View Full Version : Just got a Shen Hao 4x5

David Willis
20-Jun-2001, 01:13
I just received a Shen Hao 4x5 a few hours ago. My co-worker is from Shanghai a nd brought one back for me on her last trip. I'm not extremely experienced with LF, so take my report with a grain of salt.

I got the top of the line HZX 45-2A camera with a wide angle bellows. She broug ht all this back in one of their flight case style cases.

The case is nice, but I wouldn't consider checking it like I might a real flight case. It is fairly tight fitting with no room for anything but the camera.

The wide angle bellows is made of a simulated leather/vinyl and looks like it wi ll work well.

Switching bellows is quite easy. The front is released with a slide similar to the one that releases the lensboard. The rear is released by turning two knobs on the back to unscrew the screws holding the bellows in place.

The workmanship of the camera is quite good. The finish is kind of a light waln ut matte finish. I don't know what type of finish it is or how it is applied. I don't intend to take the camera out in St. Louis thunderstorms, but I hope it will stand up to use.

The movements are all very logical. The front standard can be slid forward and locked in place with two levers. Likewise, two levers loosen the standard for s wings. Rise/fall and tilt are similar to other cameras.

The rear standard is interesting. There is a non-geared vertical rise, a center tilt, and a base tilt. All work fine. You loosen 2 knobs for vertical rise. One of these knobs does double duty controling the center tilt.

I am having some problems with rear shift and swing. There is a post screwed in to a round nut that you loosen to swing and shift the rear. When the round nut is tightened all the way, the post is perpendicular to the plane of the film. I can't loosen it more than 80 degrees because there is a screw in the way. This isn't quite enough for easy swings and shifts. I tried turning the round nut o ver and playing with it, but it didn't work. I am probably going to have to rig something here or go to a machine shop and pay them to tap the round nut in ano ther place so it will work better. The control is a good concept, but it wasn't carried out well on my sample. I've emailed Perry Wang in China and Andrea Mil ano in Europe for help.

The back can be turned vertically or horizontally just like the Tachihara (the o ther camera I've used). I wish Shen Hao had put some sort of brass reinforcemen t on the corners of the back so it wouldn't take so much of a beating switching it from vertical to horizontal. The back can also slide out and a roll film hol der locked into place.

I'm still assembling the rest of my kit, so I haven't actually used the camera. Once I've put it though its paces, I'll post again.

I can't say whether I'm pleased with the purchase because of the problem with th e rear swing and shift. If I can't make it workable in some way, I'll be aggrav ated. I don't like the idea of forcing a camera to shift and swing. I really w ish the corners of the back were reinforced with brass. I've been very careful , but I can see that they are going to wear a lot as the back is rotated.

Although it's not perfect, it's a reasonable camera for the price you pay in Chi na. If I were given the choice of a new Shen Hao for $1000 or a new Tachihara f or $600, I buy a used Tachihara for $400-500. At least based on my first impres sion.

Dave Willis

pat krentz
20-Jun-2001, 03:01
I can/would buy a used Zone VI for a lot less than $1000 and get a lot better camera from what you are saying. Pat

John H. Henderson
20-Jun-2001, 10:54
Maybe it is not supposed to have more read shift and swing than what you can get. I don't think many field cameras have much if at all. My Toyo 45A has no shift and only swings a few degrees.

David Willis
20-Jun-2001, 14:46

If your choices are used Zone VI for $1000 or a new Shen Hao for $1000, I agree that the Zone VI is probably the better deal, although I have never used a Zone VI. If you (or a friend) are in Shanghai and can pick it up for $500 new, then it might be worth it, at least for a beginner. I'm a grad student and was looking for a way to get an inexpensive field camera. I got the camera, lensboard, wide angle bellows, and case for $550.

John, To get the rear swing, you have to loosen a nut. The nut has a rod sticking out of it to help you loosen it (in effect it's kind of like loosening a lever). On my camera, I can't move the rod far enough to make the nut loose enough to swing and shift easily. There is a round head screw in the way. The camera has a pretty good amount of swing (20 degrees each way) and shift (29mm each way). I'll probably just visit a machine shop and have the nut drilled and tapped in another location. Then the camera should work pretty well.

20-Jun-2001, 14:47

Here's a few suggestions: 1. Go to www.shen-hao.com to review your HZX45-2A camera's spec. 2. The round nut and the post (I'd call it a lever) are used to control the back swing and shift. You loose it a bit (push the lever to your left if you face the ground glass), then adjust your swing and shift, and then tighten it again. I do not think you need to turn the lever more than 80 degree to do your swing and shift. It might be tight at the beginning, give it a few miles to break-in. 3. "brass reinforcement" you mentioned is not necessary. There are four wooden reinforcement structures inside the rear assembly. 4. The walnut matte finish is the base coat. I don't see why you can not use your Shen-Hao in St. Louis thunderstorms if you happen to have a water-proof lens or two. The camera bellows is synthetic, wood is teak, and hardwares brass. I just received my Shen-Hao HZX810-2A (an 8x10) and came back from a short trip. The camera was really dirty and full of sand from beaches. So I took off the bellows, and used a water gun (the kind you use to wash tires at car wash) to claen my camera with car wash detergent and water, while my car was being washed. The camera now looks new again. For the bellows, try vacuum cleaning. Remember that all Shen-Hao wood materials were treated in all-weather conditions (including rain, snow, ice, sunlight, and Shanghai thunderstorms) for at least one year before they were selected to make your camera.

Please feel free to email me if you have further concerns. Cheers,

David Willis
20-Jun-2001, 16:35
Geoffrey, I'm familiar with how the lever/post-nut works. At maximum tightness it is at a 45 degree angle to the plane of the film with the end pointing to the left. The maximum I can move it from this position is about 30-40 degrees because a screw prevents me from loosening it further. I've tried removing and replacing the nut and flipping it over, but nothing has worked. I can get it to swing and shift with some effort, but if I could get another 30 degrees from the nut, it would be much easier.

I figure the wood had been seasoned appropriately, but I was a little concerned because although the finish was applied beautifully, I wasn't sure how moisture would affect it if there weren't some sort of sealant on top of the finish. And there may be a sealant. It just isn't readily apparent.


20-Jun-2001, 17:23

I'm a little confused by your two statements: 1. "I am having some problems with rear shift and swing. There is a post screwed into a round nut that you loosen to swing and shift the rear. When the round nut is tightened all the way, the post is perpendicular to the plane of the film. I can't loosen it more than 80 degrees because there is a screw in the way. This isn't quite enough for easy swings and shifts. I tried turning the round nut over and playing with it, but it didn't work." 2. "At maximum tightness it is at a 45 degree angle to the plane of the film with the end pointing to the left. The maximum I can move it from this position is about 30-40 degrees because a screw prevents me from loosening it further. I've tried removing and replacing the nut and flipping it over, but nothing has worked. I can get it to swing and shift with some effort, but if I could get another 30 degrees from the nut, it would be much easier." Where did you see the first "the post is perpendicular to the plane of the film" and the "80 degrees"? I have three those "round nut and post" things on my 8x10. I only need to turn a post about 30 degrees, and I can swing and shift. They were tight at first, but after a few exercises, they are fine now (especially after the "car wash").

I wouldn't worry about "how moisture would affect it". First of all, you know the wood is teak (#1 choice for outdoor furniture and boats). Secondly, there are four more coats (clear) atop of the base coat. Thirdly, teak secrets its own oil. I'm confident that water will not damage the camera, otherwise I wouldn't "car wash" my camera. Did people make tropical cameras with teak? Cheers,

22-Jun-2001, 00:45
"....used a water gun (the kind you use to wash tires at car wash) to claen my camera with car wash detergent and water, while my car was being washed. "

"...all Shen-Hao wood materials were treated in all-weather conditions (including rain, snow, ice, sunlight, and Shanghai thunderstorms) for at least one year before they were selected to make your camera. "


Puhleezz!!! Enough of the used car sales pitches! Do you really expect anyone who uses large format gear to believe you washed your camera at the car wash with a high pressure washer!??

Seasoned (what? - left out in the weather at the lumber yard?) for a year?

How about if we keep this to discussions about LF photography, and not become a format for sales reps? Everyone who frequents this board knows that you and Mr. Milano have a vested interest in these cameras and the promotion of same. Why not keep the promotional material to email.

22-Jun-2001, 02:27

Let me say this again: I'm not a salesman for Shen-Hao or Seagull, and I have NOT taken a penny from either. Just try to help.

It's my camera, and I can do whatever I want. Yeah, I also blast- cleaned my Ries tripod with that very same car wash water gun. Just call me nuts!

Sean Yates
22-Jun-2001, 02:34
Did you have the lens mounted or not?

David Willis
22-Jun-2001, 02:49
I've posted a few pictures, including ones of the problem nut/post at


explanation.html gives a brief description of the photos.

The web site is intended to show the camera. It certainly won't impress you with my html skills. The photos were taken in my lab (hence the science junk in the background) with our Nikon 990. I haven't played with it much, so the photos are not much more than point and shoot.

Geoffrey has been very helpful, and we've corresponded off forum trying to figure out how to make this work. As helpful as he's been, I'm reluctant to hose off my camera. The camera has some light trap material right behind the lensboard and right in front of the back. It's kind of a nice touch. It's not very thick, so it shouldn't really compress and cause focus problems. I'd be concerned that water would make it loosen. Besides, it just seems very counterintuitive. But if it works for him, great.

I did put a drop of water on the top of the camera and it beaded up nicely, so there is something water repellant to the finish or the wood.

When I got the camera, there was something oily on the ground glass. The only thing I had in lab was some ethanol and some kim wipes. I put some ethanol on a kimwipe and wiped it on the oily areas and dried with another pad of kimwipes. It came off easily. I noticed that a couple of times I got close to the wood and the ethanol kimwipe had a little stain on it, which makes me concerned that there might not be clear coats on top of the finish.

There are also a couple of flaws in the wood where it appears a small splinter flaked off leaving a little groove. Because these are stained, it happened before the finish was applied. These grooves appear to have their full depth which makes me wonder a bit if the clear coats are there, unless they were sprayed on very thinly, which they may be. Overall, the wood and the finish look quite nice.

As I've worked with the camera, the rear swing has loosened up some, but the rear shift is still tough to work.

I'm still concerned about switching the back from vertical to horizontal because the finish will wear off the corners where the tabs hold the back to the rear standard. Actually, it's not the finish I mind so much as that don't want the wood to wear making the back a little sloppy.

If anyone has any questions or wants to see specific views of the camera, please let me know. I didn't photograph the bag bellows, but I can do that if anyone would like to see it.

Again, I think the camera is fine for $550, but I'm not going to get easy customer service as I would with other cameras--it can be tough to reconcile a problem when the camera came from China. The way the rear swing/shift is controlled is an easily fixed design flaw. Overall I'm pleased with my first LF, but $1000 is getting a little steep for it.


andrea milano
22-Jun-2001, 03:41
Dear contributors and some of the few remaining friends on the site,

I am very upset to have to defend myself from cheap accusations of those who think that either me or Geoffrey Chen are financially involved with shen hao (I do not own any Shen Hao shares.....), once again I saw this camera at the fotokina, wanted to buy one for myself because i liked it a lot, got in touch with Perry Wang and heard that the minimum order was 4 pieces, I bought them and proceeded to sell the other three and kept one for myself, that's all! It took almost 6 months to sell three cameras and could be hardly defined a source on income. I did it because of the minimum order (which by the way seems to be not applied to most sales I hear of on this forum......) and because I really liked the camera and still do. I hope to have been clear about this once and for all. I have been accused to have interests in other companies such as Bosscreen, the most careful readers would know that I gave address and telephone number of the Dutch company where anybody can buy direct.

The Shen Hao.

when it comes to the specific problem which Dave described I can only second the advice which Geoffrey gave, however, it seems to me that loosening the retaining bolt and lever and repositioning the point of maximum tightening shouldn't be very difficult because if you remove the bellows the camera can be tilted giving access to the bolting system, but I am not a mechanic , never will be, and if the task should be too difficult I would dismount the camera back and send it back to china where , I am sure, the matter will be resolved in 5 minutes.

About teak wood being waterproof.

Traditionally teak wood is used in many marine and tropical wooden products, the reasons being those described by Geoffrey. English parks have benches made of this hard and heavy wood because they resist to almost anything the only thing is that the outside tends to get grey-ish because of the action of rain, sun and chemicals contained in the rain.Tht's the reason of extra coatins applied to the wood. Teak is not dissimilar to other woods in this. I don't know if I would go as far as to sray my camera with water, if Geoffrey did it is his camera and why should anybody doubt it? I personally would stick to more traditional cleansing methods. The camera back. The shen hao has really the same system used by most cameras and I really don't understand Dave's doubts I have used a number of cameras and although sometimes felt that a rotating back was an improvement in the procedure I never damaged my cameras in doing so.

About other contributors who comment on the Shen Hao without having used it or let alone seen it!!!!

Please refrain from making comments about something you know nothing about! It is utterly disconcerning to read that Dave who owns a Shen Hao would prefer a zone VI which he has never used for the same money! Others second the decision but never saw a Shen Hao!

All this puzzles me!

N Dhananjay
22-Jun-2001, 11:27
...."Seasoned (what? - left out in the weather at the lumber yard?) for a year?"

Actually, my understanding is that this is a great way to season wood. The basic idea is that the wood warps, twists, bends, whatever to the maximum extent possible before you start working on it, rather than after. The Dutch painter Rubens is said to have got his wood panels from the submerged wood of piers i.e., the wood had been standing in water a good, long time and finished warping. So when he made his panels and painted on it, it could not warp anymore. Talk about archival processing.... (Note: I wouldn't call myself a woodworker at all - just passing on what I know. In fact, isn't there another camera maker who uses something like that - submerged marine stuff - Sean might know).

Cheers, DJ.

22-Jun-2001, 12:18
Sean, Thanks for your concern. The lens was off my camera. Actually the lens was later taken apart and cleaned, the Copal #3 shutter sent to a pro shop for "dry clean". Sand was everywhere. Still have sand in the bellows, even after vacuum clean and brushing. It's not washable. Any advices?

I have washed my Ries Tripod many times that way. In fact, when I met Keith (Ries CEO), he said that was the preferred way to clean Ries tripods. People wash their wooden decks with water hoses, not toothbrushes. I did not intend to clean my camera by washing it at the first place, but after tried the usual ways, nothing worked. So give it a try, it's covered by my lifetime warranty, right? FIY, car wash detergents are much milder than those one would use for clothes and dishes, especially towards to paints. I let my camera dry on my kitchen table, then applied wax to the front and rear focusing tracks, greased the track gears. That's it. CAUTION: This is not a promotion for Shen-Hao Cameras and RIES tripods. Don't try this at home. I'm not responsible to whatever damages happened to your camera (s) if you decided to try it. Cheers,

andrea milano
22-Jun-2001, 12:47
Thanks Geoffrey! It takes guts to try this on camera stuff but if it works for a tripod why shouldn't it work on a camera? , however also the point you make is very good, endorsing a product doesn't mean necessarily that you are in anyway connected to this product, frankly speaking I am sick and tired to have to explain everytime how the story is and that my contribution to this forum have never been dictated by personal interest.


I saw your pictures and everything seems to be in order, so the only thing is to loosed the bolting lever and reposition it otherwise make good use of the lifetime guaratee! I wish you all the best!

22-Jun-2001, 16:35

I emailed your pics to the camera maker, and then called him last night on your behalf. He said there is nothing wrong with your camera. It just needs to be broken in a little. When your friend went to him to pick up the camera, he was offered the option that Shen-Hao would break in your camera for him free of charge. He declined the offer. He must be either confused or didn't know what to say. Mr. Zhang made it a bit tight recently based on user requests. So you may break in yourself: loose the nut, try to swing and shift. It should not hurt your camera. The reason I put this here is that someone might ask the very same thing in the near future. So you now know you have two options: let Shen-Hao to break in for you, or do it yourself. Cheers,

David Willis
22-Jun-2001, 18:28
Andrea, When I first had the problem with the shift and swing, I took the camera apart. I tried to reattach the nut, but because it is tapped, it ends up in the same place. I tried to flip it over, and it was worse. I can't reposition the screw because it is pinned to a piece of metal that has a post that engages a hole in another part. That's actually the way it should be designed so when you loosen the nut, you can tighten it without the nut and screw spinning together.

I think the camera will loosen up as it is used. I've already noticed some loosening as I've worked with it. My coworker who picked up the camera for me is not a photographer, so she wouldn't have understood about breaking in the camera.

Although I've never used a Zone VI, I have seen them. They're nice cameras. The Shen Hao is also a nice camera, but because they're new and most people aren't as familiar with them, I think many photographers would lean toward the Zone VI. That may change once Shen Hao becomes more established, especially with a US distributor.

I still think it's a nice camera for $500. I'd buy it again. If I was going to be paying $1000 for it, I'd have to think a lot more to decide if it was the best for the money. I'm trying to build my LF kit inexpensively, and the $500 Shen Hao is great for that, but once I jump up to the $1000 level, I'm not sure what I would do. The Shen Hao is an option, but Zone VI is an excellent choice too.


andrea milano
23-Jun-2001, 04:22

I never had any trouble with Shen Hao or any other camera, I guess the builder has a lot of building experience and knows what is doing, I am sure that your advice will be most welcome but I tend to think that(I hope that you don't take this as an unfriendly comment) he has more experience in building cameras than you in using them.

I don't know where you can buy a Zone VI (new!mind you) for $1000(It is unfair comparing a second hand price to a new price....), I know the European Market very well and all the cameras below the $1000 are not superior but rather inferior to the Shen Hao. Woodman-Horseman, Tachihara , Wista don't offer the same performance (I owned all of them so I should know....), the only one in this price range (about $1500) which has similar or better features is the Walker Titan a very fine product which I like very much (never got a penny from Mike Walker....).

Zone VI isn't my favourite camera, the only thing I like about it is the interchangeble bellows and the longer than normal extention, but at least here it is expensive and hard to find.

Again buying a camera in China and importing it (if you don't mind me saying so.....) without paying import taxes, airport handling duties, transportation, insurances, bank fees and so on, is hardly reppresentative of its real cost if you do all this things officially. The $1000 one has to ask, to make all the fuss at least partly worthwhile, for it, it is a fair and honest price.

I guess that you never questioned the buying-selling price ratio of your chinese made Adidas's or Nike's. My guess is that if you would you would, you then would hear a lot of complicated explainations on how does a product get, from the pittance which it is paid there, end up to be a luxury Item for which you need $100 or more!

David Willis
24-Jun-2001, 01:55
Andrea, I appreciate your comments. The Shen Hao is a fine camera. Most photographers I know frequently buy used so someone else takes the depeciation. The Zone VI comments originated with Pat's reply suggesting a preference for a used Zone VI over a new Shen Hao.

I think most people consider their purchases relatively seriously, and when the import price of a Shen Hao is $1000, there are more options to consider than when the price is $500. Actually, I have thought a great deal about the cost of doing import/export business. I spent a fair amount of time in Korea and I'm well aware of the price differences between goods purchased there and the same item purchased in America. I have several friends running import/export businesses. The people importing these cameras have a right to make a profit and set whatever price they deem appropriate. I'm merely pointing out that the higher they set the price, the more competition they will have from the high end used market. While you may not think it fair to compare new to used, an awful lot of photographers I know buy most of their gear used.

I'm sure the makers of the Shen Hao cameras have more experience making them than I do using them. However, it's a logical fallacy to assume that makes them or their cameras infallible. Surely it's possible for a mistake to slip through. Likewise it's possible for someone to find a feature desirable even though others don't. And even though they have a lot of experience making cameras, it's possible that they can still refine the process. Nikon was making cameras long before I was a passionate gleam in my father's eye. They make some really nice cameras, but sometimes they leave really valuable and desirable features off a camera, or perhaps include the feature but don't implement it in the best way possible. One of the bodies I use is a Nikon N2000. I like manual cameras and I picked this up for $50. It's not in the same league as an F5, but it's a pretty good body. However, the aperture is not shown in the viewfinder. It's a feature I like, and I wish that Nikon had done that. Even though Nikon's been making cameras a long time, my opinion is still valid, and I expect others would share it.

The bottom line is that the Shen Hao is a good camera. I think I might have designed the rear slightly differently to make the swings and shifts eaiser. But that's my opinion. If you've got a different one, then great. But that doesn't make mine invalid, and I expect there are folks out there who would like to hear it.

If anyone is purchasing a view camera, they ought to consider the Shen Hao. It's a nice camera at an attractive price. Is it going to be the best camera for everyone? No. It may not be quite what some people want. Others may feel more comfortable with one of the more established companies. You've stated your opinion, and Geoffrey has stated his, and I've stated mine.


Ross Martin
25-Jun-2001, 02:56
Hi All,

I just received my new Shen Hao HZX45-IIa a couple of days ago and have only been able to spend about an hour getting acquainted with it, but here are my initial impressions. My previous ownership of wood field 4x5's included an Iston (very rough!), Calumet-era Zone VI, Tachihara, and Wista DX, and I have also spent time with a Woodman, several Wisners and a Nagaoka. Upon opening the decent metal case the Shen Hao was packed in, I was quite taken by the beauty of the teak wood with white chrome finish. I thought the satin finish on the wood compared nicely to my Zone VI, and though the chrome finish isn't perfect it does look good. The camera feels quite substantial and you can feel that it does indeed weigh more than a Tachihara, but it invokes a sense of solidity. This is in the class of short bellows cameras so full extension gets you only 12", but my sample is remarkably rigid at this extension, much more so than my Tachihara and the front standard of the Zone VI, and maybe a little tighter than the Wista. Focus is not Wisner-smooth but certainly smooth enough, movements are intuitive for me and easy to set, and the rear swing on mine is perfect, though the shift is tight and may need breaking in.

Here's the bottom line for me at this point: I have a camera that feels well made, has interchangeable bellows, rear rise, rear center tilt in addition to the usual base tilt, and a Graphlock back for roll film use, all for a delivered price to my door (including 4 drilled lensboards) that was less than buying a naked Tachihara. That leaves the Shen Hao 4x5 with no competition in the category of brand new 4x5 fields selling for less than a grand.

Now the sad part is that while I was waiting the 3 weeks for my camera to arrive from China, I impatiently snagged a used Toyo metal field on eBay and am now stuck with two cameras. I can't justify nor afford keeping both, and in the end the ruggedness of the Toyo for what I am putting it through may mean this lovely Shen Hao and I will soon part ways.

If you decide to order direct from China, be patient. Perry Wang at Seagull is wonderfully polite and helpful and seems to do his best at answering questions and overseeing your order, but with a couple of customs clearance delays and paperwork snags my FedEx Priority shipping turned into nearly two weeks.

david clark
29-Jun-2001, 01:33
Howdy, not long ago a guy joined into a discussion and left a warning about drilling a camera body which I was contemplating doing. I figure he saved me from an expensive mistake. So, I just wanted to say to those of you thinking about washing your cameras. Wood gets wet, wood swells up. Wood dries out, wood shrinks. Different pieces of wood expand and contract at different rates. This is a property of all wood, and it will do this no matter what kind of finish is on it. I don't know how the corners are joined on this camera, but then again there is no jointery I know of that can take that kind of working very long. And no finish will take that for long either. The older the wood and the older the finish the greater the risk you take with your camera. Teak is no magic wood. It does have a natural oil which makes it rot&bug resistant, as does ceder; that makes them desirable boat lumber. But that same poison-oil property makes teak more difficult to glue. No wood is bug proof forever. All things being equal, if you took two view cameras, one teak and one mahogany, and tied them on a string and hung them from a pier in Hawaii, in theory the teak frame might last a little longer - if its natural oil wasn't baked out, but often the wood is aged or treated in some process in order to make it stable for machine wood working. Best, David

30-Jun-2001, 00:29
That's interesting. Life is short, keep shooting! Cheers,