The Last of the 617 and panorama composition

When I left for Australia I returned the Fuji G617 camera to owner Ivar Mjell (thanks again mate for letting me use it). Just before returning it I got in one last shoot on an August evening where the weather was very kind to me.

On this evening I finally got a big cloudscape at Lake Peblinge so I could use the 617 at my favourite spot in Copenhagen:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Søtorvet Sunset in Velvia 617
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This shows the massive view captured by the Fuji G617 with the fixed 105mm lens. I would have liked to zoom in a little, those buildings on the left are ugly.

Another option is rotating this massive camera! I have attempted a vertical 617 shot many times but this is one time where I feel it actually worked. To fill a 3:1 frame at such a wide angle view you need something very tall in the composition – in this case the gorgeous clouds.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Søtorvet Sunset in 617 – vertical
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The 617 conclusion

If someone made an affordable practical 617 digital camera I would use nothing else. I really enjoyed shooting in the 617 format and being able to compose a 3:1 panorama in the viewfinder, no guesswork and no digital stitching. Nothing beats that. I am addicted to the creative power of the digital darkroom and the digital workflow so I didn’t enjoy the slow process of using transparency film again, getting them processed and scanned etc. But a digital 3:1 camera would be the best of both worlds. Note to camera manufactures: It does not need to be a 6x17cm sensor, just do 2 x 35mm sensors next to each other!

During my recent photo trip to Australia there were many times where I really wished I had the 617. Looking at some of my stitched digital panoramas I just know that on some of them I would have improved the composition (more about this later) a lot could I actually see the end product in the viewfinder. Then again; of course there are some shots I would have missed altogether because I would have been changing film or mucking with the manual settings etc. Some day when I can afford it I may end up carrying both a digital camera and an old 617 film camera.

Panorama composition

I read a lot of photographer blogs and books. I spend hours at every gallery I visit be it online or in real life. I view perhaps a hundred photos everyday for inspiration and enjoyment. Photos shot with everything from digital point and shoots to DSLR’s to 617 pano cameras to 8×10 view cameras. There are many brilliant photographers out there using whatever equipment they choose to use. No camera ever took a photo anyway. Photographers take photos! Not cameras! Is there a point coming up? Yes!

Based upon the millions of photos I’ve viewed and my own experience I generally find 617 panorama photographers do better and stronger compositions than photographers doing digital stitched panoramas. I know that’s a strong generalisation and it’s only my opinion of course. There are great 617 photographers out there; there are great digital stitched pano photographers out there.  But generally; I find the compositions stronger in true panoramas like the 617 (I don’t mean my own feeble attempts).

If you know how to work a composition you know one step makes all the difference. One step in the right direction makes all the elements line up in your composition. Or maybe you need to get down lower. Or up higher. This is much easier when you can see your composition in the viewfinder than when you’re stitching many vertical shots together. That’s why I find 617 shots have stronger composition. There are probably other reasons. The 617 photographers have probably been doing it much longer; more experience. Half the planet doesn’t own 617 cameras; only pro photographers and pano enthusiasts meaning the quality should be higher in general. Of course there are many boring 617 shots as well and many brilliant digitally stitched panoramas.
Still; in general the 617 pano compositions look stronger to me!

I usually shoot a cropped panorama of the same scene as I shoot a stitched panorama and often the cropped has better composition. That’s why an affordable digital 3:1 camera – like a digital Hasselblad X-pan – would be most welcome!

36 Comments on “The Last of the 617 and panorama composition”

  1. Yeah I`m with you on that one Fleming, I have had to really focus and work on my composition and have found it (stitching) more harder than working with film.
    Thanks for the feedback in your other comments…will be in Karijini this time tomorrow. Take care mate.

  2. Really like the blue tones it's captured in the top image Flem.

    Nice post too. I don't know how they manage some compositions using pano camera's. It looks like it's so fine between a good comp and a horrible one! Think i'll stick to my single frame images for a while that's for sure 🙂

  3. Michael, thanks for your comment – have a great trip!

    Stephen, thanks. It's easier to compose with pano cameras than stitched panos, but still it's much harder than doing a 3:2 35mm composition. Much more frame to fill with a twice as wide 3:1 view. Have a look at Ken Duncan to see perfect 617 compositions !

  4. Hi Flemming,
    The fortunate thing is that I have never experienced using a 617, therefore I have no preconception of what I am trying to replicate with the digital and stitching. However after seeing the seitz 160mp digital 617 I thought maybe this would be better than spending so much time stitching, especially for the guys on the coast with water movement. I guess it is more of a challenge with stitching to work out the best composition in your head and with a 617 its laid out in front of you.


  5. I dont have a problem with it mate, I think it is better because you can just blaze away and crop back what you want. I'll never go back to film but a digital 617 would be very nice. Still I like the compression you get with stitching and using a longer lens. Bit hard with a 617. Plus the price is a bit over the top at the moment.

  6. Thomas, even if you don't have experience with the 617 you can still compared to shooting single 35mm shots compared to stitching. I know when I really work the composition I try all kinds of angles and heights etc. until I'm happy. It's harder to do this when you're stitching as you can't see the end result, exactly as you say.

  7. Christian, you come from a background of many years of shooting 617 so I reckon it's much easier for you to compose digital panos. And your digital panos certainly shows this, that you're used to composing panoramas and do great compositions. For the rest of us, certainly for me, I miss a viewfinder I can compose in.

    If you had a longer lens for your 617 you would get the same compression etc. wouldn't you? Of course the lens selection is much better for SLRs. I gotta admit I sometimes find that 50mm view a bit boring as it is how we're so used to seeing everything. It can add a lot of drama to the shot with dramatic wide angle views used properly.

  8. I love the angles digital panoramics give you, but it is hard to beat looking at a perfectly exposed 6×17 transparency on a light table with a loupe.

  9. Henry, thanks very much. Had a look at your site, good work. Gotta say I'm not a fan of spherical panos; too much distortion for me and composition goes out the window. I like your St. Pauls view!

    Thanks for your comments Matt, I reckon you've done the right thing – best of both worlds!

  10. Cool article and thoughts Flem I pretty much agree with most of what you said although I have little or no experience with a 617 camera. I find composition is the hardest thing, especially when visiting the area for the first or second time.

    I quite like the vertical image

  11. Thanks very much Neal and ! Good point about visiting a location for the first and second time; to create a truly great shot means returning again and again and connecting to the place and getting to know the light, the angles etc.

  12. hi Flemming,

    Another interesting post – In my opinion both mediums have their place, pro's and cons. I got the 5D mkII about 10 days or so ago…it's a great camera and I have taken a number of shots for stitch pans etc but I just love the feeling of 6×17 in this area. Perhaps I too have learnt to see a little like a 6×17 myself…I get such satisfaction out of getting the shot right and those velvia colours and depth are so sublime. Less time in front of the comp and more on site taking in the experience and moment for fewer frames suits me in landscape photography. 🙂

  13. Thanks very much for your input Tony and welcome back! It'll be very interesting to see your coming shots, I hope you'll do some 6×17 and some digital stitch comparisons?

    Bit jealous you already got your hands on the 5D Mk II, still waiting for mine as Denmark is apparently not high on Canon Japan's list!

    And I agree, less time in front of the computer and more time in the elements is what it's about! As it is now the digital workflow is a very new "invention" and it just takes too long presently.

  14. Hi Flemming – yeah damn that you have not got yours yet…move to Aust…we almost fill a whopping 1% of Canon's demand ! so they sent out just over 100 for the entire country in the first shipment apparently !
    I don't think I

  15. Just marry a top aussie chick…that's what my brother in law seems to have done !

    As for the unfinished sentence…. that was just to keep you in suspense.. 😛

  16. Flemming,

    Got my 5dMKII today… after only three days. I had to pay a little more to get it, but I hope it is the right decision ( moved from Nikon D300 ) . I laos use Linhof 617, well not that much anymore, and I get what you mean huh….. I may have a cheap 617 for sale soon…. Love the vertical shot by the way


  17. Rod, thanks! And lucky you, I'm still waiting for my MK II

    Let me know how you go with your 617, ya never know I might be interested 🙂 Is it a Fuji GX617 by any chance or the old Fuji G617 ?

  18. Fleming, it is actually a Linhof 617SII with the interchangeable lenses….. well actually its badged a Linhof Outdoor T617… exactly the same thing but these were a limited edition and came in five different colours…. red, green, blue, silver and orange I think… mine is a silver one… send me a email if you like and I can give you more details.

    Merry Christmas to Fleming


  19. the 5dMKII is a nice piece of gear and I am a nikon user…well was a nikon user. To me it seems as if everything is back to front though on canon, or was it back to front on nikon and now im the right way 'round… plus I think the little power switch thing is a little weird, but ill get used to it

  20. Yeah know what you mean, both are great cameras but the controls are a bit different. When someone hands me a Nikon dslr and asks me to shoot a photo I always battle with the controls 🙂

  21. Working with a DSLR there is a compromise between the "hard Work" of stiching and composing a pano with a 617:
    1. Take a little more wide angle with your Zoom and do the composition after stiching by cropping. (Yes, you are loosing some pixels!)
    2. Buy only the viewfinder of a 617 and use it as a help for composition before firing your DSLR. (Yes, you must visualize your composition in your brain for some seconds!)
    When a 617 viewfinder is too expensive for you use a frame 3:1 made out of a cardboard or plywood and look through it before taking your pano. The distance between your eye and this simple viewfinder is a zoom!

  22. Hi Hans-Joachim, thanks for the tips, great advice. I always compose very loosely so I can crop later but I reckon your idea about a 617 viewfinder is great. Gotta find me a used 617 90mm viewfinder somewhere!

  23. I reckon you've hit the nail on the head Flemming, the viewfinder makes it a much better experience and certainly a lot less gear oriented. But then again, all the stages to go through with film are a pain, and i've missed some fantastic light changes running back to my bag that i've left 500m up the beach cause i've run out of bloody film (yes, i know, completely my fault).

    I think what Christian means is that by stitching multi shots into a pano you are effectively using a swing lens camera (swinging the lens around the cameras nodal point), so you can gain a very wide view with the compression effects of a longer lens, when of course, if you simply put a longer lens on a 6×17 you just get a narrow field of view.

    Both styles have their advantage and disadvantage, but i reckon for me, that digital XPan would be the go, or if somebody would lend me the money for the Phase… Perhaps Christian might lend me his?…

    1. Hi Adam, no don't get the Phase, she's such a moody beast, software crashes, eats batteries, locks up etc etc 😀 Now a digital Xpan, that would be something! But stitching with the 5D Mk II is quite awesome, I am quite happy with that.

  24. I have heard a few rumours about teething problems with the big digitals, seems the quadrants don't always agree on exposure either. sounds a bit problematic at this stage, but the joy of that beautiful big file at the end of it (!) could just about make it worth it. Besides, i'm pretty handy with a screwdriver and a hammer, i could do some running field repairs, just like i do with the 6 x 17… i once took apart a 80-200 zoom with a swiss army knife… oh yes, i even got it back together, and it worked!

    Technical problems with the Phase or otherwise Flemming, i think the real problem i have with it is its just too damn expensive.

    Loving the 5D

  25. In 2005 I sold my 2 Linhof 617s and picked up a A DSLR and lenses. What a TERRIBLE mistake!! Here it is 12 years later, film is plentiful and I have happily gone back to another Linhof and am packing my fridge with film. I’ll never EVER go digital again. Those lovely 617 transparencies on my lighttable are so much more satisfying than files on a screen. I’m curious after all these years how your thoughts are. Maybe you didn’t have the eye for panos. To each his own.

    1. Hi Eliot. Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found your perfect gear. Funnily enough, so did I, it is Fujifilm, but the digital X-series. I don’t shoot landscapes, I shoot music professionally now, so the 617 would be rather useless now for my purpose. But those transparencies are truly amazing and I wish you many happy pano shoots!

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