A Review of the Seitz Roundshot 220 VR
By Bill Glickman
Seitz a small Swiss
camera manufacturer is the industry leader in rotational cameras.
They offer 35mm, MF and 70mm rotational cameras.
The cameras can shoot not only the scenes around them, but can be
modified to shoot rotating objects in front of the. Or, they can shoot a 200 ft
long mural by traveling down a long set of tracks, also made by Seitz.
The possibilities are endless with their line of cameras.
This review is of the Roundshot 220 VR, a rotational camera using
120/220 film and interchangeable lenses. They
also make a 35mm Roundshot and a 70mm Roundshot.
Roundshot 220 VR
The camera must be purchased with a special lens plate adapter.
Adapters available to date are Nikon for 35mm lens and Mamiya,
Hasselblad, Contax and Pentax for Medium Format lenses.
Most people are surprised to learn that 35mm lenses have sufficient image
circle to cover MF film. However, MF lenses will provide better on-film resolution due to a
larger image circle and thus the film seeing the high-resolving middle portion
of the image circle. Lens focal
length usable range from 14mm to 1000mm. Beware,
zoom lenses are not permitted. The reason
is that each lenses exact focal length must be known and programmed into the
brain box. This is required to
accurately calculate the exact length of film that must be used to prevent
compression or stretching of the image. A
zoom lens could never accurately be set to the same focal length twice, so the
user would achieve extremely poor results if this was tried.
The 220 film recording area is 52mm high, slightly less than most MF
cameras. The length of the shot can
be as long as the user wants, even the entire length of a 220 roll of film!
The camera offers movements in two flavors.
The first is conventional rise and fall of the lens panel. (Same effect
as on a view camera) The second
movement is tilt. This is not the
same tilt as we know on a view cameraŠ the entire camera head tilts for the
lens to see things higher and lower. The
camera can be ordered with none, one or both of these options. This is a very flexible system for capturing a scene that is
not even with the camera head.
The camera consist of two parts, the camera body and the "brainbox".
The camera body houses the film rollers, lens panel and the forward and
backward movements that allows the lens nodal point to be centered over the
rotational axis. This is used primarily
in close up work. The camera also comes
with a slit-style compendium hood which is unique to this camera.
It works great when shooting into the sunŠ but of course not head-on
into the sun.
The brainbox consist of the keypad, battery compartment and rotational motor for the camera head. A cable connects the two. The camera is designed so you can take the camera head off the brainbox and leave the keypad near you, while the camera is mounted say 20 ft high in the air. An additional long cable needs to be purchased to accomplish this. All input is entered into the brain box. The information and operational requirements for a rotational camera are very sophisticated Vs. a normal camera. Variables such angle of rotation, focus distance, slit size, lens focal length, F stop, starting point, stopping point and film length / film speed must be entered accurately for every shot to create successful images. It¹s a lot too think about when you are trying to get a shot off really quick at sunset! Focusing is accomplished on a slit-shaped ground glass. If you are using very wide aperture lenses, it works fine, but low light and /or higher F stop lenses make focusing quite a challenge. Accessory bright-screens are available. As for exposure, the options are amazing. For the simple minded like myself, you can stay with manual exposure. Simply set the aperture on the lens and tell the brainbox the shutter speed, from 4 seconds to 1/250th.
For more complex scenes, you can allow the on-board computers to do a test spin to examine the light in the designated scene. Then the computer will provide a graphical output on the display showing its recommended exposure ranges. For example in a sunny part of a scene it may suggest 1/60th, but in a shaded area it may adjust to 1/15th. This is incredibly sophisticated and quite accurate. In addition there is a full range of editing tools you can use to adjust the graphical display to achieve the exact exposure you desire. This is not possible with a basic lens type camera where the entire piece of film gets the exact same amount of light.
The one drawback in rotational cameras which change speed is the
potential for banding that appears on the film.
This banding is like short 1/8th inch stretch or compression
marks from the camera head speeding up and slowing down or visa versa.
The key is, to keep these changes gradual, and banding is avoided.
However, this takes a great deal of time and testing to perfect. Compared to the older type rotational cameras banding has
been greatly reduced. And of course
with manual exposure, this is never an issue.
Vertical pans can be shot with this camera provided the lenses are not
to heavy. Heavy lenses create the
motor to slow down during the most intense load bearing part of the rotation.
This can slow the speed and create a bit of banding or distortion on the
film. The Seitz¹s do have an
answer for this also, it¹s a counter weight balancing system for the heavier
lenses. A bracket is added and the
user adds or subtracts weight until the lens is perfectly balanced over the
Reasons to Buy a Seitz 220 VR
Although there are many niche markets that need this camera, as I mentioned above, shooting long murals on camera tracks and rotating objectsŠ. my guess is the majority of users buy the camera for its limitless aspect ratio. Instead of being fixed to an aspect ratio such as 6x17 with Medium Format Panoramic cameras or a Large Format camera at 8x20, this camera enables you to shoot one shot 6x12cm and the next shot 6 x 300cm! Now that¹s unique. With this camera, you tend to shoot the scene you want and not just the part you can cram into your camera with the available lenses. Up to recently, with the advent of software stitching, this was the only real way to achieve such varying aspect ratios.
I thoroughly explored software stitching as an alternative.
However it also had many drawbacks, such asŠ
1. Limitations on file sizes that can be stitched due to Windows 98 limitations. Not sure if this holds true on the Macs.
2. Inability to capture a moving scene and have it make sense, like an ocean / beach scene. The waves would be starting and stopping in all different places.
3. The inability for software to properly assess the scene and excessive warpage caused by lenses. Many stitched images do not accurately reflect what was in the scene.
4. TimeŠ.taking all these shots, scanning them, and doing all the tweaking in software seemed to take forever, and quite often the results were still not accurate.
5. Movement is a big issue with stitched shots. For example, if a tree is moving ever so lightly in a breeze this can be captured without blur with a given shutter speed. However, when you take two shots, the tree would need to be in exactly the same area for each shot for the stitching software to fully acknowledge what and where it should stitch. No matter how sophisticated the software becomes, it can only produce output as good as the film you offer it. Another problem like this is a busy street scene. It's almost impossible to capture with multi-shot stitched pans unless no cars or people were moving between shots. Or, you might have the same person appear 5 times in your shot!
In my review of panoramic stitching software I was very impressed with the capabilities of what this software can do for the money. However, the industry is still in its infancy and there is not a lot of money behind it. So I doubt things will develop at warp speed like they do with other more popular software like PhotoShop or spreadsheets. Its important to understand what subjects you plan to shoot pans with before deciding if this route will work for you. Of course the volume of pans you plan to shoot is also a very important consideration.
review of PowerStitch, possibly the most advanced panoramic stitching
program available, can be found here. (MR)
So the main reason to buy this camera is to accurately achieve panoramic
images with the use of interchangeable lenses, films and aspect ratios.
If this fits the bill, the Seitz¹s cameras, including the 220 VR is the
only game on the planet.
To be fair, there is another USA maker of MF rotational cameras called Hulcherama.
However, these cameras do not offer anywhere near the sophistication of
the 220VR. From what I have heard
though they are very reliable cameras and cost just a bit less than the 220VR.
Why You Might Not Want to Buy a 220VR
If you are a technical junkie this camera is for you.
However, if you are a novice to photography or are not technically
oriented, you may find this camera
very frustrating to use. Although
the camera is highly sophisticated in its capabilities, like anything else, the
more sophistication, the longer the learning curve.
First time users should plan on spending a full week testing all aspects
of the software, exposure and programming of the brainbox before entering the
field. Once you master it, it sure
is powerfulŠ but it certainly is no point-and-shoot.
Anyone considering renting one of these camera at $200 per day better
have someone along that knows how to use it, otherwise you will spend a ton of
money on simply learning and testing.
The size and weight of the camera is a bit cumbersome for backpacking or
field work. The camera weighs about
14 lb. with a lens. The
approximate size is similar to a 4x5 field camera with a 300mm lens on it.
It is not easy to hold since you can only really grab it by the brain
box. It comes in a Pelican case,
which also weighs a ton.
The price is very high. The
camera body with shift and tilt is about USD $11,000, which varies based on the
type of lens boards and options. Medium
format lens prices vary tremendously based on which type you use.
If you elect to use Pentax 67 or Mamiya 645 lenses the prices are fairly
reasonable and quite available on the used market. Hasselblad and Contax lenses are obviously much more
expensive. However if one already
owns a Hasselblad medium format system it would drastically reduce the capital
cost of the system. 35mm lenses are
the most cost effective option, but as Mr. Seitz claims, quality will suffer.
If one is spending this much on a camera system, I would not recommend
the use of 35mm lenses.
A rotational camera that shoots at 1 second does not take 1 second for
the image. It takes one second for
the slit size you have installed. For
example, if you are using a .4mm slit, meaning this is the amount of light
actually hitting the film and your film length for the shot is 10 inches,
(250mm) then 625 slit sizes fit into this film areaŠwhich equals 625 seconds,
or 10 minutes. So if you are
shooting a sunset, you can imagine what the first part of image looks like Vs.
the last part. This is where you
have to be very familiar with the camera to figure out ways to accomplish your
task, such as wider slits, faster film, pushing film, wider f stops, less
rotation, etc. Even with all
the tricks, you can still have some long exposures. In one scene I have an airplane far away that is in the
entire scene! Talk about a
If you shoot a lot of moving subjects, be careful with this camera.
If you shoot a car going by, if the lens is rotating into the cars
movement you will get the most unusual looking compressed car.
A Lincoln town car will look like a Honda Civic.
Whereas if the care is moving in the same direction as the rotating lens,
a Honda Civic would look like a stretch limo!
So, moving objects that have known references to them are best shot with
standard, non-rotating, panoramic cameras.
However an ocean scene has no reference, so the viewer rarely would ever
notice these oddities.
Seitz is a very small family owned business.
Although they try their best, it is hard to get support half-way around
the globe. In some areas of the
world knowledgeable dealers can act as intermediaries to help solve problems.
When the cameras needs repairs, be prepared to spend a few hundred
dollars in freight to return it to the factory in Switzerland.
Occasionally a local dealer can perform minor repairs.
Surprisingly enough, there is no 220 VR support groups on the web that
help each other on the peculiar nature of the camera.
I think one should be started because sometimes the best place for
support on a product like this is other users. Seitz
are camera builders not photographers, so sometimes you are better off finding a
user to help Vs. the factory if the question is application related.
Seitz has a web site with further details.
This review was written by Bill Glickman, a Las Vegas based large-format landscape photographer. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2000, Bill Glickman