Ebony 45 S  - A review

By Peter Brown /Wilderness Images Gallery text and photos © 2001 for the Large Format Page

This is a review about the Ebony 45 S, ebony wood and titanium 4x5 field camera. I have no connection with the Ebony Camera Co and only heard of them 6 months ago. These comments are MY first impressions of this fine camera.

After deciding to purchase a new field camera, I recently spent some months researching which 4x5 camera would be suitable for my field photography work and the selection of lenses I own and expect to use in the future.  

This research took me many months (since May 2001), and much of the information I gathered was from the excellent data base and the kind assistance of members on the LF forum. As I live in a remote part of Australia, I was unable to actually test out or see in person any large format field cameras, so I relied heavily on comments from users and those with experience with field cameras.  I am grateful for all the information received and I thought it was my turn to return the favour and give my first impressions of the camera I finally decided on - the Ebony 45 S.

For those not familiar with the Ebony camera line, these cameras are hand made in Japan by the Ebony Camera Co who produce a wide selection of field cameras from 6x9 cm to 8x10 inch. The cameras are expensive but have an excellent reputation as high quality, well designed photographic tools. I think they are more than this.

You may be asking what made me decide to choose an Ebony over all the other LF cameras currently on the market, some with more features, many costing far less? Unfortunately, money, or rather the lack of it, was a governing factor, but this was not my main concern.  I have always tried to purchase the best equipment that I can afford because I make my living with photography and I usually keep the items I buy for many years, therefore I try not to compromise on quality.
Over the last thirty years I have used Contax, Rollei, and Sinar products and quality lenses including Zeiss, Rodenstock and Schneider. These products have always been considered to be of the highest quality, ³state-of-the-art², well-designed and built photographic tools. My experience has been that ³you get what you pay for² and I have had many years trouble free use of these products. So when I heard of a no-compromise, high quality, hand made camera being produced in Japan I had to investigate.
Now there is no denying these cameras ARE expensive, but so are Ferrari¹s, Porsche, Rolex, Moet, Swiss Chocolate, etc, etc, but they all have one thing in common - they are the best available!  So what was the first reason? Uncompromising quality and fine craftsmanship!

In my opinion the Ebony camera is a beautiful piece of fine art! The craftsmanship is incredible and it looks just wonderful. The rich lustre of the ebony wood combined with the cool titanium fittings and the black leather bellows is almost sensual in it's appearance. The smell of the leather and the hand-tooled wood combine to offer a sensory experience no mass produced camera could imitate. The texture and grain of the dark wood is superb and the titanium fittings add to the overall effect of strength and enduring quality.
It truly is a most unique camera and in all my thirty plus years experience as a professional photographer, no other camera has taken my breath away quite like this Ebony. The pictures I saw on Ebony¹s and Robert White¹s web sites just do not do it justice and it is not until you can hold it and drink in it's wonderful design and features that you can appreciate it. Even if I never took an image with it, it would be worth having just for the sheer beauty of looking at it, but I'm sure that using it in the field over the years will be an experience in itself.

Ebony have a large range of high quality cameras and they will custom
make to your specifications, so what made me choose the 45 S over all the other models?  I wanted a camera that was easily setup, lightweight, compact and rigid with extensive movements and with the ability to take a wide range of lenses. The 45 S met my criteria.

The 45 S is a non-folding type of field camera which in my opinion is an advantage when working quickly in the field and provides a fast and simple setup.  I preferred this option to the traditional folding type models. Opening up the camera and being ready to take an image takes seconds rather than minutes. The three bubble levels (with mirror) on the front and rear standards help immensely with easy setup and levelling.

I wanted a lightweight camera for easy transport and backpacking and also, the need for a big heavy tripod would be negated. The 45 S weighs in at 2.1kg, one of the lightest non-customised models. It feels so light and compact for a 4x5, more like a medium format than a large format camera.

I wanted a compact camera for easy packing and to be unobtrusive when photographing in sensitive areas. The standards on the 45 S fold into each other and make a very neat package when folded. The actual dimensions are 21.0 (h) x 20.5 (w - including knobs) x 12.0 (l) cm.  Even sitting fully extended on the tripod it doesn¹t look much bigger than some of the larger medium format models.

I wanted a rigid camera which would remain stable under most conditions encountered in the field. The base design is rectangular and has a large square titanium plate with a tripod bush which provides an excellent rigid support. On the tripod the camera feels sturdy even at full extension. All the Ebony¹s have a reputation as being extremely rigid, stable cameras and I assume the other models would offer the same degree of stability as the 45 S

I wanted extensive movements to be able to cover most situations. The 45 S has both front (38+38mm) and rear (60+60mm) shift, front (45º + 45º) and rear (20º + 20º ) swing,  front rise (50mm) and fall (25mm) and back rise (50mm) as well as front center tilt (20º + 20º) and rear center tilt (20º + 20º). These are more movements than I will probably ever need but it is nice to know they are there if I do extend my photography to incorporate architecture, an area I can imagine this camera excelling in. The knobs and locking levers look strong and work with precision and with just the right amount of tension, making for precise control. All movements work easily and smoothly without feeling sloppy and the rack and pinion focus rails provide fast and accurate focusing.

Another reason that I chose this model was it's ability to use a wide range of lenses on the flat board and with a standard bellows; although the 45 S comes equipped with Ebony's unique "universal" bellows, a very flexible bellows which provides lots of movement even when closed down for wide angle use. A bag bellows would only be necessary with extreme wide angle lenses.
I wanted to be able to use wide lenses without having to resort to recessed boards and the 45 S will allow use of lenses down to 47 mm before the need for a 10 mm recessed board. The camera as standard has a bellows draw to 270 mm but this can be extended to 360 mm with the optional 452 extension back, an excellent, well thought out item which easily attaches to the camera back.  Extension tubes are also made by Ebony in sizes of 17 mm and 35 mm giving the option of using reasonably long lenses.  My current lens range of 65 - 110 -135 - 210 will be easily accommodated with this camera on the flat boards.  The 45 S accepts standard Linhof-type boards but Ebony are trialing their own boards at present and I have four on order.

My eyes are no longer as good as they once were and therefore another point in my selection criteria was for a bright, easily viewed ground glass.
The ground glass on the 45 S is bright and clear with a 10mm line-etched grid screen and I can not imagine the need for a fresnel screen except perhaps on very wide angle lenses, 55mm or wider, certainly it's not necessary with my Nikkor 65mm/f 4. Under a cloudy sky or in shade even a dark cloth may not be needed as the image is so bright - my experience viewing through Sinar GG has been the exact opposite. I wanted the Ebony to be able to accept the Horseman Reflex Viewer and had the factory modify the back. The end result is excellent, the modification looks like it is part of the original design and the viewer fits perfectly. The only downside is that when it's attached, my well-used viewer detracts from the beauty of the Ebony ;-)

International Standard film holders and accessories fit the Ebony ³Graflok-type² back and my Sinar zoom roll film holder, Fuji Quickload and Polaroid 545i holders fit snugly and easily behind the spring-loaded back.
Ebony also provide various accessories for their large format cameras including a 6x9 roll film holder adapter (which can be used without dismounting the GG), an interesting lens shade clip and a very nicely designed all-weather focusing cloth that doubles as a lens shade.  If they are of the same high standard as their cameras, and I imagine they would be, I can see I¹ll be spending some more money.

The 45 S matched all MY requirements for the type of photography I do. It is a high-quality, superbly designed, lightweight, compact, strong and easily setup camera that provides me with extensive movements and the ability to accept all my current range of lenses.

I am quite overwhelmed by the workmanship and design of this camera and even without having used it much (yet!) I can recommend it, even if it's just for the joy of looking at it and holding it. I can imagine having the pleasure of using this piece of artwork for many years to come. I'm already saving for one of the 5x7 or 8x10 models.

Dealing with Ebony was a pleasure, something sadly lacking with many of today¹s manufacturers and dealers.  All correspondence was answered efficiently and politely and Hiromi and Kuniko provided an excellent service. Thank you for a beautifully designed camera, Hiromi and Kuniko for your service.

I hope that the above information has been of use to anyone contemplating a 4x5 field camera purchase and I'd be happy to answer any questions from anyone interested in an Ebony 45 S.

This isn't a camera you own - it's a camera you experience!

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