View Full Version : Final info request: Horseman FA vs Ebony 45S

Tom Davis
23-Apr-2005, 10:54
Hi all,

Well, I've been to the well three times now seeking information, but now have the money available to buy, so it's time for the "final info request" from all you experienced laborers in the vineyards of large format photography.

A reminder of my shooting priorities: I specialize in "small scale" landscape work as in Japanese gardens and then also small scale architecture as in both the interior and exterior of tea rooms in those gardens. I use digital for any honest telephoto work and for macro work, so I don't need more bellows extension than for a 210mm. I also shoot environmental portraiture, so I think a 210mm will also be sufficient (if I need a tight head shoot, I'll again use digital). I'm thinking that 80mm (Super-Symmar 80mm/f4.5) to 210mm is my main work range; if I really need a super-wide for interior work, I suspect I'd either rent (since it won't be often) or just use digital again.

OK, with those priorities, and after a very helpful email exchange with Jim at MidWest, my budget has narrowed it down to the Horseman FA or the Ebony 45S. I'll list pluses and minuses and I hope that you all can fill in more either way for either one.

FA pluses: Slightly more rigid especially for use of rollfilm backs (which is a priority), more secure "fold-up-into-compact metal box" portability, more precise feel, cheaper when bought used (and, yes, it is available in excellent shape).

FA minuses: More restrictions on wide-angle use due to narrow front-end opening, back movements less flexible and a pain to use, smaller controls less easy to use with gloves.

45S pluses: More flexible wide-angle use and more flexible rear movements that are comparitvely easy to use, faster set-up with lens already mounted (an SS-80 or any 210 will not fold into the FA), I get to fondle the wood and imagine that it has "soul" because it's so beautiful (and then of course there's the smell of the leather to reinforce the illusion).

45S minuses: Not quite as rigid for mounting rollfilm backs, not quite as rigid and precise overall due to wood construction (however reinforced by that nice titanium), if I'm an idiot and knock it over the damage will likely be worse than an all metal camera, it's noticeably more expensive when bought new (and is rarely available used), letting myself succumb to romanticist illusions is sheer self-indulgence.

Have I missed anything? Any other words of wisdom before I lay down my money? (And, yes, I do remember all the sage advice about "your first LF camera won't be your last," but I would like to start off well.)

Thanks much in advance. And I do want to say how much I appreciate the good spirit of this forum having spent a little too much time on Nikon digital forums.

Ted Harris
23-Apr-2005, 11:28

I don't think you have missed a thing in your comparison. IMO you are downplaying some of the positive and negative points of each of the cameras but that is all subjective. One thing I will add, this is a tool not a work of art so all the stuff about soul has little meaning to me and, even if it did, having used a Horseman FA for many years I'd argue that it has soul too <smile>.

Actually, your decision is absolutely simple from where I sit. Call Jim and tell him to send you the Horseman. Try it for a few weeks and see if you like it. If not send it back and get the Ebony. At half the price of the Ebony you can buy a new Super Symmar for the $$ saved.

I don't think you will mind the rear movements for the type of work yo9u are going to do; they are a pin but once you are used to them you forget about it. I also don't think you will have any probelms with lens choices. You may have trouble with the controls if you want to work them with gloves. I stopped using the FA a bit less than a year ago (after 16 years as my main 4x5 field) because of the tiny knobs .... with a compressed c5/c6 vertrabae problem and a bit of numbness in my left index finger as a result they just became too annoying to use. Before that I found them no problem and used the camera in very cold weather all the time wearing gloves with open finger tips. BTW, the compactness of the FA is a huge plus if you do a lot of air travel. It folds up nicely to fit in a very small corner of a carryon bag or even in a briefcase.

George Hart
23-Apr-2005, 11:37
Hi Tom, I haven't used the Horseman but I do have the 45S, and I can vouch for how good it is with roll-film backs. I use the Horseman 6x9 RFH and it's a joy to attach, as if the camera were made for it! I have never experienced any alteration in position of the standard once I have locked it using the knob on the left. Forgetting the "soul" stuff, I find this camera a joy to use, and it will handle your 2 lenses admirably. BTW, I have no connection with this company.

Gem Singer
23-Apr-2005, 12:39
Hi Tom,

I believe you have missed a few important facts about those two cameras. First, and foremost, the Ebony 45S is a wooden, non-folding flatbed camera that is designed to be used with short focal length wide angle lenses. It sets up faster, but does not travel easily. However, it would seem to be the better choice for the small scale landscape and architectural work that you described.

The Horseman is a metal folding flatbed field camera that travels easily, but it was not designed to be used with short focal length wide angle lenses. Not the best choice for architectural work.

The Ebony 45S requires a slightly higher initial investment, but it will retain it's value when you are ready to sell or trade and move up to a different camera.

You did the wise thing when you contacted Jim, at Midwest, and asked for his advice.

Lars Åke Vinberg
23-Apr-2005, 14:22

You mentioned interior architecture - if this is important then it might be the deciding factor. With my 45S I have used a 47XL on a recessed board with movements, an 80XL should work really well even with full rise or shift. I also use a 240 from time to time - 210 should be great on the 45S even for closer focusing. Rear tilt is a blessing, on my smaller SW23 I often miss rear tilt.

The Ebony 45S travels well, except for the slightly protruding base it is very compact. I took mine backpacking around Chile for three months.

Tom Davis
23-Apr-2005, 15:41
Thanks Ted, George, Eugene, and Lars for the input.

I talked with Jim at MidWest on the phone today and, as Lars suspected, it appears the important question now is just how much interior architecture work I intend to do. Even though it's not my main use, the more I'm thinking about it, the more I realize that I do want wide-angle flexibility for interiors.

So, Lars, you mentioned that you've used a 47XL on a recessed board with the 45S and that you've also taken it backpacking. Did you still have any movements with the 47 (which does seem VERY wide, I'm suspecting a 58 or 65 would be about right)? And when you were backpacking with it, did you need to be extra careful (here is where the FA's metal "clamshell" would appear superior)?

And Eugene, I do realize the basic differences between the Ebony and FA, the real question becomes: can an FA use a 65 with any flexibility or is the widest it goes 75/80 with decent movements?

Jim thinks the Ebony is going to be the more flexible design, especially for interior architecture. But he also kindly sent me photos of the FA and 45S right next to each other, and the FA is surprisingly more compact, which is very tempting.

I know, I know: there's no perfect first LF camera. Right now it looks like it will come down to the FA's very compact precision and completely adequate design for 90--210 work which will be the vast majority of my intended work versus the 45S's superior flexibility for wide-angle work in interiors.

Thanks yet again for the feedback, you guys are a great help.

Gem Singer
23-Apr-2005, 16:32

I never intimated that you didn't realize the basic differences between those two cameras. I was merely attempting to answer the question you asked in the second from the last paragraph of your post. Re-reading your last paragraph gave me some insight as to why you took offense when I attempted to point out a few of the differences between those two cameras, based upon my own experience with similar cameras. This forum is certainly different from the Nikon Digital Forum. Most of the contributors to this forum make a sincere effort to help one another to actually solve their problems.

By the way, don't expect to be able to use a wide angle lens lens shorter than a 90, with the Horseman FA , without experiencing some degree of difficulty when attempting to use the degree of movements on the front standard that you will need for your architectural work.

Ted Harris
23-Apr-2005, 17:09

Not sure I agree with Eugene regarding the 90 and shorter on a Horseman FA. Armin, any comments to add here? Of course, it all depends on the type of architectural work you will be doing. I can tell you from years of experience that you can easily use a 75mm lens and not run out of movemeents or the ability to use them in MOST situations. If anything, the biggest frustration I found was running out of rise every once in a very long while. OTOH, I always found a 65 a bit tight for comfort in terms of bellows comprression, why I moved to the 75 as my widest lens.

As for indoor work, again depends on what you are doing. I have been faced with indoor situations where even a 47 couldn;t get the job done and I switched to my Noblex.

Dennis Mairet
23-Apr-2005, 17:46
The Ebony uses the much more popular Linhof style lens boards. It may be easier for the Ebony to share lenses with your second view camera. When you look at used lenses for sale, more will come already mounted in a Linhof style board than in a Horseman one.

Gem Singer
23-Apr-2005, 17:51

This is a quote from the product description for the Horseman FA on the B&H website: "Due to it's tiny 80X80 lensboard, you cannot use lenses with a rear barrel diameter larger than 63mm".

Ted Harris
23-Apr-2005, 18:25

Certainly not trying to argue. OTOH of the lenses I was discussing the one with the largest rear element is the SA f5.6 which measures 65mm (just measured it) at the outside diameter of the rear barrel. I used that lens for years with the FA with absolutely no problems. Not arguing that it could be the limit but wass pointing out it works fine. I do see the note on the B&H listing but am pretty sure I measured accurately but did not bother to go to the precision of using a caliper and old eyes may have been off by 2mm.

Tom Davis
23-Apr-2005, 19:43
Eugene and Ted,

Horseman makes special lensboards for lenses with rear diameter's of 65mm (e.g. for the Sironar S 210mm); so Ted is strictly speaking correct. The question with wide-angle's that have a rear diameter of at least 60mm is the extent to which the bellows will interfere with movements---that's the reason that the Ebony 45S will be superior for interior shots with such lenses.

So, again, I think it comes down to just how concerned I'll be about interior work, since I know right now it's not my main concern.

Thank you both for the input, I've read lots and lots of posting from the archive from both of you and have learned a good deal. Again it's appreciated.

Lars Åke Vinberg
23-Apr-2005, 20:03

To verify, I moved the 47XL to a recessed board again and tried it on the 45S. Rise will be limited by the rear element making contact with the rear standard, but by then you are way out of image circle on 4x5. Same thing with my 65 SA (flat board), it _just_ jouces the front top side of the rear standard but at that point there is not enough covarage for 4x5.

The 47XL has 59mm flange focal distance, the rear element is 30 mm deep so the rear element is 29 mm from the focal plane. The 72XL is 82-36=46 mm from the focal plane, should clear the rear standard. The 80XL rear element is 85-15=70 mm from the focal plane, so it is ideal for movements used in architecture.

Tom Davis
23-Apr-2005, 20:13
Thank you VERY much, Lars, for taking the time to make the kind of measurements that are exactly the kind of information I needed.

Well, it's beginning to look like I'll go for the 45S, though Ted is quite right---when I look at the photos Jim forwarded of the two of them sitting right next to each other, the FA is so compact, still....

Thanks again to everyone for their input. I'll be talking to Jim on Monday.

paul owen
24-Apr-2005, 02:34
Its VERY difficult deciding on a camera based on photos alone! However, I'd put money on MOST people, seeing a metal field camera (any make ... even Linhof) next to an Ebony, opting for the Ebony on looks alone!!!! This aside, I have never had any problems using roll film backs on my non-folding 45SU - that includes the "beast" - the Art Panorama 6x17 roll film back! There is a misconception that metal MUST be stronger/more stable than wood! Not always the case! Before buying my first Ebony (and having sleepless nights thinking how I could justify the expenditure!) I was lucky in as much as I made an appointment with Robert White to "view" some view cameras - this was pre web forum days so I really was buying "blind". I made an extensive checklist from brochures (remember those glossy paper things?) I was able to find an darmed with this info attended the "viewing". The Ebony blew me away! Not simply in the looks department - who'd want to spend a night in a tent with an ugly camera :) but in the compactness, stability and feeling of quality. Granted (one ) of the metal cameras moved smoother but the Ebony got the vote without hesitation - okay a few minutes while I concocted a story to tell my wife about the price tag! I've never looked back! I'm now on my second Ebony and will never have to replace it with a better specified/user friendly camera! ANY LF camera will do the job. Stick a lens on the front and a sheet of film on the back and you'll make a picture. But, take it from me, buy ANY camera and when you're all alone in the middle of the night, in your little tent ... you'd wish you'd bought an Ebony!!!!

24-Apr-2005, 08:22

I've owned the 45/FA for around 4 years now. For most of the time I didn't have a 4 x 5 enlarger so I shot 6 x 7 and 6 x 9 roll film backs. lenses, in order of purchase... 105mm, 5.6; 90mm,6.8 ; 75mm,6.8; and after I started using 4 x 5 , a 180mm, 5.6. The 90 mm wasen't wide enough for me in the 6 x format so I added the 75mm which was.just right In the 4 x 5 format I find that the 90 mm is just right , and the 75 mm is really wide and use it only sometimes.

I live on the coast of N.C. (outer banks) and shoot land/sea scapes and old beach cottages and their tiny garages that sit at the edge of the road. If I'm having to shoot from across the street at the garage, I use the 180 mm. (wish I hade a 270 tele). If I can shoot from the same side of the road as the garage, I use the 90mm. If that side of the road dosen't have a bike trail to set up on then I use the 75mm. 75mm is really wide on 4 x 5.

Everything fits in a childs school book bag I bought at K-Mart including a few beers. Tripod is carried over my sholder. I go for miles like this.

Heres what I don't like. I think the bellows are too short! (though I don't have a long lense.) Front standard hole too small. Can't use fast lenses. Though I can't afford them, and I haven't had a problem focusing mine. Front swing is a bit figitty.

In what I use the camera for , with the lenses I have, heres what I like about the 45/FA. It is stout! Though I,ve never dropped it or hit anything with it. I thought I would like a rotating back, but I like the switchable back just fine. The built in bubble level is used every time I set up. The geared parts are very smooth. (wish all were geared) It sets up and takes down fast. If I'm in the woods, I remove the lens and carry it in a pouch tied to my belt and close the camera up but leave it on the tripod and move on to another location. I don't have to worry about tree limbs damaging the camera. If I use back tilt or swing I fint those movements to be intuitive. Front standard movements are simple and my hands went right to the controls on instinct when I'm under the dark cloth. Except for front swing as mentioned above. I mostly use rise and tilt, and those controls are easy to use. The flap on the front helps with rise using wide lenses that have lots of image circle.

Hope this helps, dee

Tom Davis
24-Apr-2005, 08:39

I really appreciate the detailed reply---you emphasize the thing I find most attractive about the FA: that it looks like it will do most of what I most want in the most compact and bullet-proof package. Your point about not having to worry about tree lims damaging the camera is one I never considered. (Would I be a little too concerned with damaging the sheer beauty of the Ebony? I'm not sure.) Rise and tilt are, indeed, the controls I expect to use most often---I'd just like to be able to use back tilt, and here Ebony is clearly superior the FA.

In the end it may well come down to how much I want to use a large format camera for interiors or my Nikon digital stuff. If I "wimp out" and use digital for interiors (like I plan to use digital for real telephoto and macro work), then I'm leaning to the FA, but if I want their to be a match in quality between my garden exteriors and tea room interiors, then I'll most likely go with Ebony.

Again, I appreciate the detailed feedback, Dee.

Steve Clark
24-Apr-2005, 20:26
Since I last e-mailed you, here`s something new with the FA. With an extremely minor modification, a 180mm Fujinon will fold inside, I just did that a few weeks ago. As far as the wood vs. metal argument goes, I`m a fence rider, and have one of each. They are used about equally, and I like them both for different reasons.