The Lomography people continue to rage against the precision and predictability of digital imaging with a 360+ degree panorama film camera that’s unlikely to do anything exactly the same way twice. Report by Paul Burrows.

What the…? The Lomography Spinner 360° captures panoramas of 360 degrees or more on 35mm film by spinning the camera body around its own axis atop the handgrip.

If you’ve ever started a lawn mower, a whipper-snipper or, for that matter, a chainsaw, you’ll be completely at home with driving the Spinner 360°. It doesn’t have a shutter release, nor a shutter and nor does it have a viewfinder. Instead you hang onto a beefy cylindrical grip, hold the camera at arm’s length and grab onto a ring-pull like you’re starting a Victa on a Sunday afternoon.

The spring-loaded drive is cocked by pulling on a rip cord which is then released. You can control the amount of rotation and the speed by how far out the cord is pulled and then how slowly it is allowed to be rewound into the Spinner’s grip.

The lens has a focal length of 25mm and 52 mm diameter screwthread filters can be fitted behind the detachable hood.

There are two aperture settings which correspond to f16 and f8 with ISO 400 speed film. The ‘R’ position closes the lens completely so the film won’t be fogged when it is rewound (as the exposure slit is permanently open).

However, instead of a two-stroke bursting into life, the main body of the Spinner 360° rotates extremely rapidly atop the grip, spanning 360 degrees or more in somewhere between 1/125 and 1/250 second. At the same time the film is transported with between lengths of 160 to 240 mm being exposed, the areas between the sprocket holes included. You’ll see the words “approximately” and “roughly” used a lot here because the Spinner’s spring-loaded drive is regulated – for want of a better word – by how far and how fast you pull the rip cord that winds it up. With practice you should be able to record panoramas that are less than 360 degrees – although don’t expect to determine exact coverages – and to experiment with slower ‘shutter speeds’ (and fancy effects with moving subjects).

The basic concept behind the Spinner 360° isn’t new as there have been a few 360-degree panorama film cameras over the decades, probably the best known being the Roundshot models made by the Swiss company Seitz. There have even been a couple of designs using spring-loaded motors cocked by a rip cord, but it’s taken the Lomography people to come up with a modern interpretation that’s both easy to use and affordable. Both these characteristics are derived from the Lomography ethos of ‘keep it simple’ so the Spinner 360° has virtually no settings and very little in the way of moving parts beyond, of course, the whole camera body itself. The magic – and mystery – is all in what you do with that rip cord and so the unpredictability factor is huge. More so, in fact, than anything else Lomo has dreamed up over the last few years. Compared to the frame-munching antics of the Spinner 360°, the recently-launched Sprocket Rocket panorama camera looks a tad tame.

Spin Cycles

The first thing you notice about the Spinner 360° is just how well made it is. It’s largely plastic, of course, but the mouldings are all very substantial and the whole lot weighs in at a fairly solid 290 grams. Mind you, a chunk of this is accounted for by a metal lens hood which looks to be massively over-engineered given it’s close to ten millimetres in thickness (honest) at the screw mount. It’s for a reason as we’ll find out later.

Still, we’re not complaining… while you tend to look at the latches and hinges on a Diana or a Holga with some concern regarding their longevity, everything on the Spinner 360° looks reassuringly heavy-duty. This includes the thick Osection rubber belt that actually spins the camera body by transferring the spring’s unwinding action from the handgrip. A spare is supplied with the camera primarily because the original could become stretched over time and add yet another element of unpredictability to your exposures.

Logically, the belt needs to be detached to facilitate film rewinding, and it’s recommended that you leave it uncoupled if the camera isn’t going to be used for a while.

In addition to the film rewind crank – which has the conventional fold-away handle design – the Spinner 360° body has a bubble-type spirit level and an accessory shoe. For reasons that aren’t all that clear, the bubble level’s liquid is blue and its cover carries a graphic of the sea, the sun and a leaping dolphin. If you have a look at the base of the handgrip, there’s an inscription which reads “Spinner Dolphin 360”, but this name doesn’t appear in any of PR material for the camera or, indeed, in the instruction manual so perhaps it seemed like a good idea at the time, but now…

On the side of the lens housing is a three position switch which sets the aperture and, most importantly, closes the lens completely to prevent the film being fogged as it’s rewound. As exposures are made through a fixed-width slit – in conjunction with the spinning or scanning speed – rather than a shutter which opens and closes, it’s necessary to blank off the lens before the film passes back behind it. Obviously a couple of operational alerts subsequently apply here… the first is to always switch the aperture selector to ‘R’ before rewinding the film and the second is to remember to return it to an aperture setting before starting to shoot with a new film. Interestingly, if the lens is left closed when the rip cord is pulled the camera spins, but doesn’t make the usual clockworky whirring sound so you should be alerted to the problem and avoid a completely blank film (easy to do when you’re only getting a handful of frames from a roll!).

The two aperture settings are marked with the sunny and cloudy symbols which equate to f16 and f8.0 respectively (set via Waterford stops). Some additional exposure ‘control’ is available by loading different speed film. Lomo says the Spinner 360° settings are based on using ISO 400 film so you could get f11 and f5.6 with ISO 200 film or f22 and f11 with ISO 800 film.

In The Round

Loading the film is reasonably straightforward, but with a couple of areas where extra care needs to be taken. The cassette is inserted after the rewind crank is first raised and the film leader threads into a slot in the take-up spool. The slot is accessed by giving the handgrip a slight turn so obviously the drive band needs to be recoupled if you’re in the process of changing films.

Two pieces of black velvet cloth serve as the light baffle to prevent the film being fogged while it’s on the take-up spool – remember that the exposure slit is always open – so it’s important to make sure these don’t get folded or snagged in any way.