Impressions: Cambo wide w/47mm XL - A 4x5 point-and-shoot? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Ellis asked (in a different thread) how I like the Cambo wide, and I thought I'd start a new thread about the camera so it'll be easier to find in a search. I guess this is more of a review than a question, but maybe others who have used this camera can jump in and relate their impressions.

The Cambo wide is a remarkable camera. It's probably as close to a point-and-shoot 4x5 as anyone can come without going electronic. I bought mine a year ago, used, and I've only used it with the 47mm XL so I can't speak to its performance with other lenses. It's available with several lenses up to 150mm, but I'm not sure it would be as useful with the longer lenses. Because it doesn't have tilts or swings and the movement is always limited to 20mm in one direction (actually, less with a couple of the available lenses; see the Calumet catalog), you'd be wasting a lot of the image circle with longer lenses. Besides, depth of field becomes an issue above 75-90mm or so, necessitating bellows and tilts and such.

The Cambo wide (sold only through Calumet) is a very simple view camera, basically a lens mounted on a square lensboard, which is then attached to a groundglass back. There's no monorail or bed, and the camera doesn't fold up; it looks kind of like a huge homemade rangefinder camera. The lenses are the same German optics that you can buy for about half as much by themselves, but Cambo sells them in a helical mount (since there's no bellows) with distance and depth of field markings like a 35mm or medium-format lens (VERY nice). In other words, rather than focus by moving the front or back standards like on a typical view camera, you simply twist the knurled rubber ring on the lens as you do with a 35mm lens. A year or two ago Calumet started selling the lenses (permanently mounted to the boards) separate from the "body," but you don't save much since the lenses cost about nine times what the body costs; if I bought another lens I'd probably toss in another back for backup. The back has a standard view camera groundglass back (I also got the fresnel); it is always "horizontal" but the camera is so small it's not hard to tilt your tripod head 90 degrees like you're using a 35mm SLR. The lens board has a simple shift capacity, 20mm in either of two directions (left or right, or, if you take off the lensboard and turn it 90 degrees, 20mm rise; you can't do a fall because the camera's base plate protrudes too far). Calumet sells a shoe-mounted accessory finder (ala the Mamiya 7's, for example) but I've never even rented this. I fantasize about street shooting with this camera, so maybe someday I'll cough up the $400 or whatever for the finder, but I like to compose more precisely than a separate finder allows anyway so for now I just use the groundglass, as with a normal view camera. I'll probably buy Calumet's "pyramid" monocular groundglass finder first so I can lose the darkcloth but still compose precisely. I use the 4x5 darkcloth; you basically put almost the whole camera (except lens) inside the cloth.

The camera back weighs 27 oz; the 47mm XL lens, mounted, weighs an additional 30 oz. (that's a bit under 4 lbs. total). With the large handle on the side (grippable even with mittens) the camera is 9 inches wide by 6 inches high by 5 inches deep (the lensboard has "rollbars" on it to protect the lens like the Fuji 617). The handle has a hole in it through which you can thread a cable release for push-button convenience. There are two bubble levels on top of the camera and two cold shoes. Two sliders release the lensboard; it takes 3-4 seconds to rotate it, and you can do it with gloves on.

I had rented the 47mm XL lens and found it to be an amazing optic but I was frustrated when using it on a normal view camera (I tried it on two different monorail cameras, with bag bellows and standards that came close enough together to touch; no recessed board necessary). It was simply very difficult to focus and compose the 47mm anywhere off the center (the corners and edges were completely dark) and I always felt like my standards weren't parallel enough for perfect focus. Bag bellows, too, can be a hassle when your standards are that close together and you're trying to do a big rise or shift. I was tempted to buy the lens for its generous coverage but found the drawbacks of using it on my monorails too annoying. The Cambo wide solves those problems. Its biggest advantages:

1. Perfect parallel alignment of front and back standards, always, without question. 2. Helical focusing allows estimated focusing and, better still, depth of field knowledge; very useful with ultrawide lenses that are hard to focus off axis. 3. Camera is very sturdy and much better in inclement weather than bellows cameras. 4. Handheld shooting is possible, especially with accessory viewfinder. (Needless to say, you can put a rollfilm holder in the back and shoot 6x12, 6x9, etc.) 5. Perhaps best of all, dependability of shifts/rises without even looking. At f22, I know I can count on at least 15mm of shift in any direction and 20mm at f32 (with a 4x5 Readyload holder; 151mm negative diagonal); I don't even need to check the corners. Anyone who has spent time squinting at the dark corners of a groundglass with an ultrawide lens can understand the value of this. There is slight vignetting with a large shift at f16, more at f13.5 or f11, but I can either reduce the shift below 15mm or so (which is what Calumet lists as the lenses' max) or just shoot it anyway and just crop the corners (esp. for tall panoramics). I shoot b&w so I don't use a center filter, but as has been well-documented this lens has significant falloff in the corners and a center filter is probably essential for photographers of color.


1. It's expensive when bought new (sorry, I don't have a current Calumet catalog so I can't say how much) and used ones with the XL lens are rare. 2. You can only shift (or rise) in one direction; you can't go up AND to the right, for instance. 3. No falls unless you mount (or hold) the camera upside down. 4. As noted, no tilts or swings. Again, with the depth of field of a 47mm you may not care; with longer lenses, you probably will.

Also note that 47mm is extremely wide, and anyone who lusts after this lens should spend some serious time with a rental first to see if a 58 or 65 might be more useful in real-world shooting (especially if the lens will not be used on the Cambo wide body). My next widest lens (used on my monorail, not the Cambo wide) is 72mm, and that's plenty wide about 99 percent of the time; I had resolved to only rent when I needed something wider than 72mm, but then I saw the used 47 Cambo wide for an unbelievable price so I sold some other stuff and bought it. But it is awfully wide! Many 35mm shooters figure that if 18 or 20mm is good, 14mm must be better, but of course you can get too much of a good thing and the 47mm is no exception in most circumstances. I use it for landscape shooting and occasional interiors (though it's more a special-effect lens than an architectural photography tool). Portraits are a really bad idea unless you're shooting someone with a tiny nose and huge ears....

Bottom line: The camera/lens combo is a gem, a real keeper. I wish there was more competition so there were more cheap alternatives (like the Grandview) but it's a niche market and it can't be cheap to put those lenses in a helical mount.

Hope this is useful; comments and questions are welcome.

-- Simon Gammelin (, March 29, 1999


Simon, Thanks for that great, balanced report! I have always wondered about these cameras and it is good to hear from a real user. I hope Tuan sees fit to turn archives this as static content after it lingers here for awhile.

-- Ellis Vener (, March 30, 1999.

I've checked out the Gran View website -- it seems to me you could get the Gran View with the right cone and the 47mm SA XL for about $2400 total, new. I think that's less than what Cambo gets for the 47mm in helical alone.

A few people have asked about this camera before, but no one seems to have tried it out (besides a few Polaroids in Shutterbug -- new 4x5 handheld comes out, so you mount up an ancient Angulon and shoot sepia Polaroids?).

For anyone interested in point-and-shoot photography with a 47mm SA on 4x5, Alan Gibson's site has some interesting pics from his homemade hyperfocal-only handheld superwide camera. At f16 or f22, he gets a DOF from 30 inches to infinity. And his body cost, oh, tens of dollars.

Anybody else out there have any ideas about working with these limited-movement wideangle cameras?

-- John O'Connell (, March 31, 1999.

This is veering a little off topic, but along the lines of the last post, I also have built a box camera for my 90 mm, a 5x7. I was fairly certain it wasn't going to work out well - I'm no master woodworker and live in a small apartment so my tools were very limited. But with a small vise bought at Eagle and a coping saw and lots of sandpaper, along with an old 5x7 back purchased for 25$ I built a box, mounted the lens, and with a minimum of experimenting got a depth of field that is suitable for everything I do. It's no Cambo Wide (I've seen them and they make me drool with desire) but at 30 bucks I think it is a very viable option.

-- Erik Ryberg (, March 31, 1999.

A point well taken. Gran View's web site ( is certainly worth a look.

For my money, the big advantage of the Cambo wide (and of the amazing 47mmXL) is that it gives me 15-20mm of rise with an unbelievably wide angle of view (I shoot LF in large part for the movements). If I'm not mistaken, until the 47mmXL came along no lens that wide offered any rise at all for 4x5 users, and the Cambo Wide is the best solution I've found for taking full advantage of the 47XL's relatively generous image circle. Without rise capability, using a 47mm is often a choice between tilting up the camera (and getting some crazily converging verticals) or including a huge amount of floor or earth or street (or your own toes!) in the picture.

But I'm glad the Gran View and other such options are available, and I may look into a GV so I can mount other (longer) lenses onto a fixed body without having to buy a helical mount version of each lens....

-- Simon Gammelin (, March 31, 1999.

To get back to the Cambo Wide, neat camera (I just could never justify getting any LF lenses in dedicated helicals. Oh well!). Thanks for the review, Simon.

In the January(?) issue of View Camera there are some cockpit interiors taken with the camera with the 47 XL. Generous angle of view to say the least.

The shift/rise thing on the Gran View is a real killer. I think it has a really small amount, like 5-7mm by shifting the cone. And you might need a screwdriver to do it.

-- John O'Connell (, March 31, 1999.

Here's the address for Alan Gibson's camera:

-- John O'Connell (, April 12, 1999.

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