Calumet 45NX: a review
by David C. Karp © 2002, for the Large Format Page.
The Calumet 45NX 4x5 monorail camera is a direct descendant of Cambo’s
professional SC series. After being replaced in Cambo’s U.S.A. lineup, Calumet
relabeled two SC-type 4x5 cameras under its own brand name as the 45NX and the
lower-priced 45N. Now, they are promoted for use by students, advanced amateurs,
and photographers making the move to large format photography. In Europe, these
cameras are available as the SC2 and SCN, which correspond to the 45NX and 45N,
This review features the Calumet 45NX, and is based on experience with my camera.
This website did not have a review of the 45NX when I was looking for a view camera,
so this review includes everything I would have wanted to know before purchasing. As
always, other people’s opinions may differ, so look at any camera in person before
purchasing. Differences in the specifications listed for the 45NX and the 45N are also
The 45NX is a professional quality 4x5 monorail camera. Fit and finish are excellent.
Controls are easy to use. Although using the camera in the field presents some
difficulty (weight), the 45NX is an all-around performer that a photographer can use as
his or her only camera for landscape, architecture, and studio photography. A benefit of
the 45NX is that it is part of an extensive system, with many useful accessories.
Calumet recently dropped the price of a new 45NX, and used camera prices have fallen
accordingly. Used cameras and accessories are plentiful.
Like all cameras, the 45NX’s design reflects some compromises, but overall it is a high
quality, reasonably-priced, versatile 4x5 monorail camera.
My opinions regarding the 45NX are colored by my interests as a photographer, so
readers should keep those in mind when looking at this review.
I am primarily interested in architectural and landscape photography. After investigating
a wide angle shift lens for my medium format camera, I decided that a 4x5 camera
offered many advantages, not the least of which was that I could buy a view camera
plus a lens for the price of that medium format shift lens.
Once that decision was set, the next step was to learn about view cameras. An
excellent source was the 4x5 review in the November 1998 issue of Popular
Photography. I found this website, and read and reread much of it. I also read Steve
Simmons’ Using the View Camera, the Kodak Book of Large Format Photography, the
relevant portions of Ansel Adams’ The Camera, and spoke to some large format
photographers I know. Eventually, I decided not to make the compromises necessary to
use a flatbed camera for architectural photography, and resolved to buy a monorail
camera usable for both architectural and landscape work.
Several cameras seemed good candidates, including the Arca-Swiss Discovery,
Calumet 45NX and 45N, Linhof Kardan M, and Toyo 45C. I felt that all these cameras
were fine for architecture or any table top subjects I might encounter. The big question
was how well they might adapt to backpacking into the field for landscape photography.
Eventually, after looking at cameras in various stores, the Discovery emerged as the
front runner. I started to formulate a strategy on how to afford this camera, a bag
bellows, and all of the other accessories needed to “swing” into action. However, while
trying to justify the total cost of a new Discovery and related accessories, I found a
good deal on a used 45NX in excellent condition. I grabbed it.
Don’t get me wrong. The Discovery’s price seems quite reasonable. Even so,
accessories can be expensive, and add greatly to the system cost. Besides, the
Discovery does not appear on the used market very often, so the used equipment
strategy for reducing cost is not practical with that camera. To that point, I assembled a
used system that includes a 45NX, bag bellows, wide angle monorail, two flat
lensboards, and two recessed lensboards. To that I added a new 210mm f/6.8 Caltar II-E lens (purchased on sale), bringing the total price of this system to approximately the
same cost as a new Discovery!
This highlights a great advantage of this system: Quality at a reasonable cost, new or
used. The current (January 2002) price of a new 45NX is $749.99. The 45N is even
less expensive, $599.99. Moreover, there are many used 45NX and 45N cameras
available at extremely fair prices. Most of the Cambo accessories (except the monorails
for the current style Cambos) fit these cameras. Used accessories are plentiful, and
available at lower prices than the accessories for many other systems.
I have had my 45NX for almost one year. These are my impressions of the camera.
Source: Calumet Photographic catalog and Cambo website.
||Front 30 degrees
Rear 30 degrees
||Front 30 degrees
Rear 30 degrees
||Front 30 degrees
Rear 30 degrees
||Front 30 degrees
Rear 30 degrees
|Rise and Fall
||Front 4.72" (120mm)
Rear 4.72" (120mm)
||Front 4.72" (120mm)
Rear 4.72" (120mm)
||Front 1.97" (50mm)
Rear 1.97" (50mm)
||Front 1.97" (50mm)
Rear 1.97" (50mm)
||45NX: 19" (480mm)
162mm x 162mm
162mm x 162mm
|Dual Axis Levels
||9 lbs. (4 kg.)
||8 lbs. (3.7 kg.)
Overall Fit and Finish
Cambo designed the 45NX’s predecessors for professional use. The 45NX’s
construction reflects that original mission. It is built from high quality aluminum alloy.
The black finish is anodized. The hardware appears to be stainless steel. Accessories
mate with the camera without difficulty. Rigidity is not an issue with this camera. It is
very solid. I rate the fit and finish very good to excellent.
The standard monorail is 21.25" long and approximately 1" square. (Standard length for
the 45N is 16.") Monorail extensions are not available, so you must switch monorails to
add or subtract length. (See accessories, below.) The monorail quickly attaches to a
tripod mounting block. The mounting block includes an L-shaped bracket that reaches
around one side, and over the monorail to hold it in place when tightened.
Sturdy U-shaped standards ride on the monorail via friction wheels. Two nicely rubber
coated and knurled knobs at the base of each standard control movement. (The 45N
has scalloped plastic knobs without a rubber coating.) The right knob moves the
standard back and forth. The left knob locks the standard in place. A depressable pin
on either end of the monorail prevents the standards from falling off. To remove a
standard, loosen the locking knob, depress the pin, and slide it off the end of the rail.
Normally, I store the camera with the standards mounted to the monorail, so setup is
quite easy, perhaps faster than unfolding a flatbed camera. First, attach the mounting
block to the tripod head. Once the mounting block is attached, set the rail on the block
and secure it with a few turns of the scalloped plastic knob. Finally, level the camera.
This is easy because the standards have dual axis spirit levels. (The 45N has one dual
axis level on the rear standard only.) Since I always have a lens mounted to the
camera, it is ready to go.
The camera has ample movements. In my experience, my lenses run out of coverage
before the camera runs out of adjustments.
Movements are controlled separately by locking knobs covered with a knurled rubber
material similar to the focusing knobs on the standards. The knobs are large enough to
grab easily, even when wearing gloves. All of the movements have zero (neutral)
position detents. The movements are calibrated, with white markings that stand out
nicely against the camera’s black color. (Movements on the 45N are not calibrated.) All
movements are friction, not geared.
Shift controls are governed by a knob found at the center of each U-shaped standard.
Loosen the knob, and slide the frame to the left or right. Tighten the knob to lock it in
Swing is controlled by another knob found down and to the left of the shift lock. Loosen
this, make your adjustment, and tighten the knob to lock the standard in place.
Rise and fall are governed by two knobs on each standard. Loosen both knobs and
slide the frame up or down. Tighten both knobs to lock. The friction movements are
smooth enough to adjust easily, yet not so loose that fine adjustments are difficult. To
return to the zero position, slide the frame up or down toward the groove machined
onto each prong of the standard. You will hear a click when it reaches the zero
The tilt controls are located above and in front of the shift knobs. Again, loosen two
knobs, one on each side of the standard. Once loosened, tip the frame forward or
backward until satisfied, and tighten the knobs. The tilt adjustments are the only
controls where the zero position detents cause a problem. The detents make it very
difficult to accomplish very fine tilt adjustments. If you do not tilt far enough, the camera
snaps back to the zero position. This problem arises infrequently , but it does exist.
The 45NX and 45N feature axial, or center, tilts. Some photographers prefer yaw free
base tilts. Others prefer the axial tilts. The axial tilts on the 45NX are fine for the vast
majority of my photography.
Once you spend a little time with the camera, operating it is intuitive. You can find all of
the controls without having to look for them. They are well laid out, and confusing one
control for another would be difficult. This lets you concentrate on the image in the
groundglass instead of the camera.
The bellows is interchangeable. The standard accordion bellows extends to a maximum
of 22." A soft nylon bag bellows for use with wide angle lenses is also available. Both
bellows fit on any Cambo 4x5 monorail camera.
To remove a bellows, press on a button in the slider located at the top of the frame.
Two arrows molded into the slider extend from the button. One points toward the
bellows. The other points at the lensboard. Move the slider in the direction of the arrow
pointing toward the bellows, tilt the top of the bellows away from the frame, and lift it
out. Repeat this on the other standard, and reverse the procedure to insert the other
bellows. When using the soft bag bellows, remember to pull on all of the corners to
make sure that it does not interfere with any part of the image.
Note: The slider is a dual purpose control. If you slide it in the wrong direction, it
releases the lensboard. This mistake is likely to cause your lens and lensboard to drop
out of the frame. Potentially a very expensive mistake!
Lenses and Lensboards
Lenses mount to standard Cambo lensboards. To mount a lensboard, press down on
the center button and move the slider toward the arrow pointing at the lensboard. Tilt
the board forward, and lift it out. To replace the lensboard, make sure that the bottom of
the board engages the two silver “lips” at the bottom of the frame, tilt the board toward
the frame, and move the slider until you hear the lock click. I always check to make
sure that the board is secure by tugging gently on the lens.
Flat die cast aluminum lensboards are standard. I use them with my 125mm and
210mm lenses. Die cast aluminum recessed boards are available for use with wide
angle lenses. For extra-wide angles, I have 90mm and 75mm f/4.5 Rodenstock
Grandagon-N lenses. The recessed boards are an absolute necessity with these focal
The Cambo recessed boards present a problem similar to that presented by other
manufacturers’ recessed boards. Space is quite tight when trying to cock the shutter or
adjust the aperture of the 90mm lens (and I do not have fat fingers). It is somewhat
roomier on the smaller 75mm lens. The deep recess and the relatively small area for
operating the lens sometimes combine to prevent light from reaching the aperture scale
and shutter cocking lever. A few strategies help overcome these problems. I use the
thin handle of a plastic dental mirror to adjust the aperture and cock the shutter. The
mirror end of this tool is also useful to view the aperture and shutter speed scales when
it is hard to see them directly. A small flashlight illuminates the scales when it is too
dark to see. To avoid desperate struggles trying to attach a cable release, and to keep
my sanity, I permanently attached inexpensive flexible metal cable release adapters to
both shutters. The adapter easily folds into the recessed area when in storage, and
allows me to quickly attach a cable release.
The cramped recessed lensboard is my main dislike about the camera. On the bright
side, I have read that working with other manufacturers’ recessed lensboards is even
tougher, so maybe I should be glad that things are not worse.
As an aside, an advantage of having a camera that uses a Cambo lensboard is that
Calumet will give you one free and mount a lens to it if you buy the lens from Calumet.
The Camera Back
Both the 45NX and 45N feature a standard ground glass with gridlines. I have very little
experience with the standard ground glass. Since I planned to use the 90mm and
75mm lenses in dim light, and wanted to maximize ease of focus, I replaced the
standard glass with a Bosscreen, which has performed superbly.
A great feature of the 45NX is a 360 degree revolving Graflock back. (The 45N has a
standard repositionable Graflock back.) You can set the revolving back to vertical or
horizontal, or anywhere in between, without vignetting. I love this feature. It means that
I won’t drop the ground glass when switching from horizontal to vertical, or vice versa. It
means that keeping dust out of the camera is easier. It makes for easy changes when
framing alternate compositions. Have I mentioned that I love this feature? I know it is
not the only camera with a revolving back, but I after using this one for a while, I think
that every 4x5 should have one.
The bail mechanism works flawlessly, and easily holds standard two-sided film holders,
or a Polaroid 545 holder. I have not tried either the Kodak Readyload or Fuji Quickload
holders, but there appears to be plenty of room for either of these holders. I have no
reason to believe that they would not fit just fine..
Calumet offers three monorails dedicated to the 45NX and 45N. Each, like the standard
rail, is 1" square. The wide angle monorail is 11.5" (29cm) long. The 45NX’s standard
monorail is also available as an accessory. It is 21.25" (55cm) long. The extra long
monorail is 30" (76cm) long. The wide angle monorail is a necessity if you regularly use
lenses with focal lengths less than 135mm. The standard rail either gets in the way of
focusing, or protrudes into your image when using shorter focal lengths.
Other than the monorails, nearly the full range of Cambo 4x5 camera accessories work
with the 45NX and 45N. This includes several compendium lens hoods, a 30" extra
long bellows, a wide angle bag bellows, a binocular viewing hood, a rotating reflex
viewer, an in-line focusing hood, a folding focusing hood, a Fresnel lens, a super bright
screen, and lensboard adapters that mate with other boards, such as those for
Technika, Sinar, or Cambo 23SF cameras. I have been looking for a used Technika
adapter, with the idea that switching to flat Technika-style boards for my 210mm and
125mm lenses will help save room in my backpack and lighten my load. I have never
seen a used one for sale. New adapters run more than $200. Calumet also sells an
inexpensive plastic ground glass protector that is essential if you intend to backpack
with the camera.
Using the Camera
For landscape use, I find that a setup using the wide angle monorail is fine for most
applications. My lenses range from 75mm to 210mm, so the monorail’s length is not an
issue. In fact, in the field I usually configure my 45NX with the short monorail and bag
bellows, and use it that way with all of my lenses. If I think I might want to make a
closeup photograph, I also pack the standard rail and bellows.
The only problem I foresee with this setup arises when using longer lenses, 300mm
and up. (Which is something I want to do eventually.) Without some sort of
workaround, the short rail does not enable enough bellows extension to use a 300mm
lens. One solution is to use a lens with a telephoto design, thereby reducing bellows
draw. A contributor to the Q&A Forum on this website suggested a second strategy. He
was in the field without his long rail, and wanted to use a 305mm Schneider G-Claron
lens. He removed the front standard, turned it around, and placed it on the monorail
backwards. This automatically moves the lensboard forward. With enough extension to
focus, he made the image he wanted! Very ingenious. A third solution is to reverse a
wide angle lensboard, and mount the long lens to it so it protrudes forward. This might
be combined with the second strategy to obtain even more extension. Another answer
is to find a used long monorail, and cut it off somewhere between 21.5" and 11.5"
depending on the focal length of your lens. Of course, all of this is moot if your longest
lens is 240-250mm. In those cases, the wide angle monorail is perfect for almost any
use in the field.
Potential wide angle users should consider one important setup issue. When using
wide angle lenses, you must place both standards in front of the mounting block.
Focusing wide angle lenses requires you to move the two standards very close
together. This is not possible if the block is between the standards because it reaches
around and over the monorail, creating a barrier that prevents the standards from
achieving the required proximity. Cambo designed the camera so that loosening the
mounting block and repositioning the camera is easy.
In practice this does not present a problem. Since we are talking about large format,
most photographers do not carry their view cameras on the tripod. They set up the
camera before, and break it down after making each image. They also pre-visualize
their image and select their lens before setting up. So, when choosing a wide angle
lens, mount the rail with both standards in front of the block. If you start photographing
using a longer lens, and later decide to switch to a wide angle, loosening the mounting
block and repositioning the camera is easy.
In my experience, mounting the rear standard in front of the block does not cause a
loss of rigidity or result in excess movement. I was worried about this at first, but it has
turned out to be a nonissue. The mounting block appears small, but it is quite sturdy. I
attach it to an older style Gitzo Rationelle 3 head. This combination holds the camera
rock steady. A Bogen 3047 tripod head should also work well.
I have done very little table top photography with the camera, but have been pleased
with its performance in those few opportunities. I also had the opportunity to
photograph details of some old tools in a machine shop, and the interior of an old
power plant. The camera worked like a charm. At times, I used almost every inch of the
standard rail and bellows with my 210mm. Other times, I used the 90mm, bag bellows,
and short rail. In all instances, the photographs came out razor sharp, showing every
detail of the rust, pitting, and surface texture on the old machines.
The rotating back comes in very handy in all applications. (Have I mentioned that I love
this feature?) The controls are all easy to use, smooth, and accurate. Working outdoors
in uncontrolled, and indoors in semi-controlled environments, the camera has
performed flawlessly. Too bad I can’t say the same of its owner!
Carrying the Camera
The camera, lenses, dark cloth, Polaroid 545 back, and most of my accessories fit in a
Kelty Redwing 2900 internal frame backpack. I cut a piece of foam to fit inside the pack,
and then made cutouts to hold the pieces. This not only holds everything in place, but it
also protects valuable lenses and other equipment. The camera is mounted on the
short rail, with either the 210mm or 125mm lens on the camera at all times. A tripod leg
fits in one of the ski holders on the side of the backpack. The other ski holder stores the
long monorail. Lenses and accessories fit in cutouts, or the pack’s outside pockets. The
Redwing has a very good suspension/hip belt system, so carrying the camera this way
is pretty comfortable. Not including the tripod, my heaviest load is approximately 31
pounds (camera, four lenses, loupe, filters, rubber lens hoods, long monorail, both
bellows, dark cloth, lens blower, brush, micro fiber cloth, film holders, spot meter,
Polaroid holder, small flashlight, cable releases, pens, notepad, and misc. items). That
is the price I am willing to pay to have a monorail available to photograph architecture. I
don’t always take everything with me, so my load can be lighter.
To store the camera when not in the field, I picked up a used hard-sided Calumet
monorail camera case. The case holds the camera upside down, supported by the
standard length monorail. It has three compartments. The center compartment holds
the rest of the camera. The two outside compartments house film holders, a Polaroid
back, and miscellaneous accessories. The case works well, holds more than I thought it
would, and appears more professional than dropping a backpack on the floor and
working out of a bag when shooting interior architecture.
One feature that I have not taken advantage of is the camera’s ability to lay flat. To do
this, remove the bellows and rotate the standards ninety degrees. This configuration
lets the camera lay flat on its side. This could be very handy, depending on the type of
case you use to carry the camera.
Overall, I am happy with my 45NX.
This is what I like about the camera:
This is what I do not like about the camera:
- It is solid and well constructed.
- It has all the movements needed for architectural photography.
- It can be used in the field for landscape photography, even if it is on the heavy side.
- Used accessories are plentiful, at reasonable prices.
- I love the rotating back (I know, enough already.)
- Intuitive, well-positioned controls.
- Calibrated controls (most useful in architectural photography).
- Mounting lenses and changing bellows is easy.
- The fact that Calumet’s telephonic technical support and local store personnel have
been very helpful to me even though I did not buy the camera from Calumet is a big
plus. Their great attitude in all my dealings with them have given me a very good
feeling about Calumet.
On the whole, the positives far outweigh the negatives. As noted above, I have
assembled an extremely capable pro-quality system at very reasonable prices. The
45NX is not a limitation on a photographer’s ability to make good photographs. Would I
prefer a lighter camera? Yes. Would I prefer a camera without any drawbacks? Yes. Do
I think that a different camera would be without drawbacks of its own? No.
The fact is, even if I someday have the financial resources to change to a different
camera, I may not do so. The 45NX is a fine camera. I might better expend my
resources on a field camera to lighten my load for landscape photography, a lens, or
some other type of photographic equipment.
If you are unsure of how the 45NX might work, or look, check out Steve Simmons’
excellent book Using the View Camera. Many of the photographs in that book, including
those in the introduction on page 4, the section on wide angle cameras on page 19,
and the illustrations of view camera movements on pages 52-64, are of a Cambo SC
series camera, the 45NX’s direct ancestor.
Bottom line: If presented with the same opportunity to buy a 45NX, knowing what I now
know, I would do it again.
- Given the size of the Cambo lensboards, the recessed lensboards should not be so
cramped. The lensboard dimensions are large enough for Cambo to design a roomier
recess, similar to the Arca-Swiss F-Series lensboard design.
- The large lensboards take up lots of room in my backpack and camera case. (Perhaps
this is not a fair complaint because the board size depends on the camera type. After
all, Cambo did not design the 45NX as a field camera. I can eliminate this problem, at
least for the lenses mounted to flat boards, by spending a couple hundred bucks on the
Technika-style board adapter.)
- The zero position detent prevents fine tilt adjustments. (Perhaps this has been
corrected in newer models. Potential purchasers should check this out.)
- The tripod mounting block impairs movement of the standards along the monorail. (Not
a big issue, but if I had my choice this design element would not exist.)
- Absence of extendable monorails.