Camera Geekery: Seitz Roundshot 360 Panoramic Camera
In the words of Dead or Alive “You spin me right ’round, baby, right ’round. Though in this case it is not like a record, but instead like a camera. You see, this camera is rather special. It is the Seitz Roundshot 360 Panoramic camera and there is nothing quite like it.
The Seitz Roundshot is a an odd and eccentric camera, that comes from a place that is more well known for its lack of eccentricity, Switzerland. A place known for being very sensible and for very high quality engineering. And whilst this camera may not be all that sensible to some, it is certainly well engineered. Seitz manufacture some pretty incredible cameras in the land of cheese and chocolate and this is one of them.
These cameras were handmade to order by Seitz Phototechnik AG. You cannot walk into a showroom and walk out with one, so you hardly ever seen them available. But fortunately we managed to get our greedy little mitts on one of these remarkable cameras. So, we decided that testing it out for the public good was important. That and this camera just looks like a whole lot of fun to play with.
What is it?
The Roundshot is a medium format camera that shoots both 120 and 220 film #120not120mm which is already interesting enough, but it uses a lens from a 35mm camera. The mind boggles. Originally the camera came with a choice of Nikon, Leica R and Contax mounts, the caveat being that you must use a 28mm lens. Otherwise you cannot capture the full 90 degree vertical angle required. The optimal lens for this camera is the one attached to this particular body. This one uses the Nikon 28mm PC Nikkor lens, which has tilt shift ability, making for some very interesting results. Once you get the hang of it (more on that later).
This is actually a true panoramic camera as it has no fixed aspect ratio, you can shoot from 45˚ to 360˚ and then further. Many ‘panoramic’ cameras use a swinging lens system, for example the Widelux or Noblex cameras, in which the lens swings in the camera body. With the Seitz, the camera itself actually rotates, exposing the film via a slit in the body to create true Panoramic images. The body is mounted on a chargeable lithium battery pack that is supposedly good for 100 rolls and can be shot handheld if required. And because of the lens and film format you are getting 90˚ of vertical coverage, completely covering the frame and making for some very interesting images.
Functionally the camera itself is actually very simple to use. The main panel is controlled by just 4 buttons (looking at you Konica Aiborg), with a power switch, a mode selector and up and down buttons. That is all you need to navigate the simple menu. You can set the shutter speed, from 500th of a second, down to 8 seconds. For slower shutter speeds there is a switch inside the lens mount which needs to be moved to to the left for slow speeds and to the right for the faster speeds above 1/60th. Slower speeds can mean rotation may take up to 300 seconds, meaning you have to really plan your lighting situation.
Beneath this you can select the degree of rotation, from 45˚ right through to 999˚, which effectively clears the roll. I think this one could be really interesting to experiment with, especially with some 220 film. Oh did I mention it takes 220 film as well as 120?
Underneath is the film counter, telling you how many exposures you have based on the degree of shot selected. There is also a self timer, a film size selector and a wind to end function. And that is it. Easy peasy.
Navigating the menu is simple with the only problem being if you push the button too many times and have to cycle through the menu again.
There is a red selector switch on the power pack. This locks the camera in place when not being used, so that you don’t accidentally wind your film. When this is unlocked you can then power up the camera and get started.
Like most Swiss precision instruments, this camera is beautifully made. It has a deceptively simple construction and is made from the finest materials. The camera feels incredibly solid and is actually pretty heavy, weighing in at just over 2kgs with the lens. You can really feel the quality of the engineering, everything has been hewn from what feels like a solid chunk of metal. It is a satisfying experience and feels dependable.
Loading the film is another enjoyable experience, and pretty simple, once you have read the instructions. Which is exactly what I didn’t do properly as I was too excited and ended up with a fat roll on my first spin….Well done!
Using the camera
Setting the camera up is one of the more time consuming aspects of using this machine. Making sure that everything is level and using the viewfinder to set up your shot takes time and patience. And yet the shot itself barely takes any time at all. Blink and you miss it. It is akin to spending hours making a delicious meal and then polishing it all off in 10 minutes.
But using the camera is not all plain sailing. You have to find a hiding spot if you don’t want to be in the frame, which could prove difficult in some situations. It has a remote release cable, which is hair trigger sensitive as I found out. So you can easily waste frames. You also have to make sure that the film has been wound on properly at the end of the roll so you don’t get fat rolled like me.
You also have to be aware that the camera does have image overlap between frames unlike more traditional cameras. This isn’t a problem so long as you are aware of it and prepare for it.
The manual also suggests that you make the degree of swing a bit larger than you are planning on for the image. This is because the motor is still a motor and needs to accelerate and decelerate, which means that the start and end of images may be exposed incorrectly. This can be seen in the overlaps, so you have to prepare for it. But other than that using the camera is a lot of fun and a rewarding experience.
There are some other limitations as you would expect with a camera like this. You cannot really shoot the lens wide open as it will not cover the image circle if you do. So the lens has to be stopped down to at least f11, which can be quite restrictive. But with the slow shutter speeds you should be able to still get good results.
We had this camera only for a few days but I really fell for it, it’s hard not to. Yes, it is expensive and shooting this much film is crippling, but it is also a really enjoyable photographic experience that opens up all sorts of possibilities.I feel very lucky to be able to have access to a camera like this and the new owner is going to be very happy.
Now we just have to figure out how to make prints from these negs…
In case you missed it, we made a video about using the camera as well, which you can see here.
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