Yes! Pages ago, I said I was going to limit my evaluation of equipment to the 4 x 5 format, but backs and shoulders get older and less tolerant of heavy bags, airline baggage rules get more Draconian and emulsions get better. Having actually thought about and experimented with 4 x 5 movements other than focus, I've become addicted, so exploring the limited world of 6 x 9 technical and monorail cameras was inevitable. Besides, the Horseman VH and VH-R models can be a 4 x 5.

My excursion began decades ago with my first serious camera, a Century Graphic (2 1/4 x 3 1/4, as all Century Graphics were). It had no rangefinder and a triplet lens in a self-cocking shutter. I seldom used groundglass then, so the charms of MF/LF photography were pretty much lost on a teenager shooting sports and dances. More recently I bought a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Crown Graphic. Its 101mm Ektar is incredibly sharp and well corrected for color, initially I found that the non-reversible/non-rotating back was pretty limiting. Like most press cameras of the 1950s, the Crown has minimal front slide, modest front rise and tilt, both of which can be consumed by the drop bed action that provides one-position rear tilt. If you've become addicted to movements, the Pacemaker Graphics have enough to whet the appetite, but not enough to satisfy the palette, but the Crown 23 has other virtues that allow it to do things impossible with the Horsemans.

Having been very satisfied with the Wista VX in almost every way but its weight, I was attracted to the Horseman VH. I toyed with the idea of a Horseman VH-R, the same camera with a top-mounted rangefinder, an attractive feature, but minimizing weight was my primary objective, and the VH is a mini-technical camera with essential features.

  • Generous front rise; front fall via a drop bed.
  • Moderate front tilt in both directions
  • Generous front slide
  • Moderate front swing
  • Single position backward tilt on the back via the drop bed.
  • Adjustable back tilt and swing using back extension posts (Technika-style back)
  • International G back with swing away focusing hood/cover
  • Rotating back to change between horizontal/vertical orientation
  • Rotating film gate/focusing frame accessory back
  • Accessory shoe centered on the top to add a viewfinder, as useful
  • Back converter to allow use of 4 x 5 film

With a new camera, there is a natural inclination to compare it to other cameras that went before it. One comparison would be with a modern SLR. The Horseman VH open is not bulkier than a professional SLR with a zoom lens, and closed, it is smaller, yet it produces an image many times larger. The Horseman VH, without lens, weighs in at 3 pounds 8 ounces. The Wista 4 x 5 VX, also without view/rangefinder and without a lens weighs 6 pounds 2 ounces. My Gowland/Calumet 4 x 5 Pocket View with a Cambo rotating back with rear tilt and swing is the about same weight as the VH.

The most obvious difference between the Horseman VH and the Wista VX is film size, but with accessory backs available for both cameras, this isn't as straightforward as you might think. Both cameras have optional accessory backs that accept sliding or rotating rollholders and groundglass panels and each can use optional viewers. Horseman uses the international G back as a basis for all of its back accessories. In general, this design strategy is uniform and convenient, if not always stable and not as universal as 'international G' would suggest. Since the Horseman designers were always building out from the plane of the international G back, additional extension was frequently a result, and additional extension can be either a welcome or an inconvenient change. Wista bases its back accessories on its rotating mechanism integral to the camera design, which means that alternate backs are placed in the same focal plane as the primary rotating back. Further, this method of attachment is more rigid than attaching back accessories with the Graflok bars. This comes at the cost of accessory mobility. For example, I can use the Horseman Type 2 Rotary Back for 4 x 5 mount on my Wista, Super Graphic and Gowland Pocket View; I can only use the Wista sliding back for the Wista.

Because I have a Horseman Universal 4 x 5 Groundglass back, the Horseman VH can be used primarily as a 6 x 9 camera, with its reduced weight and bulk, and as a 4 x 5 technical camera when needed. The Wista VX is a superb 4 x 5 technical, with great lens flexibility, but when used for 6 x 9 rollfilm, it weighs an additional three pounds. Both cameras have essentially the same standards movements and both have rotating backs. In their primary roles, both have excellent reflex viewers.

Lens support is a significant difference between the VH and the VX. To keep weight down in their technical/field cameras, Horseman used a proprietary 80mm square lens board and a correspondingly small front standard. Wista uses Wista/Technika lensboards that are about 25% larger. The Wista VX can mount all but the largest diameter lens and its short bed and swappable bellows and special recessed lens frame makes it friendly to the very short focus lenses currently available. In contrast, the Horseman VH has its fixed bellows and small front standard which makes recessed lensboard design nearly impossible. Because its focusing/storage rack is not articulated, the front standard can only begin focusing on the focusing rack, not in the case, except with the crudest finger manipulations. These factors limit the VH/VH-R/ER to about 65mm lenses--not very short for a MF camera. This moved me to dust off my Crown 23 and set up some older lenses on 23 lensboards, making a very nice, if older kit: 47mm and 65mm f /8 Super Angulons, 101mm, 127mm and 203mm Ektars. The Crown doesn't have the movements of the VH, nor its revolving back, but provides a very light, compact kit for landscapes.

Using either of the two 6 x 9s with the VX provides flexibility, though more weight than the average back can endure. For example, if I have the Wista set up with a 55mm Grandagon on its special recessed lens frame attached to a bag bellows--a five minute setup--it is very handy to have the Horseman or the Crown 23 freely available with a standard set of lenses that can be immediately used. I can always attach to 4 x 5 converter back to press the VH into service for 4 x 5 sheetfilm. Using the VH/VX pairing, both cameras can support both film sizes and a range of emulsions.

A common complaint about 6 x 9cm view cameras is that the groundglass is too small to support convenient composition and focusing. Under a dark cloth with a loupe, that is a convincing argument, but with a reflex or even a direct viewing hood, I don't see a great difference. And with the Horseman Rotary Back that quickly swaps GG viewing for a mounted rollholder, workflow really improves, though the configured camera is significantly bulkier. Unfortunately, limited lens support becomes even more frustrating when using the Horseman Rotary Back on the VH, which won't allow lenses shorter than about 90mm. It looses much of its appeal as a landscape camera when the only way to mount a 65mm lens is to swap out the bulky Rotary Back for the regular GG frame. The Crown kit gives me lenses from 47mm to 260mm, but with only an ordinary 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Graflok GG panel that must be swapped for a rollholder for each shot.

Apart from the differences between the Gowland's larger format and its monorail design, it differs from the Horseman and the Wista in the precision of movements. To achieve the 3 pound weight in a 4 x 5 monorail, the Pocket View's mechanical design is very simple. When using either of the two technical cameras, comparisons with the Pocket View are likely to leave you feeling that it is a little primitive. Still on those days when wandering around a city shooting architecture, the lightness of the Pocket View plus its generous movements leave me very satisfied.

A weakness in the Horseman design is its bellows, that are made of very light weight material that minimizes compression problems. This material has so little body that it easily deforms and considerable care must be taken to prevent crimps that become permanent in bellows folds. Once you have trained yourself in bellows care, the Horseman bellows is very compliant in using extreme front standards movements.

While the small lensboard of Horseman technicals--80cm square--creates significant problems, it is representative of an advantage to the smaller format--the weight of the lens kit may be proportionately reduced. A common caveat mentioned in shopping for MF and LF lenses is that lenses in the smaller format must have better performance to maintain the final image quality that can be achieved with 4 x 5 images. One argument made for MF lenses is that they are calculated to reach diffraction limits at larger f-stops, a reason that it may not be optimal to share a lens kit between 6 x 9 and 4 x 5. The number of premium lenses designed to be mounted on conventional flat lens boards and optimized for use on MF cameras is small. When picking lenses for the 6 x 9 format, careful investigation of performance is important .

Where lenses can be shared between cameras, lensboard design may be an issue, particularly since Horseman technicals use a proprietary design. While it isn't possible to mount Wista/Technika boards on Horseman technicals, the a Horseman-to-Technika converter can work in the other direction.

When assembling a VH lens kit, you are confronted with an embarrassment of riches at different price points. 47mm Super Angulons and 58mm Grandagons are commonly available, and are both mounted in #00 Compur shutters, about the only available candidates for custom recessed lensboards for the Horseman. 65mm Angulons are nearly weightless, but with the optical limitations of earlier design; 65mm f/8 Super Angulons will cover 6x9 without breaking your back or the bank and both are mounted in #00 shutters. Having considered a 55mm APO Grandagon in a #0 shutter, I've given up on thinking it or the 35mm or 45mm variants could be mounted in recessed boards for the Horseman. It is hard to see how modern very short focus lenses could be used on the Horseman technicals on other than flat boards and the focusing rack design of the VH makes their use nearly impossible. Because 90mm has been a prime length for 4 x 5 wide angles, there is a lot of choice in this length for a 6x? standard length lens with gobs of coverage. At the low end, 90mm Angulons, WF Optars and WF Raptars get you in at budget prices. The 80mm and 100mm Wide Field Ektars are also good choices a little higher on the curve. Graflex XL-mounted 80mm and 100mm Planars are excellent wide aperture choices where coverage is not an issue. Similarly, the excellent Rodenstock Heliars in 80mm and 100mm may be more economical choices. Remounting from XL lens tubes is quick and simple for a day's shooting. Many of the MF lens designs were chosen to optimize large aperture performance, often at the cost of coverage. The 127mm Ektar, while having no coverage for movements on a 4 x 5 frame, is a best buy for a portrait lens for the 6 x ? formats. Because 4x5 kit lenses are made in the 130-150mm range, these are lovely lightweight modern choices for the 6 x 9 format at attractive prices. At the long end, the lightweight 203mm Ektars are an obvious choice and there are other symmetrical lenses in the 200+mm class that are likely to fit on the Horseman 80mm lensboard.

Of course, at any length between 65mm and 210mm there are many choices among currently produced lenses. If minimizing weight is a key objective, Kerry Thalmann provides sound advice in his pages on lightweight lens choices . Beyond about 210mm, consider an extension tube set--one of the original Horseman sets or a new aftermarket set offered by Chinese suppliers. These will get you out to 300mm with close focusing. They are designed with base plates that slip into the front standard just like flat boards. They are also helpful in mounting lenses with larger shutters that would not clear the Horseman front standard. Typically the base plate and a 40mm extension is the first stage. I estimate that with two more 40mm extensions, you could mount a 360mm lens for most focusing. While there is a possibility of mechanical vignetting with these long extension tube structures, this hasn't generally been reported as a problem.

  How do I make my Horseman 6 x 9 into a Horseman 4 x 5? .  

Rotary Back for 6 x 9 cameras

6 x 9 Reflex Viewer

A couple of useful accessories for the VH and VH-R are the Rotary Back and the Reflex Viewer. While it is possible to shoot 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. or 6 x 9cm sheet film with these cameras using single or duplex holders or Grafmatics, most will find rollfilm more practical. Unlike modern 4 x 5 technical cameras that can often accept 6 x 9 rollholders under their bales, the Horseman VH can't. Groundglass focusing with rollfilm and the conventional viewing frame is a tedious sequence of swapping out the viewing frame and rollholder. The Horseman Rotary Back allows instantaneous swapping of these two functions, even to the extent of having an automatic film slide for the attached rollholder.

The downside to the use of the Rotary Back is that it increases extension by about 25mm on a camera that already presents challenges for short focus lens use. This setback results from the necessity of having a relatively deep flange on the Rotary Back to mount it on the camera's Graflok back. This combination limits shortfocus lenses to about 90mm, though crude focusing from the storage rail might be attempted.

  Other choices for medium format cameras with significant movements can include the 6x9 version of the Gowland Pocket View and the Galvin monorails, the 6x9 version of the earlier Technikas with and without rangefinder/viewfinder, and the current Super Technika 6x9, still available in some parts of the world. Linhof also made a Technikard 6x9 monorail and examples of the Toyo 23G may still be available. Ebony makes two different types of flatbed cameras in the 2 x 3 size.  

11/18/2010 20:41