In my continued quest for an affordable equivalent to an Xpan, I had the fortune to try a Russian Horizon Panoramic Camera while visiting my Uncle. It was not the S3 Pro as shown above, probably the 202, but I was so into taking pictures, I didn’t spend much time worrying about the model number. Having owned on two separate occasions a Russian made Lada Niva jeep, I was well versed in Russian construction practices and their lack of reliability. My Lada, while built like a tank, spent more time in the shop than on the roads (the parts were cheap though, I guess it’s a quantity thing…).
But I digress… These cameras range in price from $250-450 on ebay depending on the model, age, and location. I saw one in the Conran shop in London, UK, for $900, so be sure to shop around if you are interested in one of these beasts. The Horizon is a swing lens panoramic camera with a 28mm lens. It takes a very wide field of view (120 degrees) and you can adjust the F-stops as well as the shutter speeds. Like most of my reviews, I’m not going to get too technical, there are enough of those all over the web to put you asleep. The camera is a bit of a pain to load as the film is on a curved plane, but once you get it, it’s fairly easy. The other quirk is that due to the large field of view, it’s hard to keep your fingers out of the edges of the pictures! My uncle had made a small handle that screws into the tripod socket in the base of the camera in order to solve this problem. Lastly, the camera has a bubble level that can be seen in the viewfinder helping to keep you horizons level. As it is a swing lens camera, tilting the camera up or down from level causes bulges in the horizon.
The moment you’ve all been waiting for – is it as a good as an Xpan? It’s sort of a hard question to answer. To some extent, we’re not really comparing apples to apples, more like a granny smith vs. a royal gala. They are both panoramic cameras, and they both do fairly well at taking panoramic pictures, but the swing lens causes a different type of picture, some like this, some don’t, it’s really up to personal preference. The Horizon is without a light meter and is more limited in it’s exposures (sure can’t have a bulb mode with a swing lens!). I’ve heard many stories of issues with the Horizon, the one I used seem to work fine, however I’m sure they are subject to inconsistent quality control as most things made in Russia. I found the field of view a bit too wide for my liking, and you weren’t able to change the lens so are always stuck with 28mm. Lastly, the fixed focus does tend to limit some creativity in the picture taking process.
So I continue my lust for an Xpan, with each solution I dream up, I end up simply wanting the real thing even more. I’ve been scanning Ebay frequently (obsessively) for Xpans and there are a few good deals that I may give in to. All pictures throughout this post were taken with the horizon and developed by myself in my darkroom. Some were processed in photoshop in order to fix exposures and remove dust from the scan. More photos can be seen on my flickr page