Horseman 45HD Large-Format Review

Horseman 45 HD Large-Format Review

| Horseman 45 HD in Medium And Large Format

Test by David Tarn

Because of their size and weight, large format cameras are often confined to the studio, but there are some, such as the Horseman 45 HD that are intended for use in the landscape. This camera folds away into a package small enough to be a sandwich box, and it is built like a tank, hence the initials HD for Heavy Duty. This was the first large format camera I ever owned and, to begin with, it seemed as if it were perfect for the job.

Large format cameras produce transparencies that are 5x4in so the cameras have to be large, and for manufacturers to make one as compact as possible they are going to have to make some compromises. The first compromise made by Horseman is the size of the lens boards, a mere 8cms square. With a large format camera there are no bayonet fitting lenses. Each lens has to be attached to a lens board, the lenses unscrew in the middle and then screw back together with a lens board between the two parts. The board then clips easily into the front standard of the camera. The rear standard holds the ground glass screen where, under a dark cloth, you focus the image.

Exposure controls are contained on the lens. The shutter is built in and you twist a collar with click settings to select the shutter speeds. Setting the aperture will be a revelation to those who've ever wondered why light meters show one tenth of a stop accuracy. You can set the aperture anywhere between main settings using a lever around the lens, there are no click stops, just one third of a stop indication marks. The small lens boards on the Horseman mean that operating the lenses can be fiddly, and especially if you fit a large lens. Of the four lenses I used with this camera, the 90mm wide-angle and the 240mm were fiddly to get used to.

Focusing is by bellows extension, and this is another area where the compactness of the camera causes compromise. The maximum extension of the camera bellows is 249mm. In practical terms this meant I had to use almost all the bellows extension just to focus the 240mm lens on infinity. To focus closer than infinity the bellows has to be extended further than the focal length of the lens so I had no close focus facility with this lens. You can buy and use telephoto lenses with longer effective focal lengths, and wide angle lenses such as the 90mm and 120mm focus very close.

Using the camera in the field is something that takes a while to get used to. When the camera is folded away you have to detach the lens. This means you have to choose and attach a lens before a picture can even be framed, every time you stop to take a picture. This is a nuisance at times, especially if you are working quickly to capture rapidly changing light. Large format cameras that aren't as compact or ones that don't fold away do not have this limitation. Most of the time it's not such a big deal, but occasionally it's frustrating if your first choice of lens is the wrong one. Of course if you carry a camera with a lens already in place as I now do, it can still be the wrong one, but at least you can frame something quickly and judge which would be the best lens to use.

With the Horseman 45HD the process of taking a picture runs as follows.

Attach the body to the tripod (essential with a large format camera to keep everything steady), a good sturdy quick-release shoe that you can get for professional tripods will speed this up. Rotate wheels on the baseboard to make it release and fall open. Then pull out the bellows onto the board. You can use the infinity stop for the focal length of lens you're going to attach. Now clip the chosen lens into place and it will be focused on infinity ready for landscape photography. There's a locking mechanism on the top of the clip to prevent the lens accidentally releasing and dropping onto the floor. Now wrap a dark cloth over your head and the back of the camera and look at the image formed on the ground glass screen. The dark cloth is used because the image will be over powered by the surrounding light and almost impossible to see on the bare ground glass screen. You will also need a loupe magnifier to check the focus carefully on the ground glass screen.

You focus the lens by racking it back or forward using the same wheels you used to open the camera. When everything is sharp you can lock it all in position. This is essential as you can easily knock the focus while you set the exposure or attach a filter. If you use large professional filters, such as the Lee system, the baseboard can get in the way. The filter hits the base board before it is sufficiently depressed into the holder. You can get round this by turning the tripod head so that the camera is in upright or portrait position and detach the back and rotate it back into the landscape position. The baseboard is then at the side of the lens and filters can be fitted without obstruction.

Attach a mechanical cable-release to the lens, there is no other way to release the shutter. Take an exposure reading with a separate hand held meter, probably a spot meter, and then set the exposure on the lens. You can check depth-of-field now with the loupe magnifier, though the image will be quite dim. Once happy you close the lens cock the shutter and load a sheet of film. For landscape work I use the Quick load 5x4 sheet film which comes with its own envelope so that you can load it into the film holder in daylight. Either a Fuji Quick load holder or a Polaroid 545i back clips into place in front of the spring loaded ground glass screen and then the envelope is inserted into this. Pull the envelope out of the way and you are ready to press the shutter release cable and make an exposure.

Once the shutter has been fired you have to re insert the envelope, press a release button and pull the whole thing out with the exposed film contained inside.

One great thing about all large format cameras is that you don't have to use them as large format all of the time. You can fit a roll film back and use a smaller format on the Horseman instead. It takes a 6x12cm roll film back for panoramic pictures using just the centre of the ground glass screen and also 6x9cm and 6x7cm with the right film backs.

The ground glass screen for the Horseman is marked out for the area of the roll film so framing is easy. To attach a roll film holder you have to remove the ground glass screen altogether and clip the film holder in its place.

The greatest difficulty I find using any large format camera outdoors is in strong winds. These cameras have large bodies that are not aerodynamic and a strong wind can rattle them, even on top of a sturdy tripod. I always attach a sprit level to the cameras accessory shoe, and as well as making sure everything is straight and true the sprit level also warns of possible camera shake if there is any wind. The little bubbles tremble if there is any movement.

So is it worth the extra effort? Is any large format camera worth the palaver that comes with it? There are obvious benefits of impact and quality when working with large format and a few clients still prefer 5x4in to any other format. There is also the benefit of being able to use camera movements, because the lens and the film plane are joined by flexible bellows so one can be moved in relation to the other. This means when photographing a building you can raise the lens keeping the camera straight to the subject and maintain correct perspective rather than tilting the camera back up and distorting the image. The Horseman 45HD has only limited movements in terms of tilting the lens to control focus, but the rising front proves sufficient for most needs.


Features at a glance
Horseman 45 Heavy-Duty technical field camera
Size: (h) 172mm (w) 157mm (d closed ) 94mm
Weight : 1.7kg
Focusing: Direct on ground glass by rack and pinion extension
Camera back: International standard 5x4in removable for vertical/ horizontal format. Optional 120 roll-film backs for 6x12cm, 6x9cm and 6x7cm
Movements: 28mm rise 30mm right or left shift, 15 degrees drop bed (for falling rather than rising front) 10 degrees forward and 15 degrees back tilt.
Bellows extension: 249mm
Lens board: 8cm square
Tripod socket: Standard type, though no ho shoe connection
Price: 1468.75 inclusive VAT for kit comprising body, 150mm (standard) APO Symmar lens and lens board
Distributed: Robert Whites Poole Dorset telephone 01202 723046 web site


Horseman 45HD Large-Format Review: Horseman 45 HD

Embleton Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle 3634NL1b
The extra quality you get from a transparency thirteen times the size of 35mm is not always apparent, but in this backlit early morning beach scene, you can pick out every grain of sand, you can almost get your feet wet just looking at it.
Horseman 45HD with 90mm lens and exposure of f/32 at 1/8sec.

Horseman 45HD Large-Format Review: Horseman 45 HD

Derwentwater and bare tree 3959CB11c
With practice you can still capture those moments of fleeting light before they are gone while using large format. The sun lighting this scene was sinking fast behind the distant hills out of shot.
Horseman 45HD with 90mm and polarising filter and exposure of f/22 at one second

Horseman 45HD Large-Format Review: Horseman 45 HD

Derwentwater from the flood plains 4383CB
Sometimes the composition of a picture just asks for the roll film back and the panoramic proportions of 6x12cm. This was one such occasion.
Horseman 45HD with 120mm lens, polarising filter and exposure of f/22 at half second.

Horseman 45HD Large-Format Review: Horseman 45 HD

Roman coin in water 3689ST
The Horseman can be used in the studio, as in this shot. The coin is lying on some pebbles and under a piece of crinkled glass to look like the surface of a stream. The coin has been reproduced at almost life size in the transparency, and could have been much larger in the frame.
Horseman 45HD with 150mm lens at f/22 and flash.
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