Horseman Convertible

Horseman Convertible – Discovering a New and Rare Camera – By Art Meripol

My 50-year career as a photographer started in the early 1970’s. High School had me photographing our school yearbook with a Yashica TL Electro. Moving to my college newspaper and yearbook I briefly used a Yashica Mat 124 TLR before a benefactor loaned me a Minota SRT-101. I managed to scrape up the money to buy my first ‘professional’ camera, the original Olympus OM-1 shortly after its release. I think it is still one of the all-time great mechanical film cameras. I vaguely remember having two of the small sharp Zuiko lenses, a wide and short telephoto.

Before graduation I was already  working full-time at the local newspaper. That brought me to Nikon and various iterations of their bodies and lenses over the years. Though I really liked and revered the F3 it was the FM2 that seemed to fit me best. For 13 years I used Nikons to shoot sports, hard news, concerts, society…everything a news shooter is asked to do.

I then spent 24 years shooting Travel feature stories for a large magazine using Nikons, a Pentax 67 and my favorite Mamiya 7 system.  The last 10 years have been freelancing for editorial and commercial clients. I have a cabinet in my home office  with my original OM-1 as well as my old Nikon F3 and FM2 and a host of other old film cameras I’ve messed with over the years including a really nice Crown Graphic.

Recently Pat Patterson, my boss, co-worker, mentor and friend at the last newspaper I worked for phoned me. Pat’s a dear friend and just turned 85. He said he had an old camera he used years ago and wanted me to have it. The next time I was in his town we met for lunch and he brought out a lovingly used old leather case with Horseman embossed in the leather. I’m sure my eyes were big as I opened the clasps to see inside. The camera was a Horseman 980, a medium format technical field camera. It came with a 6X9 back and four lenses. It’s in near mint condition.

Horseman 980
The pristine Horseman 980 Technical Camera.
The original Horseman case, a gift of a great friend.

While rummaging through the case full of accessories I came across another piece of interesting gear and, pulling it out, asking Pat about it. He honestly didn’t remember it.  After a career of more than 60 years and having turning 85 that was understandable. But looking at the wear on it I know he used it often. Getting back home some web research says it’s a Horseman Convertible CH-482 and was made about 1971-72, the very time I started my photo journey.

Horseman Convertible
The Horseman Convertible.

The Horseman Convertible is a modular camera with a 1 inch, 2.54cm, metal frame, a 62mm f5.6 to f32 lens (full-frame equivalent about 27mm) on a board that attaches to the frame front, A ground glass or a film back attach to the back of the frame. With the ground glass on it the camera is not much bigger than my Fuji X100V. I like to think Horseman planned on creating more lens choices, but they never did. There is a lever on each side of the lens, one on the left to cock the shutter and one on the right to release it. It has a wire frame-finder that lifts up. The barely audible shutter tops out at 1/500. It appears only around 5000 cameras were made and most sold in Europe and Japan. It’s a very sturdy piece of gear.

I took the Horseman Convertible and a roll of T-Max 400 to a nearby botanical garden and shot hand-held by simple zone-focusing. the lens has an excellent DOF scale that made for casual easy shooting. I hit focus on about two thirds of the shots. My ability to judge distance is a bit suspect. Several times I forgot to remove the dark slide from the film back. (We learn from our mistakes and so I must have learned a lot.)

Botanical Garden sculpture, hand held and zone focused on T-Max 400
Horseman Convertible top
Depth of Field markings on the fixed 62mm lens.

A few days later I loaded it again, this time with some Ilford Delta 100 and went to a nearby 400 acre nature preserve. On this trip I took my tripod and a loupe to focus. It was a bit cumbersome at first repeatedly removing the ground glass and attaching the film back for each shot but it quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm. I also added a Voigtlander 28mm viewfinder to the cold-shoe to help framing. It seems to match up well but was not very convenient to look through when the bulky film back was attached.

Horseman Convertible back
The Convertible with the 6X9 film back attached in the nature preserve.
The Convertible with the 6X9 film back attached and the red-rimmed dark slide out to shoot.
A ‘pano’ shot of a waterfall in the nature preserve. I combined two frames into this one.
Waterall on Ilford Delta 100
Waterall on Ilford Delta 100
Rock climbing in the nature preserve on Ilford Delta 100

The Horseman 980 is very similar to a LInhoff and is a much more complex, more versatile and finer camera with multiple lenses and lens movements. But currently on EBay the Horseman Convertible sells for twice as much. Go figure.

I’m still shooting for clients but I know that sooner or later I’ll transition from working for others to shooting just for myself. It’s been fun to shoot film again for the first time since going digital in 2006. I do love digital for my work but shooting film stretched me in different ways and that was energizing. I don’t know that I’ll add a darkroom any time soon but, my wife willing, I might down the road.

In the meantime, I’m fortunate that just as the Horseman Convertible came to me the first professional film lab in years opened in my city. They processed the film and I did the scanning with my Canon R5 and the RF100 macro. All shots were then edited in Lightroom Classic. 

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9 thoughts on “Horseman Convertible – Discovering a New and Rare Camera – By Art Meripol”

  1. Also, I’m dying for a review of the Horseman 980. 6×9 is an awesome format, but my Fuji GL690 is SO heavy once you throw all 3 lenses in the camera bag. Would love to know your experiences with the Horseman.

    1. It’s not fair to compare speed of use with my Canon R5. It is a more measured pace for sure. I need to get back out with it and shoot more. Thanks for inspiring me to do so. Hopefully a review soon. I have four lenses with it and probably should try each of them. They all appear to be working perfectly.

  2. Wow – beautiful images! I love how some 6×9 cameras are ‘relatively’ compact compared to other formats. I’m sure you could easily do a multi-day hike with your set up and actually have room for necessities [food/water etc.] but still space for lots of film.

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