Horizon S3 Pro: my Russian Panoramic Camera from an Alternate Reality

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The U-500 is pretty much the same as the S3 Pro apart from its shutter speed settings: it has 7 instead of 8 in total. It gains an extra 1/500th shutter speed at the fast end, but it sacrifices both the 1 second as well as the 1/30th. Like the S3 Pro, the U-500 has both the fast and slow sweep options and costs the same as the S3 Pro.

It’s worth noting that the mechanics of the U-500 (and Sport) differ from the S3 Pro in that the fast sweep is twice as fast – hence the loss of 1/30th. If you look at them side by side you’ll see that the S3 takes one second to complete the fast sweep, whereas the U-500 does it in half the time.

All aperture settings are the same as on the S3 Pro.

Horizon S3 Sport

The Horizon S3 Sport is a tad cheaper than the S3 Pro and loses the slow sweep option altogether. It therefore only features 4 shutter speeds from 1/500th to 1/60th in one stop increments.

All aperture settings are the same as on the S3 Pro.

My good friend Dave Lee


Horizon 202 vs. S3 Series

One enthusiast has caused a stir on the web when the S3 came out: he claims that although the lens of the S3 is better than on the 202, the integration causes pictures to be less sharp at f16 on the S3. Zenit has acknowledged this problem and minimised the issue, but it is unclear if this is completely fixed as of 2010. See his comparison here.


Here’s the bad news about this camera: you can’t focus this thing. It’s a fixed focus camera. At f2.8, everything from 5.5m to infinity will be in focus, everything closer to the camera will be blurred. That sucks big time! The only way to get things closer to the camera in focus is by using a smaller aperture and making use of depth of field.

Here’s a handy guide courtesy of the manual:

Aperture Depth of field, m
2,8 5,5–∞
4 3,9–∞
5,6 2,9–∞
8 2–∞
11 1,5–∞
16 1–∞


Major Criticism: even though these cameras are designed for landscapes and “stuff far away”, no landscape photographer in their right mind would ever use a fully open aperture. Portrait photographers on the other hand do this all the time. The camera should have been constructed so that f2.8 focusses things close up, and the smaller apertures (say f11 and above) would include infinity. Sadly the Widelux has the same problem and I find that it’s such a wasted opportunity. Whenever I want to shoot indoors in small rooms, I have to do this at f11 or f16 – where it’s so dark that I’d badly need f2.8 to help me out.

Beware of fingers in the Hrizon's field of view...


S3: The Film Ripper

I’ve shot over 20 rolls with the S3 Pro now, and I’m loving the results: the picture format is amazing, focus is sharp and contrasts are great. Sadly though, more than 80% of my films have ripped or otherwise been eaten by this thing. Not good! Some of my best shots will never see the light of day – that’s very disappointing.

I’ve noticed that this seems to happen with Ilford black and white film more than with colour film, so film thickness is likely responsible for this tragedy. Dummy colour films I don’t care about have no problem in this camera – but Ilford Delta 3200 (which I’m being forced to use due to the aperture tragedy mentioned above) rips halfway through the roll or when I’m rewinding. HP5 does the same. I have yet to try Kodak T-Max and Fuji Neopan but fear it may be a waste of money.

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8 thoughts on “Horizon S3 Pro: my Russian Panoramic Camera from an Alternate Reality”

  1. thank you very much for your informations about the horizon s3 pro…..
    i just bought one and she ate the first two films! i was very surprised, because i was really not a beginner in loading films. i already had a horizon 202 as travelcam. i work only outside and in good light conditions or with tripod. i use only fuji velvia and have really great results from over 12 countries in the world. but anyway.
    with the instruction movie on your website i could solve the problem. one thing is really important: after pushing the small button underneath the camera you must rewind until the end of the film is moving a little bit. the the film is exact in the right position and it will not be destroid….. (sorry, but english is not my mothertongue!)


    • Thanks Christian,

      I’ll give that a try. At the moment I’ve narrowed it down to the brand of film that works better in this camera than others: Fuji and Ilford seem to be eaten, whereas Kodak seems to work fine (in black and white that is). I mainly shoot handheld black and white and I’m loving the results – it’s just so super disappointing that I can’t rely on this camera properly.

  2. Kodak VC seems OK, have had fun with Velvia, but not sure I can blame the film for that. Loading takes learning.

  3. Have you had any issues of banding in your photos? And what do you do about scanning them? The lab I use only has a mask for X-Pan which doesn’t work.

    • Hi Steven,

      I’ve had no banding issues in my pictures, however I have heard that the Widelux produces this problem when the swing mechanics are a bit dirty and hence don’t swing smooth anymore.

      I scan my own film, it would be too expensive for me to have a lab do this (plus like you say they can’t do it). Get a cheap Epson scanner – any flatbed that scans negatives will do. I’m using the V750 but it’s at the top end of the range, however it comes with great scanning software (Silverfast) and a wet scanning mount. You can use the included 35mm scannig mask or invest into a Lomography DigitaLiza to hold your negs.

      The XPan negative size is 24x65mm, and the Horizon produces 24x58mm – so that should work fine in theory, but if your lab have an automation in place then it may get confused. When you scan yourself you’re in complete control over that process. Depends on how much you’re shooting I guess.

      The film ripping problem is definitely related to the film material: Colour materials seem to work fine, classic b/w films apart from Kodak have a problem – at least in my cameras (I’m on my second one with identical behaviour).

  4. Thanks for your email.

    I’ve bought one of the Lomo film holders that you recommend on your site and will be interested to see how that works on my scanner. The labs seem to have an automatic frame advancer on their machinery and the 6mm or so difference is a problem. My favourite lab is still not open since the 22 February earthquake as the 18 story building next to them has been condemned as being in risk of spontaneous self demolition in an aftershock (of which there are several daily).

    My Horizon is fairly new and I had a little banding on some early films, but I have bought a better light meter since and will see if that improves things.

    I have not had the problem that you experience with it damaging film since I had the camera repaired. When I got the camera, it would not advance film properly and tore sprockets, etc. I had it repaired locally (with funding from Rugift, who supplied the camera) and it has worked well since. The camera repairer, was a different story. He asked me to never ever bring it back!!

    I use mostly out of date film when I am playing, and Kodak VC when I am serious. The out of date film is Fuji, Agfa, whatever is around and cheap. No problems with anything, so far. Just have to work out how many frames are possible, deduct one and make sure that the journal shows the maximum number recommended. I surprised myself by being able to load it one handed at the weekend, sheltering it from rain with the other hand.

    It really is the most vexing camera I have ever owned and I have threatened it with sale a number of times, but never got as far as listing it, because once in every film, it creates a beautifully coloured, sharp random result.

    Looking forward to trying the scanner.


  5. I’ve been shooting on the Horizon s3 pro, honestly, any film snapping issues are from not holding down the rewind button. Usually, it takes two good tugs and it’s snapped. But if I remember the rewind button, no problems what so ever. It’s a beautiful camera.

  6. Hi.

    I picked up a used Horizon Perfekt and a Widepan Pro II. And then I picked up a (vintage Hansa mechanical self timer). **Problem is** No matter how much I fool around with the Hansa the needle that’s supposed to trigger the shutter is way too short for the Perfekt. Advice anyone? And. When I look at all the mechanical self timers on eBay, it looks like the needle length is generally the same. Hmm. Basically that’s it. How are people using a self timer on a Horizon camera? Thanx.


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