The Fotodiox Vizelex RhinoCam for Sony NEX E-Mount Cameras ($499.95 direct) is one of those out-there camera accessories that’s just weird enough to be cool, but not practical enough to be useful. It’s essentially a sliding lens board with a mount for the medium format glass of your choice on one side, and a mount to connect an E-mount camera like the Sony Alpha NEX-6 on the other. It’s designed to take multiple exposures, moving the camera slightly after each one, so that you can stitch together images with lots of pixels—more than 140 megapixels when paired with the 24-megapixel NEX-7.
You can buy the RhinoCam in a few different versions. There’s one for Hasselblad V lenses, which is what I tested, which actually covers a 6-by-6 centimeter image frame, larger than the 6 by 4.5 centimeter frame that the RhinoCam is capable of capturing. Sadly, the Rhinocam doesn’t move far enough to support capturing images in the native square Hasselblad format. The other versions are for native 645 systems (Mamiya 645 and Pentax 645).
The stitching works because the image circle that a medium format lens projects is much longer than the APS-C image sensor that’s inside a Sony NEX camera. The RhinoCam has eight positions, each marked with a white dot, in which you’ll position your NEX, and take a shot at each one. Then you stitch those together in Photoshop and you’ll have a huge image that takes full advantage of the medium format lens. There’s also a panoramic mode, which requires you to capture six images for stitching. You’ll need to rotate your NEX depending on which format you’re capturing. Keep it in landscape orientation for panoramic shots, and twist it to portrait for 645 capture. We tested with a Sony NEX-5N and found that the accessory electronic viewfinder had to be removed in order to comfortably mount, reorient, and unmount the camera from the RhinoCam.
There’s a square of ground glass next to the NEX mount on the rear of the Vizelex, which is intended for image focus and framing. I thought it was ok to use for framing, but I struggled to see it well enough to focus on an overcast afternoon day. I ended up using the rear LCD on the NEX to set my focus, as its peaking and magnification functions are ideally suited for that purpose. If you are pairing this with a camera that has a built-in OLED EVF, that will be even better. The ground glass has a mask that will give you an idea of the difference between a panoramic and 645 frame. It’s a good guide, but I noticed that my shots didn’t stitch together perfectly, so I lost some information around the edges of my final frame. It’s a good idea to leave a little wiggle room for framing errors around the edges of your image.
You’ll need a sturdy tripod and a stationary subject for this accessory to do you any good. It’s not useful for action shots, and if you’re shooting outdoors on a partially cloudy day you’ll have to work quickly in order to avoid changes in natural lighting. I shot a few monuments at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery using the RhinoCam—it’s one place where I was sure to get subjects who would stay perfectly still. I used a 1950s vintage Carl Zeiss Distagon 50mm lens for a softer look, but more modern medium format glass will provide results with clinical sharpness. On an APS-C sensor, the Distagon’s field of view is restricted to a 75mm equivalent in terms of 35mm photography. The stitched images that the RhinoCam produces give it a wider field of view—more like a 30mm lens in full-frame 35mm format.
Stitching in Photoshop was a breeze, but it did take a few minutes for each image to come together. My photo editing computer is a quad-core i5 iMac from 2010, a newer model would likely cut that time down. The output image file was a little less than 100 megapixels, which is more resolution than I’ll ever need for printing. What was more impressive was the character of that particular lens, one of my favorites on film, shown through on digital. A big part of this is depth of field, as it’s more like it is on film due to its focal length and wide field of view when multiple images are stitched together.
Medium format digital photography is not cheap. The Pentax 645D, which is one of the few cameras in production within reach of serious enthusiasts, is priced around $7,000. It’s interesting to see this particular product come in at its price point, but you’ll also have to add a NEX body—a used one can be had for a few hundred dollars, but the least expensive new model, the NEX-3N, is $500. And you’ll also have to add a lens if you don’t already own a stash of Hasselblad V, Pentax 645, or Mamiya 645 glass. These can vary in price; but figure a few hundred dollars for a good one.
The Fotodiox Vizelex RhinoCam is an intriguing accessory, but it’s one that is limited in use cases and is a bit convoluted to use. You’ll need a sturdy tripod, an evenly lit environment, and a cooperative subject to make it work. It takes up a lot of room in your gear bag, as much as a 70-200mm f/2.8 telezoom when you factor in its protective carrying case, and you won’t know if you’ve nailed your stitched shot until you’ve offloaded your memory card and loaded images into Photoshop for stitching. If you’re really in love with the idea of using your medium format glass on a digital body, and have the patience to work with in the limitations of the stitching workflow, the Rhinocam may speak to you. But I found it to be too limiting for practical use to justify its $500 price.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc