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Thread: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

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  1. #1

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    Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    Introduction:
    The second generation Chamonix 4x5 cameras started shipping about two weeks ago. Being a new owner, I thought it would appropriate for me to share my initial impressions.

    First of all, not only am I a new owner, I admit it...I am a large format newbie. Despite several decades using 35mm film cameras, I successfully resisted the larger formats until just a few weeks ago. Through a series of small events, the seed was planted, the market research was initiated, and the purchase was made. My initial criteria were:
    • 4x5
    • Compact and portable
    • Well-made
    • Reasonable array of movements
    • Ease of use
    • Support for short focal length lenses
    • Graflok back
    • Support for 120 roll film holders
    • Pretty

    Yes, pretty! If I am going to spend good money, the camera should at least LOOK good! The Chamonix 045N-2 satisfies all of my requirements and is good looking, in a technical way, as well. Before continuing to the rest of the review, I must state that much has been published on the Web regarding version 1 of the 045N. I will not attempt to duplicate those reviews or material readily available at the Chamonix Web site. If you are interested in technical specifications, the published specs and camera description may be found here:


    In the Box:
    • Camera with "Universal" bellows
    • Padded cloth wrap with velcro fasteners
    • Ground glass focus screen with fresnel
    • Carbon fiber ground glass protector


    Description:
    The 045N-2 is a lightweight 4x5 field camera based on the Phillips design. Basic features may be summarized as follows:
    • Extensive use of carbon fiber composite material in the base plate and elsewhere for rigidity and weight savings
    • Nicely crafted hardwood (teak initially and maple in the future) and machined aluminum used in the remainder of the camera
    • Large knobs for ease of adjustment
    • Fairly complete set of movements
      • Front rise/fall, shift, axial tilt, and swing
      • Rear base tilt and swing
    • Graflok-type back
    • Linhof-type lensboard
    • Multiple built-in bubble levels to aid in leveling the camera

    Changes/upgrades from the 045N-1 include:
    • Ball bearings for focus track
    • Focus rod changed to smaller diameter stainless steel
    • Tracks added to constrain the rear standard forward/back movement
    • Improved rear swing
    • Improved lens board mount
    • Improved bellows locking tabs
    • Modified focus screen to address fresnel lens focus shift issue
    • "Universal" bellows included as default bellows
    • Somewhat less minimum bellows draw (52mm vs. 45mm)



    Chamonix 045N-2 in Teak with Black Metal



    Chamonix 045N-2 fully folded with ground glass protector in place


    Starting at the carbon fiber base plate, the camera provides two 3/8" holes for tripod mounting and two large cutouts that are useful as "grab points" or for attaching a strap of some kind (not included). As with all Phillips-design cameras, focus is at the back using a thumb wheel and worm drive to move the focus rail. The focus rail itself has several mount points for the front standard. Fine adjustment to help set infinity focus is made by moving the back standard. The focus rail features an improvement over the 045N-1 by using a ball-bearing cartridge instead of a simple sliding rail for the focus movement. Another improvement over the 045N-1 is addition of tracks to constrain the front/back movement of the rear standard. Those tracks, along with an improved rear swing mechanism make aligning the rear standard a fairly simple task.

    The front standard features generous rise/fall as well as lateral shift and axial swing. Tilt is axial and may be adjusted independent of rise/fall. All movements are secured using friction knobs as opposed to geared adjustments. While mechanical stops are provided for zero'ing front tilt, all other front movements are managed through alignment "dots" on the camera body. Two sets of "dots" are provided for front rise, presumably to support both offset and centered lens boards. No index scales are provided. Linhoff-type lens boards are supported and are mounted using a simple set of thumbwheels. The lens board back plate is made of carbon fiber and is flocked on its outer surface to prevent light leaks. A standard accessory shoe is provided at the top of the front standard. The camera ships with a removable bubble level mounted in the accessory shoe.

    The camera features easily removable bellows and ships with the "Universal" model bellows. The "Universal" bellows is made without stiffening treatment on the extreme end. The intent is to allow free movement with short focal length lenses. A bag bellows is also available. It should be noted that minimum bellows draw for the 045N-2 is somewhat longer than for the initial version (52mm vs 45mm).

    The rear standard features base tilt and swing. Swing is implemented using two clamps in conjunction with the rear standard forward/back adjustment. I won't attempt a detailed explanation, so you will have to accept that it works well and is easy to return the back to neutral state. As with the front standard, all rear movements are managed using friction knobs. Mechanical stops are provided to zero the rear tilt. Zero'ing rear swing is done by moving the adjusters flush in their mounts. Index marks are scribed on the base plate to assist in rear standard alignment, but these are virtually invisible (at least on my copy) under most lighting.

    The "standard" Graflok-type back may be mounted in either horizontal or vertical orientation and is easily switched between the two using two thumb levers. The included ground glass finder has a fresnel screen mounted between the ground glass and the user. The fresnel, in turn, has a shiny glass protective cover. While reflections from the glass can be pretty distracting, those disappear when a dark cloth is used.


    Build:
    Quality materials (carbon fiber, hardwood, stainless steel, and machined aluminum) are used thoughout. Assembly is first class and shows a high level of craftsmanship in both machining and joinery. This is a quality piece of hardware. My only concern is in regards to the black finish option for metal parts. The finish seems somewhat fragile and is easily scratched. While this is a common problem, it should be considered when choosing ordering finish options.


    In Use:
    Set-up is pretty straightforward and involves raising the rear standard, securing the front standard in an appropriate position, and mounting a lens. While it is probably obvious to an experienced user, all noobs should note that the camera is best mounted on the tripod BEFORE raising the back standard! Front standard alignment is done by aligning the "dots" for rise/fall and centering the bracket bottom edge between its "dots". In regards to the rise/fall dots...There are two sets. I assume that the upper (white) set is for use with an offset lens board and the lower (reddish) set for lens boards with a centered hole. A quick compliment to the folk at Chamonix in regards to the lens board mount. Very nicely done! The thumb wheels are easy to use and provide a positive mount. A lock of some sort would be nice, but maybe it is not needed.

    Leveling the camera is easy due to the five bubble levels mounted on various locations. The one on the front standard accessory shoe does not agree with those on the back standard, but I guess that should be expected. At least it is easily corrected. Movements are easy to do, though I have found that the front standard alignment is easily changed by a bump. I am a noob and I guess that is pretty common?

    My experience is extremely limited (remember, I am a complete noob), but my interactions with the camera over the last week or so have been extremely positive. All adjustments and movements are smooth and easy to use. Focus at the rear is a joy. The light weight and compact size also make life easier. Did I mention that it is very sturdy and rigid? Well, it is. 'Nuff said. The standard ground glass features etched grid lines as well as corner marks showing the boundary for common 120 roll film formats. I found that I could easily mount a composition mask for 6x7 120 roll film on the underside of the ground glass using supplied hold-down tabs. I guess that means that I have no complaints...ALMOST. The 045N-2 features a modification to the ground glass as mentioned above. The result is a VERY shiny reflective surface at the rear of the camera. This is no issue when using a dark cloth, but is a real pain when doing initial composition without one. From what I can tell, the only option is to go without the fresnel.

    Part 2, continued below...

  2. #2

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review Part II

    Continued from above...


    Roll Film Holder Compatibility:
    One of the more frequent questions that comes up regarding the Chamonix 045N-2 is compatibility with roll film holders. The general answer to this question is yes, the 045N-2 is compatible with all roll film holders (RFH) designed for use with a Graflok back. Models designed to slip under the ground glass in the manner of a sheet film holder (e.g. Calumet C2(n) and Sinar Vario Zoom) should work just fine. All others require that the ground glass be removed before mounting the RFH. This is of special concern in regards to the Toyo brand RFH. These models have a relatively low profile and are designed to fit UNDER the ground glass, but clamped into the Graflok back of Toyo and many other cameras. What a great idea! Unfortunately, the Chamonix 045N-2 lacks adequate clearance to allow the Toyo RFH to fit between the GG and the back. Just something to consider when paying a premium price used for the Toyo over the generally less expensive used Horseman or Graflex products.


    Optional Folding Viewer:
    This is a nicely made and potentially handy device (Link). I say potentially because when I try to use it in bright light with the 045N-2 and its highly reflective ground glass screen, I mostly see my brightly-framed eye sockets staring back at me. I am not saying that it doen't work. I am saying that it is not as handy as I thought it would be.


    How to Purchase:
    This is where things get sort of sketchy. The cameras are manufactured in batches on what was previously a six month production schedule. I believe that the schedule is closer to three months at present. Production runs usually sell out. Chamonix cameras are periodically available through an eBay merchant (LINK). The other more commonly used option is through Hugo Zhang. He is the owner of chamonixviewcamera.com and sells the cameras dropped shipped (via EMS) directly from the factory in China. The purchase process is pretty loose and consisted in my case of a series of e-mails, a personal check through the mail, and an e-mail with the EMS tracking number some weeks later. No invoice, no receipt, no printed warranty. In fact, no printed anything! No set-up instructions. No manual either. Not wanting to cast a bad light on Mr. Zhang, I want to say that the camera was delivered on schedule as promised, was well-packed, and received in excellent condition. He has been responsive to a few issues I have had with my camera and has provided excellent customer service. Quoting from my e-mail correspondence, the post-sale warranty through Mr. Zhang and chamonixviewcamera.com is:
    "...we offer 90 days no question asked free return or replacement policy and life time free parts and free repair services"
    Hopefully Hugo will be the available to provide this coverage over the long run.

    Summary:
    As mentioned above, I am a total noob with very little large format experience. Despite my inexperience, I have been very impressed with the Chamonix camera and believe that it represents good value for the new user as well as for a more experienced user wanting a compact and light weight camera that easily fits into a day pack.


    Pros
    • Size/Weight
    • Build quality
    • Phillips-based design
    • Usability
    • Versatility
    • Standard bellows fairly usable with short focal length lenses
    • Generous movements
    • Price

    Cons
    • Limited movements compared to a monorail or technical field camera
    • Reflective rear surface on standard ground glass
    • Sales channels are not up to current e-commerce standards

    Suggestions for Chamonix:
    • Provide Instructions for unpacking/initial setup
    • Provide camera manual
    • Better index marks for rear standard
    • Mechanical stops for front standard swing
    • Mechanical stops for rear standard swing



    Steve

  3. #3

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review Part II

    Thanks for the review, have the 045N-1 my self and likes it!
    Well written review and interesting to hear your thoughts on largeformat photography, started a few years ago and still learning (a lot)
    Should use the chamonix more instead of running around with the Aero- Ektar/Anniversary graphic . . . But soon (hopefully) its more springlike in Norway and that should mean some more time to walk around with a 4x5.

    Vidar.

  4. #4
    lilmsmaggie's Avatar
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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    Very nice Steve!

    Well written. Hopefully, as you and I and other LF newbies and more seasoned LF veterans become more familiar with the 45n-2, we can offer more suggestions on improving this well received camera from Chamonix. As well, it is hoped that Hugo and the factory in China will be attentive and receptive to feedback from Chamonix owners and continue to incorporate design changes in the future that will enhance and improve the LF experience.

  5. #5

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    Quote Originally Posted by stevebrot View Post
    Introduction:
    The second generation Chamonix 4x5 cameras started shipping about two weeks ago. Being a new owner, I thought it would appropriate for me to share my initial impressions.
    ....

    Changes/upgrades from the 045N-1 include:
    • Ball bearings for focus track
    • Focus rod changed to smaller diameter stainless steel
    • Tracks added to constrain the rear standard forward/back movement
    • Improved rear swing
    • Improved lens board mount
    • Improved bellows locking tabs
    • Modified focus screen to address fresnel lens focus shift issue
    • "Universal" bellows included as default bellows
    • Somewhat less minimum bellows draw (52mm vs. 45mm)


    ...
    Are you sure they didn't replace on this model the less than satisfactory bubble levels from the N-1 version?
    Also the fact that the rear standard zero position marks are still "virtually invisible" after complains made about it on the older version is simply incomprehensible... The Chamonix trade mark still as usual??
    GPS

  6. #6

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    Quote Originally Posted by GPS View Post
    Are you sure they didn't replace on this model the less than satisfactory bubble levels from the N-1 version?
    Also the fact that the rear standard zero position marks are still "virtually invisible" after complains made about it on the older version is simply incomprehensible... The Chamonix trade mark still as usual??
    I have never seen the N-1 and can't comment regarding the bubble levels. If improvements were made, they are not on the official list. The levels on my camera seem to work pretty well. As for the rear standard marks...they are basically invisible as is the Chamonix maker's mark. (I just spied the maker's mark yesterday )

    Steve

  7. #7

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    Quote Originally Posted by stevebrot View Post
    I have never seen the N-1 and can't comment regarding the bubble levels. If improvements were made, they are not on the official list. The levels on my camera seem to work pretty well. As for the rear standard marks...they are basically invisible as is the Chamonix maker's mark. (I just spied the maker's mark yesterday )

    Steve
    Thanks for your answer, Steve. Would be interesting to know if they are the "old" bubble levels from the N-1 model or a new type. Hugo wrote once that Chamonix will perhaps change the current bubble levels type.
    GPS

  8. #8

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    What size is the lens board? It looks like a Sinar board from the picture. Is that correct?

    bob

  9. #9

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob McCarthy View Post
    What size is the lens board? It looks like a Sinar board from the picture. Is that correct?

    bob
    See the description.
    GPS

  10. #10

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    Re: Chamonix 045N-2: A Newbie's Review

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob McCarthy View Post
    What size is the lens board? It looks like a Sinar board from the picture. Is that correct?

    bob
    The lens board in the photo is a Linhof-type Bromwell board (http://www.bromwellmarketing.com/). The dimensions are about 3 3/4" x 3 7/8".


    Steve

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