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Thread: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

  1. #1
    austin granger's Avatar
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    Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    Part I

    Hello all.

    I recently bought a Chamonix Hs-1 and thought I'd offer my initial impressions of it. First off, I'd like to say that although it's true that I've used a number of view cameras over the years, I am by no means an expert on their design, or even their function for that matter. Ask me to explain the Scheimpflug Principle or Diffraction Limits and all you'll get is a glazed look and a lot of hemming and hawing. Generally, I know enough to make the pictures I want to make, but just barely. So with that caveat out of the way, on to the review!

    WHAT IS IT?

    The Hs-1 is one of two new, non-folding Chamonix 4x5 cameras. There is also an H-1, which is differentiated from the Hs-1 by having longer bellows and asymmetric tilt in the rear, and a little extra weight. So you can think of the Hs-1 as the simpler, stripped down model and the H-1 as the deluxe model. As of this writing, the Hs-1 sells for $1,015 plus $80 shipping, while the H-1 is $1,105 plus $80 shipping.

    WHY BUY IT?

    Obviously, this gets into subjective territory, but I can tell you that in my case, I was looking for a camera that was smaller and lighter than my Deardorff Special. I'm very fond of the Deardorff, but at seven pounds, it's not a great joy to carry on long hikes. If you're looking for a charismatic camera that can shoot both 5x7 and 4x5, and also use very long lenses, a Deardorff Special is a fantastic option. If those criteria don't apply-if you don't use long lenses, or if you shoot only 4x5-then in my opinion it's probably overkill. This was my thinking anyway.

    As for why I went with the Chamonix, well, I owned a Chamonix 4x5 F1 for a time, and was very impressed by the build quality and capabilities of that camera. However, I never really gelled with it's basic design, specifically with the screwing and unscrewing of the front standard from the bed. I know it sounds like a silly thing, but something about the procedure just bugged me, especially when the front standard was left dangling by the bellows as if the camera had suffered a gruesome injury. Yes, I'm odd, and I know its a fine camera, I just couldn't get used to it. As I mentioned though, the F1 did make me confident of the quality of Chamonix cameras, and so when the Hs-1 and H-1 came along, I thought they might be just what I was looking for.

    I picked the Hs-1 over the fancier H-1 because I only ever use two lenses, a standard 180mm and a semi-wide 120mm, and I very rarely do ultra close-ups, so I felt like I didn't need the extra bellows of the H-1. Also, I didn't feel the need for the asymmetric tilt of the H-1. It's a neat feature, but I've been doing things the "regular" way for so long, it'd be hard to change now. Finally, I liked the fact that the Hs-1 is a little lighter than the H-1 (3.97 pounds/1800 gms vs. 4.37 pounds/1980gms).

    *One thing to note here is that Chamonix states on their website that they're developing additional backs for the H-1 (5x7, 4x10) so that might be something to consider. I'm not sure why these backs wouldn't work on the Hs-1 as well, but it is not mentioned on the website, so if this is of interest to you, you might send an inquiry to Chamonix to get to the bottom of it.

    Finally, I've long liked the idea of a non-folding view camera. While I realize that unfolding a view camera and sticking a lens on it is not a difficult or time-consuming procedure, in my experience, even with view camera work, even a second matters. I cannot count the number of times I've seen some amazing thing and by the time I set up my camera, it was gone. And I'm fast! Also, I'm not a big fan of carrying my camera around on a tripod, at least not for long distances. Partly this is because I find I'm often on unstable terrain, and also because I am not particularly graceful by nature, and so I worry about tripping and/or dropping the camera. Which I have done. My general way of working is to explore, find a picture, set up the camera, make or not make the picture, and then put the camera away and move on. You can imagine how, if you did this routine twenty times in a row, the idea of a non-folding camera might start to appeal to you. Also, I find that I use my standard lens probably 80% of the time, so with a non-folder, I can just leave the lens on, removing that step as well.

    INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

    If you've had the chance to handle a Chamonix, you know that they are very well made cameras. The Hs-1 is no different. It is made of teak, aluminum and carbon fiber. The wood is well finished, and quite smooth to the touch. It reminds me vaguely of Ikea furniture, which might sound like an insult, but I don't really mean it to be. Let's say that it's attractive in an understated, clean sort of way. I'm no woodworker, but the joins seem very well done to me, all very precise and without any visible glue.

    It's light! If you are used to other Chamonix cameras (N series, F1), or have used a Tachihara or similar, you will not be impressed by this exclamation. In fact, the Hs-1 is about a half a pound heavier than an N-1. However, if you're like me, coming from a Deardorff, or perhaps another, larger format camera, man, this thing is so light! And so tiny!

    IN USE

    After using the camera for a couple of months now, I can tell you that I'm enjoying the set-up procedure very much. Or lack of set-up procedure, because there's not much to it. Set-up goes as follows: take off backpack, remove camera from backpack, stick on tripod, take off lens cap, go! Yes, there's a little bit more to it than that, but really, one could, if necessary, take a picture with this camera in a matter of five seconds. Last weekend I was out on the Oregon coast and weather-wise, it was a wild sort of day, with sudden rain squalls and fast moving clouds. The camera really shone in these conditions. More than once I confidently photographed with a rain squall bearing down on me, knowing that I would be able to shove the camera back in my backpack with a flick of the quick release. Conversely, there was a moment where I saw a cloud quickly drifting over an abandoned military bunker (I posted the picture in the "Old Things" thread yesterday) and I was able to set up the camera in moments to capture it. Yes!

    MOVEMENTS

    Yes, the usual ones: front rise/fall/shift/tilt/swing. Rear tilt, swing, rise and shift. On their website, Chamonix says there's no rear shift, but I have the camera right here and I'm telling you that I'm rear-shifting like crazy. In all, the movements are most likely more than you'll ever need.

    One thing that I really appreciate is that there are separate knobs for front rise/fall and tilt. My Deardorff doesn't have that separation, and while you can get to the same place either way, with the Chamonix it is easier. Speaking of knobs, with one exception (see below), I'm a big fan of the Chamonix knobs. They are large and easily found, which is no small thing if you're working in rough conditions or with gloves on. There are zero detents with an audible click for both front and rear tilt which is another thing I appreciate.

    There are easily visible dots to align front rise and front shift, as well as rear shift. Zeroing the swings is a simple matter of bringing the standards even with the bed if that makes sense. Everything is very smooth and easy. There are also easily visible index marks front and rear to keep track of shifts if you're into that.

    FOCUSING

    Despite what Chamonix says on their website (they could use a copy-editor), the Hs-1 does not use the worm-screw mechanism like the N-1 or F1. It focuses in the "traditional" way, much like a Deardorff or Tachihara or any number of other view cameras. Well, mostly...
    Here is where we run into undoubtedly my biggest issue with the Hs-1. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's something that's taken some getting used to. On my Deadorff, one focuses with the right-hand knob and then locks down the focus with the left-hand knob. These two knobs operate completely independently of each other. This is not the case on the Chamonix. If one attempts to lock the focus with the left-hand knob without applying opposite and equal pressure on the right-hand knob, it will not lock. At all. It might help to here imagine wringing out a sponge with both hands. This is roughly the motion one uses to lock the focus on the Chamonix. With all due respect to Josef Sudek, the Hs-1 is not a camera for a one-armed photographer! And even for a two armed photographer, it presents some challenges. Namely the loupe challenge. My traditional way of focusing (again with the Deardorff) is as follows: with my left hand holding the loupe against the ground glass, I focus with my right hand. Once focus is achieved, I let go of the loupe and lock the focus with my left hand. Then I check the focus and tweak slightly if necessary. This procedure does not quite work with the Chamonix, as you need both hands to achieve initial focus lock. Luckily, there are ways around this challenge that don't involve growing a third loupe-holding hand from your forehead. This is my Hs-1 technique: find rough focus using the two-handed, sponge-wringing method, tightening down the focus to the point that it's snug, but not completely locked. Then, while holding the loupe with my left hand, I adjust focus if necessarily. Basically, the aim is to "lock" the focus on the Hs-1 enough that it won't creep, but will allow some adjustment. I hope this all makes sense.

    The Hs-1 has three extensions, front, rear, and then an extra extension in the front. This extra extension is controlled by a small horizontal wheel located on the bed (see picture for clarification). I hate to sound like a wimp here, but the ribs on this wheel are sharp and unpleasant to the touch. This is a minor complaint. It's really not that bad, and in any case, I've found in practice that I've yet to use the extra extension. Bear in mind though that my longest lens is a 180. If you were using a longer lens, or did a lot of close-up work, you might find you have to use the last extension more than I do, and the sharpness of the wheel ridges might bother you more. Until you developed finger calluses.

    The fresnel lens is very nice. In the past, I haven't really been too fond of fresnels, as I feel like the focus can seem a little "mushy," without the "pop" that I like. However, I think this impression was in large part due to the fact that I was using a 90mm f/9 lens. Both my lenses are now f/5.6 lenses, and they pop into focus just fine, even with the fresnel. The glass is gridded with 1/2" squares, as well as marks for medium format films from 6x4.5 to 6x12.

    ANOTHER COMPLAINT

    Yes, I'm very whiny today. The design of the Hs-1 is such that using a dark cloth presents a challenge. It's not insurmountable by any means, but I thought it was worth mentioning. If you look at a picture of the back of the Chamonix, and then imagine putting a dark cloth around it (I use the BTZS tube type), you'll see there is a bit of a problem in that the dark cloth can't really be put around the back proper, because there isn't enough of a "ledge" for it to gain purchase (like say on a Deardorff). Of course, you can instead go around the entire back (including the bed), but then you have a large gap between the back and the bed where light can stream in. My solution, which cost about two bucks and took about five minutes, is to use a removable piece of dark fabric, affixed with velcro strips, that hangs like a curtain to block this "window." It is a crude but effective fix. I'm sure most of you could come up with something more elegant.

    Please see below for Part II

  2. #2
    austin granger's Avatar
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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    Part II

    BELLOWS

    The Hs-1 bellows are the usual Chamonix "universal" type, with the pleats ending about 3/4 of the way toward the front and and turning into more of a bag bellows type. They are very pliable. As I mentioned, my widest lens is a 120, but I'm sure much wider lenses wouldn't be a problem at all. Actually, I think this camera would shine with very wide lenses.

    LEVELS

    Yes! There are four levels, three built in and one accessory one mounted in a hot shoe on the front standard. They seem pretty accurate to me, at least accurate enough to get close to level quickly.

    STRAP

    Yes again, there's a strap. It's kind of a fancy looking one, which I would describe as braided. It's mounted at the front of the rear standard, which wouldn't have been my first choice, but then again, if it was center-mounted, it would have obscured the level up there. I think Chamonix thought this through.

    LENSBOARDS

    The Hs-1 uses the Linhof type. I bought a couple of their carbon fiber ones and they're very nice, with black felt on the back in the groove. They fit smoothly into the front standard, and are secured with little thumb wheels.

    RIGIDITY

    The Hs-1 is quite rigid, even at its full extension.

    THE COMPETITION

    Here are a few other cameras out that I considered:

    Ebony RSW45
    The Ebony RSW45 was a camera made for Robert White in the UK that is somewhat similar to the Hs-1. It has shorter bellows (I don't have the specs in front of me) and does away with back movements entirely. Also, the front movements on the RSW are limited to front rise, fall, and tilt. In the end, although this camera appealed to me for it's beauty and simplicity and lightness, I thought it was just a little bit too single minded. I don't use back movements or swing very often, but I'd like them there if I need them. Also, with the retirement of Mr. Sakanashi, Ebony cameras are getting increasingly hard to find.

    Shen-Hao XPO, Shen-Hao TFC45-IIB
    The XPO looks like a very capable camera, but I decided against it because of the weight (5.7 pounds). The TFC-IIB has long intrigued me, but it has less bellows draw than the Hs-1 (190mm vs. 250mm). Also, I've never actually seen a Shen-Hao in the flesh, and while I know plenty of people like them, I just felt more comfortable going with Chamonix, which I was familiar with.

    Tachihara
    I know, not a folder, but a fine camera. I used one for some years and can't really think of anything bad to say about them. They're light, simple to use, rigid and good looking. But I wanted to try a non-folder so there you go.

    CHAMONIX Hs-1 SUMMARY

    Pros:
    Well built.
    Attractive.
    Fast to set up.
    Easy to use.
    Light.

    Cons:
    Focus action takes some adapting to.
    Painful third extension wheel.
    Dark cloth gap awkwardness.
    Not really the camera if you like long lenses.

    In all, I am very happy with this camera. It fits with my way of working and is a pleasure to use. Of all the view cameras I have owned, this is the one that most "disappears," and for me that is a high compliment.

    3 1/2 (out of 4) stars.

    Oh, here's a link to the specs:

    http://www.chamonixviewcamera.com/45H.html

    If you have any questions, please let me know and I'll do my best to answer them.

    -Austin

    Picture 1: minimum extension
    Picture 1: maximum extension
    Picture 3: front view

    Click image for larger version. 

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  3. #3
    austin granger's Avatar
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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    More pictures.

    Picture 1: The Painful Wheel
    Picture 2: The Dark Cloth Gap
    Picture 3: The Granger Fix for the Dark Cloth Gap

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  4. #4
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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    Final pictures.

    Picture 1: Gratuitous Camera Yoga
    Picture 2: Gratuitous Camera Yoga II

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  5. #5

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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    Thanks for such a detailed exam of this interesting camera.
    How does it do in cold weather, say around 0F ?
    J. K.

  6. #6
    austin granger's Avatar
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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    I can't say just yet J.K., but it's snowing here in Portland today, so I might just get a chance to find out!

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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    I ask because up here, in the country side, temperature goes down often. And snow is everywhere around here also.
    J. K.

  8. #8

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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    First, thanks a lot for your interesting review.

    Hmmm, I don`t understand the focus mechanism of this new cameras.
    As far as I know they used to use worm-screw type mechanisms, with an on axis focus knob (wheel) at the back. I must admit this system is what makes me to stay away from their cameras. I may be wrong, but I think I much prefer the traditional, double knob, rack&pinion system. Again, I have never used a Chamonix, they actually look outstanding, but I haven`t still had the opportunity of tasting one.
    From what I read on their site, "... The H series cameras are based upon our Chamonix design tradition: The screw-focus mechanism and stainless steel focus track make the camera very accurate... " but few lines below they say: "Our 45H1 and 45Hs1 cameras are designed differently than our 45N and 45F1 cameras. To increase the precision of camera, we have used linear focus track. But the side effect of this choice is low friction, especially when the camera is tilted with a heavy lens."
    So I`m not sure about it. You mention the first line is actually wrong, and from the second line I understand it must be not rack&pinion, but a friction system (maybe like the one used on enlarger focus tracks, like e.g., on Beselers???). Could you extend on it? Thanks.

  9. #9
    Foamer
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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    It looks nice, but I think I'm sticking with my 045N. I really love the worm drive focus. It makes things more convenient.


    Kent in SD
    Die Gedanken sind Frei

  10. #10
    austin granger's Avatar
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    Re: Chamonix Hs-1 Review

    Jose, Hello. The H series cameras do not use the centered, worm screw-focus mechanism of the other Chamonix cameras. That is a typo on their website. They use the traditional, double knob system, although, I'm not sure if it's "rack and pinion" exactly. I think of pinions as being round, and on the Hs-1 it's more like beams. Maybe I should try and take a picture of that. In any case, it operates pretty much like the traditional system, with the exception that the left and right knobs are a bit more interconnected than that on my Deardorff. Just why that is, in a technical sense, I couldn't tell you.

    As far as that quote about "low friction," I'm not exactly sure what they're getting at there. The focus on the Chamonix can certainly be locked down as tightly as with any other camera. And I have to say, it's all pretty smooth, with a quality feeling.

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