When I set up my Shen-Hao people are often amazed that I work with an old wooden camera. Occasionally they call it my "Oldie". When I say this is one of my newer camers, most are pretty surprised. I bought it just a few years ago. Worldwide there are only few companies who build such wooden cameras, and even fewer dealers where these can be bought.
The Shen-Hao HZX57-II AT is a field camera similar to the Linhof Technika, but it is made for the image sizes 5x7 inches or 13x18 cm and accordingly larger. By folding the front standard and the back it can also be collapsed to a compact size. The lens mount is compatible with Sinar-/Horseman boards. The comfortable Technikardanshutters can not be attached, however. I modified a Sinar adapter board in a way that the upper clamp is moved a bit sideways so these lenses can be attached.
The front standard and the back are mounted on separate rails. They have metal gears, whereas all other movements are set by manual movement and clamping. The gears are not self-locking, hence they must be tightened by knobs on the opposite side. One of the rear gears is used with short extensions to move the front standard in the same way as the front gear normally does.
The back can be attached in portrait or landscape orientation. A reducing back which has also be attached in both orientations is also available, as is a 6x17 cm roll film back. Both backs are not equipped with fresnel lenses.
The standard bellows may be exchanged for a wide angle bellows. My camera is made from dark walnut; the fixtures are made from aluminium to save weight. Some criticize the weight of 4 kg (8 pounds 13 oz), but those who moved around a Sinar P2 5x7 will consider the Shen-Hao to be fairly lightweight. However, some other wooden cameras may be significantly lighter than the HZX57-II AT.
The Shen-Hao HZX57-II AT is a fully useable view camera which permits control of perspective and depth of field. Due to its compact size of the folded camera, the largely absent gears and the comparably low weight it is well suited for use outside the studio. The lens must be removed for transport, though, and the ground glass is not protected. To prevent breakage either a ground glass protector or a transport box should be considered.
The front standard features tilted, swing and shift in any direction. Side shift is no longer possible with extensions below 13 cm, and also horizontal swing below 11 cm. At these short extensions the standard bellows also prevents almost any movement. A wide angle bellows may be considered to improve this.
The back allows for tilt and swing as well as upward shift.
The maximum extension is 61 cm, allowing for macro or longer focal lenghts.
The reducing back is not suitable to hold polaroid cassettes. This is not a relevant limitation for many, but since I still have some and use them frequently I need to work with a different camera then.
The front standard has two concentric fixtures for vertical shift and tilt. This allows for controlling these movements sepratately, which is much preferable to a single fixture for both.
All adjustments are controlled on the ground glass. In the studio, I use a conventional dark cloth with a 7x loupe. In bright surroundings I use the hood from BTZSwhich can be completely closed, although in cold weather the screen may fog due to condensation of the breath.
As I use this camera mostly with longer focal lengths, I do not miss the Fresnel screen so far. However, for frequent wide angle work I would consider to add one. As Shen-Hao does not offer one an alternative has to be found.
The illustions show movements which can be achieved at maximum. Front tilt is limited only by the bellows. This is plenty enough for my work, but architectural photographers may not be entirely happy.
Tripod and Tripod Head
Usually, I use this camera with my trusty Gitzo series 2 carbon tripod, along with the geared Manfrotto 3D head 410. This combination is stable enough and allows for exact and finely controlleable adjustment. The illustration shows the camera with a 110 mm lens focused to infinity. With the regular bellows, the lens may only slightly be shifted downwards, and sideway shift is no longer possible due to the position of the mounting blocks which hold the standards. A wide angle bellows and mounting the lens on a recessed board should improve on this.
What's in my Trolley?
My equipment for portrait photography including accessories fits into a smaller Rimowa trolley. Besides the camera, it holds 13 double dark slides, four lenses and accessories like lupe, exposure meter, dark cloth (not shown) and cable release. The lenses shown here are mostly used with this camera. These are a Goerz Dagor 6.3/12 inch, a Dallmeyer 1A (4/240), a Xenar 4,5/210 and a Super Symmar HM 5.6/150.The latter has a larger image circle than the standard Symmar and is an excellent semi wide lens. The other three lenses are more or less historical lenses, which I like to use due to their fairly wide openings and distinct characteristic.
The packed trolley is heavy and cann not be rolled on uneven ground. Those who can not take pictures in the vicinity of the car may transport it on a beach trolley as I do.
My experience with the Shen-Hao
The Shen-Hao is my most used large format camera. This has little to do with its nostalgic look, although I like it. The relevant point is the 13x18 cm or 5x7 inch image size, respectively, which this camera can handle in a fairly compact package. This size is large enough for contacts from the negative or for uniques which can be directly presented. Due to the 4x5 reducing back it is also flexible for use with smaller formats - except for polaroid cassettes which unfortunately do not fit. Apart from this, the camera is suitable for all my tasks, although I rarely do architectural photography.
The camera is quite robust, although it failed once: when inserting a cassette one of the wooden side guides for the screen was detached. I was able to glue it back on withouth obvious damage, but I suppose the other side may also detach some day.
Handling the Shen-Hao does not provide the precision feel as a Linhof camera does, and does not have the finesse of a Sinar P2. However, it is perfectly suited for the task. It is appropriate for those who look for a compact and easy to use 5x7 camera for tasks other than architectural photography. Working with this camera provides some nostalgic feel. No look to the display but confidence to get it right. Not hundred of pictures but two. Concentration to the essentials, this is what counts. I would not like to miss this camera, and the results are reassuring.
The illustration shows the camera configuration for the image on the right side. The lens is a Super-Symmar HM 5,6/150, corresponding approximately to a 35 mm tilt/shift lens for 35 mm (or "full frame.." - which is rather tiny compared to this one). The lens is slightly shifted downwards for perspective correction.
Is this a camera for me?
The wooden construction and the manufacturing in China may lead to the assumption that the HZX57-II AT is relatively cheap. It is indeed somewhat cheaper than other cameras of this size, and way below the price of a new Linhof Technika - but at about 3000 € it is not a cheap product. Unfortunately, used cameras of this type are rarely offered, and even then investment will exceed 1000 €. Even new cameras are difficult to purchase. I know just two dealers in Europe and two in the USA. The camera may also be purchased directly from the manufacturer. However, besides shipping cost also VAT and tax need to be taken into account. These add considerably to the overall cost.
Shen-Hao manufactures also the FCL-57. It is a little lighter and offers slightly more limited movements and extension, but the difference is not huge. I would consider it as an alternative to the HZX57-II AT. Other manufacturers offer similar but often more expensive cameras.
An interesting alternative is available from Chamonix. It costs about the same but has a better build quality and lower weight. Generally, the cost of 5x7 cameras is closer to 8x10 than to 4x5 cameras.
A Linhof Super Technika 5x7 may also be considered. It was available in several versions but production was terminated in 1986.
Finally, some pictures I took with this camera.
I provide this information solely because I like photography and because it may be useful. I have no commercial relationships to any vendor or manufacturer mentioned in this post. The camera and all supplementary parts are my personal property.
This is a revised contribution initially published on my previous homepage.