It worked like this: by slicing the top and bottom off a standard frame of 35mm film, the camera would produce a image with an aspect ratio that seemed more "panoramic" than a standard picture when printed- but you'd actually be getting less picture area than the camera would normally capture.
A true ultra-wide-angle camera captures more than a standard picture, usually by doubling (or, sometimes, tripling) the width of the film being exposed. But true ultra-wide-angle "panoramic" cameras have always been prohibitively expensive for anyone but the most dedicated panorama fiends.
But why let them have all the fun? If you want to try your hand at ultra-wide photography without spending thousands of dollars, you may want to consider picking up a Holga Wide Pinhole Camera.
Yes, it's made by the same company that manufactures the plastic-lensed Holga. But for those of you turned off by that idea, don't fret: this is a pinhole camera, which means that there's no lens to get in between the image and the film- and none of that famous Holga distortion. This is a simple f/135 pinhole camera with a film transport that accommodates standard 120 rollfilm in both 6x9cm and 6x12cm formats, for pictures up to double the width of the Holga's native 6x6cm format. Because it's a pinhole camera, its exposures can stretch into the tens of seconds, and a tripod is definitely required. But that's a small price to pay for the novelty of shooting double-width exposures on medium-format film.
The camera seems more thoughtfully designed than the original Holga: There is an effective bubble level built right into the top for keeping the horizon straight, a metal-reinforced tripod mount, and a viewfinder (of sorts) built in. The shutter button even has a convenient threaded cable release socket.
The camera's build quality won't win any awards, but it's solid enough to withstand reasonable use, and its simplicity can be an asset if you should need to repair or modify it.
What kind of images can it produce? Surprisingly good ones. There is a handy exposure chart on the back of the camera that can help pinhole novices figure out how long to keep the shutter open, and other than some heavy vignetting in 6x12cm mode- an issue which can probably be remedied with a simple modification to the shutter mechanism- the images are pretty sharp and definitely ultra-wide.
The Holga Wide Pinhole is $89, and you can find it in-store while our supply lasts.