Gaoersi vs Fotoman
I'm considering purchasing a 617 or 624 format panorama camera but having a hard time deciding between the Fotoman and the Gaoersi models. I understand that the Fotoman cameras appears to be better built but I don't see justifying a much higher price.
Does anyone have any experience using the Gaorsi panoramic cameras and what its been like? and if so, why you chose the Gaoersi over the Fotoman?
I bought the Gaoersi 6x17 as it was a cheap way to try it out. It works fine. I bought a 6x12 Gaoerso afterwards also. The finders aren't great, but they work, I will probably buy a Fotoman finder as they seem better and have a bubble level built in for handholding.
Steve, is it easy to interchange the viewfinders?
After using my Gaoersi 617 for over 18 months I can tell you they are very robust, well finished & excellent build quality. I've also handled 2 or 3 Fotoman cameras and there's nothing really to distinguish between them in terms of quality etc..
The price difference is mainly due to the way they are sold, you currently buy Gaoersi's direct with no distributor adding a markup, as that changes I'd guess the price differential will narrow significantly.
I have the Universal view finder, it's OK, this is the one some people don't like but it's fine with my 75mm SA, but for longer lenses a dedicated finder for each focal length would almost certainly be better, if tha is going to be your main lens.
Thanks for the feedback, do all the Gaorsi panos come with a ground glass? If so, that'll make composing easier, instead of having to rely on the view finder. Hard to tell from the website...
Originally Posted by Ian Grant
Mine did, I have the older 6x17 Gaoersi where you can only use the GG when there's no film loaded. Apart from checking the focus when I first bought the camera I've never used the GG since.
I use a 75mm on my camera 24/7, I have a 90mm focus cone & a spare 90mm lens but I never used it, so put the lens back on a 5x4 panel. I've never had a problem composing or with focussing, a 75mm is quite forgiving and has decent DOF.
OK, so maybe I'm just old and cranky. Or maybe it was the 30+ hour flight that just carried me from Houston, TX to Hong Kong. Nonetheless, after biting my lip many, many times, reading replies to this identical question, on a few different photo forums, I have slipped passed the point of prudence, and must offer a response. (Just this one time... I promise never to do this again).
Let me do so by addressing a statement in Ian's posting - "I've also handled 2 or 3 Fotoman cameras and there's nothing really to distinguish between them in terms of quality etc".
Simply put, this statement is simply erroneous and therefor misleading.
Having been involved in the manufacturing of highly engineered mechanical products (of many types) for more years than I care to recall, allow me to point out just a few differences between our Fotoman cameras, and the Gaoersi offerings, which I would think should be easily observable... even upon a cursory side-by-side inspection;
Viewfinder - ours utilizes an advanced (multicoated) optical design, which exhibits far less distortion than the Gaoersi. Our VF is lightweight, uses easily interchangeable, precise, light weight, low cost Masks, and sports a bubble level which is viewable both internally and externally. The Gaoersi VF is very heavy and very inaccurate. We know... embarrassingly, we actually packaged the Gaoersi VF with our very early cameras (for a very short time). We had so many complaints, we offered an at cost upgrade for over a year, to make amends.
HFM - our Helical Focus Mount is truly a thing of beauty, if I do say so myself. It's buttery rotational feel is the result of a 6-start, fine pitch helicoid thread. The Gaoersi HFM utilizes a single high pitch coarse thread, just like a screw, which results in a rough, imprecise feel. While the rough feel can be masked, to some degree, by a generous application of thick grease, this will lead to problems of high torque when subjected to cold temperatures or migration (read: mess) at elevated temperatures. Additionally, last we checked, it appeared as though the Gaoersi HFM utilized the same distance/DOF markings for several different focal lengths.
Internal Coatings - rather than a simple flat black paint for the interior of our Bodies and Cones, we use the identical anti-reflective coating Nikon does for their cameras, which greatly increases the contrast of the recorded image. When you consider the internal surface area present in a 617 camera/cone, the last thing you want is unfocussed, contrast robbing light rays bouncing all over the place.
There are other differences, most of which have to do with the quality of raw materials, and may not be observable upon a cursory inspection... so I will not detail them here. Suffice it to say, that when a proper grade of raw material is not obtainable in China... we source it elsewhere.
In the end, perhaps one of the most gratifying testimonial to the difference in quality level, comes from previous Gaoersi owners, who upgrade to our Fotoman cameras. And while I can offer no proof positive to validate such, I sincerely doubt the reverse is true.
That's a bit like a Nikon man commenting about a Canon, or a Pentax and highly biased.
I looked carefully at the Fotoman's and any quality differences are not easily discernible. It's the results that the cameras produce that's important, and that ultimately is far more dependent on the lens quality than anything else. It would be equally as easy to argue that a Fotoman or a Gaoersi doesn't have the build quality of a Linhof or a Fuji but both are capable of being used to make exactly the same quality of images.
There's nothing wrong with Fotoman cameras, but the Gaoersi is a good cost effective alternative.
What to me is of primary importance is a depth of field/hyperfocal scale on the helical ring as found on better cameras like Linhof/Horseman/Fuji/Fotoman (Goaersi lacks this if you look at their photos on their website). I don't consider the Goaersi a professional camera without it....it's not just a convenience, but instead is essential since these large format cameras have no tilts and we rely on hyperfocal to maximize our depth of field (especially with longer lenses). When working at closer distances the Goaersi is inconvenient, and I refuse to pace off a distance through mud or down the side of a hill when a Fotoman/Technorama/Horseman all offer proper focusing. Add the nice rangefinder feature attached to the Fotoman camera, and truly it is a great camera to work with. Add a second camera with its own lens and life just gets better. I'm sure the Goaersi is a solid camera, but the helical ring (without depth of field/hyperfocal) for me puts it into the amateur category.
Unfortunately Fotoman is stopping mfrng (but the website and supplies will remain functioning for at least 5 years according to Fotomans website). Perhaps when better economic times returns; Paul Droluk will consider starting up again. I would gladly pay DOUBLE what they sell for now, and it is still a bargain considering the cost would still be 1/3 the price of a Technorama or Horseman. The only feature I wish it had is a rapid lens mount system (something like a Fuji).
"It's the results that the cameras produce that's important, and that ultimately is far more dependent on the lens quality than anything else."........ A Volkswagon will get you around, but don't expect it to handle or look like a Buick. On the other hand, the linhof will get you around in style. Remember, the lens means nothing if you can't focus it quickly and confidently, or your depth of field is off.
" I looked carefully at the Fotoman's and any quality differences are not easily discernible"....look again.....no depth of field/hyperfocal scale, no rangefinder, plastic components to the film advance knob instead of all metal, poorly built helical mount (rough thread, and many commented are not smooth as silk), inside components not refined finish, lousy viewfinder (Goaersi are known for this). The lack of a depth of field scale should throw up a red flag...is this important to me or not?
I use my Gaoersi 6x17 alongside a 5x4 or occasionally 10x8 camera so lack of a DOF scale is fairly inconsequential. I also now only use a 75mm lens with it, so far in the 2+ years I've had the camera focusing & DOF have never been a problem or issue despite the fact I nearly always use the camera hand-held. I already had a range-finder that I could have used with the camera but have found it unnecessary and sold it through this forum.
Originally Posted by Van Camper
If you really need an indication of DOF then tables are available for most lenses, it's no big deal.