The Widelux is a throwback to when chrome was king in the 1950′s. Even today, its unconventional design makes it both quite odd and very useful.
In an age of increasingly wide fields of view, this camera fills the need for super-wide images with a unique power over distortion. The Widelux is able to capture whole environments with a panning viewpoint, providing fascinating and detailed images not possible with rectalinear wide angle designs.
There are two camps in the world of panoramics. The more common cameras use a stationary wide-angle lens and simply ignore the upper and lower edges of the coverage area with a mask. This type of camera is good for architecture, as the lens is rectalinear and all straight lines appear straight.
The Widelux uses a swinging lens in a turret, and a vertical slit which moves accross the film and lays down the image with a moving swipe. This camera can usually cover a wider field than fixed-lens types. Because the moving lens is only sampling a small sliver of the image at any one time, small objects appear with natural aspect ratios, but large straight spans are often not straight.
With a stationary wide-angle lens, objects near the edges will become visibly distorted. Faces in the corners are a big no-no!
On the other hand, the Widelux swinging lens treats objects with equal proportion, taking each one as it comes into view during the scan. So all human faces will appear with natural roundness from the center of the image to the sides. This is great for group portraits. Architecture is treated differently though, and a long wall becomes a blimp, with a fat center (head-on angle) and dwindling side wings (oblique angle, distant subject).
Sharing the Widelux camp, the Russian Horizon 202 & Horizont and the German Noblex all use a swing-lens turret.
The Widelux covers 140 degrees of horizontal field. (This includes fingers and whoever’s watching you take photos.) The FV has limited and odd shutter speeds, while later models switched to conventional stops. There’s an accessory shoe on the top, but it’s not clear what could be used up there except maybe a Leica meter MR. The lens can not be re-focused (unless you really try. See my Overhaul Notes).
This 50 year old Widelux FV tucks away under a light jacket and never needs batteries. It’s come with me to Shanghai, Yunnan, Tokyo numbers of times, Amsterdam, Germany, Grenoble, Istanbul, Italy, Thailand countless times, San Francisco, back streets of Boston, Montreal, Vancouver, Vermont, winter, summer, – I just can’t begin to remember the miles, and it’s never needed anything except film.