The Tachihara 4x5" at Mono Lake (my lens, lensboard and darkcloth aren't part of the Tachihara). I've bought two of my Tachiharas at Adorama, but they're out of production, so that link has other sugestions. Today, they are easy to find at this link to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay). This free website's biggest source of support is when you use those and these links. It helps me keep reviewing these oldies when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.
The Tachihara is a lightweight wooden 4x5" camera.
It has been one of the most popular cameras for decades for serious landscape and outdoor photography because of its ultra light weight, ability to fold up about as big as a book, its ample set of movements, and great screen.
As of 2010, it has been discontinued; I need to test some newer cameras to give personal recommendations, however I suspect that the $900 Toyo Field 45CF is also excellent, and built a lot tougher out of metal. The Tachihara usually doesn't survive falling off a tripod.
Of course you can go whole-hog and buy the classic of classics, the timeless Linhof Master Technika, for $7,500. I also use a 1956 Linhof Technika IV which is the same thing, but I grew tired of carrying the weight. Even though the light Tachihara feels flimsy, its results are what get published every month in your landscape calendars and seen on gallery walls.
The Tachihara is the lightest weight and most convenient 4 x 5" camera I've ever used. It was also the cheapest at $700 brand new. This explains why I've bought THREE of them over the years! This is the camera I carry and use in the field for almost all my serious photography, not digital. Sorry, Nikon and Canon.
I've always poked fun of the Tachihara as a cheap little camera. I have almost unlimited budget for this and have now bought my THIRD identical camera. It's probably the world's best camera for practical outdoor landscape photography. Digital cameras come and go every few months. The Tachihara has been, and still is, responsible for a huge percentage of the serious landscape photography you've seen in magazines, calendars and art galleries for decades.
It appears to be identical to the cameras sold for more money under the names Wood Field XM by Calumet, and Osaka, as sold by Bromwell. My first Tachihara was actually sold by Zone VI as their Zone VI camera back in the 1970s.
Few visitors to my site realize that even though I blab endlessly about digital cameras which we all love, I use my Tachihara for my serious work. I use my Nikon D70 as a preview and light meter with the Tachihara. The D70 also gets the shots I'd miss with the 4 x 5 if the light changes too fast.
If you are concerned about professional quality for your landscape shots you'd be far better off with this Tachihara 4 x 5 than any 12 - 22 MP DSLR for over ten times the cost. Add a $400 EPSON 4990 scanner and you have a complete 100 MegaPixel digital camera system, with far better highlight rendition and native perspective control. If you're new to 4 x 5" you can get a scanner, lens, light meter and film holders along with this camera for less than $2,000 complete! I'm working on a page with the details.
I bought my first used Tachihara in 1991 and it was stolen in 1993. It was made in 1979. There's even a photo of a Tachihara on page 32 (figure 4-6) of my © 1980 edition of Ansel Adams' book "The Camera." I'd be curious to know just when Tachihara started making these. It's been at least 25 years.
The only changes I've seen across the years is that about 10 or 20 years ago the carrying lock was upgraded from a simple catch to a more complex and secure lever with adjustable friction. The one shown in Ansel's book is the earliest. All of mine have had easy thumb levers for locking the rear swing; Ansel's shows one with less desirable Mickey Mouse nuts for locking the rear swing.
Even though the results were always spectacular I never trusted the slight flexibility of the standards of the wooden Tachihara. I would be out in the wind and worried about motion although the results were always perfect. I have this shot blown up four feet wide at home and you pretty much can read the street signs 5 miles away. I made this in the wind with my first 12 year old used Tachihara.
So when my first Tachihara was stolen I got a Linhof Technika IV. It's a solid metal brick and I love it.
Then I went to Guatemala in 1998. I didn't feel like hauling a seven-pound camera all over 24 hours a day. I shopped around, and the Tachihara was the winner again for lightness.
I bought my second one brand new from Adorama in 1998. I dropped it in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala that same month and broke off the focus lock knob. That turned out to be a design improvement, since it made it easier to focus and saved one ounce of weight!
I preferred the light weight of the Tachihara over the solidity of the Linhof, so I used the Tachihara instead for the next seven years.
In March of 2005 my light tripod was blown over in a windstorm in Death Valley. The Tachihara still works fine and the glass didn't even break, however it became rather floppy since the wood is cracked and the metal is bent. It's still perfectly light tight and I used it for the rest of that shoot. We gave up on that trip: the wind caused sand storms that were destroying everything and caused the hotels to lose power and have to close down the restaurants. We didn't want to camp out in 40 knot winds and aborted the shoot after two days. The Tachihara held up longer than we did!
I bought my third Tachihara in September 2005. Except for the catch it's identical to my first one from 1979, right down to the misspelling of the "Fiel Stand" label on the top, which I think is supposed to read "Field Stand(ard)."
Tachihara also make an 8 x 10" camera you can get here as well as a bellows extension for longer lenses for this 4 x 5" camera you can get here. I also see a 6 x 9 cm camera referred to in the instructions; I have no idea where you can get that. I've also heard of a 5 x 7" camera as well as a 5 x 7" extension back for my 4 x 5" camera. Good luck finding these and let me know if you do; it's hard enough finding the most common Tachihara 4 x 5" camera.
I've heard Midwest Photo Exchange has the 5 x 7," although personally I'd just go for the 8 x 10" camera which seems to cost less. My E6 lab charges the same for 5 x 7" as it does for 8 x 10," since each sheet fills one slot of their dip-and-dunk processor. 4 x 5" loads four to a clip. Choice of format is very personal. 5 x 7" is a format with limited support in the USA, 4 x 5" is very popular and 8 x 10" is the next most popular. Everything else starts getting a little weird when looking for film in other sizes than 4 x 5 or 8 x 10."
I kid you not: even though this is the least expensive 4 x 5" field camera available it's 100% handmade by fanatics in Japan from 300 - 500 year old cherrywood. This cherrywood is from the Hidaka province on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It's dried naturally for three to four years before becoming a camera! This is straight from the printed instructions that come with the camera. The instructions list Tachihara Professional Camera Works Ltd., 3-17-8, Toshima, Kita-ku, Tokyo 114, Japan and a phone of (03)911-1794/(03)914-0911.
I measure 3.5 pounds (56 ounces or 1580 grams). This is less than the 3.8 pounds I see in printed specifications. My scale is a little screwy. I need to get a new scale and recheck it.
I measure 8.5" W x 3.7" H x 7.7" D (216 x 94 x 196 mm) when folded, including protrusions.
I easily can swap lenses between my Linhof Technika IV. Unlike for the Linhof camera, I've cut my own lensboards from sheet metal for the Tachihara. You just need the right size and thickness. The Tachihara doesn't use or need the trapezoidal and indexing cutouts on the bottom or precision machined parallelism-ensuring surfaces of the Linhof boards.
Fresnel and 1 cm grid.
Spring, no Graflock.
Removes and reattaches in 90 degree increments for verticals.
Front rise and fall
I measure 30 mm for rise and 30 mm for fall. Just tilt the bed up or down and correct with both standards if you need more.
The specifications read 70mm.
I measure 39 degrees forward.
Backwards tilt is limited only by the bellows, which will vary with lens. The printed specifications say 30 degrees.
I measure 11.5 degrees in either direction.
The printed specifications say 17 degrees.
I've never come close to using all of the tilt or swing. If you need more front swing you can loosen the focus track locks, tweak the front standard and then retighten them.
I measure 28 degrees backwards.
Forward tilt is limited only by the bellows.
The printed specifications read 40 degrees in each direction.
I measure 11.9 degrees in either direction.
The printed specifications says 23 degrees.
I've never come close to using all the swing of which the Tachihara is capable.
Varnished 400-year-old cherrywood.
Brass colored metal parts. I'm presuming they're plated steel.
Sturdy, black-painted solid steel base plate with two 1/4" tripod holes. The specs say one is 3/8," both of mine are 1/4" as I'd prefer. I slap on my tripod quick release and it stays put forever.
Bellows Lengths (movements zeroed)
Distance from lensboard flange to focal plane: 68 mm minimum, 316 mm maximum.
I see 65 mm and 330 mm specified in print.
No levels. I drop a circular level into the bed when I want one.
No lens or lensboard, just like every other pro camera body.
No rear rise or fall. No big deal, I've never needed this. You just use the front or tilt the base.
No geared movements except focus. No problem.
I keep looking and have yet to find a better camera for use in the field.
It's the lightest, smallest camera I could find with all the movements I use. This is why it's the third copy I've owned
When I went to Guatemala in 1998 (photos made with this Tachihara are here) I was amazed when I discovered that the Tachihara actually fit in one of the large pockets of my photo vest! I wore the vest on the plane and took it all with me, complete with lenses and meters and accessories.
Focusing Screen System
The Tachihara comes with the best and brightest focusing system I've used on a view camera, regardless of price.
The Tachihara has a plastic Fresnel lens with a very fine and bright focusing surface. There is a protective glass sheet with printed 1 cm gridlines between you and the Fresnel. Don't laugh; an $8,000 Canon 1Ds-Mk II also has a plastic focus surface because modern technology can form better focusing surfaces on plastic than glass. This is much better than many more expensive cameras. For instance, a Wisner I saw had only a crummy piece of coarsely ground glass with no Fresnel and only 1" grid lines. The Wisner's screen looked like it was cut from someone's bathroom window; the Tachihara looks as you'd expect from a precision Japanese camera. My Linhof Technika also lacks a standard Fresnel.
The Fresnel lens makes the screen much brighter, especially with normal and wide lenses. Every SLR camera has one; otherwise the corners of the viewfinder would be dark. On most view cameras a Fresnel lens for the focusing screen is an extra cost option.
Flexibility and Utility
The Tachihara's fixed, tapered bellows are perfect for my particular range of lenses from 75 mm to 300 mm. Other cameras may be better if you need more bellows draw or optional bag bellows. There is no bag bellows for the Tachihara, but there is a bellows extension available here that lets you use it with longer lenses.
I use my 75 mm f/5.6 Super Angulon in a recessed lensboard and get at least 1" of front vertical shift up and down. You have to be careful picking 75 mm lenses and recessed boards. Different lenses' flange focal distances and recessed boards' depths vary so be sure yours will clear everything to allow you the movements you need.
I also use my 300 mm f/9 Nikkor with full movements and have enough bellows travel to focus down to about ten feet.
Even though it's inexpensive the Tachihara is very well made. The woodwork is much more precise than the far more expensive Wisners I have seen. The Tachihara has tight joinery and no slop; the Wisners had sloppy joints filled with wood putty and sanded over.
The stamped, plated metal parts aren't as good as the German quality we get with Linhof, but they work just fine. The brass color seems like it wants to come off at any moment, however I've never been able to wear it off.
All the Tachihara factory adjustments for the zero positions are right on. Everything is parallel and the standards pop right into place when opened.
My biggest complaint is that it attracts attention. People who see it stop to say "Pretty Camera" and want to look through it. No one realizes these cameras are made today and still used for the majority of serious landscape photography. The genuine 300 - 500 year old cherrywood and brass-color metal gathers a crowd. I'd prefer black for anonymity. It's impossible to concentrate when everyone comes over and wants to ask me what f/stop I'm using.
Serial numbers are hand-written on the rear of the bed. To read them, move the focus track forward and look down from the rear of the camera, just below the ground glass.
From the three I've owned it appears that the first two digits are the year of manufacture. My first used one was 79, the one I bought in 1998 starts 98- and the one I bought in September 2005 starts 04-.
The Calumet Wood Field XM and the Osaka I believe are the same camera, just for a higher price.
The Chinese Shen-Hao sells for about the same price. I quickly discounted it when I realized it was bigger and heavier (4.8 lbs) and I think had only a plain ground glass screen.The Shen-Hao does take my favorite Technika lensboards. I love the Fresnel screen of the Tachihara. I also think the Shen-Hao had a bellows optimized for longer lenses than I prefer. it has an optional bag bellows, but I don't want to have to change to it everytime I fit my 75 mm lens.
The Toyo 45CF lacks back movements. I use the Tachihara's back tilt and swing all the time. The Toyo also doesn't use Technika lensboards, meaning I'd have to remount my lenses on different boards each time I swap cameras. Those two things ended my interest in the Toyo. The CF is slick for its lightweight use of carbon fiber, thus the CF moniker.
I forget why I passed on the Horseman Woodman. It costs more and I think it lacks a Fresnel. It weighs a little less (3.2 pounds), takes Technika lensboards and adds front shift which I never use. It's also worth a look.
I own a 1957 Linhof Technika IV metal field camera. It's wonderful and sets up faster and more precisely. I rarely use it because it weighs almost twice as much and doesn't even have a Fresnel screen. I got a fresnel screen at an office supply store for $2.00 which I drop over the glass when I need it. It was sold as a "sheet magnifier!"
Linhof has been making these since about 1902 and the current models are the Master Technika 2000 ($5,100 including ultrawide focusing track) and Master Technika Classic ($5,928 including rangefinder). Oddly the black version of the Master Technika Classic sells for $4,125 instead of $5,928; I'd prefer black but can't fathom that that's the only difference. The ultrawide focusing track of the Master Technika 2000 means it's the version I'd get if I wanted a new one. The rangefinder of the Classic (as well as every other version this past 100 years) means you can focus without needing the ground glass for hand-holding, sports and night photography. Don't laugh: these were the premier news and press cameras for the first half of the twentieth century. You used either a wire frame or optical finder and a Grafmatic six-shot holder which stayed in the camera.
Dark Cloth (click)
Focusing Loupes (click)
Go buy one of these Tachiharas. I've bought three! I could have bought anything for use in the field and preferred this. More expensive cameras are bigger and heavier and tend to have poorer focusing screens!
Use the locks delicately. They stay put with a light touch. If I tighten my new camera too much it's hard to loosen it. It needs very little effort to lock it
Let me reiterate: if you are concerned about professional quality for your landscape shots you'd be far better off with a Tachihara 4 x 5 than a 14 MP DSLR for over ten times the cost. Add a $400 EPSON 4990 scanner and you have a complete 100 MP digital camera system, with far better highlight rendition and native perspective control. If you're new to 4 x 5 you can get a scanner, lens, light meter and film holders along with this camera for less than $2,000 complete!
I have a page about the world of 4 x 5 cameras here.
Don't worry about any of the specified angles of tilt or swing. First-timers fret about this until they get out and shoot and discover that real-world photography never comes close to needing anywhere near as much tilt or swing as any camera provides. We sometimes need more rise, fall or shift, and for that we just point the camera in a different direction and use the swings and tilts to compensate. These are basics of view camera operation you can get from the view camera books on my books page.
Want to see the Tachihara in action? Page three of the June 2009 issue of Arizona Highways shows a photo of Wes Timmerman shooting his Tachihara.
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