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.
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.
The heavy-duty lens hood is made from metal and looks like overkill until you understand it’s also designed to act as a counterbalance and allow for smoother spinning.
A built-in bubble level helps with holding the camera level. Note, too, the provision of an accessory shoe. There’s no viewfinder because it doesn’t really matter where you point a camera that records a 360-degree (or more) panorama. If held conventionally, the Spinner 360° will always record you in the picture (sometimes more than once!)
The Spinner 360° accepts standard 35mm film, but exposes the entire area including the sprocket holes. Its exposure settings are based on ISO 400 speed film, but obviously you can experiment with slower or faster stock.
Care needs to be taken when loading film that the black velvet baffles don’t get snagged or folded. These bits of cloth stop the film that’s wound onto the take-up spool being fogged from the exposure slit.
To check everything is properly in place and the film is securely on the take-up spool, turn the camera handle slowly a couple of times. You’ll need to do this again after the back has been closed just to make sure all the exposed section of film is moved on. Finally, if you haven’t already done so, move the aperture selector off the closed ‘R’ setting. There isn’t a frame counter, but you’re only going to get between six and eight frames from a 36-exposure length so it’s pretty easy to keep count. When the film is finished, the camera body essentially locks so it won’t turn and the rip cord won’t snap back into the handle.
As noted at the outset, the Spinner 360° doesn’t have a viewfinder and that’s obviously because it’d give you a severe smack in the mouth if you held it up to your face and let go of the rip cord. Because it spins through 360 degrees or more, it doesn’t really matter all that much where you point the spinner so it’s more a matter of making sure the vertical framing is what you want (the vertical angle-of-view is 66 degrees). Being a Lomography camera, the idea is you don’t try to do anything too formally, but think outside the square (literally in this case!).
Taking It For A Spin
The Spinner 360° is supplied with a set of shooting technique cards which are replicate contactprinted film lengths so you can get idea of what will actually be recorded. If you simply hold the camera in front of you in the conventional manner and let it rip you’ll end up in the middle of the picture.
A beefy rubber band spins the camera body and needs to be detached to enable film rewinding. A spare is supplied with the Spinner.
If you start with the camera pointing at you, you’ll appear in the picture twice – at either end of the panorama frame. If you don’t want to be in your pictures, you’ll have to hold the camera above your head which makes for some pretty interesting landscapes. After that, you might want to try the ‘Backflip’, the ‘Rollercoaster’, the ‘Footloose’ or even the ‘Toothbreaker’. The ‘Rollercoaster’ can be a lot of fun as it simply involves holding the camera at an angle so, as it spins, the image is recorded in a wave-like flow of ups and downs.
In practice, the purpose of the heavyweight lens hood becomes quite apparent because without it acting as a counterbalance, the spinning action isn’t nearly as smooth. However, you can detach it in order to fit standard 52 mm diameter screwthread filters should you want to make your image even wackier (or use a ND filter for some additional exposure control).
What you also quickly learn is that how you use the rip cord can give you quite a lot of control over how quickly the camera spins and how far. For example, if you hold onto it rather than just letting go then you can make the camera rotate quite slowly. You can even try rotating the camera body by hand, although it’s harder to do this smoothly enough to avoid some banding caused by uneven exposures. Another neat trick is to hold the camera steady and turn the handle which then passes the film in front of the exposing slit which stretches stationary objects, but moving subjects will be recorded more or less normally (unless there’s a big difference between their speed and that of the advancing film). So, you really can let your imagination run wild with the Spinner 360°.
Holding the Spinner at a slight angle results in an image that has a wavy appearance. As with any Lomo camera, it’s all about experimentation.
If you want to avoid starring in your panoramas then you’ll have to hold the camera above your head and hope for the best with aiming.
If you simply hold the camera in front of you in the conventional manner and make an exposure you’ll end up appearing in the middle of the picture.
Out Of The BoxIn addition to the set of techniques card, the Spinner 360° is packaged with a panoramic poster, the spare drive band, a lens cap (which you’re never likely to use) and a basic, but wellpresented instruction manual. As we’ve noted with the last few Lomography cameras we’ve reviewed, the Spinner’s packaging is again a work of art. It’s shaped in a quarter curve, made from extremely heavy-duty materials, printed in full colour (with spot varnishing in this case) and just far too good to throw away. A must-have accessory for many Spinner 360° users is the DigitaLiza which is a nifty masking unit for holding a length of 35mm film so it can be scanned in a flatbed scanner sprocket holes and all. A conventional film holder masks off the sprocket holes, but obviously they’re all part of the Spinner 360° deal. The DigitaLiza is actually quite an elaborate bit of design as well because Lomo had to come up with a way of holding the film without clamping onto the sprocket hole runs so a system of magnetic plates was devised. It’s a much more convenient method than trying to tape film lengths to a piece of glass. A metal plate is first attached to the rear of the open holder and then the film strip is inserted over the top. Next a magnetic top plate is located over the top of the film (using guide pins) which positions the film within the mask. The mask is then closed, the plates removed and the film strip is ready for use in any scanner which employs a backlighting system. A length of up to 23 cm can be accommodated. The DigitaLiza sells for $55 in Australia and is well worth it because you aren’t going to get a digital equivalent of the Spinner 360°.
The Verdict Over the Lomography display at Photokina 2010 was a banner which read “Leave The Digital Grind Behind” and it’s very true that the technicalities can become all-consuming to the detriment of simply taking pictures for the fun of it. The Spinner 360° is the most ‘out there’ Lomography product to date, but it’s a huge amount of fun to use and you’ll be surprised at just how many applications you’ll find once you get into it. It’s certainly not a camera you’ll carry all the time, but the creative possibilities are limited only by your imagination and how much you’re prepared to spend on film processing.
At around seven shots a roll, experimentation can get pricey, but once you’ve mastered the basics of exposure control and aiming, you can start to spin out and simply go with the flow. And even if you think you might be a bit above all this plastic film camera nonsense, the Spinner 360° will have you turning full circle!
The Spinner 360° is supplied with set of technique cards which replicate film strips. The spare drive band is also shown in this illustration.
Lomography SPINNER 360°
Type: 35mm scanning-type panorama camera with 360+ degree coverage.
Lens: 25mm f8.0 behind scanning slit.
Focus: Fixed, one metre to infinity.
Aperture Range: f8.0 and f16.
Shutter Speeds: Spin times roughly equal to 1/125 to 1/250 seconds.
Metering: None built-in.
Image Sizes: Depends on the amount of rotation. Roughly 35x160 mm with a 360 degree spin (sprocket areas exposed too). Up to 35x240 mm with a full spin.
Film Transport: ‘Automatic’ via spinning mechanism. Manual rewind via crank handle.
Features: Rubber band drive (spare band supplied) with rip-cord, built-in bubble-type level, detachable metal lens hood, accessory shoe, 52 mm diameter screwthread filter fitting, tripod mounting socket (in base of handle).
Dimensions (WxHxD): 102x197x108 mm (with lens hood fitted).
Weight: 290 grams (without film).
Power: No batteries required.
Price: $220 (includes shooting technique cards, poster and spare drive belt).
Distributor: Lomography Australia, telephone (02) 9967 5955 or visit www.lomography.com.au