View Full Version : A few day in ....

10-Dec-2007, 14:24
I decided to take the Large format plunge a few days ago. I don't of course know very much at all at this stage but the used equipment my local dealer had seemed to fit the bill nicely and so I thought that finally here was my chance.

I have three weeks to evaluate the gear and decide if I want to keep it or return it.
It is a cambo (sx?) 4x5 monorail with a revolving back and either a 210 f 5.6 caltar HR or the same lens in the 6.8 version.

I have found through the two frames I have shot that I have a new found respect for LF. Man, this is tougher than I thought! :)

I have found that I can not see the edges at all even under a loupe. Could it be that experimenting with about 30 degrees of tilt can make the edges vignet with the 210 f 5.6? I have found that the glass that comes with the cambo is not very good for transmiting light and was wondering if a better ground glass would make a small ... or a large difference?

Lastly I would like to ask those here who have more experience with this if I should keep the 210 caltar 6.8 or pay $150 extra for the 5.6 version. I thought it was a case that the 5.6 was a bit better for brightness (it is but seems minor) and more importantly that it casts a larger imaging circle.

Does the 5.6 lens cast enough of a image circle to be able to be used later on the 5x7 format? How about 8x10?
I know that at some point I want to investigate the idea of contact printing and alternative process. In that sense the 4x6 seems like a good way to slowly learn but if I buy any other lenses I would like them to cover a larger format later ... if that is a possible and practical approach to take.

Lastly ... does anyone know how long a lens the cambo with its normal rail will take?

My interests are portraiture on the one hand, and the 210 feels with first use to be a bit short but I would like to try my hand at landscapes, but likely not sweeping vistas, rather details ... so some kind of moderate wide would be nice (I think), one that can get close.

Any advice here would be greatly appreciated. I think the cambo is a good enough deal, not great but not bad, where it would be a good learning tool, but I hope not to get into too many dead end decisions - so feel free to suggest other approaches.


matthew blais
10-Dec-2007, 14:43
Which Cambo? Hopw much are they asking for the camera and lens combo?
A 210 lens and user monorail camera you can get for about $400 to $500 on ebay..in good condition, so anything less will be a decent buy.

210 caltar I don't think will cover 8x10...somewhere on this site is a list of lenses and their specs.

$150 more for the 5.6 depends on what your paying..

10-Dec-2007, 15:55
Mathew .... the cambo is, as best as I can tell an SC model. It came with a case which holds it upside down, the 6.8 lens, a Polaroid back and 12 holders (fidelity and lisco - six of each) for $500. with the 210 f 5.6 it would be $150 bucks more.

I'm not concerned about it being the best bargain out there, rather if the camera is a good choice for that kind of money compared to other possibilities as something to learn with. Especially important to me is whether accessories like extra lensboards are plentiful on the used market and relatively inexpensive, used and new.

Also, of the most importance right now is to find out which of the two lenses are best for the tradeoff between price versus quality, ease of use and coverage if one is to think of going to 5x7 later.

Are there any backs that would enable the use of 5x7 with this rig?

I'm pretty patient. I am considering returning this and putting the money into a medium format system (which I'm picking up anyhow) and then waiting, while I read, for something that perhaps suits better. But it is extremely difficult to try to second guess what may suit .... when you are in my shoes .... with no experience.

10-Dec-2007, 16:35
A few answers to some of your questions.

I've been shooting a Cambo SCX for about 25 years and have found it to be a fantastic and tough workhorse and extremely reliable. I've had it modified, but it's never needed a repair!

The longest lens I've used on it is an old Veritar 254mm portrait lens (soft focus). I had tons of bellows and rail to spare even at close focusing distances, so I'm betting that on the standard rail you might go to 360mm or even longer. You'll find that your ability to focus on close distances will be more limited than near the infinity distances as you go to longer lenses, but Cambo also has extension rails for most of their cameras (ebay) that are designed for close-up to macro work. You will have to get a second bellows and connector if you go to extreme close-up situations with the extension rail and longest lenses.

(Remember though, that you can make extreme close-ups with wide angle to normal lenses on a view camera due to the length of the rail. I once had to do a commercial image of a fish hook that was just over an inch long and filled the 4x5 sheet with that image by using the 210mm 6.8 lens with no extension rail. You do have to adjust exposure for the extra extension, but that's the only real "problem".)

You might check Cambo's web site to see if they list focal length limits regarding rail length.

As to the dark image on the ground glass edges, do you have a fresnel lens attached to the ground glass on the viewing screen? If you aren't familar, a fresnel is a flat plastic lens sheet that focuses light by means of a series of concentric rings. It is used to considerably brighten a ground glass image. They can also be found on ebay or from Calumet and other sources.

Alternatively, look into the Brightscreen or Intenscreen that are expensive, but available for large format as VERY bright replacements for the standard ground glass.

I've got them in all my old Nikons and Hasselblads and love them.

Alternatively, if you are shooting in the studio, go buy a couple of painter's halogen lights and put them on a stand for focus ONLY lights. They will make the subject extremely bright for focusing, but ya gotta turn them off before taking the shot. Great for still life or commercial shots, awkward and slow for portraits when you want to be spontaneous.

Calumet used to have a comparative focal length chart in their catalogs that showed the film size coverage for each focal length. It may still appear on their web site. You might also find that by checking the links on Carol Miller's site...flutotscamerarepair.com. She has an incredible amount of info resources listed and is fantastic on large format lens repair.

Finally, I have owned both of the 210mm Caltar lenses. I started with the f6.8 and, when I could afford it, I went to the f5.6 for the brighter image on the ground glass. If it fits in your budget, it's a great lens. As to a WA for landscapes, I do most of mine (as well as most of my architectural interiors) with a 90mm Caltar II f4.5. I've got shorter lenses, but they come into play only in extreme circumstances. The 90mm just seems to fit my "vision" of most wide landscape views.

This is all assuming that you are doing studio or easy location work that doesn't require packing the gear far into the field. If that's the case, you might want to stay with the f6.8 and go to a field camera. Both would be much, much lighter to haul into the countryside.

Good luck.



10-Dec-2007, 16:50
Regarding your second post, ebay usually has a lot of lens boards and other accessories at very reasonable prices. The Calumet boards are the same fit except for a few that fit the smaller Calumet "student" level cameras. Be sure you check the item photo to be certain of which you are buying.

You would likely have to start with the Cambo 8x10 in order to use a 5x7 reducing back. The bellows has to taper up to the maximum film size and the 4x5 SC bellows is limited to 4x5 size. The larger film size also requires a longer rail in most cases.


David Karp
10-Dec-2007, 16:55
The current Caltar 210mm lenses are made by Rodenstock. Older ones were made by a variety of companies. The 210mm f/6.8 is likely a rebranded Rodenstock Geronar. I don't think that they had another f/6.8 version in this focal length. The 210 HR is not the currrent version. I believe it was made by a Japanese manufacturer, but cannot remember which one. Older Caltar 210s were made by Schneider, Rodenstock, and Komamura.

The point being, when someone says that they used a 210 Caltar, it could have been a different lens than the one you might purchase.

As for the 210mm f/6.8, it is a small, lightweight lens that covers 5x7. It is sharp when stopped down to f/16- f/22. I have one and have made some photos with it that I like a lot. Not recommended for shooting wide open (I never do, so no personal experience here). See: http://www.hevanet.com/cperez/test/BigMash210.html.

As to the Cambo SC, I think it is a very nice camera for learning LF. There are a lot of very nice things about it. I had a Calumet 45NX, which is a cousin to the SC. It had a rail long enough to use a 450mm lens. However, the rail lengths varied between versions of the camera (for example the 45N had a shorter rail than the 45NX). Check prices at MPEX.com and E-Bay for these SC/45NX/45N, etc. cameras to see the value of what you are getting. Also check the prices for 210mm lenses. You could probably pick up a top-notch 210mm f/5.6 Caltar II-N or Fujinon W for $200 - $250 on E-Bay. More from a store like MPEX or Badger, but you pay for Jim Andracki's or Jeff T.'s expertise, the peace of mind that you are dealing with reputable companies, and the ability to return the product easily if you are dissatisfied.

David Karp
10-Dec-2007, 16:56
Oh yeah, there was a 5x7 SC. If I recall, it used the same size front standard as a 4x5 SC. If you find one, you can interchange the standards and the rails for these.

10-Dec-2007, 17:00
I dug out an old Calumet catalog and found that both of the 210 lenses are listed to cover a 5x7 format. The 6.8 is listed as covering an image circle of 242mm while the f5.6 covers 301. That means that the f5.6 would allow much sider camera movements. That's a big plus when you need the corrections.

Since you are new to LF, you might want to buy either Harvey Shaman or Steve Simmons' books on the use of the view camera. Fantastic resources!

David Karp
10-Dec-2007, 17:08
Lenser and I can keep alternating posts! :)

And the camera that both Shaman and Simmons use to illustrate camera movements, etc. is a Cambo SC. Same is true with Jim Stone's book.

Brian Ellis
10-Dec-2007, 17:40
The difference between a 5.6 maximum aperture lens and the same lens at 6.8 is very minimal with a lens as long as 210mm. When you get into that long a focal length even an f9 is very usable. So I wouldn't switch lenses just for the difference in maximum aperture. If you're having a lot of trouble seeing the image then it's probably the ground glass. There are lots of different options to improve that - a better ground glass such as the Satin Snow, a bright screen such as the Beattie screen which is basically a Fresnel lens, the BosScreen, and a Maxwell screen come immediately to mind. All of these have been discussed quite a bit so a Google search should provide you with enough information to decide what you want to do if anything. Of the ones I've listed the Satin Snow ground glass is the only one that's inexpensive, the others are all in the $150 and up range with the Maxwell (which IMHO is the best) being the highest at about $250.

You mention 30 degrees of tilt and ask whether that could cause vignetting. Assuming it's front tilt then it most definitely could cause vignetting, in fact it almost certainly would. You probably know that 30 degrees is a massive amount of tilt, far more than you'll ever need for landscape or portrait work, probably more than you'll need for any kind of work. You don't generally need any tilt for portraiture and something in roughly the 5 degree range is usually enough for most landscapes.

10-Dec-2007, 18:08
Thank you everyone. Amazing amount of information. I was trying to see what the tilt did ... and so I think I overdid it :)

I think I will keep this and whether I keep the 6.8 or 5.6 will depend on a few more test setups to see if the focal length is one that feels comfortable. Otherwise I will invest the extra money towards the eventual purchase of other focal length lenses.

Is there a large differnce between for example the caltar IIN and this HR version?
I probably should know better, seeing how much there can be a difference in 35 lenses - but what aspect would be better? Flatness of field? contrast? Are the differences strong or subtle?

As for buying used, I've learned long ago to spend a bit more and support the local shops or recomended specialty stores run by individuals who are knowledgeable and passionate about the medium. It is worth it in the long run on several scores. First of all - we all want them to be here ten years from now, right?

Like I said, I don't mind slowly investing money into this. I don't have a lot right now but if my interest sustains and I find that LF is something I can have some success with then in a few months I will put some money into it.
Sure bargains are nice. But I tend to be particular (in 35) and would rather always get what I believe I want rather than a "bargain" just because its there. What I hope to avoid is buying the wrong stuff altogether - and having to in effect start all over again.

Yesterday when trying to take my first shot .... I had the thought .... that "this" is real photography. I wanted a challenge again. I think I've found it! :D

10-Dec-2007, 18:10
Lenser ... which of those two books would you start off with?

10-Dec-2007, 18:42
I have the book by Steve Simmons. It is great and awnsers any questions I have to ask.

Also, I started using a Sinar f1 4x5 and loved it, someone wanted to trade my fugi 6x8 for a Cambo scx 8x10 with extras. I took the opp. Anyway the only lens I use as to date is a Caltar 240 II S f5.6. This lens covers with any movments I could want.

The 210 f 5.6 is a great lens and the SCX camera is easy to use and teaches alot. Patience being the most important thing the camera taught me.


10-Dec-2007, 20:32
Hi, Pavel.

You might be able to get both right away, and very cheaply from ebay.

If I were to chose, I would get "Using the View Camera" by Steve Simmons first and "The View Camera" by Harvey Shaman second, but they are both invaluable so I would be greedy and get them both if you can. They play very well off each other in teaching you the basics and much, much more.

Kodak also published a pamphlet called "Photography with Large Format Cameras" back in the sixties and seventies that has tons of great information, but fewer illustrations about the actual positions of the view camera controls and their effects. Still, it's a terrific source of detailed information including a wonderful chart that tells you lens focal length and working distances for portraits based on film size and the type of portrait (heads, full length, or groups. It's publication number is O-18 and the Kodak catalog number is 152 7894.

Currently on ebay, there are several copies of Simmons' book starting at $.99 and topping out at $19.93 on a 'buy it now' offering.

There is one copy of Shaman's book starting at $12.50 and one copy (hard cover?) of the Kodak publication starting at $1.00.

You will also find a huge amount of knowledge in Ansel Adams' "The Camera" regarding cameras of all formats (but concentrating on large format), lenses, exposure control and composition. Follow that up with "The Negative" and "The Print" and you will have most of what will sustain you in your own fine art black and white large format photography.

Adams autobiography is also a great inspiration and a fun read. When I get less than creative feelings, that will charge me back up pretty quickly.

As to your concern with used lenses.....in a forty-three year career as a young teen amateur and through a lifetime as a professional portrait and commercial shooter, I have only purchased two view camera lenses brand new (I currently own about twenty view lenses including several ancient users).

In my opinion (for what little it's worth) the key to buying a good used lens is the condition of the glass. If there are only very minor cleaning marks and the shutter functions at all....if I want that lens and the price is good, I will buy it and have the shutter serviced with a good Clean, Lube and Adjust (CLA) person. The best I have found so far is Carol Miller at Flutot's in the LA area. For that service, she only charges $50.00 and sends you the refurbished shutter with a chart giving the comparative accuracy of the marked shutter speeds and their actual physical speed under shooting conditions. That allows you to make accurate exposures based on the true speed along with it's corresponding f stop.

She has done about six lenses for me in the last year + and I am delighted with the results on each.

Do be sure to look at the diaphragm (the iris in the shutter assembly) while you rack it open and closed to be sure it is smooth with no missing or bent blades. Those have to be replaced and cost more for repair. If it just hangs a bit or is stiff (DO NOT FORCE IT), that gets cured in the CLA.

The things I don't want in a used lens are cell separation, fungus, large chips or bad scratches in the glass anywhere, or haze that can't be removed by simple cleaning of the surface. (For cleaning, the best item I've found yet is the Lenspen, but good old lens cleaning fluid and lens paper do work well. The lenspen has a brush for dust at one end (step one) and a special treated pad at the other to remove fingerprints, haze and other marks with safety (step two).)

Signs of slight impact such as a minor dent in the filter ring don't worry me (they can be rounded out), but a really bad dent suggests very hard impact and would make me cautious about alignment problems between the front and back cell sets or how they "sit" in the shutter.

Out of alignment means off focus in at least some regions of the image.

It's always wise to shoot a used lens before buying if you can, but I have had successes on ebay with just good Q and A between me and the seller. I will not buy cameras or lenses from someone who doesn't have a very high rating with ebay.....not only their percentage, but a good many actual sales. You can open their info by clicking on their user name and read the purchasers' actual comments about items and shipping from that seller.

One other thing in buying a used large format lens. Always try to buy lenses that include the mounting ring. It is possible to find rings for many old shutters, but they go for a premium as a single item and may take quite awhile to find.

Good luck.


10-Dec-2007, 21:03
Thanks everyone who responded. It is very nice, very comforting to have a community such as this one when starting out. I'm taking your advice and now have "Using the View Camera", "The View Camera" and "The negative" ordered through Amazon - and a subscription to "View Camera". Just the wait now - let the fun begin. :-)