Photo Notes

June 20, 2018

Horseman 970 Medium Format Camera

Filed under: Film Technique,Large Format Photography,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 3:48 pm

I’ve wanted to discuss some vintage cameras for a while. I know that a lot of people are more interested in shooting film again, so I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about film cameras, especially fun film cameras, over the decades. Of course my idea of fun might be different from yours. Also I’m teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis in a couple of weeks, so these posts will add a little extra information to the class. I’ll be adding a few of more of these discussions about film cameras to this blog over the next months.

I’d like to start with a medium format technical camera, the Horseman Press. The one I have is the 970. The later models have more movements and some even have a single window for the viewfinder and the rangefinder. The extra are very nice improvements, but not important for me, because I’m not using the camera for commercial shooting, only fun.

The camera weighs in at less than 5 pounds, without a roll film back. It collapses to about 6X7X4 inches, so it’s easy to carry with you. You can use a Horseman roll film back, which is probably your best choice, but Graflex roll film backs and even sheet film holders will work as well. You can get the Graflex holders in 6X6cm, 6X7cm and 6X9cm. I’ve included a picture with an old Graflex back. I’m not sure about the sizes of the horseman backs. The build quality is extremely fine; everything on mine works just beautifully.

Here are a few things I really like: first it will shoot with a large variety of view camera lenses, not just the Horseman lenses. Since you can focus on the ground glass you don’t have to have the actual Topcon lenses that were made for the camera. This is also critical if you want to use the camera movements: tilt, swing and so on. Focusing on the ground glass is the only way to utilize camera movements on any camera. The camera has a hood so you can use the ground glass out doors and the hood pops out of the way for critical focus with a magnifier. Topcon made lenses that were designed for this camera. They are really very nice, and designed to work with the camera. If you do use one of those lenses you can actually hand hold the camera using the rangefinder to focus and the viewfinder to compose. I should point out that the shutter release on the Topcon lenses is designed to be easy to use when you’re hand holding the camera. No need for a special trigger grip. The camera has really good ergonomics to go with its build quality.

The camera has front rise and front swing. If you might want more movements you have a couple of choices: first you could get one of the later versions of the camera. Alternatively, you could use the back movements. The camera has a back bellows that can be opened with four knobs on the side of the camera. If you do this you have about an inch of play in any direction, which provides back tilt and back swing. It’s a little more difficult to use these movements than working with a monorail camera, but no monorail camera collapses to something you can carry with one hand. If you want to shoot a vertical orientation on a tripod there is an extra tripod socket on the side of the camera, another nice design item.

While I can mention additional nice features, like the distance scale on the top of the camera, I should mention a couple of problems. The first one is that, if you want to use any Topcon lens with the rangefinder, and who wouldn’t, you need a rangefinder cam and a set of infinity stops. The rangefinder cams are generally available on eBay, but they can be a little pricey. The infinity stops, which keep the lens in the right place for its focal length, are very rare. Both of these things make it a little difficult to use this camera with multiple lenses, which is a shame. An additional issue is that the front bed doesn’t drop so it’s unlikely that you could use this camera with any lens wider than a 65mm. A 65mm isn’t that wide on 6X9cm negative. However you could set up the camera with a 150mm or even a 210mm and shoot portraits and the 65mm might be about right for groups.

I’m putting this camera up for auction on eBay. I would have continued to search for a set of infinity stops, but another great medium format camera fell into my hands. That’s a story for next time. Here’s the eBay link
Or you could contact me at john@siskinphto.com.

I guess I should mention that the camera comes with the Topcor 105mm f3.5 Super lens, which is a nice thing. This lens covers the 6X9cm format, but won’t cover 4X5. Topcon made another version that did cover 4X5, but it’s slower.

I’ve also included a Graflex 6X9cm roll film back, a sheet film holder and 3 extra lens boards in the Auction! What a deal.

I’m setting up a separate auction for a Super Topcor 150 f5.6 lens. It’s on a Horseman lens board, but unfortunately I don’t have the rangefinder cam or the infinity stops for the lens. Check it out at this eBay link!

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