Silvestri SLV Multi Format Camera
A Review by Nick Rains
Most people are familiar with the wide format Linhofs, Horseman 612s, Art Panoramas and Fuji 617s. These cameras produce the highest quality results and are easy to get hold of. I used the Linhof 612 for a while before becoming dissatisfied with the clumsy handling and the lack of good edge sharpness on the 65mm lens. I love the 6x12 format however and thus set about looking for alternatives to the most common cameras.
Living in Australia limits my access to the exotic equipment available in the UK and the USA and so it was whilst I was in England that I came across an advert for Robert White in Poole and a section on Silvestri cameras. They were described as multi format - 6x45 up to 4"x5'' - as well as compact, portable and with serious front element shift for architectural work. I was intrigued and ended up renting one for a trip to France and buying the whole system straight after that.
The basic camera body, as you can see in the photographs, is simply a lens carrier with a built in shift mechanism, a bayonet mount on the front and a rotating mechanism on the rear for the film holders. The workmanship is superb as these cameras are hand made in Florence, Italy by the Silvestri family. Everything is finely engineered and the overall feel is that of quality. The rear rotating mount will take all sorts of Horseman accessories and indeed the camera relies on Horseman film backs and viewfinders. There are film backs for 645, 6x7, 6x9, 6x12 and an adapter for standard 4x5 fittings. A couple of extension tubes act as spacers between the body and the film plane allowing the fitting of various lenses from 47mm to 240mm - it is this broad range of lenses that made the camera irresistible.
Photographed with a Silvestri and 100 Schneider lens on Fuji Velvia
Not all lenses will work with the 6x12 back however. I use the 58XL and the 100 Apo-Symmar with it but the longer lenses are vignetted by the design of the 6x12 adapter mount which is a pity. I figure that there would be a fairly easy fix to this and I will be visiting the factory in Florence later this year to find out.
The wide lenses merely fit on the lens board via a normal bayonet mount and incorporate a helical focus mechanism much like the Fiji 617 and the Linhof lenses. For lenses longer than 100mm, the focusing is done via a bellows extension tube arrangement and this allows the use of lenses up to the 240mm Tele Xenar. The bellows item is a bit awkward to pack but it is very effective and worth the trouble to use the longer lenses. The effect of a 240mm lens for landscape work on 6x9 is wonderful.
I use Schneider lenses and have the 58XL, the 100mm APO Symmar, the 150mm APO Symmar and the 240mm Tele Xenar. The 58XL is one of the sharpest lenses I have ever seen and on 6x12 the edge to edge sharpness is flawless. The other lenses are of the finest quality as well although the Tele Xenar is not quite up to the quality of the others as it is an old lens with old technology coatings.
In use, the Silvestri system takes a bit of getting used to after Canons and RZs etc with all the electronics and safety devices. There is no room for error with the Silvestri, it is very unforgiving but capable of amazing results in diligent hands. I would compare it with a 4x5 for ease of use -all it takes is a bit of practice and a meticulous method of working.
The above photograph of a barn interior shows remarkable detail. The close-up below gives you some idea of the resolution and quality possible with this camera system.
The reflex viewfinder makes the use of filters a breeze, especially compared to the other wide format cameras. This item comes from Horseman and is neat and compact, if a little dark. A Beattie Intenscreen might help.
In the field is where this camera scores big as it is very robust and easy to carry. My whole system including an EOS5 and 28~70mm L lens fits neatly into a LowePro Street and Field Rover pack and weighs around 10kg. Easy to carry over long distances, it is reasonably quick to use but is definitely a tripod-only camera and I can have it set up and ready to go in about 1 minute, which is fine for most situations.
Overall, a very fine camera for serious landscape, architectural and commercial work. It will not suit everyone but the camera that will do everything is yet to be invented. For myself, it is close to perfect and the quality of my images has risen since I started using this system 3 years ago.
Nick Rains has been photographing landscapes all over the world since leaving University in 1983.
In 1986 he spent a year in Perth, Western Australia covering the Americas Cup for a variety of International magazines such as Yachting World, London Times, and Boat International. Images from this event also appeared in Sports Illustrated, Stern, Paris Match, Regatta and many other well known publications.
Over the last 10 years Nick has traveled the length and breadth of Australia covering over 250,000km in his search for fine "Australian" images for the stock photography market. He makes his home in Brisbane, Queensland.
Recent work has been published in Australian Geographic, Outback and GEO (Germany). Nick is now concentrating on photographic books of his favourite places. The Kimberley, Journey through an Ancient Land, was released in July 99 and his most recent, on South Australia was released in March 2000. In between outback trips Nick operates a small studio and shoots commercial and stock photographs at home and overseas.
Nicks current equipment includes Canon EOS, Mamiya RZ and Silvestri camera systems.
All text and photographs on this page are Copyright © 2000 by Nick Rains