Inside this issue
Asymmetric tilts come to the masses
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.
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…...
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.