Eyes Wide Shut: Introducing an Xpan Alternative, dubbed “Oxygen”

George Westinghouse developed the rotary steam engine at age 19. Blaise Pascal created a mechanical calculator at 18. Teenage mechanical whizzes continue to this day as Oscar Oweson at 18 has created his own working Xpan alternative that he calls “The Oxygen”. Continue reading if you want to be impressed.

Hello, I’m an 18 year old who’s really interested in photography and camera mechanics. I’ve grown up and live in Switzerland. I really got into photography when I was 16, first i was interested in cinematography but soon moved over to photography. My interest lead me to the analog scene and then quickly into building my first diy camera, which i completed soon after having turned 17. Since about July i’ve been working on this follow up project and others in parallel. As for the types of photography I do, I don’t really know how to qualify it (as i think most people say when asked about what their genre is) but i just try to pick out patterns, colours and moods out of a scene. As for panoramic photography it’s just something that happened, i oddly enough tend to compose most of my pictures in portrait orientation with normal 35mm cameras, so the only time i really break out the horizontal orientation is to shoot panoramic.

So, the idea for the camera came from the fact that people seemed to be longing for an Xpan alternative, since the prices have continued to go up a good part of the photography community can’t afford an Xpan anymore, but they only seem to want it more and more. Furthermore, the Xpan is electronic, and one day they will stop working, and I wanted to be able to shoot panoramic once they all died or became even more expensive than they already are. And lastly, It was sort of a challenge, could I do it? Could I make a camera that would even work?

So the result is this camera, that I call the Oxygen*, it’s a 65x24mm 3D printed panoramic camera for 35mm film, it’s designed to be an Xpan alternative (not a replacement, yet) for those who are willing to have a less than perfect camera that they can help iterate and improve. The camera came to be as I was studying for my finals and spent my late nights on my CAD software drawing up this camera. This is the second version of that camera, as the first one that I printed wasn’t a great success and had some glaring issues ( the advance lever would spin the around the wrong way when you rewound the film, for example). So I went back to the CAD and started again from scratch to improve on it. In it’s current form the camera is working, but still has some light leakage problems. This is due to the nature of this 3D printing process (SLS Nylon) being porous and not inherently light tight, in addition to the fact that the paint isn’t adhering well enough to the plastic.

I want to try different materials as well as paints but am currently unable to, because I’ve spent all my money on this project. So if people are interested in sort of beta testing the camera, that would be great. If enough people are interested I would like to try to get a few CNC’d aluminium bodies ( 8-10 people is enough to get a reasonable price), and of course, if anyone has any experience with CNC’ing aluminium, I would love to ask them some questions about what is the best way to go forward. Essentially is people are interested in getting involved in this project in any way they should get in touch, either on Instagram through my personal @oscaroweson or  @panomicron, or at [email protected].

The plan moving forward is to get the camera to a good useable standard, without any big fancy features, I will be compiling a build guide pretty soon hopefully, where I will list the stock parts needed to build a camera, and what I’ve tried so far, if they want to try stuff and get back to me that would be fantastic. In essence the camera can be assembled and disassembled with a standard Philips screwdriver. During first assembly you need a soldering iron to install threaded brass inserts ( to have a solid screw connection). I’ve tried to keep it simple and as glue free as possible.

The Camera also uses a Chinese manufactured M65 to M65 helicoid that you can buy on ebay and a Copal 0 to M65 adapter disc on top of that. The lenses are interchangeable and currently the mounted lens is a 50mm f/2.8 remounted in a Copal shutter, which makes for some pretty fun night-time handheld panoramic shooting (bet you’ve never heard that one before!). The viewfinder on top is a simple Galilean viewfinder (two elements) that I made from Surplus optic in a 3D printed housing.

As you will see in the pictures the camera is functional in subdued light. In bright daylight it tends to have light leaks, but It is possibly solvable with a few more coats of paint, or maybe just a leatherette on the exterior to seal it a bit more from the light, things that I haven’t been able to try out yet. To be frank I would have preferred releasing a perfect finished product, but I simply don’t have much more money to spend on it, and I thought maybe the iterative process could go faster if some other people were willing to try it out, and it would be possible to make them cheaper out of better materials.

*I’m probably also going to keep using the original panomicron as an overarching brand name name, as it turns out it has pretty good google searchability, which these days isn’t always easy to find. Thus @panomicron on Instagram is where I will be posting most of the stuff about this camera and future projects


Pretty impressive, i must say. At 18 i was doing umm…less productive things with my free time. Feel free to leave comments below.