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Thread: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

  1. #1

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    Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    As you may have seen elsewhere, I've just received one of Steve Lloyd's new Chroma 4x5 and a comment was made that a review would be appreciated: so here it is.

    First things first - I like it. For the price, I like it a lot - This is one of Steve's first production, as opposed to the fundraiser, cameras. There are differences between this version and the earlier version, and from the photos I've seen they're improvements. There are a couple of modifications I have made, none of them expensive, which I'll show as I get to it. Steve has been helpful and communicative throughout, answering my dumb questions.

    Pictures are taken in my being-decorated kitchen, so you can be amused by the smallness of a UK house! The number of photos means that this will run to a number of posts.

    The camera arrived well packed in a sturdy box with bubble wrap. Sadly, I didn't photograph that... It was delivered with a second lens plate (for which I paid a little extra) and a pinhole on a lens board. The tripod mount is a standard 1/4 inch - I might have preferred the 5/16 inch but it's sturdy and stable enough, and of course fits any modern tripod without an adaptor.

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    The three smaller thumbscrews control the tilts of the front and rear standards, and the rear rise/fall. The large concentric screws manage the front rise and tilt independently. For my taste, these thumbscrews are a touch small; it's difficult for my slightly arthritic thumb to tighten them sufficiently, or having tightened, release them. I have replaced two of them on each side with 5mm x 18mm ratchet bolts and penny washers, which provide a much better leverage. The remaining thumbscrews on the rear risers will be replaced when I get a moment to shorten the threads on the ratchet bolts.

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    You will also see on this image the ground glass protector. As delivered it fits a lot better than shown there; I have inserted the world's simplest fresnel lens - an A5 reading aid from the bay, cut down with ordinary scissors, at the grand price of under two quid. Sadly, it doesn't sit quite flat, but it does have the expected effect of significantly brightening the image off-axis. But the slight bulge stops the protector fitting quite as snugly as it did.

    It also has a benefit of acting as a shim for the ground glass, which forces it to the reference plane; there were a few tenths of a mm of play when I received it, down to a thickness tolerance in one of the plastic sheets according to Steve.

    To open the camera, release all the locks on each side. The back is opened first, past the vertical. There's a magnetic grab at the vertical point which is handy.

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    The front standard is then raised, which turns over the lens board holder. There is a slight click as the standards reach vertical; it's easy to stop a little early. More magnets hold the centres for both the front and rear standards - I'm pleased with these - and there are also centre marks on all the necessary bits.

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  2. #2

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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    With the standards vertical, the remaining thing to do is to position the lens offset. There are two large thumbscrews which provide slide fore and aft, twist, and sideways movement. There are handy markers at nominal lens lengths which provide a flat reference, and two notches in the horizontal base of the carrier which makes alignment simple. I found my 150mm lens more convenient lined up on the 135mm indicator, but that's just me... it would have been nice if Steve had used those larger screws throughout, just for the leverage, and perhaps a few more lines could be handy?

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    The lens plate is attached with a dead simple drop bar, magnetically latched. There are spirit levels in three places: on the base, and on the top centre of both standards.

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    The ground glass and lens holder is an interesting bit of engineering. Steve has come up with a parallelogram spring which holds the standard film holder very nicely, but when in viewing mode it requires a couple of sliders from each side to hold it square and correctly positioned. I'm not a huge fan of this; apart from anything else, the sliders can interfere with the insertion of the holder and I think I'd prefer a double spring/pin system as my MPP has. That said, they do work; the image focus looked pretty spot on on the gloomy pics I took last weekend (in the aircraft thread).

    The back is held to the standard with some enthusiastic magnets, and fits in either a vertical or horizontal (portrait or landscape) orientation:

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    And below the back, the focus control. The screwthread means there is very fine control of the focus, but also hints that it's worth getting the lens in the right position before you start! There's an extension to the control which slides through the round part as it turns.

  3. #3

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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    Some closeups of the sliding tabs, and of the film holder in place:

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    So - what do I like?
    • The price. This is an amazing camera for the cost. I don't know how Steve does it.
    • The overall construction - a good choice of materials and a pretty good build quality
    • The weight. You're never going to use this camera hand-held, but it won't break your back on a walk. I carried it in a backpack with spare lens, seven or eight dark slides, and a couple of boxes of film and a changing bag totalling about six kilos, without any problems.
    • Ease of use - after changing the thumbscrews. The magnetic centring of the movements is pretty handy and makes setting up a lot faster than it took to read about it.
    • Spirit levels - I tend to do a lot of architectural work. Levels are nice.
    • Easy focussing - the focus screw is very precise and of course it doesn't need a lock.
    • A decent ground glass - though I'd like to see Steve offer it with a fresnel lens pre-fitted.


    Things I like less:
    • The ground glass arrangement. It's a bit fiddly moving the sliders in and out - and it's essential that they are in place to focus - and they can interfere with inserting and removing the film holder.
    • The small thumbscrews. I'd prefer that the larger screws on the slide and twist mount were used throughout.


    Would I recommend it? Wholeheartedly, as a first or second camera. If you're used to using a camera at ten times the price, you'll find it a little clumsy - but for a beginner it offers all the movements you're likely to want and is reasonably fast to set up and simple to use. It doesn't feel flimsy or fragile. And it's not expensive - for what you'll pay for a knackered wooden tailboard, get one of these.

    Neil

  4. #4
    C. D. Keth's Avatar
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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    Quote Originally Posted by barnacle View Post
    Would I recommend it? Wholeheartedly, as a first or second camera. If you're used to using a camera at ten times the price, you'll find it a little clumsy - but for a beginner it offers all the movements you're likely to want and is reasonably fast to set up and simple to use.
    I am not the market for that but I wonder if the clumsiness and "fisher price" quality to it would just frustrate somebody new to large format. It's hard enough getting everything right with the best cameras. I know I was frustrated to no end when I was starting in large format by a cheap, rickety 5x7 korona view.
    -Chris

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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    Pretty good build quality and clumsy are not recommendations!

  6. #6
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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    So are you going to berate the quality of a camera you haven't used again (priced at £295 / $375 btw) because it's not as refined or precise as a $10,000 Linhof?

    I continue to be impressed with these lower-priced cameras. I would have been happy to have one if they would've existed when I started in LF. Thanks for the report.
    Bryan | Blog | YouTube | Instagram
    All comments and thoughtful critique welcome

  7. #7

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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    Quote Originally Posted by Corran View Post
    So are you going to berate the quality of a camera you haven't used again (priced at £295 / $375 btw) because it's not as refined or precise as a $10,000 Linhof?

    I continue to be impressed with these lower-priced cameras. I would have been happy to have one if they would've existed when I started in LF. Thanks for the report.
    I didn’t berate the camera. I berated the review.
    Pretty good and clumsy were the reviewers comment, not mine.

    Would you buy a camera that is pretty good? Clumsy to use? Had to replace the controls? Fiddly back?

  8. #8
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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    Yes of course. I would describe my Speed Graphic as all those things, and yet I still have and use it for certain things.

    Unfortunately there is no perfect camera!
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  9. #9
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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    Thanks for the detailed Chroma review. For me, it was either the Chroma or the Intrepid. I'm about 3 months into this Large Format trip. I started with a brand new Intrepid 4x5 at about the same price as the Chroma. With just a little LF under my belt, I snagged a Crown Graphic to shoot on the move. I'm sure they are primitive/crude to some, but fantastic for this newbie. I am not at all frustrated, and the sturdiness of each is encouraging; no fear that either is too fragile. It is true I could have begun with a vintage camera, but I never would have because they just weren't in my awareness. My Intrepid was my gateway drug, and here I am. But I'm sure the Chroma would have likewise landed me in the same spot.

  10. #10

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    Re: Chroma 4x5 camera - review

    For further context: I wandered around Chester today - a place I've not been to for thirty years, and a day of sunshine and storm showers. Hopefully I'll have something stuck to the film when I get home tomorrow. I took ten images; a mixture of outdoor shots and a few inside the Cathedral, which required exposures in the ten-twenty minute range (I was using the tag end of a box of CHS 50).

    I discovered that my 90mm Schnieder-Kreuznach Angulon f6.8 can remain mounted with the camera folded, which was very handy when hiding from sudden showers. The 150 is way too big for the space though; the 90 comes forward of the lens plate only by about 15mm, including the shutter.

    I didn't have any issues focussing except once when I realised I hadn't latched the ground glass properly. That remains something I will think further about. I had no concerns that things were going to droop or shake around; once locked, this camera is pretty solid.

    Bob's point about clumsy and pretty good: I think I rather prefer Corran's view. It's not a ten grand camera, it's not intended to be. Sure; I changed the knobs for something more to my taste - and to account for a slight disability in my thumbs. There are a couple of hundred of these out there from the Kickstarted campaign and I haven't seen another review that complains about - or even mentions - the knobs. That's a me problem, not a camera problem. As for 'pretty good build quality'... I'm English. We tend to understatement. 'Not bad' is a complement; 'pretty good' is a higher one.

    I like this camera. I think it could be better, but I like it enough that I'm prepared to make the changes to make it better suit me. But I still recommend it as it is.

    And remember: a Fiat Punto that's put together properly is probably a more useful car than a Ferrari that drops its oil at every other traffic light...

    Neil

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