Panoramic Photography - Broaden Your Horizons!

Posted: 05/07/2012

Panoramic photography is a new way of looking at taking photos and something I have started to explore after getting the Horizon Kompakt from the folks at Lomography. The topic was brought up briefly on FPP Episode 55  and in addition to the thread in the forums  it seemed like a good idea to give you - the readers, a brief introduction to the panoramic format.


FPP Group Shot (Noblex Swing Lens Camera) - DonkerDave

The idea of panoramic photography is not a new one, and is a lot older that I expected. The first panoramic camera was developed and built in 1843 using the Daguerreotype method exposed up to a 24 inch plate and had a field of view of 150 degrees. A year later an improved camera was built that had better control of the lens speed by using a gearing system to ensure a more even exposure of the plate. Using plates however made it difficult to keep the size of the camera to a minimum. It wasn’t until 1888 and Eastman Kodak’s flexible film that saw panoramic photography start to see more popular attention. Panoramic photography saw a lot of action through the early half of the 20th century. There was a resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s and even still today, with such photographers as Jeff Bridges embracing the format, and the offerings from the Lomographic Society.

FPP NYC Highline 360 (Lomography Spinner 360) - Mat Marrash

But what sets a panoramic photo apart from a normal photo or the panoramic mode on your point and shoot is that it all comes down to the angle of view - your 24mm lens on your  camera will only capture a 65 degree angle of view - then using masks in the camera body crop the exposure so give it that narrow look of a panoramic image. Most photographers agree that panoramic cameras capture at least 75 degrees all the way up to 360 degrees. Because of such a wide viewing angle they take up a lot more film than your regular cameras. Medium format cameras creating exposures of 6x17 or 6x24, and in 35mm exposure lengths of 58mm about twice the length of a normal exposure.

Not Flowers (Lomography Sprocket Rocket) - Darren Riley

The first and oldest is a swing lens camera, which using a motor (hand, clockwork or electric) swings a wide angle lens across the sweep of the image, exposing a narrow stretch of film as it passes along it. Actor Jeff Bridges uses a swing lens camera - the Widelux. FPP listener Donker Dave is another swing lens user and uses the Noblex

Lomography’s Horizon series, which is based on an older Russian camera, the Zenit Horizon (that saw use on the Mir Station) is the second type of panoramic camera that is a full rotation camera -  instead of just the lens moving, the entire camera moves  This camera movement allows you to capture all 360 degrees. From 1905 to 1949 Kodak produced a series of these types of cameras known as the Cirkut.

Cirkut Camera Demonstration by Richard Malogorski

Today you can pick up Lomography’s Spinner-360 - in a split second the camera spins 360° around its own axis and records everything that’s around you on a frame more than 4 times longer than a conventional landscape picture.

The third type is a fixed lens panoramic camera, also known as flat backs, wide views or wide field cameras. These cameras use a very wide lens known as a panomorphic lens, which allows the photographer to capture an entire space without having blind spots. On the high end you can pick up flat backs from Hasselblad, Horseman, Linhoff, and Fuji. If you’re on a budget, Lomography’s Sprocket Rocket or the Holga Panoramic camera may be an option. You can also build your own pinhole based panoramic camera.

Scheepvaartmuseum glass roof (Home made 35mm Pinhole Flatback) - Tony Kemplen

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Ayr Queen (Hasselblad Xpan II Flatback) - PolarisAndy

Panoramic photography is a great way to get a new outlook on your photography. And surprisingly fits well into several genres such as landscapes, architecture and even street. I haven’t tried it with portrait work but you never know, it could create a unique look.

These cameras, even the offerings from Lomography are not inexpensive and they do take up more film than usual, but if you have the extra funds and want to broaden your horizons, I would highly recommend picking up one of these cameras.

Long-time FPP listener Alex Luyckx works both in Information Technology support and as a freelance photographer. He describes himself as a film photographer stuck in a digital world. He loves using cameras older than he is and long walks through abandoned buildings. You can follow his photo blog at:


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