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The Quest for Ever Wider: A UV 360° Approach with Lomo Spinner & Ilford Delta 3200

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#1 OlDoinyo

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 02:15

Investigating the wide-angle issue in UV photography can lead in some curious directions. Long ago, before Pierre Angénieux pioneered the retrofocus lens in the 1950s, medium and short wide-angle lenses were difficult to construct, often requiring impractically short film-to-lens distances. Most readily available optics of the day spanned a field of view of 60 degrees or less. But photographers as long ago as 1900 routinely took photographs spanning more than 110 degrees, and often even a complete 360-degree circle. How did they do it? The answer is rotating-lens cameras--and an explanation will require a brief dive into history.

The rotating-lens camera was pioneered as long ago as the 1880s, and production models began to become available around 1900. Two designs emerged: the swing-lens camera and the slit-scan camera. In the swing-lens camera, the film is held stationary in a semicircular channel behind the lens, which is mounted on the inside of a pivoting drum with a slit behind the lens acting as the effective "shutter."|The lens carriage rotates through a wide angle, producing an image on the film from 110 to 150 degrees in width. A prominent early example was the Kodak Panoram; later examples are the KMZ Gorizont/Horizon, the Panon Widelux, and the Kamera-Werkstätten Noblex.

Slit-scan cameras are slightly different: the lens is rigidly attached to the camera, and the entire camera pivots on a bearing while a mechanism feeds the film past the slit at a carefully matched rate. these cameras are capable of recording a full circle and some can even execute multiple consecutive revolutions, almost becoming a sort of omnidirectional motion-picture camera. Prominent examples of this type have included the Kodak Cirkut, the Globus Globuscope, and the Seitz Roundshot. (For a more complete timeline of this subfield of photography, you may check here.)

Both these camera types produced what became known as a panoramic image, a peculiar sort of image which is rectilinear in the vertical direction but has fisheye characteristics in the horizontal direction. Can panoramic images be made in UV in a single exposure? It looked worth a try, but one consideration one runs up against is that rotating-lens camera technology for the most part never made the jump to the digital era. There are various reasons for this. For one thing, digital stitching technology to assemble a panoramic image out of a series of ordinary photos is now ubiquitous and cheap, even to the point that some smartphone apps can handle the task. For another, some modern rectilinear wide angle lenses can now (in visible and IR) cover angles up to 135 degrees, actually exceeding the range of some of the old swing-lens cameras, and making this design largely irrelevant--if a panoramic image is still desired, a simple geometric remapping can create one from a rectilinear image. Finally, the future of immersive digital imaging seems to lie in a different direction--that of the concurrent multi-camera array, such as the Panono (and perhaps someday someone will send one of these to LifePixel or MaxMax, but that day is not yet.) The digital equivalent of the slit-scan camera is called the rotating-line camera and is today largely a tool for surveillance and industrial use, not a consumer product. (One intrepid hobbyist, however, has built his own.) So realistically, to do this it was necessary to shoot film. That raised the question of acquiring equipment to do so.

I quickly learned that most panoramic cameras have two drawbacks that discourage casual experimentation. First, due to collectors, many of them have become quite expensive, sometimes insanely so. Checking Ebay for price references, a Kodak Cirkut in working order will cost you $3,500--even though the film for it is no longer available! A working Globuscope is almost as bad, going for almost $3,000. An Alpa Roto recently sold for over $4,000, and one lesser-known and rare camera recently was listed for $11,000. A Widelux in working order will set you back at least $800, and a Noblex will be over $1,000. Only the Gorizont/Horizon line has stayed somewhat less expensive, normally in the $200-300 range, still too dear for a casual experiment when I do not even know if the lens transmits UV. The other drawback is that these cameras are mechanically complex and tend to be temperamental, not at all forgiving of neglect or poor maintenance; worse, many camera shops do not even know how to service one (though I hear that one business in Tempe, AZ has made a specialty of this.) So a camera someone found in Grandpa's closet on a back shelf may not turn out to be such a good deal, even if the price seems right. Since almost all of these cameras are out of production, parts availability may be a big problem.

But a potential solution presented itself: the Lomography Spinner, which appears to be a reboot/near-clone of the Corrales Spinshot of the 1990s, available from lomography.com for about $50, and I took the risk of obtaining one:

Attached Image: ls1.jpg
Attached Image: ls3.jpg

It is a simple plastic slit-scan camera which comes with a surprisingly stout, heavy lens hood which turns out to be the rotational counterweight. It has a 25mm lens--but made of what? If it turned out to be polycarbonate (cutoff 390nm) I would be hosed. Acrylic (375nm) would be almost as bad. So I ran a pinhole test. Aligning the aperture proved tricky, but I obtained a result, presented here as a composite of two images for reference:

Attached Image: SpinnerPT.jpg

It turns out I need not have worried. The very pale yellow color means that this silly little fixed-focus lens is made of glass--and has the best bandpass of any 25mm full-frame lens I have heard of, rivalling the Steinheil Cassar-S. So images taken with this camera have the potential of recording almost the entire UVA gamut and perhaps even a sliver of UVB. Filters on this camera are mounted between the lens hood and the lens, on a 52mm thread. I do not have any UV filters that size, so I had to mount the Baader (49mm) or the 403 (55mm) sandwiched between stepper rings thus:

Attached Image: ls2.jpg

This camera is designed to record full-circle images. To operate it, one pulls the string in the handle (as in one of those old talking dolls of my childhood) and releases it, whereupon the camera whips through a bit more than one revolution before coasting to a stop, resulting in a "shutter" speed somewhere between 1/125 and 1/250 second (according to the documentation.) We are given a choice of two apertures: f/8 (cloud icon) or f/16 (sun icon.) The next step was to load up with Ilford Delta 3200 and go shoot something.

Even for many experienced photographers used to thinking in terms of stubby rectangles, operating this kind of camera is a bit of an alien head trip. One has to judge suitable scenes by the criterion, is there interesting subject matter in every direction? It is not sufficient to look in front of you. Rule of thirds? Forget it--if the camera is properly leveled, that horizon is going to be dead center no matter what. (If the camera is tilted, on the other hand, the result is a sinusoidal funhouse distortion effect that you may or may not want.) Particular attention must be paid to where you want the lens sweep to start--and that point may be behind you. There is no exact control over where the sweep stops. The default procedure, once a location is chosen, is to mount the camera on the tripod, aim the camera carefully at where the sweep is to start, level the camera carefully with the bubble level on top, crouch underneath the tripod to get yourself out of the frame, reach up, pull the string out, and release. I can only imagine what onlookers might have thought I was doing.

I chose the Biltmore estate as the place to try this all out, hoping that I might find some masses of flowers with distinctive UV patterns to include in the shots. But that was not to be--the dogwoods were already almost bloomed out, and it was too early in the year for Rudbeckia. Most of the gardens had not been planted for the summer yet, and aside from some scruffy tulips in one spot, there was not much in this department. So I contented myself with a few general landscape-type shots, trying both f/8 and f/16 as well as both filters.

After processing the film in Microphen for 9 minutes with motor agitation at 20C and the rest of a typical B&W processing routine, the negatives were revealed, and looked reasonable, for the most part, except for some minor blemishes that might have been a processing fault on my part. . The f/8 aperture provided slightly better exposure, whereas there seemed not to be a great difference in sharpness between the images taken at the different apertures. I do not think this was due to focus shift, as nearby features were no sharper than the most distant. This lens is no Zeiss Distagon, and there is only so much one can reasonably expect. If one examines the negatives closely with a magnifier, the blurring is readily apparent.

After this stage, I ran into another issue: My good Nikon film scanner does not have a carrier appropriate for these weird, ungainly negatives and I was forced to fire up an old Epson flatbed that I had not used in several years which did have such a carrier. This latter machine has somewhat janky focus and tonal rendition, and my initial attempts at scanning were disastrous. Fortunately, with just the right parameter settings in VueScan and some aggressive massaging of curves in Photoshop, I was finally able to get something half-way presentable, if not exactly of professional quality. I chose a sepia treatment for historical reasons. Bear in mind that the following scans do not quite do justice to the negatives, which are both somewhat sharper than what you see here and have more tonal subtlety, especially in the shadows.

The first image I present is taken on the front lawn of the Biltmore House, at f/8 with the 403 filter. The lawn is large, to be sure, but this view makes the 30,000 square meter namesake palace almost disappear in the immensity.

Attached Image: Biltmore House j small ex 12A-3.jpg

If I must claim that UV did anything in particular here, specular reflections off the grass may have made the mowing patterns more prominent.

The next photo I include shows some (partially) socially-distanced visitors relaxing on the upper terrace, taken I believe through the Baader filter at f/8. If one looks closely, mountains can be seen on the far horizon through the haze.

Attached Image: Upper Terrace j small ex 18.jpg

The last two images were taken with the 403 filter, I think at f/16 (I am not sure the choice of filter makes much difference.) On the lower terrace, the distant landscape is a bit more apparent, as is an event tent that was being set up for the purpose, which shows fairly white in color, indicating a probable lack of pigmentation in the fabric. The greyness of the house is a real phenomenon; the stone is not terribly UV-bright.

Attached Image: Lower Terrace j small ex 3.jpg

The final image was taken down the hill in the garden, and is compositionally my most successful, although it is marred by a couple of apparent belt-drive glitches that resulted in bands of streaking.

Attached Image: In the Garden j small ex 12.jpg

So there you have it--the widest-angle UV pictures I have ever taken, and perhaps some of the widest anyone has ever taken. Admittedly, this kind of photography is probably best practiced sparingly--it could easily degenerate into a trite gimmick if overdone, and it would take real dedication and vision to make this sort of camera one's daily shooter. But in the mainstream Lomography community, such images (visible, not UV) have gained a small cult following. As film photography is not popular in the UV community, I do not expect to be inspiring any imitators; but I hope that this story has been at least enlightening and entertaining for the reader.

#2 colinbm

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 03:01

Fascinating story & fitting for the complexity of it all.
The shots are very reminiscing of ages gone.
I think member https://www.ultravio...er/141-photoni/ will be most interested.

#3 Andy Perrin

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 03:48

Wow, that was quite interesting, and the photos are excellent ones. I'm sure you could do it with a digital camera by stitching and transformation (indeed, this seems like something Bob would do) but it's quite something to see it done the old fashioned way.

#4 dabateman

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 04:43

Excellent story and images. I like film in that its sensitive to UVC up to visible and excluding infrared. So you can easily get great UV images. I don't like the developing and scanning. So was glad Fuji instax is also UV sensitive. But much lower resolution than what you can pull out here. I am limited to 12 lines per mm. Explain that to a modern digital photographer. But the feel and fun in the images is still there.


#5 Cadmium

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 05:43

Great photos!
I keep getting eBay messages about 21mm or 19mm wide angle lenses. I forget the band.
I don['t know if the lens is UV compatible.

#6 SteveE

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 06:13

Quote

I'm sure you could do it with a digital camera by stitching and transformation
Some digital cameras, such as my Panasonic G85, have a panorama mode.
You tell it which direction you are going to pan, hold down the shutter button, and swivel in the indicated direction.
It takes multiple exposures and stitches them together in the camera, no post processing required.
Interestingly, the higher level G9 has omitted the panorama mode.
- Steve

#7 Andy Perrin

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 15:53

SteveE, my Sony A7S does that also, but it’s not quite the same as the above because of the way the horizontal projection gets warped.

#8 JMC

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Posted 05 May 2021 - 16:17

Love it. Hurrah for simple lenses.....
Jonathan M. Crowther

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#9 Cadmium

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Posted 06 May 2021 - 01:18

Vivitar 19mm, that's what it is. Has anyone ever tried that one?

#10 OlDoinyo

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Posted 06 May 2021 - 02:27

View PostCadmium, on 06 May 2021 - 01:18, said:

Vivitar 19mm, that's what it is. Has anyone ever tried that one?

All I can find about that lens is that at least one version was made by Cosina and the natively badged version may have been rated 20mm. I do not know if there were other suppliers. It does seem relatively cheap, though.

You are aware of the 17mm Tamron lens recently tested, yes?

#11 nfoto

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Posted 09 May 2021 - 12:58

Vivek Iyer informed me the NEX-5N Monochrome has a "sweep panorama" mode. This actually works ... as evidenced by a quick snapshot from my porch using the Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 lens.

Attached Image: A202105091044.jpg


The otherwise unobtrusive camera now sounded like a woodpecker on a sugar high rush, though.

I haven't calculated the horizontal coverage, but suffice it to say it is sufficient. Now, if the sun appears, I might try in UV next time.

#12 colinbm

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Posted 09 May 2021 - 13:29

Good stuff...seamless too.

#13 OlDoinyo

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Posted 10 July 2021 - 03:24

Postscript: Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri

I have now, with the help of a new accessory, improved my scanning technique quite a bit, so I thought I would share these. You can see the St. Louis Art Museum on the skyline in these frames:

Attached Image: Forest Park Triptych.jpg

I used the 403 filter for these, which continues to work well. I confess, however, to some growing frustration with some of the limitations of the Spinner camera. I think the lens, despite its excellent bandpass, has some focus shift, which contributes to its lack of sharpness, especially at the f/8 setting. The f/16 setting improves sharpness a little bit, but results in fairly severe underexposure, even in broad daylight (even the f/8 shots are mildly underexposed.) As this is a fixed-focus camera, there is nothing to adjust. (Edit: sharpness at f/8 appears dodgy even in the visible. Perhaps it is not a focus shift issue, after all.) Despite my lubricating the main pulley bearing with silicone grease (which helped quite a bit,) the camera is still somewhat prone to ugly drive-belt glitches which mar the image, especially near the end of a roll of film. Maybe I just don't have the proper Lomography spirit--those folks would be celebrating those things rather than complaining. But I intend to continue playing with this for a while, and you can expect to see a few more of these images.

Edited by OlDoinyo, 15 July 2021 - 03:48.


#14 colinbm

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Posted 10 July 2021 - 04:17

These are still very good, even if you are finding limitations.

#15 Andrea B.

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Posted 18 July 2021 - 19:25

Oldinyo has preseneted such a very well written topic that I am moving it to the Essays & Tutorial section (with a minor title change for clarity). The history was fascinating and the Spinner photographs are very cool.

Thank you, Clark, for this excellent essay/tutorial.
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