The Lomography Horizon Kompakt ($299 direct) is likely to be lumped into the category of toy cameras due to Lomo’s brand identity, but its 28mm f/8 fixed lens is capable of producing some seriously sharp images—a departure from the low-fi optics found in the Sprocket Rocket and Diana F+. The Russian-made camera is the less expensive of two models available, the other being the Horizon Perfekt—which is priced at a steeper $450. The Kompakt is an easier sell if you’re interested in shooting with a panoramic camera, want something that’s going to deliver sharp images, but aren’t quite ready to make the plunge to buy the Perfekt or an even more expensive model like a Widelux or Hasselblad XPan.
The aspect ratio of the images is roughly 5:2, nearly twice as wide as a standard 35mm film frame. Because of this, you’ll get fewer pictures per roll—about 22 for a 36-exposure roll and 14 with a 24-exposure roll. If you intend to scan film for sharing on the web you’ll likely be limited to using a flatbed, as the film holders that are supplied with dedicated 35mm film scanners generally have posts at every standard frame break, a design that is intended to help keep film flat for sharper scans.
The camera has a large optical viewfinder that will give you an idea of your approximate frame. When taking a picture the lens actually swings from one side to another—the film plane is curved behind it to match the swing pattern, not flat as it is in other cameras. Loading the camera can be a bit tricky, as you need to make sure film is under certain rollers and over others—but the manual does a good job of explaining it, and there’s a diagram printed on the inside of the camera in case you’re questioning your skills when reloading in the field. Everything is done mechanically so there are no batteries required. Despite being billed as the Kompakt, it’s a large, odd-looking beast—it’s actually about the same size as a typical D-SLR body, although not as deep.
There are only two shutter speed settings—the daytime setting gives you a 1/60-second exposure, while the night setting is a half-second—as the lens has to physically move to take the shot, the actual exposure time is more like 1/12 of a second for the day mode and 5 seconds for the night. I was able to get sharp handheld shots without a problem with the shorter shutter speed—I just made sure to steady myself and choose mostly stationary subjects. If you want to get creative with the camera, Lomo’s site has a few examples of folks taking shots where most subjects are static, but one is moving—which can create an interesting visual effect.
The night mode can be a bit more challenging, I got one shot that I liked using that setting without a tripod, but there is some evidence of camera shake in part of the frame. I didn’t use a light meter with the camera, but I was able to get good exposures even with the limited shutter speed options thanks to the wide exposure latitude of 400 speed color negative film. If you feel that you’re going to want more control out of a panoramic camera, you should consider laying out the extra money for the Perfekt—its lens has a variable aperture from f/2.8 to f/16 and there are several shutter speeds available, varying from 1/2-second to 1/500-second.
I was impressed with just how much detail the Horizon Kompakt was capable of capturing. I shot a variety of images ranging from rural landscapes to some street scenes in New York City. When I held the camera perfectly straight horizon lines were also quite straight—impressive for such a wide field of view—but tilting it a bit will cause straight lines to curve.
The Lomography Horizon Kompakt is a fun camera. Its swing lens design produces panoramic photos, and its 28mm f/8 lens is quite sharp. Sure, a lot of modern digital cameras—and even smartphones like the iPhone 5—have a panoramic photo mode, but for folks of a certain mindset there’s no substitute for good old fashioned film. If the asking price is too much you can step down to the Sprocket Rocket, although the images it produces are nowhere near as sharp. And if you’re really serious about shooting wide you may want to consider spending the extra money on the Perfekt, but for daylight use with negative film I didn’t feel too restricted by the Kompakt’s fixed aperture or limited shutter speed selection.
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