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View Full Version : Build quality - Zone VI vs Shen Hao



ggoodroe
8-Dec-2011, 05:34
I've narrowed down my search to Zone VI and Shen Hao...does anyone here have any experience with build quality? Or durability? I've had 2 Zone VIs in my hands and was impressed with both build quality and perceived durability. I've never seen a She Hao up close. I like the fact that the distributor Badger Graphics sells and services Shen Hao...comments, impressions?

Gem Singer
8-Dec-2011, 07:40
The Shen Hao has the most features for the money, but when it comes to build quality,it doesn't compare to a Zone VI.

Both are wooden folding flatbed cameras. Durability is dependant on how the owner treats the camera.

You get what you pay for.

Joseph Dickerson
8-Dec-2011, 09:14
Hi,

Gem is correct about getting what you pay for. However, I'd add that the Zone VI cameras have been made by several different companies over the years making them somewhat variable in design, features, and quality.

To me the big issue would be access to the bits and pieces we always seem to want/need. Even something as basic as lens boards could be a problem with some iterations of zone VI cameras.

As for the Shen Hao, I've used one for several years and they are very well built, you can readily find bellows, fresnel lens, focusing hood...well you get the picture. Badger Graphics has most of the bits and pieces in stock most of the time. Jeff can also answer any questions you may have re: the Shen Hao line of cameras.

If you go to the Toyo USA web site you can find an article I did a few years ago for Shutterbug comparing the Shen Hao and the Toyo CF. After doing the testing for the article I bought the Shen Hao. Over the years I have used/owned several wooden field cameras, including a couple of Zone VI models, a Tachihara, and a Deardorff. I'd put the Shen Hao up against any of them for quality and features, if not elan'. ;)

JD

Steve Goldstein
8-Dec-2011, 09:24
To JD's point about parts, I'd add that you can also get non-US-stocked oddball stuff directly from the Shen-Hao factory. I recently purchased part of a back (not the gg frame, the larger part to which it mounts), had it in less than two weeks.

Useful hint - make sure the camera is properly attached to the tripod's quick-release before you remove your hands :(

ggoodroe
8-Dec-2011, 11:36
Thanks guys for the quick responses...

Sounds like Shen Hao!

Alan Curtis
8-Dec-2011, 11:51
I've had a Zone VI since 1988, mine is one of the variations that was made in house at Zone VI. It still functions beautifully, one of the virtues of no electronics. Parts for this camera are probably hard to come by but, there isn't much to wear out. I think Richard Ritter has parts or can make them.

Kevin Crisp
8-Dec-2011, 15:05
The Wisner-era Zone VI camera is solid and well made. The lightweight one is not so rugged, though it is solid when locked down.

There is an ebay seller offering cheap lens boards on eBay, and if you want a nice one made out of three pieces of wood like the pre-Calumet originals, Richard Ritter sells them.

Drew Bedo
8-Dec-2011, 20:42
In 2005, I moved from a Burk& James 5x7 (with a 4x5 back) down in size to a second model Zone-VI. There were several cameras offered by Zone-VI Studios over the years.
1978: “Made by Tachihara for Zone-VI”,nickle plated, it had 12' Bellows draw, single stage focusing,Front and rear swing/tilt.
1980: “Made by Wista for Zone-VI”, 12 bellows, front and rear swing/tilt with front rise.
1986:” Made by Wisner for Zone VI”, 16" bellows with double extension focusing rails. Interchainable bellows. Front rise/fall and swing/tilt, rear swing/tilt...no rise/fall. Weight about 5 pounds. Only 150 of these were made.
1990: Made by Picker for Zone-VI Studio. Features and movements like the Wisner above. Standard material was Mahogany wood. some were made with gold plated fittings. Some were made in Black Walnut and Cherry.Total production for this model was 3000 units.
A complete historical review is found in View Camera Magazine, Jan-Feb 2003, page 34. Good article by Richard ritter, with serial number ranges and production figures.
As I wrote above, my previous camera was an industrial-strength B&J 5x7. My 1980s era Wista-made Zone-VI is a light weight by comparison. I use Toyo style boards on itwith no problem. The 12' bellows is a little bit limiting and I do miss the nearly 20" on my old camera.Never the less it works well for me.

Richard Ritter works on these cameras and can fix anything woron with any of them. He also builds large format and Ultra-Large format cameras in his shop

Lachlan 717
8-Dec-2011, 21:05
George,

If you do a search here for Shen Hao, you'll no doubt come up with statements like ("The Shen Hao has the most features for the money, but when it comes to build quality,it doesn't compare to… insert comparison name here").

However, you'll struggle to find any documented evidence of exactly how/why this is the case.

I must concede two points here. First, I have never used a Zone VI (although I have handled one in a store). Second, I own two Shen Hao cameras.

However, I really am at a loss to understand either what is wrong with Shen Hao cameras and what could be improved.

I'll probably be flamed for this; however, I put these comments down to one, some or all of the following 3 things:

1) As with many Chinese companies, Shen Hao has ripped off design elements from other makers. This annoys some people, even though there are few unique camera designs out there;
2) Xenophobia towards the Chinese products in general;
3) Brand allegiance/Fanboy attitudes for the comparison camera.

Obviously, there can be features that, once the camera is purchased, are missing or are annoying, but this is the case with any camera if you look for them.

When you read these comments about build quality, perhaps question the Writer for some specifics. I doubt that you'll find many (if any) stories about the camera falling apart…


About the only really bad camera out there (in my opinion) is the Bulldog, and that is usually because it has to be put together by the user, rather than in the factory.

Anyway, enough of my chest-beating.

My advice is to get the cheaper one and put the savings towards the best glass you can afford. This will make more difference to your end images than the brand of camera that it's mounted on.

Frank Petronio
8-Dec-2011, 22:24
DeGolden Busches are truly poor cameras, a perfect storm of bad design, lousy material selection, and poor craftsmanship.

Some Wisners are lovely but some have serious design flaws that make them weak in critical spots. I certainly wouldn't buy one unseen.

The Zone VI I had in 1983 was really a gorgeous Wista in Cherrywood. It was a very fine lightweight camera and the joinery and finish were superb. The only flaw worth mentioning is the decorative Brass cap nuts over the control points often worked loose but I never lost any. Had I used Loc-Tite it would have been a non-issue.

As for Chinese cameras, I am sure they are mostly fine to use. I'll just admit to being xenophobic and rather buy as few Chinese-made products as possible.

Corran
8-Dec-2011, 22:39
I stay away from Chinese stuff because of my experience in pro audio, where pretty much EVERYTHING from China is junk.

However I just got a Chamonix 4x5 and I am really impressed. I was using a Zone VI Wista. That is now on the chopping block and I have no regrets.

Of course electronic gear is a lot different than wooden folding cameras.

I don't think any of these fine cameras are just going to implode. Just don't drop it, duh.

Frank Petronio
8-Dec-2011, 22:52
Of course my fine Wista from 1983, if it is still being used, is probably trashed. But so will be that $$$$ Ebony after 28 years if you actually use it.

Another point for metal ;-)

Corran
8-Dec-2011, 23:52
Or carbon fiber ;)

Frank Petronio
8-Dec-2011, 23:55
I think an awful lot of "Carbon Fiber" is actually just hard plastic. It's not like there is an inspector for any of this stuff.

Roger Cole
9-Dec-2011, 01:52
A point that might or might not matter is that the later Zone VI is essentially the same design as the Wisner Traditional. I almost bought a Wisner traditional until I read this article:

http://www.largeformatphotography.info/comparison.html

These cameras are excellent for use with 120mm through 360mm on the Traditional/Zone VI and 120mm through 450mm on the Technical. You can use shorter lenses, but you have to move the lens closer to the film than you can get with both standards vertical (you use the front base tilt to move the lens back and the front axis tilt to straighten the lens). The consequence of this is front rise/fall requires refocusing.

I like my 90mm Angulon too much, and will get a different 90 with more coverage later, and maybe something wider as well. I just didn't want to go through those gyrations every time i wanted to use a 90 which is a pretty commonly used lens for me.

Steve Barber
9-Dec-2011, 22:58
A point that might or might not matter is that the later Zone VI is essentially the same design as the Wisner Traditional. I almost bought a Wisner traditional until I read this article:

http://www.largeformatphotography.info/comparison.html

These cameras are excellent for use with 120mm through 360mm on the Traditional/Zone VI and 120mm through 450mm on the Technical. You can use shorter lenses, but you have to move the lens closer to the film than you can get with both standards vertical (you use the front base tilt to move the lens back and the front axis tilt to straighten the lens). The consequence of this is front rise/fall requires refocusing.

I like my 90mm Angulon too much, and will get a different 90 with more coverage later, and maybe something wider as well. I just didn't want to go through those gyrations every time i wanted to use a 90 which is a pretty commonly used lens for me.

On the other hand, the Wisner allows use of a wide range of lenses, from 47mm to more than 500mm, using flat lens boards (no top hats or recessed lens boards required). Also, the Wisner will not only physically accommodate a 90mm Super-Angulon XL; it will allow movements that take full advantage of that lensís large coverage, as well. Not a bad trade off for a bit of extra effort involved in a little base tilt having to be offset with a bit of axis tilt.

Joseph Dickerson
10-Dec-2011, 09:15
Roger's apparent mis-conception is what I was trying to point out. The Zone VI was not a camera but a series of cameras. Some very good, others not so much.

They have been made by several different suppliers, Calumet/Zone VI doesn't make anything, although one series of Zone VI camera supposedly was actually made by Fred P. and company. Maybe Bruce Barlow can enlighten us on whether or not that's true.

When someone asks, "should I get a Zone VI?" it's like saying, "should I buy a Ford?" Well, are you getting a Pinto or a GT-40. They're both Fords...right?

I used a Wisner/Zone VI for a couple of months back when Picker and Wisner were still on speaking terms and I must say that while nicely made, the design left a bit to be desired. But again, I wouldn't put down the whole Zone VI line based on that single experience as that was just one model.

I should point out that I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that Richard Ritter will repair Zone VI cameras and can supply lens boards etc. That would relieve a lot of my trepidations if I were considering buying one.

Basically I wouldn't buy, or turn down for that matter, a Zone VI camera without first handling it. But then that's how I feel about any used equipment.

As the Brits say, " horses for courses". "You pays your money and you takes your chances".

JD

RichardRitter
10-Dec-2011, 10:09
I should point out that I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that Richard Ritter will repair Zone VI cameras and can supply lens boards etc. That would relieve a lot of my trepidations if I were considering buying one.

Basically I wouldn't buy, or turn down for that matter, a Zone VI camera without first handling it. But then that's how I feel about any used equipment.

As the Brits say, " horses for courses". "You pays your money and you takes your chances".

JD
Yes I repair the cameras and have a few boxes of spare parts.
I also have new boards in stock.

Louie Powell
10-Dec-2011, 12:50
Zone VI cameras were built by Wista, Wisner, and eventually by Zone VI itself.

They can all be serviced by Richard Ritter - who is the guy who actually ran the Zone VI shop.

Leigh
10-Dec-2011, 17:47
1990: Made by Picker for Zone-VI Studio. Features and movements like the Wisner above. Standard material was Mahogany wood. some were made with gold plated fittings. Some were made in Black Walnut and Cherry.
The 12' bellows is a little bit limiting and I do miss the nearly 20" on my old camera.
I have one of the Picker-made Zone VI cameras, confirmed as such by Mr. Ritter based on the serial number.

It's cherry with gold-plated hardware, and has an 18" (457mm) bellows draw, which is adequate for any of my lenses.

The workmanship and detail are excellent.

My only gripe about the camera is that the clearance through the front bellows plate is only 78mm.
Four of my 12 lenses for this format have 80mm rear cells, so I filed out the plastic enough to enable mounting them.
The plastic is quite thick, so removing a small section 1mm deep made no difference.

Disregarding that minor annoyance, the Zone VI that I have is a great camera, and I would highly recommend it.

I've never seen a Shen Hao, so I'm unable to make any meaningful comparison.


- Leigh