View Full Version : Clones, for better or worse

22-Apr-2017, 15:42
There are clearly some clone LF cameras. I see some and try to figure out in my poor mind whether a clone or near-clone might be better than what it emulates.

For example, looking at the FS thread there is a Raja View for sale. Just how close is it to a Deardorff?

Any other near-clones? Observations? I think prospective buyers would be interested.

22-Apr-2017, 16:43
Much depends on how you define "clone". A lot of 4x5 cameras -- and lenses, too -- are simply rebadged products. So the name is different, and a few of the features might be changed or dropped, but the overall quality is probably the same. I would not call those clones, but unless you know who actually made it, most people would call them clones. The same thing happens in the smaller formats, as well. Typically, these "non-clone clones" sell for less -- sometimes a LOT less -- because they lack the cachet of the original. Is the Calumet Wood Field the same as a Wista DX?

It works in reverse, as well. Back in the 1970's Minolta came out with a great 80-200mm zoom. List price was $400. Leica liked it so much, they bought this lens from Minolta and slapped on a Leica camera mount and nameplate. List price was $1,200. That's $800 for the Leica cachet.

22-Apr-2017, 16:44
As with anything clone'd, many things are just trying to cash in on the prevailing trend, but in the case of the Japanese, they would often tend to refine an item hoping to compete in a larger, established market, so sometimes an upgrade there... Other imports could be hopeless, so a case by case study...

No matter what, ANY item should be viewed with the skeleton of the physics of the theory, operation, and build by the owner, and upgrades/improvements considered and implemented... (Like some old car behind the chicken coop that is turned into a stock car racer...) In the right hands, much is possible... Extensive testing/use, notes taken, and upgrades planned/executed might elevate a lowly clone to new heights... (IF the item has good "bones", up-gradable and not a total piece of crap from the start...),

Are you experienced, or have you ever been experienced!?!! (J. Hendrix)

Steve K

22-Apr-2017, 16:59
Cameras designed with the sliding feet and solid hinge of Dick Phillips have been further developed by Chanonix and Shen-Hao. As far as I know Dick no longer makes cameras.


Mark Sampson
22-Apr-2017, 17:24
I will say that the teakwood Rajahs that I saw in the early '80s were not the equal of a Deardorff 5x7, in rigidity or finish quality. Of course they were cheaper, and more easily available than a Deardorff. But even as inexperienced as I was that far back, I knew to choose something else.
As far as "Clone" lenses go... dig into the 'View Camera' magazine archives to discover the many fine lenses labelled as 'Caltars' back in the day. At different times made by Ilex, Topcon, Schneider, and Rodenstock. (did our own Arne Croell write that story?) The Kodak 203/7.7 Ektar, a well-respected optic, was also sold as the Graflex Optar 203/7.5...
This is not a simple question! Could the answer be "It depends?"

22-Apr-2017, 18:09
Specifically on the Rajah compared to Deardorff. Have had a chance to use both in 5x7 as well as 8x10. A good chance to use both side by side. Would not waste my money on the Rajah unless I was severely constrained in the budget department and could not get something better, preferably a Deardorff.

Rajah is a nice looking copy but nowhere near as solid or stable. Think Ford Pinto and Mercedes touring sedan.

David Karp
22-Apr-2017, 18:21
. . . many fine lenses labelled as 'Caltars' back in the day. At different times made by Ilex, Topcon, Schneider, and Rodenstock. (did our own Arne Croell write that story?

Kerry Thalmann wrote that one!

Peter Collins
22-Apr-2017, 19:49
I did look at a Rajah in the 1990s, and I resolved thereafter to spend the necessary money for the beauty and function that would make me content. Occasionally it meant 'save the necessary money' instead of 'spend the necessary money' since the bank balance was unequal to the task.

Drew Bedo
23-Apr-2017, 06:20
Had a Rajah for a while in the last decade of the previous century; 4x5 with revolving back. It looked nice, made from an exoic (in North America) hard wood that looked like Rosewood. Worked well enough for me then. Cost me under $300 at the old Houston Camera Show.

Traded it to an arrogant guy (to put it kindly) who thought he was taking advantage of me. he got the Indian clone/knock-off and I got a shoe box of lenses that included a Canon 50mm/f0.95 (for a 35mm rangefinder camera).Straight trade . . .no cash. Sold THAT one lens at the show for much more.

Was I bad?

23-Apr-2017, 06:43
Personally i think 'clones' are good thing, it helps a lot with democratising the medium.

I would never have been able to afford a Ebony, Linhof, Philips, Deardorff etc. But a ShenHao or Chamonix is within my means.

Does it mean i didn't get the 'original' and last 5%? Perhaps, do I care? not really, the products are fine for what they are.

If these clones wouldn't have been available I likely would never have entered in 5x4 at all.

23-Apr-2017, 07:23
For me, clone or no clone isn't the point; function and quality must be given, and it must be affordable.
And today nearly every camera is affordable.

Once started with Plaubel Profia cameras, I ended up with a Shen Hao HZX , ancient Reisekameras, a Pentacon studio camera - and I have to say, I love them all, because each of them will do her job.

John Kasaian
23-Apr-2017, 07:41
The Caltars weren't cones IMHO as they were actually made by Rodenstock.
Would Congos be considered clones of Commercial Ektars? Or successors?
Or more accurately, copies?
The good stuff is often copied and the resulting copy can go either way when it comes to quality.
A faithful homage, budget conscious alternative, or a piece of junk.

With many suppliers now extinct I think we're fortunate that there are copies, but determining which one is a worthy copy (or improvement) is up to us.

My preference in terminology goes to copies.
It sounds less high-falutin' :)

Alan Gales
23-Apr-2017, 08:50
I wonder how many photographers are clones?

Louis Pacilla
23-Apr-2017, 09:02
Would Congos be considered clones of Commercial Ektars? Or successors?
Or more accurately, copies?

Hey John to be completely factual they are both copies of the Zeiss Tessar IIb.;)

BTW- I completely agree with you on the Caltar II being relabeled Rodenstock offerings of that time period and a great bargain. They usually had the Rodenstock sticker on the shutter and at times the box.

Mark Sawyer
23-Apr-2017, 12:11
Hey John to be completely factual they are both copies of the Zeiss Tessar IIb.;)
Of course, the Zeiss Tessar IIb was a later refinement of the original Zeiss Tessar, which was developed from the Zeiss Unar.

And just to stick my head in the lion's mouth, the Deardorff was as much a clone of early English field cameras as the Rajah was a clone of the Deardorff. :)

John Kasaian
23-Apr-2017, 17:25
No print I am aware of knows what brand name appeared on the camera or lens that made the negative from which it was printed.

Fr. Mark
23-Apr-2017, 21:14
Great work can be done with all kinds of tools. The key attributes are skill and vision(or something to "say"), no?
That said, some tools are easier to use. And, for some of us the process is as important and as the end product. I have a bit of a fascination with TLRs and folding medium format cameras. But, I'm not going to get a cheap ($ or construction) one, though if someone gave me one, I'd not be so picky. I like my tools to be well built, controls laid out sensibly etc. So, I'm waiting. But this is a hobby not a business.
I have several DB mount lenses for my Sinar P. One's a caltar, I think. It's amazingly sharp to me, but I'm not as skilled/opinionated as to this sort of thing as some here.