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Horizon S3 Pro Review | by doigal
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Horizon S3 Pro Review

Another one of my Russian oddities, the Swing Lens Horizon S3 Pro 35mm Panoramic camera.

 

The Camera.

 

The format produces 24x58mm sized negatives, giving 20~22 shots for a normal 36 exposure film. Its not a standard ratio (2.4:1) which means either there will be some cropping in printing or some blank space on the print. Focus is locked at a far off distance (there are conflicting reports saying anywhere from 10m to infinity), but with the wideish angle lens (an Arart 28mm f2.8) this isnt a problem if you stop down.

 

Build quality is typically Russian - its a solid piece of gear! I've heard that the gear train likes to be oiled 'every so often', and being a swing lens camera, therefore having a lot of moving parts, theres probably a lot to this. Having only owned it for 6 months I'm planning on waiting til its a year old before doing this. Theres no doubting the strength of the gears though, they will happily and easily rip film in two if your not careful when winding and rewinding.

 

The viewfinder on this is huge and far brighter than anything else I currently own (then again, a 20D is my main camera!) The other great thing is that the bubble level is visible in it via a mirror, cleverly hidden away so that you know its there but its not in the way.

 

Oh, it's totally manual as well. BYO meter or digital camera to get meterings. The model I have has shutter speeds from 1/250 down to 1 second and F stops from f/2.8 to f/16. There is a method to expose for as long as you want via holding the rewind switch and winding it on carfully, the idea being that the film stays perfectly still whilst the shutter is recocked. In practice, this is a major pain, as the camera has to be kept perfectly still whilst winding on the film and pressing the rewind button at the same time. Considering that the winder takes a little bit of force, the tripod and camera have to be made perfectly secure, something I thus far havnt had a great deal of sucess with.

 

Supplied with my camera were three filters mounted in custom holders, a yellow-green, UV and ND. All of them I've found to be useless, but others have modified the holders using gel filters to take any sort of gel filter you can find. I'm currently planning to use a bit of exposed slide film as a makeshift IR filter, and I'll post up the results when I've done it.

 

Film Issues

Film loading on this model can be confusing, frustrating and annoying. Its extremly easy to miss the roller next to the film canister, which if not fixed will mean that roughly 1/4 to 1/5 of the image will be out of focus due to the film not being flat. In one extreme case this also resulted in edges of some shots merging together by 2~3 mm. Despite it being out of alignment, this wont make it any easier or harder to wind on film.

 

Here is an image on how to correctly load the film.

 

The fun of swinging on a lens

Swing lenses distort things. Lets just get that out there. Tilting the lens vertically away from flat and centered, (this is where the bubble level is invaluable!) so that its pointing up or down, tends to bow or bulge the image noticably. Whilst it does produce a 'technically imperfect' image, I've seen some people use this for great effect, especially to exagerate the curve of the earth. Moving objects, depending on which way they are going (with or against the swing) can be squished or stretched as the camera pans.

 

Banding is also common with this camera if you are dealt with high contrast lighting such as interiors, sunsets, etc. Basically anything with a strong point source can pose problems. Apart from keeping bright points of light out of the scene, there dosnt seem to be much you can do about preventing it from happening. Here is a good example of it, bright lights mixing with a dim interior.

 

One thing that is a bit of a negative for me is the lack of tilt/shift functions. As mentioned previously, tilting the camera up or down will distort the image considerably. Theres no question that this level of complexity would double (or worse) the price. However, the distortion due to a unleveled swing lens camera means that your left with having the horizon almost bang on center, which dosn't lend itself to interesting shots all of the time. However, fixing this and adding a shift function would destroy the portablity of the camera and by that stage you may as well get a 617, hardly a practical solution for most! Realistically, theres not much that can be done about this (although various Noblex's have a limited shift function), and there are some great shots out there that have made deliberate use of the buldge distortion effect.

 

Processing and Storage

In Melbourne, where good film processing stores are a dying breed, getting prints directly from these negs can be hard if not impossible. In theory any chemist or corner photostore that does normal processing can develop your C41 negatives, same for pro labs with E6 and black and white. No matter where I get them processed, I always tell the lab not to cut the negatives. Some places might not realise its an abnormal size negative and cut and sleeve for 35mm, which wouldn't make anyone's day. Scanning can be done on any 35mm scanner, although it is certainly easier to have a scanner that is sized for medium format or strip negatives so you can do a frame in a single pass. Sometimes its just easier to pay the lab and get them to do it at the time of process though.

 

By far the easiest way to store the negatives/transparencies is in a strip film ring binder. (I use something similar to this ) It is possible to mount slides for projection using Xpan sized holders, but this brings the obvious problem of finding a projector thats big enough to do this, and the mounts are hideously expensive for bulk mounting.

 

Sample Images

Examples of the images I've taken with it can be found here.

 

Conclusions

All in all, its a great little panoramic camera, fantastic for the price. Its not got the features of the discontiuned and still highly sort after xpan, but a new Horizon is a quarter of the price as a second hand xpan body with the basic lens, and generally this dosnt come with the required center filter either. If you can live with the drawbacks of swing lens cameras, Its in my opinion one of the better value 35mm Panoramic cameras available, and certainly one of the most portable, being smaller than an xpan and a lot smaller and easier to use than any of the 617 cameras.

 

Definatly a nice little bit of kit.

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Taken on November 28, 2008