I found a picture of this camera, a Horizon S3 U-500, (I've personally never seen anything like it before) and did some research. It turns out its a specially designed camera to take wide (but not distorted) panoramic shots on film.

I'm wondering if there's any kind of digital camera that can do this with more consistent results. Examples I've seen seem to be fairly inconsistent in quality but that could just be operator error.

Additionally; I don't quite understand how this camera works so if anyone could explain it'd be much appreciated.

Horizon S3 U-500


7 Answers 7


I believe the Horizon camera is an example of a slit-scanning camera. During the exposure, the lens assembly rotates from one end of the panoramic field to the other. A narrow slit is used to ensure that only a thin line of film is being exposed at any instant. The result is that the whole image is exposed using the center of the lens, which can form a high-quality image, and you don't get distortion, which is typical on very wide-angle lenses. The scanning method also results in a cylindrical projection, which may be more suitable than the rectilinear or fisheye projections you get from camera lenses on an ordinary camera. (Rectilinear and fisheye lenses can really stretch people in unattractive ways, so slit-scan cameras were great for photographing crowds of people.)

One example of a digital scanning panoramic camera is the Panoscan, which takes medium-format lenses, and scans mechanically to create an image using a trilinear CCD (one column of pixels in each of red, green, and blue) to form an image.


The Horizon camera rotates the lens, which is mounted in a vertical cylinder, around its nodal point. Actually the cylinder is the rotating part, and the lens turns with the cylinder. Image is projected on a film that is not on flat surface as in normal film cameras, but on a curved film plane. The film is not exposed all at once, but instead the turning cylinder has only a narrow slit open on the film and the film is exposed thru the slit while the cylinder rotates. A picture to demonstrate this:

Panoramic film camera

More about panoramic photography in Wikipedia, with example photos.

I have no knowledge of similar digi-cameras. Most likely there is not a digital version of this type, since it should be too much fun to engineer a digital image sensor to the curved shape.

  • 4
    +1, helpful diagram! The digital version that I linked to doesn't need a curved sensor, because it's just a linear sensor (one column per R,G,B) that's read out continuously, kind of like a flatbed scanner.
    – coneslayer
    Apr 4, 2013 at 21:37
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    @coneslayer - Right of course the sensor don't need to imitate film! I was so fixated to film that I did not grasp the idea from your answer at first reading. The Panoscan camera is often used in real estate business to create 3D-views of the apartment. Java-based "photo" can then be freely rotated and zoomed as you wish, making it much easier to visualise the rooms than what is possible with still images. Apr 4, 2013 at 21:57

I believe the only true panoramic digital camera available (when i say true, i mean 6x17 and unstitched photos) is the seitz 6x17 digital...


it's über expensive but i hope this helps.

  • 4
    If you can't afford the Seitz, the key to getting good panoramas using stitching is to use a "normal" perspective to short telephoto lens (i.e: 50-100mm) and mount the camera on a tripod using a nodal mount. The mounts aren't cheap either, but they're a lot cheaper than the Seitz! For a horizontal panorama, take lots of shots with the camera in portrait (vertical) orientation. For vertical panos, use landscape. That will give the short side of your stitched image higher resolution, but will also require more shots. Make sure the exposure settings (ISO, Tv, Av) are identical for each shot.
    – Michael C
    Apr 4, 2013 at 16:32

It appears that they are using a moving lens that exposes part of the film at any given moment.

I'm not sure if there are any digital camera equivalents, though I'm not sure that you wouldn't get better quality results by taking multiple photos and stitching them together. This is what most photographers I know do and since it is easy digitally, it really reduces the demand for such hardware, so it's probably pretty unlikely unless someone made a lens for a typical SLR to do it.

Update, some quick Googling confirms there are actually digital panoramic cameras available even though I've never seen one in use. They however appear to be extremely expensive specialized devices such as the Seitz-D3.

  • 3
    Horizon web-page quote: "the lens rotates during taking within the pan angle" Apr 4, 2013 at 16:23
  • @EsaPaulasto - hmm, guess I missed that, thanks for pointing it out. I will update my answer.
    – AJ Henderson
    Apr 4, 2013 at 16:43

The problem with stitching or indeed even sweep panoramas is that it doesn't give you the same speed as a rotating lens camera like this. Looking around the net most people who still use these kinds of cameras do so for street photography.

I don't think its been officially released yet(might never be) but Horizon themselves have been showing a digital panoramic camera for a few years that uses 3 lens/sensor units to take pics at the same time ala "bullet time" matrix cameras that can then be merged into one shot.


  • That horizon camera looks like a beast! :O
    – NULLZ
    Jun 25, 2013 at 9:28

I believe the Horizon is still available.

I own an older model of it. Here you find a scan along with the tractor rail of the 135 film, that gives you some impression of the frame format (57x24mm). http://fc-foto.de/2134606

This is a scan of 3 frames in a row with which I tried to "stitch" a 360° pano on one strip of negative film. http://fc-foto.de/29341984

Any digital camera could do pretty much the same thing with the aid of good stitching tools. PTGui or Panorama Studio comes to my mind. But there are much more and some of them are really good, though some are crap.

As for the operator: When you don't have a nodal mount - and in most situations you don't need that - then try to use a tripod at least. If you don't use a tripod then try to turn yourself around the lens of the camera instead of turning you around and the camera around you. Aim to have the same perspective when you turn around. When I do that than I imagine having a tripod with which I'd have to turn myself around the camera that is mounted on the tripod.

Don't use AWB, use a fix white balance for all images. Or use RAW and care for the white blance later.

Use the same settings for all images. Use the M program and avoid Auto-ISO. When the situation is difficult then meter all directions first, use some values between the maximum and minimum and try them. Again, RAW is helpful here. Then shoot all of the images with the same settings.

Avoid polarizing filters!

And go for it :-)


I just saw this type of shot reviewed for the Nikon D3300 which is about $550 and is a DSLR.

  • 1
    Nikon has an "Easy Panorama" mode on some cameras, which works similar to phone cameras - you pan the camera and it stitches shots together, so it doesn't work in the same was as this "slit" style camera.
    – MikeW
    Jul 17, 2016 at 18:51
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    This isn't really a "special feature" as it is a post-processing operation that plenty of software are capable of. It won't do much in terms of distortion or consistency of results. You should explain why you think such a feature makes a digital camera a panoramic camera.
    – Olivier
    Jul 18, 2016 at 10:13

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