Horseman 980 vs Horseman 45HD

For landscape and architectural photography, there is no question that using a view camera gives you the best control over perspective, the plane of focus and spectacular resolution too.

For several years I’ve been using a Horseman 980 medium format technical field camera for this purpose. It has almost all the functionality of a large format camera, but is “only” a medium format camera itself – meaning it’s a bit smaller, it offers the convenience and (relative) economy of roll film and scanners and enlargers are smaller and less expensive too.

Recently though, I’ve been pondering moving to large format. For me it’s not about the extra resolution, but about the angle of view, which I wrote about in more detail not too long ago. Basically it’s much easier to achieve ultra wide angle images when you have a massive negative. In the end, I decided to buy a Horseman 45HD. It’s a sensible choice because it uses the same lens boards as the Horseman 980.

While I have these two unusual cameras side by side for a short time before the 980 is sold, it would be daft if I didn’t do a comparison. Please note this is a comparison of these two Horseman cameras in particular, not a comparison of medium and large format photography in general. Here are the two cameras, the 980 on the left pictured with a Horseman 65mm f/5.6 lens and the 45HD on the right, pictured with a Super Horseman 90mm f/5.6 lens.

Horseman 980 and 45HD
Horseman 980 and 45HD

First let me make a list of all the features that both cameras have, since they are very similar. For more details look at the numbered sections below.

Similarities Differences
  • 80mm lens boards [8]
  • Rugged metal folding body [5]
  • Pop-up focusing hood over ground glass [3]
  • Full set of front movements [1]
  • 45HD lacks back movements [1]
  • 45HD takes larger negatives
  • 980 has a rangefinder & viewfinder [7]
  • 980 has geared movements [6]

And now for the manufacturer’s specs:

Horseman 980 Horseman 45HD
Picture size 6x9cm 4×5″
Height 175 mm 172 mm
Width 159 mm 157 mm
Depth 90 mm 94 mm
Weight 2.0 kg 1.7 kg
Focusing track extension 72 mm 72 mm
Front bellows draw 231 mm 249 mm
Rear bellows draw 23 mm
Drop bed 15° 15°
Front swing L/R ±15° ±15°
Front tilt forward 10° 10°
Front tilt back 15° 15°
Front lateral shift L/R ±30 mm ±30 mm
Front rise 28 mm 28 mm
Back swing L/R ±10°
Back swing up/down ±11°
Lensboard 80×80 mm 80×80 mm

So these two cameras are really very similar in almost every way. Here are a few more detailed notes to expand on the bullet points.

  1. A better comparison with the 980 would be the 45FA with its full rear movements, rather than this 45HD. If I had my time again, I would choose the 45FA. However, I don’t use rear movements very often and normally front rise and front tilt are the only movements I need for my work. Usually I would only use rear movements if I had to tilt the back, tilt the front and angle the bed upwards to achieve more front rise.
  2. For backwards compatibility, the 45HD can accept 120 roll-film backs so you can continue to shoot medium format with perspective correction. The 45HD’s ground glass screen has frame lines for 6×7 and 6×9.
  3. The larger ground glass of the 45HD is a real pleasure to use. Both the 980 and 45HD have self-erecting hoods overs the ground glass, but the hood on the 45HD folds away in in one movement while the 980 needs two movements.
  4. While the 980 and 45HD nominally have the same front rise, in practice the 45HD can achieve a far greater rise. With the 980, when you raise the front standard, the bellows will strike the frame of the main body before the front standard has moved the whole way. On the 45HD, the black panel at the top (marked 45HD) folds up to allow the full extent of the movement without the bellow striking the body.
  5. This is more a comment on the lenses than the cameras, but your typical medium format lens (e.g. Super Horseman 90mm f/5.6 and 65mm f/5.6) are small enough to remain mounted on the camera when it is stowed away. The large format lenses I now use (Schneider Super-Angulon 90mm f/8 and 65mm f/8, plus Symmar-S 150mm f/5.6) have to be removed from the camera before it is folded up.
  6. As mentioned above, the 980 has geared movements. When you want to raise the front standard, you unclamp it (silver knob halfway up on the right as you look at it) and then use the geared movement (black knob in the bottom-left corner) before re-clamping. On the 45HD, you just unclamp, move it with your hands, and re-clamp. It has enough friction to stay put when unclamped but it lacks the precision of a geared movement.
  7. Although the 980 has a rangefinder and viewfinder for hand-held use, it is extremely difficult to hand-hold this camera. It’s not just the weight, but the handle is awkward and the bellows are very fragile and easy to hit with your fingers. You would definitely need the extra hand grip with solenoid release. Note that the rangefinder and viewfinder do not work properly when you start to use movements.
  8. The 80mm lens board is an advantage for size and portability. However it limits you to Copal #0 or #1 shutters, and there are quite a few large format lenses that will not fit in a shutter this small, restricting your choice. I was only able to fit a Schneider Super-Angulon 90mm f/8, not the f/5.6 version and definitely not the XL version! There are still plenty of compatible lenses available – I compiled a list of known good and known bad lenses.

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