FUJI TX-1 / HASSELBLAD XPAN REVIEW
This is a review I have been really looking forward to writing… the Fuji TX-1, also known as the XPAN, is a camera that I had lusted over for a long time. I discovered some images online taken with its very unique and cinematic format, and almost four years ago, I ran into a guy shooting with one when I was visiting Germany. After looking through the viewfinder of his camera, I knew I had to have one.
In the excitement to talk about this camera I am already getting ahead of myself! Let’s restart!
The Fuji TX-1 was produced in 1998 and was a concept camera that is said to have been shopped around at one stage to other manufacturers to seek interest in rebadging for markets outside of Japan. Supposedly, Fuji even spoke to Leica (man I wish that camera was made!), but in the end, the special project and partnership was formed between Fuji and Hasselblad.
It was quite a unique concept that is really something we take for granted today with panoramic modes so easily accessible on our phones. The XPAN took the idea of shooting a wide panoramic image on 35mm film but across almost two frames side-by-side, creating a 65x24mm negative. A roll of 36 exposures allows for 21 photos in this format.
Both version of the camera, the Fuji TX-1 sold in Japan and the Hasselblad XPAN throughout the rest of the world, was totally manufactured, both the body and lenses by Fujifilm.
I own quite a number of really well built cameras including the Leica MP and the Hasselblad 503cw, the Fuji TX-1 or XPAN is one of the nicest designed and well built cameras I have used, and belongs in the same group as those other two. With an all titanium body, the only thing that reduces it below the Leica is the plastic dials on the top. But really, everything on this camera feels very well machined, has smooth movement or solid clicks to the dials. It’s a joy to use.
The camera has a very classic rangefinder design and shape to it. The viewfinder window and frame line windows on the left, and shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on the top to the right. The viewfinder window is wide and looks fantastic. The focusing patch that works much like the Leica, is bright and easy to use for focusing at all distances. The frame lines are clear and always get the same reaction from everyone looking through it for the first time, a gasped “whoa!”.
Most of my film cameras are very much the full manual kind – there is no light meter and very few to no electronics. The TX-1 or XPAN has quite a lot of tech built in. When you put film into the camera, it unwinds to the roll completely, and then as you shoot, it spools the film back into the canister. This is great if you ever accidentally open the back as all your images are safe inside.
There is an aperture priority mode, much like the Leica M7 which is excellent. The internal meter, I have found, is very accurate and makes shooting quite quick as you can just adjust the aperture on the lens and leave the rest up to the camera. Half pressing the shutter button will lock the settings in place, allowing you to meter on a spot, half the press the shutter, and then move the camera to recompose you’re framing. This is extremely useful as it takes A LOT of practice getting images that work well with this format.
There are a couple of little quirks that should be mentioned at this stage. Inside the viewfinder there are a series of red LED’s that indicate correct or over / under exposure. If you have shot with a Leica or other rangefinders, this will feel very normal. However, there is no read out of the shutter speed in the viewfinder and only on the LCD on the back. With a maximum shutter speed of 1/1000, I do find myself having to pull the camera away and check the speed before shooting. The updated Fuji TX-2 or XPAN2 released in 2003 has the shutter speed readout in the viewfinder.
The other thing to mention is the ISO dial on the front of the camera. There is a lock for DX mode, but outside of this, it rotates freely. It has fairly good slickly held positions, so I don’t find I move it when using the camera, but have found it’s moved on occasion when in my bag.
The lenses are truly amazing. I only have the 45mm f/4, which is the standard ‘kit’ lens for the system. Its actually a medium format lens to cover the large enough image circle needed for the panoramic format, but disguised as a regular 35mm lens. It’s insanely sharp, like one of the sharpest and best lenses I own. There is a little light falloff on the corners at f/4 and there is a filter with a center spot to compensate for this, but I don’t bother using it. Its so minor on this lens and I prefer just a UV or orange filter depending on the type of film I am shooting.
The other lenses are:
Fujinon 45mm f/4.0
Fujinon 90mm f/4.0
Fujinon 30mm f/5.6 (requires external viewfinder and the center spot filter)
All are excellent, but these other two are somewhat more speciality lenses. The 90mm I have shot and found shooting portraits in this format very difficult and the 35mm is CRAZY expensive and I’m not a fan of external viewfinders, so I have stayed away from this one!
Really though, the whole reason we are here is to shoot the wide panoramic 64:24 aspect ratio. I am a huge movie buff, and working in animation, I was very much seduced by the extremely cinematic feeling this format achieves. But I was not prepared for how challenging this format is.
There are many times I will raise this camera up to my eye only to lower it again. You really have to think a lot about composition with this camera and keep a very close eye on the edges of the frame. There are so many shots I have taken only to scan the negative and find all sorts of distracting elements on both sides that I totally missed!
Recently, I published an article on www.dpreview.com about this camera and shooting it in Japan. There was a few comments about how I was not using enough of the frame, that the edges were wasted. This may well be valid! But I think there is a tendency to try and fill up all the available space with stuff when shooting with this camera. To me, the format also begs for the use of negative space and finding ways to use that extra real estate to draw the eye into what’s important. At least, that’s what I am telling myself!
Being such a cinematic format there is the obvious paring of Cinestill film. I LOVE shooting 50D and Double XX Black and White on this camera, but more than anything else, Cinestill 800T. I bought loads of this before Chris and I went to Japan and shoot much of our nighttime explorations through the alleyways and restaurants of Kyoto and Tokyo with this awesome film.
This camera has really become of a bit of a cult classic. It is one of the only cameras that constantly get stopped and excitedly asked about – “is that an XPAN!?!” With this mythical status, the prices have really skyrocketed in the last few years. There are a number of places in Japan that seem to have a supply going in and out and keep them in stock as much as possible, so if its something you are interested in (and if you are, its WELL worth the investment, this is a camera you won’t regret), I would highly recommend the following two dealers in Japan who I have purchased a number of cameras and lenses from:
Both of these dealers are very, very honest with their ratings. If they say mint, they mean it. Their shipping and service is excellent. There are number of sellers on eBay with these cameras up to $6000-7000, which is insane. I have seen the Fuji TX-1 version at least, not the XPAN, in Japan around the $2-3000 range more recently which is still very expensive, but for me, worth the money.
I spend a lot of time researching the cameras I purchase, but its not until you use it will you know if you will truly bond with a camera. I love all the cameras I have, but I must admit, I will never part with this camera. No matter which other cameras I decide to take on a trip, or just a local walk, I always, allllwaays, pack the Fuji TX-1 XPAN as well.