Field report: Horseman VH

Field report: Horseman VH

Do you like the idea of a large-format view camera but don’t want to jump into developing and handling large-format negatives? This was my idea when I bought a Horseman VH a year ago. This is a medium-format technical or view camera that has a good range of movements and allows you to get very close to large-format experience but stay within your 120 workflow.

This is work in progress.

I bought my Horseman VH camera in 2020. This is a medium format camera that really slows you down. It has the total large-format feel to it (I guess, since this is the closest I have come to large-format). It is so fun to see that a bit of swing in the lens standard gives you so much more depth-of-field in an architecture shot where you really need everything to be in sharp focus. Or a bit of rise can bring the subject into the field without creating a lot of distortion. Suddenly Ansel Adam’s book Camera makes much more sense. I have yet a lot to learn, especially when it comes to framing, but I am amazed by the quality of the photos I manage to take with this camera even with the very reasonable Horseman lenses (more on lenses below). The negatives you get can be up to 6×9, which is really the closest you can get to 4×5 large format (excluding some expensive panorama cameras). Additionally, you can mount a 4×5 back on the camera and take 4×5 or 6×12 photos.

I have found very little information about this camera on the Internet. So this field report will be a bit longer than the others I have written.

What is it?

Horseman VH is a very simple 120 view camera, or technical camera. There are several terms used for naming this kind of camera, such as technical, view, field, press, you name it. I think the most generic class of cameras that Horseman VH is part of is view camera (view and focusing through a ground glass), but it also has most of the characteristics of a technical camera (meaning a camera with film and lens standards movements). Britannica defines a “view, or technical” camera as follows:

For studio and commercial photography the view, or technical, camera takes single exposures on sheet films (formerly plates) usually between 4 × 5 inches and 8 × 10 inches. A front standard carries interchangeable lenses and shutters; a rear standard takes a ground-glass screen (for viewing and focusing) and sheet-film holders. The standards move independently on a rail or set of rails and are connected by bellows. Both standards can also be displaced laterally and vertically relative to each other’s centre and swung or tilted about horizontal and vertical axes. These features provide versatility in image control (sharpness distribution, subject distance, and perspective), though not speed in use. The view camera is nearly always mounted on a tripod.

Horseman the company defines the camera as a technical camera. The camera has most, if not all, of the common movements you can get in a traditional technical camera, and it is definitely a view camera with ground glass focusing. It does not demand 4×5 lenses so the lenses are a lot cheaper and smaller than large-format lenses. It does not use sheet film (but you can if you want using the 4×5 adapter).

There is also another version of this camera with an integrated rangefinder. I think the problem with the rangefinder version is that it needs to be calibrated for your lenses, and in general the rangefinder can get out of alignment and makes the camera more complicated. Mine does not have a rangefinder, but I have a viewfinder that makes focusing very easy.

Horseman also maked 4×5 cameras that are cheaper and lighter than Linhof cameras.

In use

Horseman VH should be used on a tripod, and you should calculate plenty of time to frame, focus, measure exposure, mount film back, remove and insert dark slides, and push the shutter. You need to carry a bag with the camera, the lenses, the film back(s), the viewfinder, a loupe, a dark cloth etc. If you use a medium format system like Hasselblad you probably are used to carrying a bag and maybe a tripod. This does not need to be bigger than your Hasselblad setup. The camera itself is actually surprisingly small.

Setting up the camera takes some time. So you will need a way of spotting the frame you want to shoot before taking out your tripod and mounting the camera and a lens. Like a large-format camera you need to have a viewfinder. You can either use a 250 USD Linnhof or other brand viewfinders, or use an app. I use an app that allows me to choose the size of the film and the focal length of the lens and then look at the frame approximately as it will look like through the lens. This is actually a very convenient and quite accurate way of working.

There are also other accessories made to make the process easier. I own an angled viewfinder that I attache to the back of the camera. This makes focusing much easier and eliminates the need for a dark cloth. There are rotating backs that allow you to rotate between ground glass/viewfinder and film back, and eliminate the need to remove the ground glass and mount the film back when making an exposure. But consider that each of these accessories adds weight to the backpack and occupy space.

Lenses

I have three Horseman lenses. It seems like these cameras can take other lenses than Horseman. There is this web page by Jonathan Gazeley that lists a lot of lenses that should work on these cameras. I have also read here on Camerapedia that Horseman’s Pro lenses cover only 6×9, while Super lenses can cover 4×5, which also means 6×12. So if you want to do 120 panorama with these cameras you need to have the 4×5 back and some Super lenses.

Comparison to Linhof 4×5

You could ask why not buy a 4×5 camera and add a 120 back to it? That is a valid question. I am currently doing some investigations, and plan to fully compare my Horseman to Linhof 4×5 (the gold standard of 4×5 cameras). In the meanwhile, I can tell you that this camera costs like one fifth (at least) of a Linhof. Horseman and its lenses are considerably smaller. Horseman VH is a reasonably robust camera (although some of the knobs are made of plastic). Additionally, I am afraid that if I buy a 4×5 camera I will start getting into 4×5, which is another workflow in addition to 135 and 120. Instead, what I should be really doing is getting out and taking photos! Anyhow, for now I am more than happy with the quality of the photos I get from this camera. I really don’t need a 4×5. The following table summarizes some of the main features of Horseman VH and compares them to Linhof 4×5

FeatureHorseman VHLinhof 4×5 Technika IV
TypeTechnical cameraTechnical camera
Film and frame size (with various adapters)120: from 6×7 to 6×9 (and 6×12 with a 4×5 adapter)
Sheet: 6×9 cm
Polaroid pack film
120: from 6×7 to 6×12?
Sheet: 4×5 and below?
Polaroid pack film both 100 and 4×5
Dimension and weightH: ??
W: 160mm
D: 97mm

Weight: approx. 1800 (body only)
H: 185mm
W: 218mm
D: 110mm

Weight: 2750g (body only)
Camera movementsCamera bed: down 15o
Lens standard:
– Rise: 28mm (15mm with wide angle lens).
– Swing: 15o l/r
– Tilt: 10o forward, 15o backward.
– Cross: 30mm l/r (15mm wide angle)

Camera back:
– Swing: 10o l/r
– Tilt: 11o up/down
Camera bed: down 30o
Lens standard:
– Rise:
-Swing: 15o l/r
– Tilt: 15o forward and backward.
-Cross:

Camera back:
– Swing:
– Tilt: 15o
Lens mountHorseman board, 80x80mm.Linhof board.
LensesWide: 65mm and 75mm.
Standard: 90mm and 105mm.
Long: 15mm.
Tele: 180mm.
(also up to Fujinon 400mm according to Jonathan Gazeley’s page, see below)
58-360mm on 4×5
Back rotationLandscape and portrait modes by rotating the back holder.???

Other sources of information

Here is a list of reviews and other information:

Pictures

Here are some photos taken with the camera on various emulsions:

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