This is one of those stories about something where nobody is quite sure where it came from. A petite treasure was stored inside a drawer with no hopes of seeing the light of day again; that was, until I came along. Let me introduce an inexpensive camera that creates mind-blowing panoramas: the Univolt HiR!
It’s not the case of some awesome antique. It’s more like the case of an unassuming little red thing, that for some reason, made me look twice and completely fall in love. It’s Lomography at its best really, because you have no idea how it will turn out, and your breath is taken away when you finally see the results.
This little toy was just laying around at my dad’s place, inside some drawer; it seemed like nobody uses film anymore, after all. That was, of course, until I started getting obsessed with the little wonders of analogue photography and started badgering people to remember whether they had something at home that they didn’t want anymore, which would make me extremely happy. In this case, it was an analogue camera.
Fortunately, my dad remembered this little red thing that was somewhere around, and he promised to look for it. When I saw what it was I must admit I didn’t give it much credit. I already have other plastic 35mm, regular, promotional gift cameras at home. But then, I read this little, bright word that made me stop and wonder: panorama!
I looked inside. “Hmmm, it’s obviously a fake panorama; it just cuts the regular 35 mm frame on both top and bottom, and that’s pretty much it." But then, I noticed a little unusual detail. The bands that were cutting the film frame into panorama format weren’t really regular ones; they were curved, which meant that the film wasn’t exposed as in regular cameras, but with a slight distortion that would aid the panorama effect. It wasn’t a true awesome panorama camera, like the Horizon Kompakt that I have been drooling over, but it was something that was worth a try, at least in my books.
So one happy morning, when I had to go out to do some errands in a more touristic side of town, I loaded this little red baby with some Lady Gray 400 ISO 135. It was getting cloudy, and if there’s anything the Recesky TLR taught me, it was that 400 ISO works miracles on a one speed/one aperture camera. I was right. The resulting photos turned out awesome.
My guess is that the aperture is around f/11, f/16 tops, and that the speed is either 1/500 or 1/1000. It’s mostly a daylight camera that will bask in the sun and sky and give you all the rewards you wish for. But it’s also usable at night if used against a strong light source. Actually, the weather hasn’t been the sunniest and I still got 38 great pictures out of a roll of 35mm black and white film.
The lens is a glass one so you don’t get the usual distortions or too much blurred images that you would get with a Diana F+ or a Holga. There is no vignetting and the pictures are quite sharp (I was quite surprised actually). The most endearing quality of this camera is the panorama format that it provides.
The process is the same as with any regular point and shoot camera with a regular 35 mm lens. The brilliance of this little camera lies in the frame inside. They cut the regular 135 film rectangle in about half its height, providing you with a slimmer exposed surface. This is further proved by the way the lab digitized my film.
I had to cut them appropriately in Photoshop when I got home. Some of them were trickier to cut as the limits were less defined, but I ended up liking the black so much that I let them be.
Also, in some of the pictures, the distortion produced by the concave frame is very noticeable at the extremities of the pictures, leading to a slight unfocused effect, just like the picture is being dragged a little over the film.
The only tricky part is the parallax effect. The little viewfinder actually helps a little because it’s also a panoramic rectangle. At first, I was afraid I was going to miss plenty of shots (my experience with the Smena Symbol has been both ridiculous and disastrous in this aspect) but the little window of the viewfinder is made of curved plastic, and for some reason you don’t have to compensate much to get everything properly framed. I found it very easy, and my results were more or less the same as what I had in mind when I was framing the shot.
This was truly my first point and shoot experience as I’m sort of a control freak when it comes to my shots. I’ll try my best to adjust all the settings and plan every shot to its perfection. In this case there is nothing to control, not even focus, which makes the process of photo-taking very care-free. All I need to do is just point and click as the inspiration stroke.
There is not much more I can tell you about this red devil of mine, at least technically as I couldn’t find much about it online. It’s probably just one of those promotional gift things that turns out to become a favourite. I know I love it and that I recommend it to anyone who is able to find something similar: grab it and don’t let it go.
I see myself using it frequently in the future and will keep my eyes open for similar surprises as this. I think my next film will involve some Lomography 400 ISO CN and some coloured cellophane to add to the panoramic effect.