Ebony SV45U : a review

By Michael J. Kravit, AIA Architect 2001 for the Large Format Page

It was late in the afternoon when the doorbell chimed announcing the UPS delivery man and the arrival of my new Ebony SV45U Field Camera. When a new camera arrives, my heart races and I get excited like a child in a candy store. I just don't know what it is, but unless you experience the feeling it is hard to explain. Cameras just do that to me....kind of strange.

The Ebony SV45U is the little brother to the SV45U2. The difference between these two cameras according to Ebony is "The SV45U has the same asymmetrical rear tilts and swings as the SV45U2, but has no rear shift and is lighter and more compact." I guess that the reason I ordered the SV45U is that in all my years of making images I had rarely utilized rear shift. But more importantly I found the more compact size and lighter weight a key feature that would help to make my imaging excursions more enjoyable.

The Ebony SV45U is manufactured in Japan by Ebony Professional View Cameras. Their website is full of great information and describes the entire Ebony Camera line in a great deal of detail. The site address is http://www.ebonycamera.com.

The Ebony SV45U is shipped by the manufacturer in a well padded box. Unpacking was a breeze, even with my hands trembling with excitement. Included with the camera is the Ebony SV User's Guide, a warranty card (written in Japanese), and a two page explanation on how to use and operate the assymetrical movements. Everything arrived in top notch condition.

The body of the SV45U is a sight to behold. I must admit that when I first read of the use of "ebony wood" for a camera I immediately envisioned a black stained finish. Boy was I wrong, the camera is actually a deep rich golden brown and black grained surface with a smooth low lustre finish. All trim pieces and controls are made of prefectly finished satin titanium. The camera feels very solid for its compact size and light weight.

The SV45U body measures 7"x7"x4" without the titanium control knobs that extend from the folded body. I placed the camera on a household scale and it weighed in at a bit under 6 pounds, almost the same as Joey Beethoven LaPooch our little white poodle. The first thing you notice about this camera is the ground glass protection plate, a piece of rigid black plastic with the Ebony logo on it. This piece is secured to the camera back with a slide bar on the right side. The camera has a leather carrying handle on the top of the body. In addition to the carrying strap, Ebony has provided a bi-directional spirit level which is covered by a titanium lid with an internal mirror. This mirror is useful in checking if the camera is plumb and level when being set up above eye level, and the lid provides welocmed protection for those that take our prized cameras into rough terrain. A second spirit level is mounted on the top of the front standard. A titanium plate on the bottom of the camera protects the wood from damage by a tripod base. I personally use an Arca Swiss ball head and installed a quick release plate to the camera with a small piece of adhesive backed felt so the the plate would not slip against the titanium.

Opening and setting up the SV45U is a simple and quick procedure. After mounting the SV45U on a tripod, a small latch on the top of the folded camera is released. The back is then lifted up into position and secured with two knurled thumb screws (one on each side). The back is assured to be perpendicular to the base as Ebony provides a notch in the titanium slide bar where the thumb screws easily seat. The front standard is then raised, and in a similar fashion to the back, secured with two thumb screws that lock into place easily. The front lensboard is then set to it's neutral position and secured similarly. Two small engraved alignment marks, one red one silver provide a quick indication of the cameras middle or neutral position. A lens and lensboard are then mounted, the ground glass protection cover is removed and you are ready to begin making images. The entire procedure of mounting, unfolding, and setting up the camera is accomplished in less than two minutes.

All adjusting mechanisms are constructed of titanium and should not wear out easily. The universal bellows provided with the camera is of the triple draw design and will accommodate lenses from 47mm to 720mm. Should you wish to go even wider, a 35mm lens may also be used with a recessed lensboard.

The Ebony SV45U accepts the standard Linhoff 4x5 lens boards. I mounted each of my lenses on Wista 3-3/4x3-7/8" boards. The lens board is inserted into a titanium guide on the bottom front face of the front standard and a slide bar on the top secures the lens board in place. One note of caution, my Schneider Super Angulon 90/5.6 XL did not fit this camera (I understand that the newer Schneider SA90XL's do not have this problem). The opening of the front standard has a diameter that is just a bit smaller than the diameter of the SA90XL's rear element. Unfortunately I found this out the first time I took the camera out shooting, I should have tried mounting this lens prior to my trip. Needless to say, I replaced the SA90XL with Schneider's New Super Symmar 80/4.5 XL and could not be happier.

The ground glass is truly a thing of beauty. It is very bright, is engine ruled with a 3/8" (10mm) grid and engraved with 4 white dashed lines that form a 2-3/4" square that indicate the axial pivot points for assymetrical swings and tilts. A very neat and welcome feature. The camera back is described by Ebony as an Interchangeable vertical/horizontal International Standard, Fresnel lens with 10mm grid, protective glass. I also purchased a Horseman Binocular Reflex Viewer that was modified to fit the SV45U by Ebony for a minimal $75 charge. With this modification, an accessory shoe was added to the top of the camera body (rear standard). The accessory shoe included a knurled screw stud that holds the spring wire of the viewer securely against the ground glass frame taking excess pressure off of the back and eliminating the possibly of light leaks.

The back is easily remved by sliding two levers, one on each side of the back at the top of the camera. The back is then removed, rotated to change the film orientation and then replaced, a simple and quick procedure.

The focusing mechanism is of the rack and pinion design. It is very smooth and extremely easy to operate with large knurled knobs on the right side and slighly smaller locking knobs on the left side of the camera body. Focusing is very smooth and accurate.

A lever at the base of the front standard controls front shift and swing. An engraved scale with a zero detent conveniently allows you to adjust and repeat shifts. The SV45U incorporates two levers for rear swing (the SV45U does not have rear shift). These levers are easily accessed and adjusted.

Ebony states that when using lenses wider than 75mm, you must raise the front lensboard and tilt it back. This operation allows the front board and lens to move closer to the film plane. The design of the rear swing locking mechanisms prohibit the front standard from moving far enough back when in the normal position. Once understood, the procedure adds roughly 15 seconds to the setup time. In addition, the user's guide states that "When using the universal or wide angle bellows, wide-angle lenses can be used without drop bed." In practice, I have not encountered any vignetting from the camera flatbed with lenses as wide as 58mm.

The type of shooting I do is fairly varied ranging from landscapes to historic architecture, to still life compositions. As time goes on, the more I use this camera the more thrilled and attached to it I become. The construction of the SV45U is excellent, operation is smooth, easy and intuitive. Wherever I go the camera immediately draws the attention of curious people. The conversations that result are as much fun as using the camera to create images that are expressive and descriptive. The Ebony SV45U is not a budget priced item, it is expensive, but it is also a camera that will last a lifetime and possibly more. Purchasing an Ebony Camera is certainly a fulfilling experience.

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