I have been a commercial architectural photographer for 30-plus years. During that time, most of my equipment stayed fairly consistent. Wide-angle lenses for large- and medium-format cameras were regularly put to work producing color transparency film.
With clients discovering the conveniences of digital capture, I have faced the dilemma of finding a digital camera system that produces distortion-free images for my architectural images. There are traditional view cameras with bag bellows and a digital back to replace the sheet or roll film back, and dedicated wide-angle configurations without bellows, still allowing the rise/fall and shifting capabilities with a focusing lens.
Of course, medium-format cameras can be turned into digital cameras by replacing the film back with a back that houses a digital sensor chip. But digital sensor chips used in medium-format backs have a smaller physical area size, which means they reduce the angle of view of any lens used on the camera, making the effective focal length of the lens longer.
Even the shortest wide-angle lenses for these medium-format digital cameras function more like normal lenses, which means true wide-angle photography is unavailable with medium-format digital cameras. The Horseman SW-D II Pro fills this void. So when Horseman announced the SW-D II Pro and I was given the opportunity to test it out, I jumped at the chance.
Testing on Location
The camera felt familiar the moment I picked it up. The quality, precision, and smoothness of the movements remind me of the Horseman DigiWide, a camera I tested back in 2000. The digital backs I tested with the SW-D II Pro all allow tethered shooting directly to my Apple PowerBook or PC instead of the focusing screen of a film view camera.
With a typical medium-format digital back, the 24mm provides an angle of view comparable to a 17mm lens on a 35mm camera. In addition to proving wide-angle capability with medium-format digital backs, the Horseman SW-D II Pro also provides the view camera front standard adjustments for correcting perspective distortion of lens rise and fall, and lateral shifts. And there’s no compromised retro-focus optical design usually found in wide angles.
The ability to immediately view the shot helps with composition and overall color-correction decisions on the spot. And the movements most often needed during interior or exterior work—rise and fall—are easily accomplished. I quickly got used to using the laptop display to set up my shots, substituting for the ground glass used with my traditional film systems. Though the camera can be handheld, I found precise framing and leveling to be cumbersome without a solid tripod.
This camera offers ultra-wide-angle capabilities and camera movements that allow rise/fall and lateral shift, a decided improvement over the earlier SW-D. Interchangeable lenses as wide as 24mm and up to 55mm are available.
The camera has adapters for Hasselblad V and H backs, as well as the Mamiya 645, and accessory optical viewfinders are available to match the lenses. The lenses are similar to traditional optical designs for view camera application, and should provide superior wide-angle performance, including a large imaging circle to accommodate perspective correction adjustments.
It’s interesting to note that the angle of view changes depending on the size and aspect ratio of the sensor chip in the various medium-format digital backs, as does the range of correction movement possible with a particular lens on the Horseman SW-D II Pro camera.
Overall, the camera was a pleasure to use and, more importantly, satisfied my need for a technical camera for architecture and interiors.
MSRP for the SW-D II Pro has yet to be announced, but the SW-D Pro it replaced was priced at $2,799. Lens pricing is $3,899 for the APO-DIGITAR 24mm f/5.6; $2,499 for the APO-SIRONAR DIGITAL 35mm f/4.5; $2,599 for the APO-SIRONAR DIGITAL 45mm f/4.5; and $2,599 for the APO-SIRONAR DIGITAL 55mm f/4.5.
Considering my Hasselblad SWC with the Carl Zeiss 38mm Biogon was priced at over $4,000 in the late 1960s, without any correction capabilities, the new Horseman
SW-D II Pro seems a great value for its intended market.
For more information, visit www.horsemanusa.com