Panon Widelux F8: Panoramic 35mm Camera Review
I was recently loaned a Widelux F8 to use for a little while, and while I tend to prefer medium format, the Widelux was so different that I am finding myself drawn back to it. (Welcome to Wrongsville, Population: Me.)
The Widelux is a swing lens panoramic camera that has a 26mm F2.8 lens which is 140 degree viewing angle. There are quite a few different models of the Widelux, the F8 being the last one made, which ended in the 1990's. There were a number of previous version, F6, F6b, F7, and possibly others, I can’t find a ton of information on them, nor what the differences or upgrades are. There was also a 120 version that shot 6x12. That camera is huge, though.
The camera is very basic, with a shutter speed dial, aperture, film wind/shutter advance, shutter button, and viewfinder all on the top. It is an all metal design, giving a nice heft in the hand, but not being overweight.
There is a viewfinder on top, one that I didn’t actually use that much. I mostly just used this camera as a point and shoot. If you choose to use the viewfinder, it does seem pretty accurate, however. Nothing on the camera feels as though it is fragile or will break, one of the advantages of using an all metal camera from pre-1980ish.
The loading of the Widelux is a series of ups and down, with the film going under a number of rollers to keep the film pressed against the curve in the back. This is a slit scan camera, essentially. The lens swings and exposes the film one tiny slit at a time.
Images from this camera are curved, unlike the Xpan. If the look is your thing, this is a great camera for you. My issues with the camera were quite a few. With only three shutter speeds (1/15, 1/125, and 1/250) and apertures between F2.8 and F11, shooting this camera was really limited. If this was my 6x15 camera, it wouldn’t be as big of an issue, as it only produces five shots. Shooting 35mm, this camera gets between 10ish (24 exposure roll) and 20ish (36 exposure roll) of film. I can’t get through an entire roll that quickly, usually. With such a limited range, shooting 1600 speed film indoors its almost impossible to shoot outdoors without the wildly expensive and rare filter kit. The filter kit sits inside the lens housing, I have yet to find an alternative to the filters that are designed for the camera.
When I got the camera back to my friend whom I loaned it, I tried to shoot and enjoy the camera. I thought I could produce images I’d be happy with while enjoying the camera itself. I was happy with some of the images, but using the camera is an exercise in annoyance.
You have to hold the camera on the top and bottom to prevent your fingers from being in the images. Winding the camera forward wasn’t easy (I mean, it isn’t hard, either) and the knurl on the knob is really irritating. There is no stop on the film when it is done, so I ripped a ton of sprocket holes and double exposed film. Rewinding the film was, without a doubt, the most annoying part of the camera. The knurl on the knob hurts; the knurl rubbed my fingers raw while rewinding. You have to hold down the rewind button the whole time you’re rewinding.
I started writing this review in March 2017, as I had been loaned this camera. I ran a few rolls through it, thought it was unique (that’s more factual than opinion) and gave it back. A friend was selling one, so I bought it. Between him telling me he didn’t want it anymore and me actually buying, I decided I wanted nothing to do with the camera, but I was a man of my word so I bought it.
Now, having owned the camera for a time, loaning it out to a friend for some time and getting it back and using, I can confidently say that I hate this camera. I hate how it loads. I hate how it winds. You have to hold it weird, yup, hate that, too.
If you’re prepared to shoot a quirky camera, this fits the bill. I just prefer my cameras to have a full range of shutter speeds and apertures. I thought I would be able to get past these and enjoy this camera for what it is, but I was not able to. I’m not saying the camera is bad, it is actually really well built and sturdy, I just did not enjoy using it