Panoramic image of a cement works, shot with a Linhof Technorama 612 PC on Kodak Portra medium format film

Go Wide! Shooting Panoramic Images with the Linhof Technorama 612 PC

July 9, 2017

by — Posted in black and white, reviews, shot on film

The Linhof Technorama 612 PC is a panoramic camera that produces 6x12cm2-sized images on medium format film. In contrast to other panoramic cameras such as the Hasselblad XPan or the Fuji GX617, the Technorama 612 provides a fixed 8mm vertical shift of the lens (“PC” stands for “Perspective Correction”). This feature avoids converging lines and predestines the camera for architectural photography – what made it particularly interesting for me.

First: About the Camera

In January I acquired a used first-generation model of Technorama 612 PC via Ebay. It was introduced in the 1970s – so maybe my camera is about ten years older than me (I couldn’t figure out its exact age yet). In the first months, I struggled to use it properly but now I am fairly satisfied with the results. That’s why I wanted to share my experiences. The camera is a highly specialized niche product and therefore reports in the internet are quite scarce. Reasons enough for me to write the first review for this blog!

Medium format camera with large format lenses

Linhof is a traditional Bavarian company that produces mainly large format cameras. They are well known for their Technika and Kardan models. The Technorama 612 works with medium format film instead – however, it utilizes lenses which were originally designed for larger formats. As a consequence, the shutter is built-in to the lens and not to the camera (which can be considered just as a film-holding box). You have to manually cock the shutter prior to each exposure.

I bought my camera with a 65mm Super Angulon lens manufactured by Schneider-Kreuznach. The leaf-type Compur shutter allows speeds from 1/500 to 1 second and B. If you are calibrated to 35mm film (or full frame sensors) like I am, a focal length of 65mm sounds way to narrow. But given the larger size of the medium format film, a normal lens for this camera would have a focal length of around 120mm. So the Super Angulon is indeed a wide-angle lens! (I even calculated the exact angles of view before I bought the camera. In vertical orientation, the 65mm lens provides a visual impression like a 24mm lens at 35mm / full frame. It even matches roughly a 17mm lens in horizontal orientation, due to the panoramic format.)

Back then, a 135mm Symmar lens was also sold. I figured out that this focal length would be way to long to fit my photographic style, so I wasn’t further interested.

The Linhof Technorama 612 PC equipped with a Schneider-Kreuznach 65mm Super Angulon lens and a cable release attached to the shutter button (red). While the body seems as sturdy as a brick, the lens appears to be rather fragile.

Focusing, composing and metering

The lens has a maximum opening of f/5.6 what isn’t exactly fast. But to obtain a sufficient depth of field for architectural subjects, you should stop down to at least to f/16 anyway. As the Technorama 612 doesn’t feature a rangefinder, you are forced to guess the focusing distance and use the focusing scale on the lens’s barrel.

For composing the frame, you make use of an optical viewfinder which can be attached to the camera’s top plate. The finder provides frame lines for the two lenses that were available in the past. Though labeled as “precision optical finder”, the finder provides just a moderately accurate view. To the edges of the frame, the view is heavily distorted. You can see a bubble level reflected into the finder. That allows proper aligning of the pitch axis (up / down) and therefore avoids converging lines. However, the bubble level does not indicate yaw (rotation around the Z axis, affects horizontal alignment). Very handy: you can use the finder without the camera, e.g. when you are wandering around and want to scout for new subjects. Anything but a small and light camera, you want to let the Technorama 612 at home if you don’t possess the strong intention to take photos with it.

The camera misses a built-in light meter, so you have to meter externally. As the Technorama 612 operates fully manually, there is no need for any battery. If you have to expose your image for a long time (you definitely will!), just relax. You don’t have to fear any battery drain.

Size comparison between the Technorama 612 and the Leica M.

Center filter

The camera comes normally with a center filter. If a wide-angle lens is used, this graduated filter counteracts the light fall-off at frame’s edges. Although the user’s manual recommends attaching the filter only when working with color transparency film, I didn’t like the results of filter-less exposed negative film either. The filter requires the exposure time to be lengthen by two stops – that means, you should treat f/16 like f/32, and f/22 behaves like f/45. I prefer slow film types like Fuji Neopan Acros 100 or Kodak Portra 160 (exposed as 80 ISO). When shooting in low light, my exposure times therefore tend to explode! (Once I was shooting in dusk and calculated a theoretical exposure time of nine hours…) Linhof promotes the camera as capable for handheld shots – but I wouldn’t recommend to leave your home without a tripod.

Image count

A 120mm rollfilm allows you to take only six panoramic images. The camera accepts also 220mm which would double this number – but as 220mm isn’t available anymore, you can neglect this option. I personally like that: A film with 36 frames sometimes takes me weeks to finish it. Six frames instead can easily be done in one afternoon, meaning less waiting time until you see your results! Unfortunately, loading in new roll film in the field isn’t overly convenient. (Furthermore, my tripod mount plate blocks the unlock key of the camera’s back. Every time I want to open the camera I have to remove the tripod plate first.)

The viewfinder can be detached from the camera’s body and used separately – perfect for scouting.

Ergonomics

Compared with compact 35mm cameras, ergonomics of the Technorama 612 are poor. The ready-to-shoot camera weighs a lot (approx. 2 kilograms) and is very bulky. I am always careful with the lens’s open mechanics, as that area seems to be quite vulnerable. Turning the film transport knob is no fun for me either. Before I can stow the camera in my bag, I have to detach the viewfinder and unscrew the cable release. But compared to large format cameras (which I unfortunately haven’t been using until today), the Technorama 612 is simple and easy to use, behaves more like a giant “point and shoot”.

Price

Linhof still manufactures the Technorama 612 PC, nowadays in the second generation (PC II). It can be combined with a 58mm or a 120mm lens. There were also 80mm, 150mm and 180mm lenses, which are officially discontinued but still offered at some shops. (I don’t know if these lenses work also with the older model, probably yes). Depending on how you want to equip your camera, you can easily spend 10,000 Euros or more! My first-generation model can be found at Ebay from time to time, with prices considerably lower than for the new one. I paid approx. 2,300 Euro (lens and center filter included), which isn’t cheap either. But compared to a modern top-of-the-line enthusiast’s camera, these 2,300 Euro are put into perspective (a Canon 5D Mark IV sells for 3,700 Euros – body only). The drawback of the old model is, that Linhof has stopped supporting the camera, meaning no repairs and no spare parts.

And now: the Images

Veterinary school.
Synagog.
Retirement home.
Dormitory.
Office buildings.

The images shown above were shot on Fuji Acros black and white film. What I particularly like about this film is his low reciprocity failure. Up to 120 seconds of exposure, no correction is needed. Above this mark, you should compensate the decreasing sensitivity but adding just half a stop. That helps a lot when working with such a “light guzzler” as the Technorama 612.

I must state that I really like the 2-to-1 ratio of the frames produced by Technorama 612. They are significant wider than the usual 3-to-2 images of “regular” cameras but not as exaggerated as the frames produced by 617 cameras. And amusingly, the 612 images fill exactly the screen of my smartphone. The special ratios of panoramic cameras require special demands for your subjects. I like these images the most which feature diagonal lines (roads, railroad tracks, waterways). Lines that almost suck you into the frame.

The fixed vertical shift of 8mm results in a standardized partitioning of the frame: the lower third is filled with soil and the upper two thirds are filled with sky. What I didn’t expect was that most of the buildings in my vicinity are too high to fit in the frame – unless I am able to step back considerably. F found that in a densely urbanized area, the number of potential subjects is rather limited. (By the way: if there is a need to tilt the camera downwards – e.g. from an elevated point of view – you can mount the camera upside down on top of your tripod head. The built-in lens shift then works the other way around.)

Maybe, the color images look familiar to you. That’s right, they were all taken at the industrial areas of Misburg, on which I reported previously in this blog. The last but one photo depicts a former cement works, which is currently being demolished (you can find the building in an earlier state of demolition in my post “Industrie und Gewerbe”, images 7–10).

Finally: Verdict

The Linhof Technorama 612 PC is a very cool camera that has provided me with a lot of fun. But I had to work hard for this fun, there were many things to learn in the beginning. The camera was designed to meet rather special demands, making it anything but an allrounder. The high buying price and the comparatively high costs for film, developing and scanning give the Technorama a touch of large format photography. On the other hand, the image quality also plays (almost) in the large format league.

Further Reading

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