SHEN HAO 4x5 wooden camera: Love at first sight! : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

OK, I met with Perry (Shen Hao’s international sales rep) and played with his camera today. Wow, it’s so small and beautiful! I’m still excited and don’t know where to start my reporting. The model I played with was a Shen Hao HZX-2A, their most advanced and most expensive model (still under $500). Here’s little background about the camera factory. Shen Hao is basically a one-man operation, pretty much like Mr. Canham. Camera parts are made by his contractors and assistants, Mr. Chang does his final assembly and tests. Seagull sales team helps selling his products. Mr. Chang only maintains a small inventory. In other words, his production level is depending on order volumes. He also does modifications on his models upon customer request. Shockingly, he never heard of Wisner, Canham, Ebony, Lotus, Deardorff, and Gandolfi, but he is familiar with Linhof, Toyo, and Wista. He does not speak English.

The wood is teak (other hard wood materials available on request) and all metal parts (except focusing track gears) are made of stainless steel. The standard bellows is synthetic, the bag bellows is probably leather. I have seen many wooden cameras, new and old, and I think I can safely say that the wood work and coating finish work are superb! The metal parts are finely brushed, and the finish is not up to par by my standards, as compared to Linhof. All washers for controls are made of Teflon. The dimension of this camera is 6.5”x6.5”x4”, and the weight is 4.8 lbs. Perry would like to thank Mr. Andrea Milano for his comments and suggestions. Mr. Chang has paid special attention on camera finish this time.

Let me start from the back. The back frame is not revolving type, but does rotate. It has a Grafloc type back, the ground glass is not very bright, but exchangeable. The back can be easily removed off the frame in seconds, and one can mount roll film holders. Mr. Chang offers a 6x12 roll film holder (it works smoothly, but does not look pretty though). The folding focusing hood can be attached to the back in a snap, and can be swung out of the way when someone needs to kiss the ground glass, just like the way Ebony backs do. With the wooden back in place, Polaroid sheet film holder and Fuji Quickloader can NOT be used. One can only use a regular sheet film holder or a Polaroid pack film holder. The spring controlled tension is perfect. The back standard has the following movements: rise 46 mm, symmetrical swing 20 degree left and 20 degree right, shift 42 mm left and 41 mm right (with marked scale). Base tilt forward 90 degree, and backward 30 degree. Center tilt 10 degree each direction. The back standard can not be moved backward ( I wish it could), but can be moved forward as clearly indicated in John’s four scans. None of these movements are geared, but all controls and lockings are very positive, which reminds me my Gandolfi Variant L3. The back swing is controlled by two levers conveniently located under the back frame, whereas the shift is controlled by only one lever at a hard to reach place. Once all knobs and levers are tightened, the whole back standard is VERY solid. I wish Mr. Chang had put some bubble levels on the back standard and on the back frame.

The camera bed is made from one piece of teak. Both ¼ and 3/8 threads are there. The bellows is not as flexible as ones from Lotus or Canham, but still works well. One can use a 58 mm lens on a flat lens board with this bellows, but don’t expect any movements. On the long end, the bellows can be extended to about 375 mm with movements. In contrast, the bag bellows is very soft, excellent for wide angle lens work, and can be extended to about 210 mm.

For the front standard, the focusing mechanism is surprisingly smooth, and can be easily compared with Lotus’ silk smooth. The focusing track can only go forward. But the front standard can be set backward by releasing two “brakes” at the two corners (like Wista) and then simply pushing it backward. There is a pair of internal tracks which allows one to slide the front standard up and down without causing any center tilt. The front movements include rise 37 mm, fall 32 mm, swing 17 degree each direction, no shift, base tilt forward 90 degree, backward 40 degree, center tilt limited by the bellows. The center tilt zero indentation is a bit too strong. The front standard accepts Linhof Technika 4x5 type lens board (mounting hole off center), and the fit is very precise. A Toyo clone adjustable lens hood (quite bulky and heavy) is offered, and it can be securely attached onto the front standard.

Seagull offers two lenses for this camera: 150 mm f5.6 (6 elements in 4 groups) in Copal 0 shutter and 180 mm f5.6 (4 elements in 3 groups) in Copal 1 shutter. The 150 mm lens is plasmat type with IC = 175 mm, and the 180 mm lens is Tessar type with IC= 190 mm. Both lenses are single coated, accept 52 mm filters, cost $420 each (not good value).

Ok, I think I have covered pretty much I can remember and in my notes. Here’s what I like and what needs improvement, in descending order. Likes: Great price, superb wood work, small size, excellent overall build quality, smooth movements, light weight. One thing I did not mention before is that, when you open the camera, both front and back standards “spring” into their zero indentation positions. Cool! Future improvements: add bubble levels to the back frame and both front and back standards, incorporate a longer bellows, add a revolving back, add front shift, and lower the price even more :-)

If I had to rate this camera, I would say this is a Minolta if you think Linhof is Leica. Certainly I would not have any problems recommending this camera to anyone who wants to use a 4x5 camera. If you look at the performance/cost ratio, I don’t know whether any cameras I've known so far can beat it!

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), February 16, 2001


Geoffrey, I am very happy that you wrote this review,I will read it carefully but at first site there is one thing or two which puzzles me, as you know I bought 4 cameras and I am trying to sell them, I was as excited as you are about the cameras when I saw them at the Fotokina. I must say that when I got deeper into the Shen Hao , I developed also a few critic notes but will talk about it in a later stage. My cameras are The HZX-IIA 4"x5" in the Titanium coat version and the Crome coat version, the metall is brass (cannot be copper....)and it is plated-coated with either Titanium nitride or Chrome, there are certain parts made of stainless steel but certanly not all the metal parts ! I would have been delighted of the contrary, did you perhaps mistake chromed brass for stainless stee, or did Mr Chang change something in the making of this camera? The wideangle bellows isn't made of leather but rather of leatherette (Sky plastic with some sintetic canvas backing). I am very happy to hear that Perry Wang spoke to you about my advice and hope in future to be able to give , together with you and all the other contributors, more feedback to improve this already great camera! My best regards

-- andrea milano (, February 16, 2001.

Does Mr. Chang make a 6x9 version? Can specs and pictures be found on the internet?

-- neil poulsen (, February 16, 2001.

If he does, it is not on the web or in the catalogue, There is another thread on the SHIRON which is a 6x9 wooden field

-- andrea milano (, February 16, 2001.

Does anyone know where these are sold in the US? Does anyone have any pictures of them on the web?

-- Rusty Johnston (, February 16, 2001.

For pictures, look back a few days for a thread entitled something like "Shen Hao cameras at PMA." There are links to the pictures on my web site and the link to a copy on the LF site. (They won't stay on mine long, although I imagine they'll stay a few weeks.)

-- John H. Henderson (, February 16, 2001.

Hi Guys,

My email box has been flooded with messages regarding the Shen Hao 4x5 cameras. I thought I might group those questions and answer them to my best knowledge in this post. Before I begin, I would like to personally thank Mr. Andrea Milano for introducing this camera to us.

1. Where can I buy this camera? Are there any US importers? If you are in Europe, please contact Mr. Andrea Milano. If you are in US or else where, your best bet is to contact Seagull at and address attention to Perry Wong. He is the associate director of Seagull's international marketing group. Consider language difficulties, write your message as simple as possible. If you have questions regarding their Shen Hao catalog, I'd be glad to assist you. A few translation errors have contributed to quite some confusion.

Currently, there is no official US importer to represent any Shen Hao products. Some New York dealers are interested in those products, but have concerns over potential legal issues and upsetting some US camera makers. One Atlanta man is more serious about importing Shen Hao cameras, and wants to sell them between $1000 - $1500 in US. "They sure beat those Ikea furnitures", he joked. He's working with his lawyer(s) to check out those claimed potential patent issues.

2. Are you a Seagull salesperson, and trying to sell us some shit? No, Sir! I'm not affiliated with Seagull in any way, nor with Shen Hao. I do not take any promotion fees or commission from them, either, by writing my first impression report and posting it on this forum. True, some products made in China are not very good as you have seen in the US market. But the market demands some "not very good products" being made for those poor people like me. I bet you paid over $100 for your very good Nike basketball shoes, even though Nike paid less than $3 a pair to the shoe factory in China. You idiot!!! FYI: there is a upper class shop in New York city. They only sell products made in China at Saks Fifth Avenue prices. They have been in business for almost 20 years. Come and See.

3. Have you used those Seagull lenses? Any good? No. I have not used them. The prices are too high. Seagull might have paid 150% import taxes on those Copal shutters, thus they can not reduce their lens prices. Their barrel lenses are very cheap. So You'd better hold on to your Schnikofujistocks.

4. Would you personally buy a Shen Hao camera? Yes, I will buy TWO. But I will not do mail order. I want them custom made for me with front shift on 4x5, and rear shift on 8x10, all metal parts made of stainless steel and finishes up to my standards. If my schedule permits, I will go to the Shen Hao factory, and spend a week with Mr. Chang in terms of spec, material selection, and finish requirements.

5. Any warranty policy of Shen Hao products? Shen Hao is thinking of offering life time warranty to original owners of their cameras. No definitive date is set.

Finally, I'd like to address Andrea's question. The HZX45-2A camera I played with was pristine, and did not look like a demo unit. No ding, no dent, no scratches. I know, as a fact, they took your advices very seriously and have been trying to make improvements. Maybe the camera I played with yesterday was a new prototype based upon your suggestions. I might have mistaken about white chrome plating over brass. But who would then brush the white chrome?

I'll be in New Orleans for the weekend, thus I can not answer your emails until next Wednesday. So hold on, please. Cheers!

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), February 16, 2001.

There is an internet site for the cameras with specs under "" It includes the 8x10 camera.

-- John Wiemer (, February 16, 2001.

Geoffrey and John,

Thanks for all the information you've provided us on these cameras. The brochure scans and the hands-on review are very helpful.


-- Dave Willis (, February 16, 2001.

Dear Geoffrey, Thanks for your extensive review , I find very little to add to your perfect introduction to these cameras, thanks a lot for mentioning my name and indicating me as a European reference for these cameras. I am more than happy to share the credit with you to have brought these fine pieces of skilled photographic craft to the attention of the large format public. Inspite of a few discrepances between the cameras you saw and the ones in my possession, I would like to point out that the cameras with the titanium nitride coating are slightly more expensive than the ones you saw and that my cameras fit a Polaroid 545 holder (you gave me a fright, I went to check immediately!) and I see no reason why they shouldn't fit the quickload(I don't have one so I cannot check...). I had a good reason to doubt your otherwise very accurate judgement, I seem to recognize the similarities between the Shen Hao and another camera which I've owned.

I've owned a Horseman Woodman 45, this field camera is marketed by Horseman but I have my reason to think that the camera might just possibly come from the same hands who build the Shen Hao. The camera back and few other details of the front are virtually the same(having owned and used a Woodman I knew that that camera takes Polaroid 545). The GG is very similar to Horseman's and , surprise surprise, if you get an Horseman GG(Sinar, Bromwell, Inka and many more) it fits like a glove! I am having Bosscreens for Horseman fitted to Two cameras(this should also take care of your doubts concerning the GG). Somehow I don't quite understand your remark about the back which cannot be moved back but I will investigate a little further before I say anything foolish about it. If I would be able to have my say about this camera I would indeed improve the finish here and there , but that seem to be done already, take a look at some movements and last but not least take a deep look at Wista's wideangle bellows or Walker's and more importantly would look long and very carefully at their similar recessed lens board. Personally, I have my reservation thinking that Shen Hao was made without any liberal inspiration to better known brands and if that would be the case I wouldn't find it any strange! The nice thing about a flexible company such as this, is that you can have your camera custom made and if you are prepared to think with them and master the Chinese language (and I am afraid I don't!) you might open their horizonts to a lot of Large format application.I'll be glad to hear any comments from you and any contributor .

-- Andrea Milano (, February 16, 2001.

I forgot to thank John as well, I apologize for it and many thanks to him too!

-- Andrea Milano (, February 16, 2001.

Just to comment on the issue of Chinese manufacturing, for all those doubting the quality standards of Chinese products. It is the manufacturer of the product that sets the quality standard - not China. As Geoffrey pointed out - there are many excellent products such as Nike and NorthFace being produced in China to the highest standards. For all those out there thinking that it's Chinese shit...beware, it wasn't too long ago that Japanese products were once labelled "Japanese Junk".

-- Dave Anton (, February 16, 2001.


"Somehow I don't quite understand your remark about the back which cannot be moved back but I will investigate a little further before I say anything foolish about it"

I apologize for not making it clear. When I said that the back standard can not be moved backward, it means that this camera is a double extension design, not a triple extension design like Lotus, Canham, and Deardorff.

Regarding the Polaroid and Fuji Quickload film holders, you can insert the film holders into the camera back, but your image area is NOT centered (off by about 2 mm) towards your right if you are facing your subject. This is due to a physical blockage of the back which prevents the film holders to be placed at its proper position. This might not be a real problem for a lot of people, but it does not meet my standards. Furthermore, I don't think you can insert a Grafmatic film holder into the back. Lotus Rapid view 4x5 has the same problem, as discussed above.

I'm not surprised at all that you have found similarities between Shen Hao and Horseman. I have checked with my sources (i. e. B+H Photo equipment buyers) and was assured that the Horseman Woodman 4x5 is made in Japan. I Don't believe people would pay $1000 for that piece of "Japanese junk"! No wonder someone told me that he can sell Shen Hao for over a thousand bucks. Well, that's beyond the topic. If you have owned a Wista and/or Linhof, I bet you will also find some similarities. I guess that Mr. Chang just copied some functionalities from those cameras he knows, and I don't think there are any legal issues here. Look at Mr. Mike Walker's products, do you see anything familiar? Cheers,

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), February 22, 2001.

Dear Geoffrey, I guess similarities are unavoidable but in the case of the Woodman and the Shen Hao the similarities are more than just that. However it is a simple camera and its price might rise a few eyebrows. Price, though, is a complex issue and I know all too well that a camera like the Shen Hao which costs around $500 plus can end up, after paying import taxes, shipping costs, airport and courier handling fees, Bank fees, VAT.; add a small profit upon which you'll pay income tax.......and the camera ends up costing a $1000! Tell me about it!!!!!

-- Andrea Milano (, February 23, 2001.

this is a wonderful site for lf lover. i am a singaporean and flying to shanghai to buy this 45 camera. singapore selling a woodman at sin$3500. and i will fly there to pay only sin$1000. will post a report when i have test shoot this camera.

-- HOWIE (, March 26, 2001.

I am extremely interested in an alternative to either a Tachihara, Horeman Woodman, Arca-Swiss Discovery, or Calumet Cadet. Especially if the price approaches the $500 level. I doubt that we could get something that cheap, but even if under $1000, I will love to see it.

-- Andy Biggs (, March 29, 2001.

After searching the web for some time I found the website of the company: It describes the products offered in greater detail. I sent a request for a price list to the address given their and received today, after one week, the answer from Seagull. (Unfortunatly it doesn't list the rollfilm holder. Does anybody know for how much this goes?)

The list claims the metall used is plated (Titanium or Chrome) Copper.

I have the option to ask a friend to bring me this camera from Beijing this summer. Can I expect significant savings from this or is ordering directly from Seagull in Shanghai the way to go?

-- Ilja Friedel (, June 12, 2001.

I have recently (11.1.01) had a friend in China contact the Shen-Hao factory, to inquire about purchases directly from the factory. He orginally contacted the largest camera store in Beijing, but they directed him to the factory. Apparently the upper-end 4x5 the HZX-45 II, sells for Y3800 ~US$460. Extras are:

bag bellows Y540 ($65) 6x12mm film holder Y1800 ($218) lens hood Y750 ($91) hood for focusing screen Y350 ($42) lens boards Y150 ($18)

The low-end 4x5, the GJ45, sells for Y3000 ($363)

The HZX810, a full featured 8x10 sells for Y7980 ($966)

Note that all of these cameras also have a "export" price, which is $25 more for the HZX-45 II. Same camera but with export tax. If you purchase the camera in China it is without the tax. This is all the information I have at the moment. When I have more I will post it.

-- Jason Sanford Greenberg (, November 11, 2001.

I have been playing with my new Shen-Hao HZX-IIA for a few weeks now, and can make a few comments which may or may not be useful for others who are considering purchasing one. I had a friend order camera, bag bellows, and case directly from the factory in Shanghai. Prices are noted in my previous post. After examining and using the camera, I am very happy. For the price, the HZX-IIA is truly an excellent camera, much better (IMHO) than the Tachihara, which is the only other new camera available in the price range. I think the camera compares well with the Wista. The Shen-Hao has better movements, but the Wista appears more "beautiful" or flashier (for whatever that is worth). While in general I really like the camera, there are several aspects of the camera I don’t like:

1. The bag bellows is a bit too stiff for my liking. 2. The graflock back, which while functional, appears flimsy. I may build a new one using a graflock from a speed-graphic 3. The Shen-Hao lensboards (Technika style) are really junky--best off using other brands, such as Wista, Linhof or Nikon. 4. For a small fee I had a spirit level installed on the rear standard. The factory installed a very small “bulls-eye” type bubble, which is almost too small to be useful. In addition, it was improperly attached-I had to glue it in myself. 5. It is, for a wooden field camera, quite heavy.

Again, I am really quite happy with the camera, and would recommend it to any photographer on a budget. Note also that Badger Graphic (http:// is selling the Shen-Hao for a reasonable price.

-- Jason Sanford Greenberg (, January 25, 2002.

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