I first came across the Horseman SW612 when I saw a stills photographer on a film shoot I was on using one. I was impressed by the compactness of the camera compared to my Fujica G617. The SW612 is about the same size as modern pro DSLR, and as such is a much more portable proposition than the Fuji. After thinking things over for a while, I began looking for a Horseman and subsequently found and bought one in Germany…and sold my Fuji G617.
The SW612 is a medium format panoramic camera that shoots six, 6x12cm photographs on a roll of 120 film. It has interchangeable film backs — 6×7, 6×9 and 6×12 — and there were six lenses available:
- Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon 35mm f/4.5 (~12mm on full-frame 35mm film)
- Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon 45mm f/4.5 (~15mm on full-frame 35mm film)
- Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon 55mm f/4.5 (~18mm on full-frame 35mm film)
- Rodenstock Grandagon-N 65mm f/4.5 (~22mm on full-frame 35mm film)
- Rodenstock Grandagon-N 90mm f/6.8 (~32mm on full-frame 35mm film)
- Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N 135mm f/5.6 (~45mm on full-frame 35mm film)
It is also possible to special order Schneider Super-Angulon XL lenses ranging from 38-72mm when ordering the SW612 from new. The camera usually came with the Rodenstock 45mm lens, and that’s what I have. Other lenses are as rare as hen’s teeth, and when they do show up are eye-wateringly expensive. For the purposes of this review, I assume that you only have the 45mm lens.
The camera is entirely mechanical. It has no metering built in and there is no focus assistance. The Rodenstock lens is essentially a large format lens with helical focusing. The camera is not cheap second hand, but it feels more robust than the medium format Fuji cameras I have used.
Panoramic cameras tend to be very bulky, often requiring a tripod for proper usage — as I noted in my review of the Fujica G617 Professional. The Horseman SW612 is the most compact panoramic medium format camera I’ve ever tried and I use it almost exclusively handheld because it’s completely practical to do so.
The viewfinder detaches from the top of the camera which makes for easier carriage in a bag. I have a smallish Crumpler camera bag (Ben’s Pizza XL) with internal dimensions of 25x19x13. In it, I can fit the SW612, a Fuji GS645, a light meter, Leica Disto and five rolls of film. This makes it a perfect travel companion. The SW612 is not a small camera, but it does sit in my hands quite comfortably.
Because the camera is completely manual and offers no help in any part of the picture-making process, it is essential to have a solid workflow when using the camera to avoid, say, accidental double exposures, or taking pictures with the lens cap on. My process is as follows:
- Take the lens cap off
- Figure out my framing
- Get out the Disto and measure the distance.
- Set that on the lens
- Get the light meter out and work out the correct exposure (aperture and shutter speed)
- Set that on the lens
- Cock the shutter
- Take the photograph
- Wind the film to the next frame immediately after the shutter closes
Like a large format camera, the Horseman SW612 offers no indication of whether the current frame has been exposed, so it’s vital to have a method whereby you can keep track of that. Loading and unloading film is easy. The film backs are similar to wider versions of a Mamiya RB/Z or Hasselblad film magazine/back, so there’s nothing quirky there.
When talking pros, the main quality that the camera has, along with its relative compactness, robustness, and ease of handling, is the lens.
The “standard” 45mm Rodenstock lens is very, very wide — approximately equivalent to a 16mm lens on full-frame 35mm film — but it is very, very sharp. If you focus carefully, the clarity of pictures you’re able to achieve with this camera is phenomenal. There is no lens distortion that I can see and straight lines, in reality, remain straight on the negatives, even at the very edge of frame.
The viewfinder allows you to see the spirit level that’s mounted to the top of the camera to help ensure that you keep your horizons level and as you might expect, with a lens — negatives this wide — it’s pretty unforgiving if you don’t keep the camera level.
As I mentioned above, provided you have a meticulous working method, it’s a pretty straight forward camera to use, though as with all medium format panoramic cameras, the SW612 does encourage you to slow down and take your time over your photography.
The last “pro” is that when you shoot with this camera people will generally allow you to work and will usually get out of your way because it seems to them that you have a SERIOUS CAMERA and that means you are taking SERIOUS PHOTOGRAPHS. I do get asked quite a lot of questions about the camera when I’m out and about using it, but because I shoot handheld with it, it is still more discreet than the Fuji G617 I used previously.
With the pros out of the way, I need to mention a few cons. Because the standard lens is so wide, the SW612 isn’t ideal as a portrait camera. The lens focuses down to 40cm so you can shoot people, but the extreme wide-angle tends to distort faces quite a bit. The longest lens offered by Horseman has a 135mm focal length. Translated into full-frame 35mm terms, that still works out to around 45mm.
It’s worth saying that there is a huge amount of barrel distortion in the viewfinder so there’s a fair degree of imagination required when you frame up because the actual photograph will not have these artefacts.
The only build quality issue I’ve had is with the rubber around the roll bar protecting the lens. Perhaps it’s because it’s getting on a bit, I’ve noticed that in hot weather the rubber starts to melt, and will try to stick itself to the inside of my camera bag. I’ve taken to wrapping it with camera tape to fix this. It’s not pretty but does fix the issue.
To wrap up, I think this is my perfect panoramic camera.
I generally want to shoot panoramas when I’m travelling so how compact a camera is, and how much ancillary gear I need to bring, really matters. Yes, you need a meter and a Disto or other distance measuring device to get the most out of the SW612, but the Disto is still relatively small compared to its competitors.
The quality of the photographs is exceptionally high, and once you’ve learned how to frame up with the very wide lens, it is an ideal film travel companion.
Thanks for reading,
Horseman SW612 technical specifications
|Camera name||Horseman SW612|
|Camera type||Interchangeable lens panoramic camera|
|Format||6x12cm - 120 rollfilm
6x9cm - 120 rollfilm (optional film back)
6x7cm - 120 rollfilm (optional film back)
|Shutter||Copal leaf shutter: 1 second to 1/500 +B|
|Lenses||Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon 35mm f/4.5 (~12mm on full-frame 35mm film)
Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon 45mm f/4.5 (~15mm on full-frame 35mm film)
Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon 55mm f/4.5 (~18mm on full-frame 35mm film)
Rodenstock Grandagon-N 65mm f/4.5 (~22mm on full-frame 35mm film)
Rodenstock Grandagon-N 90mm f/6.8 (~32mm on full-frame 35mm film)
Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N 135mm f/5.6 (~45mm on full-frame 35mm film)
Also possible to special order Schneider Super-Angulon XL lenses ranging from 38-72mm.
|Accessories||Dedicated optical viewfinder plus masks
Lens guard (cow bar)
Ground glass focusing screen
|Flash||X-Sync (all speeds) via PC connection|
|Weight||1.27kg (body only)
2.43kg (body + 105mm lens and finder)
104 x 164 x 51mm (HxWxD)
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