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Chamonix 045F1

Asymmetric tilts come to the masses

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Dave Parry

Dave Parry

Landscape and outdoor photographer, based in Sheffield, UK.

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Intro

For many years a couple of Ebony models ruled the roost when it came to the top level of luxury in 5x4 field cameras. The two Ebony models bearing the magic designation of "U", the 45SU and SV45U, were unique in that they offered asymmetric tilt and swing on the rear standard, something that was otherwise only found on some models of the bulky Sinar studio monorails.

It seems that asymmetric movements were originally devised to make life easier and quicker for studio work shooting products or tabletop work, but many landscape photographers toting the top-end Ebony models have found them to be pretty useful for getting set up quickly in changing light with a minimum of frustration. I'll not go into an in-depth description of the advantages of asymmetric movements here but to keep it short it means that for many shots using tilt to increase apparent depth of field you don't have to go through an iterative process of focusing, tilting, refocusing, tilting again, refocusing again, tilting again etc.

45SU

Ebony 45SU

The 45SU and SV45U quickly became the must-have 4x5 cameras for many working pros or well-heeled amateurs, despite the weight and cost penalty. Both models weight in at over 3kg and currently over £4,500 brand new, and second hand dealers currently want over £2.5k for a used camera. Among British photographers especially the 45SU was the model of choice for anyone who could afford it and/or justify its price, as undoubtedly the influence of Joe Cornish played a part in this, Joe being a 45SU owner for many years.

As an amateur, the 45SU always felt like one of those cameras you'd buy if you won the lottery, but as I don't play the lottery I was resigned to never owning one. So I was quite happy with my "poverty" model, the short-bellows Ebony RSW45 which I'll mention in passing during this review. For what its designed for, that is lenses up to 180mm, it is superb. Simple, exceptionally well made and easy to use, but still not cheap despite being the bottom-of-the-range model. The thought of shelling out a few grand to upgrade to a 45SU is quite a step, but it was the only way you’d ever get those asymmetric tilts…...

Until now

On the largeformatphotography.info forum earlier this year Hugo Zhang, the public face of Chamonix cameras posted up that there would be a new 5x4 model of camera out this year. The posting initially boasted the camera would be yaw-free, which wouldn't necessarily have interested me, but as it turned out they actually meant this new 045F1 model had asymmetric rear tilt. Now this really got my attention, as it is to my knowledge the first and only sub-£4,000 field camera to offer the photographer the comparative luxury of asymmetric tilts. I'd been toying with the ideal of getting a camera with longer bellows for a while, probably a Chamonix, so this addition of asymmetric tilts pushed me over the edge. The cost at the time of writing this is $1,030 plus $65 international postage, which seems a good deal given its only marginally more expensive than the standard 045N2 model.



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  • Guy Aubertin

    Thanks for the review Dave

  • No problem, I hope this is of use to a few people.

  • Nicolas Belokurov

    Well, it’s seems like an interesting camera, but they continue to use the “one knob controls tilt and rise system” that made me pass on this model from the beginning and favor a more solid option. I tend to use long focal distances in the field and tend to use the rise/fall/tilt combination a lot. That and the careful setup of filters and compendium in my opinion requires a separated controls for rise/fall and tilt.
    I’ve seen reports about the bed of the camera being actually made of some sort of plywood recovered with thin carbon fiber sheet material. Is it so?
    Thanks for the review.

  • Hi Nicolas

    I too was put off by the front tilt/rise control originally but in real world use its perfectly possible to apply front tilt without disturning the rise by unlocking one of the front knobs and leaving the other one tight. This gives plenty of friction to keep the rise in place. Plus with the rear aymmetric tilt I use front filt less often now too, so I wouldn’t let this put you off getting one.

    As for the bed, as far as I know it is wood with carbon fibre laminated onto it (which improves the rigidity compared to plain wood) which is what the Chamonix website implies, although I suspect a lot of people think its solid CF. I’m sure if you email Hugo he’ll clarify this matter if its a concern.

    • Nicolas Belokurov

      Thank you Dave, interesting info.
      I bought a Shen Hao TZ45 last year and already tested it at several multiday mountain trips, so far, so good. I used a Toyo 45A before but switched to the Shen for aditional movements.

  • Jon Butler

    Hi,
    Front tilt is applied without touching the rise/fall knobs, just release the tabs on bottom of front standard, It’s designed to be used that way.
    Good article Dave it’s nice to real cameras here. I’ve used Chamonix cameras since they were introduced and I love them even though I have two Ebony’s, the Chamonix is the camera I use in the UK when it’s wet.
    J.

    • Nicolas Belokurov

      Hello Jon,
      “Front tilt is applied without touching the rise/fall knobs, just release the tabs on bottom of front standard, It’s designed to be used that way.”

      Do you mean you can apply the necessary tilt, then lock it and THEN rise/fall with the tilt firmly locked?
      Thanks

      • Jon Butler

        Nicolas,
        With rise or fall set and locked you can still tilt.
        J.

        • Nicolas Belokurov

          Thank you Jon. I’m sorry to be persistent, but would like to ask if you can do it in an inverse order- that is
          1). Lock the tilt and leave it there
          2). rise or fall as needed
          Thanks!

          • Jon Butler

            No, but it’s not been a problem to me.
            J.

            • Jon is correct that you can tilt the front standard without loosening the knobs, but I still prefer to undo one side knob to make it a bit easier but leaving the other side tight to keep the rise/fall in place. On the Chamonix unlike on Ebony front standards you can’t set a front tilt angle, lock it and then be able to apply rise/fall without upsetting the tilt.

              However it’s probably also worth remembering that applying front rise/fall AFTER applying front tilt will shift your plane of focus up or down corresponding to the amount of rise/fall used. For most normal landscape shots stopped well down this will have a negligible effect, but for closeups or portraits using shallow DOF then you’d have to take this into account and refocus after applying rise/fall.

              • Nicolas Belokurov

                Yes, of course. I only shoot landscape so as they say: “your mileage may vary”

  • Abdullah AlGarzai

    you should also try their lens boards. very light!

  • Christian Praetorius

    Very interesting article. “Unfortunately” I already have a 45N1, so I will not buy this camera. I am using even a 360mm lens (Rodenstock Apo-Ronar) with the only drawback, that you cannot focus on objects, which are closer than 3m (since the bellow is too shor then).

  • Jon Butler

    Christian,
    Chamonix do make a front extention board that will get you much closer.
    J.

    • Christian Praetorius

      @Jon: Thanks for the hint. There are also extension boards available on Ebay (from chinese companies) which fit Linhof style lensboards. It was never a problem so far, thats why I never bought one.

      • Given the choice, I’d definitely go for the extension rack over a big top-hat lensboard extension. Despite owning a set of chinese tophat boards I’d probably still buy an extension rack if I ever bought say a 450mm lens.

        Also I read on a forum of a guy who made his own chamonix extension rack out of plywood and M8 bolts/t-nuts.

        • Christian Praetorius

          Interesting idea :-)
          What can also help is to buy lenses which are tele-lenses, meaning they need less bellows extension. The Nikkor 500/11 has a Flange focal distance approx. 350mm, which would still work on the Chamonix cameras.

  • Jon Butler

    When I said board I didn’t mean a lens board-tophat I was talking of the extension rack that Chamonix make.
    J.

  • Nigel J Williams

    I recently purchased the F1, it was shipped from China on a Sunday arrived in Heathrow on the Wednesday/Thursday. It was a very fast turnaround by Hugo. I now hope to work on getting the most out of the asymmetric tilt feature for my large format work.

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