Last summer I had the opportunity
to spend some time with the recently introduced Hoffman Lightweight Field
Camera, and I'd like to share my impressions of this little gem
The Hoffman Camera Corporation has been around since 1953 and is best
known for the Hoffman Master View Field Cameras. These rugged, all-metal
cameras are available in 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10" formats with other
sizes, up to 16x20", offered by special order. Hoffman also produces
a number of other innovative products including vacuum film holders and
easels, vertical copy camera systems, horizontal copy cameras, and the
Metal Master Cut Film Holders. These are the only film holders I have
seen that don't require opening bottom flaps for loading. These
ingenious holders eliminate many problems encountered with plastic film
holders and are available in 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10" sizes.
I had worked a bit with the Master View Field Camera previously and when
Hoffman showed me their new lightweight version I was amazed. Outwardly
the two cameras are very similar in design and appearance, the wooden
version offers most of the features of the metal camera but weighs approximately
half as much. Standard sizes are 4x5" (three models) and 8x10"
(two models) but the camera will also be available in 11x14, 7x17, 8x20,
12x20, 14x17, 16x20, and 20x24" formats. If you don't find
the format you want in that list give Hoffman a call, and they can probably
build any format you'd like.
All the models have all the features you'd expect and some that
you don't usually find on field cameras unless you pay considerably
more. The movements on the camera I worked with, a 4x5" Blazer No.
3, were smooth with a generous amount of adjustment and, most importantly,
they all locked down tight without any hint of sag or creep. This means
that when you set the camera up it's going to stay right where you
put it. All 4x5" models use a 41/2" square lensboard and the
8x10" cameras use a 6" square board. These should accommodate
any lens that you would want to mount.
The 4x5 models have ample bellows draw for long lens use. The Blazer No.
3 has a full 18" while the other models are supplied with 14 and
16" bellows respectively, and all will accept 75mm lenses without
resorting to a recessed lensboard. On the 8x10 camera the standard bellows
is 34" for both models. Another nice feature of the 4x5 camera is
that most lenses up to 240mm, 360mm on the 8x10 cameras, can be left on
the camera when it is folded. This is a very handy feature in the field
when you need to set up on a rapidly changing scene and don't have
time to rummage through a camera bag looking for your lens. Presumably
there is a recessed lensboard available for short lenses, but the lack
of an optional bag bellows might prove off putting for some photographers.
When I first held the Blazer No. 3 and noticed its remarkable lightweight
and handsome black textured finish, I guessed that it was constructed
of aluminum, carbon fiber, or some other space-age composite material.
Imagine my surprise when I found out it was wood. It certainly doesn't
look like any wood camera I have ever seen. In fact, my first reaction
was, "Who would want to buy a painted wooden camera?" Then
after some thought it began to make perfect sense. If you want a wooden
camera that looks like fine furniture and boasts a multilayered hand-rubbed
finish then the Hoffman is probably going to leave you cold. On the other
hand, if you'd like a camera that can be easily touched up when
it collects the invariable dings and scratches then, like me, you'll
come to appreciate the finish on the Hoffman line of wooden field cameras.
For more information, contact Hoffman Camera Corporation, 19 Grand Ave.,
Farmingdale, NY 11735; (631) 694-4470; fax: (516) 935-0748.
Maximum Bellows: Draw
Minimum Bellows: Draw 3" without recessed board
Construction: Wood with aluminum hardware
Weight: 3 lbs 12 oz
Front Rise: 3"
Front Fall: 1.5"
Front Tilt: Limited only by bellows
Front Swing: Limited only by bellows
Front Shift: Plus or minus 1"
Rear Base Tilt: 60° rearward, forward limited by bellows
Rear Shift: Plus and minus 3/4"
Rear Rise: 2"
Folded Size (Less Knobs): 71/2x71/2x5"