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Thread: choosing a 4x5 camera

  1. #1

    choosing a 4x5 camera

    I am thinking of upgrading my camera, from an old and rather limiting mpp to either a shen hao or chamonix 4x5. wondering who has experience of them and their preferences etc. I don't envisage climbing mountains with it, but stability, finish, convenience of use are important. I am not able to view either at hand as I live in the middle of nowhere in France. Would love any imput to help me decide. I intend to do 50/50 people and landscape. How accurate are the levels on the chamonix, which zeros movements best etc. The price difference is relatively small compared to buying the wrong camera. Thanks for any advice in advance.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    Suwanee, GA

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    I have owned both plus a couple of Anba/Nagaokas.

    Shenhao /Nagoka/Anba - Pros: light weight, decent movements depending on model, tightens down easily and is fairly rigid. Cons - Small knobs if you have big hands, short bellows , ground glass may need upgrade. One Shehao model has a ton of knobs.
    Chamonix - Pros: light weight, defaults are well marked, fine focusing knob at rear center, universal bellows allow 55-500mm, larger knobs, manufacturer accessories, some of the tilt features are good, some are cumbersome. Cons - I have to work to get standards square to each other, requires the fresnel over the ground glass or a shim , over time the knobs do not lock down as tightly and it is very easy to forget to lock down the rear standard.

    My experience with small bubble levels on all cameras is none are completely level. Nor is it always critical. A turntable bullseye bubble level will tell you if level to the earth and any small tape measure will tell you if standards are parallel.
    Adventure is worthwhile in itself. ... Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn't be done. -- Amelia Earhart

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Oxfordshire UK

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    David, Hi

    Welcome to the Forum - yes I've always found MPP Camera's to be on the limiting side...............

    Not wishing to throw 'a curved ball' but have you considered a Sinar F1/F2 - they have all and every movements, breaks down very simply for any travel, with a life's use of accessories PLUS the ability (if you ever intended to do) to move up to 5 x 7 by buying a rear standard and bellows

    Good luck and regards


  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Staten Island, NY

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    I haven't used a Shen Hao but I have handled one, and I happened to have my Chamonix 045N-2 with me at the time so I could make a direct comparison. What I remember standing out the most to me was the difference in fit and finish between the two cameras. The Shen Hao is a fine camera but just not made to the same standards at the Chamonix. This was 6 years ago now so maybe things have improved on more recent models. Another huge advantage of the Chamonix (at least for someone who uses wide angle lenses) was the Universal bellows that comes standard on the 045N-2 (and probably their other models). The first 2 inches or so behind the front standard are not pleated ans allow you generous movements with very wide lenses. I used a 58mm XL on mine with no need for a recessed board. It is a very simple camera for sure, lacking some features I wish it had like zeroing detents for certain movements, but overall it is extremely easy to use and very quick to set up. Chamonix has come out with several different models over the last few years, all with various improvements in the way the different movements are handled and locked down etc., but I never found the quirks of the 045N-2 bad enough to warrant replacing it. Also, I may be wrong but I believe the Shen Hao cameras only include a standard ground glass focusing screen as stock and a fresnel screen is an added extra while Chamonix cameras include a ground glass and fresnel from the factory. For about the same price I see no reason to choose the Shen Hao over the Chamonix.

    A lightweight monorail camera is also a good option but I wouldn't recommend a Sinar. My first large format camera was a Sinar F1 and while I loved it and dragged it with me every chance I got, it is big and heavy and takes at least twice as long to set up versus the Chamonix. I had either a big rolling hard case or a very large backpack to carry the Sinar around in. I can fit the Chamonix, a few lenses, film holders, meter, dark cloth, etc. in a shoulder bag and it's no heavier than carrying a DSLR with a few lenses.

    Another option might be a Toyo 45A or whatever the Horseman equivalent model is. About the same size and weight as the Chamonix or Shen Hao cameras and probably a little more durable.

  5. #5

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    Another vote for the Chamonix. They are as well made and thought out as any 4x5 I've handled. I also recommend their lovely film holders.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    South Dakota

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    I started with a Shen Hao, ended up with a chamonix 045n1. Have been using it for ten years now very regularly. It's well made, lots of accessories, solid, and spare parts are available and. come quickly. I would like to see detents to make squaring it up faster but that's about it. I don't trust the bubble levels on cameras and generally use a small torpedo level when photo'ing architecture.

    Kent in SD
    Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
    miserere nobis.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2013

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    And i have been a very happy user of a Shenhao HZX45-IIA over the passed 10 years or so. Mine came with a universal bellows so i can use my 58mm lens on a flat lensboard and it is rigid enough to use a Nikon 500mm on a tophat lensboard, when there is not too much wind. It has all the movements i will ever need and then some more, i especailly enjoy the generous movements on the back. The standard groundglass is bright enough for me. It came without a fresnell lens, which i got additionally. Adding it is easy enough, but after about a year or so i found that focussing without the fresnell is more precise and i took it off again. The standard groundglass proofed bright enough for focussing the 58mm and the 75mm is no issue at all. Even though i have big hands i find the knobs easy to use and they lock down well and also focussing is precise enough. And of course: it is a beautiful crafted wooden camera.

  8. #8
    Angus Parker angusparker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    San Francisco, USA

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    Another vote for the Chamonix - one of the N or F versions. Well made and parts are easy to come by. Bellows handle wide range of FL.

  9. #9

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    just to throw a wrench in the mix....I used a wista for almost 30 years and you could not go wrong buying a good used one. the only thing I ever did was replace the bellows. I sold it off and now have a calumet monorail. these can be picked up for almost nothing and are strong; sturdy and the ground glass let's you see for is not that heavy; comes with built in levels. usually found for around $200 which is what Paid for mine in showroom condition
    I've had many cameras in my time and the 2 above will serve you well into the future!!
    happy hunting!!

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Sep 2015

    Re: choosing a 4x5 camera

    One more thumbs up for Chamonix. I also looked at both am very pleased with my decision. I like the Philips design - it adds a good deal of rigidity when the bellows are cranked out to their limit. It really anchors the back. No movement when cocking the shutter. Very solid and a breeze to work with. You canít go wrong with either, but I would buy another Chamonix in a heartbeat.

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