XPan and iPhone


So my film reawakening continues, with new shots taken on 5×4, and also with the XPan.


I’ve returned from the family holiday to Scotland recently, taking all my cameras with me, but weather conditions and the season really didn’t fall together as nicely as I had hoped, so I didn’t shoot that much, and think I only managed two compositions on 5×4 and nothing else on film. I shot one or two on digital with the Nikon, but again nothing much. The weather was either too sunny or too grey, and the seasonal colours weren’t inspiring me; I was also hoping for some nice boatyard shots to match what I had last year, but again nothing turned up to jump out at me.


While I was pretty frustrated at the time, it was a correct decision, and I’m learning – slowly – that successful scenic photography can only be performed through a slow process of familiarization and reflection on what will work and why. Downtime is well spent absorbing insights from Onlandscape (continually excellent) from the likes of David Ward, Guy Tal, and Raphael Rojas. Ben Horne continually inspires too.


When imported Velvia 50 sheets of 5×4 film now cost about £5-6 each before processing, saving the resources is a good idea, and the days of shooting lots and lots even when I can’t think why are entirely behind me.


According to my flickr stats, I’m currently posting a solid 15-20 shots per month, about a third of which is on film. That is still quite a lot for a style that is increasingly contemplative.


What I really wanted to write about, though, is my first thoughts on shooting with the XPan, and how I’m gradually getting used to it.


I bought the XPan to complement the 5×4 outfit (I have the more highly-specked XPan ii version). After some juggling and decision-making, I’ve configured a ThinkTank chimp cage to carry the body with lens attached, spare lens, cable release, and film. This can be attached to the outside of my Lowepro Whistler backpack.


I’ve also bought (at no small expense) a new Gitzo 1545T traveller tripod kit complete with the 82TQD head, for when I’m using slower film and don’t want to take the 5×4 setup out. With the exception of one small but substantial design fault (the panning knob on the head is not captive and is easily loosened…) this is really excellent and compact and makes for an excellent substitute when I have zero inclination to carry my 3 series Gitzo and massive ballhead with me.


The XPan itself is a thing of wonder. So easy to use, with judicious automated features, and the lenses are fantastically sharp. So far I’ve had most success with Black and White (Delta 400) – I’ve found the Fuji Pro 400H a little grainy so far for my tastes though I like the colours. I’ve only shot 3 rolls on it so far, but have just finished one of Velvia 50, so we’ll see how that comes out (experimenting with and without using the dedicated centre filter, which I was lucky enough to find).


The only problem I’m yet to overcome is actually finding time to use the camera. Even though it’s compact and handholdable, I don’t yet have the confidence to take it everywhere with me as I do with my iPhone. I suppose this isn’t all that surprising given that even secondhand the XPan setup is more than 3 times as valuable as my phone, but I’m a little disappointed. I had an excellent day at Kew Gardens with my young son this week, but only took the iPhone. Hardly surprising, I guess, but what is remarkable is the quality of shots I continue to get from the phone. The only downside is the lack of resolution (even compared with 35mm film). I will have to go back for a solo trip in the autumn with the film gear. Meanwhile, I had an afternoon yesterday in Oxford Botanic Garden with the XPan and Velvia 50. The conditions were soft with overcast light, so hopefully Velvia has worked nicely without totally overdoing the saturation and making exposure relatively unproblematic.


I’ll have an update when I get that film developed, but meanwhile here are a combined set of recent shots from the iPhone and the XPan.


All XPan shots here taken at 90mm, with Fuji Pro 400H or Delta 400 with n+1 processing; scanned with 2 D800E/60mm micro frames stitched in photoshop.





London Bridge Vertical



Waiting for the Bus, Bakewell, Derbyshire



Peak Waste, Bakewell Derbyshire



Vegetable Gardening



Abstract steps (crop from Xpan with 400H, converted to B&W)



Behind the Waterlily House, Kew Gardens – iPhone



Eucalyptus Bark detail, Kew Gardens – iPhone



The Hive, Kew Gardens – iPhone




A note for future reference for when the XPan will definitely trump the iPhone is with pano shots. The pano feature on the iPhone is, I find, very unreliable – it frequently fails to line up its stitches properly, leaving shots ruined.


Additionally, I find B&W conversions from the iPhone least time-consuming to process. Colour works really well, as you can see, but all the shots posted here required very substantial photoshop work to return them to accurate representations of the colour of the subjects.


Finally, it’s my birthday today, and I’m the happy recipient of Chris Bell’s excellent Primal Places: Tasmania. Tons of inspiration here for the large format shooter. Can’t wait to get out to take more shots in the autumn.

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