After using my Toyo for a couple years, I decided to buy the Toho to replace it. The main reason I wanted the Toho was to improve the usability with my 75mm and 90mm lenses. I have spent several days now using the new camera, and before I put the Toyo up for sale I thought Iíd make some notes comparing the two cameras, in case anybody is interested in either of these cameras in the future.
I also would be very interested if owners of the Toho FC-45X have any suggestions for me or would correct any misconceptions I have about the camera. Iíve only had it a short time so I may be off base in places.
I honestly would say that both cameras are fine picture-making machines. The Toyo 45CF has been widely disparaged in these forums, while the Toho FC-45X has gotten a lot of praise, but I think they are both good performers with their own advantages and disadvantages. I would recommend both cameras to people at this point; perhaps the only thing I might caution people about is the common claim in these forums that the Tachihara and Shen Hao field cameras are a better deal at the Toyo price point (I havenít used those cameras, so I have no opinion on this myself).
The following lists are the biggest pluses and minuses from my point of view. There are many issues about these cameras that I donít mention that may be very relevant to other people, so be sure to search the forums for other comments on these cameras.
Toyo 45CF advantages
<li>After some practice, you can set up the camera to take a straightforward shot really quickly. Basically, just unfold, lock the front standard at approximately the right position along the metric scale and you are ready to start focusing. The Toyo lensboard design is easy to swap off and on the camera.
<li>Clamshell design of field camera makes a nice compact package for putting in your bag.
<li>Oft-ridiculed plastic on camera is not a problem. The camera feels quite solid and actually, the only parts that bother me are metal (see below). This camera actually feels just as sturdy as the Toho to me.
<li>If your lens is small enough, you may be able to fold up the camera with lens still attached. This was the case with my Caltar IIE 210mm, although it had to be mounted at a certain angle, otherwise some of the shutter controls got in the way.
Toyo 45CF disadvantages
<li>Wide angle lenses down to 75mm (with a recessed lensboard) are usable, but kind of clumsy. First, getting the front standard close enough to focus sometimes requires that you clamp it down partway off the rail, which make things pretty wobbly. You can minimize this problem by doing your fine focusing on the gearing as near to the rear standard as possible, but this is definitely a finicky process. Also, shots with the 75mm and many 90mm shots will include the front of the bed, so Toyo has included the ability to drop the bed down at an angle so that itís out of the way. This works, but then you have to readjust the tilt and height of the front standard to get it in line with the rear standard again. There are no detents to help you with this, so this is also an annoying process. Adjusting shutter controls in a recessed lensboard is tedious.
<li>Bellows are a little plasticky and tend to kink up at long extensions. Not a big deal, you just need to help them fold back up sometimes in those situations.
<li>The little metal clips that hold the back onto the camera seem kind of wimpy. If you arenít careful, they can bend when you are removing the back, which means you have to bend them back. I wouldnít be surprised if these failed after some time.
<li>The front standard must be moved onto the front rail when setting up the camera. This transition is not smooth on my camera and at first I thought it was totally broken. The key is to have the rail racked back to a certain distance and then the front standard slides on relatively easily. Too far forward or too far back and it will get stuck and wonít slide onto the rail.
<li>Somewhat less rigid that the Toho. Need to be extra careful to let the camera stop vibrating and to not jostle it with the shutter release.
Toho FC-45X advantages
<li>As I hoped, using wide-angle lenses is much easier. There is no loss of rigidity as with the Toyo and you donít have to do the hokey ďdrop bedĒ procedure. No recessed lensboard required for my 75mm.
<li>Having the full movements on the rear standard is a really nice option to have. I survived just fine without them on the Toyo, but Iím having a lot of fun with them on the Toho.
<li>More extension. Iím considering getting a 300mm lens, something that I would expect to be limited in use on the Toyo.
<li>Bellows seem a little nicer.
Toho FC-45X disadvantages
<li>To fine focus, you first loosen a knob to free the mechanism, and then you turn another knob which cranks the rear standard in and out. Unfortunately, when you loosen the first knob, the whole standard becomes a little wobbly, which obviously makes focusing difficult. At first, when I pressed my loupe to the glass, the glass would actually tilt forward from the pressure. And then, when I thought I had the right focus, I would tighten down the knob, which would cause the standard to move ever so slightly, which meant my focus was off again. Anyways, the solution seems to be to only loosen the locking knob just enough so that everything is still mostly locked down but you can still move the focusing knob. There is more friction when turning the focus knob, but at least things are mostly rigid. I am assuming that I will get better at this procedure as time goes on. Is this an issue on all monorails?
<li>No built-in spirit levels. Now I use some that are built into my tripod head.
<li>No built-in focusing scale to judge absolute and relative positions of the standards. For me, this seems like a major oversight. Thanks to help from Lenard Evans, I am putting an adhesive scale on the rail to fix this problem.
<li>The monorail design seems less convenient for putting in a backpack. I wrap the ground glass/bellows up in my dark cloth, which is a fine thing, but I worry about the monorail assembly, which just sort of floats around loose in my backpack. Iím worried that it will get bent or broken since itís sort of unprotected. I think I will fashion some sort of foam case for it.
<li>The Toho is probably twice as slow in use than the Toyo. Setting up the camera (or even changing from horizontal to vertical) requires a careful clamping down of the front and rear standards down instead of the simple unfolding on the Toyo. The reason I say you need to be careful is that it seems possible for you to drop the bellows assembly accidentally during this process. Since the rail is a telescoping design, you often have to set that first, something that isnít necessary on the Toyo (although, in return, you get longer extension on the Toho). Putting lens boards on takes much, much longer than the Toyo since you have to loosen and re-tighten four bolts and monkey with a couple metal straps instead of the simple place-lensboard-and-slide-the-lock-down procedure on the Toyo.
<li>The Toho is a little more complex. The Toyo has six knobs plus a couple levers. The Toho has twelve and they tend to be clustered together pretty closely. So thereís more of a learning curve in finding the right knobs to turn and more chances to forget to lock one down. After I get used to the Toho, I donít think this will be a problem, but right now I'm still learning.