Calumet 45NX: Professional or Junk? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hoo, boy, am I confused! I'm looking for a LF camera that will I will be able to use for editorial/commercial purposes. The Calumet 45NX with it's low price (very important) is tempting, but I've read mixed reviews of this camera.

My main concerns are its rigidity and the precision of its movements. I want a camera that will let me feel confident that I will get tack-sharp images every time. Can the Calumet 45NX do this? If not, is there another low-priced 4x5 monorail camera that can? I would greatly appreciate ANY help with this. Thank you.

- Matthew

-- Matthew Runde (, January 02, 2002


I can attest to the fact that the Cambo SC and SCX (i.e. now the Calumet 45NX) can be used for professional results. In fact, in the mid 80's, most of the large format photographers I assisted used Cambo's or Sinar's. As long as the lens you use is good, nobody can tell what camera was used. The Sinars do make some things easier, such as yaw-free movements and a built-in depth of field calculator. Not to mention the geared movements. Once you get enough experience you really don't gaze at the settings on the camera anyhow, you kind of just know when things are right. So ... that being said, the Calumet/Cambo is really just fine.

You can also get replacement parts cheaply for the Calumet/Cambo, also used stuff is easy to find and cheap as well.

-- S Ratzlaff (, January 02, 2002.

Would people in the forum recommend the Toyo 45C monorail? I am biased, because I use one:

Typical precision Japanese manufacturing: It has geared rise/fall on front and back standards, which each have bubble levels on them. The detents are precise. The belows is first rate. The outstanding ground glass back and fresnel rotates 360 degrees. Very fine focus. Firm lock down of all focus, swing and shift settings. About $750+ fresh out of the box from RW.

-- Andre Noble (, January 02, 2002.

i have been using a 45nx for the past 18 years for HABS/HAER work, and i can attest to its ruggedness and professional capabilities. i have put something like 10-12,000 negs through that machine, fallen into rivers with it, slid down cliff faces with it, hiked for miles carrying it, and while i can finally afford pretty much any camera(s) i want, i havent foudn anything yet that i feel like trading this one for - over the past years, i have become very attached to that camera, and i'm pretty sure i will wear out before it does...

-- jnorman (, January 02, 2002.

Matthew- I have used the 45NX in the field for the past ten years. Have no fear as to rigidity! It is a very solid camera. Your images will be as sharp as your choice of optics will allow. I should note that the majority of my work is with lenses 127mm or longer. You may want to query users who do a lot of wide angle work as to the suitability of the 45NX (assuming you plan much wide angle shooting). Merg Ross

-- Merg Ross (, January 02, 2002.


I have a 45NX which I bought used. It is very rigid. It also has a revolving back, which is a great convenience not available in many of the more expensive cameras. This allows you to rotate from vertical to horizontal without removing the camera back.

The camera has been around for a while, so there are many used parts and accessories available at prices that are more reasonable than many other 4 x 5 cameras.

The camera has all the movements I need for architectural and landscape photography. It is not yaw free, but that has not been a problem for me.

My entire setup is used, from camera to lens boards to bag bellows, and many of the pieces look like new. You probably could do the same. Since Toyo introduced the 45CX at a low price, the price of the 45NX dropped too. That seems to have pushed the used camera and accessory part prices down also. You should be able to get a great bargain.

One important note. The camera comes with a long monorail. I think it is about 21" long. That is fine for 300mm or longer lenses. However, with wide angle lenses it can be a problem. If you put the rail too far out in front of the lens, it will be in the photo. If you have it sticking out the back, it can interfere with focusing. There is an accessory rail, approximately 12" long, that you can use with wide angle lenses. Actually, in the field, I often use the short rail with the bag bellows for all of my lenses (from 75mm to 210mm). When using the short rail with wide angle lenses, you will have to make sure that both standards are on the same side of the tripod mounting block. This will not work with a 210mm lens though, so some minor adjustments are required when photographing with this setup. Also, when using the recessed lens boards with wide angle lenses, it is more convenient to use a flexible cable release adapter so you don't have to struggle to attach your cable release every time you use the wide angle lens.

If you are not sure about using the camera, take a look at Using the View Camera by Steve Simmons. Most of the photos in that book depicting a monorail are of a 45NX (or one of its predecessors).

I am pleased with my camera. I carry it in a backpack and take it in the field, and it performs well. It is heavier than a field camera and some of the monorail cameras. Another camera I considered was the Arca Swiss Discovery, which really seems like a great camera. However, I got a good deal on this used 45NX (you almost never see a used Discovery for sale) so I grabbed it, and put the leftover money into a good lens. I agree that with this camera, the quality of the photos will be determined by the photographer and his lenses, not the camara. (By the way, if you buy Caltar lenses from Calumet for this camera, which are manufactured by Rodenstock and identical to the comparable Rodenstock lens, Calumet will give you a lensboard for free. You save money on the lens compared to a Sironar-N or Grandagon- N, and you get a free board. Its a win win.)

If you ever decide to buy a different Cambo camera, all of your 45NX accessories (except the monorails) will work with the new camera.

For what its worth, I considered a Toyo 45C, but decided that it would more difficult to backpack with than the 45NX or Discovery, so I discounted it. I also started looking at the Linhof Kardan M, but came across the deal on the 45NX and stopped looking.

Hope you find this helpful.

-- Dave Karp (, January 02, 2002.

I just noticed that I made a slight mistake in my post. When you buy a large format lens from Calumet, you also get the free lensboard if it is a Rodenstock, Schneider, or Nikon lens. Just wanted to make sure that my post was not misleading. I was concentratin on the Caltars because I think they are the best "deal," especially if you were considering the comparable Rodenstock lens.

-- Dave Karp (, January 02, 2002.

Great review, Dave. It confirms my desire to keep my 45NX. I agree with everything you said. Friction movements work fine, the rigidity is excellent, and it's almost impossible to beat the price. BTW, how do you backback with it? Specifically, what backpack do you use, how far do you disassemble things, and how do you pack everything safely? One thing that prevents me from doing so is the size of the lensboards.

-- Tony Karnezis (, January 03, 2002.

I have a 45N and when I backpacked with it, I took a normal (large) weekend pack, and built a frame out of 1/8" plywood that I placed inside it. I then dissassembled the camera, and wrapped the standards in the dark cloth. The back was removed, and covered with the Calumet ground glass protector, and then wrapped in a lens wrap.

Once I did all that, the camera was pretty safe. I will admit, however, that the 6" lens boards took up a lot of room.

I ended up buying a Toyo 45A-II, which is lighter, takes up less room, and perfect for my needs (little architecture, mostly landscapes).

The 45N/NX are good, solid cameras, just a bit too bulky for my needs. BTW, I'll be selling it soon, so if anyone is interested, let me know.

Happy New Year everyone!


-- Ken Miller (, January 03, 2002.


For what it is worth, here is what I do. I have a Kelty Redwing 2900 internal frame backpack. I purchased a large piece of fairly heavy duty foam and a thin piece of foam from a local store that sells nothing but foam, and cut it to fit inside the backpack. Then I placed the camera on the foam and traced its shape, with the 12" rail, fully compressed, with the back rotated to the vertical position and my 210mm Caltar II-E mounted on the camera. The groundglass (Boss) is protected with a Calumet groundglass protector. Next I placed my wide angle lenses (90mm & 75mm f/4.5 Grandagon-N) and accessories (mounting block, bag bellows, loupe) on the foam and traced them). I used an electric carving knife to cut the foam.

The thin piece of foam goes in first, followed by the big piece with the cutouts for the equipment. Incidentally, I think this arrangement protects the lenses very well (thankfully given the recent threads on lens protection). The pack has two side pockets with places to hold cross country skis. I put one leg of my tripod through one of the ski holders so now I don't have to hold that thing all of the time. The other side pocket holds a polaroid 545 (very tight) or filters. Alternatively, the 21" monorail goes in the ski holder, which makes it impossible to carry the polaroid holder in that pocket. The pockets on the flap hold pens, notes, small maglight, cleaning cloth, lens brush, blower, lens caps, a Lee filter holder, cable release, etc. The tough part of this arrangement is the film holders. I clip a small pack full of traditional 2 side holders to the outside of the pack for quick access. Pentax Spotmeter V goes in a small case attached to the bag's belt. I guess I am quite a sight when fully loaded, but I have been able to make some pretty good hikes with this set up.

I was worried about damaging the camera and lenses by wrapping them and dumping them in the bag. This solution takes up a lot of space by filling it with foam, but it does protect my investment in equipment. It is also heavy, but the alternative is a field camera for landscape and hiking, and that is not in the cards for me. One drawback is that the pack does not zip all the way down to the base as do photo backpacks. This means that there is some unused space down at the base of the pack. I have toyed with having a shoemaker cut it open and put in a zipper, but have not done so yet. That would let me cut out some foam an store some of the accessories down there.

The backpack is comfortable, the suspension/strap system is excellent. To give you an idea of the weight, it is about the same as carrying my 11 month old son in an REI kid carrier.

I hope this helps.

-- Dave Karp (, January 03, 2002.

Thanks for the excellent detail, Dave. I'm still deciding whether to go the hiking pack or the Lowepro backpack route.

-- Tony Karnezis (, January 05, 2002.


The Kelty backpack was far less expensive than a phot backpack, even after adding the cost of the foam.

The photo backpacks have some features that are far better for photographers. For example, the dividers take up less room than my foam. I have not used one, but I have read on this forum that some of the hiking packs have better support/suspension systems than the photo backpacks.

Have you looked at the f.64 packs? I understand that they are designed for large format use (but perhaps with folding cameras).

-- Dave Karp (, January 05, 2002.

Dave, a friend has an f.64 back pack. It's definitely lighter and cheaper (both price and quality) than a Lowepro, but it's probably a good thing to check out more closely. I'm going to B&H this weekend to check them out. Stay tuned for my expert review of how good they are for use in a camera store...

-- Tony Karnezis (, January 11, 2002.

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