OK, I met with Perry (Shen Hao?s international sales rep) and played with his ca mera today. Wow, it?s so small and beautiful! I?m still excited and don?t know where to start my reporting. The model I played with was a Shen Hao HZX-2A, their most advanced and most expensive model (still under $500). Here?s little background about the camera factory. Shen Hao is basically a one-man operation , pretty much like Mr. Canham. Camera parts are made by his contractors and as sistants, Mr. Chang does his final assembly and tests. Seagull sales team helps selling his products. Mr. Chang only maintains a small inventory. In other wo rds, his production level is depending on order volumes. He also does modificat ions on his models upon customer request. Shockingly, he never heard of Wisner, Canham, Ebony, Lotus, Deardorff, and Gandolfi, but he is familiar with Linhof, Toyo, and Wista. He does not speak English.
The wood is teak (other hard wood materials available on request) and all metal parts (except focusing track gears) are made of stainless steel. The standard b ellows is synthetic, the bag bellows is probably leather. I have seen many woode n cameras, new and old, and I think I can safely say that the wood work and coat ing finish work are superb! The metal parts are finely brushed, and the finish is not up to par by my standards, as compared to Linhof. All washers for contro ls are made of Teflon. The dimension of this camera is 6.5?x6.5?x4?, and the we ight is 4.8 lbs. Perry would like to thank Mr. Andrea Milano for his comments a nd suggestions. Mr. Chang has paid special attention on camera finish this time .
Let me start from the back. The back frame is not revolving type, but does rota te. It has a Grafloc type back, the ground glass is not very bright, but exchan geable. The back can be easily removed off the frame in seconds, and one can mo unt roll film holders. Mr. Chang offers a 6x12 roll film holder (it works smoot hly, but does not look pretty though). The folding focusing hood can be attache d to the back in a snap, and can be swung out of the way when someone needs to k iss the ground glass, just like the way Ebony backs do. With the wooden back in place, Polaroid sheet film holder and Fuji Quickloader can NOT be used. One can only use a regular sheet film holder or a Polaroid pack film holder. The spring controlled tension is perfect. The back standard has the following movements: rise 46 mm, symmetrical swing 20 degree left and 20 degree right, shift 42 mm le ft and 41 mm right (with marked scale). Base tilt forward 90 degree, and backwa rd 30 degree. Center tilt 10 degree each direction. The back standard can not be moved backward ( I wish it could), but can be moved forward as clearly indica ted in John?s four scans. None of these movements are geared, but all controls and lockings are very positive, which reminds me my Gandolfi Variant L3. The ba ck swing is controlled by two levers conveniently located under the back frame, whereas the shift is controlled by only one lever at a hard to reach place. Onc e all knobs and levers are tightened, the whole back standard is VERY solid. I wish Mr. Chang had put some bubble levels on the back standard and on the back f rame.
The camera bed is made from one piece of teak. Both ? and 3/8 threads are there . The bellows is not as flexible as ones from Lotus or Canham, but still works well. One can use a 58 mm lens on a flat lens board with this bellows, but don? t expect any movements. On the long end, the bellows can be extended to about 3 75 mm with movements. In contrast, the bag bellows is very soft, excellent for wide angle lens work, and can be extended to about 210 mm.
For the front standard, the focusing mechanism is surprisingly smooth, and can b e easily compared with Lotus? silk smooth. The focusing track can only go forwa rd. But the front standard can be set backward by releasing two ?brakes? at the two corners (like Wista) and then simply pushing it backward. There is a pair of internal tracks which allows one to slide the front standard up and down wi thout causing any center tilt. The front movements include rise 37 mm, fall 32 mm, swing 17 degree each direction, no shift, base tilt forward 90 degree, backw ard 40 degree, center tilt limited by the bellows. The center tilt zero indenta tion is a bit too strong. The front standard accepts Linhof Technika 4x5 type l ens board (mounting hole off center), and the fit is very precise. A Toyo clon e adjustable lens hood (quite bulky and heavy) is offered, and it can be securel y attached onto the front standard.
Seagull offers two lenses for this camera: 150 mm f5.6 (6 elements in 4 groups) in Copal 0 shutter and 180 mm f5.6 (4 elements in 3 groups) in Copal 1 shutter. The 150 mm lens is plasmat type with IC = 175 mm, and the 180 mm lens is Tessar type with IC= 190 mm. Both lenses are single coated, accept 52 mm filters, cos t $420 each (not good value).
Ok, I think I have covered pretty much I can remember and in my notes. Here?s w hat I like and what needs improvement, in descending order. Likes: Great price, superb wood work, small size, excellent overall build quality, smooth movemen ts, light weight. One thing I did not mention before is that, when you open the camera, both front and back standards ?spring? into their zero indentation posi tions. Cool! Future improvements: add bubble levels to the back frame and both front and back standards, incorporate a longer bellows, add a revolving back, a dd front shift, and lower the price even more :-)
If I had to rate this camera, I would say this is a Minolta if you think Linhof is Leica. Certainly I would not have any problems recommending this camera to a nyone who wants to use a 4x5 camera. If you look at the performance/cost ratio, I don?t know whether any cameras I've known so far can beat it!