Tachihara-Hope 1/2 Plate Camera conversion to 5×7

 

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Many are familiar with the later model Tachihara 4×5 wood field cameras coming out in the 1970’s and made until a few years ago. Previous to this Tachihara made cameras under the Tachihara-Hope name. Clearly Tachihara worked closely with Wista and many items can be found under the Hope name that were made to work with the Wista-Rittreck cameras. The Tachihara 8×10 is also identical to the Wista 8×10 so there seem to be many associations between the Japanese camera manufacturers.

The Tachihara-Hope half plate camera is a fairly common find in Japan. The 4 3/4 x 6 1/2 format was very common in Japan and there were many manufacturers of this format camera. Other models from Osaka and many others are very similar to the Tachihara-Hope camera. The Tachihara-Hope can normally be identified by a metal  plate on the camera back.  Sometimes the plate is missing but most of these type cameras can be converted to modern 5×7 format.

One of the most sought after light weight 5×7 field cameras is the Ideka Anba 5×7. This camera is fairly rare and not easy to find. It is nearly identical to many of the Japanese half plate camera designs. The Tachihara-Hope half plate looks and movements function almost identically to the Ikdea Anba 5×7. For this reason it makes a good candidate for conversion to modern 5×7 format. In finished condition my Tachihara-Hope half plate camera with 5×7 back weighs in at only 4.25 pounds making it one of the lightest 5×7 cameras possible.  I have used it extensively through the years as a light weight field camera. This camera is lighter than most 4×5 view cameras. I also paid only a few dollars for the camera since it is half plate format and not in demand.

To complete the conversion I started with a Burke and James 5×7 slider back. This back was made to shoot two frames on one sheet of standard 5×7 film. I removed the sliding 5×7 back from the housing and used it to make the back for the camera. I did this conversion many years ago so I don’t have any pictures of the process but the description should suffice. Since the slider back is much thinner than the half plate camera back I added strips of cherry to the short section of the slider back. I added these dimensionally to fit the width of the half plate camera back. I then added thin wood strips to the inside edge of the back to create the light trap that fits into the camera back. I also had to rebate a 1/16″ slot into the back all the way around the edge so the camera clips can hold the back.

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The width of the inner edge inside the half plate back is only 6.25 inches. Since the 5×7 back sits a bit further back there is no vignette with any of the lenses I have used. Generally I use only wide and normal focal length lenses so I have not used this configuration with long lenses but I don’t see any reason it would not work.

At the end of the day I have a very light 5×7 field camera that is capable of easily handling lenses as wide as my Wollensak 108mm Extreme Wide Angle f12.5. I have also mounted a brass 75mm lens and had no issues using the lens on this camera. The Tachihara-Hope is a really great camera for wide angles as the rear of the camera can be tracked forwards for short focal length lenses.

Some other conversions to the camera were the addition of a Wista-Rittreck to Linhof lens board adapter that I simply mounted on the front of the camera so I could use standard Linhof type lens boards. The adapter fits the front of the camera very well and I have had no issues with this set up excepting the adapter board makes the front standard a little thicker. To accommodate the extra thickness I chiseled out some wood from the round camera base to fit the lens board adapter. I also removed the stock metal tripod mounting arms that came on the camera. These were made to work with a specific wood tripod which I did not have. I simply added a round piece of 1/4″ baltic birch plywood with an Arca-Swiss type mounting plate to fit my tripod. Since this camera was so inexpensive and fairly common I felt no harm in modifying permanently for my needs.

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As typical of Japanese cameras the bellows are very thin. This camera required extensive bellows patching made with bellows cloth with transfer tape applied to it. I had to tape over most of the bellows creases and all the way down each set of corners. Unfortunately since I had to use so much bellows patch material the thickness impedes the camera from closing all the way. I do find it a little annoying but at the end of the day it still compacts well and is very usable. You don’t need a perfect camera or fancy over priced field camera to make great images! This camera still looks great and the bellows patches are quite hard to notice until you get within inches of it so it still has great visual appeal common to wood field cameras.

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I can’t think of a better camera for my landscape type work in the field. At 4.25 pounds is easily the lightest 5×7 that I have and as such I use this camera the most. It has front tilt, front rise/fall, rear tilt and rear swing which is more than adequate for most landscape work I do. It can handle heavy lenses as well and I can barely squeeze my Fujinon SW 125mm f8.0 lens through the front panel. Normally I pair this camera with my super light weight field lens kit which includes Wollensak Ex. Wa. 108mm f12.5, Fujinon 150mm f5.6 and Kodak Ektar 203mm f7.7. For the super low price and light weight this is really a great camera for me. Granted I did a lot of work on it but it was well worth it and as I understand it’s even lighter than the Ikeda Anba 5×7 and a small fraction of the price.

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Toyo metal half plate 4-3/4 x 6-1/2 conversion to standard 5×7

© Joe Harrigan 2017

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Sakai Tokushu Camera Company (Toyo) half plate metal field camera.

 

The fairly common (in Japan) Toyo half plate metal field camera was made with the Japanese traditional cabine (キャビネ) or earlier half plate  format very popular in the UK and elsewhere. This size was very similar to the cabinet card in earlier times (4 1/2 x 6 1/2). The early wood Japanese cameras seem to be basic copies or highly inspired by the English half plate cameras. The metal Toyo comes in at the end of the half plate phenomena. Perhaps one of the last cameras made and designed for half plate?

The Sakai Tokushu Camera Company (Toyo) bought out Graflex and some of their tooling in the early 70’s. I don’t have the specific date but after Singer had bought Graflex and was basically done and closed it down. The Toyo half plate cameras were made with very similar parts as Graflex. The focus rail is nearly identical although slightly different. Obviously these cameras take the standard Graflex metal lens boards. At the same time Toyo produced the Toyo Super Graphic which is rare today. The Toyo Super G was essentially identical to the Graflex Super Graphic with a Toyo badge and a few other minor changes.  They had the tooling and kept making the Super Graphic for a short time.

The point is these are great cameras and the lineage is surprisingly linked to Graflex. These are improved versions of the older designs not just copies. The front of the Toyo connects to the focus rail like a Gralfex but the shape is very different and more stout to accommodate more movements.

 

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Lower front standard, half plate Toyo.

 

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Design Similarities to Graflex Speed and Crown, showing Graflex front standard sitting on the focus rail.

 

The main reason to use these cameras is the metal construction and light weight. However with a stock half plate back they are not easy to use. You can find half plate film holders but this would require cutting down film. I really don’t like to cut down film unless absolutely necessary. It is nearly impossible to keep dust from settling on the film surface during cutting. I mean unless you have a clean room at your disposal cutting down film is a real attraction for dust bunnies.

Toyo made a factory 5×7 back to fit these cameras but it is very rare.  It may take years to find one and even then competition would be fierce. It’s much easier to install a wood 5×7 back onto the Toyo. 5×7 backs are relatively common on the used market. I looked for one and happened to find a Wista 4×5 to 5×7 expansion back. Sorry I know this is rare but I did offer it for sale and nobody made an offer so I removed the 5×7 Wista back from the 4×5 expansion cone and used this to make my 5×7 back.

 

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Original Wista DX 4×5 to 5×7 expansion back used for the conversion.

 

To mount the back I had to get it on the camera. To do this I took a stock Toyo 4×5 reduction back for the half plate (common) and removed the flat mounting plate that connected the reduction back to the camera. This plate had the standard opening for the 4×5 reduction back. I enlarged the opening to accommodate the 5×7 back. Not really complicated just simple cutting out the metal plate to make the opening for 5×7 instead of 4×5. Getting the wood Wista back flat took a little more work as it was nailed and glued to the original 4×5 to 5×7 expansion cone.

I then simply screwed the wood Wista 5×7 back to the Toyo metal plate to the and there you have it. A nice quality made 5×7 back that fits the Toyo half plate camera. Additional work included notching out the wood back to fit the camera mounting hardware. I also painted the back to closer match the original Toyo metal hammered finish. The color is not a perfect match but it looks a lot better than the original Wista red stained cherry finish. The camera now has a weight of about 5-1/2 pounds with the back installed. It might be possible to find a lighter 5×7 camera but not one as nice as this and is a great combination to work with. I do in fact have a lighter 5×7 but that camera is a Japanese wood half plate camera I converted in a similar way to 5×7. I will cover that camera at a later date.

 

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Inside of the new back showing Toyo mounting plate enlarged to fit 5×7.

 

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Outside of the new back showing Wista wood 5×7 back.

 

The last modification I made to the Wista back was to add a bail. Honestly the bail came out a little thick but still works great. The Wista has springs located all the way on the end of the 5×7 viewing frame and required me using a nylon shim to get the bail arm out and far enough away from the back to function. I added brass flats to the outside rail on the back for the bail arm to ride on. I literally cut these brass pieces from two bottom plates taken off Pentax Spotmatic cameras. No harm done the spotties where junk anyway. I absolutely require a bail back and this one works great. It does stick out a little bit from the back but again it is well worth it. The weight of the bail is very minimal so no issue with adding marginal weight to the camera.

The only caveat with the 5×7 conversion is the camera has to be closed with the back in vertical position. I do not have a factory Toyo 5×7 back but this also appears to the be case with the original Toyo 5×7 back. The camera simply isn’t wide enough to close with the 5×7 back in horizontal position. The upside to all this is the camera is slightly smaller than a standard 5×7 and this saves weight. I have found no issues shooting the camera the opening is large enough and does not vignette with the lenses I have.

 

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New back in horizontal position, note the 5×7 back extends beyond the camera back.

 

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Moving the back to vertical position allows proper collapsing of the camera.

 

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Camera in closed position with new back installed.

 

I am easily able to operate the Toyo with my Fujinon SW 125mm f8.0 lens. Since the Fuji is large it has no problem clearing the front bed for use. I also frequently use the 150mm Schneider Super Symmar HM 150mm f5.6 with no issues. With my Wollensak Extreme Wide Angle 108mm lens I have to drop the bed for the lens to clear. The Wollensak lens is so small and sits so far back the front bed will be in the image if I don’t drop the bed. This isn’t really an issue for me as the 108mm is extreme and I rarely have a need to use it. When I do need the super wide lens I use my 5×7 converted wood half plate camera. If I had a need for a lens wider than 125mm on a regular basis I would opt to try the Fujinon SW 105mm lens. While I don’t know if it will clear the bed I have a feeling it would. This is the benefit of large lenses! Not to mention the super optical performance of these type lenses. Not that the Wollensak is bad it is an excellent little lens.

The other thing to note about the Toyo is the original bellows are very thin – like most Japanese bellows. Most of Toyo half plate cameras I find have bellows that are shot and need full replacement. I got lucky and my bellows were surprisingly good condition showing only one pin hole. To patch the hole and safeguard the bellows I added a strip of bellows patch on all the corners of the bellows. Basically this is made from rubberized nylon dark room cloth to which I attached super sticky transfer tape. The rubberized cloth is the same material used to make actual bellows. I then taped in one piece from the front of the bellows to the back on all four corner sections. Transfer tape is not anything most people use, it’s called booger tape in the graphic arts because it balls up like a juicy booger it’s so sticky. The final result is a clean taped corner that looks almost original and will last. Some bellows were actually made this way, with corners taped as an extra layer. Don’t have transfer tape? You can’t buy it at the normal store. Please do not use gaffers tape or electrical tape they are not up to the task. One day I’ll have to remove your lousy gaffers tape and fix it properly! Applying these inferior materials will probably require replacement of the bellows in the near future and impede the camera from closing properly.

 

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Bellows corners covered with darkroom cloth material.

 

So there you have it that is how I added a modern 5×7 back to my Toyo half plate camera. You could just as easily add any type modern 5×7 back to the camera. You don’t have to use the standard Toyo plate from a 4×5 reduction back either. Taking this part off the factory made 120 roll film reduction back would be a better idea. I mean who shoots 120 roll film on such a large camera anyway? You could also fabricate an aluminum rear mounting plate from raw stock. The reason to use a metal plate attached to the wood back is the way the rear back mounting clips work. They snap onto the back and require a thin mounting surface so metal is best to use in this area.

At the end of the day I have a fully functional metal Toyo 5×7 field camera with wood back. I like metal cameras and here in the Pacific Northwest they are ideal for the wet winter conditions. The camera folds into a small light package and is one of the nicest light weight 5×7 cameras you can have. The camera takes common Graflex metal lens boards. The front standard has tilt, swing, rise and fall. The rear standard has tilt only. In field work I find these movements more than adequate.

 

5×7 Film Holders

© Joe Harrigan 2017

There are many options for 5×7 film holders including wood, older plastic, modern plastic and others. There are advantages and disadvantages but any type can be used with success.  I have used most types and currently use 5×7 wood and modern plastic holders for different purposes.

Wood Film Holders:

Wood film holders are a reasonable option and should be considered. However you must choose your wood film holders with care. Many of these older wood holders are heavily used and abused and need to be retired. I look for two specific things when seeking good usable wood film holders. First I look very carefully at the lower corners where the film holders slide into the camera back and often show significant wear. If the corners are nice and sharp and retain their original square form then they pass this initial inspection. Wood film holders with heavily rounded corners are fit for retirement or parts use in my opinion. Secondly I look closely at the light trap bar. Very old holders were made with wood light trap bars. I do not use this type simply due to the fragile thin wood in this area. I specifically seek out the holders that have metal light trap bars. There are many out there and several options to choose from that are mainly wood with metal light trap bars. It is not impossible to find good quality wood film holders with squared corners and metal light trap bars.

My personal first choice for this type of film holder are the Agfa or Ansco 5×7 wood film holders with metal light trap bars. Again be careful looking for these as the older versions were made with wood light traps and (in my opinion) are best to be avoided. Not to say these type will not work because they can work fine, I simply choose the metal light trap versions for peace of mind. Wood 5×7 film holders are also lighter than modern plastic versions. I weighed one of my Agfa film holders and it came in at 8.7 ounces. The Agfa and Ansco 5×7 holders are also shorter than modern plastic 5×7 film holders and use a dark slide that I highly prefer with a metal handle and offset pulling tab that is very easy to grab and use. There are no fiddly wire handles on the dark slides that flip such as on the early plastic 5×7 film holders.

Kodak also made high quality wood 5×7 film holders with metal light trap bars and are another option. One other point to mention is the color of the film holders can help indicate the vintage. The very old Kodak holders are natural wood and later versions, as well as the Agfa/Ansco are black painted wood. Some of the really old 5×7 holders were made to fit specific cameras so may not work with a modern type 5×7 back.

Of course you also need to make sure the wood holders are not warped because making a light tight connection requires a flat film holder. I don’t find many wood holders under 8×10 with any warp. Most of these were made in the middle century or earlier and they had access to very fine straight grain woods. Most of these film holders were made with the highest quality cuts and have stayed true through time. The largest problem with wood film holders might be sticky dark slides. Often the slides are difficult to use because they don’t slide into the holder very easily. Most of the time this is easily remedied with a proper cleaning of the dark slides. They are often caked with dirt and a simple degreasing and cleaning makes them work like new again. You could also polish the plastic and make them look brand new if desired. Please don’t ever put oil or wax on them it simply gunk’s up the dark slide slot. Clean them! Try not to look at the crud that comes off. I degrease them with orange cleaner or ammonia and water then wipe them down with soapy water after, especially the edges where they make contact into the wood holder.

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Two wood film holders Agfa/Ansco on the left and Kodak on the right.

 

Early Plastic Film Holders:

The second basic choice for film holders are the early plastic film holders. These can be defined by the two significant models readily available, Fidelity Deluxe and Lisco Regal brands. These can make excellent usable film holders and are fairly abundant. These two styles were also made with square corners and it is best to inspect the lower corners for wear when choosing these type. There are many out there that have been used so many times the lower corners are well rounded over. Sometimes you can see the lower area is so worn the metal shows through and these are best avoided. The weight of Fidelity Deluxe 5×7 holders is around 9.5 ounces and a Lisco Regal 5×7 weighed in at 9.3 ounces. Fidelity Deluxe 5×7 holders can be quickly identified by the cross hatch pattern in the plastic that is absent on the newer Fidelity Elite holders.

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Early plastic film holders Fidelity Deluxe and Lisco Regal

 

The main improvement with more modern Fidelity Elite and Lisco Regal II film holders was an anodized aluminum film septum (and a different dark slide). Most of the wood and early plastic holders use a simple spray painted septum which can lead to flaking paint etc. The situation is easily cured by flaking off any loose paint and touching it up with matt black paint. I find a paint pen can work fine if you wipe it down with a piece of cotton or dab it as it dries to temper the gloss. The best cure is to remove the septum entirely and hit it with fresh paint. This is easily done to wood holders where the septum is sometimes a 5×7 film sheath insert that can be pulled out. With plastic holders you might need to tape them off if you want to re-spray the septum. If you are bad at even coating please do not do this you need to hit them with the thinnest even coat possible. It is possible and I have found some late model Fidelity Deluxe holders with anodized septums. Online some folks sell what they call white top Fidelity Deluxe. These are probably Fidelity Deluxe holders with modern Fidelty elite dark slides added. The slides for each are the same dimensions.

Modern Plastic Film Holders:

The third choice for 5×7 film holders is of course the most modern Fidelity Elite and Lisco Regal II 5×7 film holders. These models were made with rounded lower corners and can be easily identified by this. Again I look closely at this area to determine the amount of use the holder has seen. These are generally accepted as the best option for 5×7 film holders and as such are the most expensive (excepting modern wood holders). These were made for quite a few years but seem to rarely show up for sale and can be expensive when they do show up. The above comment about the septum deem them the best choice and newest (cleanest) doesn’t hurt.

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Fidelity Elite 5×7 film holder

 

Other Film Holders:

Finally there are other options for film holders. The ones that come to mind are older full metal holders made by Alkon. These can be found and are often in good shape but I would imagine they weigh a bit more than other film holders. I do not have one to weigh so I cannot provide the exact weight of the Alkons. Other options are modern wood made film holders. Again these are made with wood and metal light trap bars. I would never buy one that had a wood light trap bar it is simply too fragile in this area in my opinion. The modern wood film holders are extremely expensive so in my opinion would be best to look for modern plastic versions. The holders do fill a void and may be the best option in the future as 5×7 plastic film holders are no longer produced.

One other type holder I can think of is the book form holders made for dry glass plate cameras. I do use this type of holder for my ulf camera but they are very heavy and generally not the best option for shooting 5×7 film. My ulf book plate holders require sheets of glass inside to fill the area where the glass plate would go when shooting film so weight is substantial. These can be used for wet plate work but the chemistry will rapidly deteriorate the wood, or so I have been told.

I certainly missed one but lastly there were special slotted film holders made to fit the Graflex SLR type cameras. Most of these you find will be glass plate holders but there were some made specifically for film. If you have a Graflex 5×7 SLR you really only have one choice, unless you modify the camera back and that is to use the wood Graflex slotted film or plate holders.

If you find glass plate holders for the Graflex or any other 5×7 glass plate holder you can use what is called a film sheath to use the plate holder for film. The film sheath is a thin aluminum insert put into the plate holder to accept film. I have found in the 4×5 size that old graflex wood 4×5 film holders used the same sheaths. You can cannibalize graflex 4×5 wood film holder to get the film sheaths to use in plate holders. I do not know if the same could be said for the 5×7 size but maybe?

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Slotted 5×7 Graflex film holder for Graflex SLR cameras.

 

Fidelity Elite are my film holder of choice for 5×7 but Lisco Regal II are virtually identical. I do use the Agfa-Ansco wooden film holders for litho film. I often shoot litho type film in overcast situations for silver or alternative process printing. The wood holders make quick identification out in the field and I only load them with this type film. I never have issues with these wood holders they have been cleaned and work very well.

To Identify my films out in the field I use a piece of masking tape over the white side slides of the film holders. This tape identifies the holder as loaded and I write on it the type of film loaded. Sometimes I use different colored tape to identify each film. I always put this to the far side of the holder and makes quick identification in the field of film ready to expose. After the images are exposed I turn the slide black side out and put my tape over the middle of the holder with any notes for development. Film holders with no tape are empty. This basic system makes it easy to know what holders are loaded, which are already exposed and which are empty. I ignore the dark slide metal traps that prevent the slide from being pulled. They can’t be relied on to stay in position and tape adds another element to keep the slides intact during transport. I have had 4×5 dark slides on fidelity elite holders slide out in the trunk of a car! Never again this film is too expensive to waste like that.

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My tape system on the left exposed tmax, unexposed fp4+ and unexposed ortho film. Note the size difference of the wood film holder!

 

Finally it is my goal to keep my expensive film holders in excellent condition. One great way to do this is the install a bail on your camera back. Film holders take the most abuse when sliding them into the camera back. This is especially true if you have a metal 5×7 camera and wears out the lower corners of the film holders. A bail back, which holds the camera back open eliminates most wear associated with inserting the holder into the camera back. I have never understood modern cameras that do not have bail backs. A bail can be added to almost any camera back and weight is minimal. These are mandatory for me and I add a bail to every camera I operate. Lastly common sense for dust is to keep your film holders – loaded or not in sealed plastic bags to keep dust out.

Honestly it is surprising that nobody has improved the film holder in modern times. They are heavy and comprise most of the weight in my light weight 5×7 kit. Mido made some terrible thin film holders for 4×5 many years ago. Surely someone could design a thinner lighter film holder for 5×7 and other formats. I guess there is a reason film holders are the way they are. They work and if cared for can be counted on for years.