Filmtown: Horizon 202 and Kodak Ektar 100
This month’s topic is the Horizon 202, a swing-lens panoramic camera from the former Soviet Union. With its clockwork exposure sounds and serpentine film loading, using a Horizon is an interesting experience for any photographer. In this column, we will be pairing the Horizon with Kodak’s Ektar 100, a tightly grained 100 speed color negative film that aims for high saturation and ultra-vivid color.
The Camera: Horizon 202
A panoramic image is one that is significantly longer in one dimension than another. Or, to say it another way, a panoramic image is a long rectangle. While there is no set definition for what aspect ratio defines an image as panoramic or not, I would wager a guess that for many people an image needs to be at least twice as long on one side vs the other (an aspect ratio of 2:1) before they would call it “panoramic”.
The Horizon 202 is what is called a “swing lens” panoramic camera. This means that the whole image is not exposed at one time as with most other cameras. Instead, the lens itself moves, projecting onto different areas of the film at different times. The advantages of this are very clear. Panoramic images take up a fairly large amount of film space, in the case of the Horizon 202 the image size is 24mm x 58mm. Meaning that in order to cover the whole frame at once, the image circle of the lens would have had to be virtually the same size as a medium format camera’s. Medium format lenses tend to be large, slower, expensive, and harder to design when compared to their smaller format brothers. However, by using a moving lens design, the image circle for these cameras only has to cover a small area (relative to the final negative size) and so can be smaller, faster, and more easily designed.
A 1990’s update of a 1960’s Russian panoramic camera called the Horizont, the Horizon 202 is rumored to no longer be in production. Though there are many “new” examples available from various Russian camera dealers.
There are many quirks to using a swing lens panoramic camera, and a few quirks that are special to the Horizon itself.
First off is the adventure of loading the film. The path that film takes through the Horizon is more convoluted than one of those Family Circus cartoons where Jeffy is running all over the neighborhood. Okay, so it’s not quite that bad. But there are a number of rollers that the film has to run around for everything to work properly. The general rule is “if the film can go behind something, it should”. There is a odd little film path illustration on the inside of the film door that is meant to explain this to you. But in typical Russian camera fashion, it doesn’t help all that much.
With practice, loading film becomes a lot easier. It is tempting to say that I don’t blame the Horizon for its weird loading, since swing-lens cameras have such strange film plane requirements. However the Horizon’s much more expensive competitor Noblex seemed to have no problem creating a camera that was much easier to load.
Speaking of the film advance, it pays to be gentle with the film advance in the Horizon. There is a lot of film being moved through the camera and a lot of friction due to the large curved film plane that the advance gears move with a pretty strong amount of force. Though I’ve never had it happen to me, I have heard that it is possible to tear through the sprocket holes of the film by being too enthusiastic with your film advancing. Given that the metal film advance gears are pretty roughly finished (like many parts of Russian cameras) and sharp, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Some suggest advancing the film in two shorter strokes. I personally never bother with this and rather just make sure that I am fairly gentle and steady when I advance. One thing that you may run into is uneven negative spacing. I have a theory that this is made worse by being too enthusiastic with your winding. But I have no real proof of that. I do know that one or two frame pairs in a roll tend to be too close for comfort, sometimes even overlapping a bit. Not a huge issue, and one common to other Russian cameras, but something to be aware of.
Composition is a fairly simple matter, stick your eye up to the goofy bulbous level and point it at something you want to photograph. Because one of the calling cards of swing-lens cameras is the odd distortion you will get if you do not keep the camera level, the Horizon viewfinder includes a very handy circular level. The level is actually on top of the camera and look like a circle bullseye with a little bubble floating in it. You can see the level when looking through the viewfinder due to the fact that there is a mirror in the VF housing. Essentially, like all levels, when the bubble is in the middle the camera is level. One thing I did notice is that the bubble on my camera likes to stick to the side of the level. Sometimes it takes a tap or a gentle shake to dislodge it. But overall, it’s a very handy little tool.
The finder is fairly accurate, but most Horizon users feel that it shows a bit less than what the final image shows. To be honest, I can’t say if this is true or not as I don’t frame very tightly myself and likely wouldn’t notice if I had a bit of extra by the time the film came back. In any case, it’s always better to have a little more than you thought as it can be cropped off later, rather than having a little less than you thought. One nifty idea that a Horizon user came up with is the idea that the view out of one human eye (from far left to far right) is just about the same as the view from the Horizon. Now I personally think that this is true for the horizontal, but the human eye shows a bit more vertically than the Horizon does. But still, it’s a pretty decent “rough preview” of what your image might look like when you are wandering around looking for things to take photos of.
One thing to note about composition is that if you hold the Horizon like you hold most every other camera (thumb in back, index finger on shutter release, middle/ring/pinky curled around the front) it is staggeringly easy to end up with your fingers intruding into the shot. It’s tough to keep in mind just how wide of an angle of view this camera has. To help with this issue, the Horizon comes with a handgrip that bayonets into the bottom of the camera on the side under the film rewind knob. It’s a pretty handy little beast to have when you are shooting hand-held. However, it does make sticking the Horizon in a camera bag a little annoying. I end up taking it off and putting it back one again fairly often that I know one of these days I’m going to set the grip down and lose it. It is possible to not use the handgrip and keep your fingers out of the image, you just have to be very careful in how you hold the camera. It probably also helps if you don’t have giant hands.
The Horizon has 6 shutter speeds split up into two “gears”. The high-speed gear offers 1/250, 1/125 & 1/60 and the low offers 1/8, 1/4 & 1/2. The low speeds are printed in yellow and the high speeds are printed in white directly below. You select the high or low gearing by switching a lever under the film rewind know to choose the color that corresponds with the shutter speed you want to use. Then you switch another lever to point at the chosen shutter speed pair. What is odd is that there very obviously a space where a 1/30 and 1/15 shutter speed choice should live, but there isn’t anything printed there. I have heard that some Horizon 202’s have a 1/30 option and I’ve heard of a few that have been modified to have a 1/15 & 1/30 option. Heck I have even heard of some that have a 1/500 option. That’s part of the joy of Russian cameras though, specs seem to change from time to time over the production lifespan with no real rhyme or reason.
The Horizon 202 has six aperture choices from 2.8-16. For the most part, you are okay with just these. But given the 1/250 top speed, it would have been nice to see a f/22 option in there as well. But such is life and we can do without. One thing you can do to reduce the amount of light on sunny days is to install the Horizon’s included 2x ND filter. There are three of them that come with the camera and they are 2x neutral density, UV, and Yellow. They are all of dubious quality in my opinion. The filters clip into slots on the lens barrel and stay in place well enough that you actually have to use the clips on a second filter to clip onto the installed filter and pull it back out again. One annoying thing about installing/removing the filters is that you can only do so after making an image when advancing the film. As you are advancing the film, the lens barrel rotates back to it’s starting spot. You can stop it in the middle and then install/remove your filter. The other advantage of the 2x ND filter is that you can use it with the 1/60 and 1/125 shutter speeds to approximate 1/15 and 1/30 shutter speeds respectively. But as I say, I don’t think the filters are of particularly high quality. If you are handy, you can take apart the supplied filters, remove the filter material, and replace it with something better. There is a webpage here with a few images from someone who did just that to get a red filter.
One note about filters that is fairly frustrating is that for the kind of landscape/scenic photography that the Horizon 202 was built to do, it is really handy to be able to use a polarizing filter. However, it is not at all handy to use one with the Horizon. Since you do not look through the lens, you have to hold the filter up and spin it in front of your eye to get the effect you want. Then, since there is no internal meter, you have to either use a hand held meter, a separate camera, or guesstimation to figure out the exposure difference when using the polarizer. Finally, you have to use a fairly slow shutter speed and hold the filter in front of the Horizon’s rotating lens as you try and follow the rotation with the filter. Did I mention you need a pretty big filter to give yourself a good chance of not getting “caught” by the lens as you try to follow it? It works, and I used it for the photo to the right. But it isn’t the best system.
The Horizon 202 is a fixed focus camera. As it is primarily a landscape camera, I am going to guess that the focus is fixed on infinity. But I haven’t been able to find any info to prove or disprove that. I will say that at middle apertures, everything past 3-4 meters seems pretty in focus, using f/16 will bring that distance down to 2-3 meters. A 28mm lens does have a nice big depth of field, but don’t expect to be able to use this camera like a wide angle lens. It really is only meant to taking photos of things that are somewhat far away.
One very important thing to remember with the Horizon 202, and with any swing lens camera, is that because the exposure takes much longer overall than the shutter speed indicated moving objects can look weird. Objects moving from left to right, the same direction as the lens barrel rotates, can get elongated (see the photo to the right). Objects moving from right to left can get squashed together. This is obviously much more pronounced with slow shutter speeds than it is with fast ones, but if the object is moving at the right speed, you can even see the effects with fast speeds. Now, the rotating barrel can offer some fun effects as well, if you are into crazy photo experimenting. Shoot at the slowest shutter speed and have a person standing to the left of the camera (if you are looking through the viewfinder). Click the shutter button, have them stand there until you think the lens has rotated past them. Then have your subject run around the back of the camera and get into the frame on the right hand side. If you do it right, you’ll end up with the same person in the image twice. Sort of a double exposure without doing a double exposure. You can also get some weird effects by moving the camera as the lens is rotating. Mostly what you will get is a lot of blur and distortion. But you never know what will come out of stuff like that, could be something cool.
Two issues are common to the Horizon 202 (and likely all swing-lens cameras). The first is that you may experience uneven exposure or dark vertical bands across your image. This is usually caused by either something holding up the drum (or aperture/shutter speed arms) when the exposure is being made. Or because the gears have gotten gunked up with something that is causing the barrel to slow down and speed up while rotating. If you aren’t slowing the lens barrel down with your fingers, you should probably find a good repair shop to give your Horizon a good CLA (clean lube, & adjust). The second issue is that you may see an overexposed vertical band, typically on the right side of the frame and frequently on bright days. This is caused by internal reflections in the camera. The huge FOV of the camera gives the sun ample opportunity to sneak in there and bounce around. Like the frame spacing, this is a pretty common problem with Russian cameras. I have heard of some users having success painting the inside of the camera with matte black paint. But I have no direct knowledge of how they did it or what paint they used. Personally, I just tried to shield my camera from the sun (difficult with it’s large FOV) and if all else failed, used some burning/cloning in Photoshop to minimize or fix the issue.
When taking your Horizon 202 film to the lab to be developed, it is very important that you tell them you do not want the film to be cut. There is virtually no way (unless you have a pro lab) that anyone will know where to cut the film properly. It will be run through a machine and you will end up with a pile of frames cut in half. Also, it is very unlikely that you are going to find a minilab that will be able to scan these images at the time of developing. I know that many photographers have gotten addicted to the quick proofing scans when they develop C-41 on a Frontier or a Noritsu minilab. The fact is that the Horizon’s frames are just too big to work with those machines. It is true that a Frontier or Nortisu set up to do medium format could fit a panoramic 35mm frame. But I have yet to get any confirmation that it would actually work nor have I found a lab that was willing to try. So your best bet is to just ask them to develop and mark the roll “No Cut!”.
Printing these images is another problem. You are going to have to have an enlarger that does medium format. And unless your enlarger company happens to make a panoramic negative holder in the right size, you are probably going to want to use some sort of glass holder to keep the negative from sagging. Scanning isn’t much better. Dedicated 35mm film scanners can’t scan an image that is as wide as the panoramic frames. So if you are trying to use one of those scanners, you are going to have to scan each half of the image separately and then stitch together in Photoshop. The biggest annoyance with this is trying to get the exposure exactly the same for both halves. Quite frankly, it made me want to pull my hair out trying to scan this way. If you are lucky enough have a medium format film scanner, you should be able to scan the panoramic images. However, like the enlarger, you may need to look into a glass holder to keep the negative from sagging. Personally, I think the easiest and most cost effective way to scan the Horizon’s panoramic images is with a flatbed scanner that has a transparency adapter. I used an
This was a camera that I had wanted to try for a long time. A few years back, I had a Hasselblad Xpan that I enjoyed using and I was curious as to how this camera would compare to it.
For me personally, the Horizon made me wish that I had the Xpan back in my hands again. I kept trying to use the Horizon like a wide angle lens and I would get bit time and time again by the fact that it was a fixed focus camera. I wanted to be able to cram myself into a crowded wedding limo and take some sort of crazy bride/groom photo. But that sort of thing just isn’t possible with a camera that is focused on infinity. That having been said, the Horizon is very good at what it was designed to do, be a static landscape/scenic camera. Someone with a better eye for scenic images than I have could really create some amazing images with a Horizon. And this isn’t the camera’s fault, it’s my fault for being the kind of photographer who doesn’t normally think about sweeping landscapes or other such images.
While a little expensive for the “art camera” crowd, the Horizon might actually excel at that sort of use as much as it does for landscapes. Due to the quirkiness of swing-lens cameras and the ultra wide angle FOV, I could see some artsy experimental stuff coming out of this camera that would be really amazing. There are things you could do with the oddball nature of a swing-lens camera that you could never do in Photoshop.
Like most Russian cameras, the Horizon has a few quirks (missing shutter speeds, reflections, strange film loading, etc). But it is easy enough to use and the quality is quite good for the price. You can find a Horizon 202 for around $300 from any number of ebay sellers. A better bet might be to track one down used($200-250ish). If you buy from a seller that you trust, you could avoid the nightmare of trying to get some foreign ebay seller to accept a return on a defective camera. I would say that a Horizon 202 is a very good choice for someone looking to get into film based panoramic photography. There are a few hoops that much be jumped through when using the camera and a few more to jump through when outputting the final product. But overall I would say that the Horizon 202 is a quality camera for it’s price and what it is designed to do.
The Film: Kodak Ektar 100
Introduced in late 2008, Kodak Ektar 100 is a 100 speed C-41 process color-negative film. It was designed to be a low grain, high saturation, vivid-color film that would offer some of the color benefits of the saturated slide films on the market, but with the exposure latitude of a negative film.
Initial feedback from users was very positive. The most common praises were the tight grain, sharpness and saturation. Most common complaints were that reds might be a little too saturated and that the film tends to be a little on the cool side. Particularly when lit by blue sky/sunlight. Kodak claimed to originally intend to only release Ektar 100 in 35mm, but response was so positive (and sales must have been high enough) that they bowed to photographer pressure and have released it in 120 format as well (as of April 2009).
As I said above, the most common complaint about Ektar 100 is that it has a blue cast, especially on sunny blue-sky days. I found this to be true as well. It wasn’t a huge issue, though it was a problem that got somewhat worse if your images were a little underexposed. Everyone’s taste is different, and you should do some tests yourself, but I found that a little overexposure was good for the film and helped with the blue cast. Again though, please do some testing on your own. I don’t want people trying to over expose a full stop and ending up with blown out wedding images. Soem have suggested adding a slight warming filter to your lenses to deal with the blues. Personally, I wouldn’t bother. If you have an image that is a bit too cool for your taste, it’s easy enough to filter some of that blue out in either the wet or digital darkroom.
Another issue that I did find somewhat odd was the tendency for some bright red or red-pink colors to look very forced. It’s almost like they were at the very edge of the color gamut and start looking a little blocky. It isn’t all reds though, just some bright pink-red shades. Other than those two issues, the colors are very nice. In terms of saturation, greens seen to have the most “pop” with reds getting almost the same push. Blues are a bit more intense than average but yellow doesn’t really seem to do much more than most other color neg films. Nothing wrong with that though. As I said, the colors are nice.
You don’t have a lot of format choices for Ektar 100 at the moment. Though at lest Kodak has shown that it is willing to change it’s mind and release additional formats if the market demands it. Currently Kodak Ektar 100 is available in:
Kodak Ektar 100 35mm rolls Kodak Ektar 100 120 rolls
The grain is another winner for Kodak. Ektar is just a very tightly grained film. I’m not sure how many other color neg films I have used that have had this little grain. Kodak hypes their “Micro-Structure Optimized T-GRAIN Emulsions” as making this film "perfect for scanning. To be fair, it did scan very well. But I’m not sure how much better it scanned than other 100 speed films. Still, give credit to Kodak for at least realizing that most film photographers are into the digital age in one form or another. Scanning ease is something that no company should overlook if they are planning to release a film these days.
Many people were surprised when Kodak announced this new film in the Fall of 2008 at the Photokina trade show. You know, what with digital having killed film and all that. But in retrospect, it is looking to be a very good move for Kodak to have made. The film has been selling well, so well in fact that they changed their minds and decided to release Ektar 100 in 120 format. However, to anyone who thinks about it for a minute, it’s no real surprise that it’s selling well. While many people love the saturated colors and contrast of films like Velvia or E100VS, very few people have any real reason for shooting slides these days other than that they like the colors. Given that a huge percentage of color film shooters are using the digital darkroom and are not sitting around having slide projector parties, it makes sense to offer a film with the saturation of those slide films but with the latitude of negative film.
Ektar 100’s drawbacks are few. It does have a blue cast sometimes and it does have some weirdness with a few bright red or pink-red colors. But for the most part, neither issue was a big deal at all. The overall “look” of the film was great and the tightness of the grain was wonderful. If I were going to shoot a 100 speed negative film regularly, I would probably default to Ektar 100. That having been said, for me personally, I like a 400 speed film. I’d love to see something similar from Kodak in a 400 speed. However, for those who are 100 speed film users, I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t try this film.
All Together Now
The Horizon 202 and Kodak Ektar 100 made a great pair. The latitude of a color negative film was nice to have when dealing with such a wide field of view (and missing shutter speeds). The bright colors worked well for the landscape images that the Horizon excels at. I think a more talented nature/landscape photographer could really pull off some stunning images using this combo. As it is, you have to look at my “took them in February, thank god this is the evergreen state” images. But I think it’s enough to get the idea.
This Month’s Contest
We want our dedicated film using members to post their own experiences on the Filmtown articles. So, to encourage participation in this article series, we are going to give away a five roll pack of Kodak Ektar 35mm (don’t have any 120 yet in the PN film vault) to two of the users who leave comments on this page. How to enter? Just click “add a comment” at the bottom of the page and post a suggestion, personal experience, or review about using either a Horizon 202 (or any swing lens panoramic camera. No Xpans please, that is a different article) or Kodak Ektar 100. Or you can post a photo taken with the camera or film (one photo per person please). We’ll pick one film and one camera post and give away the prizes. Super easy.
Where to Buy
You can still buy the Horizon 202 new from a variety of Russian camera sellers on ebay and across the web. However, unless you happen to have a Russian camera vendor that you particularly trust, finding a used Horizon might be a better way to go. Or, you could go for the newer “S3” version:
Other places to look would be the would be the Panoramic category of the Photo.net classifieds or your favorite used camera retailer. You can find Kodak Ektar 100 at just about any professional photo supply house. Or, you could purchase through one of Photo.net’s retail partners and help support the site.
Kodak Ektar 100 35mm rolls Kodak Ektar 100 120 rolls
Original text and images ©2009 Josh Root.