail from the film.
The XPan still has at least two advantages - the 30mm and 90mm lenses. But in terms of overall end to end user experience, there is a remarkable similarity between the two cameras. Indeed, it can be as time consuming to extract a processed file from Sigma Photo Pro as it is to make a good film scan…
One are where the DP0 wins outright, however, is low light photography. You can do long exposures on film, but dealing with reciprocity failure is painful, especially with slide film. The DP0, on the other hand, will cheerfully make an exposure up to 30 seconds (but no more, let’s not carried away here). Also, I really like the way the Foveon sensors (both Merrill and Quattro) render tungsten lighting. So to wrap up here are a few shots from my first major outing with the DP0 in Venice.
It is tempting to draw a conclusion from the fact that since I’ve owned the DP0, the XPan has sat on the shelf. But it is early days yet, and there haven’t really been many opportunities to use it recently. I certainly wasn’t going to take it to Colombia. There are also some situations in which I don’t really trust the Sigmas, in particular snow and ice. And although the Quattro has much better battery life than the Merrill, it’s still pushing it to reach 100 shots. Then again, processing 100 shots in Sigma Photo Pro takes roughly a decade, so perhaps it’s just as well.
But I’ll repeat what I’ve said before: the Sigma DP0, with the LCD viewfinder, set at 21:9, is the closest digital camera I’ve found so far in terms of handling and user experience to the Hasselblad XPan. And it’s a great camera in its own right, fun to use and with devastatingly high quality output.
Well, it’s here. The (maybe, possibly) “Digital XPan”. As I mentioned yesterday, I found that Amazon Germany was selling the Sigma DP0 Viewfinder kit for €780, if I followed an advertising link on an external site. Going direct to Amazon, it was listed at €1000. Very strange, but I grabbed the opportunity, and they delivered. And it arrived this afternoon, and as soon as I could charge up the battery, I managed to escape from work for 15 minutes and took a couple of test shots, using the 21:9 aspect ratio.
The camera has a very unusual shape, but I find it quite nice to hold. It’s built like a tank, like the Merrills, but perhaps with a touch more elegance. The manual is totally unnecessary: the controls and menu on the Sigma are second to none, and the QS “Quick Select” button brings up a page which is even improved on the Merrill version. I accidentally shot at ISO800, which would have been a disaster on the Merrills, but it’s ok here. The Foveon colours are as delicate and realistic as ever.
So, is it an approximation to a digital XPan? My very, very, first impression is that it might just be.
I’ve very recently discovered RPF, the Real Photographers Forum. A dedicated site for people to discuss photographs in a good natured way, and without hiding behind nicknames. Seems like a good idea to me.
Naturally, being fully committed to the Art Of Photography, the first sub-forum I visited was “Equipment and Media”. And there, I immediately found a very interesting post by a chap named Rob MacKillop about the 21:9 format available on the Sigma DP2 Quattro I’ve previously drooled over. I do recall being intrigued about this feature before, but I’d forgotten about it.
Now, 21:9 isn’t that far removed from the 12:6 format of the Linhof 612 Technorama which I’ve drooled even more over but cannot realistically afford this side of a serious bank heist. But I’m already a card carrying Sigma Foveon fan (literally, Sigma includes a little plastic card in the box in Swizerland), so all in all it looks very tempting. And even vaguely affordable.
So I decided to see what the image aspect looks like:
The photo is a scanned XPan frame, so 2.7:1, not far off the 3:1 format of 617 monster cameras. The green lines represent a 612 frame. And the red, a 21:9 frame. Looks pretty ideal to me…
Of course this is a crop of the Sigma Quattro sensor, and possibly does not match the resolution of a 612 slide or negative scanned in my OpticFilm 120, but I bet it’s not far off. And, of course, I could just as well crop a shot from my DP2 or DP3 Merrill. But I would like a DP1 to complete the set, and framing at the time of the shot is important to the way I photograph. So maybe this would be a good compromise. And the look of a Foveon image on a good day is pretty stunning. Almost like film… Actually, it’s almost like film on a bad day too, although that’s probably not a good thing.
Alternatives still remain: a Fuji GSW690 would crop down nicely, although obviously not a 6x12 resolution, and 6x9 is basically boring old 35mm 3:2. And I’ve got my eye on a Mamiya 7 at at very attractive price on a certain auction site (no, not that one). But can one use a Mamiya 7 without plagiarising Bruce Percy? I doubt it.
So, thank you RPF for nourishing my Gear Acquisition Syndrome. But, for once, in a good way!