Ebony RW45 with Wide Angle Lenses

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As a newcomer to LF I have been suffering from buyer's remorse. I purchased a Toyo 45AII before I new of the existence of this wonderful forum. After finding out about the forum, I learned of the existence of Ebony cameras. The glowing reviews that have been posted for Ebony's could not be ignored. As a backpacker, I wanted a camera that was light (wooden) but yet sturdy. As a landscape photographer, a range of usable lenses from 75-300mm seemed about right. Specs on the RW45 at the Ebony website made my decision an easy one. It is 2-1/2 lbs lighter than my Toyo, has center tilts (front and back), and has a usable lens range of 65-500mm (telephoto). Perhaps I would even be able to fold it with a small lens attached - another big plus for a backpacker.

I was curious, however, about the lack of postings from people who had actually used the RW45. I ordered one from Jeff at Badger Graphics and received it last week. Unfortunately, the specs on the RW45 are incorrect in one important area - minumum bellows draw. The RW would not focus to infinity with my Schneider 75/5.6 SA ! My Schneider is brand new and has a flange to focal distance that is spot-on 75mm. The Ebony specs on the RW45 state a minimum bellows draw of 60mm. If this were true I should have had no difficulty whatsoever of focusing the 75 to infinity on a flat board, yet I was at least 10mm shy of being able to do so. If I tried using any forward tilt (critical in landscape), the problem was exacerbated since the lens was now even further from the back.

The obvious solution would seem to be the use of a recessed lensboard. Unfortunately, there are 2 problems. First, this camera has a VERY stiff bellows - almost cardboard like. The bellows on my Toyo is far more supple and seems to be of significantly higher quality. The movements on the Ebony are almost non-existent with the bellows fully compacted. Secondly, with the bellows fully compacted, you no longer have a 20 degree drop-bed capability because the camera back hits the rear base arm after tilting only 10 degrees. The main purpose (as I understand it - remember , I'm a rookie) of having a drop bed is so that you don't take a picture of the front of the camera with super wide lenses like my Schneider 75. In short, the RW45 should not be used with anything less than a 90mm. Ebony's claim of being able to use lenses all the way down to 65mm seem to be incorrect. As a landscape photographer, I used 24mm often in my 35mm photography, so I simply can't get along without my 75 in 4x5. A 90 just won't cut it.

I told Jeff at Badger about the problem and he cheerfully offered me a refund. Dealing with Jeff has been an absolute pleasure. He had never heard of any problems with the RW45 such as I have just described. This concerns me because since I am a rookie to LF I hope that it's just not me doing something really stupid. The 75 Schneider works easily on my Toyo with a flat board. Using a 58 with a recessed board on the Toyo would be no problem.

One more note - the RW45 did indeed fold with my Rodenstock 150 attached. You just have to mount it backwards. The camera was beautiful! I really wanted to keep it. Those center tilts would have been nice. The weight savings speaks for itself. On the other hand, the Toyo has much smoother camera controls and is a lot easier to use IMHO. Perhaps now I understand the mysterious lack of postings on the RW45. Please forgive me ahead of time if this is just a rookie mistake, but I don't thing that it is. I hope that this information might help other newcomers who are in the same situation as myself.

Doug Meek

-- Doug Meek (dlmeek@ccmessage.com), December 24, 2001


I own a 45AII. Basic Japanese; precise, durable, unexotic. It's charm for me, is that it's gonna be there for you whenever you need to take the shot.

On this forum, I feel there's a tendency towards uncriticalness for the exotic, ie Canham, etc. You can bet if the 45AII had any serious flaws such as the one you're attributing to the Ebony, it would be panned severely.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), December 25, 2001.

Doug, Ebony now has a user's guide for the SV series posted on its website. This guide shows with a photo how to use 46-75mm lenses using fornt base and center tilt combined - perhaps this is applicable to the RW as well? http://www.ebonycamera.com/media/sv.users.guide.pdf

-- Åke Vinberg (ake@vinberg.nu), December 25, 2001.

hmmm, the Ebony needs recessed lens boards for really wide angles, and you consider that a flaw? Is it any more of a flaw than needing an extender board to shoot long lenses with the Toyo? personally, I would think that carrying the extender back would be more of a PIA than carrying recessed lens boards.......I'm also kind of unsure with what makes an Ebony or a Canham "exotic" and makes the Toyo is somewhat more,...ummm.....more...I dunno know.... "blue collar"?

IMO each camera has its strengths and weaknesses, everything is a trade off. For instance, I shoot the Canham. Would I like more rigidity and detents on the swing? Sure I would, but I also want those features at less than 5 pounds...and I also want to be able to shoot everything from a 58mm to a 720mm with no recessed, extenders etc.... So I pick my poison, just like everyone else.

Merry Christmas george

-- George Stocking (gwrhino@earthlink.net), December 25, 2001.

Hi Doug. The RW is a fine camera but is designed to be used with a 90mm as its shortest lens. I checked this with Robert White when I was looking at the Ebony range. He told me that the 75mm could be used with a recessed lens board but with limited movements. A better choice would be probably be something like the SW.

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), December 25, 2001.

The Cannedham is junk. It's like the hit song that was made into a movie: Take a clever, sexy design, pick ONE rigid, light metal, and machine the entire camera body made of it. (And later, wonder why the standards shift at inopportune moments, and why you have to carry hex wrenches with you to re-tighten loose screws) I'm sorry, for $2,500 US, I can't have that. Better to go with a "blue collar" camera that has put the appropiate materials in the right places (See recent thread on American vs. Japanese/German bulid).

The Ebony line seems a little more promising, if you can select the right one for your needs. But I still say a general use field camera that doesn't have the capability to use 65mm or 72XL is problematic.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), December 25, 2001.

George -

I never used the word "flaw". I simply stated that Ebony's posted specs on the RW45 are incorrect. The claimed minimum bellows draw of 60mm is wrong. I bought the RW based upon this spec. A 60mm minimum draw implies that one can use a 75mm lens on a flat board and still have a 15mm "cushion" even when focused at infinity (assuming a flange to focal distance of 75mm, which is precisely what my Schneider has). This 15mm of cushion is critical due to the stiffness of the bellows on the RW. This cushion, I reasoned, would at least give me a certain degree of flexibility for some movements. That cushion simply dosn't exist, nor do the movements. I may be new to LF, but I do understand that movements are one of the main reasons for moving up to this format. The RW45 is touted by Ebony as being "particularly suited to landscape work". In my opinion, any camera that won't allow you to use a lens wider than 90mm with movements is not particlarly suited to landscape work. As for your reference to the difficulty of using the extension back on the Toyo - I don't ! The Toyo easily accomodates my Nikkor-T 360 with no extensions of any kind. My 360 brings me as close as I need to get for my landscape work. This camera is very versatile and super easy to use.

Paul - I wish I had spoken to you beforehand. Oh well, at least I got my money back. You were very fortunate indeed to have been able to physically see different Ebony's in person before making your purchase. Robert White was 100% correct in the information he gave you. The RW is not designed for use with anything wider than a 90mm lens. I considered the SW models but decided against them due to the 180mm maximum draw without supplemental extension backs. Thanks for your input !

I'll just keep my Toyo as it does everything well. It is simple to use, very versatile, and one rugged camera. The only drawback is the weight on a multi-day backpacking trip. Merry Christmas everyone !


-- Doug Meek (DLMEEK@CCMESSAGE.COM), December 25, 2001.

I shoot landscape & architecture and I have two major grips about the Toyo 45A which is otherwise a very fine field camera. I don't like the time it takes (about 45 to 60 seconds) to unfold the camera, pull out and erect the front standard, tighten the locks and levers, mount and focus a lens EVERYTIME you packed away the camera for transport. The other aspect is, the Toyo 45A can't work with a lens wider than a 90 mm without mounting it on a recessed board. Actually, even with a 90mm, you should put it in a recessed board for easier lens displacement.

With an Ebony non-folding SW45 or 45S, you just mount the camera on a tripod, take off the lens cap (which of course you still have to do with the Toyo) and you are practically ready to shoot should you decide to use the lens that is already mounted on the camera. With wide angle lenses, you don't even have to change the infinity setting on your Ebony when you put the camera away. The RW45 suffers from the same problem as the Toyo 45A because of the flat-bed folding design which is why I find the non-folding versions so much better.

The Ebony 45S allows a bellows draw of 270 mm and a extension back is also available for an extra 100 mm or so I think.

That said, although I have used the Toyo 45A, I have not yet owned an Ebony but its use titanium and ebony/mahogany sure is very appealing. And I prefer the lens axis tilt for the Ebony than the base tilt for the Toyo. the all metal construction for the Toyo is a plus, it feels very solid. But if I were to buy an all-metal flat bed camera again, I would also seriously consider the Wista VX or SP whic uses the Lihnof lens board, the same as Ebony.

ON a side note, I find the Linhof Technikardan 45S a bit too complicated as well (meaning longer time to set up). Although lighter and more compact 4x5 monorail designs do exist, the TK 45S is practically as small and lightweight as it gets without giving up any degree of sturdiness.

-- Sunny Ray (sunny_ray@hotmail.com), December 26, 2001.

The Ebony also has much more generous rise and fall than the Toyo 45A, though it is usually adequate in landscape situations for the Toyo 45A which you would also need to recline the back and did the same with the front standard as well to keep the camera bed from being revealed by the ample angle of coverage of some wide angle lenses (90mm and down). Another operation I could do without when I use wide angle lenses for landscape which is about 90% of the time.

Incidentally, with longer focal length lenses, more rise and fall are available with the Toyo 45A by clamping the bed (to get more rise) or dropping the bed (for more fall) and tilting the lens back to 'normal'. It is there, but I dread those types of acrobatic movements.

-- Sunny Ray (sunny_ray@hotmail.com), December 26, 2001.

Hi Sunny.

My Toyo 45AII easily uses my 75mm Schneider SA on a flat board, let alone my 90 Grandagon-N. I'm wondering if there is a difference between a 45A and a 45AII ? The only time is need the recessed board is with the 58 Schneider XL.

-- DOUG MEEK (DLMEEK@CCMESSAGE.COM), December 27, 2001.

Hi Doug!

For better movements, I always thought that a 75mm should be mounted on a recessed board for the Toyo 45A. I tink in general what I was saying is that I like a monorail design better than a flat-bed design for field use.

Incidentally, I had an Arca Swiss 6x9F once. I loved it, it was a great little camera which I did thought about replacing the rear standard and bellows to take a 4x5 back. That would have been a workable 4x5 field camera for me, though it would have been a bit bigger and heavier than either an Ebony RW or TechniKardan.

-- Sunny Ray (sunny_ray@hotmail.com), December 28, 2001.

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