Chamonix and Beginner Questions

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by mcblue, Jun 16, 2009.

  1. Hi,
    I'm on the mailing list for a Chamonix 45N-1 and it will be my first large format camera. The next batch of cameras will be in August, so I'll have time to read books and research, etc. I need some advice...
    For anyone familiar with the Chamonix: Any suggestions on what accessories to order from Chamonix aside from the camera itself? Should I get their lens board, and should I upgrade the bellows to the universal one?
    Also, a general large format 4x5 question: Any suggestions on what first lens to acquire? My target is to have one ready in a couple of months since that's when I'll have the camera. And should I just get the lens new or will used be fine?
    And any other general accessories? I know I'll need a dark cloth, cable release, etc. My only experience with large format is with a Toyo view camera in a class I took (loved it, so I'm making the jump to get my first 4x5 set-up).
    Thanks in advance!
  2. Marvin,
    I have no first-hand experience with the Chamonix, but have also been interested in them and have studied their web site.
    If I were ordering, I would certainly upgrade to the universal bellows, since it makes using shorter focal-length lenses so much easier. If you plan to shoot with a 90mm or shorter lens in the future, it makes sense to get the capability now.
    Chamonix cameras take standard Linhoff/Wista lensboards, which you can often find used (eBay, etc.) for not very much. Make sure you get a lensboard with the correct size mounting hole for the shutter of the lens(es) you are planning to buy.
    If you do not have a lens at all now, and want to buy one lens to start with and get used to before acquiring others, and you plan on shooting scenics and rather wide views, I'd recommend a 135mm. It is a bit wider than normal, but not so wide that you will have problems viewing the image on the ground glass or trouble with tight camera movements. Most plasmat-design 135mm lenses offer some movements (image circle is typically around 200mm), but not a lot.
    The 150mm is standard for 4x5 and offers more room for movements with just a bit narrower angle of view. I find, however, that I use my 135mm much more than my 150mm.
    You may want to get a two-lens starter kit. An inexpensive used 135mm from any of the major manufacturers and a 210mm compact lens of some sort (Fuji L, G-Claron, etc.), or, in the same ballpark and one of my favorite lenses, a Kodak Ektar 203mm f.7. You can pick up two used lenses for much less than the price of on new one, and have a lot more flexibility. FWIW, when I am on the trail with my 4x5, I carry a 90mm Super Angulon f.8, 135mm plasmat, 203mm Ektar and a 300mm Nikkor M (all compact lenses).
    When buying used lenses, make sure that you buy from a reputable seller and that the lens/shutter are in good condition. I have purchases all but two of my lenses used and have had no complaints.
    Of course, you will need some filmholders and a way to load them, a loupe, tripod, etc., but you know that already.
    Good luck and have fun,
    Doremus Scudder
  3. Hi Doremus,
    Thanks for all the info. Can you tell me where you buy used lenses for large format, or is it the usual places for 35mm and medium format -- B&H, Adorama, KEH, etc. Thanks!
  4. Hi Marvin,
    You will need universal bellows only if you plan to use 90mm and shorter lens, regular bellows are a bit stiff with this lens and will limit movements. I did same as you plan to do: ordered camera, then was waiting for 6 months, meanwhile I purchased all paraphernalia and lenses. Badger sells decent new generic lensboards for about $30, I would not bother with used lensboards. You will need Technika style lensboard, there is number of cameras that use this format, like Wista.
    Till August you could hunt EBay for lenses you want. Or you could by it from KEH, but they have somewhat limited selection. I got 90mm Nikkor SW, 240mm Fujinon A and 150mm Schneider APO Symmar, later I hunted down 135mm Rodenstock Sironar S, and indeed, this length is quite useful, I will probably swap 150mm to 180mm, but it is matter of personal preference. If you are not sure about full range of lenses, just get decent 150mm and wait till you start using the camera, may be you could rent other lenses to get an idea. I an pretty happy with used lenses, there is some risk involved when you buy it from EBay, but price difference validated this for me.
    If you ever plan to use long lenses, order extension for your camera, otherwise it is only 360mm, i.e. you could use about 300mm max. It may take a long wait if you will order an extension later. They also offer folding viewer, which I would like to order too. If you plan to hike with this camera, I recommend to use regular daypack (Kelty Redwing 3100) and cases from Renaissance PhotoTech, it is much more practical than regular photo backpack. Otherwise camera, 10-12 holders and 3-4 lenses nicely fit into any MF camera bag. I am using standard film holders. You also have to get spotmeter and loupe. It is much better to have cable release attached to each lens, LF setup takes pretty long, don't make it longer.
    Good luck, Chamonix is very nice camera.
  5. Wow! I had not seen this camera before. It sure looks like a winner, and the price is right. I've bought several used large format lenses on Ebay with no problem. You might want to look for a seller with a return policy if the lens is not as advertised.
  6. While I, too, have no experience with the Chamonix, I would offer the following thoughts about gettig started in general...
    You would definately be wise to have easily changeable bellows on your camera; eventually, even if not at first, you will want wide-angle capability and it works much better with the special bellows or bags designed for this use.
    Your first lens might well be determined by your intended subject matter. If you plan to do mostly landscapes, a lens in the 135mm (short-normal) to 160mm (normal) or so would be a good place to begin; if you plan on mostly portraiture, a longer lens in the 200mm to 250mm might be better; if you go for architectural photography, you're gonna need a wider lens, probably a 90mm to start and, eventually, even wider (with appropriate bellows).
    Other accessories will depend on your needs and wants; certainly you need film holders, a light meter of some type, a dark cloth, cable releases, lens hoods (I like the compendium hood which will work with most of my lenses), etc. I find that I also use my roll film holders a lot, a polaroid back (with Fuji instant film), a loupe (focusing magnifier), and such things as clothes pins, a small tape measure, a flashlight (focusing aid in dim situations), a good tripod, and other gadgets as dictated by what I'm shooting (mostly architectural).
    Definately save some money and buy used lensboards; I never worry much about the hole size much (but I'm a cheapskate do-it-yourselfer who has a full workshop available) since I can make bigger holes easily and smaller holes with just a little more work.
  7. Marvin ... if you haven't already, check out the Large Format Forum:
    Great place for information, advice and used equipment. Safer place to buy lenses than ebay because they're being sold almost exclusively by LF photographers who are familiar with the equipment and can accurately describe condition and features.
    As for a 1st lens ... depends a lot on what you're going to shoot and how you see. If you're experienced in another format, I'd suggest taking your favorite lens and getting the same ratio in your fist LF lens ... then you can move in or out from there. If you're in a large community you can even rent LF lenses ... great way to evaluate.
    Also, check for a photography group in your area to hook up with some other LF shooters ... nothing helps more in evaluating gear than getting to see it first hand and talk to the user.
  8. Great. Thanks for all the advice!
    I'll check out the large photography forum for used lenses. Actually I signed up just last night.
    I'll definitely look for a normal or slightly wider than normal lens. And then I'll look for something in the portraiture range. When I did some view camera work in a portraiture class, I think we had a 210mm.
    I'll check out the specific lenses you mentioned. I have time till August, I guess. And I'll probably get the universal bellows now anyway.
    Thanks for all the advice on all the other stuff as well!
  9. Hey Marvin, I'm on the August waitlist for a 45n-1 as well, I guess we're in the same boat on this one. I've been told pretty much the same advice that's been given here. I'm probably going to get a rodenstock 150mm as my first lens, but who knows, I still have 2 months to roll that kind of decision around... Ahh the anticipation.
  10. Thanks Morgan. I'll check out the Rodenstock as well. Enjoy your wait (honestly, I'm hoping I don't get distracted. Just a while ago I was obsessing on Rolleiflexes...).
  11. Another place that sells used large format is Midwest Photo.
    I'd go with used equipment and save a few dollars. Just look at the prices for new vs. used lenses. Especially in the common sizes like 90, 135, 150 and 210. Same with film holders.
  12. Thanks Chuck!
  13. Hi,
    In response, I own a Chamonix 45N-1. It is a great camera. I purchased mine with the universal bellows which is actually helpful if you plan on using a 90mm because it will give you some movement. Although, if you plan on using lenses wider than the 90mm with any rise or fall, you should consider getting the wide angle bellows as an accessory.
    With respect to lens boards. I have purchased Chamonix's lens boards which are very, very nice. They are lined with velvet to reduce internal reflections and, unlike the Linhof boards, they are center-drilled (meaning, the hole through which the lens is mounted is drilled in the center of the lens board). In contrast, the Linhof boards are driiled offset. My suggestion is either to purchase Chamonix's lens boards, or, if you would like to save money, B&H Photo sells a generic center-drilled Linhof board for about half the price of Chamonix's.
    With respect to lens selection. The 150mm is the "normal" lens for a 4x5 camera. It is roughly equivalent the a 50mm lens on a 35mm. If you would like a lens suitable for photographing a wide variety of subjects, I would suggest the 150mm. If you plan on making portraits, consider a 210mm or 240mm. Or, if you plan on photographing architecture, a 90mm will do nicely.
    I suggest purchasing a lens on ebay. I have bought quite a few lenses on ebay, and have always been satisfied with the quality - and you'll save considerable money doing so.
    Don't forget to purchase film holders or a Fuji Quickload holder for film. For film holder, I prefer the locking Riteway holders because they lock shut and cannot accidently open in transport (you will know the locking holders because they have a small white circular tab which locks the holder closed). If you purchase film holders, you'll also need a film changing bag in order to change your own film. It won't take you long to learn to load your own film, you'll be able to use a wider variety of films, and you'll save 2/3 to 1/2 the money over using readyload film.
    Consider also, purchasing a light meter, if you do not already own one.
    Finally, consider picking-up a copy of Harvey Shaman's The View Camera . It is an excellent introduction the 4x5 camera.
    Enjoy your new camera,
  14. I have a second production run 45N1 and I love it. I have been using a 90mm angulon on it without having the universal bellows, with no trouble. The 90mm Angulon (not the Super Angulon) is very small and light; ideal for backpacking. All of the advice above is good advice, I just wanted to chime in with another book: Steve Simmons' Using The View Camera, from Amphoto books. There is also a magazine named "View Camera" which has valuable articles and advertising for large format.
  15. I use lenses between a 90 and Goerz 14" with no need for a universal bellows or tophat board.
    The "less expensive" wista boards work just fine on my Chamonix 45 - Badger carries them. But you will have to drill your own for those lense that need holes that are not stanaard today. Easy with a few files or dremel.
    For accessories, I'd suggest a few (below). I will also suggest that I found that a few of them should be new - not used - because used is a crap shoot.
    1. Shutter release - get a good one and spend a little more. I went through 3 or 4 before I got one that didn't either fall apart or threads crack on me in the field.
    2. Darkcloth.
    3. Loupe. I use mine all the time. 3.5-4x maximum. No need to zoom in on those fresnel lines.
    4. Absolutely no need for a reflex viewer so save yourself some $$. And the Chamonix reflex viewer sucks anyway - I have one. It looses 2 stops of light and is a pain.
    5. Double-Dark Film holders. After carefull buying used holders, I ended up buying all new holders and gave the used ones away. Age does take its toll on the plastic.
    6. Tripod. A good one is tough to beat and it will last you decades. A cheap one will cost you shots.
    7. Decide if you want to use Fuji QuickLoads. I shoot mostly B&W and load my own double-dark holders. But when I shoot color, I shoot quickloads (velvia, etc.). This works for me since I shoot so little color. But quicloads are very expensive compared to loading your own. This is a personal preference thing.
    8. Resists the urge to buy lenses in focal lengths you think you need until you have had the camera a while and "reason out" what you do need. Formats are different and you might find that a focal length you always used in another format, you don't like in 4x5. My 90mm lens does not get used that often while in 120 and digital, the same focal length was used all the time. In fact, my 150mm gets used 1/2 the time in 4x5 while I never used a "normal" lens in 120 or digital. Go figure...
    9. Large format is fantastic. Have fun with it. But do realize that it is slow paced. I carry a 120 folder camera along for those times when taking 15 minutes to set up is not possible.
    10. Check the buy/sell area on the website before you check ebay. Most people will list an LF item there before listing on ebay.
  16. Hi Marvin,
    I would suggest that you think about the kind of tripod that you're going to use and how you intend to mount the camera to it (quick release plate, direct connection to the tripod, etc.). You can't shoot LF without a sturdy tripod.
    I agree that a 135 mm lens is a great place to start. Anything betwen 120 and 210 would be fine, as you can use any lens in this range for a multitude of purposes. Go for the 210 (or 240) if you intend to shoot portraits primarily.

    READ as much as you can about LF technique. Your research will pay off. Also, get yourself a good light meter and learn how to use it well. Good luck!

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