the biggest surprise of the show, at least in conventional photography, was
the new 35mm rangefinder stereo camera from Horseman. This shoots stereo pairs
in the standard format--2x23x27mm in standard stereo mounts--so they
can be projected or viewed with the binocular viewer that is supplied with the
If the camera itself looks oddly familiar, it's because it's based
on the Fujiblad X-Pan; Fuji in Japan, Hasselblad elsewhere in the world. Because
of the very wide format of the X-Pan, it is possible to split the film gate
and put both halves of the stereo image behind the same vertical-travel metal
shutter, ensuring absolutely even exposure at a gratifyingly wide range of speeds
(8 seconds to 1/1000 sec). Of course, it has to be vertical-travel, because
a horizontal-travel shutter would expose one image just long enough after the
other to provoke some thoroughly headache-inducing stereo anomalies. The twin,
fixed lenses are 38mm f/2.8 EBC Fujinons, slightly long for the format, but
the result is very convincing stereo indeed. It's fully battery dependent,
with electric film wind as well as an electric shutter, just like the camera
on which it is based, but for fairly obvious reasons it has only one format.
The only real drawback is the price, $4995, though you do get the stereo viewer
Otherwise, the only news in rangefinder cameras was the promise of future
news. The Leica Digital M is now more than just a rumor, and I've been
promised that I can get my hands on one even before the official launch at photokina
2006, though of course, I will have to respect the embargos for publication.
Even so, it means that Shutterbug readers will be among the first to get the
benefit of a real, hands-on test.
The 250th anniversary of the founding of Voigtländer was also scheduled
to bring interesting announcements, but unfortunately, we could not get these
before the press deadline for this issue. We hope to bring you more information
next month. And while there should be some new Zeiss Ikon announcements at photokina,
the only real news at PMA was that Hasselblad USA is no longer the official
distributor. There was no information on who might replace them, at least at
the show, but the smart money is on direct distribution by Zeiss alongside their
new manual-focus lenses for SLR cameras.
At Hasselblad, the real news in medium format was the launch of the CFV 16-megapixel
back (36.7mm square sensor) that is not only compatible with classic C, F, and
C/F film cameras, including the immortal 500C, but even looks the part, with
a bright-edge black finish that echoes the lines of the camera. It is perhaps
rather large and ungainly as compared with the svelte rollfilm backs that we
all know and love, and which arguably deliver 50+ megapixels, but if it allows
you to take digital images using one of the finest cameras in the world, back
compatible to the 1950s, with Hasselblad's wonderful Zeiss lenses, who's
complaining? There's also a 39-megapixel version of the modern H1 camera,
the H2D-39, which gives you all sorts of automation as well, but as any half-competent
photographer should be able to determine the optimum shutter speed, aperture,
and focus without relying on automation, there's still a lot to be said
for the new back on an old camera, even if it does have less than half the megapixels.
Over at Rollei, there's new software, Sinar cross-compatibility, and
new hardware/software bundles with the 6008-series SLRs, plus an autofocus 135mm
f/4 Schneider Tele-Xenar, but as far as I was concerned, the new Tele-Rollei
was all I had eyes for. This has twin 135mm f/4 lenses: a Heidosmat on top and
a Schneider Tele-Xenar in a modified Copal shutter on the bottom. It focuses
a lot closer than the original Tele-Rollei: around 1.5 meters (5 ft) instead
of 2.6 meters (close to 9 ft). This makes it even more useful for portraiture
than before: I suspect that very few will be used for gathering "hard"
news, which was apparently one of the uses for the original. Rollei themselves
see it primarily as a portrait camera, where continuous viewing even during
the exposure is very useful, though they admitted that plenty will also sell
straight to collectors who will never use them at all, or who will at most run
a few rolls through them. The Copal is very slightly noisier than the original
Compur, especially at the lower speeds (both are about the same at 1/500), but
this is still a very quiet camera.
Rollei also had a brilliantly simple accessory in their standard, current bayonet
IV mount: a parallelogram arm for switching filters from the viewing lens to
the taking lens. This is easier to illustrate than to describe. You mount the
filter in the moving part, and swing it up or down according to where you want
it. When you see it, you wonder why someone didn't invent it in the '30s:
it's that clever, that simple, and (once you have seen it) that obvious.
Which is one definition of genius.
On the Phenix stand was another 617, the WIDEPAN. There are quite a few Chinese-built
617s now, but this one is particularly elegant and well finished. The locks
on the removable back were among the most elegant I have ever seen, like something
from Germany in the '50s, and there is even a body release, convenient
for the right index finger. What is more, the counter is mechanical, not red
window like most of the less expensive Chinese models, so it takes 220 as well
as 120 (the pressure plate is repositionable). The lens is a fixed 90mm f/5.6
Schneider Super Angulon, but an interchangeable-lens model is promised. Price
in China is an astonishingly reasonable $4000, but this will presumably rise
for the US market.