Samy called me into his office and handed me these two old panoramic gems made in the days of Yore in Japan. 

Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather
Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather

I am very familiar with these cameras since I owned the F8 model and had read about the 1500 at that time; but, had never used one until now. I had also owned several other panoramic cameras over the years. This was way before today’s ability to stitch digital frames together with just an easy swing of our digital cameras or smartphones over the scene, which will instantly give us more coverage and then some than the 140 – 150 degrees of the Widelux. I must say, I feel the Widely quality is still something special. It offers quite a different look because it is using film.

This was really quite fun. I had to become familiar with it all once again. I remembered how easy it all really was; so simple really. I also remembered how to hold the cameras so my fingers would not be in frame. A monopod came in handy as well with keeping it steady and level; especially at the slow shutter speeds.

Widelux 1500 – Palm Spring Air Museum | Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather

These are solidly made mechanical film cameras that do not require batteries, which is something very unusual in this day and age since everything requires some kind of power source or battery. I loved the good old days when we were not searching for the elusive electric wall outlet when on location.

Loading the film took a few minutes to re-familiarize with the 35mm version, as one has to pull out enough film to pass under the rollers onto the sprocket of the film take-up reel. The 120 version one just pulls it over and two guidance reels on the door push the film into place keeping it flat.

35mm Widelux – Sycamore Cove | Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather

With the 35mm version, one chooses the shutter speed and aperture combination on the top of the camera and the focus is fixed. For the 120 version, the shutter speed on the top. For the aperture and distance setting, it is a bit tricky fitting the index finger in to adjust the little aperture and distance wheels.

I would have loved to play with the cameras a lot longer, especially the 1500. I think also for the lower light, a tripod would have been great but not allowed in many situations; so I would opt for an ISO 800 color negative film instead of the 400 I was using, especially in the lowish light of the art museum.

35mm Widelux – Palm Springs Museum | Credit: Ralph Elliott Starkweather

A description below from Samy’s Camera:

The Widelux is a fully mechanical swing-lens panoramic camera first developed in 1987. The pivoting lens allows for some special effects not available with traditional cameras. The 1500 Widelux can focus from a bit less than 1m to infinity with 7 markers. The 1500 Widelux has shutter speeds of 1/8, 1/60 and 1/250 of a second.  It covers a slightly wider area (150 degree view-diagonally-140 degreehorizontally). Finally, the 1500 Widelux, like most other medium format cameras, has a shutter that must be cocked before the camera will fire. The Widelux has been used on some NASA missions for its 140° coverage.  Be aware when setting focus below 5m on Widelux 1500: Resolution will be reduced due to optical limitations. 

  • The Widelux 1500 yields negatives as big as small prints: 6cm x 12 cm on 120 size film
  • It can focus at any of seven settings, from infinity to 3 feet
  • Shutter speeds of 1/8, 1/60 and 1/125 of a second.
  • 150 degree view
  • One roll of 120 film will give you 6 exposures

Specifications

  • Field coverage: 150°
  • Negative size: approx. 6×12
  • Shutter speeds: 1/8, 1/60, 1/250 sec
  • Focus: 1 m – infinity
  • Aperture: f2.8 – f22.0
  • Lens: 50 mm f2.8 variofocus
  • Film: 120 roll film
  • Manufactured: Panon Camera Shoko

Check out Wikipedia for more information.

Here’s a link to Jeff Bridges photographs made on set and location with his Widelux. He even featured his Widelux in the Big Lebowski.

Here’s a short video I made to illustrate how the slit shutter works and how the cameras sound as they swing across.

I must say, this was fun and the results were also fun.