F5 Panoramic Camera - 35mm format
Noblex 06/150 Panoramic Camera - 120 format
67 II Camera - 120 format (6x7 negative)
I purchased my first panoramic camera, an old Widelux F5, in 1991. This camera captures a panoramic photograph by panning it's lens 140 degrees, creating a negative 1 1/2 times wider than the typical 35mm image. Traveling around the western U.S. with this camera, I began taking panoramas of many places. Using traditional darkroom enlarging techniques to make the prints, I found myself frustrated by the desire to combine serveral images into large panoramas. Mounting several photographs together worked somewhat, but resulted in a seam running through the images. Digital photographic manipulation was becoming more widespread and I began experimenting with Adobe Photoshop to combine images. This is the technique I still use for many of my images.
I started panoramic photography as a purely black and white medium. This decision came from the expense of printing color in a panoramic format and my belief that black and white was the most artful type of photography. I usually shot TMAX 100 for the finest grain structure possible.
As I started doing more digital work, I was frustrated by the inability of 16-bit imaging software, such as Photoshop, to reproduce all the tonalities of a fine black and white print. I eventually began to understand that many more tonalities can be expressed in an image through the use of color. Digital imaging has also allowed an incredible amount of control over color manipulation, compared to traditional color printing.
I started shooting more color film than black and white. My experience with non-panoramic color work had convinced me that reversal film was the best for color reproduction. I started using Fuji Velvia film for panoramas, but discovered that I was having trouble capturing the wide range of tonalities a panorama contained with the limited exposure range of reversal stocks. Although I'm happy with them, my panoramas from Ireland show this drawback. Many of the skies and clouds have lost detail due to overexposure. Although I was able to make some nice prints from these negatives, I began using color negative films exclusively. Recently, I've begun shooting all my images with Fuji color negative film.
Using 400 ASA film for my 120 work, has given me the ability to work at a deeper stop for added clarity and in lower light conditions. The use of a large 120 negative offsets the problem of larger grain in a faster stock. I expose for the best overall stop, keeping highlights and areas around the sun from burning out. A fine scanner allows me to capture a large dynamic range from the negative and extensive burning and dodging is almost always necessary.
Image clarity as always been an important quality that I have tried to maintain. With the 35mm Widelux, the negative produced is as wide as the typical 120mm image, so image quality was excellent from the beginning. However, I found that the image was not quite a sharp as I prefered when enlarged to a moderate sized print. Since I composed most of my photographs for large reproductions, I purchased a Noblex 120mm camera. The 50mm Noblar lens of this camera is very sharp and the negative image produced is as wide as a 4x5 sheet film negative.
Although I have always originated my work on film, most of my manipulation is done digitally. Scanning from the original negative is one of the most important steps in this process, and I purchased an Imacon Flextight Photo scanner for this purpose. This scanner is one of the finest negative scanners available to the consumer. I scan all my negatives at 3200 dpi, the finest resolution the scanner can perform and the level at which film grain becomes visible. I prefer to start with the highest quality image manageable and scale down my work for printing. Below is an example of the resolution of the scanner.
Since Photoshop has a built in size limit of 30,000 pixels in width and height, I often have to reduce large panoramas (270 degrees or more) to this number. The file size is usually around 350 meg of uncompressed TIFF format, a drain on computer resources. Still, the 30,000 pixel image can produce a 300 dpi print (very sharp for printing purposes) that is slightly over 8 feet wide if desired. Obviously retouching a image file this size is time consuming, but because you are working digitally, it only has to be done once!
An Epson 2200 Photo is the printer I use for most of my final prints. An amazing device, the Epson prints at 2880 ppi and uses archival inks that are fadeproof for seventy years, longer than almost all other color print processes. Since the Epson can print an area up to 13" x 44", it is excellent tool for panoramic image work. Before printing, I scale all my images down in Photoshop to 300 pixels per inch to make the file size more manageable. Since traditional color printing is these dimensions is extremely difficult and expensive, the Epson and other photo printers are changing the face of photography radically.
For the last decade, computers have kept photographic techniques and equipment changing at an incredible rate. They have also caused much debate among photographers. Some feel that "digital" work lacks the organic quality of traditional photogphy. I believe that these changes effect only the tools.....what you decided to create with them is up to you!