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XPan 30mm Lens

Background

Hasselblad XPan

I have been a huge fan of the Hasselblad XPan camera system since it first came out in late 1998. I purchased one of the first cameras to come into Canada in early 1999 and have used it with the 45mm and 90mm lenses for a great deal of landscape and travel photography. 

Because of the camera's small size, light weight and very high quality lenses to a large extent it has replaced the Fuji 617 for much of my panoramic work, and I'll frequently use it instead of a Leica M6 for travel work if I think landscape shooting is going to be possible and fast aperture lenses aren't needed. I used the camera extensively on a shoot in southern Utah in January, 2000 and you can see a gallery of XPan images from that shoot here.

In October, 1999 Hasselblad announced what had been rumoured almost since the camera's introduction ‹ a 30mm ultra-wide angle lens for the XPan. I ordered one right away from Robert White, an excellent mail-order house in the U.K. Robert had placed an order for the lens with Hasselblad soon after announcement and promised I would be among the first to receive one.

Sure enough ‹ after a wait of almost 4 months, in mid-February 2000 my lens arrived. Since its serial number is about #150, I'm fairly certain that it is among the first lenses shipped outside of Japan. (The camera and all of its lenses are made by Fuji in Japan, though marketed elsewhere in the world by Hasselblad. And, for those that are familiar with Fuji medium and large format lenses, there should be no surprise that these are fine lenses indeed ‹ fully up to Hasselblad's medium format reputation with Zeiss glass).

First Impressions

Toronto Harbour Lifeguard Station ‹ 2000

Fortunately when Fedex delivered the lens I was pleased that it was a brilliantly sunny winter day and immediately set out to do my first tests. With an ultra-wide angle lens flare is frequently an important issue and I was eager to see how the 30mm performed in this regard. The above photograph is of a life-guard station on the Toronto harbour-front, and as you can see from the shadows was shot almost directly into the low mid-February sun. There isn't a hint of flare! Whether through efficient multi-coating or a well designed lens shade, this is impressive performance since there are the two extra surfaces of the centre filter to cause flare as well. (You may click here or on the picture above for a 10" wide version of the photograph above).

Photographed with a Hasselblad XPan and 30mm f/5.6 lens on Fuji Velvia

This is an actual pixels blow-up from the above frame. The transparency was scanned with an Imacon FlexTight Photo scanner at 3,200 DPI. This is at the grain level of the film. A larger blow-up wouldn't show any further detail. I realize that you're viewing this on the web at a maximum of 92dpi doesn't give too much information, but I can assure you that image quality and resolution are superb.

The Lens

The Hasselblad XPan 30mm f/5.7 Aspherical lens comes in a foam-fitted leatherette box. The lens is supplied complete with accessory viewfinder, 58mm centre filter, custom lens hood and fitted pouches for both the lens and viewfinder. It is worth noting as well that the lens hood locks in place ‹ another improvement over the first-generation lenses. The lens pouch is also considerately designed to hold the lens with the custom lens hood attached. In light of the price of this lens ( U.S. $2,500 ‹ $3,000 depending on where in the world you live) it comes well presented and equipped. 

Of course the big news about this lens is its focal length. In standard 35mm mode this is a moderately wide angle lens. Nothing special. But in panoramic mode the lens covers 94 degrees of horizontal coverage ‹ comparable to a 17mm lens in 35mm terms.

Since the XPan is essential a medium format camera in its coverage it really needs to be compared to 6X7cm cameras such as the Mamiya 67 in terms of coverage. At 30mm focal length this lens is the widest angle lens available for any camera shooting film of this width. The widest lens for the Mamiya 67, for example, is 43mm. For the Mamiya RB/RZ it's 50mm. For one last example, the Hasselblad Superwide is 38mm, and that's on a narrower film. My point is that this lens is w i d e, and that's what makes it unique.

Users of ultra-wide lenses for 35mm SLRs will be surprised at how small the lens is ‹ about the same size as the 45mm ‹ just a bit fatter. This small size is due to the slow aperture (f/5.6) and the fact that it's designed for a rangefinder camera rather than an SLR which needs a large back-focus distance due to the mirror-box housing.

I'm no optical expert, but I have talked with one and am assured that this lens is a technical tour-de-force.

The Aperture & Centre Filter

This is an f/5.6 lens. Slow by modern standards. But, when used in panoramic mode (which I'm sure is the way most people will use it 99% of the time) the supplied centre filter is absolutely necessary. It compensates for roughly a 1.5 stop difference in illumination between the centre and edges of the frame. That's just the nature of the beast and is found on almost every manufacturer's ultra-wide angle lenses for wide-format cameras ‹ particularly in medium and large format applications.

The problem is that this reduces the lens to almost f/11. For my primary application, landscape photography, this doesn't overly concern me since I shoot tripod-mounted almost all the time. But, when used as a travel camera a lens this slow precludes the use of slow-speed film for hand-held work, except on a sunny day at the beach.

Because of this, on my Asian trip, which included shooting in the cloudy mountains and jungles of Bali, I brought along quite a bit of ISO 400 speed colour negative film ( Kodak Portra 400VC), which allowed for hand-holding in many situations, often with a monopod.

Temple Frog, Bali ‹ 2000

At the bottom of a long steep jungle trail leading down to the sacred Ayung River in central Bali, I came across a small alter with a religious ceremony underway. Not wanting to disturb the worshipers I continued down the trail a few yards and came across this apparently ancient idol's head carved into a large rock beside the footpath. A small tabletop tripod allowed for an exposure of 8 seconds @ f/11.

Photographed with a Hasselblad XPan and 30mm f/5.6 lens on Kodak VC400 film.

The Viewfinder

I am particularly impressed with the viewfinder. The body itself only auto-frames the 45mm and 90mm lenses. Therefore, the 30mm lens needs to be framed through the accessory finder. It securely attaches to the camera's accessory shoe and due to its custom design can't be accidentally dislodged. (This is a good thing since the loss would be frustrating and a replacement would likely be really expensive).

The viewfinder is extremely bright and free from distortion. It has provision for eyepiece diopters and features a hard-rubber eyepiece. The full frame can be seen with eyeglasses. The etched frame-lines show 35mm as well as panoramic framing and parallax correction lines for both formats are also shown.

I was very pleased to see that a bubble-level is clearly visible at the bottom of the viewfinder. This is a critical feature with such a lens system since perspective distortion and bent horizontal lines are problems unless the camera is kept strictly horizontal.

Hong Kong Skyline, 2000

My first day in Hong Kong was cool and rainy. After an afternoon nap to help recover from jet lag I was eager to try out the new 30mm lens. As night fell I walked along the promenade on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour, and using a small table-top tripod on the edge of the sea-wall took this 8 second exposure @ f/16. The rain and mist helped add some character to the sky.

Photographed with a Hasselblad XPan and 30mm f/5.6 lens on Kodak VC400 film.

In Use

The XPan with the 30mm lens isn't the fastest operating camera system one can own. It really demands being tripod mounted for a variety of reasons. Taking a shot requires frequent changes of eye position between the camera's viewfinder for focusing and exposure, the accessory viewfinder for framing, and the rear LCD panel for shutter speed and other information. It takes a bit of getting used to but isn't a big deal.

A Bali Portfolio

In the winter of 2000 my wife and I took a vacation in Bali, Indonesia, with stop offs in Hong Kong and Singapore. Though not a photographic trip per se, I took along my Hasselblad XPan system and new 30mm ultra-wide angle lens. This portfolio features photographs from that trip.

Monument Valley ‹ 2000

North Window Panorama, 2000

In the spring of 2000 I lead a landscape workshop in Monument Valley Arizona. The 30mm lens saw a lot of use since the western landscape lends itself to wide-format treatment. 

Redwall Cavern, Grand Canyon ‹ May, 2000

Redwall Canyon is a huge amphitheater carved out of the canyon wall by massive floods of the Colorado River inside the Grand Canyon over countless millennium. Many hundreds of people could fit in this cave at one time.

Using the 30mm lens I was able to exploit its wide field of view in this unique location. It's worth viewing the enlarged 10" version so you can see people's silhouettes in the lower left hand corner to add a sense of scale. To see more photographs from this trip, click here.

Photographed with a Hasselblad XPan and 30mm lens on Fuji Provia 100F

The Bottom Line

I've been greatly enjoying working with this lens. The XPan has become one of my most used systems for landscape work and this lens greatly expands its versatility. This camera system is not at all mainstream. It's expensive and quirky and the 30mm lens alone costs more than the camera. Few photographers are comfortable working with ultra-wide-angle lenses let alone wide-aspect-ratio systems. Not that it matters, but my guess is that this lens will become something of a collectors item in the years ahead. In the meantime I'm looking forward to doing some exciting photography with it.

Click here for Hasselblad's press release and technical specs on this lens.

If you have any questions about this lens please feel free to contact me here.

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Concepts: Photography, Camera, Wide-angle lens, Photographic lens, Single-lens reflex camera, Hasselblad, Lens cover, Fujifilm

Entities: Hong Kong, Toronto, 1999 Hasselblad, Kodak, Fedex, Japan, Canada, U.K., U.S., Japan., Indonesia, Singapore, ISO, Ayung River, Redwall Canyon, cloudy mountains, Monument Valley, Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Michael Reichmann, Robert, Robert White, Zeiss, Victoria Harbour, Bali, Utah, Arizona, SLRs, SLR

Tags: camera, 30mm, Hasselblad XPan, angle lens, ultra-wide angle lens, lens hood, viewfinder, new 30mm lens, centre filter, custom lens hood, widest angle lens, lens hood locks, lens pouch, widest lens, Hong Kong, Kodak VC400 film, lens shade, Aspherical lens, Hasselblad XPan camera, accessory viewfinder, small, panoramic mode, ultra-wide angle lenses, focal length, medium format, small size, large format, large format lenses, camera shooting film, medium format camera, 35mm, fastest operating camera, photographs, camera system, ultra-wide lenses, low mid-February sun, standard 35mm mode, medium format reputation, excellent mail-order house, aperture lenses