I have a whole-plate Chamonix as well as a very late-production 8x10 Phillips Compact II. I've just set up both of them and made the following notes. Apply whatever caveats you want, to take into account the fact that the camera formats are slightly different, that these are subjective impressions, etc. Remember too that both cameras have been subject to design tweaks in different production runs.
Anyway, I hope this is helpful.
Both have a “floating” front standard that needs to be screwed into any of several sockets on the focusing base. The same screw that secures the front standard to the focusing base also controls front swing and shift.
Both have axis rise/fall and tilt secured by the same knobs. The Phillips has a little plastic turnbutton to lock out tilts, while the Chamonix has a pair of little metal tabs on the bottom of the front standard that extend into the groove in the upright. Both approaches work; the sliding tabs on my Chamonix are a bit balky.
Both have alignment marks to indicate the neutral point for front rise/fall; the marks on the Phillips are much easier to see. Both have pairs of alignment dots on the focusing base for setting front swing on neutral; the ones on the Phillips are slightly larger and slightly easier to see. The Phillips also has alignment marks for zeroing front shift; the Chamonix doesn’t.
Both accept Sinar/Horseman lensboards. The Phillips holds in the boards with a simple swinging bar on top of the front standard, which in turn is locked in place with a little plastic turnbutton. The Chamonix uses a pair of little retainers that are swung into place from the bottom of the front standard. The edge where these are manipulated is sharply toothed and uncomfortable to use, and when the retainers are in place they barely protrude into the lensboard area. The Phillips approach is easier to use and much more confidence-inspiring, especially with a heavy lens mounted.
With the securing knobs tightened down, the front standards of both cameras have excellent rigidity, even with the standard mounted in the front-most socket and the camera at full extension.
On both, the rear standard rides on a set of grooved “feet” that extend forward, allowing for rear extension and for somewhat awkward swing. Both also have tilt.
With the securing knobs tightened, the Chamonix has just a bit of “play” in the rear standard, the Phillips essentially none. One difference which appears to contribute to this is the mounting of the diagonal strut on the “feet”, which is simpler on the Phillips. Nevertheless, even the Chamonix should be adequately rigid under almost all circumstances. Both pick up a little bit of flex under pressure when the rear standard is at full extension; again, the Phillips has the edge but again, both should be adequate under most circumstances.
The Phillips has a wide leather strap on the top of rear standard. The Chamonix has no strap, which makes it a bit tricky to handle. When I’m on the go in the field, especially on a hot and humid day when my hands start to get sweaty, I need to handle the Chamonix very carefully and deliberately when it’s off the tripod; I’m always worried about dropping it.
The camera back on the Phillips is retained by simple flat springs with plastic nubbins at the end. The back on the Chamonix is retained by swinging blades that engage with thin sockets within the back. The Chamonix approach is a bit fiddly for me – the Philips is quicker and requires less attention.
The Chamonix back is thinner and feels fragile compared to the Phillips back. The Phillips has a bail lift, which makes inserting and removing film holders easy. The Chamonix back doesn’t have a bail, though its springs achieve a good balance of tight grip without being so stiff as to make inserting holders difficult. The springs on the Phillips back are hefty flat springs; the ones on the Chamonix are thin wire. The Chamonix springs look much less durable; time will tell how they wear.
My Phillips came with a GG protector, which is simply a sheet of Lexan or similar plastic with patches of Velcro in the corners that mate with matching Velcro patches on the camera back.
Camera body construction
Both camera have four main structural elements: front standard, rear standard + feet, main camera base, and front focusing base. On the Chamonix, the main camera base has parts cut away compared to the Phillips, to save weight. This difference appears to have little if any effect on overall rigidity.
Both cameras use a lead-screw mechanism, with a knob at the bottom rear of the camera, to move the front focusing bed. On my cameras the Phillips screw was a bit smoother, but the Chamonix was also smooth enough not to be bothersome in use.
Once the front standard is screwed into a socket appropriate for the lens focal length in use, coarse focus can be achieved by moving the rear standard on its “feet”. The grooves in the Phillips feet have a few notched stopping points; engaging these forces a few millimeters of rear shift. The Chamonix feet have no notches.
One side of the front focusing bed on the Phillips has a centimeter/millimeter scale covering the travel of the fine focus via lead screw. It’s implemented using a piece cut from a tape measure – inexpensive and functional, but a bit inelegant compared to the rest of the camera.
The various knobs differ between the two cameras, but all are reasonably easy to grip and use, and in a nice touch, all have safety stops to prevent spinning a knob entirely off the camera in the heat of battle.
The bellows on both cameras is adequate to cover the full extension allowed by the camera base. With the cameras at maximum extension, the Phillips bellows has room to spare and places no restriction on front movements, but the Chamonix bellows feels stretched, and front tilts are a bit difficult.
Minimum flange-to-film distance on the Phillips with a flat board and the bellows compressed all the way is about 100mm. With a recessed board you could probably focus a short Hypergon to infinity. Minimum extension on the Chamonix is about 80mm; taking into account the smaller format, this is similar to the Phillips. On both cameras, it’s a challenge to use the very shortest lenses in vertical format without getting the front focusing bed and/or the feet in the picture.
The Phillips has a couple of strategically placed Velcro patches on the bellows, which can be grabbed with a small Velcro strap on the front standard to prevent bellows sag at intermediate extensions. The Chamonix has the Velcro strap but no matching patches on the bellows. I imagine these could be added by the user.
The Phillips has a left-right level on the top right of the rear standard, and a fore-aft level on the right vertical of the rear standard. The Chamonix has both left-right and fore-aft levels in a single unit on the top right of the rear standard, as well as another level on the back that serves as a left-right level when the back is horizontal but has no use when the back is vertical.
I value my life, so I won’t say anything about accuracy.
Odds ‘n’ ends
Both cameras are held closed by tightening the knobs on the diagonal struts that hold the rear standard. The Chamonix also has a short Velcro strap that mates with a Velcro patch on the focusing base of the camera. As with the tape measure slice on the Phillips, it works but seems a bit inelegant.
Overall fit and finish
The front standard, rear standard, back, and “feet” on the Chamonix are in a natural wood finish, with a soft-gloss varnish that’s so heavy the wood almost looks like plastic at some points. The corresponding parts of the Phillips are finished in a satin black paint or stain.
Fit of parts is excellent for the most part on both cameras, with the Phillips having a very slight edge in a few spots.
The overall look and feel of the Chamonix is a bit on the precious, dainty and fragile side, while the Phillips looks and feels more like a robust industrial-grade tool.
The designers of the Chamonix have been very clever in paring down the body to the absolute minimum to save weight, but I think in some places, especially the rear standard and the back, they have arguably pushed a bit too far. A strap on the rear standard, for secure handling on the go, is sorely missed. Some of the detailed features seem to have been changed for the sake of looking inventive, but aren’t actually improvements. Time will tell how well the Chamonix will hold up to steady use.
To my taste the Phillips is a bit more robust, a bit more secure and confidence-inspiring in use and a bit more functionally refined all around. But the Chamonix is also a very usable and versatile camera which comes very close to matching the Phillips on its most important functional virtue – a more favorable balance of rigidity and light weight than can be found in traditional folding wood-field designs.