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:
- Compact and portable
- Reasonable array of movements
- Ease of use
- Support for short focal length lenses
- Graflok back
- Support for 120 roll film holders
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
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.
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.
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...