Widelux Panoramic 35mmCameras
I bought a Widelux F8 in late 2022 from a Japanese seller on EBay. I got interested in it because I like cameras that have specific purposes and this camera really fills that niche. It is lovely and well built. I then let my nerd gene loose and tried to go down the rabbit hole and learn what I could about this specific camera/brand.
There are other swing lens panoramic cameras out there. Ranging from the early Kodak Panoram, the Russian Horizonts and the Noblex cameras that appeared out of the German reunification. I won't cover them here, because I don't have one of these.
Panon Camera Shoko was founded in 1952, building a medium format rotational lens panoramic camera. The founder was Nakayama Shozo (family name first per Japanese custom). By 1958, the 35mm Widelux F1 was being manufactured and sold. The company continued on the camera design, releasing a number of models until the late 1990s. Reportedly, a fire in 1995 ended production. Apparently, this fire destroyed the company history, records and designs. Circa 2000, Panon had closed for business. The building that they operated out of was demolished by March 2015
Panon Camera in 2009 at 24-3~4 2-chome, Azusa, itabashi-ku, Tokyo,Japan
Widelux 35mm Cameras
Widelux 35mm cameras are fully mechanical swing lens panoramic cameras. They are all fitted with a 26mm f2.8 lens with 4 elements in 3 groups. Focus distance of the lens is fixed. They provide an angle of view of approximately 126 degrees horizontally and 50 degrees vertically. The film image produced is 24mm x 59mm.
The fixed focus distance of the lens has been reported as 3m, 5m and 11m. The manual from the US importer has a depth of field table in it. I have not been able to replicate this table using online calculators. Apparently, I need to burn some film to find out. If someone has a firm number, please let me know.
Widelux FI This camera was manufactured in the late 1950s. The camera had a chrome appearance. It had the Lux 26mm lens, with an aperture ranging from f2.8 to f22. Shutter speeds provided were 1/5, 1/50 and 1/200. Serial numbers ranged from 31101 to 49218. Oddly, this camera was manufactured with a flash shoe, possibly for accessories.
Widelux FV Built from 1958 to 1964, the lens aperture was changed to only close to f11 and shutter speeds largely remained the same with some variations that included 1/10, 1/100 1/250, or 1/10, 1/100, 1/300. The lens was uncoated and had six diaphragm blades. The body remained chrome. Serial numbers ranged from 340633 to 341996 with approximately 2000 cameras being built.
Widelux FVI Released in 1964 and manufactured until 1970. The camera was available in a chrome finish with the Vistar 26mm lens with an aperture of f2.8 to f11. The lens was uncoated and had six diaphragm blades. Shutter speeds were set at 1/10, 1/100 and 1/250. Serial number ranged from 3420-4 to 343344 with approximately 1500 cameras being produced.
Widelux F6 Released around 1970, the camera had an uncoated 26mm f2.8 to f11 lens with six diaphragm blades. The aperture had six blades and allowed settings from f2.8 to f11. Shutter speeds were set 1/15, 1/125 and 1/250. Some units had the earlier shutter speeds of the FVI. The shoe mount was replaced with a bubble level. The camera was available in both the black and chrome finish. Reportedly serial numbers after 3455xx indicated that there was a variation that had 1/7, 1/70 and 1/125 shutter speeds. Approximately 3000 F6 cameras were produced. Chrome models had serial numbers from 343568 to 345454 and black models had serial numbers 345146 to 347525.
Widelux F6B Also available in black or chrome, the camera was manufactured during the 1970s with the now coated lens having apertures ranging from f2.8 to f11 with six diaphragm blades and the now standard 1/15, 1/125 and 1/250 shutter speeds. Chrome serial numbers ranged from 346009 to 346057 and black serial numbers from 346072 to 348685. Approximately 2000 cameras were produced.
Widelux F7 This camera was manufactured from 1975 to 1988. It was only available in a black finish. The lens is a coated 26mm f2.8 to f11 optic with 6 diaphragm blades. Approximately 8000 cameras were made with serial numbers ranging from 3471934 to 355616
Widelux F8. Manufactured from 1988 to 1995, the camera was only available in black. The lens was coated and provided with 8 diaphragm blades ranging from f2.8 to f11. Shutter speeds were the standard 1/15, 1/125 and 1/250. Some of the internal gears on this model were changed to be helical toothed gears in order to provide smoother drum rotation. Serial numbers ran from 355739 to 359560. Approximately 5000 were produced.
Okay, I want one. Which one?
I believe that the general consensus is that the F8 is the most desirable model due the addition of the worm gears (helical gears) that seem to reduce the instance of banding. Banding is when the rotating drum speed is not steady, resulting in variable exposure across the image. The F8 is also newer and benefits just from being younger.
A rule of thumb is that the younger the camera, the better. Keeping in mind that these cameras are at least 30 years old.
Some very exciting news was announced in July, 2023. It appears that the Widelux F8 is being revived. The folks at Silvergrain Classics have partnered with Jeff Bridges and his wife, Susan, also an avid Widelux Photographer to bring back the F8. Please go to the Silvergrain Classics website and have a look at their Widelux page for more information. https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/widelux/widelux-camera-project-updates/
The camera is to be made in Germany, with little or no plastic. Built to last a lifetime. I am saving my pennies. No indication of price, yet.
Tips and Tricks
Never change the shutter speed unless the shutter is cocked.
There are no “in between” shutter speeds. Only set the camera to the marked shutter speed postion (and only AFTER cocking the shutter!)
You will not get an exposure if the camera is not fully wound/cocked.
When loading the camera, make sure that the film passes under both the rollers and that the film is fully on the circular film plane.
Fluorescent lights will show banding at 1/125 and 1/250 of a second, use 1/15 of second.
If you want to use a cable release, the fitting surrounding the shutter button must be unthreaded, leaving a threaded connection. There are cable releases that can thread on this, or an adapter can be used with a more modern mechanical cable release.
Use the bubble level to minimize distortion. Also, you can accentuate the distortion by pointing the camera up or down.
Flash does not work with the Widelux. You need at least 1/6 of a second of light at 1/250 to get an even exposure.
The camera does take reasonably good pictures hand held at 1/15 of a second. If you are shooting indoors, consider shooting film at 3200 or 6400 ISO to get usable apertures that provide some sharpness.
Exposure can be controlled through the use of the Widelux filter set. They are mounted by advancing the film half way, leaving the lens accessible through the housing. There is a small post located just above the lens. The filter has a small collar attached to the handle and it is slid over the post to fix the filter in front of the lens. The filter sets are rare and fairly expensive. A photographer was able to make a 3D print of a filter frame and fit a filter to the frame. These were available for sale, but as of May 2023, no longer available.
Resources and Videos
Mike Butkus has a site full of manuals and if you’re looking for a Widelux manual, this is the place to start. He also has a serial number list. https://www.butkus.org/chinon/widelux/widelux.htm
Jeff Bridges (yes, the Dude, the actor) is a polymath and has made the Widelux his main photographic tool. I started learning about the Widelux with the tips page on his website. https://www.jeffbridges.com/tipsonwidelux
The author of the page was John Stamets. Bridges has found a number of ways of using the camera (including his comedy/tragedy portraits). He has spoken about using the cameras in interviews. He refers to his use of fast film (ISO 3200 and 6400) as well as his use of the total exposure time of the camera in this short video: https://infinityawards.mediastorm.com/2013-icp-infinity-awards/special-presentation-jeff-bridges
Stephen Schaub has made a great video about the Widelux including the “exercising” of the camera. https://vimeo.com/572258661
There is an International Association of Panoramic Photographers. You can find them here: https://www.panoramicassociation.org
Please send me names and links to others.
The Widelux cameras are complicated mechanisms and there are not too many places to have them serviced. Below are some current places that work on these cameras. Please contact them in advance of sending them your camera. If you know of other camera technicians who service Widelux, please let me know and I will include them.
Phillippe Raybaudi apparently services Widelux out of his workshop in France. https://mondepanneur.fr/widelux-troubleshooting
Precision Camera Works of Texas is a Widelux service shop: https://www.precisioncameraworks.com
Dirk Spenneman has an excellent and active site for the Widelux. https://csusap.csu.edu.au/~dspennem/photography/cameratopia/cameratopia.html
Jesse Newcomb’s Widelux information was found on the Wayback Machine from the now archived Jumboprawn.net website.
Mike Butkus maintains a page with Widelux serial numbers and other information https://manualcamera.info/widelux.htm
All errors and omissions are mine. Please contact me with any corrections or additional information you can provide.
Well, you made it this far. If there is something you want to see, please let me know. I plan on a couple of tests to test out the practical depth of field for the camera. Do you want to see loading, or usage videos? Email me. Thanks for having a look!.