© 2006 by David C. Karp for largeformatphotography.info
The 45SF, now discontinued, was Cambo's entrant into the portable monorail market, designed for architectural, location and field work, as well studio photography. The camera was part of the extensive Cambo system, and the big brother to the medium format 23SF.
Cambo designed this camera for people who photograph the things I like to photograph: architecture, interiors, and field photography. I guess that puts me in the target market, so here is my evaluation. The fact that Cambo discontinued the 45SF should not be deterrent to anyone considering a used version of this camera. As described below, I think it is a good tool, and an excellent value on the used market.
A bit about my other view cameras is probably appropriate. Before owning the 45SF, I used a Calumet 45NX monorail camera. I also used a Crown Graphic press camera as a field camera when I needed a light weight easy-to-carry setup. For most purposes, my Crown has been eclipsed by a Walker Titan SF.
When I reviewed the 45NX, I said that I might not ever change to a different view camera. Well, famous last words . . . . I became interested in a 45SF because it featured an extendable monorail instead of the replaceable monorail system featured by the 45NX. I purchased my 45SF used, in an on-line auction that went for a price that was too good to let it pass. For under $1,000.00, I received the camera, a bag bellows, a ten-inch monorail extension, a revolving reflex viewer, a 150mm f/5.6 Schneider APO-Symmar lens in beautiful condition, a Polaroid 405 back, a dark cloth, a few film holders, and a molded plastic Calumet monorail case. I did not need the bag bellows, the 150mm lens, or the reflex viewer, so I sold them, significantly lowering the cost of the outfit.
Lately, I have seen 45SFs going for extremely reasonable prices in on-line auctions. I think that this makes the 45SF a viable, or perhaps even the best, upgrade alternative for someone who, like so many of us, started out in large format with a Cambo SC, or a Calumet 45NX, 45NX-II or 45N.
The 45SF is made of durable aluminum alloy. The black finish appears to be anodized. Hardware seems to be stainless steel. Accessories mate to the camera easily and fit well. The camera is quite rigid.
Commentators have criticized this camera for having plastic parts (the November 1998 issue of Popular Photography jumps to mind). The camera does sport some plastic locking levers: those for the tilts, swings, and fine focus lock. Although these levers are for very important controls, they do not seem brittle, and seem well protected. I think it would take a lot of effort to break one of these levers. My camera spends a lot of time in a backpack, without any extra protection for these levers, and none of the locks has broken. The locks for the shift movements are plastic rods with screws on the end of them. These locks are different from any I have seen on a view camera, but operate well. I have not had any problem with these controls either. As on other Cambo cameras, the slide locks for the bellows, lensboards, and camera back are also plastic. I do not see this as a problem.
The camera is well made and sturdy. I rate the fit and finish very good to excellent.
The camera offers the capacity for extensive movements. Controls each have their own lock. All movements are calibrated with white markings, and have "zero" position detents that make it easy to set the control to its neutral position. The detents do not interfere with fine adjustments. Movements are smooth, and are not geared. I have not had any problems adjusting the controls while wearing gloves. The movements on the front and rear standards operate identically. The 45SF has a horizontal bubble level on the rear focusing block, and "tilt" levels on both standards.
Rise and Fall The locking knobs for rise and fall are on the left side of the standard. They are knurled and easy to grasp. Loosen the knobs and raise or lower the standard, then tighten the knob.
Swing To swing, unlock the locking lever and move the standard. Lock the movement in place with the locking lever.
Tilt The 45SF features yaw free base tilts. The tilt locks are located on the right side of the standard. To tilt the standard, turn the lock counterclockwise, then apply the desired amount of tilt. Lock that position by turning the lock clockwise. If you are not used to base tilts, it may take a while to become accustomed to them. Unlike axis tilts, you must reframe your photograph after applying the base tilt. However, also unlike axis tilts, you will not have to worry about yaw. If you have ever fallen into the yaw "trap," you will appreciate this feature. (I ran into a yaw problem once when photographing an architectural detail with my 45NX. It almost drove me mad!)
Shift To shift either standard, loosen the lock and push the standard to the left or right. Tighten the lock to secure the standard in this position.
LENSES AND LENSBOARDS
Lenses mount to standard Cambo
lensboards. A slide lock at the top of the standard holds lensboards
in place. Two arrows molded into the slider extend from the button
at the center of the slider. One arrow points toward the lensboard.
The other points at the bellows. 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. Check to make sure that the board is secure
by tugging gently on the lens.
One of the great design features of the 45SF is that you can use wide angle lenses with flat lensboards. No more cramped recessed boards! No more using a dental mirror to read the aperture or shutter speed! No need to remove my gloves to fit my fingers into the cramped space in the recessed board! The standards move toward each other so far that one can almost touch each other. The only limiting factor here is the thickness of the bellows. This is a great luxury for anyone who has ever had to use a cramped recessed lensboard and a significant advantage of this camera.
I obtained a Cambo to Linhof Technika-type adapter that was part of a group of Cambo lensboards grouped together in an on-line auction. This is a great space saver, because I can mount all of my lenses on the smaller Technika style lensboard, thereby saving space in the camera case and backpack. These adapters pop up periodically on auction, and are available from Calumet. Cambo also makes adapters for Sinar boards, and the boards for its 23SF.
Important: Note that the lensboard slide lock is a dual purpose control. If you slide it in the wrong direction, it releases the bellows.
The bellows assembly is interchangeable, and fits on any Cambo 4x5 camera. The standard bellows extends to 22" (far beyond the length of the standard monorail). Cambo also offers a nylon bag bellows for use with wide angle lenses, an extra long 30" bellows, and a bellows support to prevent sagging.
To remove the bellows, press the button on the slide lock located at the top of the frame and move it 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 procedure on the other standard to completely remove the bellows. Reverse the procedure to insert the other bellows. When using the soft bag bellows, remember to pull on all of the corners to be sure that none of the material blocks the image.
The standard bellows works with non-telephoto lenses up to 450mm, although lenses shorter than 135mm will have limited movements due to bellows compression. This is certainly true with my 125mm lens. Movements are virtually unrestricted with the bag bellows. The bag bellows works with lenses up to 210mm, so it is possible to use it for lenses up to that focal length.
Important: Note that the slide lock 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!
THE CAMERA BACK
The 45SF has an International standard reversible Graflock back. To reposition the back, press on the slide lock and slide it in the direction of the arrow pointing toward the back. Tilt the top of the back out of the frame and lift it up. Turn the back 90 degrees so that the two notches in the back face upward, and replace the back in the frame. Slide the lock back into place.
Unfortunately, the 45SF does not feature a 360-degree revolving back of the type offered on other Cambo large format cameras. This is a great luxury, and one that I really like on my Calumet 45NX. This is the tradeoff for the ability to use a wide angle lens without a recessed lensboard. Unfortunately, the camera's design interferes with Cambo's rotating back. This is a fair tradeoff, but it is too bad that Cambo was not able to devise a way to include both features in the 45SF.
The camera comes with a standard gridded groundglass. I have very little experience with the standard glass. I immediately replaced it with the BosScreen that I used on my 45NX. I like the Bosscreen very much.
The back has a bail lever that makes it easier to remove a film holder, but I find that you still have to pry the back open a bit wider to remove a holder.
The back easily holds regular two-sided film holders, Polaroid 545 and 405 backs, and the Calumet C2 roll film back. I have not tried it with either the newer Polaroid backs, or the Kodak Readyload or Fuji Quickload holders, but would not anticipate any problems.
Cambo and Calumet offer a full range of camera accessories that work with the 45SF and other Cambo cameras. These include compendium lenshoods, a Fresnel lens, a rotating reflex viewer, a binocular viewing finder, an in-line focusing hood, a folding focusing hood, tripod mounting blocks, and a sliding back for use with digital backs, plus the accessory bellows and lensboards mentioned elsewhere in this review.
They also offered a conversion kit that changed the medium format Cambo 23SF to a 4x5 camera. The kit included a tapered 4x5 bellows, 4x5 rear standard, and a non-revolving groundglass back. For 4x5 purchasers, Calumet had a wide angle kit made up of the camera, a wide angle bellows, and a Fresnel lens. These kits might still be available from Calumet. If you are interested, a call to the main office might be worthwhile. A photographer trying to reduce the weight of a Cambo SF camera could potentially combine the front standard of the 23SF and the rear standard from the 45SF with the tapered bellows.
Several monorails are available for the 45SF. These include base monorails of 7, 10, 16.5 and 25.5 inches, an extendable monorail that adjusts from 16 to 27 inches, and extension rails of 10, 16.5 and 26.5 inches that screw into the base monorails. My experience is that the extension monorails are very rigid.
IN THE FIELD
The tripod mounting block is large and stable. It holds the camera quite steady. The monorail slides back and forth on the mounting block (to balance the camera at different extensions) without any interference. This is very convenient when using wide angle lenses, and when adding monorail extensions. The large handle on the mounting block is very convenient.
The standard monorail allows use of my lenses from 75mm to 210mm. Cambo's specifications show that the camera will work with lenses down to 45mm, and I see no reason to dispute this (when using the bag bellows). The camera will easily accommodate a 450mm lens with the standard bellows and a 10-inch monorail extension (although not for closeups).
The focusing block rides along the top of the monorail. The mounting block does not interfere with this movement. Rough focus is accomplished by a knurled knob on the left side of the focusing block. Loosen this knob and slide the standard forward and backward. The movement is quite smooth. Tighten the knob to lock it in place. The camera offers fine focus on the front and rear standards. Fine focus is achieved by an adjustment knob on the right side of either focusing block. A locking lever holds the focus in place, and is easily loosened to adjust focus. Focus is by a large knurled knob, that is longer than all of the other control knobs on the camera. Once you are satisfied with the focus, it is simple to tighten the locking lever. The fine focus mechanism is geared (it is the only geared control).
The rear standard fine focus mechanism includes a depth of field calculator. To be truthful, I do not use this feature, so I cannot comment on it. Instead, I use a note card with a system very much like that described in How to Select the F-Stop, which is found on the Large Format Home Page.
The only problem I have had operating the camera is confusion between the rise/fall and rough focus locks. This is, perhaps, more a problem with the operator than the camera, because it only happens if I have not used the camera for a while. In those cases, despite the fact that it sticks out farther than the rough focus lock knob, I mistakenly loosen the rise/fall lock when I really want to loosen the knob to adjust rough focus. This causes the standard to drop to the maximum fall position. This can be quite disconcerting, since the framing changes rapidly before your eyes, and the standard "clangs" to a halt when it hits the focusing block.
Once I have accustomed myself to the camera again, I do not make this mistake.
Other than the issue discussed above, I find the 45SF easy to use. Movements are smooth, and the controls are logical and work well. I enjoy using wide angle lenses without recessed boards. As a result the 45SF is equally at home with a wide angle as it is with a 450mm lens.
CARRYING THE CAMERA
When I know that I am going to work only out of my car, I use the molded plastic Calumet monorail case. This case holds the camera with standard bellows, a bag bellows, my 75mm, 90mm, 125mm, 150mm, 210mm, 300mm and 450mm lenses, an extension monorail, a Polaroid 545 holder, and miscellaneous accessories. The case is extremely durable. The seller shipped the camera to me in the case via U.S. Mail and it and all of the contents (including the camera and a 150mm lens) arrived in excellent shape.
More often, I take the camera into the field for day hikes, using a Kelty Redwing 2900 internal frame backpack. Here is how it works.
I store lenses at the bottom of the backpack, in plastic cases designed to hold 4" x 6" index cards. The ends are padded with foam rubber, as is the space between lenses. These work very well with Technika-type lensboards. The cases hold two each of my lenses as follows: 90mm f/8.0 and 125mm f/5.6, 150mm f/5.6 and 210mm f/6.8, and 300mm f/9 and 450mm f/12.5. The cases will hold one each of my 90mm and 75mm lenses f/4.5 lenses. The camera sits on top of these cases folded as shown below.
I detach the bellows from the front standard, and apply the maximum amount of fall. Next, I apply maximum rise to the rear standard, and move the two standards together at the center or rear of the monorail. Finally, I apply front and rear base tilt forward, bringing the face of the standards toward the monorail. It is possible to leave a lens attached to the front standard because it is protected by the monorail and the rear standard. A groundglass protector shields the BosScreen.
I pack the dark cloth, light meter, monorail extension, and other accessories in the remaining space inside the backpack. Small accessories go in the two external pockets, and one tripod leg fits into one of the cross country ski holders on the side of the backpack. If I want to use it, the Polaroid 545 holder goes into an Eagle Creek pouch attached to the backpack's belt (it fits perfectly). Although not as compact as a field camera, this is a workable solution for day hikes. A water bottle goes into one of the side pockets.
The camera is easy to set up. Just mount it to the tripod, return all movements to neutral, and attach the bellows to the front standard. Remove the groundglass protector, and the camera is ready for photography. Not as fast as my Crown Graphic to set up, but pretty fast nonetheless.
PROS AND CONS
This is what I like about the 45SF:
This is what I do not like:
The Cambo 45SF is a solid camera, one that very competently satisfies its objectives: A portable camera for architectural and location photographers that can also work in the studio. The camera can also be pressed into service as a day-hike camera for fine art landscape photographers who want a full range of movements and the rigidity of a monorail camera.
One of the greatest advantages of the 45SF is for photographers already in the Cambo/Calumet system. They will appreciate the fact that the 45SF accepts the full range of Cambo accessories. Many photographers start out with a Cambo SC or one of its relatives, and upgrade to a new camera after gaining experience. They then have to purchase new accessories for the new camera. If you learned large format with an entry level Cambo and want to upgrade, or are looking for a more portable alternative to a Cambo Legend, all of your Cambo accessories (except for the 45SC/NX/NX-II/N monorails) will work with the 45SF. This will save you a ton of money on things like a bag bellows, lensboards, viewfinder accessories and the like. If you started with an SC or one of its relatives, depending on the accessories you already own, it is quite possible that the only thing you might need would be a monorail extension. Combine this with the low price of the 45SF itself, and the camera is a real winner for existing Cambo users.
I like my 45SF. It has performed well photographing exterior architecture, interiors, and in the field for landscape photography. The camera satisfies all of the problems that I had with my 45NX: (1) Monorail extensions are easy to attach in the field, (2) I no longer need recessed lensboards, and (3) I can switch from long to wide angle lenses without having to reset the camera on the tripod mounting block. The tradeoff for these features is loss of a revolving back.