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Tuesday, 04 December 2007


So where does one buy a Chamonix camera? None of the usual suspects I deal with seem to carry them.

Oooooh. I want one.

For the ignorant among us, why would one have a "view" camera. What would be the difference between it's use and a tripod mounted high-end digital DSLR?


View cameras are for exposing sheet film, in this case 4x5-inch. 4x5 is the most common size because it is the easiest to enlarge. (Although 5x7, 8x10, and even bigger enlargers exist, 4x5 enlargers are by far the most common and the most affordable.) Larger sizes are commonly contact-printed. Of course, large format sheet-film negatives and positives can also be scanned.

Mike J.


Shooting with a view camera is a completely different thing. It slows you down and forces you to consider where you are standing, what you are. Composing on a ground glass is something that everyone should experience. When you aren't looking through a tube, things change and you realize a great vehicle for implaling three dimensions on a two dimensional slab. Also, you have movements to control a list of stuff...focus, perspective control, various distortions and more.

IMO, there is nothing like working with a view camera, especially with a Polaroid back in your kit. Well, saying that there is nothing like it is stupid, because it is what it is. You can try to make a high end DSLR act like a view camera but it just doesn't cut it. We lose the entire attitude that a body takes on when you are involved in making the image. It can be a much different type of stalk...ZEN? No, it's not Zen. It's being in a mind set that is dictated by the tool you are using, an awesome structure. It's always interesting how we respond in a sort of imposed structure and it is marked and significant in the case of the view camera.

Perspective control in the transform menu of Photoshop is NOT the same thing, plus, you are introducing another level of interpolation into your image when you do do that deed. It is nowhere near as elegant as getting the work done in camera. There is something really special about a well-executed view cam image and the way that large sheet of film renders tone and detail.

This camera looks very cool. I've been shopping for a field camera lately and it just might be the ticket. I've been using my beater camera, an old Sinar F, for my personal work and it's at that point where duct tape and string aren't cutting it any more. The thing looks like went through WW2, the big one. One crutch that I've grown to enjoy is the depth of field scale on my Sinar's focusing knob. I'm guessing this Chamonix doesn't have one. I find that to be convenient for situations where the light is going away fast or when It's cold and I need to go to the bathroom.

I've had a close look at one of these, and they really are quite nice little cameras. The 4x5" is at an entry-level price, but has features of much more expensive cameras, and is quite rigid for its size.

Bill--In addition to the larger film size, which can provide much higher resolution than a high end DSLR, a view camera lets the photographer tilt or swing the plane of focus, the location of the lens axis in the frame, and the shape of objects in the frame. If you want to photograph a building, for instance, with straight lines so it doesn't look like it is leaning backward, a view camera lets you do that. Or if you want to photograph the interior of an apartment so that the camera is looking down a hallway, but the hallway isn't in the center of the frame, a view camera lets you do that as well. You can put several objects that fall in the same plane in focus, even if that plane isn't parallel to the film plane, and make everything else out of focus. For an introduction, check out the articles at lfphoto.info.

Now some of these things can be done with a tilt-shift lens or with software, but a view camera is much more versatile and lets you get it all right at the time of shooting with less post-processing, whether on film or with a digital back.

Mike answered a question you didn't actually ask, namely what such a camera does. Perhaps I can address some practical aspects of your "why" question.

Obviously, these are not casual snap shooters, although their ancestors were widely used for newspaper work. But they are still powerful photographic tools with no direct rivals in the digital world (yet). For example, such view cameras offer remarkable possibilities since the lens axis is de-coupled from the film plane. You can manipulate parallax and focus far beyond what any fixed lens mount camera can make possible.

Such a large piece of film can also record an extraordinary amount of detail in skilled hands, far beyond what any digital camera can record in a single frame. These cameras are, for example, still fairly standard gear for professional architectural work. They are also still common in the fine art photo world, particularly since many photo schools still use them for instruction. Most of the most celebrated portraiture work was also recorded on just such a camera.

As you can probably see, these are not mass-produced products. Canon and Nikon probably produced more DSLRs while I was writing this note than the all of the worldwide production of new large-format cameras for the year. They involve a great deal of craftsmanship and love for their heritage. You can find some superb large format cameras, still in use, that are approaching 100 years in age.

But inarguably you are looking at a superbly crafted late-model dinosaur, an artifact dating back to the 19th century. These cameras will continue to be built, used, and loved as long as there is film to feed them. That is a frail practical proposition.

It does look very nice and mostly I think because they "borrowed" very heavily from the designs of Dick Phillips and his view cameras.

Am I having an LSD flashback, or is that actually a view/field camera that I'm looking at. Just kiddin', I think. ;)

The reason one would want to haul around a cumbersome behemoth like a view camera, Bill, is to get get a level of image quality that is comparable, if not better, than a high-end 39-megapixel digital back, except at a fraction of the price. I would like to think my 5D is pretty fancy schmancy but it simply does not compare to my beaten up old 4x5 loaded with T-max 100 or Fuji Astia. at least in terms of sharpness, tonality, and sheer visual information.

Jeez, I though Jack had given up on the whole view camera thing and gone all digital. Has he seen the light? :)

I want one. Anyone want a Wisner Field?

While I have the greatest respect for the images made with these beasties and the photographers who use them, to my eyes they look quite ugly and frightening!
Its all to do with those damn movements that are supposedly the key to the success of the things, once the film plane and lens were moved away from parallel I would feel terribly insecure and "all at sea". Wouldn't say no to the chance of trying a shift lens on my newly acquired MF SLR but tilt & shift, oh no! - far too imprecise and scary for my technician Virgo mind.

Yeah, respect to those of you who yearn for or already use a view camera!

Cheers, Robin

Got to say, for the price, that Chamonix looks really nice. Even beats the Shen Hao cameras (I've got one) for value, I think. One of those tempting "no I mustn't" products.

There's several Chamonix view cameras on Ebay right now going for in the couple of thousand dollar range to up in the 4 to 5 thousand dollar range, Buy it Now.
They are all off beat Panoramic/Cinematography formats like 4x10, 5x8 ?, 12x20, 8x20, etc. All by one dealer from China.

Pretty expensive but I guess they are somewhat unusual formats.

I didn't see a 4x5 format and nothing in the 700.00 dollar range by this dealer on EBay.

The camera looks very interesting with what appears to be high quality materials being used and certainly looks like well worth the 700.00 dollars or so.

I sent a question to this dealer to see if he had any 4x5's and what price.

Also as an aside there's a reproduction 5x7 baby Deardorff built in the 50's by an India company imported by PRINZDORFF (even the name's a takeoff!) going for 350.00 Buy it Now price.

Apparently this company was sued by Deardorff to cease and desist manufacture.

Not a bad looking unit....

Anyways back to the 4x5 Chamonix, if they are available for 700.00 or so, this would be definitely something I would look at to purchase. My Linhof Technika is getting a little long in the tooth!

Thanks Mike for bringing it to light.

I have one of these on order and it should be here in a couple of weeks. I am very excited.

These are hand made cameras and the waiting list is something like 6 months.

And as stated above, a view camera is something everyone should experience. It is a very slow and deliberate process. You do not fire away and then edit later. The editing is really done when you make the initial image.

As for resolution, I've read some crazy figures but I think a drum scanned 4x5 is equal to something like a 50 megapixel camera.

So, $700 for the camera ($80 for shipping), a decent APO lens for $500, a few film backs $40, a box of b+w film $100 and $40 for a drum scan of the neg is seriously cheaper than any high end camera and computer at this point.

Okay, to hell with the Nikon D3 I was considering. I'll get the D300 and with the money I'm saving(?) get the Chamonix 4x5. Would somebody post where? I can wait six months for it to be made. But, I have to get the order in to do that.

Look up Hugo Zhang on the Q&A forum at lfphoto.info. He's distributing the cameras in the U.S.


I love the large format posts you have recently been throwing into your blog, particularly as it is my format of choice. It is interesting to note that large format is currently growing in popularity throughout the world. Perhaps not in the mainstream profesional world but in the advanced amature arena definately. Evidence is cited from the increase in large format camera sales, and the increase in large format camera manufacturers.

Large format photography is a very different way of working as cited already in these comments. It is also a valuable learning tool. Something magical happens when you put your head under the cloak of darkness of the darkcloth, and you see the huge inverted and reversed image on the ground glass. The first time you do so it is breathtaking. Even after years of work with 4x5 I still vividly remember looking through an 8x10 and suddenly wished I had bought a larger format to work with. Not that I think of this when I take it bushwalking for a week.

Then there are the breathtaking prints... particularly when size matters...

For those interested in pursuing large format photography I must recommend the large format photography forum at www.largeformatphotography.info



One of the minor problems with using a view camera is sometimes, while under the cloth, you look down and see more feet than your own. Someone is waiting to ask you questions.

I have been shooting with a view camera for more than twenty years. I also shoot digital (Nikon D2Hs) on a daily basis. I think the view camera is a great experience to shoot with and as been said in other posts helps slow me down. If anyone wants to check out the results of my view camera experience please have a look at my website:
Thanks for looking!

It's good to see coverage of new developments in the view camera world - they don't come along very often!

Looks similar to a little Baby I have seen in a junk shop in Korea.
But I doubt that that one was so expensive ;)
I have no clue what this one was though :)

davidb wrote "It is a very slow and deliberate process. You do not fire away and then edit later."

Not to pick on hom specifically but...
I think that is all frame of mind. I can be quick with my 4x5 (not quite rapid fire) and slow with my DSLR.

IMO, I think there are far too many photographers imbuing large format with magical properties. If having one helps you to slow down, so be it, but I do not believe work pace is inherent to a format.

I'll renew an earlier question-- where and how does one buy the Chamonix?

All I've found is info about some of their other cameras and some contentious posts on http://www.largeformatphotography.info/

What's the deal? Is this for real? How about some specs?

I think I'm considered myself the lucky one. For commercial work I'm using a high end digital back (PhaseOne) and for fun I'm carrying my Technika 4x5', even on a trip to Tibet. No I dont even own a DSLR. While my colegues are going after the latest HP/Canon/Epson printers, I'm still printing with my old Omega! Since I'm not making money with B/W, I can do whatever suits me. I think. Viva fotografura!

First off, cameras don't make photos. A creative mind and a well educated photographer does. I would loved to have had this camera years ago. But with all the tools out there today I can take better photos with my little digital camera and Photoshop.

As a commercial photographer for 40 years a 4X5 was a must. It was also the biggest pain to use. The amount of stuff you needed to make it work was in the tens of thousands of dollars. No matter how many lenses you had, you never had the right one. f/22 or higher was the norm so you always needed more light. Fine detail in a photo or a 4X5 does not make great photos. Great photographers make great photos no matter what camera they use.
I was watching "Nikon's legends behind the lens" last night and looking at Kenny Chu's work He said he stayed in one spot for 10 days for the right light. The most I ever did was 4 days. It's not the camera but the commitment to the craft. Concentrate on your skills to make better photos not buying equipment you really don't need in todays digital world.

Agree 100% with Carl Leonardi. "Cameras don't make photos. A creative mind and a well educated photographer does." You have it or you don't - it's not the equipment. If I had had Rembrandt's studio, easel, palette, paints and brushes, I still would not have been able to create The Night watch.

So lets say one wants to give 4x5 a try. For me the only imaginable scenario would be to shoot the film and send it for processing. Then I would take out my old lightbox (from my days of shooting MF transparencies) then scan. I suppose the really great images could be submitted to a lab for a drum scan. But can one buy an Epson (or other) reasonably-priced flat bed scanner that will produce a file big enough and 'good' enough to maintain that 'large-format magic' when imported to Lightroom and eventually printed on a pigment inkjet printer? Does one need to get involved with oils and such to get a good scan?
Just as being a good photographer in the film era was a separate talent from being a good printer, so is scanning a whole separate discipline.
Thoughts please.

MLMD, lots of people are doing just that. Take a look at www.largeformatphotography.info
and their q&a forum.

I don't ususally pull a photo geek stance, but that is not a Baby Deardorff there... it looks like a Japanese Ikeda and Anba from the 1970s-80s. which are worth about $700 and a different, more delicate design than the Dorf. The second photo is of a Wisner, which are closer copies of Deardorffs but not as well crafted.

A Baby Deardorff is a far more beautiful and interesting camera.

Can't out-geek me...the second one is indeed a Deardorff, the rare "Baby" 4x5 (V4) which is not the same as the 5x7 and 4x5 Special. More here:


The last camera could indeed be a Wisner-made Zone VI. Basically, there were four Zone VI's: a relabeled Wista; a camera designed and built by Ron Wisner to Fred Picker's specifications; a Vermont-made copy of the Wisner after Wisner and Picker acrimoniously parted ways; and the Calumet iterations. This is either the second or the third, and either way it will say what it is on that brass plate on the leading edge of the base.

Mike J.

Martin wrote, "I think that is all frame of mind. I can be quick with my 4x5 (not quite rapid fire) and slow with my DSLR."

True enough to an extent, but you can only go so fast with a 4 x 5 ! To a me View camera is kind of like driving an old Volkswagen van ( which I owned at one time ), they are slow and cumbersome to drive and don't handle the curves of the road very well and if you are looking to make time to get from point A to B you might end up arriving a little late. A DSLR is kinda like driving a Porsche sports car you are going to get from point A to B a lot quicker and it will handle the curves of the road far better. So if you are looking to capture the last bit of light of a beautiful landscape at point 'B' then the DSLR 'Porsche sports car' camera is going to do it for you, but if you want to take a more leisurely pace then the 'Volkswagen Van' view camera is what you want to take, you might miss the shot at point 'B' but you might find a whole lot of new things to discover along the way. I think that is why so many people feel that the view camera has magical properties.

I am always amazed when I go out shooting with my view camera for a day, on a really busy day with lots of photo opportunities I might shoot 36 sheets of 4 x 5 but if I shoot with my DSLR I think nothing of shooting 360 images or more images in a day.

I just ordered a Chamonix 4x5. I was told by Hugo Zhan, the U.S. dealer, that it will arrive in about a week, i.e. no six month delay any more (at least I hope not).

Cool. I'd be interested in what you think after you get it.

Mike J.

I received my Chamonix 45N-1 a few days ago and it's just beautiful. Nicely engineered and finished, there really isn't any competition in its price range. The cameras are produced in batches by a very small workshop/factory and I was lucky to get in on this second production batch. The next batch is anticipated around July. This is an extremely light and rigid field camera and it's built with top quality materials and genuine craftsmanship. The movements are generous and only lacking rear rise/fall and shift. It's nearly half the weight of the Shen Hao and in another class in terms of design and materials.


Speaking geekily, the second camera is indeed a Zone VI. Wisner and Zone VI used different types of latches and handles on their cameras, and this one has the Zone VI types.

We will do anything, anything! Take Hillary out on a date. I mean anything to get a 8x10 & the 20x24 Chamonix. Is anyone working on a digital back for this beauty?

I have one of these. There has been some publicity made around them when they first were issued (including this article in top). Then there has been the long wait : camera ordered at christmas came in just in time for the august holiday trip to the U.S. (California). This alone is a commitment.

Once received, I was very pleased with the camera. The lightweight is something all relative when you have 3 pounds of lenses, 1 of holders and films, 1 for the dark cloth, (not mentionning the tripod here) and so on... But nevertheless, the package is light enough to be taken on a long hike, and rigid enough in most situations. All in all, a great way to appreciate large format without having to spend too much or to stay close to the car.

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