View Full Version : Shen Hao or Tachihara for travelling and architecture

23-May-2011, 03:16
hi guys,

i am interested in entering large format photography. currently i am working with a 5d and tilt and shift lenses, but i am always impressed by the possibilities and the quality that a large format cam offers. the cameras and used lenses seem rather cheap and some models are not overly expensive. i am want to use it for architecture photography.

since i am going to travel a lot this year, i will need a light, affordable set. i found a lot of information about the Tachihara and Shen Hao 4x5 cams, but maybe there are some people with hands-on experience here.

1) which brand would you recommend for architecture and travelling. I read that the Shen Hao offers more movement, but the Tachiharas are slightly lighter.

2) which of the Shen Hao models is the most suitable for my purpose? TZ45-IIB/HZX45-IIA/TFC45-IIB?

3) which are 3 must have lenses for architecture photography?

thanks in advance guys! :-)

23-May-2011, 04:11
If you are doing architecture, you MUST choose one that allows for a bag bellows. For the ability to use full rise, a bag bellows is crucial.

Ken Lee
23-May-2011, 04:32
The Tachihara is no longer made. You'll have to find a used one.

No one camera is perfect for all applications. Price, portability, flexibility: you get to choose two. :)

Depending on what kind of architecture photos you want to make, neither camera may offer enough range of movement.

Field cameras are designed to be small and light for travel in the field: hiking, trekking, walking. There's your portability.

Monorail cameras are designed for flexibility, with extreme movements. Some are light, others are not.

Fortunately, both types of cameras can be purchased for a fraction of what we might pay for a prosumer digital camera.

Gary Tarbert
23-May-2011, 05:14
I have owned both of these cameras my Shen was a HZX 45IIA (sold this week), for the reason mentioned earlier , i would go the Shen Hao for bag bellows usage if you are shooting interiors , but both cameras i feel are more at home in a landscape enviroment But there are people better qualified than i to suggest usage for architecture .
Only lens suggestion i can make is the 90 mm Grandagon 6.8 or 90 Nikkor f8 if you are needing a faster 90mm some just get quite awkward especially on the Tachihara ie the SA 5.6 massive rear element . Cheers Gary

23-May-2011, 05:45
Shen Hao - definitely!
75mm, 90mm, 135mm

Gem Singer
23-May-2011, 05:57
For a new lightweight wooden folding flatbed camera, take a look at the Shen-Hao PTB 4x5, or for slightly more $$, check out the Chamonix 045n-2.

Although quite a bit more expensive, and heavier weight, the versatile all metal Canham DLC makes for a nice compact traveling companion. Previously owned ones are less expensive.

Lens preferences for architectural photography can vary widely, depending on personal preference.

Choose smaller, light weight wide angle lenses that have large image circles. A 75 for interiors and a 90 for outdoors. No need for the faster, larger sized wide angle lenses.

A 120 or a 135 is a handy medium-wide focal length, and a 180 for a long "normal" focal length. You probably won't need anything longer for architecture.

Purchasing new lenses is not necessary. Plenty of previously owned lenses available at reasonable prices.

Lenses made in Japan by Nikon or Fuji are excellent quality, and can usually be obtained for less $$.

Gem Singer
23-May-2011, 06:00
Michael types faster than me.

He started with a Tachi as a traveling camera. Although light weight and compact, it is limited for architectural photography.

Noah A
23-May-2011, 06:19
You didn't mention if you're doing professional architectural work for clients or fine art/personal work. The reason I ask is because it may affect both your camera and lens choices.

For client work you need to get the shot with no exceptions and no equipment-related excuses. Doing personal work at a high level is also demanding, but it's different.
I'm sure lots of great architectural work has been done with a wooden field camera, but it wouldn't be my first choice especially for client work. A cheap monorail would do the job better, though it won't be quite as small.

If you want to stick with wood, have you also considered a Chamonix? They appear to offer good movements and are lightweight.

You'll definitely need a bag bellows.

As for lenses, for client work you may want to go wider, but personally I shoot the vast majority of my work with just a 115/6.8 Grandagon-N and a 210 Apo sironar S. I also carry a 90/4.5 Grandagon-N for when I need something a little wider and a 150 Apo-Sironar S for the very rare times when I need something in between. The 150 would be my first lens to go, but it's so small it's worth keeping in the bag.

The 115/120 seems to be a popular lens for photographers doing urban landscape and non-commercial architecture work. It's often wide enough to fit things in, offers a ton of movements and not too much light falloff. It's a wonderful focal length. My 115 Grandagon will almost cover 8x10, so in effect it basically has unlimited coverage. The 120 Nikkor SW has even a bit more.

For client architectural work, the 90mm seems to be more of a mainstay. Architects and designers seem to prefer the more dynamic wideangle look that the lens provides. A wider lens will also let you get closer to the subject building which minimizes unwanted elements like street signs, light poles, etc. If you're doing client work you'll probably need a 75/72mm lens as well for interiors or very tight situations outdoors.

I wouldn't worry too much about your first camera. Just find something affordable. If it uses Linhof lensboards, so much the better, since they're small and compatible with lots of cameras (either directly or with an adaptor). Your first view camera probably won't be your last. So get a good deal on a used model if possible and learn what YOU need in a camera.

Personally, I thought portability was my main priority so I got a metal field camera. Then I learned that if the camera limited my ability to make the images I wanted, then it didn't really matter how small it was. When you consider that you also need to carry film holders and a few large wideangle lenses, the size of the camera became somewhat inconsequential. I ended up with a slightly larger camera (though still very portable) that offers the movements I need.

The great thing about LF is that you won't need to switch lenses each time you switch cameras. In fact many LF shooters have multiple cameras, maybe a monorail for studio and architectural work and a field camera for landscape or travel.

23-May-2011, 06:32
Of those cameras, the TFC45-IIB seems best suited to architecture photography. You will need bag bellows and generous front rise, and axis front tilt is much easier to use together with rise. The Tachihara does not have bag bellows, the TZ45 has rather limited front rise, and the HZX also has somewhat limited front rise and only base front tilt. The rear standard of the TFC45 is probably more rigid as well, since there is no rear tilt. It is also a lot lighter than the HZX, but will of course not take long lenses.

For lenses, instead of going with 3 lenses, you might consider getting a top-of-the-line architecture photography classic, the Schneider 72mm XL, together with something like the Nikon SW 120mm (if the rear element fits through the front).

23-May-2011, 06:44
Although not in your initial list, don't forget an Arca. You could pick up a used Arca-Swiss F-Line field camera, ideally a Metric, with a bag bellows or perhaps the newer bellows that is like a hybrid regular/bag bellows for a reasonable cost. It will weigh a couple pounds more than the lightest option but the lenses you want will likely be the biggest weight offender. Besides, the Arca will feel like a dream for architecture relative to a wooden field camera, especially the metric model which has geared shift and rise. You would not need to worry about its stability with the larger wide angles either.

For lenses, you will want wide angle but you will have to decide how wide: 47mm - 135mm. I suspect you would want a 65-75, 80-90, 115-135, 150-210. Then you would need to decide on budget because the Schneider 80/110 lenses are the most expensive as are the Rodenstock S lenses.

So if you had a Rodenstock/Nikkor 65mm lens, Schneider Super Symmar 80 and 110, and Rodenstock Apo Sironar S 135 mm along with an Arca Swiss F-Line Metric with synthetic bellows and 110mm front standard you would have a dream outfit. The total weight would be reasonable and the cost would be high.

Tony Evans
23-May-2011, 07:54

The HZX 45IIA has Front Center Tilt. About the only movement it does not have is Front Shift.

23-May-2011, 08:30
Sorry about that, thanks for the correction. I tried to look it up at their homepage but it is more or less unusable, and the Badger Graphic page did not show front axis tilt.

Edit: The very slow Shen Hao page eventually loaded and it made me more confused than before. No front axis tilt is listed, max rise is given as 45mm and weight at 2.2kg. Badger has different specs...
Edit2: Additionally, the Chinese Shen Hao page lists 37mm front rise, 2.2kg weight. The Badger page does not match either, listing 37mm rise and 2.4kg weight.

Joseph Dickerson
23-May-2011, 10:34
Another vote for the Shen Hao HZX or PTB. You can compare the specs on Badger's web site, or call Jeff. He's great to deal with.

On the bag bellows issue, I'll disagree with some of the previous posters. I'm using a HZX with a (slightly) modified Chamonix Universal bellows. The modification took less than 45 minutes and works great. There's a thread I started a couple of months ago in the Gear forum.

With the Universal bellows I can use a 65mm lens (recessed board mounted) with full movements and I don't have to swap the bellows in the field. Having said that, the Shen Hao bag bellows works very well and is not expensive.

I don't shoot for commercial clients any longer but I do shoot for publication, and I've experienced nothing to counter indicate the Shen Hao or Chamonix cameras. I used a Tachihara for years and much prefer the versatility of the Shen Hao I currently own.

If you aren't worried about an extra pound or two, and a little more bulk, you might try to find a used Sinar F/F1/F2. Although mine doesn't see much use since I bought the Shen Hao.

If you buy a Shen Hao or Chamonix and later decide it's not for you, they will sell on Ebay for nearly what you paid. I have even seen a few sell for more used than a new one...go figure!


Lachlan 717
23-May-2011, 13:08
I'd go with only 2 lenses to start with:

Schneider 72mm SAXL
Schneider 110mm SSXL

Both represent latest technology with large image circles. Both brilliant lenses.

In my opinion, 2 top-of-the-range lenses are way better to have than 3 average lenses.

Maris Rusis
23-May-2011, 17:12
The Tachihara is no longer made. You'll have to find a used one.

Tachihara cameras are still being made and include variants with bag bellows.

Check out: http://www.netlaputa.ne.jp/~tachi-ss/

Ken Lee
23-May-2011, 18:17
Tachihara cameras are still being made and include variants with bag bellows.

Check out: http://www.netlaputa.ne.jp/~tachi-ss/

Wonderful - It's good to know. I loved my Tachihara.

23-May-2011, 18:41
The Tachihara Superwide 4x5 looks interesting, but I wonder why they only gave it 30mm of rise. There are a couple of better images of it here:

26-May-2011, 14:48
Well, Noah said it all... and now I'll say some of it again :)
forget about weight, as long as the camera itself doesn't exceed 4kg. Really, the rest of the stuff you'll be carrying probably won't allow you to get a total weight under 10kg.

Lenses with large image circles are usually big and heavy, but hey, they are great to work with. I strongly second the recommendations for a 90 f4.5 Grandagon-N. I'm very happy for my 150 Sironar-W too, imo great for architecture. 210 is great for distant or slightly close-up work and, surprise, my next lens will be a 115 Grandagon-N.

Camerawise, I started with a Chamonix 45n-1 and really liked it... until it got stolen and I was 'forced' to switch to a linhof Color. the Color is very limited for wide-angle work and not a good camera for architecture, but Linhof's built quality and smooth operation is surely addictive. My point being that if you are patient, you can get a Linhof Technikardan used for around 1200-1500 USD. The technikardan is made for architecture. If you want to buy new and wood, consider the Chamonix 45n-2 or the Shen-hao XPO. I think both will do most jobs for you. I could use 45mm front rise with my 90mm on the Chamonix with universal bellows. Some vignetting from the bellows in portrait format, though, but no problems in landscape.

I shoot architecture only (and I'm an architect...)

Noah A
26-May-2011, 15:19
...surprise, my next lens will be a 115 Grandagon-N....

You're going to love it! I wish it weren't discontinued. Once in a while I think about buying another one just in case mine gets broken or stolen. It's the one lens I wouldn't want to work without.

I'm impressed about the chamonix...45mm of rise is pretty good for a field camera. It sounds like a good travel camera and a good camera to start with, since everyone goes nuts for wooden cameras so you can probably resell it without losing much cash if you want something else.

The TK with the bag bellows can do 50mm of rise in portrait or landscape format, and if that's not enough you can use indirect rise. The TK will let you run out of coverage even with large-coverage wideangles. This is a good thing if you don't like to be limited by the camera. It also has a full 50mm of rear rise and 20mm of front fall, which are important if you work in urban areas (and shoot from elevated positions).

27-May-2011, 00:13
Well, it's the only woodie I've tried and I certainly liked most of it, but beware:
you have to manually align the standards upon setup with no zero detents! (at least on the 45N-1) I think the 45N-2 has a 'parrallel' back, but you still have to align the front. For me it inevitably meant that a certain percentage of my exposures were unsharp in either side of the frame. If you shoot in rough weather or in an urban environment where you have to act fast, for instance. It's a good camera, no doubt - just have this in mind.

I think the Shen-Hao XPO's non-folding design has squared standards upon setup plus it lets you store a lens on the camera. Two quite essential features, I'd say. I don't know anything about built quality, rigitity, focus locks and so on - but there are a few loooong threads about this model here in the camera section.

@ Noah: would 6-700 USD be a good price for a 115 Grandagon? I'm thinking about picking one up in Chicago this summer... along with a TK-45S :D

Noah A
27-May-2011, 04:25
@ Noah: would 6-700 USD be a good price for a 115 Grandagon? I'm thinking about picking one up in Chicago this summer... along with a TK-45S :D

I think that's a good price unless it's a beater. I've seen prices all over the place on this lens, maybe because there aren't that many of them out there for sale.

I paid a bit more, around $850, but mine is the Grandagon-N version with the green stripe and it looked like it was never used. And I needed it on short notice.

How long will you be in Chicago? I'm having a show out there that starts in August.

27-May-2011, 08:21
thanks for tips... I'm only in Chicago from july 6th-13th, unfortunately - would have loved to see your Jersey City series (it's that one, right?). I'm there for one of my friends' wedding.

27-May-2011, 09:48
thanks everybody, i am really impressed and overwhelmed by the comments! ;-) the shen hao sounds really good as well as the chamonix. i also saw some reviews of the toho 45. seems to be nice as well and weighs about the same. unfortunately the toho seems to be difficult to find in europe. does anyone know a dealer?

i will use the camera for private work only. i plan to shoot urban architecture and skylines. maybe a 500mm could also become handy.

thanks to everybody again for the helpful resonses!

Brian Ellis
27-May-2011, 11:34
I've owned two Tachiharas and one Shen (I forget the model but it was the first one made I believe). Either will probably work fine for your purposes unless you need really extreme movements for your architectural photographs, which I didn't but you might. The Tachi bellows is very flexible and I didn't find a bag bellows necessary with lenses as short as 75mm. The Tachihara is almost 2 pounds lighter than the Shen I had (roughly 4lbs vs 6lbs). The Tachihara also has one more inch of bellows extension (13" vs 12," the Shen I had claimed 14 inches but that was only after going through some machinations with front axis tilt and base tilt and it left the lens hanging out over the front of the bed which didn't feel very stable). My Shen had a couple more movements than the Tachi though I didn't miss them with the Tachi. But all things considered I'd probably get the Shen just because it does accept a bag bellows which the Tachi doesn't, does give you an extra inch of bellows extension if you need it in a pinch, and has a couple more movements (at least the one I owned did). Even though there's about a 2lb weight difference it doesn't sound like you'll be hiking extensively and with all the other things you'll be carrying an extra 2lbs isn't that big a deal.

I've also owned a Chamonix and as between it, the Shen, and the Tachi I'd take it but you didn't mention it so I assume there's something about it that causes you to prefer the Shen or Tachihara.

Kerry L. Thalmann
27-May-2011, 11:36
i also saw some reviews of the toho 45. seems to be nice as well and weighs about the same. unfortunately the toho seems to be difficult to find in europe. does anyone know a dealer?

Robert White in the UK used to be a Toho dealer. You might check with them. I had the first Toho FC-45X in the US and used it extensively for hiking, backpacking and traveling starting in mid-1999. I just sold it yesterday to a fellow forum member.

There is no bag bellows option for the Toho (the bellows are glued to the front and read frames). However, Toho made/makes a really nifty accessory called an eccentric lens panel that provides significant front rise/fall and left/right shift when using wide angle lenses. I actually found this device preferrable to a bag bellows for my needs. For significant displacements (like when shooting architecture) with the Toho, I'd consider this a must have accessory for any lens shorter than 90m. I used one first with a 75mm Nikkor SW and later with a 80mm Schneider Super Symmar XL. Unfortunately, this accessory is extremely rare and I'm not sure if it's still available new. I sold mine with my camera.

You can read more about the Toho in the review I wrote many years ago:



29-May-2011, 06:07
Ditto what everyone says if you can take it apart to travel and not put it in the rather large carrying case a used Cambo SC does allow for a bit more precise standards movement as you can align the front and rear standards using the build in scales.
Bag bellows is a must for most Architecture regardless of camera body! I personally use a Shen Hao for 95 % of my work and have a Cambo SC too.