Canham KBC 4x5/5x7 camera: a review
by Q.-Tuan Luong for
the Large Format Page
These cameras are made by Keith Canham, a craftman and engineer based
in Arizona who assembles himself all the cameras, in various formats
up to 20x24.
The camera that I own is the 4x5/5x7. At the time of writting of
this version, I have shot several thousand transparencies with the
Keith Canham has all the metal parts made by someone else with very
high precision standards. They are aircraft-quality
anodised aluminium, and have been designed with weight saving in
mind. The wood is black walnut. The camera is very well put together
with impeccable finition. It has a slick and contemporary look quite
different from traditional wooden cameras, and this difference
reflects an innovative design.
The size of the camera is intermediate between a traditional
4x5 and a traditional 5x7. This makes it a very good performing 4x5
(with the longest bellows of all and plenty of movements) at
the expense of some extra bulk. On the other hand
it makes a light and compact 5x7, at the expense of a few limitations
which are detailed later.
It can be transformed from 5x7 into a 4x5 just by changing the back. However,
for some weird reason, the 4x5 back is thicker than the 5x7 back, and
therefore the camera has to be refocused. By
changing the rear standard and the bellows (which can be done in 30s),
it can be transformed into a 4x10. Keith is designing a custom
modification to allow it to be transformed into a 8x10 as well (but it
will not fold this way). The real 8x10 camera weights only 9 lbs.
The cost, $2500 is a bit expensive, compared to some Zone VI, Wisner and
Wista cameras, but you get a high quality camera which has few
equivalents among the woodfield. Since there are
not many around (and the owners seem satisfied) it is difficult to
find them on the used market.
The camera can be ordered (for a $60 charge)
with a front standard which will take the
Technika-style lensboards, which are easy to find new and used, quite
small, and a de factor standard for field cameras.
The standard lensboards are compatible with Toyo and are slighly
I personally use the Technika lensboards for two reasons. The size advantage doesn't
look like much, but with seven lenses to pack, it makes a
difference. I also own a Technika and before, I had a Tachihara which
used Technika lensboard.
The ground glass is not very bright, and has a fairly coarse grain,
but on the other hand, it does not suffer from a very pronounced
I found it too difficult to focus with the original ground glass, and
tried adding a fresnel, replaced it with a toyo glass, and eventually
settled on a Boss screen which is a considerable improvement.
There is a dedicated compendium shade which screws on top of the front
standard and is well-designed.
Wide-angle configuration (with 90mm lens)
Long lens configuration (with 720mm T lens)
Materials: walnut / 6061 t6 aluminum hard black anodized
Dimensions: 9.5" x 10.375" x 4.25
Lens Board: Canham 4.3" or Toyo field (Technika add $60)
Min. Bellows - Standard: 3"
Min Bellows - Wide Angle: 0"
Max Bellows - Standard: 28"
Max Bellows - Wide Angle: 9"
Rear Shift: 7"
Rear Swing: 22 degrees
Rear Tilt: 20 degrees back / limited by bellows forward
Front Swing: 42 deg.
Front Tilt - Axis: limited by bellows
Front Tilt - Base: 45 deg. forward / 90 deg. back
Front Rise: 1.125"
Front Fall: 2"
Likes and Dislikes
What I like:
- Lightweight (6lbs) and quite small (weight
comparable to the Zone VI or Wisner 4x5, only slightly bigger folded),
which is one the main reasons why I got this camera.
- Adequate rigidity through clever design (all the weight bearing parts
are actually metal). Note however that John Sparks has complained about the rigidity
of the 8x10 at long extensions.
- Excellent choices of bellows: the standard bellows is 26' and
can accomodate a 600mm
regular lens. The wide-angle bellows will allow the use of any wide
angle lens. It is quite fast to change them.
Moreover, for $265, Keith can glue a "universal"
MQC bellows on the same frames. the MQC bellows is the same as the one
used on the metal camera. it is slightly shorter, and more
flexible. As a result, you can still apply movements even when it is
compressed, so you don't need to switch to the wide-angle
bellows for most applications. In fact, since switching to the MQC
bellows, I have used the wide-angle bellows only a handfull of times
with the 90 lens and never with the 110. This was not because the
MQC bellows restricted movements, but rather because it caused some
vignetting in the vertical orientation.
The drawback is that some care has to be taken for bellows
sag (a velcro is provided to tension it, but it tends to come off).
If you are buying a new
camera, you might want ask Keith to provide you with this bellows
instead of the standard one. I strongly recommend that option.
- Good movements for a field camera. Front has tilt (axis/base), swing,
rise/fall, rear has base tilt, swing, and a large shift.
There is a triple extension (geared front and rear focusing, these are the only
and the front standard can also be moved forward or backwards using a
combination of tilts.
- Adequate controls and locks.
The zero-clik stops are adequate (in particular for the front axis tilt).
the tilt and rise locks are T-knobs which are better than circular knobs
(in my opinion. John Sparks find them worse) and
seem to be tight enough. the swing and shift locks are levers which can
be set real tight. The focus locks are flips which have also a more positive
action than knobs (some people find them finger-pinching. no problem
for me). The controls are quite well-placed, and easy to distinguish
with some practice. All the locks are absolutely independant.
- The sliding rear standard
is better for wide-angle use than the traditional triple extension
design since the only thing which is in front of the lens is the locking
lever for front swings. No bed to drop. Moreover, it can be moved up
closer to the front standard with both standards vertical than any other
camera. This was another reason I favored this camera since I am using
wide-angle lenses a lot.
Of all the woodfield cameras, this one is
the most adapted for wide-angle use.
As far as wide-angle use is concerned, 90mm is the shortest focal
length for which the standards can be kept parallel. At 90mm, the
amount of rise/fall with the standard belows is less than one centimeter.
However, if large amounts of base tilt are used it is necessary to use
the combination of base tilts and axis tilts on the front standard to
receed the lens, otherwise infinity focus cannot be established.
At 75mm, you cannot shift at all, but the bellows seem to compress
enough so that you can focus at infinity.
With a 120, long bellows allow only 1.5cm of rise/fall. The problem is
solved with the MQC bellows.
The few (minor) problems I had in field:
Limitations due to the compact design (which show up mostly in 5x7):
- The camera is a little complicated to fold and open (it takes me 45s,
vs 15s for the Toyo metal field). All the numerous
controls have to be lose, and the front standard has to be
racked underneath the rear standard.
At the beginning the controls can be
a bit confusing, since they are quite different from the traditional
field camera design: In particular, it has
a separate lock for each movement, which means three identical T-knobs
the front rise, axis/base tilt, two identical levers for the rear
swing, and three identical flips to lock the front focus, back focus,
translation of the rear standard on the focussing rails.
When setting up the camera, it is easy to forget
to zero/relock one of the controls, in particular the swing. Special care has
to be taken to zero the front standard tilt, otherwise the standards will not
be parallel (see below).
The spring-back assembly and the focussing are not
always smooth. This seems to be partly due to the fact that
focusing rails of the
Canham are aluminum instead of brass. The stickyness depends on the
combination of temperature and humidity, a general drawback of wooden
cameras. The worse combination is cold wet weather, which is the furthest
from Keith Canham's Arizona factory. In dry warm weather, the camera is smooth.
- The latch used to lock the camera closed is not very positive and
can easily self-open.
- Interchangeable bellows can be difficult to operate.
Reinserting the bellows on
the front standard is awkward to do with gloves, and care has to be
taken at sitting it properly to avoid light leaks. The
wide-angle bellows is somewhat fragile. On mine the fabric has
detached from the metal frame two times, resulting in massive light
leaks, and the corners have worn out so much that I had to patch
pinholes with black tape. Getting the "universal" bellows should take
care of that.
- The spirit levels, on the top of the rear standard, are not easy to see
when the camera is at eye level. It would also be nice to have levels on the
front standard, esp. since indirects movements have to be used to obtain
- After an impact, things began to get out of aligment and less
smooth. The camera was still well usable, but I had to send it back to
Keith for repair. I believe a metal camera would have stood this kind
of abuse better. A Velcro is provided with the new type of belows to tension them.
Alternatively, you can support the bellows with somthing like a filter box.
On my camera, it looks like the front and the rear standard are
not perfectly aligned in the neutral position (probably a general
drawback of wooden cameras). Keith measured them and
said that actually the image plane and focal plane are well-aligned,
but that when you set up the camera you have to be very careful to sit
properly the rods in the zero-mark notches, which means pushing
the front standard forward with a significant pressure. Failing to do
that could result in partly soft images.
- With the 5x7 back, it is not possible to insert
the holder in vertical if the
maximum backwards tilt of the back is used because then one of the
levers gets in the way.
- The amount of direct rise is quite limited.
- With a long lens (450) and the 5x7 format, one has to watch for
On my version, I missed
calibrated scales, in particular on the focus
track (for depth of field calculations)
or on the rising/falling front (to center the lens).
If you own an older camera like me, Keith can send you a mylar piece of tape you stick on the rail.
Current cameras come with engraved scales. I suppose you could switch the old rail for a new part
with the engraving, but I have not bothered to do so.
My camera developped a light leak after a few years of use. In some
particular conditions (sun at a low angle striking the lower back of
the camera), my transparencies suffer from the same light leak
pattern. Keith was responsive and tried hard to eliminate the problem,
but so far without success. This seems to be an isolated problem.
I also noticed that the back standard would periodically
become a bit loose, even when everything was locked down. Keith fixed
that a couple of times (when I sent him back the camera to fix other
problems). I eventually found out that you can fix this just by
re-tightening some of the bolts. Don't loose the wrench kit that you
got with your camera !
- I substituted the universal bellows of the MQC instead of the original standard bellows
- I added a scale to the focussing rail
- I added two spirits levels, one (left/right) on the back, the other one (double-axis) on the bed
- I use the Boss screen instead of the original focussing screen
One of the best things about buying a camera from Keith is the
Unlike other manufacturers, KB Canham does not advertise heavily a
life-time warranty, but I have found that he really stands behind his
product, providing truly outstanding service and attention.
He was extremely nice to deal with, once
fixed the camera and replaced a defective bellows at no charge, and
within a few days.
When I bought the KBC, there was no real alternative as a lightweight
5x7. Since then, amazingly, the number of offerings has become
quite significant for such an orphaned format.
However, I think that the KBC, although not perfect,
is still among the best 5x7 field cameras. It is well-made, capable,
and quite light and compact. In 4x5, I would look at the DLC 4x5 from
Canham, if weight and size are critical, otherwise
the MQC 5x7 metal based on the successful
DLC design is also certainly worth checking out.
Those cameras, although made of metal, share a lot of design features
with the KBC. The weight, size, and capabilities of the KBC and the
MQC are quite similar.
Besides the wood vs
metal issue, which will cause many to prefer the MQC,
there are some differences, some favoring the KBC:
- DLC and MQC 4x5 back is graflock, and MQC can use the new 6x17 Canham back.
- MQC has more direct rise, and can get the standards closer (good
- KBC has front axis tilt locked independently from front rise.
- KBC has more positive zero detents for tilts.
- KBC has independant bubble levels on two axis, MQC's are bull's
- KBC has a handle and doesn't need a protective case as much as
MQC, since it folds as a box.
2038 East Downing
Mesa, AZ 85213
review of the DLC adresses some points which are also valid
about the KBC.
View or add comments