Ebony RW45 : a review

By Peter De Smidt for the Large Format Page

The camera is made of titanium and mahogany, the latter of which is finished with a dark stain and what looks like a penetrating oil finish, which should be quite easy to keep looking good. It has all of the standard movements except front shift, rear shift or rear rise. Personally, I don't miss these movements in a field camera, and their elimination helps keep weight down and rigidity up. I especially like the large (approximately 4.5 inch) square titanium plate on the bottom of the camera, which has the tripod socket centered in the middle. This thoughtful addition should prevent the bottom of the camera getting damaged when attaching it to a tripod or quick release plate. The camera uses technika style boards, and it comes with an abs ground glass protector. The ground glass system includes a plastic ground glass with built in fresnel and a clear glass protector plate. The camera has solid detents for tilt on the front and rear standards. The maximum extension I measured with the standards in their normal upright position is 325mm. Tilting the front standard forward increases the extension to 370mm, and tilting the back brings the camera up to its maximum of 400mm of extension. My sample weighed in at a light 4 lbs. 3.6 oz.

In the field the camera was very easy to use. The controls work smoothly, and all the movements lock down very well. The titanium hardware exudes quality, and the knobs have a very nice knurl. I especially liked the large size of the right side focusing knobs, as they were very easy to use with gloves. All of the movements of the camera (except extension) have metal to metal surfaces, with the occasional nylon washer thrown in. Thus the camera ought to `wear' very well and also take humidity changes in stride. All of the controls fall easily to hand, except the rear swing knobs, which are a little harder (but not that hard) to get at. The lens boards are held tightly in place by a single slider mechanism, and the camera back is held in place by two sliders. Thus, changing lens boards and back orientation can be accomplished very quickly.

The camera I used had Ebony's `universal' bellows, which has a bag bellows like section at the front and regular pleats in back. With this bellows I was able to use both my Fuji 300c as well as my 90mm without losing any movement extension. I'm not sure, though, how well lenses shorter than 90mm would work, as there's a limit to how far the pleated part of the bellows will compress.

Despite it's light weight, the camera is quite rigid. The Ebony is significantly more rigid than a Zone VI Ultra Light Weight camera that I got to play with recently, and, unlike the Zone VI, the Ebony's rigidity stays very constant over it's whole range. When moderate pressure was applied to the top of the back, I could get a little movement. This was due to the rivet joints at the base of the rear standard. This `looseness' was very minimal, and, since the front rivet joints did not show any signs of this, I expect that the two back joints came loose through use on my demo camera. I expect that Ebony could tighten this up. Even with this minor peccadillo, the Ebony is the most rigid wooden field camera that I've used, and this includes a Wisner 8x10, Agfa 5x7 and a number of others.

At first I was worried that the camera's lack of bubble levels would make it hard to level the camera. This was not the case, though, since the ground glass has a clear (as opposed to black line) grid on it. This made avoiding the convergence of verticals a simple matter. I also liked the evenness and brightness of the ground glass. It's very similar to the Linhof Super Screen that I use in my Sinar. Just for fun, compared how the Ebony screen handled a 110mm f18 protar to a standard Sinar ground glass. While focusing and framing was very difficult with the standard screen, the view on the Ebony screen was even and plenty bright. This was the case for every lens between 110 and 350 mm that I tried. With my 90, focusing was fine, but the screen became less evenly illuminated, but in any case it was still better than the standard Sinar glass. Plus, it's very unlikely that one would ever break the ground glass in the field (it's being plastic). Sure, you might crack the protective ground glass, but this is simply clear glass that you can have cut for you by any glass shop for a few bucks. This is in marked contrast to the cost of replacing a Sinar glass screen!

All in all the Ebony is the nicest wooden view camera that I've used. While some cameras are lighter (the Toho 45X), the Ebony is easier to use, since is more straightforward changing lens and back orientation. It's is also significantly more rigid than 4x5's like the Tachihara. Other field cameras, such as Wisner and Zone VI models, have more extension, but either they are either heavier (Wisner) or are less rigid (Zone VI). If you'd like a wooden field camera, and you use lenses between 90 and 300mm, I highly recommend the Ebony RW45.

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