Topcon Horseman Press Camera

Introduction

The Topcon Horseman Press Camera, fitted with the 180 mm telephoto lens and 6x9 cm rollfilm back.
The Topcon Horseman Press Camera, fitted with the 180 mm f/5.6 telephoto lens and 6×9 cm rollfilm back.

The Topcon Horseman Press Camera was made in various guises throughout the 1960s and 1970s. It is a medium format rangefinder camera with interchangeable film backs and lenses, which resulted from a collaboration between Topcon (famed for its superb optics, though no longer in the photographic business) and Horseman (well regarded for making medium format cameras).  As the name implies, it was aimed at journalistic work, though is equally at home in a wide range of work, such as landscapes (which is what I bought it for).

This camera is still a work in progress: one lens has a damaged aperture diaphragm (no chance of repair, due to a lack of parts availability), the case requires refurbishment, and I am yet to become fully familiar with its many quirks. Fortunately, most of the parts are there, including the seemingly obscure original lens hoods and filters.

Quirks

Nichols Creek. Topcon Horseman Press with Topcon 6.5 cm f/5.6 P.W on Kodak Ektar 100.
Nichols Creek. Topcon Horseman Press with Topcon 6.5 cm f/5.6 P.W on Kodak Ektar 100.

The rangefinder needs to be manually adjusted for each lens. This is achieved by matching the cam between the focus rails with the lens in use, and drawing the bellows out to one of the three appropriate end stops (wide angle, standard, and telephoto ranges). Focusing is through either the large rangefinder (sited next to the viewfinder), or a ground glass screen, which can be fitted in place of the film holder.

Nichols Creek. Topcon Horseman Press with Topcon 6.5 cm f/5.6 P.W on Kodak Ektar 100.
Nichols Creek. Topcon Horseman Press with Topcon 10.5 cm f/3.5 P.S on Kodak Ektar 100.

The separate viewfinder is large, and features bright frame lines for 65, 105 and 180 mm focal lengths. On the front of the camera, the viewfinder acts as a one-way mirror, through which the frame lines are still visible. This was a feature of a number of Topcon viewfinders of the time.

Aramoana. Topcon Horseman Press with Topcon 6.5 cm f/5.6 P.W on Kodak Ektar 100.
Aramoana. Topcon Horseman Press with Topcon 10.5 cm f/3.5 P.S on Kodak Ektar 100.

Making exposures requires separate coordination of the film and the shutter: they are not interlinked as in most cameras. The film is either 120 roll film in a 6×9 cm back (eight shots per roll), or 4×5″ sheet film in a double-sided wooden holder that locks into position. Each film back has at least one dark slide to protect the emulsion from stray light. These must be kept in place, except for when an exposure is being made. The shutter and aperture is contained within each lens, and requires manual cocking. When cocked, the shutter can be opened with a lever, to allow use of the ground glass focusing screen on the back of the camera.

Final Thoughts

Due to its work-in-progress state, I’ve only managed to take this camera out once. With so many unfamiliar features to learn, and rather cold weather, I never gave it the time and concentration I should have. Frustrating as it was to use, I still find there’s something endearing about standing at a tripod, being pedantic about every facet of the process while the wind gnaws at your face. On that basis, and the fact it looks quite elegant (to my eyes), the Topcon Horseman Press Camera is a charming machine, which I look forward to mastering (however many decades that will take).

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