The whole world (almost) knows that I love the panorama format and I’ve always wanted to try shooting with a true 6×17 medium format film panorama camera. Digital Stitching is pure magic but for pure resolution and capturing a 3:1 panoramic view in one shot (thereby avoiding all the problems of moving elements) nothing beats a true panoramic camera!

Thanks to photographer Ivar Mjell from Århus, Denmark I will spend the next months with two cameras in my bag – my trusty old Canon EOS 5D and a Fuji G617 Panorama camera!  A million thanks to Ivar for letting me borrow and use his 617 camera, I really appreciate it! Check out Ivar’s website here.

This is the first in a series of reports on my 617 panorama experience, I will keep reporting my experiences through the next months.

First impression of the 617

It’s an incredible looking camera! It’s big. It’s heavy (about 2.5 kilos). It’s built like a tank! It’s 100% manual and 100% mechanical. Aperture can be stopped down to f/64.0. Any exposure longer than 1 second is on bulb setting – hold down the shutter release and bring your own stopwatch! You have to cock the shutter yourself. It has a lovely mechanical shutter sound when you fire it. It has a fixed 105mm lens (you can’t change lenses) which is about the same as a 24mm lens in 35mm format. The lens has it’s own ‘roll bar’ (or should I call it a ‘roo bar for you Aussies!) ensuring that if you drop this you will definitely crush your foot but the lens will be fine and safe no worries!

And one last thing, it absolutely dwarfs my Canon 5D!

Canon5D vs Fuji 617
My Canon 5D with 17-40 L lens next to the Fuji G617 (shot with crappy camera phone)

Second impression of the 617 in the field

I want to see what this monster can create loaded with the ultimate landscape film, so I purchased some rolls of expensive Fujichrome Velvia 50 slide film. The 617 cameras use roll film of course and you get a total of 4 exposures on a 120 roll so you get really good at changing film really fast! My good mate Markus was my driver and assistant on my first shoot – thanks mate! We went to the beach at Amager Strandpark at sunset to just get in a few shots of some sand, water and sky so I could get a feel for the camera and the Velvia film and here’s some of my impressions from the first time in the field:

  • First off the good news: I remembered to remove the lens cap! This is not an SLR, you don’t look through the lens so it would be perfectly easy to shoot with the lens cap on and never notice it :D
  • It’s just fantastic to be able to look through the large and bright 3:1 viewfinder on a camera like this. So incredible to have a panoramic viewfinder, so different to digital stitching where I can’t see the end result in the viewfinder.
  • I don’t have a light meter so I measured the light using my Canon 5D at iso50 and used this as a guide and added about ½ to 2/3rds stops of light to the 617 (Ivar told me this was necessary). Worked fine, at least I hope it did :)
  • Bugger did I miss the RGB histogram from digital SLRs like my Canon 5D! Any histogram for that matter would do. I haven’t shot film for years and with digital you get so used to be able to check the exposure, see if any channels were clipped or the exposure is too dark etc. With this camera….nothing. I click the shutter release and get the lovely mechanical shutter sound and then… nothing. I really really miss some sort of feedback from the camera telling me an image was exposed and here’s the histogram for you to check mate! But no, just a nice mechanical click and you’re done.
  • The built-in spirit level is very useful for aligning the camera and getting a straight horizon. With such a wide view even a 0.1 degree tilt is very noticeable. Sometimes my eyes didn’t quite agree with the level though!
  • Did I mention how much I looooove looking through the wide panorama viewfinder?
  • But as much as I like this I have to admit the viewfinder could be better. I can’t see the whole 3:1 frame without moving my head from side to side when looking through viewfinder so composition definitely takes a lot of practice.

And a few impressions from my second shoot

  • I need a bigger backpack! The other night shooting for the second time I had my own Canon 5D and gear + Gitzo tripod + Fuji G617 on my back as I rode my trusty bicycle around Copenhagen. Good exercise!
  • It’s wiiiiiiide. I actually reckon 105mm is too wide (or Copenhagen is too small) for cityscapes, probably ok for landscapes but for cityscapes they can often become really cluttered, messy and busy compositions if you can’t single out a building or two using zoom. Shooting across the lakes in Copenhagen with the Fuji G617 and I tend to get absolutely everything in frame, like half the city! Some of the other 617 cameras come with interchangeable lenses and something like 300mm on a 617 might be better for cityscapes. I can’t very well zoom with my feet when I’m on the bank of a lake. Reckon I need a boat for this as well!

First 617 panorama results

My first results…they’re just absolutely legendary masterpieces of 617 panoramic photography!!!!! Heh, at least I reckon they are but I haven’t seen them yet of course! You see the exposed rolls of film are safe in my fridge next to the milk and the Ketchup. I have to get them developed first and then get them scanned before I have anything to show you so it’ll be a while. I can’t wait to see the first shots to see what the hell I created using this mechanical beast and see how my exposure was, see the quality of the Velvia 120 slide film, see how the DOF is etc.

Fuji G617 at Amager Beach

For now you’ll just have to settle for a shot of the camera at the beach at Amager Strandpark in Copenhagen – see image above, click for large – and wait for my next report where I hope to show you some actual results! (if not you’ll have to settle for a shot of the exposed rolls of films in my fridge and the Ketchup!)

Read more of my 617 experiences:
http://flemmingbo.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/my-first-617-panorama-exposures-are-online/

http://flemmingbo.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/return-of-the-617/

http://flemmingbo.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/the-last-of-the-617-and-panorama-composition/