Zone VI Ultralight - why not? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello All,

I am in search of a new 4x5 field to replace my Linhof Technikardan currently being auctioned off. I am after something light yet with long enough bellows draw to fous a 450mm at least at infinity, and I prefer to spend as little as possible given a choice (so, no Ebony in the budget right now). The newest Zone VI 4x5 Ultralight weighs in at only 4 pounds yet will focus even a 480mm, and all for only $1499 new. Doesn't this seem like a great combo of weight/extension/price factors? Any users of this new Ultralight version want to share their hands-on experience? Unfortunately I do not have a Calumet retail store anywhere close to me to look at these in person.

Thanks in advance!

-- Ross Martin (, June 08, 2001


I would consider the Canham DLC 45. I just bought one last month, and have been amazed. It has a roughly 21" bellows, and doesn't need a bag bellows for a 75mm lens. Not sure about a 65mm lens, but the shortest I own is a 75.

Yes, the Canham retails for $2300, but the extra moeny is well worth it. It weighs in at something like 5 pounds 11 ounces.

-- Andy Biggs (, June 08, 2001.


You might want to also consider the Phillips 4x5. I haven't seen it or the Zone VI Ultrlight in person (but I am a former owner of a non-Ultralight Zone VI). From what I've read, the Phillips is more rigid than the Zone VI. I've also talked to someone who has used both the Phillips and the Canham DLC (I myself am a long time DLC owner having bought one of the first ones Keith made) and he assured me the Phillips is more rigid than the Canham.

I'm not saying the Phillips is the camera for you, but it's worthy of consideration. With the "Light" bellows (VERY similar to the Canham bellows) and the spring back it weighs 3.9 lbs and has 18" of bellows extension. With these bellows, the manufacturer claims it can be used with a 58mm lens on a flat lensboard. Other bellows and back options are avilable. The price is $1775 including a tubular focusing cloth.

I haven't seen one of these cameras, but I have seen several 8x10 Phillips models over the years and have always been impressed with both the construction and design philosophy of these cameras. Dick Phillips seems to put an emphasis on designing and building cameras that are both as light and as rigid as possible. He accomplishes this by omitting unnecessary features that don't do anything but add weight, reduce rigidity and increase cost.

I just talked with Mr. Phillips on the phone last Friday and requested information on his 4x5 model. He is very friendly to talk to on the phone, and sent the information I requested promptly. He is also a photographer, so he knows what works well and what doesn't in the field - and his cameras incorporate that knowledge in their design. If this sounds like a product you might be interested in, give him a call and request the information packet (517-835-7897).

Yes, the Canham is also a very versatile camera that is light and compact (the official spec is 4 lb. 11 oz. - mine weighs 4 lb. 14 oz). It's also worthy of consideration, but at $2300 it's substanitally more expensive than the Zone VI (or the Phillips). Still give it careful consideration so you know what you might be giving up to save some money.


-- Kerry Thalmann (, June 08, 2001.

Ross: I first knew there was a lightweight Zone VI camera when I saw it on the shelf at Calumet. I've been using the non-lightweight version for about 12 years or so. I was favorably impressed, it seemed like the same camera I was used to, it was just much lighter. (Reminded me of when you reach for the full milk carton and find out it's empty and your hand goes flying up in the air. It's that light if you're used to the other one.) I did the math about selling the one I had and getting one of those, but it didn't make sense since I already have a very light Ikeda I use for backpacking. There was an earlier question somebody asked about this camera that went unanswered, which surprised me a bit since I thought this was a camera which would tempt people to buy it. There are detractors of the Zone VI design but I'm happy with it. I don't use a lens shorter than 90 mm, however.

-- Kevin Crisp (, June 08, 2001.

Hi Ross. Don't know much about the unltralight, but I have read it is a much better camera than the original Zone VI. I'm just sticking my two cents in because the Phillips 4x5 was mentioned. I am one of the lucky few that have this wonderful little camera. Mine has the combination bellows and the international back so it weighs 4.7 pounds. You can get it with the light weight bellows and the spring back and it will weight about 4. I played with a number of other cameras before buying this one including the Arca Swiss Field, Canham, Wisner Pocket Expedition, Wistas. The only one I looked at that I liked better than the Phillips was the Arca Swiss, but it was $1000 more and a couple of pound heavier. Good luck.

-- Paul Mongillo (, June 08, 2001.

I do not know much about the other cameras but also once owned a Technica V. I have also played alot with the Zone VI. Although it doesn't seem to have much substance it holds up quite well and is quite sturdy. I was alot more abusive to the camera. Done things I never would have done with my Roles Royce Linhof. It also sped up working time since I didn't really worry to much about a large investment. It came home the same way it left, in perfect working order. Things to get used to is that it is quite simple. Everything slides {no geared movement}and locks when tightened down. Very good degree of movement keeping in mind that it is not a view camera. I did miss the free moving back movements of the Linhof though I never really used them. The bail that opens up the back to insert film holders is so simple and completely awesome. Accessories are cheap relatively speaking and easily found new. Two pieces of advice. Buy the bright screen for an additional $200.00 and throw away the groung glass it comes with. Buy something anything to hang on your tripod. One of those cheapy bookbags that you can throw some nearby rocks into. Finally call Calumets 800 # ask for someone who knows large format they are usually more than happy to talk to you.

-- john (, June 08, 2001.

Thank you for all the responses so far. Just so you know where I'm coming from, I have owned an Iston, previous version Zone VI, Tachihara, Wista DX, Toyo AX, Linhof TK, and used or carefully examined Canham DLC, all Wisner 4x5's, all Horseman 4x5 fields, Linhof Technika, and some Arca-Swiss. Obviously I am having trouble locating my one true love! I realize the perfect 4x5 does not exist, and each camera I've owned has had it's share of virtues as well as irritations.

I will still consider a few of the cameras I've not had an opportunity to see yet, but one question remains: If the new Ultralight Zone VI is Calumet's #3 best selling product currently (according to their website), then why are their no actual owners responding to this and other threads about the camera? Seems strange to me.

-- Ross Martin (, June 08, 2001.

There is really only one wooden field camera to consider for a serious LF photographer....the Ebony. Simply the best. Anything else is a compromise.


-- Jon Abernathy (, June 08, 2001.

Well Jonny, unfortunatly for those of us who do not have unlimited financial resources, *compromise* is a fact of life. Thank God the artistry of a photographer is not dependent on how expensive his/her camera is or the size of the wallet...

-- Ross Martin (, June 08, 2001.

The Germans have a phrase that essentially says "But quality and you only cry once - when you buy it" "Buy inferior and you cry about it every time you use it." After the list of cameras you have been through and are still looking, the odds are pretty good that the Ultra Light or any other $1500 camera will not be the perfect camera either. If I were you I would find a way to get the Ebony and hope that your camera trading days are behind you.

-- Michael Kadillak (, June 08, 2001.

Ross - Don't jump to conclusions about the cost of an Ebony! At current exchange rates, Robert White lists the RW45 for only about $150 more than the Zone VI. It doesn't have quite the movements of the Zone VI, but they are ample enough for most landscape work. The RW45 will focus a 500mm lens (of telephoto design), and it actually weighs slightly less than the Zone VI.

I was also a user of the older Zone VI camera. It wasn't the most rigid camera to begin with, and while it was fine for the first year or so, everything just kind of loosened up over time until the thing was essentially worthless. Until very recently, a friend of mine had the ultralight. It was more rigid than I remember my Zone VI being, but it was starting to loosen up a bit as well. He was concerned enough about it that he sold it. This may be a problem with wood fields in general, as I had the same thing happen with the first wood field I purchased (a Wista, many, many years ago).

I came very close to purchasing an Ebony when I was last in the market. I looked at two models; the RW45 and the 45S, which is non- folding. They were by far the most rigid wood field cameras I've ever handled (though I've certainly not handled them all), and were very nicely designed. I ended up going with the Canham DLC (which I have been extremely pleased with), but there is no doubt that I'd have chosen the Ebony if I had ultimately decided to go with wood.

By the way, I took a look at your website. You've got some fantastic images there! No matter which camera you ultimately purchase, I suspect that you'll continue to prove your "artistry of a photographer" statement for a long time to come.

-- Tim Klein (, June 08, 2001.

Tim, thank you for the kind words about my images! And thanks to everyone for giving me food for thought, I really do appreciate it. I am going to try and get ahold of a local fine art shooter I met recently and see if I can get some field time on his Ebony, and find out what all the fuss is about. I'm ordering up literature on the Philips and figure I'll give the Canham another look as well.


-- Ross Martin (, June 08, 2001.

Sometimes I see comments about cameras that are extremely puzzling. Having used the Zone VI camera for 12 years now, and having used it a lot, and having taken it many places, I can't imagine how anyone could say it becomes so loose that it is worthless. I've had two of the Zone VI 8X10's (first one was pre-production and was eventually stolen) and nothing about those was flimsy or became loose either. There is nothing "loose" on my 4X5 which doesn't get tight if you tighten a knob. The comment along these lines which referred to the "older Zone VI" might have referred to the original lightweight which wasn't the one Zone VI made, but still I can't fathom some of the criticism here. There's a review of the camera on or linked to this website which is harshly critical of how incredibly complex and difficult if not impossible it is to open and close the Zone VI. Again, unless you're trying it one handed or blindfolded, I don't get it. Every camera has its peculiarities of design and when you learn how to fold it up and open it (and do it until you really have it down) the camera is a piece of cake to use. If a particular piece of equipment doesn't appeal to you for some subjective reason, fine. Certainly a valid point of view to be shared. But anybody who is looking for information here and runs across some of the ludicrous over the top criticisms of equipment which get posted isn't being done a service.

-- Kevin Crisp (, June 09, 2001.

Well said, Kevin.

I am as guilty as anyone for being overly critical of various cameras and for occasionally obsessing over the equipment to the point that I lose my perpective on why I'm photographing. Now after starting this thread I realize once again that I am worrying far too much about the gear, when for me it's all about experiencing and capturing on film the awesome majesty of creation. So for now, I will choose a simple yet functional camera that I can afford, and let that tool be the means to a greater end.

-- Ross Martin (, June 09, 2001.

Kevin - Since my post was mainly intended to let Ross know that an Ebony (a camera that his original message implied was an extravagance) might actually be in his price range, I didn't want to waste a lot of time detailing the poor performance and workmanship of my older Zone VI camera.

Since you've asked though, let me go into a little more detail.

I thought it was pretty clear what I meant by loose, but for those who were unsure, to me, looseness is the opposite of rigidty. At longer extension, the bed was less tight and stable than it was originally. The standards (while never exactly bombproof), got to the point that they moved at the slightest touch. It didn't matter that the knobs were tightened, things still wiggled and moved more than I was willing to accept. Inserting film holders, pulling darkslides, adjusting f-stops, and cocking shutters were all enough to occasionally change focus. I tried different sized washers of differing materials, and that didn't help. I cleaned metal to wood and metal to metal contact surfaces, it still didn't help. I was unsatisfied with the experience.

My results with the camera were sometimes disappointing, so yes, I considered it "essentially worthless". When I went to sell it, I found out that Zone VI had a fairly poor quality reputation (again, older model) and I ended up taking far less for it than I would have expected (entirely my fault, I now check resale value before purchasing new equipment). The low resale coupled with the cost of getting a new camera, made the Zone VI "essentially worthless" to me financially as well.

Does that help or is that still "ludicrous over the top criticism"?

I know others have mentioned it here, but we should keep in mind that all we are sharing here are our personal experiences. Mine was negative and I know of others whose experiences were similar. Yours was positive and you probably know others who have had positive experiences. The fact that my experience was negative doesn't make it "ludicrous", or "over the top". Two of the three reviewers you mentioned on the linked review page mention the difficulty of folding the camera. Why is their combined opinion "ludicrous" or "over the top", while your single opinion about how it's a piece of cake for anyone who isn't blindfolded, not?

-- Tim Klein (, June 11, 2001.

Tim: Are we talking apples and oranges here? Again, what is an "older Zone VI camera"? Zone VI originally put its mark on what I understand was a lightweight Japanese camera and sold that as the Zone VI Camera. (Actually a Wista, some say.) Is that the one you had problems with? Then came the one they made which is extremely similar to the Wisner. It was much more solid (and heavy) but it has been around long enough (pre-Calumet) that one could consider that an "older Zone VI camera." So point one is I'm still not sure we're even discussing the same camera or manufacturer. If the Zone VI camera became unstable and useless and you returned it for a warranty claim under the lifetime warranty (Zone VI) or your friend made a warranty claim for his loose lightweight camera (Calumet, 5 years) what happened then? Was the warranty claim to Zone VI or Calumet? My hunch is that we aren't talking about the same piece of equipment. Your comments about resale value don't seem to square with what people are bidding them up to on Ebay, nor the used store prices I've seen, which again makes me wonder which product you sold. (Is something worth $600 to $850 used [assuming it's the US version] "worthless"?) As to my point about some criticism here being over the top, I've received some private support from people who know exactly what I was talking about. I didn't characterize your comments as ludicrous; I made a general point which some people seem to understand and the Zone VI reviews illustrate the point pretty well. If you know a particular product well, then it can happen that a subjective comment about it can be so far off the mark that it falls into the "over the top" category. If I told you a Cobra was a quiet and spacious but dog-slow automobile which seats 4 comfortably, would you care if 2 out of 3 "reviewers" voiced similar comments? Does that make me right? Are my comments valid because they are my opinions? I think the only part of our discussion which has any potential interest to anyone thinking about the Zone VI lightweight camera, which is how we started on this, is whether your experiences with your camera are with the Zone VI-manufactured camera. If they were, and if your friend's problems were with the lightweight one (more to the point, since the wood and metal of the camera are different), I'd be interested to know about how the warranty claim was handled. As others have noted, Calumet's website has this as one of their best selling products and yet there don't seem to be any first-hand users with comments on the camera. This does seem rather odd and if somebody bought one and is using it, I'd like to know what they think. I'm still considering getting one. If I offended you I certainly didn't mean to and I apologize for doing so.

-- Kevin Crisp (, June 12, 2001.


I checked out your website. Nice work! Anyway, maybe one of the easiest ways to address the issue of the Zone VI ultralight would be to find an excuse to go to LA and check one out. Depending on where you live in Washington airfare could be pretty affordable expecially when you compare it to the investment you are proposing to make on the camera. As for the other camers mentioned above I'm not sure that the Ebony referred to has an adequate bellows extension for the lens you propose using. It would at least be worth investigating at the Ebony website.

Good Luck.

-- Kevin Kemner (, June 12, 2001.

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