Another Look At Panoramas

It will come as no surprise when I say that there are numerous cameras available that allow the film user to shoot panoramas. I guess that the daddy of them all amongst 35mm and medium format cameras is probably the Hasselblad Xpan. Friends and anyone that will will listen will tell you that I have always said that I will never own a Hasselblad. It is possible (but unlikely) that I might waiver one day but one thing that is certain is that I will never own a Hasselblad Xpan given that the going rate for a secondhand model will set you back at around £3,500!

Following on from my previous post where I pointed out that a (pseudo) panorama could be shot with several point and shoot compact cameras, I thought that I should introduce another possibility that won’t break the bank. Wait for it …. I would like to introduce you to the Holga 120 Pan. No eye-rolling please! Stick with me. You might be surprised!

I am sure that anyone with the slightest interest in film photography will be aware of Lomography which some might say has achieved cult status. Definitions of Lomography may vary depending upon the source but for those may be unsure, it is worth reflecting on this definition of Lomography as quoted in Wikipedia.
“Lomography is a photographic style which involves taking spontaneous photographs with minimal attention to technical details. Lomographic images often exploit the unpredictable, non-standard optical traits of toy cameras (such as light leaks and irregular lens alignment), and non-standard film processing techniques for aesthetic effect. Similar looking techniques with digital photography, often involving “lomo” image filters in post-processing, may also be considered Lomographic.”

The reference to ‘Toy cameras’ may put many people off. I think that is unfair and perhaps another term such as simple cameras would be more appropriate.

The Holga 120 Pan Panoramic camera
The name says it all. It is made by Holga in Hong Kong; it shoots 120 film and produces panoramic images. The image size is 6 x 12cm in size.


  • With the exception of the shutter and the clips that secure the camera back, the camera is totally plastic;
  • The lens is a 90mm meniscus plastic lens;
  • Shutter speed = 1/100th second and ‘B’;
  • Two hot shoes;
  • It shoots 120 format colour or black & white film producing an image 6 x 12cm in size;
  • The camera measures 205 x 117 x 107mm;
  • Weight is approximately 250gm without film;
  • Standard tripod bush;
  • It comes with a hand-strap, a take-up spool and an additional 35mm film mask. (More about that later.)
Holga 120 Pan Panoramic camera
Holga 120 Pan Panoramic camera

The ‘Bad’ Bits
Holgas in general have something of a reputation and this model is no different! Personally, I think that it would be fairer to the uninitiated, to add the words ‘approximately’ or ‘about to every item in their specification! It is no different to any other Holga. It is cheaply made with a cheap plastic lens producing unpredictable results. They will probably suffer from light leaks and then there is the film door that will probably fall off the camera unless secured. However, don’t let this put you off.

The Good Bits
They are reasonably inexpensive. Mine cost €89 brand new and I am sure that they can be obtained very cheaply for second-hand models.
The viewfinder is bright. There will be some parallax error but being used for panoramic images, one is unlikely to get that close to the subject for it to be an issue.
Despite its bulk, it is lightweight and simple to use. I soon became acclimatised to the shutter release position.

Using the Camera
For me at least, loading the film was the hardest part of using the camera. No! Really! Unclipping the back and inserting the unexposed film is simple. Getting the leader onto the take-up spool was a bit of an issue. It may be due to a lack of dexterity on my part but I had real problems. In the end, I took the take-up spool out, inserted the leader and wound on a couple of revolutions before attempting to insert the spool into the camera.
It is recommended that ISO 100 film be used on sunny days and that ISO 400 film be used on cloudy days or indoors. I shot ISO 400 film on a brilliantly sunny February day for my first test and as far as black and white film is concerned, I would only use ISO 400 film as it has plenty of latitude.
The film should be advanced until ‘1’ appears in the red window in the camera back. It should be noted that the red window is not as dark as the windows found in older cameras and it is recommend that it is covered with something such as insulating tape. It is important to note that as the image is twice the size of a normal 6 x 6 cm image, the film needs to be wound on to the next but one frame number. Ie. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11. Having taken the sixth shot (image ’11’, the film should be wound on until it is fully wound onto the take-up spool so that it can be removed from the camera.

Aperture Selection
There are two symbolised settings available – one for sunny situations and the other for overcast days. The symbols are self explanatory. Although I have seen reference to the f stops that they represent, I would not want to hazard a guess!
This is achieved by rotating the lens barrel and there are four settings, again represented by symbols. These and the relative distances are shown in the table below.

Shutter Speed
As previously mentioned, there are two choices when it comes to selecting shutter speed. Beneath the lens housing is a switch with two settings marked ‘N’ and ‘B’. ‘N’ is for normal actuation (approx. 1/100th sec) and ‘B’ is for Bulb. As is normal, if ‘B’ is selected, the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter release is depressed.

Taking the Picture

  • This may seem obvious but remove the lens cap!
  • Set the shutter to ‘N’;
  • Select the aperture to either sunny or cloudy;
  • Set the focusing distance;
  • Compose your shot through the viewfinder;
  • Press the shutter to take your picture;
  • Unless you wish to take a double exposure, wind the film advance knob in the direction of the arrow until the next odd number is displayed in the red window.

After taking a shot I always wind the film on and replace the lens cap. In this way an unintentional double exposure will be avoided. There is no double exposure prevention!

That really is all there is to say about taking a photo with this camera. That is, unless you want to shoot 35mm film in this camera!

Shooting 35mm film in the Holga 120 Pan
The 6 x 12mm mask is removable from the camera and can be replaced with a 35mm mask that is supplied with the camera. It is necessary to obtain an additional 135 film adapter kit to be able to insert a 135 cassette in the space normally occupied by the 120 film. There are many such kits advertised on popular auction sites. If the 35mm film is fed onto a 120 take-up spool, it would be necessary to remove the completed film in a darkroom or bag. It occurs to me that if the necessary spacers were also fitted to the take-up side of the camera, it should be possible to feed the film directly into a reusable cassette, thereby eliminating the need to remove the film in total darkness. Film shot in this way would lead to the sprocket holes appearing in the final image unless cropped out. This is considered an interesting effect by many.
I have yet to experiment with this and so cannot comment on the resulting images. Careful composition would be necessary as the viewfinder is deigned for use with 6 x 12 cm images.

I have put two rolls of slightly expired TMax 400 through my Holga 120 Pan and I must say that I am impressed. I wasn’t expecting too much but was pleasantly surprised. The resulting images are sharp in the centre of the frame with a fall off in sharpness towards the edges. Did I say pleasantly surprised? I should have said that I was very pleased!

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t point out the efforts that I went to to get the best result from my camera! The lengths to which one goes will depend upon what you are seeking to achieve and to a certain extent, your particular model. If the reviews are to be believed, no two ‘identical cameras’ will produce identical results.

My tips fall into two categories.
Firstly, I wanted to prevent any unnecessary light leaks. To this end, I secured all the edges around the back cover after loading the film. I used black insulating tape. I also put a small piece over the red window for the exposure counter. This is easily lifted and replaced when winding the film on. I found that insulating tape did not leave any sticky residue.
Secondly, I also used tape to prevent the back falling off should the notorious catches undo! Others recommend the use of stout elastic bands for this purpose. It all sounds a little ‘Heath Robinson’ but it is part of the fun of Lomography!

Results Below are a few of the images that I have taken with the Holga 120 Pan. There are no masterpieces but they pleased me. As an aside, a friend commented that the 6 x 12 format really suits Facebook if that is your thing. I have to agree with that observation.

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