Compiled by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page
It has performed well ever since. It is extremely sturdy and robust; unfortunately that partly contributes to it's relatively high weight of 6 lbs., as compared to the 3-1/2 lbs. of the typical Japanese cherrywood cameras. The more obvious reason for the extra weight has already been alluded to: it has rear focusing as well as front, allowing the camera to extend the bellows to 22", compared to the usual 12" or 13" of the others. The addition of rear focusing means more wood and metal.
I have never had any problems mounting lenses, using a cheap spanner wrench, or mounting lensboards. The camera clips that hold the lensboards work smoothly on mine. The side knobs that clamp down the opposite focusing knobs DO loosen as you focus (a pain), but once you lock those knobs down, they do NOT move. It is FAR more secure than a simple clamp system used on some other field cameras. You can feel confident that once everything is locked, the camera, with all its adjustments, will stay where you set it. And, the camera has never moved from the act of inserting a film holder EXCEPT when something wasn't fully tightened.
The front standard WILL move back and forth, even after tightening, but that causes no problems once the camera is focused and ready to shoot.
No, the camera does not have a collapsible focusing hood; instead I use a $15 plastic insert sold by Calumet to otherwise protect the fresnel lens or ground glass. However, ANYthing to avoid the need for a focusing cloth would be worthwhile on ANY large format camera!
Folding the camera can be a bit of a nuisance if you don't have everything lined up just right, and no, it doesn't allow you to fold it with a lens in place as some other cameras do, but it's not so tedious once you learn the routine. Since we large format users *typically* use just rise/fall and tilt the majority of the time, and the rear focusing is not used too often, there are generally only four knobs to loosen and two to re-tighten during the folding process.
The real downside for me is that it's HEAVY. It's a royal pain to have to schlep it and all the extra stuff around. Before buying the ZONE VI, I had first borrowed a Tachihara for three months to help me decide if I really wanted to go large format. I could put it, with 150mm lens folded inside, three film holders, cloth, a Nikon FM to use as a light meter(!).. all into a Lands' End cloth attache! And, I could use the Tachihara on a lightweight Bogen 3001. But the ZONE VI requires at least a Bogen 3021 - still more weight - and whatever else I've managed to stuff into an internal frame backpack with side pockets makes for a fairly heavy package by comparison.
Another downside: The bellows is so long that you MUST buy/use the accessory bag bellows if you want to use full rise and fall with a 90mm or wider lens. The bellows is so compressed when using a 90 that you can't move it around. The short bellows of the other wooden cameras have, in effect, more flexibility when compressed to the same length as that of the ZONE VI. And, at short focal lengths, the operation of the front standard is kind of "kludgy". It's not something I can describe in writing. However, I HAVE gotten some excellent transparencies from the 90mm lens withOUT using a bag bellows. I just could not take advantage of extensive rise and fall.
I was also disappointed that the [overpriced] accessory fresnel lens does not have a grid.
I've thought about selling the ZONE VI and getting something lighter, but every time I go through the entire argument, I stay with what I have. All of its advantages, uh, "outweigh" the weight disadvantage. I paid $900 for it seven years ago. Is it worth the $1400 or $1500 they're now asking? I don't know, but at that price, for something comparable, I'd certainly look at a Wisner, and others.
I know that's a pretty strong condemnation of the Zone VI, so I'll back it up with a few points. I bought my camera shortly after Zone VI was bought by Calumet. I also bought it during a holiday sale promo. So, demand was way up (I had to wait about two months to get my camera). Perhaps this increased demand lead to some of the quality problems I observed with my particular camera. Perhaps, this situation has been corrected now that they have made it up the initial steep production ramp.
These problems were the result of poor workmanship. Specifically, poor fit and finish of the wooden parts. The finish on the camera was very uneven (looked like someone just slapped on one thick, uneven coat of varnish). One additional problem was the result of poor material selection/process. I am referring to the gold plated hardware "feature". This finish was very thin and became very pitted and black in spots after a very short time (keep in mind I only used this camera for two years). The front standard was especially bad. When I called Zone VI, they told me I needed to polish the hardware (in spite of their claim that the gold plated hardware "will never tarnish"). I used the polish they recommended (Rubin Brite - a jeweler's rouge). Which did improve the appearance, but also stripped off much of the remaining thin gold plating exposing the bare brass underneath.
Positive points. I did like the "easy-open bail" feature. Made it easy to insert film holders without disturbing the camera position. Although, I prefer the look of the Wisner red leather bellows, the vinyl coated Zone VI bellows were better suited to working in the often rainy climate where I live (NW Oregon).
Max. Bellows: 18" Weight: 6 lbs. Folded Dimensions: 7.75" x 9.5" x 3.75" Actual New Price: $1395 (from Calumet 1-800-CALUMET)
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