What's this I hear about LFs not handling lenses under 90mm?

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I intend to buy a fairly inexpensive LF field camera in the next couple of months. After reading these very helpful postings, I've taken a liking to both the Tachihara and Wista cameras. However, I do landscape photograph in which I prefer to use lenses under 90mm. I've read that these cameras cannot effectively "handle" wide angle lenses. Is this true? Are there any other big restrictions I should be aware of?

-- Kevin (kevindonahue@hotmail.com), January 24, 2002


Kevin, there is always a trade off by buying inexpensive field cameras, namely stability and the ability to handle short lenses. In order to use lenses shorter than 90mm you need to be able to focus at infinity and in order to do this, you need to be able to bring the rear group of lens elements close to the ground glass screen. This necessitates the front and rear standards coming close together and this in turn bumps up the cost of the camera. When the standards are close enough you also need some degree of bellows movement. Regular bellows are not flexible enough or are too bulky to allow such movement. These are the reasons that cameras that at first seem "bargains" turn out to be anything but!! This usually involves the move to a more expensive camera that offers the required movements and bellows flexibility/interchangeability! What do you intend shooting? What are the focal lengths you envisage using and how serious are you about the move to LF or how experienced are you already? There are cameras that will handle short lenses and although the initial cost may seem prohibitive, in the long run they turn out to be true investments, well worth the extra outlay.

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), January 24, 2002.

... or you can buy a recessed lensboard.

-- Dave Richhart (pritprat@erinet.com), January 24, 2002.

The Wista DX handles 65mm lenses with its regular bellows. It's probably the shortest focal you can use on it though unless you have a recessed lens board.

-- Georges Pelpel (gpelpel@attbi.com), January 24, 2002.


Have you considered the Shen Hao HZX-45AII? It's in the same price range as the Tachihara (considerably less than the Wista) and offers several features to make it more wide angle friendly. One of these is an affordably priced ($95) bag bellows. I just received a bag bellows for the Shen Hao today, so I haven't done any extensive testing yet. Shen Hao also makes a nice, affordable ($55) recessed board that might be all you need (depends on how wide you want to go and how much movement you need). BTW, this recessed board should also fit a Tachihara or Wista...

The widest lens I have currently is a 75mm f6.8 Grandagon-N. Here's what I've found. With the standard Shen Hao bellows and the 75mm focused at infinity, front rise is limited to about 8mm due to bellows compression. With the Shen Hao recessed board and standard bellows, you can get about 15mm of front rise before the bellows bind. With the bag bellows you can get a full 28mm of front rise with either the flat or recessed board (this is the limit of the camera's direct front rise and exceeds the coverage of my 75m lens).

With lenses shorter than 75mm and the flat board, front rise may be limited due to the top of the front standard hitting the inside of the camera body. For these lenses, the recessed board would help (up to a point).

The quality of the Shen Hao bag bellows is quite decent - especially given the price. The material is pretty thick which makes them a little stiff. This does not limit the movements so much as make installing the bag bellows a little slow).

I also shoot landscapes, but am not a real big ultrawide user. For my own use, the Shen Hao with the standard bellows with the recessed board would meet my needs with the 75mm. If you shoot a lot with wide angles - especially those shorter than 75mm, the combination of the bag bellows and recessed board may be needed (just let me emphasize that I have NOT tried anything shorter than my 75mm on the Shen Hao - I recommend talking to Jeff at Badger Graphics if you plan to use something shorter on this camera - just to make sure it will meet your needs). Also, it looks like the bag bellows will handle lenses up to about 180mm with full movements. So, if you ONLY shoot wide to normal lenses, you may be able to use the bag bellows for all your needs. Unfortunately, the camera can not be folded with the bag bellows installed, so you'd have to remove/re-install the bag bellows whenever you needed to fold the camera for transport.

There are other alternatives (Arca Swiss F Line, Linhof Technikardan, Ebony, etc.), but they all cost considerably more than the Shen Hao (you mentioned you were looking for an inexpensive field camera). I personally like the Toho FC-45X, but it's more than 2x the cost of the Shen Hao (but it's also about 1/2 the weight). The nifty Toho Eccentric Lens panel lets it handle lenses as short as 47mm XL (and I find a standard flat Toho board sufficient for use with my 75mm), but again this accessory costs more than twice as much ($225) as the Shen Hao bag bellows. If you are really on a tight budget, you might want to consider the Shen Hao. No camera is perfect, but at $625, the Shen Hao is a heck of a lot of camera for the money - and the accessories are affordably priced as well.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), January 24, 2002.

I have a Tachihara that I've had for about 20 years. I use a 65mm f/8 Super Angulon on it all the time with no real problems. The bellows is compressed quite a bit, restricting rise and fall movements, but the lens doesn't have a large enough image circle for this to be a problem. I also have to drop the bed out of the way, but that is no major problem, just a minor inconvenience.

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), January 24, 2002.

If your primary interest is in extreme wide angle work you might want to look at some of the speciality cameras such as the Silvestri and Cambo that allow the use of extreme wide angle lenses with roll film convenience up to 6x12.

-- Phil Glass (Phi_Glass@yahoo.com), January 24, 2002.


The above are all good sugestions. Some observations I've made are, that there are Field Cameras where Changing over to a Bag is not only NOT a Field Friendly item but it may require tools. And as has been pointed out Most will NOT fold with Bag unless you have an assistant or two. About the "Recessed" boards these are a Great help but be aware that some shutters are not Recessed Board Friendly. I have one combination that I am forever fighting with to Open, Close, Adjust, Cock and Release.. So ASK, ASK, ASK!!

-- R.L.(Mac) McDonald (rmacsteam@aol.com), January 25, 2002.

Wista has a "wide angle" lens board for their metal technical cameras, that allows full access to the shutter and is much more convenient than a recessed board. It must be used with their bag bellows, but no tools are required for installation, and the combination allows all the movements available from a 65mm lens.

-- Chris Ellinger (chris@ellingerphoto.com), January 25, 2002.

I use a 75mm Grandagon-N f/6.8 on a standard (non-recessed) lens board with my Wista DX and get similar movements as Kerry mentioned regarding the Shen-Hao. I have not had any problems using front tilt either, though the amount of front tilt I use for landscape is usually pretty small.

-- Scott Bacon (sbacon@naturalorderphoto.com), January 25, 2002.

I'd like to expound a little on my earlier comments about the Shen Hao bag bellows and recessed board.

WRT to installing the bag bellows - no tools are required. The attachment mechanisms are quite simple. A slide lock to attach them to the front standard and two thumb screws to attach the rear. With the standard bellows, removing and installing them is simple and takes well under a minute. It's quite easy. The bag bellows are a little slower, but of course use the same mechanisms as the standard bellows. The difference is that the bag bellows are much bigger around and made from a thick vinyl material. This makes them a little slow to cram inside the body and get the rear attached. Again, this is not hard to do, just a little slower than the standard bellows due to the geometry and thickness of the material (hint: removing camera back and pulling the bag bellows into the camera body is one possible way to speed this up). Removing the bag bellows is just as fast as removing the standard bellows - just slide the front standard attachment up and loosen the two rear thumb screws. Again, I have not tried this camera/bag bellows with anything shorter than a 75mm f6.8 Grandagon-N, but with this lens mounted on a flat board the bag bellows permits movements up to the limits of the camera (exceeding the coverage of my lens). Perhaps someone who has used the Shen Hao with lenses shorter than 75mm could comment?

WRT the recessed board. Like most recessed boards, getting at the shutter controls is more difficult than with a standard flat board. Unless you have smaller fingers than I do, you will need some type of small probe (ballpoint pen works) to set the aperture and open/close the shutter preview lever. Cocking the shutter is no problem (fingers do the job). This is all based on my experience with my 75mm f6.8 Grandagon-N. For lenses with REALLY large front elements (72mm Super Angulon XL, for example), it MAY be difficult to access the shutter controls when mounted on this recessed board (I don't know for sure, so best to ask or try before you buy). The board comes with a cable release attachment, elminating the difficult task of trying to attach a cable release to a lens mounted in a recessed board. The cable release attachment on the Shen Hao recessed board is mounted near the top left corner - outside of the recessed area. It come with a short bent rod that connects from this release to the one mounted on the shutter. This rod is purposely made extra long so it can be trimmed to the exact length needed when mounting your lens in the recessed board. Once this is done, attaching a standard cable release is a piece of cake - no additional adapters or special cable release required. The total amount of "recess" provided by this board is 1/2". It is the same size as the Linhof/Wista boards, so it should fit on most cameras that take those boards. Like the Linhof/Wista boards, the hole in this board (and the flat Shen Hao boards) is "south of center". This is actually the correct hole position for centering the lens on the ground glass of these cameras. It also makes getting at the controls easier and cocking the shutter possible (things that would be more difficult, if not downright impossible if the hole was centered within the recessed area).

Finally, since the rear standard slides far forward on the bed, you do not need to simulate a drop bed for wide angle use.

I hope these comments better explain how these Shen Hao accessories are used. All field cameras are a series of compromises. Like all the others, the Shen Hao is not the perfect camera for all users are all uses. For an inexpensive field camera, it does offer an amazing set of features and movements. There are also some very useful, affordably priced accessories (the bag bellows, recessed board, 6x12 roll film back, compendium shade) that make the camera even more useful to those on a limited budget. In fact, other than the inability to use long non-telephoto lenses, the Shen Hao is a very capable field camera. The fact that it's priced so affordably makes it even more attractive.



-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), January 25, 2002.

Thanks for a very complete and informative answer, Kerry (as usual). I hope to read a complete review of the Shen Hao on your web site in the future.

-Tony (NYC)

-- Tony Karnezis (karnezis@aecom.yu.edu), January 25, 2002.

Contrary to the statements made in the first message posted here, there is no correlation between the expense of a camera and its ability to use wide angle lenses, with or without a bag bellows. E.g. the Tachihara costs about $600 and can handle a 65 mm without a bag bellows, a Linhof Master Technika costs around $4,000 and can't be used with a 65 mm lens except by adding a wide angle focusing device. I understand that some or all of the Wisner cameas (cost $1,800 and up) require a bag bellows for a 90 mm or shorter lens. If anything, since the less expensive cameras typically have shorter bellows, they would generally be easier to use with a wide angle lens than the more expensive cameras that have extra long bellows.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), January 26, 2002.

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