We Tried It
Hoffman Lightweight Field Camera

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 with you.

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.

Technical Specifications

Maximum Bellows: Draw 18"
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"