A Review by Nick Rains
A Light-Weight 4X5 Field
Hats off to Robert White
in the UK
for commissioning this most excellent landscape camera direct from the
manufacturer. Made from Titanium and Ebony materials, this camera makes no
compromises in quality and rigidity and is available only from Robert White.
I acquired one of these cameras recently, my Silvestri
outfit had given me sterling service over the last few years but I longed to
be able to shoot more 6x12 on longer lenses. The Silvestri is limited to 100mm
without serious modifications so a 4x5 camera with roll film back was the way
After much discussion with the hugely knowledgeable Robert, Matt and Jon at Robert
White Cameras, I ordered the basic body with enough lens boards to take my
existing Schneider lenses - 58XL, 100 Symmar and 150 Symmar. I considered the
new 400/5.6 TeleXenar but it is not clear if it will fit and it's pretty
pricey as well. I am now looking for an old 240mm TeleXenar which I know has a
very short telephoto design.
Back to the camera.
The accompanying photos will show clearly the simple and effective design.
There is a double rack and pinion system for the film standard and the lens
standard. This is smooth, rigid and can be locked firmly in place.
The lens standard has extensive rise and fall as well as a lockable tilt
movement. The movements are not as sophisticated as a Sinar in that the
camera must be refocused after each tilt adjustment but this is to be expected
in a camera of this design - it's a landscape camera not a studio camera.
The focusing screen is bright but the downside of this brightness is the
fall-off towards the edges is pronounced with the wide lenses. The Silvestri
screen has less fall-off but is darker overall. Most people seem to buy the
accessory Cambo T20 reflex viewing hood which gives a right-way-up image and
is very inexpensive at about GBP120. The only problem with this item is the
eyepiece is at 90 degrees to the camera and it is very hard to get your eye to
it if the camera is at chest height. 45 degrees would have been much better -
perhaps the Horseman viewer would be a better choice.
If you have read Alain Briot's
recent opinions on large format cameras you will be aware
of the debate about these types of camera. 4x5 cameras are totally useless for
certain sorts of photography, but in landscape photography I fall on the side
of Alain in that the extra trouble is simply and completely worth it. I have
been places with only 35mm gear and as luck would have it, I found the most
amazing scenes - my first thought was always "Bugger - where is my big
camera when I need it!
Like Alain Briot, I print big. If you don't print past A3+ like many people,
then you don't need a camera like this. 35mm or the Canon D30 will give
wonderful results with less hassle. However, if you do 60" x 30"
prints like I do, and you want to sell them, then you have no choice but to
shoot 4x5, 6x12 or 6x17. I state this as a simple fact - a 35mm enlarged to
these sizes can work, but mostly they just look grainy and soft. No customer
is going to pay good money for a print which looks (technically) just like one
they themselves could have taken on a normal camera. Shooting large format
allows a big print which look so much better than the customers are used to
and thus easily justifies the big price tag.
Fortunately, the Ebony is quick and easy to use, even for a 4x5. I leave the
viewer attached to the camera in my back pack so all I have to do is put
it on the tripod, level it and then compose. When ready, just pull off the
viewer, add the 6x12 back and shoot. To help things along, I use an EOS3 for
metering and I have a Linhof zoom viewer masked off to 6x12 so I can compose a
shot before actually getting the camera set up. This is similar to the
technique of "lensing" used in the movies - you may have seen
directors with little 'scopes around their necks.
One other big advantage of the 4x5 type of camera over the Horseman, Linhof
and Fuji 6x12 amd 6x17 cameras it that you can easily see the effect of
filters. An optical viewfinder cannot show this and whilst there are
workarounds, nothing beats the WYSIWYG approach.
Lastly, the Ebony is light, really light. The body only weighs 1.5kg which is
similar to an EOS1V. My whole pack with 3 lenses and an EOS3 weighs only about
8-10kg which is very manageable for a decent trek.
Overall the Ebony is a well designed piece of equipment for the specialist
landscape photographer who is really serious about pure technical quality.
Nothing beats the feeling of looking at a huge print and being able to almost
have to put your nose on the surface to see all the fine detail. People have
commented that my prints are "so crisp and clear" as well as being
"able to walk right into them". This sort of quality has nothing to
do with my creative abilities as a photographer, it is just a technical thing
but it is one aspect of photography that is immediately and strikingly obvious
to any viewer. The Ebony is the best camera I have used to date and I
recommend it's use to anyone wanting to take that big step up in quality.
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. In between outback trips Nick
operates a small studio and shoots commercial and stock photographs at home and
You may also wish to visit Nick's
Web Site, or contact him by e-mail directly here.
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