The Reader’s Digest Panoramic Camera is a plastic 35mm toy with a cropped panoramic frame of view. This chance find in a charity shop re-energized my photographic mojo and started me on the path to manual film camera enlightenment.
This camera takes standard 35mm film, but has a horizontally cropped frame of view to produce a panoramic strip across the middle. The width of each shot on film is still the same as a normal shot, so don’t worry, you or your lab will be able to process and scan it as usual – you’ll just get black borders at the top and bottom.
The centre of the picture is reasonably sharp, but it gets quite dreamy towards the edges. The lens covers a wide angle, so you can fit the whole view in easily.
There very little you can do with it other than point and shoot – it has a plastic lens with fixed focus, fixed shutter speed and fixed aperture. It’s small and light (weighs less than the film!), fits in a coat pocket and the batteries can’t run out as it doesn’t have any.
You can cover the lens over with a slider when not in use – this disables the shutter button to avoid accidental exposures, which is nice, and there’s no lens cap to lose. Despite being so basic, it seem reasonably well built and mine has so far had no light leaks.
Originally these were given away for free to new subscribers of Reader’s Digest magazine, although the camera itself doesn’t have any branding on it, just the box. The same camera has appeared under different names – Ultronic did one which was silver with black trim, and Martell gave some different coloured ones away “To capture that Martell moment!”.
Some tips for films to use: There’s no control over the exposure, so you need 100 ISO for bright sunny days, but with light cloud cover it’s going to be 200, and heavy cloud will need 400. This isn’t a camera for indoor or night use, unless you want to push some B&W film to a high equivalent ISO.
This camera was a bit of a revelation for me. I’d bought expensive digital equipment and reached a stage where I was so obsessed with technical perfection that I’d lost my enjoyment of photography. This little piece of molded black plastic, picked up on a whim, with an old roll of Velvia 100 I’d had lying around for years, restored all that joy and gave me a whole new lease of life. I realized that it was all about the picture and enjoying the process, not the equipment. Most of all, I realized that “perfect” was unnecessary, and sometimes a flawed photo is more interesting.