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on the Panon Widelux F7

Panon Widelux F7 Fujifilm 400h

Panon Widelux F7 Fujifilm 400h

Several months before I hit the big 4-0 was when I first saw her, surrounded by others of her generation but still out of place. It's not that she was exceptionally beautiful or exceptionally ugly,... 

She just didn't look like she belonged,... which was what caught my eye. Not just me, other people too. It looks like a camera but it has no lens. No obvious one atleast.  So it looks like a metal art deco man purse. It's a good thing I live in Japan where the shoulder sling man purse is a thing,... I just look trendy,.. is what I tell myself :P

There are a handful of websites that have details on the Widelux itself if that is what you're after,... a small Trump hand sized handful because there aren't that many Wideluxes out there to begin with,... there aren't that many people using them regularly, and even less using them really well. 

Panon Widelux F7 Fuji film Acros 100 in caffenol

Instead, this'll be what it's like to use as your main everyday carry, because that's what I've done since my last birthday. I didn't intend to do a 'year with a blahblah' because, frankly, I hate those articles,...  

and I didn't,... carry it around as my only camera for a year that is.

Panon Widelux F7 Fuji film 400h

Panon Widelux F7 Fuji film 400h

Anyway, 40 rolled round and I decided to get myself a watch,... but I couldn't find anything I liked in my little town so after walking around all day I stopped into my local second hand camera shop for a breather, as you do. Several months after I first saw her, she was still there, still out of place, still unloved. Others had come and gone, but she was still being awkward where I last saw her being awkward. 

That night I went to bed cradling my new weird swing lens clockwork camera,... full of buyer's remorse because quite frankly this is the stupidest camera I could ever have gotten for what I do,.... But that night I also dreamed of shooting cinematic panoramas while smugly holding two fingers up at Xpan owners who surely paid atleast 3 times what I did for the Widelux, the silly fools.

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The Widelux was fun for about a week. That's how long it took for me to figure out that Yep, I was right, this really is the stupidest thing I could have gotten. It did a couple of cool things but it didn't do what I wanted it to do. 

The next couple of weeks would be me trying to make it do what I wanted,... 

I took it apart and moved the lens so that I could focus closer,... it works, but didn't get me as close as I'd have liked.

I had diopters put into the filters so I could shoot closer,... it works except I realized that zone focusing close up is quite tricky when your subjects move, as humans have a tendency to,... and I keep worrying about losing the filters. 

I shoot in shitty light a lot,... a lot,... so f2.8 would have been great but mine is a bit soft,... I should have not messed with the lens that much.

Panon Widelux kentmere 400 probably, probably at f2.8

Panon Widelux kentmere 400 probably, probably at f2.8

I was continuously in "half assed test" mode that I kept running cheap grainy film through it, and not metering properly and that combination resulted in less than stellar results,... surprise surprise. Half assing in test mode had always been good enough with other regular cameras.

Disappointed, I put her on the shelf to come back to a little later.

Reika Ikitsuki+Scan-161012-0005 Film.jpg

In that time my life had changed a bit to where I did less proper shoots and did more life living as it were. Naturally a point 'n shoot was next on my shopping list. 

The shopping is the funnest part, let's be honest. The research, the flickr googling, the hunt, the stumbling upon a viable alternative, the new resulting hunt of said stumblement,... but none quite had what I wanted,... questionable condition, ageing electronics and the recent boom in film photography pushed almost everything outside of my price range. I'm a stingy bastard you see.

Panon Widelux F7 , Velvia and New years day in Nagasaki, Japan.

Panon Widelux F7 , Velvia and New years day in Nagasaki, Japan.

Then I stumbled upon the work of Jens Olof Lasthein and Michael von Graffenreid . Which made me go back to Jeff Bridges' work.    

Going through their work made me realize that I had a pretty damn capable camera that did what I wanted sitting in my cupboard. The problem was, as with most unhappy relationships, that I didn't listen. It was all me going "I want to do this and this and this,...".

Once I realized that, however, and started listening,... we started to get along.  

Panon Widelux F7 and juggler girls work well.

Panon Widelux F7 and juggler girls work well.

So we had a fresh start,... I would take her out everyday, around my neck not in the backpack. I loaded her with nice fuji film 400h and metered properly-ish,... with a metering app. I promised to accept what she gave me and from there we took baby steps learning about each others likes and dislikes.

All cameras lie,... Either by bending the truth or out right excluding the truth. The Widelux doesn't let you do that, it takes everything in and spits it out as it was. You cant sugar coat a boring shot with a fat layer of bokeh. 

 You kinda have to let go of all that "photographer" stuff and embrace the brutal honesty that the Widelux throws back at you.

Panon Widelux F7 and the complete and utter disaster that my living room was,... sorry mom.

Panon Widelux F7 and the complete and utter disaster that my living room was,... sorry mom.

The beauty in it is that the honesty and randomness, is in fact the Widelux's saving grace. When there is so little that you can play with, the limitations push you to be creative with your framing. You start playing with random angles just for the hell of it, just to see what it'll look like on film. Half of me has more fun wasting film than actually getting a good shot, but sometimes it works.

Panon Widelux F7 and what has become my favorite way to do group shots.

Panon Widelux F7 and what has become my favorite way to do group shots.

Overtime the Widelux has proved to be less a demanding girlfriend and more a travel partner that eats anything. Sort out your exposure for your given space and all that's left to do is compose. Not having to focus can be quite a relief.   

Much like a disposable camera, you mind your light, you compose, get into a situation and that's it.

Panon Widelux F7 and situations.

Panon Widelux F7 and situations.

Everything else is dependent on what's in front of the camera. And there is a lot in front of the camera when you can't bokeh stuff out. So composition becomes your only concern.

And then there's the whole other thing of the 1/15 shutter speed, which takes 2-3 seconds to swing across that it lets you bend time and space,....

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But that might be best left for another post,... suffice it to say that it is silly fun.

It's been about 6 months since I gave up fighting the Widelux and started listening,... And it's been around my neck everyday since. We're not the best of friends yet but we're getting there. 

Below are some notes I've made, mostly for myself because I forget,... but I thought they might help anyone who might be thinking of breaking up with their Widelux,... I hope they convince you to go to couples counselling first. 

Widelux shooting notes:

  • It is both a relief and a pain in the ass to have to work with full depth of field but it frees you from worrying about focusing.

  • Bokeh and shallow depth of field has been used as a crutch,...I could blow out whole chunks to make things pretty,....I cant anymore.

  • frontal bokeh is a thing though, fun to use :D

  • Run at iso3200 you can get close focus staying at f11. Pretty much all indoor lighting conditions are fine at this iso.

  • It works best in sparse or super dense situations.

  • At iso 100 using colour negative, 1/15 at f4 works well indoors too.

  • f2.8 is a bit soft on mine but that might be due to my fiddling with the lens for closer focus. I should have left it as it was.

  • Because of the above, f4 is the widest I go,... with 1/15 it's been adequate.

  • Even after the fiddling though, f11 is sharp as fuck.

  • f5.6 to f11 depth of field is enough that things around 1-1.5m will be in focus.

  • Get closer than you think you need to.

  • Very rarely have I ever been too close….maybe once or twice.

  • Get into situations …. The Widelux is great for documentary / journalistic type stuff,.... Far from the cold clinical feel, the distortion and wideness add an other worldly feel to the plainest of images…. It's possible that this too could become a crutch or too much of a signature look.

  • The minimalism of it all,... the lack of things that you can fiddle with winds up making you be a bit more creative in how you shoot,... as mentioned earlier, you either get yourself in front of interesting situations,...or in more mundane situations, you start to consider angles that you normally wouldn't think of,... in that respect, the fixed focus point 'n shoot aspect of it makes it similar to a disposable camera. you're more apt to stick it where the sun don't shine,... just to see how it looks.

  • Manmade structures will distort,... sometimes more than you like. Nature is lovely,....few straight lines make for less apparent distortion and can be more forgiving.

  • Horizontal lines,.... Stay the fuck away from them,... or if you cant, then pick an angle that will make them a less prominent part of your composition.

  • The bubble level is king.

  • The viewfinder sucks but it is useful for framing fast moving stuff. You’ll kind of get it.

  • Width-wise follow the arrows on the top for composition.

  • Height-wise,... looking straight on, the edge of the top and bottom of your peripheral vision, where it's a bit blurry,.... is where the edge of the frame is, kinda.   

  • Get a nice strap,... it is small and compact but at the end of the day it is not a ricoh gr,... it does have a bit of heft to it and a shitty thin strap will bite into your neck meat.  I use an old school cloth canon strap.

  • I have taken to wearing it high on my chest….. This way i can shoot in trams and buses and more or less get what i’m after. Its also easier to level the bubble handsfree. My belly is not as dextrous as my chest apparently.

further reading:

these are readily googleable

these were harder to find, but provided the much needed impetus to stick with the Widelux, I'm so glad I found them: