Challenging a snowstorm of galactic proportions (read: driving 100 miles in a snowstorm that has caused some havoc around Salzburg, Austria) I visited Lotus View Camera today in search of some ULF answers.
Without any pretense of being a review of the company or of its products (don't shoot on me, I'm just the piano player) I want to share with you some info hoping that it can be of some interest.
First of all: Mr. Stroebele is a wonderful person, he can spend hours with you talking about his cameras, picture taking etc. He and his wife invited me and my wife for lunch and we had to decline fearing that our car could get stuck in the snow for good, this resulting in us accepting his offer for lunch, and for dinner, and for breakfast, and ... in fact, I left Lotus View Camera driving the car in reverse for about three hundred yards otherwise I would not have been able to climb up the hill and reach the main road. The car had gotten stuck already in enough snow to require this creative driving style. All this in spite of having snow tires mounted!
Anyway, back to photography now. He had on display some 4x5, and an 8x10 that could be modified on-the-fly into an 8x20 by simply exchanging the back and the bellows. This is not the standard 8x20, in that it has a rail system in the back that allows one to slide in an 8x10 back (and bellows) or an 8x20 back (and bellows). Clearly this solution costs less than a full 8x10 and a full 8x20. The resulting 8x20 compromises a bit on overall rigidity because the bed is the one of the 8x10, and the rail system is not as rigid as a permanent connection to the bed. In fact, the bed of a "true" 8x20 is also larger. The "true" 8x20 weighs a bit more as well, but probably half a pound, not more. I have already an 8x10 so if I decide to go for the 8x20 I will order the real one.
Lotus cameras have all movements both back and front, and I discussed with Mr. Stroebele the advantage of limiting the number of movements in the back for an 8x20 to decrease weight and rigidity. We did some math and it turns out that the gain in weight is probably negligible, around half a pound. By the way, the 8x20 peaks at slightly more than 7kg or 15 pounds. I lifted that 8x20/8x10 he had in his office and I was really surprised by how light it was. Yes, I will not do rock climbing with it but someone in great shape (not me) can do some serious backpacking with it. The advantage in reducing the movements in the back is not in decreasing the weight therefore but in increasing the overall rigidity. Yes, the camera would be more rigid and less sensitive to wind if the back had no shift and swing (say). Having said this, I personally need to do some thinking, I am not sure where to go on this.
One reason I went to Lotus was also to discuss with Mr. Stroebele 8x20 vs 12x20, as I was (and still am, but to a lesser extent after the visit) debating with myself about the two formats. What he told me is that the 7x17 and 8x20 are fundamentally beefed up versions of the 8x10. The 12x20 and 14x17 are a totally different design, including some geared movements not present in the 7x17 and 8x20 to be able to handle very heavy lenses. And the "monster" 20x24 is yet another completely different design. Because of this there is a substantial step up in weight when going from 8x20 to 12x20. The 12x20 holders are also different in design and not just an oversized version of those for 8x20. The holders for 20x24 are different still, with some aluminum parts being required for rigidity reasons (Lotus holders are in cherry wood). He also showed me a 12x20 frame for the back and I have to admit that that size is a different ball game compared to the 8x20. 12x20 is a major step up over the 8x20, much bigger than what the difference in the areas of the negative may have one think.
Craftmanship: ... it is outstanding. I understand why people commit unnatural acts to put their hands on Lotus film holders, now :-) They are very expensive but are indeed a work of art. As for the camera, being a picky, anal retentive, fanatic woodworker myself, the attention given to details speaks volumes about the passion that goes into bulding these cameras. It is a true labor of love.
I have posted three pictures of the 8x20/8x10 camera in its 8x20 outfit. Again, this is not the standard 8x20 camera , but an 8x10 with the 8x20 back and bellows. The one I discussed at the beginning, in other words. I thought it would be of some interest anyway because there are not many hi-res pictures of Lotus cameras around (hence, the pictures are a bit heavy). The links are:
I realize that all this may sound too enthusiastic. I am sure that using Mr. Stroebele cameras some shortcomings will show up, there is no such thing as a perfect camera, of course. I just wanted to share with you a simple "trip report", I have not test-driven his cameras. But what I saw was quite impressive.
Mr. Stroebele told me that the bulk of his cameras are 8x10, smaller and larger ones make up a much smaller percentage. Apparently he sells more 8x10's than 4x5's, then.
Finally, these are interesting times :-) so it is probably appropriate for me to point out that I have absolutely nothing to do with Lotus View Camera, and if I will ever buy one I will have to break --- with a great deal of pain --- my very own piggy bank ...