Chamonix 045N-2 compared to Wista 45DX

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by chuck94022, May 4, 2012.

  1. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    With this week's receipt of a new Chamonix 045N-2, I can offer some comparisons to my existing Wista Field 45DX.

    In summary, the Chamonix outperforms the Wista in every measure except speed of setup. The Wista is truly wonderful in this regard, especially since it can be folded with a modest sized lens in place (I normally keep my Schneider 135mm f5.6 on the camera when it is folded). Thus setup is as simple as attaching the box to the tripod, opening it, tilting up the front standard, raising the front standard to the alignment mark, locking the front standard. Camera is ready.

    The Chamonix can't accommodate a lens when folded. Additionally, the front standard has to be screwed into the base plate. Attaching a lens and screwing in the standard take a little more time, but this minor cost is far more than outweighed by the camera's long list of exceptional features.

    Here are the two cameras, folded, side by side:

    wista-cham-front-closed.jpg

    And here they are, opened (sans lens).

    wista-cham-open-front.jpg

    With the cameras open and ready to shoot, we can compare some aspects of each in practical use.

    Gross Focus

    The Wista design allows the front standard to be locked into any desired position on the bed. Typically one would set it at a middle focus point for a given lens, allowing smaller forward and backward movements of the fine focus knobs at the front sides of the bed to tune focus for the image. The Chamonix, on the other hand, provides several discrete points into which the front standard can be attached. While some flexibility of adjustment is lost, there are several gains - less hardware, saving weight; less thought to where to put the standard initially (eg, 135mm always goes into hole x); more rigid solution.

    Rigidity

    It is immediately apparent when you set up the camera that the Chamonix is substantially more rigid than the Wista. Granted, my Wista is old, but the metal parts are still metal parts. To my eye, the difference is in the mechanism underneath the standards. In the Wista, there are a couple of layers of metal, cleverly designed to allow swing, tilt, and (front standard) gross focus movement up and down the bed (rear standard instead has shift). This mechanism on the Wista, while elegant in its ease of use, has a few narrow points of attachment between the layers of metal. A slight amount of rocking motion can be made to happen around these points, even when things are tight. However, that said, I have never had any issue at all with Wista rigidity. It is well above the "good enough" bar for photography. The standards don't "flop around". It is just apparent that the much simpler mechanism of the Chamonix, two solid flat surfaces joined by a fat screw, is much more stiff, and isn't going to wiggle even in gale force winds. The Wista in a gale? I haven't tried it. See the section on front tilt for a photo of this mechanism.

    Fine Focus

    The Wista focuses using two knobs at the front sides of the bed. The left unlocks focus, and the right moves the bed forward and back. This works fine, except you might find yourself at times twisting the left knob to move the bed backwards, and suddenly finding that the focus is locked (because that is the locking knob). This gets me all the time.

    The Chamonix fine focuses via one knob in the rear. This has several advantages. The first is that you can operate fully inside the dark cloth. The second is that there is no separate locking knob. The worm geared mechanism stays locked wherever you put it, so there is no worry about accidental drift. This model has an upgraded mechanism, using ball bearings in the track. I never used the first model, but I can say that this one's focus is tight and smooth.

    In addition, the Chamonix supports back focus. Loosening two knobs at the back, allows the back to slide along rails, enabling a quick focus that does not alter the position of the front lens - perhaps important in macro work, for example. This same mechanism is also used for back tilt operation. See below.

    Bellows

    The Wista has a fixed, short bellows. It cannot be changed.

    The Chamonix bellows can be removed, and there is a bag bellows option available, along with a "normal" bellows and the default provided "universal" bellows, which can go long and short.

    Front Tilt

    The Chamonix's front standard supports axial tilt. Its design combines tilt and rise/fall into the attachment point for the lens board holder. The combined mechanisms for tilt, swing, and gross focus are basically a fat base screw and two clamping screws. It could not get much simpler. This results in a very light, very strong design. The tradeoff is in mixing functions across the components of the design. For example, loosen the two clamping screws and you can adjust both tilt and rise/fall. Loosen the base screw and you can adjust swing and shift. The downside is that while you might only want to adjust one, it is possible to alter the other in the process. In practice, I don't think this will happen. For one thing, you have to loosen the clamping screws a lot to adjust rise/fall, but a lot less to adjust tilt, due to the fact that there is a lot more friction along the standard bracket involved with rise/fall.

    Here is a detailed shot of the Chamonix mechanism:

    cham-tilt-detail.jpg

    And the Wista mechanism:

    wista-tilt-detail.jpg

    The Wista uses a detent in the support to quickly find and lock the vertical position of tilt. One of the stated benefits of this is that one can slide the standard to the vertical position with little thought, and shoot without tightening the knob - the detent has sufficiently close tolerance to eliminate any unwanted motion.

    The Chamonix uses two locking pins, located under the lens board holder, to secure the vertical position. The benefit of this design is the lack of any interference by a detent during tilt adjustments. The Wista must be restrained from falling into the detent when performing very small tilts by pressing the rail back with an extra finger, and then tightening the knob to keep the standard from falling back into the detent.

    Of course, axial tilt in many cases provides a simpler tilt focus process, because the tilt is occurring axially around the nodal point of the lens (for most non-telephoto lenses anyway, and lenses not mounted in recessed or top hat boards). Base tilt, as the Wista implements, moves the focus entirely on each tilt adjustment, requiring a commensurate adjustment in focus.

    Back Tilt

    Both cameras support back tilt. Both are limited on forward tilt by the bellows. Both are mechanically limited on back tilt. The Chamonix allows more back tilt, as can be seen in this photo comparing them:

    back-tilt-both.jpg

    (Astute observers will complain that I don't have the Wista fully back. The limit is not the track, but the bottom of the back itself. Look closely.)

    The Wista uses a detent to lock the vertical position. This has the same benefits and drawbacks as the front tilt mechanism described above. The Chamonix has two sliding locks that stop the back in the vertical position. To me, this is a better solution for the same reasons described under front tilt.

    Shift

    My Wista supports back shift (16mm). Some models do not include this. The Wista does not provide front shift.

    The Chamonix supports substantial front shift, but does not support back shift.

    Practically speaking, shift on either standard accomplishes the same optical result. Preference for front or rear shift will end up being a photographer and situational issue. The amount of shift offered by the Chamonix is substantially more than the Wista. That said, at least in my case for landscapes, I never use shift. (But on the Wista, if you combine front tilt and front swing, you probably need a little bit of shift, so you are better off with the model that supports a bit of rear shift. See below.)

    The following images show the Chamonix and Wista fully shifted.

    cham-shift-detail.jpg wista-shift-detail.jpg

    Swing

    The Chamonix is limited in front swing by the bellows. The Wista is mechanically limited to a much smaller front swing. Both have a vertical axis rotational point enabled by loosening a mechanism under the standard. The Chamonix mechanism is the fat screw. The Wista's is two small locking levers. The Chamonix rotates around the nodal point. The Wista rotates around the base of the standard. If the standard is tilted, you have to readjust everything. You have also effectively shifted in this case, so your adjustments may be quite complex, including changes to the back standard (a good reason for back shift on the Wista, since there is no front shift).

    As a result, the Chamonix design, where both swing and tilt rotate through the lens node, make adjustment easier (assuming of course your lens' nodal point is on the axis, not the case with telephoto lenses).

    Both cameras support back swing. The Wista swing is unlocked via two small locking levers on either side. The consistency among the controls of using these cam type locking levers makes the Wista quite user friendly.

    The Chamonix provides back swing via two large cam type locking levers, which by themselves provide a small amount of swing - much less than the Wista. However, if you combine unlocking these levers with independent movement of the back focus rails in their tracks (moving only one, or moving one forward and one back), you can achieve a dramatic amount of movement.

    cham-rear-swing.jpg wista-rear-swing.jpg

    Levels

    The Chamonix has them. The Wista doesn't. Since the Wista doesn't have them, I don't have any experience using them, so for the moment they are a gadget I could have lived without. But my view will probably change after a bit of use.

    Accessory Holder

    The Chamonix has one on the front standard. The Wista doesn't have one. I'll probably find a good use for it. I'm glad it has one.

    Ground Glass

    Both cameras have ground glass with an integrated fresnel. The Wista appears to be a ground glass with integrated fresnel (on the back side away from the lens), with a clear sheet of protective cover. The Chamonix appears to be three layers - ground glass, behind which sits a fresnel, behind that a protective sheet. The final protective sheet is more reflective than the sheet on the Wista, and this could cause a problem if you focus without a cloth in bright sunlight.

    The Wista has faint marks for what appears to be a 6x9 frame on the ground class, and also has a central non-fresnel area of about 23mm or so in diameter. Perhaps this is to address the wide format focusing issue that many reported with the original Chamonix ground glass. In fact, Wista does mention several ground glass offerings for the camera - different ones for wide, normal, and long lenses. I wonder which one I have?

    ground-glass-test.jpg

    I conducted a very unscientific test to see which glass was brighter. I shined a fluorescent light through both cameras, and metered from the back of each. I used my Minolta spot meter, set at ISO 100. The brightest reading of the direct bulb was EV 17.3. The brightest spot behind the Wista (in the non fresnel central spot) was 14.6, and the dimmest spot near the corner was slightly over EV 10.

    The brightest spot behind the Chamonix (near the center) was EV 13.8 - measurably more dim. However, the dimmest spot was around EV 12, indicating the light was more consistent and brighter across the screen. I suspect the difference in the center was the missing fresnel area on the Wista, but I'm not sure. As I said, this is quite unscientific.

    Alignment marks

    The Wista has clear, bright red or white marks that stand out distinctly against the constrasting metal background. The Chamonix marks can be subtle, much more difficult to see on my model. I have gunmetal gray and maple, and the alignment marks are white. There is little contrast between these colors. The factory probably should consider a more contrasty scheme when building light colored cameras.

    Conclusion

    The Chamonix stacks up incredibly well against the Wista. It's movements are well designed and complete. The camera is incredibly rigid. Build quality is very high, the wood and metal work visually as good as the Wista. The controls are well considered and make a very good tradeoff between usability and weight. The camera is not quite as fast to set up as the Wista, and sharing movements on the same control could be a slight issue for some, but to me seems so minor as to be a non-issue.

    Considering the price, buying a Chamonix is a no-brainer for someone seeking a state of the art, light, wooden field camera.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2012
  2. ruilourosa

    ruilourosa Member

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    What about a comparaison of two chinese cameras, both light wheight: ShenHao TZ45-IIB camera and the chamonix, same price range, similar capabilities...

    thanks for the review!!!
     
  3. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    Man, if I had one I certainly would. I have seen Shen Hao cameras, various models, in a local shop here in Beijing. Next time I'm there I'll check it out and give you a basic impression, but from previous browsing, my feeling is that Shen Hao cameras are pretty good. But when I saw the Chamonix sitting next to a Shen Hao, the Chamonix really stood out, and was lighter to boot when I picked them both up. But they weren't equivalent models, so that was probably unfair.
     
  4. Two23

    Two23 Member

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    I was using a Shen Hao, then bought the Chamonix 045n-1 last summer. Both are great values, but the Chamonix is a bit better finished and sleeker.


    Kent in SD
     
  5. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    Did your camera come with the wrap as included equipment?
     
  6. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    The leather wrap is optional. It comes standard with a good quality cloth wrap. If you order the leather, you get both. You would be plenty happy with the cloth alone, but I do like the leather.
     
  7. Grainy

    Grainy Member

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    I've had and used the 045N-2 teak edition since september 2011. Since this is my first view camera I can't compare it with others, but so far I love using the camera. Very light weight and it feels solid. The only heavy thing with using this camera is bringing my tripod. I will for sure consider Chamonix when upgraiding to 8x10" sometime in the future.
     
  8. Mick Fagan

    Mick Fagan Subscriber

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    Many thanks for the review, a lot of food for thought.

    Mick.
     
  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    I am half way through a self build of a 5x4 camera and have been looking at various videos on YouTube of cameras being un-folded to get some idea of the front mechanism I want to use. The Wista mechanism looks good to me and is probably what I will use. The Chamonix certainly has its merits though, particularly in its simplicity.

    I think I must have sketched out about fifty different ideas on this mechanism. I must make a decision soon and make a mock up to test that it all fits together when folded up.


    Steve.
     
  10. paul_c5x4

    paul_c5x4 Subscriber

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    If you need any close up shots or dimensions of the various bits of Wista Field metalwork, let me know.
     
  11. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    Check sent, Woot!!!

    Now, will any Linhoff board do? I need two Copal-0 and one Copal-1, should I get a recessed Copal-0 for my 90mm 6.8 Caltar?
     
  12. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    You shouldn't need a recessed board for 90mm.
     
  13. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    Steve, of course it depends on what you personally want. But having now worked a little bit with both cameras, I like the Chamonix design a lot better. Specifically, I like the axial adjustment for tilt. I mentioned this in my original post, but I think it is especially apparent when you are setting up a macro shot. This weekend I was doing just that, with a complex focus plane. The fact that it could swing and tilt, keeping the lens rotating around its nodal point, was very useful. On top of that, the fact that it has back focus means I didn't have to move the lens to adjust focus (which would change the magnification). Since the Wista has base tilt, every change to tilt means refocusing the lens. Since there is no back standard focusing, that meant a change to magnification and moving the whole tripod. With the standard now tilted, a swing of the front standard also does a shift, because the lens, now tilted, does not swing around its nodal point, but moves along an arc, thus also shifting. On the Wista this has to be corrected by applying a small amount of back shift to compensate. Luckily my Wista is a model with back shift.

    The second problem I see with the Wista mechanism is also something I mentioned in the original post. To get the movements they have on the front and rear, they used a couple of layers of metal, creating flat bearing surfaces above the wooden base. The top surface slides around a vertical axial point on the front standard (no shift on the front), with movement controlled by cam locking pins running through curved tracks on the outer edge. The whole mechanism (bottom and top metal plate together) is connected to the bed via the same kind of cam locking pins. One set of pins locks movement on the bed, a second set locks swing. The problem is that this mechanism is complex to engineer, can get dirt between the plates, and the whole mechanism is a source of potential movement. It is this mechanism that makes the front standard on the Wista seem less rigid than the simpler mechanism on the Chamonix. I don't think it ages well either, due to dirt, and potentially the possibility of the bearing surfaces getting less flat over the years through use. On the other hand, my camera is at least 25 years old, and still works. So it isn't all bad!

    The Chamonix design seems much easier to engineer, and it is much easier to keep clean. The whole standard disconnects from the bed, so you can easily clean all bearing surfaces. Plus, there are no layers of metal - just the standard base in contact with the bed. The standard base is metal, flat, and wide enough to provide a solid foot that can't wiggle when the single big turnbuckle screw is tightened.

    The second issue with the Wista standards are the mechanisms to guide and lock tilt. The standards are hinged at the bottom (base tilt), and have shafts riding along a slot cut in side plates. The shafts have knobs which allow the standard to be locked at any point along the slots. There is a "detent" slot at the vertical point, making it very easy to set the standards to the vertical, assuming the camera base is level. In any case, it is easy to get the standards parallel to each other. The plates themselves are hinged in a way that, along with a spring, allows the plate to "capture" the shaft into the detent as the standard is moved to the vertical. This is good for quick setup, but is a royal pain when trying to do small tilts. You have to hold back the plate with your fingers, because otherwise the spring lets the detent capture the shaft. The Chamonix doesn't have this issue, because the vertical capture locks are slide locks that can just be slid out of the way when you want something other than vertical, yet provide positive, rigid locking at the vertical when you need it. You normally keep the standards locked unless you want to tilt, then it is easy to slide the locks to free the standards. There is never any errant capture at the vertical to interfere with your adjustments.

    I think the large set of issues the Wista front standard introduces more than offsets the benefit of being able to carry the lens in the folded camera, unless you are only going to do outdoor landscapes and will never do any macro work. But that is the big question you have to decide: what is your primary use of the camera? Optimize the design for your needs, not mine.

    Best of luck with it! I hope my comments and comparisons are helpful!
     
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  15. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Thanks. Your comprehensive descriptions are very helpful.

    I now have a few pages of sketches of both versions. Tomorrow I will draw them in CAD and make some 2D mock up parts to try them out.


    Steve.
     
  16. paul_c5x4

    paul_c5x4 Subscriber

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    When folded, the Wista presents it's self as a nice clean box with the bellows & assorted brasswork well protected. Having cams and levers to lock the sliding surfaces does mean that one doesn't run the risk of dropping/losing a fixing screw.

    On the downside, I would like geared front rise and shift like my MPP and the positioning of the locks for rear shift are a little icky... The Chamonix is pretty little thing too.
     
  17. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    Chomping at the bit, 45N-2 Teak, grey hardware, reflex viewing hood and one Copal-0 CF lens board hopefully by next week...

    Nom, Nom, Nom....
     
  18. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    In looking at the open area of the non-hinged side of the 45N-2 when folded, I am trying to decide to make either a padded a spacer or use clothing items like socks there when the camera is stowed in it's supplied fabric wrap when in my back country pack...

    Some of the places I go require rope work so the pack can get tossed around a bit even though the camera gear is fairly well protected while in trekking mode..
     
  19. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    I can see no reason why you would need more than the cloth padding when it is in your pack. With the ground glass protective cover in place, I think any impact sufficient to damage the body would have already damaged your lenses and other pack contents.

    Mine is carried inside a photo pack (old Lowepro PhotoTrekker) with padded dividers between sections. I just put the camera in that with the leather wrap, and without the cloth wrap. I put my dark cloth on top of that. I think it is plenty secure.

    In your case, if you don't have padded dividers in your pack, you can probably get away with just wrapping the camera in the dark cloth (either inside or outside the cloth wrap that comes with the camera.

    I like the leather wrap, but it is not full protection (sides are exposed). It looks good sitting on the tripod though, closed with leather wrap in place.
     
  20. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    Thanks, I will definitely figure it out..

    I rarely use photo-centric packs since they are often twice as heavy as a regular pack and leave no room for the more important things to an outdoor pro such as clothing, water, food, climbing and or avalanche gear. For example, I have no interest in actual dark cloths, only a upper layer of black synthetic clothing that I wear that could be used as a dark cloth.

     
  21. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    The Wista (45DX anyway) leaves plenty of the hardware exposed when folded. The rear standard's hardware is completely exposed. The front's is partially exposed (knobs). This may not be the case with, for example, the Wista Technical Camera.

    There is no way to lose any screws on the Chamonix. They are permanently attached. You could lose the front standard I suppose, if it was not connected to the bed and you disconnected it from the bellows. But the odds of doing that in the field, and then losing the standard, seem low to me. (Though I hear Murphy's footsteps approaching...) Basically on the Chamonix there is nothing to drop.
     
  22. paul_c5x4

    paul_c5x4 Subscriber

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    You're right, the brasswork for the rear remains exposed - I should have made it clear I was refering to the front standard..
    The Chamonix certainly looks like a nice camera and it a relief to hear that the screws are captive - Something that isn't clear from the photos. Maybe a camera to consider should I tire of my Wista.
     
  23. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    I've spent many happy years with my Wista. I've known her longer than my wife! Indeed, when, to justify the purchase of the Chamonix, I told my wife I would sell the Wista, she said no, maybe we should keep it. :w00t:

    But, for closeup work, the Chamonix is a joy to use. For landscape work, other than axial tilt on the front standard, it is probably close to a wash in terms of basic capabilities. But it is much more rigid, and a little lighter. Both count for something outdoors.
     
  24. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    So I have been using a Toyo 45CF for the past two days with a 90, 135 and 180 lens, lots of fun. One thing I can tell I will miss with the Chamonix is being able to leave the tiny 135 Apo Sironar on the 45CF when closed. The other is the fact that the CF when closed is kind of a "Self-Protecting" camera while the 45N-2 is more open.

    In short, had I never heard of the Chamonix, I would be pretty happy with the 45CF.

    But I have a question, I have lens indicators on the rails that have made the 45CF easy to set up, how do I translate that ease to picking the right hole for the front standard on the Chamonix in terms of selecting lenses?
     
  25. Old-N-Feeble

    Old-N-Feeble Subscriber

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    I intend to use experience and memory... I'll have to acquire some of each before I can apply them though.
     
  26. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    Well, there are a fixed set of holes. My 90 goes in the rearmost, my 135 works in the second one from the rear (tried it in the third, it seemed to like the 2nd better). Macro use may require moving them to more forward holes.

    Unless you have a really difficult time remembering things, it should be pretty easy to remember which hole to use. If you do find it difficult, you could always tape on a reminder to either the lens board or to the bed. Or if you don't mind something more permanent, you could write with a white or silver permanent marker on the bed itself, which is made of carbon fiber.

    Regarding self protection - the bellows itself seems well protected. The metal surface edges are exposed. Doesn't bother me much, it goes back in my padded bag after use. Not sure what further protection it would need. Certainly none of these cameras are dust sealed, so I'm not sure one style gives anything more than a placebo effect over another in terms of protection.