Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shen Hao Professional Camera

Shen Hao Professional Camera is a small Shanghai company that makes large-format view cameras – old-school cameras which use larger film and contain many completely different mechanisms than a 35mm camera. They're much heavier and inconvenient than a normal camera, and really you don't see them around Shanghai at all, any more than in the US anyway.

As I haven't used their cameras, I can't provide much first hand information. Their only sales department is inside the Xin Guang Camera Mall, on the fourth story, room 419. There's several other camera stores in the mall dedicated to large-format cameras, as well. Shen Hao cameras are also sold online in foreign markets, with their 4x5 camera going for $645, and there's a company website with more details, although the website doesn't ever want to load. Additionally, Ken Rockwell, who's a little controversial with camera nerds, compiled a lot of excellent data on using and purchasing a large-format camera. He actually recommends the Tachihara, which is a very similar camera being produced in Japan. Finally, Ansel Adams wrote several interesting guides to photography, which often focus on the use of a view camera – his most famous shots were made with large-format cameras.

These large-format cameras have some advantages. There was a recent exhibition of photography in Shanghai, where pictures of Dongbei citizens standing in the snow were taken on 8x10 film. Even with the large prints, the fine details were both obvious and impressive, which is really the raison d'etre of large-format photography. One could say the resolution of 8x10 film is equivalent to 800 megapixels, although the actual number depends a lot on use and who you talk to – anyway, with the increase in film size comes a corresponding increase in detail, and the total resolution is around 50 times greater than that of 35mm film, or of a DSLR for that matter. There's also an ability to change the plane of shooting, where perspective can be altered, or the focus plane can be changed.

However, large format view cameras aren't quick to use, and at ten pounds or so for a complete setup, are heavy and bulky to carry. They're also expensive – even a minimal setup will cost upwards of a thousand dollars. Additionally, buying the film and having it developed costs several dollars per shot (Weima, on Wulumuqi Lu, services large-format photography). So it's not a camera for casual photographers, and is probably best used by a devoted landscape or nature photographer who wants to make poster-sized prints.

There's also a host of accessories that are needed: a lens board, a focusing screen, a film tray, and even a little cloth to hide behind, to see the focusing screen when there's light outside! Shen Hao sells many of these accessories, although they're interchangeable between brands. Really, the cameras Shen Hao sells are more of a chassis, to put all these accessories into – as long as the camera is a stable, light-tight platform, with a degree of movement, technical image quality boils down to the separately-purchased lens, and the film. Shen Hao does have a good international reputation as building a cheap but acceptably solid camera.

In addition to the most well-known film sizes, 4x5 and 8x10, they also offer cameras and film backs with wider perspectives such as 7x17, having ratios around 1:2.5, about twice as wide as a picture taken with a 35mm camera. Interestingly, they also offer view cameras in medium-format size, both 60mm x 170mm, and 60mm x 240mm. They'll take respectively four or three pictures on a normal roll of medium-format 120 film, which is much cheaper and easier to purchase and develop than large-format sheet film. They offer about the same total resolution as 4x5 film, although with much narrower perspectives.


Francisco Arce said...

Hi, We visit your booth on PMA Anaheim, and we are interest for the (Digital Back Sliding Adapter) for NIKON.

But i wat to see the adapter on the camera, and see How its work.

I have a TOYO 45.

Francisco Arce

Arvind said...


Great post. I would plan to visit this place next week.

I would really like to know where I can purchase dark room chemicals in Shanghai.

Would this mall that you describe for the Shen Hao camera have it?