Well - here we are in the digital age and I do miss the wide/panoramic view from the Hasselblad Xpan film camera.
The Xpan was a great camera for taking moderately wide shots in 35mm format - to do it digitally would require an expensive Hasselblad X1D using Xpan Mode however it is possible to bodge a similar result using normal digital cameras and/or stitching apps.

Some digital cameras use the traditional sensor cropping technique to achieve in-camera panoramas but to get a 35mm size would require a full-frame camera and use of stitching software.

This is a similar route to what I use - in my case I just use the Leica XVario and Panorama Stitcher.

The XVario of course is an APS-C sensor but I find that the quality is as good as the old 5D full sensor so to achieve a panoramic format I simply take multiple exposures and stitch. I tend to use the widest setting of the XV which is 28mm (18.7 in real APS-C terms). The Xpan equivalent in 35mm format was c. 25mm.

Lightroom 6 will do photo merging (stitching) quite well but a quick no fuss method is to use Panorama Stitcher (available on MAS for a very reasonable price).

Panorama Stitcher requires the exposures to have a 20-30% overlap to work well (it needs to find a good amount of common image data in matching exposures). Most data loss occurs along the sides not being stitched so it is often advantageous to take more exposures in vertical format if the desired format is horizontal. If I am taking a particularly good panorama that I don't want to fail then I make the overlap at least 1/3 of the frame (using vertical format this may require quite a number of frames depending on width of panorama).

By the way if you want to invest more money then AutoPano Pro appears to be the business (stoppress: no longer available for sale, Kolor gone belly up) - I found the trial version seemed to lose less data at the non-stitched edges than other apps so less detail lost when cropped.

In theory to get an xpan format should only require 2 snaps but that would require precise positioning to meet the minimum 20% overlap so 3 would be safer (using vertical format probably need about 5 or so).

Naturally the multi-exposure technique works better if there is no subject movement in the frame - with movement the results will vary, some movement may be so quick that there is no effect conversely very slow movement may also be OK. Some subject movement types will of course mean multiple appearances in the final shot - the answer is get a mortgage and a X1D!

In my experience things to be looked out for during composition of a panorama that is to be stitched are waves (sea shore panos) and power/telephone lines.
Some folk would argue that using a stitcher is not a 'real' photo and I would agree to the point that it is not a photo of a particular point in time but more a short capture of a movie in one photo - I don't wanna become too anal about it.


    35mm Frame - 24 x 36 with 2x3 aspect ratio (1.5)

    Xpan Frame - 24 x 65 with 2 x 5.4 aspect ratio (2.7)

    Double 35mm Frame - 24 x 72 with 2 x 6 aspect ratio (3)

Xpan Framing


Normal 35mm Frame:
24 x 36

Normal 35mm Frame


XPan Frame:
24 x 65

Xpan Frame


Normal/Xpan Frame:
14.5mm/36mm/ 14.5mm

Comparison Frame


Xpan Frame/Double 35mm:
65mm Xpan/ 72mm (2 x 36) - 65mm/7mm

Double Frame


Normal/Xpan Frame Overlap:
29mm/7mm/ 29mm

Overlap Frame



The overlap is 7mm which is 36/7 = 5 roughly so 20% or a fifth of a normal 35mm frame approx.

Panorama Stitcher Example

Using Panorama Stitcher: (Mac only)
    Open the PS app and drag required exposures onto app - it will start processing them straight away. It will tell you if not enough common data is found but should be OK if sufficient overlap is done and camera focal length is the same for each frame.

The two shots below highlight the typical data loss top and bottom and this would be the reason to use vertical format to improve the headroom. PS allows both Spherical and Planar alignments where spherical is used for a rotating camera (usual method) and planar could be used for multiple camera shots taken on a fixed line from the subject.

All in all quite a procedure to get digital xpan format but cheaper than an X1D ...




Three 35mm Frames:

3x35 Frames


Xpan Frame Crop:

Overlap Frame


Final Panorama:

Full Pano


Click image to enlarge - note the dog and people at end of lane (a snapshot of a movie!).

Click for larger snap

Scanning XPan Negs

I find that scanning XPan negs these days isn't so bad - basically I just use an Epson V700 Photo scanner along with Vuescan software. I used to use a Canon FS4000 Film Scanner but it was very slow and the V700 gives a comparable quality with a faster result.

Update: the V700 has since been superceded by the V800/850 which are unfortunately a lot pricier but they do have the advantage of using LED lights so the lamp warmup time is vastly reduced meaning quicker scanning.

The Epson doesn't really have a specific filmholder for XPan film so I use a normal 35mm strip holder suitably modified.
The strip I use is a standard ABC style 6 neg holder with some dividers removed which allows an XPan neg to be placed and also avoid the film curl issue which can be a problem - to get the neg absolutely flat you would have to use an expensive glass plate method but I find the modified holders acceptable (using the end frames may improve the flatness I guess). With the normal Epson 35mm holders little adjuster lugs are used to get the correct focus distance for the scanner but the ABC holders seem to have a thickness which works OK if they are placed directly on the scanning surface.
The Epson scanners use fixed focus sensors so the trick seems to be to find the best height of the neg from the glass to give optimum sharpness.

These days it seems that neg holders made specifically for xpan negs are available and these would be the best to use since the complete frame would be clamped by the holder.
An example of an unclamped edge -


Modified holder
Normal holder

Careful placing on the scanner surface will improve the chances of being 'squared' for setting the scan region in the software
WARNING: I have since found that the ABC holder with the notches should not be used as corona artifacts can appear near the notches - use the type without notches.

Click for larger snap

Understanding XPan format

The XPan used 35mm roll film but was in essence a medium format camera with medium format lenses running in crop mode (top/bottom) that is why the lens quality was superior to normal 35mm format lenses.

The great trick of the XPan was to enlarge the image area exposed on the film emulsion from 24 x 36 to 24 x 65 and retain equivalent resolution (with same vertical size) - this was achieved by mechanically altering the framing inside the camera and the medium format lenses could cover the required 65mm width (Medium format 120 size). Because the film emulsion was effectively an analog sensor the sensor size was basically being widened however to do this digitally would mean widening the digital sensor on a full frame camera - which is a bit tricky!

The digital equivalent to an XPan doesn't really exist - 35mm full frame format would need a medium format camera with a medium format sensor that can be cropped to allow for 35mm normal and xpan sizes. The Hasselblad X1D indeed will do this but is not like the XPan because the normal image frames would still use all the sensor at medium format (the vertical height would not be the same for the same resolution). To imitate the XPan the medium format digital sensor would have to be masked to the normal frame size or the xpan size. This would however 'waste' a lot of the digital sensor unless the sensor was built with medium format width (xpan) and 24mm height (normal and xpan height) - cost would rule this out.

The poorman's method is to use the panoramic method with stitching as described above.

If equivalent resolution between normal and XPan images is not important then cropping with a digital sensor will suffice (could be done physically or in post-processing). Indeed even in the film world panoramic snaps were done in some cameras by using crop masks or masking in post-processing.
If consistent resolution is not a big deal the cropping method is not too dissimilar to what is called 'Digital Zoom' which effectively is a crop of 2 dimensions (height and width), the file size/resolution reduces the more you zoom (crop).

If the standard image frame was APS-C then using a crop from a full frame sensor would give an XPan type sizing.

Cropping is all fine and dandy but not quite a good as being able to frame up the snap when taking it - that was the beauty of the XPan, it made it easy. Would love a digital version but it would be a niche market and hugely expensive methinks.

:: In camera cropping with the XVario and CL cameras ::

If using the cropping method then cropping in post will depend on how the normal image was framed. Some cameras have grid views that will assist framing for cropping at the point of image creation however the XV and CL only have a basic 9 rectangle grid view available. If using the EVF/LCD then the framing will have to be guesstimated using the grid however with the LCD mode it may be convenient to mark the framing aspect on the protective film with a sharpie pen or similar.

For the examples below -

   if the normal frame is 35mm full frame the xpan frame will be medium format width ( 65mm ).

   if the normal frame is APS-C the xpan frame will be 35mm full frame width ( 36mm ).

It can be seen that if cropping is used the resolution loss over the normal frame is large compared to the usual xpan methodology which effectively increases the width of the frame by a factor of 1.8 - easy to do with film but not digital.
Of course resolution equivalence could be achieved by also cropping the normal images (top/bottom) to achieve the same height but that would be wasting pixel data bigtime.
To shoot XPan format the minimum resolution required for an XPan frame will dictate what size sensor/lens is required.

File sizes -

   Using film if a normal and xpan negative was scanned the file size of the xpan image would be larger and if the digital stitching method is used to produce xpan format images this would also be the case.

   Using digital cropping to produce the xpan format images will result in smaller file sizes for the xpan image

Earlier on I said that digital cameras don't do XPan format but they do sort of. Many provide a panoramic mode that allows the taking of multiple exposures whilst rotating the camera and then doing in-camera stitching to one image - however this is usually done on a crop basis not using the full frame as XPan would. The resulting image is usually JPG.
The Leica CLux and CL both provide a panorama mode which produces an image of 8176 x 1920 max (this is a significant crop) eg: CLux normal frame 5472 x 3648 at 10.2MB and crop panorama at 5120 x 1920 at 6MB. RAW output is not available.

On balance I prefer to just take multiple snaps with the CLux/CL/XVario and stitch in post which is very easy with Panorama Stitcher for Mac. The results are excellent and I have a little more control over the initial framing/composition as well as the source images being RAW. The output from Panorama Stitcher is TIFF or JPG.


Normal Frame:

Normal Frame


XPan Frame:
Width increases by 1.8x

XPan Frame


Normal Frame with Grid:
Note - the actual camera grids are white.

Normal Frame with Grid


XPan Crop with Grid:
Note the guestimate required using the gridlines
The LCD film could be marked up as a guide also.

XPan Crop


XPan Crop vs Full XPan:
Shows the resolution loss using crops

Crop vs Full

Panorama Paraphernalia

Just some of the stuff required if a 'proper' panorama is being done.

I find that because most of my panoramas are distant landscapes then having to worry too much about the nodal point of the lens hasn't been too much of a problem with Panorama Stitcher however I did acquire some bits and pieces that make it easy to turn the camera on the nodal point and they are shown here.

The method of finding the nodal point is documented on the web although using a zoom makes it a little more tricky since the nodal point will move with the focal length.

I did a rough calibration (as my eyesight will allow these days) for the CL with the 18-56 zoom fitted -

   18 -> 55 on slide rail (this equated to the gap between the aperture and focus rings on the 18-56 lens)
   24 -> 55 on slide rail
   35 -> 55 on slide rail
   56 -> 65 on slide rail (this equated to halfway on the aperture ring grooved grip on the 18-56 lens)

The rail essentially allows the camera to be offset from the turning centre of the tripod so the nodal point of the lens can be positioned at the tripod centre point.

Baseplate Knob Clamp Nodal Slide Rail Camera Baseplate L Plate (Portrait aspect)

Pano Plates - typical

CL Pano Rig

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