Toho field cameras

Compiled by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page

A Preview by Brian Breczinski

I was in Tokyo and I did see the new Toho camera. I'm not sure if it's actually replacing the FC-45A, as I was told by a local shop that they could get that camera for me in a week. I haven't actually seen the A model, however.

Here is a description of these cameras, with info. from the brochure. Keep in mind that I have never used them.

Both the FC-45A and the FC-45X (the new model) seem to use the same bellows/standards assembly. It's a fixed bellows, attached to the lens and film standards. To switch between horizontal and vertical format, you loosen two clamps and simply remove the bellows assembly, rotate it, and put it back. These two clamps are also used when you shift the standards.

The main difference between the cameras is in the rails. The FC-45A uses a one-piece rail, probably of aluminum. The standard rail is 300mm long, but you can order a 400mm rail too. Bellows extension is listed as 58mm to 370mm (with long rail); weight is 1.1kg (with short rail?). The FC-45X uses a telescoping rail. It goes from 236mm when closed to 400 mm when extended. Bellows extension is listed as 46mm to 364mm; weight is 1.4kg. The FC-45X rail also has a geared focus for the rear standard. Both cameras feature a folding focusing hood that protects the ground glass when closed.

Here are the manufacturer's specs for these cameras. Because of the method of horizontal/vertical format interchange, the rise/fall differs between the two orientations.

FC-45A              Front       Rear
shift,mm            +/-30       +/-35
rise/fall,mm,H     +20/-25     +35/-10
rise/fall,mm,V     +10/-35     +35/-10
tilt,deg.           +/-25       +/-25
swing,deg.           360         360

FC-45X              Front       Rear
shift,mm            +/-18       +/-20
rise/fall,mm,H     +24/-21     +24/-6
rise/fall,mm,V     +13/-32     +24/-6
tilt,deg.           +/-30       +/-30
swing,deg.          +/-25       +/-25

These cameras use round lensboards. The brochure shows a linhof-type lensboard mounted at an angle, so presumably you can use a linhof board with them. Accesories include soft and hard cases. The company also makes 5X7 and 8X10 cameras; the 4X5 bellows assembly can be used on the larger cameras' rails. Two interesting accessories from Toho are reducing holders and panorama boards. With the first, you can use a smaller format film by putting the reducing holder in like a regular holder and sliding the smaller holder into it. The panorama boards are a half-darkslide that allow you to put two images on a sheet of film. Toho also makes a convertible tripod/backpack frame that you can leave the camera mounted on while hiking (Watch out for low branches!)

A Preview by Q.-Tuan Luong

I was quite impressed. These cameras are among the lightest of all, yet they have an adequate rigidity and full monorail features including full yaw-free movements, the only (weight savings) oddity being the lack of a reversible back. They allow you to use a good range of focal lengths. For transport, the belows/standards assembly is detached from the clamps, resulting in two compact components. Further, the clamps can be detached from the rail too. A soft case is available for each of the components.

One possible concern would be wide-angle use. The rear standard assembly cannot move more than half-way the rail, so there would be some chance with very wide angle lenses that the rail would show up in the field of view. This problem can be addressed by buying a short (110m) rail. However, since there is no wide-angle belows, it is not very clear how much movement is possible. By playing with the camera I had the impression that with a 90mm lens the belows compression would limit the amount of rise below what the camera would allow otherwise. At least the two standards can be put close together enough that you could use a 47mm on a flat board and be able to focuss it at infinity.

For a change from black cameras, you can order the FC 45X is six different bold colors for the rail. By the way, at Yodobashi camera, which is Tokyo's B&H, they don't stock the camera. It has to be special ordered two weeks in advance as they claim that even the manufacturer does not stock it. [Update: As of Oct 99, this camera is imported in the US by Badger Graphics].

The machining is done with good precision, but somehow I got the impression that the fact that the camera is produced in small quantities contributes to maintain a price tag that I find a bit high (List Y180000, around Y150000 at Yodobashi). As of Apr 99, the FC-45A seems to have been discontinued.

More information

The FA camera was first reviewed in Shutterbug, January 1995 by Roger Hicks, and at that time was extremely hard to obtain. You had to order in Japan.
Toho Machine Co,
20-11 Naka-Jujo 3-Chome,
Kita-Ku, Tokyo 114,
Ph. 81-33-908-0320
Fx. 81-33-908-0522
Badger Graphics is the current US importer. See the
distributors page.

Kerry Thalmann has posted an extremely detailled user review of this camera, including pictures.

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