View Full Version : Help me choose an Ebony

Todd Schoenbaum
13-Mar-2005, 14:50
I have been lurking here for a while and have learned a lot. I have been shooting with a Mamiya RB for about 5 years, but I am a little frustrated with not having movements and a larger neg would be nice as well. I print and develop all my own work. The lenses I currently use are 50mm, 90mm, and 180mm (4x5 equivalents? = 90mm, 150mm, and 300mm ). So onto my question...

I have been researching several 4x5 models and I think that an Ebony is what I am looking for. The Canham DLC seemed too flimsy to me and I dont like having one knob for rise and tilt. The TK45 seems quite nice, but no asymetrical movements, no base tilts, and some concerns about the folding. I dont really like the back movements on the MT's.

What I am looking for in a camera:
1. large range of movements, especially bellows draw
2. quality construction
3. portablility, it needs to fit in a backpack (currently I use a Photo Trekker AW)
4. ease of use

The models I am considering are:
SV45TE: least expensive of the 3 SV's (except the Ti), good bellows draw; no universal bellows, no Asymetrical movements, maybe too many knobs
SV45U: same as above but asymetrical movements and with fewer knobs; is this worth $600
SV45U2: same as above with 65mm more draw, rear shift, and universal bellows; $1100 more than the TE, $500 more than the U.

So, what I am wondering most is whether or not anyone with the TE (or Ti) wishes they had instead gotten a one of the models with the asymetrical movements, the universal bellows, and/or the longer bellows draw? And to those of you with the U2, do you find that the asymetrical movements, and longer universal bellows are worth the money?

I plan on only having one 4x5 camera for quite a while, so I want the find the best camera for my type of shooting (this can be seen on my website: Celluloid and Silver (http://www.celluloidandsilver.com) ). I live in Los Angeles and I have only been able to handle one Ebony, I think it was the 45S.

Thank you for any help and advice.

Steve Hamley
13-Mar-2005, 15:23

I have the SV45U (and a SV810) and enjoy the asymmetric rear movements immensely. They are worth it to me although others are undoubtedly equally confortable with symmetric movements.


Danny Burk
13-Mar-2005, 15:35

Any of the three Ebony models that you list will fit your four listed criteria, as you know.

I have an SV45U2 and have handled an SV45U. The longer draw of the "U2" is important to me since I'm a long lens fanatic and need it to handle a Nikkor 720mm tele. Rear shift is convenient and I use it occasionally to tweak composition after everything is set up, but if it were lacking, I'd get along fine with front shift only. The Universal bellows is great, and can be substituted for the non-Universal bellows when you order the camera (true at Badger Graphic, anyway; I assume this would be the case at other dealers too). It really does handle everything with one bellows: I have lenses from 47XL (on 10mm recessed board) up to 720 tele, and it accepts them all.

Personally, I love asymmetric tilt and use it frequently. However, an Ebony's asym tilt applies only to the rear standard, meaning that you'll still have to use non-asym front tilt for those times that verticals have to be kept distortion-free. For the type of work that I do, I probably use rear tilt about 2/3 of the time. It's one of those things where once you've had it, you'll be spoiled and can't imagine having done without it. If you've never had it...well, you don't know what you're missing till you try it :)

For *me*, the SV45U2 is the perfect choice. Others' needs will differ. If you don't expect to use lenses longer than a 500mm tele at some point, and don't need a lot of extension for close work, you may not need the longer bellows. If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

Danny www.dannyburk.com

Gem Singer
13-Mar-2005, 16:08
Hi Todd,

I had a SV45TE, with the standard, as well as the wide angle bellows. My lenses ranged from 65--450, and the camera handled all of them beautifully. It had more movement capability than I could possibly use. I often referred to it as the "Lexus" of 4X5 cameras.

However, if I were to purchase another Ebony, I would choose the SV45TI for it's lighter weight, and I would equip it with the universal bellows for the convenience of not needing to change bellows. A different model Ebony, with asymetrical movements on the rear standard, would have cost (approx.) $1000 more. I didn't think that the extra expenditure was necessary at the time, and I still feel the same way about it now.

Also, if I were to purchase another Ebony, I would certainly get it from Jim, at Midwest Photo Exchange, again.

Ben Hopson
13-Mar-2005, 16:26
Tod, I have the SV45U2 and though it was tough parting with the $'s when I bought it, I have no regrets. My lenses at present range from 90mm - 450mm with plenty of movements. I don't have one, but I understand the U2 will handle the 720mm tele quite well.

I can only speak of the quality of my camera and it is solid, very stable when locked down and is a beautiful example of precision workmanship.

As for the asymetrical movements, although I don't use them all the time, they are very nice when I do. For me it was worth the additional cost, but not a feature that is absolutly necessary.

The camera is quite easy to set up and use. Like any LF camera after going through the process a few times it becomes second nature.

I use a Tenba PBL backpack to cary the camera, four lenses on boards, meter, loupe, Quickload holder, box of Quickload film, dark cloth, filters, cable releases and various other accessories with plenty of room. I can also carry it on and store overhead when traveling by air.

There are many good cameras to choose from, but if indeed an Ebony is what you are looking for, I don't think you will be dissapointed with the quality.

Good luck with your decision. Nice images on your site BTW.

Donald Hutton
13-Mar-2005, 16:33

I have owned and used a couple of Ebony 4X5 cameras. The best choice for you will ultimately depend upon what your subject matter, lenses and style. I currently have an SV45U. When I bought it, I hoped that it would be the ultimate "one camera" solution for me. It pretty much was for a while and then I started shooting more city architecture. Then some of the cameras compromises became obvious and I bought an SW45 as well to use when the SV45U was not the most appropriate tool.

The SV45U is an outstanding design. If I shot mostly landscape and architecture on the odd occassion, it would definitely be the only camera I would own. The assymetric movements are extremely useful - they definitely speed up the focussing process and if that helps you get a shot before the light changes, only you will know if it is worth the extra $$$. If you didn't have them, you'd never know. If you had used them for a while, I'm sure you'd always want them... I personally don't miss the extra bellows extension of the U2 nor the rear shift. In fact, I have never felt restricted with the camera due to a lack of rear shift. Not once. The extra bellows draw may be a factor for you depending on lenses. While I have a 500T and have used a 450mm quite a bit, I have never bothered buying the 720mm rear element for my Nikkor: I seldom use the 500mm so it's a question of subject and style. Only you will know. I would say that the universal bellows are essential. I went the most expensive route - my camera had the standard bellows, so I bought the bag bellows (because I do like shooting wide lenses). However, whenever you use the bag bellows, you have to unfold the camera, remove the standard bellows, install the bag bellows, shoot, then replace the bag bellows with the standard bellows before you can fold the camera again - not convenient. The camera cannot be folded with the bag bellows. I finally bought the universal bellows. Great solution. For it's capability, it is extremely compact (look at the size dimensions).

The camera is limited by:

1. limited front rise when shooting subjects which demand a lot
2. limited movements with wide angle lenses (you end up with the front standard in the "box" of the rear standard or with movement of the lens being obstructed by the "box" restricting the movement of the rear element of the lens). I have a Schneider 72mm XL and this is an issue with this lens - you cannot explore the capability of this lens on the camera because of this issue. The "wide angle" configuration is workable, but not ideal.
3. it's expensive


1. Almost every movement you'll ever want.
2. Well made; very compact
3. Should you decide it's not for you, they seem to have excellent resale values (which I think should be a consideration - it's not often that you will be able to perfectly match your needs with a product on the first attempt, no matter how thorough you are).

I have often considered selling it and buying an 45SU. The 45SU is considerably more bulky and I suspect a little more prone to damage should your friendly luggage transporter decide to take out all of life's displeasures on your unsuspecting camera case. It would undoubtedly be a better solution for somone who sees themselves shooting mostly architecture.

13-Mar-2005, 16:41
Starting out large format with an Ebony is as d**b as learning to drive in a Ferrari.

Eric Leppanen
13-Mar-2005, 17:10

Two years I ago I faced a similar decision, and ultimately selected the SV45U2 for the following reasons. I have never regretted my decision.

1) To my knowledge, the SV45U2 is the only field camera capable of supporting lenses ranging from my SA58XL (which I use with a recessed lensboard in the "wide angle configuration") to the Nikon 800T without changing bellows (or cameras). In particular, it allows me to use the Fuji 600C (which I use with a two inch extended lensboard), which is a razor sharp non-telephoto lens that I find preferable to the Nikon and Fuji telephotos (sharper and more contrasty, front movements are more straightforward). The 600C is also compatible with my 8x10 camera system. If you want to use a 450mm lens for close ups (such as photographing Indian rock art, etc.), then the U2's bellows draw is also invaluable. The Ebony universal bellows is extremely supple and flexible, and there's no substitute for lots of extension!

2) The assymetric movements on the rear standard are definitely worth the money. While rear movements are not always feasible due to distortion, most of the time in my experience this is not a problem, and the availability of assymetric movements not only saves time but has occasionally completely saved my bacon (on some geometrically complex shots it can be excruciatingly difficult to find the proper focus plane, but with assymetric tilt/swing it was a breeze. I can't explain exactly why this happens, it just occasionally does!).

3) Unlike the other Ebony cameras you mention, the SV45U2 supports rear shift, which is useful if you want to create panoramic shots by stitching two frames together (shift to the left, shift to the right, allow one inch of overlap) without fear of parallax.

Of course, if you are dead certain that you will not use lenses longer than 300mm, then the U2 may be overkill and you might be better off with the U.

As with any camera, there are some caveats. At six pounds, the SV45U2 is a relatively heavy camera. And the universal bellows is only a limited subsitute for a true bag bellows. If you want to use the full image circle of a SS110XL or shorter lens, for example, you'll need the bag bellows. But if you only need limited movements with wide angle lenses, then the universal bellows is fine.

Eric Leppanen
13-Mar-2005, 17:16

I agree that in general LF beginners should first rent an LF system to determine whether it really will work for them. But I disagree that buying an Ebony right-off-the-bat is dumb. One of the most frustrating aspects of LF for beginners is camera movements, and assymetric movements makes this much, much easier.

Gem Singer
13-Mar-2005, 19:40

Both the Ebony SV45TE and the Ebony SV45TI support 50mm. of rear shift to the right and 50mm. of rear shift to the left. See specs. on the Ebony website (www.ebonycamera.com).

13-Mar-2005, 21:39
Should you select a model that is also available in mahogany, consider this lighter and less expensive wood. Light is good. It might not be *quite* as pretty, but still will be a handsome beast.

Todd Schoenbaum
13-Mar-2005, 21:59
Thanks for all the advice guys. I am leaning towards the SV45U2, as I was before this question. I think that it will ultimately do the most for me, even if it does put the hit on my wallet.

Bill, no need to beat around the bush, you can go ahead and spell out dumb. I wont be offended. And I'm not learning how to drive, just looking for a different style model, think sporty Japanese car to Italian sports car.

Concerning the TK45, for the money I would rather have asymetrical movements and a more secure folded package.

Thanks again!

Brian Ellis
13-Mar-2005, 22:00
I owned both the SV Ti and the SV Te. I didn't keep either one (couldn't handle the difference in smoothness and precision compared to the Linhof each of them replaced) but if I had to use one or the other it would be the Ti. It's two pounds lighter and otherwise identical with the Te (I thought the Ti was more attractive too but that's just personal taste). I seem to recall that you could get the universal bellows on either of them, it just took a little longer. I considered the SUs but couldn't see paying $1,400 for the asymetrical back for my uses. Wehman has an asymetrical back on his camera and the whole camera, back and all, only costs about $1,500 and it's an 8x10. Why do you think an asymetrical back is important - have you used large format cameras without it and found the back movements difficult?

Todd Schoenbaum
14-Mar-2005, 00:51
I have never actually used a LF, although I have played around with my friend's Shen-Hao, and have read through Strobel's book. I also spend some of my time while waiting for the right light, to figure out what the movements for such a shot might be like.

The Asymetrical back is apealing to me because it seems like it would make focusing and alignment of the plane of focus easier. I guess the real question is whether or not any ease of use gained is worth the money. It just seems that an asymetrical back is a more logical approach to focusing than more conventional methods (i.e. focus, tilt, focus, tilt). And, generally speaking, wouldn't an asymetrical back be faster to use for any given situation?

Thanks again for all your help.

Todd Schoenbaum
14-Mar-2005, 00:59
Concerning the Weham camera, my enlarger is an Omega D5XL and therefore unable to enlarge thsoe giant negs. I know I can contact print them, and generally I dont print very large, but I like to have the option of choosing an appropriate print size for each particular image. And 8x10 enlargers are few and many dollars between. It does look like a great deal though.

paul owen
14-Mar-2005, 02:46
Decisions, decisions! One other consideration is whether you want/need the Ebony to be a traditional folder or non-folder design. I spent a great deal of time contemplating my next Ebony purchase - first was the 45SW - a great camera but a bit limiting when i started using longer lenses. Cost was a MAJOR factor (still is :)) but I kept coming back to the 45SU! Having used it for just over 12 months all I can say is how glad I am that I laid out the extra for the assymetrical back! This feature combined with the non-folding design means that the set-up, take the shot and break down time is VERY quick - should you need it to be! I recently visited the Scottish Highlands (UK) and was very glad that, due to adverse weather conditions, I was able to bag shots quickly! The SU is really worth considering, it will handle a wide range of lenses, has plenty of movements and is a real joy to use. I lived quite happily without assymetric movements on the SW and never had a problem developing a working procedure - the centre tilts were easy to use, but for ease of use they simply don't match up with the assymetrical type. Make sure you take your time in choosing!BTW I agree with Eric! My first LF camera was the Ebony 45SW - I think that many of us "know" that LF will be right for us before we try it!

Steve Hamley
14-Mar-2005, 06:42

I also don't think it's dumb to start with an Ebony. My first 4x5 was a Crown Graphic which I used for a couple of months deciding if I wanted to commit to LF - long enough to know it didn't have all the movements I wanted - then I bought an Ebony SV45U and never looked back or had any regrets. If you know you want to shoot 4x5, go for the Ebony.


Brian Ellis
14-Mar-2005, 19:20
"The camera cannot be folded with the bag bellows."

Is this true only of the SUs? I had a bag bellows for my SVTe and while memory isn't my strong point lately I could have sworn I used to fold it with the bag bellows in place. I did find the bag bellows difficult to get on the camera. In fact I had to return it to the factory for an adjustment in order to be able to use it at all.

Donald Hutton
14-Mar-2005, 19:45

I am not sure - but, I cannot fold my SV45U with the bag bellows. I would be surprised if the SVTe was any different - the fact is, the bag bellows are very short and you need to swing the front standard at 90 degrees to the rear to close. It does not happen on my camera.

Michael Chmilar
15-Mar-2005, 12:03
I purchased an SV45U as my first LF camera, without ever using an LF camera before.

You will read some advice saying: first you should get a Graphic; then trade up to something better; trade up again; finally, you are ready for an Ebony.

In my case, I knew I was commited to LF work, and I could afford to get the Ebony. I thought: why waste extra time and money on a "learning" camera? In fact, a cheaper and less capable camera is not a good learning camera. It may end up frustrating you, and make you quit LF.

The only negative I can find about the SV45U is that it is a little too capable for what I need. For landscape photography, I rarely use the front and rear swing, or the front shift. I could live without them. I am more interested in the weight savings from removing these movements, than the cost savings. I do find the asymmetric rear tilt indispensible, as well as the ability to use lenses from 80mm to 300mm on flat lensboards using the universal bellows.

I am glad I bought the "Ferrari" as my first 4x5, and did not waste money, time, or energy on lesser cameras.

Lars Åke Vinberg
17-Mar-2005, 00:06
What's wrong with learning to drive in a Ferrari, if you have the money and that is the car you are going to be driving? Seriously though, I think that metaphor is halting a bit - I would assume that handling a Ferrari properly would require expert skills compared to your average commuter box, whereas the design of Ebony cameras simplify handling compared to some other cameras. If you can afford it then go for it, otherwise save your money for lenses.

Todd Schoenbaum
21-Mar-2005, 16:43
Thanks again guys for all your help. I think I will probably go with the SV45U2. Now its just a matter of saving up.