Not an official page
Horseman FA 4 x 5 showing technical reversible back common to FA and HD
Horseman Rotary back for VH/R
6 x 9 Reflex Viewer
Earlier 6 x 9 Models
Horseman design and manufacturing in the last part of the 20th cy reflected the times when film was reaching its apex, producing folding and monorail designs that supported roll and sheet film work. By 2000, digital technology had changed the market and changed Horseman offerings which now are divided between superwide and monorail designs that can be used for film and for digital.
While the folding Horsemans had a distinct visual family appearance, they fell into several categories that we like to use when classifying cameras. There were Horseman folders that were "technical" and ones that were "field" cameras. They were medium and large format cameras. Some were intended to be handheld at eye-level and some were designed for tripod use with groundglass viewing.
They are all folding, self-enclosing cameras made of aluminum alloy and/or carbon fiber. They have rise/fall, shift, swing and tilt in at least moderate ranges on the front standard and at least tilt on the back standard; most models have swing and additional tilt on a "technical" back. These Horsemans weigh between 3.7 and 4.5 pounds and fold up into self-enclosing boxes of 7 x 7 x 4 or smaller. They have bellows draw of about 12 inches and can typically focus lenses down to about 65mm without special lens boards or bag bellows. Regardless of size, they all have 80 x 80cm lensboards with a 65mm port. Recent models have international G backs with removable ground glass frames and can change film gate orientation for portrait or landscape framing. Horseman makes/made a rich collection of accessories.
Horseman continued to follow the tradition established by Graflex and Linhof and other manufacturers of press and technical cameras of producing similar designs in different sizes based on popular film materials. In this case there were two sizes--6 x 9cm bodies designed for roll and occassional sheet film and 4 x 5 bodies designed to more or less equally support 4 x 5 sheet and 120 roll film. Over their production lifetime, the following Horseman technicals have been available:
The Horseman folding cameras are distinctive from other Japanese Technika clones and even from the Technikas themselves, principally in their lightweight designs. The HD is perhaps the lightest 4 x 5 field camera of traditional design made by a large-scale manufacturer and is probably the most stable in its class. The FA is the lightest example of traditional 4 x 5 design with a technical back, and the VH is the lightest 6 x 9 of traditional design. Fit and finish of Horseman technicals is generally high. Bellows are lightweight and flexible, but durability may give cause for pause; a noticeable number of Horsemans on eBay seem to have sagging or misshapened bellows.
6 x 9 Models. The smaller format more often had top mounted integrated rangefinders and viewfinders; the larger format never did. The smaller format was designed for handheld, eye-level use and began its life in the 1960s as press cameras were being downsized. Their primary competition were large rangefinder designs, usually those with focusing mounts, like the Graphic XL , the Koni Omega, and the Mamiya 23 Press/Universal that generally had helical lens mounts rather than bellows, but followed the pattern of the traditional press cameras in having flexible back systems. The mini-tech designs offered movements, while the large rangefinders were designed to feel more like popular 35mm rangefinders with barrel focusing. The designers of these two MF styles engaged in round after round of feature swapping, sometimes with bizzare results. A VH-R with a 100mm lens weighs within a few ounces of a Graflex XL with a 100mm Zeiss Planar and closed is more compact. Both could be used for fast moving operations and both supported a range of high quality interchangeable lenses. The Horseman had the advantage of being a decent view camera.
The earliest Horseman folder I've found reference to is the Model 104c [No other information on this model] introduced in 1959; the 960 followed in 1960. The 970, the earliest model I have found information about, was introduced in 1963 and the Model 760 [need image and detailed information on this model] , without a rangefinder/viewfinder was introduced in 1965. [Click an image to the left to go to the Specs page for that model.] These early models show clearly the indebtedness to early Linhof 6 x 9 designs. They had cam-coupled rangefinders, independent of their optical viewfinders. Cams were available for Horseman branded lenses. The Technika-style technical backs were fixed orientation, an early and significant reminder that these Technika clones were not Technikas, but the Horsemans had tripod sockets on the left side under the hand strap that allowed swapping front movements. The 980 and 985 models followed in the same general configuration [may be minor feature differences]. Aesthetics in the 985 are a significant visual cue. Early 6 x 9 models had black leather covering with natural aluminum reveals, a gray painted back and an aluminum finished front standard; the 985 had all metal finished in a tough-coated gloss enamel, a late hallmark of Horseman design. Perhaps 985s were offered in the original and the all-black paint schemes, since I have seen examples of both. An ER-1 model was produced, but information I've seen is tentative. Its styling seems contemporaneous with the 980, but the ER-1 has lost the integrated viewfinder, but retained the rangefinder. ER-1s had a center accessory shoe that allowed mounting of a separate view finder and this model may have been introduced along with Horseman's excellent Universal Finder. Both the back and front standards have been redesigned and contain electrical contacts. The front lens frame has contacts for the solenoid mounted on the front of the lensboards. The back appears to have the same general rotating mechanism of the VH/VH-R, but it has also been modified to include contacts that control features in the rollholders, possibly supporting double exposure prevention. It appears that electrical features were controlled from the right ergonomic grip which contained the power source. The Graflok bar mechanisms have been concealed. I have seen posts which place ER-1 production around 1988, well after the VH/VH-R were introduced. The ER-1 is much rarer in the used market, suggesting that fewer were produced. In at least one way, the VH/VH-R and the ER-1 are the premier models, have rotating backs to change film gate orientation.
The VH/VH-R models have a notable following among fence sitters who like the reduced size and weight of the 6 x 9 models, but often can't bring themselves to give up 4 x 5 film--there is an extension kit that lets them use 4 x 5 film. More practically, it is possible to have a VH or VHR and a 4 x 5 technical that share a lens pool and rollholders using the Horseman Rotary backs in the 6 x 9 and 4 x 5 models or similar sliding rollholder/GG backs from Wista or Toyo.
In a 2002 press release, Horseman even promoted a VH Digital that included a Hasselblad standard mount that accepted popular digital backs; this model was configured to allow the traditional 6 x 9 international G back to be swapped in. I have no information about actual production of these models.
The 6 x 9cm models are smaller and somewhat
lighter than the 4 x 5 models and the VH/VH-R models have a rotating back
rather that the reversible back on the 4 x 5 models. If you are sure that
you will only use 120 rollfilm, the 6 x 9 models may offer a more compact
outfit. The 6 x 9 format requires excellent lenses to challange the
image quality of the 4 x 5 format and groundglass focusing and
composition require greater attention. If you are doing critical work,
thoroughly investigate the MF lenses you are considering. Are lenses equivalent
of the best MF lenses available for mounting on a flat lens board? Good
forum discussion here:
4 x 5 Models. In design, Horseman held fast to weight limits; this was, after all, the characteristic which set the Horseman's apart from the competition. This perhaps explains why there was never a 4 x 5 Horseman folding model with a rotating back. The 6 x 9 VH with a rotating back is the same 3.7 pounds as the 4 x 5 HD with a reversible back. And the HD also lacks the rack-driven rise feature; rise is controlled by shifting the front standard by finger pressure. The HD also has a special body covering designed to cushion the camera shell and withstand abrasion; the case itself is made from a "rugged synthetic housing" (B&H). The HD back supports no rear movements other than indirect tilt by way of the drop front. The full-featured FA is one of the lightest 4 x 5 technical cameras at 4.4 lbs.; this makes it about 1.5 to 2 pounds lighter than most metal technical cameras and is only a little heavier than a Toho or a Gowland Pocket View. If your main interest in Horseman technical or field cameras is light weight, here are comparisions of some of the choices:
Lens Support. Those believing that there is no free lunch will be reassured to find that in minimizing weight, Horseman designers had to make some compromises and most of these come in the area of lens support. All of the Horseman technicals use 80 x 80mm lensboard which pretty much restricts these cameras to lenses that can be mounted in #00, #0 and #1 shutters. I can mount my 270mm Raptar in a #2 Rapax shutter on an lensboard extension, but not on a flat board because the shutter will not clear the front standards. Because the lensboard is so small, recessed boards are rare and when available, mounting cable releases can be very problematic. Double pin flash posts add to this problem. Some of the Horseman boards have a port for a flash synch connection, a modification that could be made by a competent technician. At least some Horseman branded lenses were manufactured with this feature.
Small lensboards mean small front standards. The port for rear lens elements is 65mm which is too small for some of the larger short focus lenses that may only be mounted by unscrewing the rear group and reattaching it to the mounted lensboard through the back of the camera. Some of the largest rear elements may not even clear the narrowest part of the bellows. Examples: The Super Angulon XL 72mm with a 75mm rear group diameter and the Super Angulon XL 90mm with a rear group diameter of 86mm are unusable because they won't clear the bellows. Current Rodenstock 75mm Grandagons can be mounted through the front; the rear group of the 90mm Grandagon must be mounted through the rear of the front standard. Some of the Schneider APO-Symmar L models have rear groups too large to be mounted. If you are considering the Horseman technicals, it is useful to outline a lens kit, either from your existing lens pool or from the available lens market to anticipate these limitations. The B&H online catalog is useful for this because it includes specifications for each lens. There is also a compatibility list at Komamura Co.
Another limitation of the Horseman design is that bellows extension on the short end precludes the use of lenses shorter than 65mm, a common problem with technical designs which focus back-to-front. There are two basic problems here--minimum focusing position and bed-in-the-frame. With very short lenses, their infinity focus positions cannot be reached with the front standard extended to the minimimal position on the focusing rack. A kludge for this problem can be to attempt to focus by manually positioning the front standard on the storage rack on the bottom of the case. Very short lenses have generous depth of field working in favor of this strategy. Some of the Horseman technicals have extra space in the top of the case that will allow rise within the case if bellows compression allows movement, but with lenses in the 35mm-55mm range, this is often a problem with any bellows camera.
The bed-in-the-frame problem is perhaps a little worse with the Horsemans, than with the Wistas and Toyos which have both developed short beds that extend shorter distances in front of the case. The Wista technicals accomplish this with a two part focusing rack that still provides double extension through its telescoping action. With the Horsemans, within some limits, this can be dealt with by mounting the camera on its side when using portrait orientation and using shift for rise/fall and swing for tilt. The bed can be dropped 15° in either focusing mode--with the standard in the case or extended onto the focusing rack. Using the latter position, rise must be used to compensate the lens position and this may complicate using rise as rise.
If you are trying to share a lens pool between Horseman technicals and other cameras, you may find convertor lens boards that will allow this. Horseman made a Horseman 80 to Linhof adapter and this has been replicated by Chinese manufacturers. This allows you to use any lenses mounted on Horseman 80 boards on any camera with a Technika/Wista mount. They also made a Horseman Field to Horseman View adapter. Used lensboard adapters are often available on auction sites; new adapters are often available from aftermarket suppliers.
The manual for the VH/VH-R specifies that the longest normal lens supported is 210mm, or 270mm for telephoto designs, measured at infinity. User reports sometimes claim success with normal lenses up to 300mm with limited focus capabilities. Extension is essentially the same for the 4 x 5 models. Extension can often be lengthened with extension tubes with a rear lens frame that fits in the Horseman 80mm lens mount. Kits and individual components are available from Chinese suppliers at attractive prices.
Rangefinder Horsemans were released with rangefinder cams cut to support Horseman branded lenses. These cams may work for other lenses of similar length.
Film Backs. Horseman has a well-deserved reputation for 120 rollholders. These are available in both the 6 x 9cm and 4 x 5 in mounts in both the 6 x 7cm and 6 x 9cm formats. Additionally, Horseman makes a 6 x 12cm back for the 4 x 5 mount.
One of the more confusingly named, but highly useful Horseman accessories is the "rotary back." While the "revolving" (rotating) back § changes the orientation of the international G back structure--film gate and focusing frame--relative to the camera body, the "rotary back" is attached with the Graflok bars to the rotating back. It in turn rotates changing the orientation of the groundglass focusing screen and a rollholder, relative to the camera. Using the rotary accessory back for swapping GG and rollholder ports does not interfere with using the rotating back to change filmgate orientation. While the design of the rotary back (or the sliding back from Toyo) that mounts on the international G camera back is functionally flexible, it comes at the cost of increasing extension--a good thing when mounting long focus lenses and a bad thing when mounting short focus lenses. Rotary backs are made for the 6 x 9cm and 4 x 5 in mounts and will work on most cameras with international G backs. While my backs have no type designation, I've seen reference to Type II backs for most international G hosting backs and Type III backs for Horseman and Sinar. Extension is about 25mm for 6 x 9 and about 40mm for 4 x 5.
Standards Movements. While Horseman technicals provide moderate movements that are adequate for most landscape work, their movement ranges may not be large enough for challanging architectural or closeup work. Looked at by model, prospective buyers should observe these caveats:
None of these Horseman models are currently available new in the U. S. market, though some occassionally turn up as new/old stock. Some models may still be in the distribution channels in European or Asian markets.
|No built-in viewfinder, but Horseman makes an accessory universal viewfinder that works at most focal lengths used on 4 x 5 cameras|
|The terms "revolving" and "rotating" are not used consistantly by Horseman. While the backs "revolve" to change orientation, the viewfinder "rotates" to effect the same optical function. In astronomic terms a body rotates on its axis, but revolves around another body. The moveable film gate is more akin to a rotation than a revolution. The action of the Horseman "rotary" back is nearer a revolutionary action, since there are two gates that revolve around a central point. Just a good example of the need for skepticism in reading photographic advertising and documentation.|