The Horizon-202

Alfred's Camera Page

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Although it might sometimes seem like a new fad, panoramic photograpy is almost as old as photography itself. Back in the nineteenth century when the whole branch has just been discovered, a lot of photographers experimented with panoramas for much the same reasons as panoramagraphers today: panoramic pictures were the state of the art in depicting realism, and they did an excellent job at stunning the audience.

Panoramas had, and still have, an enormous sense of depth and wideness. You can literally sweep your eyes along the plane, and if the images are large enough, the effect can be hallucinary. (In the Dutch sea resort of Scheveningen, there is a painted 360 degree panorama called the Panorama Mesdag, which, when standing in the axis, creates the strong illusion of actually overlooking the sea and the land from an 1880's dune top. Before the movies, that was top class realistic entertainment.) Conventional photography just can't keep up. That's why a lot of realist painters switched from painting to the new art of photography, since what is more real than reality itself? And which photograph is more lifelike than the panorama? (Granted, the stereo photograph – another nineteenth century technique exploited by Soviet camera makers – comes a long way too.)

Unlike other photographic techniques from the nineteenth century which are either long forgotten or are now only taught in photographic schools as 'ancient procedures', panoramic photography has continued to stay popular throughout the years. One of the many places where the technique received special interest was the Soviet Union, because panoramic photography yielded an effective means of propaganda for the revolutionaries' cause. It fit the bolshevist art of social realism like a glove, and allowed photographers and graphical designers to express themselves in wideswept, huge panoramic images of people, workers, masses, factories, infrastructure, cities, et cetera; which dramatically showed the glory and strength of the "worker's paradise". Perhaps apart from the Rodchenko-like dramatically over-styled socialist-realist avant-garde photography (style characteristics: bold compositions, symbolism, archetypes like 'the Worker', and often slanted horizons), panoramic photographs were the most popular branch of propagandic photography in the Soviet Union. Lots of panoramas appeared in newspapers, and in a country as big as the Red State, where photography was one of the most popular hobbies, there were many photographers to sell panoramic cameras to. Therefore it's not so strange that many attempts to commercially manufacture panoramic cameras were undertaken there.

The FT models

The first panoramic cameras produced in any amount were the FT series models, which were manufactured by Krasnogorsky Mechanichesky Zavod (KMZ) in the early 1950's. The FT-2, the most produced model (which was chosen over the more expensive and difficult to produce FT1 and FT3), was a flat, boxlike swing-lens camera with a hardly suited 50mm Industar-22 lens and an aperture that was fixed at f/5.

FT stands for 'Fotoapparat Tokareva', or Tokarev's Camera. It's so named after its designer, Feodor Vasilievich Tokarev, renowned arms designer who carried the informal title "Personal Friend of Stalin". According to the memoirs of E. V. Soloviev, he around 1950 appeared at the gates of KMZ in a big ZIL limousine, to present his design, that incidentally had already been approved by the "Personal Friend". The camera was already named 'FT-2' when Tokarev presented it. Engineers at the plant were frankly unimpresssed by the design, and dismissed it as too difficult to mass-produce. They nevertheless liked the concept of a panoramic camera, so they kept the idea on the shelf till 1958, when the FT-2 (perhaps Tokarev's prototype, perhaps not) was submitted to the Brussels World Fair. Directly after that, it was taken into production and exported worldwide under names as Spiratone, Panorama, Spaceview (a hint to the Sputnik probe?) and also plainly FT-2. Somewhere during production (in 1960) an upgraded version with a different spring and aperture design appeared. The camera stayed in production till 1965, with a grand total of 16.662 produced (Princelle).

(The source of this information is an article that appeared in the Russian magazine 'Nedelya', #41, 1997.)

Yes, and the FT-1 and the FT-3, the other FT models? As for the FT-1, things are very very shady. For one, Princelle says the FT-1 was designed in 1948 by E. V. Soloviev. It apparently took 12 24×102mm exposures on perforated 35mm film, and had a fixed shutter speed of 1/50s. "Several produced". But, how could this camera be produced before Tokarev introduced the FT concept to KMZ in 1950? The FT-1 and the FT-2 have an awful lot in common, so it seems to me that cause and event have been exchanged. My hypothesis: the FT-2 was first, and what became known as the 'FT1' was produced in a "zero-series" between 1951 and 1958. Or, if you can still follow this debate, Princelle infers the 1948 date from the fact that some FT-2's use FED-Zorki lenses of that vintage. To me that's not such a strong argument, because KMZ could easily be using a batch of old lenses on the FT1. Heck, what am I trying to prove anyway.

To be sure, the Zenit R&D site lists a rumour that the FT-1 is actually Tokarev's original prototype in serial production form. Also, the site mentions a production number of "several hundreds" between '51 and '58. Mystery solved...?

The FT-3? According to Princelle, it was designed by E. V. Soloviev (who probably tried to improve Tokarev's FT-2 design), and produced between 1951 and 1952 in quantities of "about a hundred". Princelle: "too expensive to manufacture and with little hope of widespread distribution, the FT3 was also in competition with that of the highly influential F. V. TOKAREV. This was the FT2 project which was less expensive to manufacture and was subsequently chosen".

It appears the original FT3 prototype has been refound: an FT3 with serial number '53001' resurfaced recently in the Zenit R&D collection. Take a look or visit the website.

(Courtesy of the Zenit R&D website: a beautiful 1960's booklet on the FT2. Page 1, 2, 3, 4. With thanks to Dmitry Kopp, webmaster extraordinnaire.)

According to Princelle, these early panoramic cameras were used to check the impact of artillery fire (although I wonder why that would require a panoramic camera), and to make this project viable, they were also sold and exported commercially.

Though interesting cameras from an engineering point of view, they weren't very practical. At 50mm, the FT's lenses weren't wide enough to compete with a standard 28mm lens in terms of angle, so to get a respectable field of view of 120 degrees, it needed a 115mm strip of film. This resulted in dramatically high film use, and with a height/length ratio of 1:4,8, also in ridiculously long strips of photo paper. The only enlargers that could print that kind of format were plate enlargers (luckily abundant at the time, but rather rare now), and to make things worse, the FT-2 didn't take standard 35mm film cassettes. It had weird proprietary ones.

On the bright side, the pleasant 50mm angle gives the FT-2 panoramas something very tranquil and letterbox-like. It's like looking at a series of normal photos laid end to end, without the weirdness of the extreme barrel distortion that is often obvious on Horizon-202 shots.

The 1960's: advent of the Horizont

After the FT series of cameras with their letterbox movie images, KMZ in late 1966 marketed the first camera of the Horizon dynasty: the Horizont (note the 't').

The Horizont is a marvelous exponent of its age. In 1966 the Soviet Union still had an edge in the space race, after successfully having launched the Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin. The USA so far hadn't matched the achievement, and wasn't doing so well even in global matters. It was under fire for its operations in Vietnam, and throughout the western world students were revolting against the status quo. In the USSR however, everything seemed like milk and honey. The country was at an economic and industrial prime, its technology was quite modern, its weapons arsenal up to date, and the Red Bear was feared with reason. No wonder that in that time, a beautifully styled and designed panoramic camera of charming simplicity saw the light, being the archetypical instrument for Soviet propaganda photographers for showing the glory of the Red Empire.

The 1967 Horizont was the direct ancestor of today's Horizon-202. Like its later follower-up, it had a 28mm lens that was mounted in a rotating turret which spun by a clockwork motor. It was built from the trustworthy Zenit-E-like aluminium, which was used in copious amounts and gave the camera a quality feel. Its images were a mere 58mm long, so that they could be easily printed with any of the ubiquitous 6×6 enlargers, and more pictures could be made on one roll of film. Also an improvement, the camera took standard 35mm film. Its horizontal field of view was a nice 120°, which matches that of the human eye. The vertical view was also greatly expanded because of the 28mm lens, which reduced the 'letterbox effect'. The camera had a loose finder with bubble level, and came with a grip to facilitate hand-held use. The Horizont was sold in the USSR in the late 1960's and early 1970's, but because of its niche value (apart from the Widelux F-Ⅶ, not many swing-lens panoramic cameras were commercially produced at that time), it was also exported beyond the iron curtain. Design: Litavin V.V., Kutepov E.N., Padalko A.J., Shuvaeva A.N.

The Nedelya article referenced above mentions that the Horizont was presented manyfold to foreign officials as a relations gift. One of the lucky receivers was none other than US president Jimmy Carter, who reportedly used it to take one of his favourite photos, a self-portrait in the Oval Office!

During the perestroika, in the late 1980's, when things were not going so well any more for the cumbersome and crumbling Soviet empire, KMZ was sensing a loosening grip on the Russian photography market. Its almost monopoly position was being threatened by cheap Japanese quality products, which were more reliable than the Russian produce, cheaper too, and technically on a (much) higher level. How to compete? Most Russian optical factories either went 'niche' or 'cheap'. So KMZ produces the unique Fotosnaiper and Horizon-202, BelOMO produces fisheyes, and Zavod Arsenal produces medium format cameras for an unbeaten price.

KMZ goes retro

KMZ's prime ace up its sleeve was the Horizon-202. The old Horizont from the 1960's and the success it achieved among its many enthusiasts wasn't forgotten, so the engineers dusted off the twenty year old blueprints and modified the thing. What resulted was the Horizon-202: essentially almost the same camera from a technical point of view, but with some adaptations that made it beat the Horizont by far in terms of practicality.

The Horizont and Horizon-202 compared

The technical similarities are most obvious when looking inside the film bay and at the lens. The Horizont's lens was a coated 28mm; so is the Horizon-202's. The old Horizont had a massive aluminium body; so does the Horizon-202 (well hidden behind a plastic outer shell). The Horizont had a bulbous viewfinder with level; so does the Horizon-202. The same goes for the hand grip and the shutter system and aperture ranges: they are all more or less directly modified versions of what the older camera had.

Nevertheless, the engineers also altered some parts. The most obvious change is probably the restyled outer body, the esthetics of which were designed by V. Shablevitch. In the spirit of the Zenit-16, the Horizon-202 has in fact two body layers: an outer 'skin' and an inner 'skeleton'. The skeleton can best be seen with the back open: it's the aluminium 'block' that houses the film and the rotating mechanics. The skin is the black plastic that's screwed onto the metal core. It consists of two parts, a front and a back half, which are joint together rather roughly along a seam in the middle.

This plastic design has the advantage of being cheaper to build, easier to modify as needs change, easier to mold into shape, and easier to design and manipulate. It can also stand some abuse (although I've found the ABS plastic to be quite scratch-prone), and is water-tight. Above all it acts as an effective protective shield for the mechanics inside.

Another obvious advancement is an important technical one: instead of the 1/30–1/60–1/125–1/250s shutter of the old Horizont, the Horizon-202 has six shutter speeds: 1/2–1/4–1/8, and 1/60–1/125–1/250s. The 1/30s and 1/15s can still be simulated by using the accompanying 4× grey filter with 1/125 and 1/60s respectively. The two different series of shutter speeds are achieved by the turret's two rotating speeds.

Another advancement is the new finder. The older Horizont came with a loose panoramic finder that fit into the accessory shoe. That finder suffered from slight parallax since it wasn't in the lens' axis, and because it was placed quite loose in its shoe, it tended to fall off and crack. The Horizon-202 however worked around both these problems by an incorporated viewfinder with in-built bubble finder in the axis of the lens.

The Horizon-202 project began in 1989. There is some Finnish connection here, about which I'm still a bit in the dark. Apparently all the Horizont's tools and supplies were bought up by Finnish individuals (under the name of "Technopan"), and the Horizon-202's technical design is part Finnish. Anyway, the first Horizon-202-like production cameras started to appear around 1991 under the Technopan name (Finnish label?). Some of those first models, rare today, had eight speeds instead of the later six; adding an extra 1/30 and 1s. Some early cameras were also inscribed in Cyrillic, which hasn't been done since. Some Horizons were not inscribed at all, or inscribed "Horizont", with the 't' but without the 202 print. Also, some cameras by the name of "Zenit-202" were produced. Some early cameras still had the SSSR quality stamp, and some were marked 'Zenit' on the inside. After 1992, the production variations seem to have stabilised a bit, and the 'standard-Horizon' settled on.

These days, all Horizon-202's have six speeds, with the notable exception of the Horizon-202S, a rather shady sub-model (or independent modification?) that has an extra slit width setting for 1/500 and 1/15s. Normal six-speed Horizons all have an empty fourth shutter speed circle, to which the shutter can physically not be set. The production year of a given Horizon-202 can be derived by looking at the two first digits of the serial number engraved in the lens facade: they represent the year of manufacture (or more correctly: the year in which the lens was engraved).

At the moment, the Horizon might have already been taken out of production. There are some rumours (on Marco Pauck's H-202 site) that in 1999 the last 160 Horizon-202's were produced, all of which apparently had uncoated lenses. Sources indicate that 2000's Horizon-202 batch had serial numbers starting with '00' – remarkable, since that prefix has been used by KMZ for almost fifty years to indicate pre-production models.


Personally, I don't think that the Horizon-202 is a very unattractive camera. Perhaps it doesn't have the slender lines of the newer Nikons, or the slick ergonomic design of the Leica-R8, but personally I think the Horizon-202 looks quite alright. Its design is modern, and if somebody had told me it was italian, I would have believed it too. It doesn't really look "Russian", whatever that means.

What it does look, is slightly awkward to the layman: obviously it's a camera – its general shape and the viewfinder give it away – but then again it's not, because there seems to be no lens. What you normally see of the Horizon-202, is a matte black camera that has a shining brown-copperish cylinder without any apparent opening. That makes this camera look very harmless and friendly, compared to common bulky photojournalist gear. I've found it to be a pleasant camera for photographing people and crowds, because there's no obvious gazing lens, and the Horizon doesn't (seem to) pose a threat.


The dimensions of the camera are very modest. The 202 is slightly larger than an average consumer SLR, and its body is slightly thicker (after all, there's a whole semicircular film rail inside), but what's nice, is that this camera is actually very flat: the only thing really sticking out is the turret, and in comparison to an SLR with lens, that one small semicircular protrusion is very small indeed. That makes this camera very pleasant to carry around; because it's so small and flat, it can dangle by its strap under your armpit or in front of your breast, without it being much of a bother. It also takes up much less space in carrying bags, photo suitcases etc, than a normal camera with lens does. In this respect, the Horizon-202 is a lovely, practical travel camera.


Because of the outer body, made of ABS plastic, the camera can stand some abuse. I wouldn't say that it's as rugged as the almost legendary Zenit reflexes from the 1960's onwards, but it can take some mis-use without too serious consequences. For example, if you accidentally swing it against something, its plastic body will partly absorb the blow. The turret mount is well padded above and below with rather thick plastic girders, which act as effective crash absorbers.

The Horizon-202 is not quite an all-weather, all-circumstance camera. Its mechanics will function reliably in fairly low temperatures (till the −15°C range), but the fact that the turret, lens and mechanics are open to outside influences, make the camera more vulnerable than a normal SLR.

First of all, the turret may not be dented. Since I never tried it, I have no idea how a dent affects the camera's performance, but I have a feeling that due to the turret's changed momentum, the shutter speeds will be off, which is not a good thing.

Secondly, the whole rotating setup has many small openings that lead to the camera's inside. Particularly open in this respect are the two levers that set the shutter speeds and the aperture values. They are not stationary; when the shutter is tripped, they shoot blindingly fast inside the camera through an opening in the body. This means that any dust or hairs present on those controls or in their path might be transferred to the heart of the mechanics inside of the camera.

The turret, which is part of the metal core, sticks out through the plastic outer shell. The seam between turret and plastic, is also prone to soiling by dust and dirt, perhaps disrupting the rotational movement and thus causing banding to occur. Because the rotation is regulated by clockwork mechanics instead of by an electrical motor, the mechanisms are fairly open to dirt influences.

The lens 'bay' in the turret is also quite exposed, and hard to reach at that. The lens is particularly hard to clean because it's so difficult to reach in its deep position, and because of the rough matte plastic the bay is cloaked in, dust is hard to remove too. The lens and its filters really need to be kept clean, because any dust on the lens might cause a dragging horizontal dark band.

So I would advise to keep your Horizon-202 clean at all time to avoid upsetting the undoubtedly delicate and tricky mechanics, and to avoid any abuse that can be avoided (which are good tips for any camera, for that matter).

The shutter

The Horizon-202's aperture and shutter speed levers are located on top of the cylinder, between the turret and the viewfinder. Two clock-like arms, the one above the other, indicate the set aperture and shutter speed values. The levers can be moved in a semi-circle; swing the aperture one to the left for the lower aperture numbers, and to the right for the higher ones. Both levers click in on whole stops.

On older Horizon-202's, speeds from 1/2–1/15s, and 1/60–1/500s can be set, but on most, the values range from 1/2–1/8s, and 1/60–1/250s. The turret itself turns with only two different speeds: high gear and low gear. The three different shutter speeds for each gear train are obtained by varying the width of the slit. The two gear trains can be toggled by moving the switch underneath the rewind knob. Ofcourse, only do this when the shutter is cocked. There are yellow and white speeds: white are the fast speeds, and yellow the slow ones. Note the joke here: the shutter speed and aperture numbers are printed in the edgy Leica font, in the two archetypic Leica colours!

The two levers for shutter speed and aperture value have the annoying tendency to rotate along with the cylinder, as noted above. An obvious disadvantage of this construction is, that the levers can be (accidentally) obstructed in their path, thereby slowing the whole turret down along as well, and wrecking the exposure.

The film counter

The Horizon-202 has a self-resetting film counter, that sadly doesn't tell very much. One time I get twenty-two exposures on a roll of "36" film, the next I get twenty-one, and sometimes even twenty-three (twenty-three exposures is, by the way, the optimistic factory estimate listed in the brochure). The film counter doesn't skip anything, it's just that the length of the take-up strip of film can have so much variation, that it can make the difference between a couple of shots more or less. You lose a lot of film in the take-up strip anyway. If you're the stingy kind, you could lengthen the take-up strip by sticking on a strip of used film.

The shutter release

The shutter release is located behind a slight indent in the viewfinder. It's fair to say that it has a firm, even very firm, pressure point. The plastic, wobbly button has some free way, and then hits "rock bottom". Forcefully press through that, and the shutter is tripped. I personally think this could have been engineered slightly better. The pressure needed for tripping the shutter is probably necessary to perform some complicated mechanical task like unlocking a tight spring or something, but in practice it makes a good ground for camera shake. Together with the kick the camera gets from the jerky jump start of the rotating turret, the camera is quite difficult to hold dead steady when taking pictures. I wouldn't call it a wild bronco or anything, but there is some 'violence' involved in the operation, that for instance a Leica or similar rangefinder doesn't have (okay, unfair comparison). But then again, I've never noticed any irregularities in my pictures which I could blame on the camera not being steady. It's probably best to use a tripod as much as possible though.

There's a caveat with the shutter release button, which is when you're using a cable release: I've tried to attach one of those to the Horizon-202 several times, but each time when I screwed in the thing, the shutter kept being tripped over and over again. As soon as I'd try to cock it with the wind lever, the half-cocked shutter was instantly tripped again. This is probably not so much a problem with all cable releases, as it is with the "industrial strength" one I have at home.

A cable release with a particularly long rod seems to be necessary: I've tried a smaller, shallower one, but it didn't trip the shutter at all.

Loading film

Loading film into the Horizon-202 is an art in itself, although it's not too difficult once you get the hang of it. The inside of the camera is rather peculiar. There's the eye-catching semicircular film drum, and also a number of rods and things that seem to clog everything. The rule is simple enough: the film passes behind everything it can pass behind. There's a diagram of the correct film path on the inside of the back door, but somehow I missed that when I first loaded my Horizon, because I horribly messed up.

The correct technique, which I learnt a bit later, is as follows. First, bend the lip of the film a bit in the direction of its natural curve. Then, pull a few centimeters of film out of the cartridge and feed the lip behind all the rods and cylinders and into the sprocket. It's best to keep the sprocket unlocked during this operation, so keep a finger on the small sprocket release button underneath the camera. Feed the film behind everything, and give it some more slack when there's too little film to work with. When the film finally sticks out to the right of the take-up spool, insert the cartridge in the bay to the left. Then insert the film into the take-up spool, and trip the shutter. Advance the cylinder about halfway to tighten the film in the take-up spool, without pulling out more film from the cartridge, then let go of the sprocket release button and advance the film slightly onwards to make sure it's caught correctly by the system. Then close the back and take two more false pictures, to advance the film to position one. Most of the time, the second picture you shoot will end up more or less useful, but there's no guarantee.

Analog memory storage device

The Horizon-202 has a built-in film memo holder in its film door that does work, but which needs some attention. It's nothing more than a small plastic bay, actually, meant to put a film carton lip in. But unfortunately its size is slightly too small to contain lips from the most common film brands (Kodak, notably), so they have to be torn or cut to fit. The film memo holder also covers a large part of the memo strip, so that not all print is always equally readable. Plus, the memo holder is difficult to clear out, because the lip is located in a bas-relief, which makes it difficult to get a grip on. Why not a dial, my Krasnogorskian tovarishi? Of course you can do as I do and simply tape a small info note on the back...

Sometimes I tend to forget to change or remove the film lip whenever I change or take out the film. And nothing is more annoying than seeing your Horizon again after some weeks with a film memo either present or not present, and not knowing if the situation depicted is the correct one. So I preach some self-discipline here...:)

Winding the film

After setting the shutter speed and aperture values – choosing which pair is difficult in itself, because the Horizon-202 doesn't have an in-built light meter; to keep in the Russian atmosphere, I recommend the Sverdlovsk-4 spot meter – and taking the picture, the film needs to be wound to the next frame. This is where you need to be really careful. Because of the special construction of the Horizon-202, and because of the razorlike sprocket, the film is very difficult to advance. The main reason is that it has a lot of friction, because it's pressed down on the curved film beams. Also, the film needs to be pulled through all kinds of difficult curves. Apply too much tension and the film will snap, which is what happens to everybody at least once.

The correct way to advance the film, is to not advance it in one long, forceful haul, but in several small swings of the lever, keeping your left hand on the film release button and 'giving film' as you transport with your right hand. That way, the forces kept as low as possible. After a full wind, don't forget to rewind any slack film that might still remain between the cartridge and the cylinder.


Rewinding film is as difficult as advancing it. This time, the system has to work in reverse: the whole film, now on the take-up spool, needs to be transported through the semicircular obstacle again, and back into the cartridge. Again, that's not easy. It often happens that I break the film during rewinding. A couple of times I even had to go into the attick under a couple of thick blankets, to pry the film loose with my hands.

The trick to a smooth rewind, is to keep the sprocket unlocked at all time, and to do things slowly and patiently. If the film seems to stick, transport it in smaller steps at a time. Never force. And if all else fails, grab a pair of blankets and retreat to the attick...

The Horizon-202 is best suited technically for 24-exposures film, because the transport gets heavier and heavier with every frame. My 36-exposure films (which are technically 22-exposure films) often come out with torn and broken ends, because the force needed to advance those last few images, is often too high. The sprocket holes are always the first to go (since the sprocket is a fierce, sharp metal thing), but sometimes there's even a tear deep into the actual image area. 24-exposure films (17 Horizon exposures) are much less prone to damaging because they are shorter.

The viewfinder

The Horizon-202's viewfinder is located above the lens axis, which eliminates a lot of the parallax that the horizont had with its loose, offset viewfinder. The viewfinder shows a very bulbous and bright image, with a slightly smaller field of view (∼110°) than the actual image (∼120°). On top of the viewfinder housing is a small bubble finder, which is illuminated by light from above that's scattered by a matte glass. What you see is a bubble inside a small black circle. The way this bubble level works is fairly straightforward: once the bubble is in the middle of the circle, the camera is level. If the bubble is to the left, right, bottom or top, then the camera is not held horizontally. I haven't tested the levelness of the image compared to the indicated levelness of the level myself, but I'd estimate it's fairly accurate. The level is mirrored into the viewfinder by a 45° mirror.

Bubble level

Above: the Horizon is (1) level, (2) dipped, (3) rolled.

The viewfinder is not high-eyepoint. To get the best view, you have to press your eye against the eyepiece. For people wearing glasses, the viewfinder is fairly hard to oversee in its totality. But why bother with the viewfinder anyway, when there's a much better substitute, in the form of the human eye itself? The Horizon-202 has the interesting property, that it takes pictures with the same angle of view as that of a single human eye. That simply means, that all of what you see horizontally through one eye, from the far left to the far right, will show up on the picture. Same goes for the vertical field. That knowledge pretty much eliminates the need for a viewfinder.

I have a certain technique for finding panoramic images 'on the fly', that works perfectly for me, and is at least as accurate as the Horizon's skimpy finder. It works as follows. First I'll be walking somewhere, Horizon hanging around my neck, and I'll notice something I think would be worth a picture. The technique takes some getting used to: it's like recognizing compositions for superwideangle cameras, but then for an even wider field of view. For instance, you walk down a street keeping your eyes open, and all of a sudden it strikes you that literally everything you perceive, forms a perfect composition and would make a great panorama. It's the same rush you sometimes have when you discover a good motive for a less extreme lens, but then extrapolated to the entire field of view.

The quality issue

Judging optical quality in Russian cameras is usually quite subjective and vague because of the many product variations and the qualitywise inconsistent production methods, and so I can't be very specific here about the group characteristics of all Horizon-202's. Like with most Russian products, there are Monday morning examples, and exceptionally good ones. I don't know with what tolerances the Horizon-202's are constructed, but I suspect that the old Soviet construction adage still shines through: quantity and price prevail above quality. Slight mistakes in the placing of the turret or the grinding and kitting of the lenses can have large effects on the resulting images. (In general though, such mistakes are exceedingly rare and should be spotted by any foreign importer.) So I have no idea whether or not the Horizon-202 I use from time to time is a typical or an abnormal example. I can only speak for the one camera I know. For now I'll assume that all Horizon-202's are like mine, because my experiences are consistent with those of others.

The MC (Multi Coated) 28mm with which the Horizon-202 is fitted, is a fix-focus lens. I believe it's pre-set to the area between 3 meters and infinity. With a 28mm lens, the depth-of-field catches much of the focusing inaccuracy, but depth-of-field is not the same as actual sharpness. At f/8 at least, the aperture value I advise to use the Horizon with, the sharpness on mine for anything farther than two or three meters is excellent; knack-sharp from corner to corner, exhibiting that vicious sharpness that is common to many Russian lenses. Although I haven't shot too many films with my Horizon, I've never had any problems with vignetting. That makes sense, because the center of the lens' projection circle is used, which is always the best performing part. The MC 28mm doesn't have to be a strong performer in a 36mm-wide frame; only in a 24mm-high frame. It can have a smaller projection circle. That makes such a lens easier to design and produce, and makes for better correction possibilities. It might even be possible for KMZ to design something like an ultrawide Horizon, with a 20mm lens for instance. A 20mm lens with a projection circle circle of 24mm can be a scaled version of a 30mm lens with a 36mm wide projection circle. (Ofcourse a tripod, if used, would probably appear in the image, and the perspective distortion inherent to 20mm lenses could spoil the photo.)

Interesting side fact: the MC 28mm f/2.8 is borrowed directly from the MF series of espionage cameras! KMZ just happened to have an off-the-shelf OP 28mm f/2.8 lens for an 18×24mm frame available, so they used it for the 1960's Horizont. From there on it evolved to the multicoated 'MC' lens in the Horizon-202.


The Horizon-202 comes with a host of accessories. Apart from an unpadded synthetic carrying bag, the camera is shipped with a set of filters (2× grey, yellow, UV), a carrying strap, a manual, a hand grip, and a place-holder for the hand grip.

The filters are not the usual screw kind, but are special production for the Horizon-202. The filters have a special mount, that locks them firmly into place inside the lens drum. Removing a filter from the lens drum is done by taking another filter, and using it to pull the first one out by its hooks. The filters themselves are made of optical glass, and look cheap but durable. Perhaps KMZ could have supplied some empty filter mounts with each camera, so that photographers could cut their own filter foil into shape to make custom filters. After all, the Horizon-202 market is for the larger part somewhat demanding, hobbyistic photographers. Custom filters can be both made and bought, but only from third parties.

The hand grip

The filters fit into the compartment inside the hollow plastic hand grip, which is closed by a screwing lid. The hand grip also contains the hand grip's place-holder (a protective plastic disc that covers the metal hand grip bayonet when the hand grip is not in place), and whatever other stuff you might want to store in there. Unfortunately the grip, that fits into the front pocket of the carrying bag, is slightly too small to store a 35mm film. Such a storage might not have been such a bad idea in a camera that burns film one and a half frames at a time...

The Russian manual seems complete in its coverage, although the quality is fairly flimsy (rusty iron staples!) and the paper is the recycled kind used as toilet paper in the West. The Horizon-202 does have the advantage of having a large Internet fan base, so there are a lot of people to whom you can turn to if you have any particular questions.

Imaging tricks

The Horizon-202 works on the principle of a rotating lens in a stationary camera. (Other panoramic cameras, like the Seitz Roundshots and the Kodak Cirkuts are rotating cameras with stationary lenses.) Because of the rotation, Horizon-202 images have some characteristic projection properties, that fixed-position panoramic cameras, like the Fuji 617 models, don't have. The most obvious effect is the barrel distortion. For example, long, straight buildings appear to be horizontally bloated. That projection is inherent to swing-lens cameras: swing your head from left to right and see how straight lines seem to bulge along the way, as they appear closer to you.

Because the Horizon scans scenes horizontally in a circular fashion, what you get is a (flattened out) piece of the inside of a circle. In fact, when you slightly curve a Horizon-202 print and look 'into' the picture from short distance, the scene looks remarkably realistic, because the projection is then folded back again to its original semi-circular position, and the barrel distortion seems to vanish!

Another thing inherent to swing-lens panoramic cameras, is the distortion you get when the horizon is not exactly in the center of the image. If you tilt your head and roll it from one side to the other, you'll see what happens: the horizon becomes curved. Like most optical effects of the kind – fisheyes and ultrawideangles – making use of curved horizons and extreme exaggerations of the swing-lens projection (for instance, a truck that seems to fold all the way round) will eventually show itself for the cliché it is.

The Horizon is best in place in nature and group situations. It's perhaps less suited for architecture, because the horizon always has to cut through the dead center of the image, in order for it not to curve. (The Horizon-202 doesn't have a tilt feature; for that you'll have to divert to its direct competitor, the Noblex 135S.) Architecture and cityscapes tend to have a lot of straight lines and angles, which will all look strangely circularly distorted in the final image. Groups and nature generally don't have these problems.

Interesting things can be done with the barrel movement. Apart from the optical tricks that can be obtained by holding the camera other than absolutely horizontally level, one can perform tricks with the movement itself, and the nature of the projection.

Because the lens needs a certain time to spin around, things on the right of the photograph happen just a fraction of a second later than things on the left (in high gear: several seconds later). The Horizon-202 is not so much a moment catcher like a usual camera, but more a sequence-catcher: the frame is exposed longer than its shutter speed! In practice, this means that moving objects, such as trains, can be depicted either elongated or compressed, depending on which way they're moving in relation to the movement of the barrel (that swings from left to right, by the way). And with the slow speeds and the camera held vertically, somebody can stand in the picture, then walk out of the frame, and then walk into it again. On the photo the person will show up as a distorted figure, with lines drawn to the edge of the frame, and only certain parts of the body visible.

Group photography

An interesting field of use for the Horizon-202 is that of group photography. The panoramic format is much more suited for showing large groups than the normal 3:2 format. In standard format, you'd have to use a wideangle lens to get entire groups on the picture, which a portrait photographer doesn't do for fear of distortion. With the Horizon-202 however, group portraits are made easy. The Horizon-202 is a wideangle camera, but it doesn't have any noticeable perspective distortion both horizontally or vertically, other than the 'barrel' distortion caused by the rotating movement of the lens.

If you were to photograph a group standing in a straight line, the group would look 'bulged'. But if you place the group on a 100° arc (drawn out on the floor with chalk) and the Horizon in its axis, the group is equidistant to the lens, and will appear straight and undistorted on the photo! Class portraits, for example, can be efficiently made with this technique.

Also, (semi)circular buildings like the Hermitage in St. Petersburg or the Colosseum or the Pentagon or the arches of the Saint Peter in Rome, will appear approximately straight and undistorted when photographed from their axis.

The Horizon sweep

Above: the slit sweeps across a 120° arch.

Processing the pictures

A rather important weak point of the Horizon-202, is the fact that its images are quite difficult to process. Having the pictures developed is already difficult, but having them printed can be pure frustration. With b/w film devloping and printing is not so much of a problem if you have a darkroom and know how to do everything yourself, but when shooting colour film, one of the things you have to watch out for, is that the processing lab doesn't cut the film up wrongly. Usually they'll have an electronic cutter that looks for the black spacing between two frames, and then places a cut precisely on that line. But those machines are set for images 36mm long, and might be distracted by the long panoramic formats, resulting in randomly chopped off frames. It's therefore better to request the processing lab to not cut up the film at all. Good photo stores usually offer this option. Apart from your frames not being sliced, you can cut an uncut film to suit any negative archives' dimensions yourself.

Once you have a set of correctly cut negatives, you'll have to print or display them. It's probably possible to project Horizon-202 panoramas with an (expensive) 6×6 projector, but I suspect that you get the same kind of glitch that occurs when you project a widescreen tv broadcast with an LCD projector: the "black" beams above and below the image are not totally black, and the image itself looks more like the world seen through a letterbox, than like the panoramic image it is.

A better way to view panoramic images is probably through actual prints. B/w prints are by far the easiest to make, because all you need is a conventional darkroom and a 6×6 enlarger. With the fall of the traditional darkroom you can pick up professional 6×6 enlargers for ridiculously low prices. Because a Horizon-202's negative has the same length as a 6×6 print, it's dead easy to make prints – bordered ones even, if necessary. The graininess is outstanding, because it's the same as that of a cropped 6×6 image. I've never had any problems with grain or sharpness in prints, unless I use an extremely highly sensitive film like TMax 3200.

Graphic comparison between 35mm and Horizon-202 format

Above: standard 35mm film (24×36mm) and panoramic format (24×56mm).

Colour is another story. If you have your own colour darkroom you'll have no problem with printing your own images, but presuming you haven't, then you'll have to find some other way of having them printed. One such way is having hand prints made. I don't know the exact prices since I've never given it a try, but for what accounts to a medium-format hand print with special corrections because of the odd format, I would expect a fortune to be asked.

What I've found an extremely efficient and pleasant way to deal with the problem of actually displaying my panoramic photos, is scanning them in with a film scanner. I bought a Minolta Dimage Scan Dual II scanner in February 2001 and since then have been experimenting with scanning panoramic pictures. Unfortunately the Scan Dual II can only scan in one standard 35mm frame at a time, but when you use the AE-LOCK function (Auto Exposure Lock) and scan the frame in two passes, you get two pictures of indistinguishable teint and density, with a huge overlap in the middle. Then simply paste the two images into one long Photoshop canvas as different layers, and stitch the images together with use of the layer transparency function that allows for precise positioning. Then flatten the image, crop the borders and resize to normal size. The result is a seamless digital panoramic image. The sample pictures on this site were produced that way.

An important thing to keep in mind when using the Horizon, is that for a 'conventional' result, it's essential to keep the camera level. Not doing so means getting a bent or jagged horizon, which is fine for creative purposes but hardly for advertising and architecture and such. There are two ways in which to keep the Horizon-202 steady: by holding it by its hand grip, or by mounting it on a tripod.

The hand grip is made of plastic and clicks into a simple bayonet mount on the bottom of the camera. It's held in place by a spring-pressurized pin that locks into a small hole on the bottom plate. The grip can be attached in two ways: by a left twist or by a right twist. There is only one correct one though; if you twist it on wrongly, the pin will swaver between a screw head and the hole, and the grip won't be secured. Then remove the grip and twist it on in the opposite direction. To remove the hand grip again: push the pin downwards with the small slider on the hand grip and twist off the grip.

The grip is hollow and contains room for the filters and what have you, and is reasonably ergonomically shaped. It's fairly easy to hold, and when it's attached in the right way, it's quite a steady mount for the camera. The grip's main virtue is keeping your fingers out of the image field, while still allowing for sufficient grip on the body. It's good enough for the fast shutter speeds, but I wouldn't try it for the slower ones. I've used the grip in combination with the Horizon-202 a number of times, and can't say that I ever got any shaken or unsteady shots. The grip is useful for reporting and other times when you have to move and react fast, like weddings. Although you can leave the grip on your camera all the time as it won't be in the way of most tripods, the Horizon won't fit into its bag with the grip attached. Ofcourse the Russians thought of everything: it has its own place in the camera bag.

For professional work and for work under low light levels, you need a tripod. The Horizon has a tripod mount that takes English thread, but lo and behold: in practice it's almost useless. The Horizon's bottom plate is slightly slanted like a V-shape with the point just where the tripod mount is, so the tripod screw is the camera's only contact with the tripod base. Remedy: cut a cardboard strip to fit, puncture a hole in it, and use that as a 'cushion' for the camera.

With a tripod, watch out not to photograph its legs! Not something to worry about when taking horizontal shots, but more so for vertical ones.

There is another technique for obtaining level and steady horizontal images, that I found out when on holiday in Austria. With the camera on its strap around your neck, bend over until the camera dangles in front of you, and you look straight onto the bubble level. Use the bubble to determine when the camera's level, and use your eyes beforehand to compose with. Then, while gently pressing the camera downwards with both hands so as to not let it dangle freely, press on the shutter release button. You'll obtain a fairly steady and level picture all the time, and the people you're photographing will hardly feel threatened because you're not looking at them with a huge glass eye. Works well in combination with the 'human eye' composition technique mentioned above.

Problems: banding

One of the most common problems Horizon users encounter, is that of banding. Banding means irregular stripes along the frame, either in horizontal or vertical direction.

Banding in vertical direction (think of a barcode) can occur due to a number of reasons. The mechanics can, for instance, be dirty, slowing down the turret in a certain part of its trajectory, thus causing an uneven exposure. Usually those banded areas will show up overexposed, because it's rare to see a turret gaining speed because of an irregularity. A characteristic of this kind of malfunction, is a band that keeps occuring at the same spot every time. If you think this is what's the matter with your Horizon, it's probably time for a CLA job (cleaning, lubricating and adjustment).

In rare cases, banding also occurs because of malformed cogs or tolerance in the mechanism; in that case it's probably best to return the camera to wherever you bought it and demand your money back. Or, you can try to have it repaired. The lesson: try to test any Horizon up front, because though all are created equal, some are created more equal than others.

Vertical bands can also occur by back light. This happened to me when I was taking a lot of pictures in full sun. What happens, is that the lens is in the shade all the time, and then suddenly catches full sun when the turret 'turns into range'. Normally the whole picture would be flared and overexposed, but with a panoramic camera, that has a rotating slit shutter, only the part currently being exposed is flared. So all of the picture will look normal, since the lens was in the shadow when that part of the frame was scanned, but when the lens suddenly hit the light, one sharply aligned part of the picture will be all flared. That looks quite ugly and artificial, and the best way to deal with it is to prevent it up front. Avoid shooting backlights under full sun whenever you can.

Vertical banding sometimes also occurs due to reflections of the sun in the camera's interior. Especially the edges of the shutter and the edges of the drum are infamous for causing this. They can reflect sunlight all over the place; sometimes even over multiple frames. What to look for, is an often slanted, vaguely aligned bright spot. Unfortutanely there's not a lot that can be done against this, except from perhaps matting parts of the inside.

Horizontal banding can sometimes occur when something on the drum blocks the light's path. For instance a speck of mud on the front lens, or a hair in the shutter system. They will create dim dark lines in the image. Most of the time a simple cleaning is enough to solve the problem.

Practical use

What is the Horizon-202's practical use? Does it have a practical use? What's a Horizon like for everyday photography?

I would deploy a Horizon-202, like things like fisheyes and ultrawideangles, only sparsely. Panoramic pictures do have a stunning effect on the beholder, but like the other things mentioned above, too much becomes boring. Too many panoramic pictures, especially if they're all 'contrived' and contain rounded horizons and such, are too heavy on the beholder. My rule of thumb would be to only use the Horizon when appropriate, and when its broad sweep really adds to the effect. So fine for a landscape, but perhaps not as much for a family portrait.

I would say that a Horizon-202's practical use is quite broad. You shouldn't overdo the effect, but when you take care to not dwell on cheap perspective tricks all the time and only make shots that couldn't just as well have been made with any other camera, the Horizon-202 is a very fine asset to the photography bag of tricks. It's a whole different discipline than 'standard' photography, because there is the huge image field to keep in mind, there are the lighting conditions to take care of, and there is the 'eye' that's necessary to recognize potential subjects. I can imagine that panoramic photography is not for the masses, but if you're into wideangle photography, then you might find it an interesting increase in possibilities. I always thought even a 24mm's frame was slightly tight, so I bought a 15mm Bessa. That was really too much for me, so then I started experimenting with a Horizon-202. This I like: a huge field of view, but if you can control a 28mm lens, still quite easy to master.

What the future holds: prototypes and medium format

Prototypes and medium format indeed. But because they're prototypes, not much is known about either the Horizon-205PC/PAN-120 (the often renamed medium format Horizon) or the Panofot, a new concept in 35mm panoramic photography.

The Horizon-205PC

In 2001, KMZ unveiled a medium format panoramic camera based on the swing-lens principle, the Horizon-205PC, or PAN-120 as some units are labeled. The camera has been available from the beginning of 2001 onwards and at some time sold in the KMZ shop on factory grounds for 50550 rubles, some $1725, and by the Italian reseller Silvestri. I happen to own a KMZ leaflet for the Horizon-205PC, which included the following list:


Horizon-205pc panoramic camera is designed for shooting on the unperforated film with a full width of 61.5 mm (type 120) by professional photographers.

Structural features

  • The camera is fitted with a "shift"-mechanism which provides smooth vertical movement of the lens in the range of ±10mm, so that you can scan additional area of the future picture without changing the camera position
  • The lens rotating while shooting provides the required image quality all over the picture area at the expense of eliminating the inevitable optical distortion which occurs during similar shooting with wide angle fixed lenses
  • The proper position of the camera is provided by two levels, one of which, for controlling the horizontal position, is seen in the viewfinder
  • The wide angle optical viewfinder gives the possibility to view the borders of the image taking into account the lens movement
  • The camera provides multiple exposure
  • Long shutter speeds allow to take night-time pictures

(Some photos courtesy of Zenit R&D: the Horizon-205PC, the PAN-120, the PAN-120 as seen from above, and the PAN-120 with its little brother, a Horizon-202 cloaked as the PAN-35.)

The Panofot

The Panofot is a very interesting camera, that has so far only become public through the Zenit R&D website. Apparently a prototype, it indicates KMZ isn't sitting still in the panoramic field. (Photo) The specifications are larger than life: 165 degree image angle, electronic winding and rewinding, electronic shutter control, TTL integral metering (spot and zone planned!) and even a radio control system! Designed by A. J. Padalko in 1994, it never passed the preproduction stage.

The camera looks very unconventional. The top is like a Horizon-202 without the 'shoulders', but the body is very high, over 20 centimeters. The image, as seen by the lens, was to be mirrored downwards and onto the film under a 90 degree angle, which explains the height. Despite its very impressive list of features and probably instant cult following, this eighth world wonder will probably never be serial produced, if only for the high costs. Nonetheless it makes an excellent entry in the book of strange cameras.

Once the Russians stop making Horizons, their prices are likely to rise. They never were mass products anyway, but when supplies suddenly become limited, prices may soar. Also, Russia is doing better and better economically, so as the Rouble becomes stronger, prices will probably rise too. Now would be the time to get hold of a '202 – if they're still made at present, that is. They are due to become instant collectibles, and knowing panoramic photography, they will never go out of fashion, not in one hundred and fifty years.

From the leaflet


A panoramic camera with a rotating fixed-mounted lens is designed for various panoramic shooting: reporting, landscapes, indoors scenes, sports events, fashion, tourism, architecture and so on, both by amateur and professional photographers


  • The winding lever increases the speed of camera operation
  • 1/2 s shutter speed allows to take night-time pictures
  • The frame counter automatically resets when a roll of film is changed
  • The optical level seen in the viewfinder gives the possibility to control the proper horizontal position of the camera while shooting
  • The rewind crank of a measuring reel type is mated to the back cover lock
  • The sunken rewind knob

From a KMZ factsheet

The panoramic camera with a rotating in the limits of the angle of panning fixed-mounted lens is designed for various panoramic shooting (on the standard 35mm film): reports, landscapes, indoors scenes, sports events, architecture.

  • Rotating lens, when shooting, ensures the necessary image quality all over the frame area due to eliminating the inevitable optical distortion which occurs when taking pictures with wide-angle lenses.
  • Metallic focal shutter with shutter speeds 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/250s enables to shoot in various conditions (indoors or outdoors at poor lighting); low temperatures (up to −15°C) practically do not impair the shutter operation.
  • Optical viewfinder enables to determine the exact limits of the object to be photographed. Correct camera position (strictly horizontal) is controlled by the level seen in the viewfinder field of view.
  • Winding lever, film rewind crank and shutter disengaging button of stay-put type cut down the time necessary for preparation of the camera for shooting and increase the speed of camera operation.
From the book

Excerpt from the 1971 book/brochure "Discover Rewarding Photography" by Ronald Spillman A.I.I.P (note: on the 1966 Horizont):


A special panoramic camera fitted with a rotating built-in lens that 'sweeps' the curved film plane, providing a distortion-free picture 24mm×58mm. It will take 10 pictures on 20-exposure film, 20 on 36-exposure film. Angular view of the special f/2.8 28mm lens is a full 120° in the horizontal plane, 45° in the vertical plane. Exact framing is not possible with such a wide-angle camera, due to variables in eye position and acceptance angles, but excellent guided viewing is through a special optical viewfinder incorporating an all-important spirit level.

Nominal shutter speeeds are 1/30th, 1/60th and 1/125th second, though setting these merely adjusts the shutter blind slit. Speed of traverse of the lens remains the same. The Horizont has obvious applications in architectural and planning work, but the amateur and professional seeking new effects will find the Horizont able to provide everything from unusual panoramas to intentional distortions of remarkable impact.

Pinched blinds Open frame

The difference between a fast and a slow shutter speed (1/8s and 1/2s respectively). The fast speed is created by a slit that covers part of the frame, for a faster effective shutter speed at an unchanged rate of spin. Note that you don't use the center of the lens at faster shutter speeds. Not that it matters.

Film diagram

This diagram on the inside of the Horizon-202's back shows the correct way to load the film. The basic rule is that the film passes behind everything it can pass behind.

A Horizon from 1990 As it was supplied

Here's an oddity: a Russian friend of a Belgian correspondent reported owning this Horizon-202 with serial number 9000036, placing its manufacture in the year 1990, or one year earlier than the official statistics start. Could it be a misengraving? The kit looks exactly like the mid-1990's export kits I've seen, it's named "Horizon-202" instead of some weird early variation, and there's no USSR Quality Seal on the thumb wind. On the other hand, the lens is an OF-28P 28/2.8 instead of the MC and the low serial number is consistent with a preproduction status. I don't know, you decide...

Strange but probably unrelated: this camera's fourth shutter speed (the empty circle on the drum) is located on the opposite side of the one on the "benchmark" camera on this page! That means we've documented another variation!

Graph of production data
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