Xpan VS $5 Thrift Store "Wide Pic" Panoramic Camera - The Results May Surprise You... (They Won't)
So a few weeks ago I was wandering through thrift shops in the suburbs in the hoping to find a Leica buried somewhere in the shelves of collectible plates and brass ducks. I didn't manage to dig up any unloved Barnacks, but I did stumble across this interesting little 'Wide Pic' panoramic point and shoot. I'm a sucker for weird little cameras, and at $$4.99 I figured I didn't have much to lose so I grabbed it to try it out.
Now, this wasn't my first experience with a panoramic style camera. In fact, one of my favorite cameras right now is my Fuji TX-1, The Asian market version of the venerable Hasselblad Xpan. I knew this was going to be a totally different experience. The Hasselblad and it's Fuji twin regularly sell for $2000 or more on eBay. They offer titanium bodies, rangefinder focusing, decent metering, excellent lenses, and a frame that's nearly twice the width of a standard 35mm frame.
The Wide Pic on the other hand has a plastic body, plastic lens, no metering, one shutter speed and a fixed aperture. The build quality seems to be about on par with the average disposable camera, and the operation is pretty similar. The Wide Pic, like virtually all 35mm panoramic cameras achieves its aspect ratio by cropping a 35mm frame, not extending it like the Xpan. In the case of the Wide Pic the final negative is about 35mm x 13mm.
How do they stack up in real word use though? Well I decided that a shot-for-shot comparison was the best way to find out. And just to get it out of the way: we're not going to be pixel peeping here. There's no point when the TX-1 produces a negative that's 4x larger than the Wide Pic. All the samples have been scaled down to roughly the same size.
For the first test I ran a roll of Portra 400 through each. This would get me the full 36 frames on the Wide Pic, but only 21 on the TX-1
Right off the bat I would discover the first problem with the Wide Pic - There was nothing to keep my fat fingers out of the frame. This would become a repeated problem over the course of the testing which forced me to scrap some otherwise good samples.
Other than that though, the Wide Pic was looking much better than I was expecting. The field of view is fairly similar on both of them, and the viewfinder on the Wide Pic was surprisingly accurate. "Focus Free" written on the front of it turned out to be more of a description than a feature, but the exposure in bright daylight was pretty usable.
Anything other than bright daylight on the other hand and the drawbacks of the single speed shutter and fixed aperture became obvious.
The weaknesses of the plastic lens were also revealed when shooting into the sun, with more than a little flaring visible.
I decided to level the playing field a bit and since I still had 15 frames left on the Wide Pic I loaded the TX-1 with a 15 year expired roll of Kodak Gold.
While The old Gold had some funky color shifts and way more grain than the Portra, it still wasn't enough to give the lead to the Wide Pic.
All in all, I don't think the results will surprise anybody. The TX-1 blows the Wide Pic out of the water in virtually every way, but it was a fun exercise to compare them. In a lot of ways I think the Wide Pic has a certain Lo-Fi charm of its own, and given that for the price of an Xpan you could get 400 of the Wide Pic, I really don't think they're that bad.
I'll leave you with some more of the shots that I took, but didn't have anywhere else to put, and you can draw your own conclusions. In all of them: TX-1 on the top and Wide Pic on the bottom.