Behold the Chamonix 45n-2. After just a few rolls last December on the Graflex Century Grafic (a 2x3 view camera) I was hooked on movements and wanted to progress to the real thing (proper 4x5 view camera). I was working on a 6-month plan to get there. Then I went to play with Johnny and Rebecca this winter in the darkroom and I knew it was time to make the jump to large format. I had been secretly researching large format view cameras for about 6 months and knew I was leaning towards a wood-framed bodies. Functionally, view cameras all do the same basic things. Some have more movements, some have less. But in a nutshell, they are nothing more than a light tight box to carry light from your glass to your sheet of film. Money is well spent in a great lens and a holder that keeps the sheet perfectly flat.
So, why wood? The main reason was as a nod to my photographic hero, Eugene Adget who used a wooden view camera for his work in Old Paris. Another is aesthetics. I think nothing is as pretty as a well built wooden camera. The wood bodies aren't always as light as a some of the other designs, but they sure are purdy. I had several woodies on the hit-list, like Shen-Hao (website), Wista (website) and the Chamonix (website). All light weight, all beautifully crafted.
After a ton of research, reading and video watching, I decided in February to pick up the gorgeous teak wood Chamonix. So, let's get some nerdy specs out of the way.
Chamonix 45n-2 Tech Specs
The Chamonix comes with ground glass with intensify screen, carbon fiber GG protector and camera wrap, though I upgraded the wrap to the mure durable custom leather wrap. Most of this is detailed on their website, but here's a basic breakdown:
- Weight: 3.42pound/1550g
- Bellows: 52mm-395mm
- Front Movements
- Rise: 45mm
- Fall: 30mm
- Shift: 20mm
- Tilt: limited by bellows
- Swing: limited by bellows
- Rear Movements
- Tilt: 20° backwards, forward limited by bellows
- Swing: 20° total
- Shift: none
Using the Chamonix View Camera
One of the main reasons for heading down this road is the technical process it takes to make a photo. This is pretty much the polar opposite of a point-n-click camera. Every nuance from set-up to taking the shot to darkroom printing is 100% in your control. There are no excuses for bad end results - only poor execution along the way on your own behalf.
This camera pretty much has to be customized for setup for every single click you make. The body has to be unfolded and locked into place on a sturdy tripod. The movements all need to be zeroed. The lens on the front standard - where the lens plane is - needs to be set at the proper distance from the rear standard - where the film plane is (this varies quite a bit by lens by screw holes on the base).
The release needs to be attached to the shutter and the shutter locked open so you can view on the ground glass. The dark cloth set in place - and only then do the movements begin to frame your image. Then, using the Zone Metering System, I have to meter (and take note) of the highs and lows and set the shutter and lens for the proper zone. These notes are later used in the development and printing process to perfect the light and shadow.
- Location: Mt. Lafayette / Falls
- Date: 23 February 2016 10:13am
- Conditions: 14°F + Light Overcast
- Metered EV Shadow: 11 (Zone III)
- Metered EV Highlight: 15 (In this case, Zone VII)
- Zone Difference: 4 zones
- Time to adjust Dev: N (explained in metering post here)
- f-stop: 32
- Shutter: 2
- Film: Ilford Delta 100
If you want to learn more on the Zone System, Google the crap out of that or read up on what Ansel Adams did - pretty cool stuff but beyond the scope of this post.
Now you need to focus. I get a general focus by eyeballing the scene and looking at the center and edges. You may need to tilt/rise/shift and so on to have everything in focus where you need it (again, this process is outside the scope of this post but I do cover it here). Now, you need to fine focus. For this I use a 2x loupe and place it near the main subject of the image and make very fine adjustments to the focus until it looks sharp for my needs. I then check other parts that should also be sharp. If not, I go back and refine the movements to make it so. Then one final re-check of everything with the loupe and also with the meter (light may have changed in this amount of time).
Once everything is framed, adjusted, metered, noted, focused and so on, the lens can be closed once again and the shutter cocked. The film holder is set in place (meaning you can no longer view your scene) the darkslide unlocked then removed and the shot can be taken.
Then, darkslide returned and locked then removed from the camera. Then the camera pulled back apart to hike to your next shot. Yes, a very very slow and methodical system, that I am in total love with.
Ground Glass / Graflok Back
One of the requirements for my large format camera was for it to have a Graflok back. I wanted this so I could easily attach a Graflox 120 roll film back (like I did on the Graflex) and and have the option to shoot 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 or even 6x12 on here. One caveat to note on these backs is they are notorious for not holding the film 100% flat. Be sure to do your research and get a good one.
As for the ground glass - just amazing to look at. I thought the Graflex 2x3 glass was cool, but it was nothing compared to the size and brightness of the Chamonix. This 4x5 ground glass has a super-bright fresnel that gives a wicked bright scene (albeit upside down and backwards). A dark cloth is a must (unless you invest in a Graflok back viewing hood.) I tried to cut corners and use an old thick black t-shirt as my dark cloth but decided cutting corners here wasn't worth it. It kept popping off the body and wasn't absolute dark in there. You can get away with it to save a buck, but I prefer the Harrison dark cloth. Silver on the outside to reflect light (think hot summer day) and pure black on the inside. It is also designed to attach to the back of the large format camera.
Loading 4x5 Sheet Film
Loading the film is really straight forward. I'd prefer doing it in a darkroom, but for this first round I went with my trusty dark bag. Items needed are: a dark bag/room/tent, box of film and film holders.
First thing I did when I received my sheet film holders was to label each one with numbers 1, 2, 3... so I can journal what film was used in what shot and then how I exposed it. This is important, especially if you are darkroom printing so you can make further adjustments in the process. Secondly, I labeled one side of each darkslide so I know when it's ready to be shot or already exposed. For this, I did a simple "shoot me" sticker. Haha!
Film box can only be opened in complete darkness!
Don't open the box. But, you want to break the seals / tape. On my Ilford box, it was taped along the top and bottom, so I sliced it open with a razor. Again, don't open the box.
Now, to load, make sure your darkslide is on the proper side and slide out about 1/2 way on each of them. I only go 1/2 way out so I know I am loading the film into the proper grooves. Place everything into the dark bag. I place my box of film on the left side, empty holders on the right, stacked. Zip it tight.
Inside the bag, open up the box and you'll find another box. Pop that one open and you'll feel a thick plastic bag, open at one end. Open up that bag and the film will be sandwiched between some protective cardboard.
The film needs to be loaded, emulsion side up. To find the emulsion side, grab a sheet of film by the edges and keep rotating until you find notches in one corner. I make this my top right corner, which tells me it's emulsion side up.
The sheet slides in from the base of the holder (keeping emulsion up). Make sure to slide it all the way in, so the notch is accessible for pulling it back out later. Before I knew how it was loading into the holder, I wasn't quite pushing it in far enough, sometimes making it difficult to close. Once in place, slide the darkslide back down to lock the base plate back in place. Make sure it can't pop back open.
Once loaded, I make sure I click all the locks on the holders to prevent accidental ejecting of the darkslides. Next, load the film back into it's bag, then back into the two boxes. Once you are sure everything is light-tight, feel free to take them out of the bag. You're good to go.
First Lenses on the Chamonix
My starter kit for LF is a 210mm, a normal 150mm and a wide-angle 90mm lens. The 210mm is about 63mm on a 35mm camera while the 150mm is 44mm on 35mm cameras and the 90mm is roughly 27mm equivalent. All three are mounted to their own Linhof-style boards and both with a Copal 0 leaf shutter on the 150 and 90 and a Copal 1 on the 210.
To mount these to a board, you'll need a spanner wrench to tighten the ring. I picked up a Neewer Professional Spanner Wrench which does the trick. It has a pointed end as well as a slotted end. I keep this in my pack, as sometimes the rings can loosen while you're out on the road.
With large format, you have something new to think about. Image Circles. On a camera that has movements you want to make sure the image projected will hit 100% of the film sheet - even when you begin using rise/tilt and so on. If your image circle (the circular area of light produced by a lens at infinity and f/22) can just cover the film, then any movement will leave a portion of the film unexposed. What this means is you need to project light to a surface larger than your film surface to enable movements.
For example, the diagonal of 4x5 is 153.7mm (8x10 is 312.5mm). A lens with an image circle of 154mm will cover corner to corner, but not allow any movements. But an image circle of 210mm allows for 57mm of movements on 4x5 (but still wouldn't cover an entire sheet of 8x10 film!) So, my lens selection was to cover the sheet of 4x5 film and allow some movements. None would work on 8x10 cameras.
Schneider Symmar-S 5.6/150 MC
Schneider's are some fantastic lenses. One thing to watch for when picking on up is what's termed, "Schneideritis" where white specs form around the rim of the front and rear elements. From what I read, they don't effect image quality, but not very pretty to look at when this happens. Luckily, my copy does not have this.
- Copal 0 Shutter
- Elements / Groups: 6 / 4
- Flange Focal Distance: 141mm
- Max f-stop: 64
- Weight: 300g
- Length: 55mm
- Image Circle: 210mm
Fujinon SW 8/90 MC
For some reason, data on Fujinon lenses is nearly impossible to come by so I'll update this section as I figure out more.
- Copal C Shutter
- Max f-stop: 64
- Image Circle: 219mm
Rodenstock Sironar-N 5.6/210 MC
Finally, here's the nerdy on this one:
- Copal 1 Shutter
- Elements / Groups: 6 / 4
- Flange Focal Distance: 200mm
- Max f-stop: 64
- Weight: 440g
- Length: 66mm
- Image Circle: 301mm
Now, you know from above that the process of getting the scene set up is lengthy. Swapping lenses in and out to see what will work best is a very slow option - the front lens standard will need to be unscrewed from its slot to position a different length lens, and the rear standard will need to be adjusted as well to give the proper distance from lens to ground glass. So, I prefer to use the app, Cadrage Director's ViewFinder (iOS / Android) which is worth every penny of the $10.99 price.
This app allows you to set the size film you are shooting as well as pre-loading all the lenses in your pack. Then you can quickly swipe through each lens to see how your scene will look.
I am also using this app to hike to a spot without gear, then I can mark all the info on my location with a screenshot which records position and settings. I was just screwing around with the screenshot here as this wasn't the view for the final image.
While we are talking about this, another great app (right) is the FREE HyperFocal app (Android) which helps understand depth in large format. I know with me, these lens lengths and conversions are not second nature yet, so this is really nice to use to see how I can expect it to behave.
Tripod / Head
For this setup, I needed a sturdy tripod. Though weight really isn't an issue with this camera, the larger footprint demands something that can stand up to wind (think of the LF camera as a large sail) and a plate with a little meat to it. For this, I decided to pick up a minty used Zone VI wooden tripod designed by Fred Picker with a Bogen #3047 3-way head (the recommended head by Picker). It has the beefy Manfrotto hex plate which is more than enough for this rig.
Just be forewarned, this a super-hefty rig!
I had my first outing in late February with the Chamonix and realized none of my camera bags would do the trick. They aren't kidding when people say everything is bigger with LF! To fit my gear for the climb up Mt Lafayette in Franconia Notch, NH, I needed to resort to an internal frame pack by Outdoor Products. This gave me the necessary room I needed to pack everything up. Here's a breakdown of what I brought along:
- Pack: Outdoor Products Gama Internal Frame Technical Pack
- Camera body (Wrapped in leather, then in protective wrap)
- 4 Cut Film Holders (Chamonix wooden and 2 older Riteway holders - placed in zip-locks)
- 3 Lenses with wraps: Domke 722-15U F-34M 15-Inch Protective Wrap
- Pentax Spotmeter (As I use the zone meter system)
- Release cable
- Filters (Cokin)
- Dark cloth (Harrison)
- Magnifying Loupe (Very important for sharp focus on ground glass)
- Spanner: Neewer Professional Spanner Wrench (For on the fly repairs / tightening)
- Journal / Pen (To detail each shot's settings)
- Dry hat / gloves / socks / T-shirt
Aside from the above, I also had a dark bag and extra film in a cooler in the trunk - just in case.
UPDATE: Since the original post, I have added a Pelican Case for rolling this bad boy around.
For my first go, I went with 100 speed film for the fine grain. I figure, I am on a tripod already, so let's go with something slow. There's really no other reason for the decision at this time, so I'll see how this goes. As of this writing, I only shot the Delta so far. But these are the film stocks in my freezer for the Chamonix:
I've decided that all B&W will be developed in the sink at home as I have done with 35mm film. Also, most of this work will result in darkroom printing at the Bakery Photo Collective in Portland, Maine. Scans are performed at home with an Epson V700 scanner. Anything in color will be developed by my friends at Richard Photo Lab.
I did have a proper scan done by Richard Photo Lab on their drum scanner, just to see what kind of detail there was on this sheet. The scan was 7800x6178 in size (the border you see is the edge of the negative sheet). Massive! Rather than make you load the full size image to poke around, here are a couple crops at 100% to show edge sharpness and detail, as well as center sharpness and detail. Again, taken at f/32 for 1/2 second on a 150mm Schneider on Ilford Delta 100 (over-exposed by about 4 stops).
Here's the top-left corner at 100%:
And here is the lower center at 100%:
This is just the beginning of my large format journey, so I do not know at this point how much or how little will be shared on my blog & Twitter accounts. To me, this is better enjoyed when holding the print in your hand, but I think I will be doing quite a bit of journaling of this adventure out here.
There will be much more to come as I learn, so stay tuned.