Part I – first impressions (you’re here).
Part II – 4×5″ reduction back I, and 8month long experience.
Part III – 4×5″ reduction back II.
Part IV – 3 years (and several hundred exposures) later.
This is a short description and first impressions of a Chamonix 5×8″ camera I got from China with the help of a fellow member on LargeFormatPhotography.info forum, Hugo Zhang. His help was considerable and coming to a deal with him is straightforward.
First, why I chose this camera in a strange and uncommon 5×8″ format (I’ve spent more than a month seriously considering the purchase and at least one more month just toying with the idea). From my photographic experience, I „see“ in panoramas. A lot of my photos are composed for a panorama. I can and do compose in other more square formats, but at this time I feel most at ease with panoramas. At first I was thinking of getting a 5×12″ camera, but the unavailability of film and price for the camera forced me to abandon that one. (4×10″ is too small for me and the ULF size of 7×17″ is way too expensive and problems with film availability are same as for 5×12″).
While asking around for the price of 5×12″, I came across the 5×8″ camera on offer from Chamonix. The film for this camera is readily available (it’s standard 8×10″ film cut in half in darkroom), there are a lot of choices, both in black and white and in color (should I venture so far). The film format is of similar aspect ratio, as standard 35mm film. And if I want to crop for a wider panorama, I have enough film area to do it. If I want to go for the common aspect ratio of 1:2.5 and crop the picture, I’ll get image of 3.2×8″ (or for us metrically inclined, 8.2×20.5cm). That is more than 40% more image area than from a 6×17cm roll film image.
The other nice option is, that with very simple modification, the camera accepts standard 5×7″/13×18cm holders. Also, I have ordered a 4×5″/9×12cm reduction back, which should arrive in 2 months. That would further broaden the usability of the camera.
But back to the camera itself, and also to it’s parameters. I have a camera with reversible back, the factory also offers a non-reversible 5×8″ horizontal only camera (that would be lighter and a bit smaller, but does not accept a 4×5″ reduction back). The camera is made of maple wood and black metal parts (painted aluminum?). The weight of the camera (with 5×8″ back and also with my Manfrotto quick release plate, without lens or lensboard) is around 2450g. Folded, it measures 26×29×11.5cm (30×29×11.5cm with the protruding knobs on the sides).
Setting the camera up is quick and easy. First the back:
then screwing the front standard in one of the 4 prepared holes:
Zero positions for most movements are marked with small dots, and it’s easy to align it. But the alignment can only be visual, there are no zero position locks or dents.
The groundglass is very bright and it’s on springs. It’s not international back, so roll film holders (for 6×17cm format) are not usable. (But I do not plan to use them anyway).
Focusing is done by this helical worm screw, and the rise of the spiral is chosen well. It’s steep enough for setting up quickly (for finding the rough focus), and also sensitive enough for the perfection of focus. It’s very easy to work with
Here you can see the way I masked the rear opening for use of my 13×18cm holders. The holders are about an inch shorter. Logically, it’s for a 5×8″ holder and film. I’ve used some balsa wood of correct thickness that I painted black, and electricians tape to fix it. This way it can easily and quickly be removed and fixed again even in the field, allowing me to change the format I shoot very quickly. I do plan to make same push-on modification, so that it would be even easier and less messy, but so far, it works well.
Now, the lenses that can be used with the camera. The camera uses rather large lensboards, Sinar/Horseman type ones in the size 139×139mm. Minimum bellows extension is around 112mm, which means that the widest lens that can be used on standard lensboard is a 120mm one. Using bag bellows is not an option, as the limiting factor is the construction of camera itself, not the bellows (it can be seen in the picture, to focus the lens both beds are at the extreme positions)
Maximum bellows extension is around 625mm, I have managed to focus my 300mm/500mm convertible Symmar to around 75 or 100m well. the Symmar needs longer extension than would be expected for 500mm (nodal point being in front of the lens) – I can well focus my 480mm ApoRonar to about 3m (with indirect movements even to approx. 2m), or 305mm Repro-Claron close (or maybe a little more than) 1:1 magnification.
Even when fully extended, the camera is very stable and rigid (at least my first tries have shown that, but I have not tried it in strong winds yet). My first impressions of the camera in the field are very positive, it’s very light to haul, very good to set up and use, and is very stable.
I have yet to use the 5×8″ holders from Chamonix, as they arrived late (they forgot to include them with the camera, but they were sent the day after I complained about the omission. They arrived today. I have to cut the film in the darkroom and then try them out. I will add my impressions on them later).
: I have added some impressions after 8 months of using the camera, and also on the new 4×5” reduction back for the camera. You can read it here.