As Rich mentioned, I am in the process of becoming the exclusive North American distributor for Chamonix ULF cameras and film holders. We hope to be up and running and ready to start taking orders by the end of the month.
I'd like to add a little information and clear up a couple misconceptions listed above.
First, just let me say I have nothing but respect and admiration for Dick Phillips. He is a true innovator, a master camera builder and a heck of a nice guy. I would never do anything to offend Dick or harm his business in any way. In fact, when I received a 7x17 Chamonix a couple months ago, the first thing I did was call Dick. As others have noted, the Chamonix cameras are clearly based on Dick's design. There are a few minor changes, but the basic design is the same.
From prior conversations, I knew the batch of 7x17s Dick built last spring would be the last ULF cameras he would ever build. Still, I wanted to get Dick's input before agreeing to distribute the Chamonix cameras and holders. In his usual gracious and humble manner, Dick told me he was flattered that someone liked his design enough to copy it. He not only gave me his approval to import the Chamonix camera and holders, he encouraged me to do so - recognizing there is an eager market for ULF cameras and holders that needs to be filled - especially with Dick himself leaving this market segment.
From my phone conversation with Dick Phillips I also learned that the batch of 8x10 Explorers he plans to build this year will be the last 8x10s he intends to build. The physical labor required to build these cameras, and the time involved is considerable. Dick would like to start spending his retirement years pursuing other leisure activities - including photography. He's definitely earned the right to do so.
While Chamonix also makes an 8x10, we have no immediate plans to import this model. The 8x10 market is already well served, and frankly I just wouldn't feel right selling a camera based on his design while Dick is still making and selling cameras in this size. Once Dick's last batch of 8x10s is built and sold, we may revisit the possibility of importing the 8x10 Chamonix. For now, our focus is on the 7x17 and larger ULF market.
While the Shen-Hao name is better known to most in this forum, the Chamonix cameras actually pre-date the Phillips based Shen-Hao FCL series (including their 7x17 model). While the Chamonix brand may be new to many outside of China, they have been making ULF cameras and holders for the rapidly growing domestic Chinese ULF market since 2003. The Chamonix design is much closer to the original Phillips than the Shen-Hao. And while the materials differ from those used by Dick Phillips, the Chamonix cameras share Dick's basic philosophy of building lightweight, rigid cameras with only the features necessary to get the job done. Unnecessary "features" add cost, add weight and reduce rigidity. In fact, the 7x17 camera I received from Chamonix for evaluation actually weighs less than a genuine 7x17 Phillips. This particular sample weighs 8 lb. 14½ oz. (although the official advertised weight for this model will be 9.25 lbs to allow for minor sample-to-sample variations).
Like the Phillips and the Shen-Hao, the maximum bellows extension on the 7x17 Chamonix is rather limited. This is a design trade-off necessary to meet the other desired attributes of lightest possible weight while still maintaining sufficient rigidity at full extension. That said, I have successfully used the 600mm Fujinon C on the Chamonix for general landscape photography. Obviously, you can't do close-ups with this lens on this camera, but with a maximum extension of 610mm, the 7x17 Chamonix has enough extension to use this lens (ftf = 573mm) for more distant subjects. For those who wish to do true macro work, it is possible to reach 1:1 magnification with a 305mm G Claron on the 7x17 Chamonix. In a heavier camera, I would expect a longer maximum bellows extension, but for a 9 lb. 7x17, a 24" (610mm) max. extension seems like a very reasonable compromise.
When I built my 7x17 Franken-ARCA last year, based on feedback I received in this forum, I also chose to limit the bellows extension of my design around using the 600mm Fujinon C as my longest lens on this format. This was a deliberate decision to keep the weight and bulk of the camera reasonable (and it still weighs 4 lbs. more than a 7x17 Chamonix). I have been happy with this compromise and have enjoyed using my camera with lenses from 240mm - 600mm. For my purposes, the 7x17 Chamonix works well with the same range of focal lengths (both cameras could also handle lenses considerably shorter than 240mm, but I don't own any that cover the format).
Obviously, anyone who wants to use longer lenses, or do close-ups with a 600mm lens, would be better served with a different (bigger, heavier, more expensive) camera. Horses for courses. Like the Phillips on which it is based, the Chamonix cameras are best suited to general purpose landscape photography where compact size and light weight take priority over maximum bellows extension.
The Chamonix ULF cameras and film holders are available in formats from 7x17 - 20x24 (including several formats never built by Phillips, or by Shen-Hao).
While we won't be giving them away, our goal is to keep the prices of the Chamonix ULF cameras and film holders as low as possible to allow more photographers the opportunity to enter the wonderful world of ULF photography. The goal is to get as many people as possible shooting ULF film. If we can help grow the market for ULF film, we all win. To that end, I wish all my competitors a successful and prosperous 2007. I hope you all sell as many cameras and holders as you can possibly build. What's good for you is good for me. We're all in this together.
My original intent was to review the 7x17 Chamonix camera and holders for View Camera magazine. Once Chamonix asked me to become their distributor, I was no longer an unbiased source. As much as I'd try to write a fair, honest, unbiased review, there would always be a fundamental, underlying conflict of interest in reviewing a product where I have a financial interest. So, I have sent the 7x17 Chamonix to Michael Mutmansky to review for the Mar/Apr issue of View Camera. Michael is also reviewing Richard Ritter's 7x17 for the same issue. It's not every day a new ULF camera comes to market. Personally, even if I wasn't involved with Chamonix, I would be very excited about the availability of TWO new ULF brands entering the marketplace. 2007 looks to be a great year for those practicing ULF photography, and those about to attempt it for the first time. I wish you all well.
Part of the attraction of 7x17 for me is that it's a relatively light, manageable format, and cameras like the Korona are about as portable as an 8x10". 8x20" and larger formats seem like a lot more camera, so a double extension 7x17 is perfect for what I see myself using it for.
Originally Posted by Donald Miller
I apologize if my comment came over as unduly negative. My concerns were (a) the limited command of English I have encountered on the Shen Hao stand and (b) the sheer hassle of personal imports.
No offense taken. I personally communicated with the owner or principle of Shen Hao when I was exploring purchasing directly (because Badger did not carry the longer bellows extension camera) and we communicated quite effectively at that time. Sofar as personal imports, perhaps that is a different situation here in the US. Sandy King, for one, had a very smooth transaction purchasing directly.
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks
I have no vested interest...since I do not own a Shen Hao camera.
Kerry, Do they offer a 14 x 17 model?
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I have bought cameras directly from Shen-Hao twice, no problems at all.
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks
They`re not very good in English, but that wasn`t really a problem.
And what hassles with personal imports? It may be different here in Norway? The cameras came with Fed-Ex, wich takes care of customs clearance, all I have to do is pay the customs bill, wich they send by mail a few days later.
-Digital is nice but film is like having sex with light-
[QUOTE=Donald Miller;412398][QUOTE=Ryan McIntosh;412320]
Originally Posted by Donald Miller
I have to agree with donald on this. Granted, I myself am a youngster both in age and photographic experience. But honestly, Ryan, your tone (as much as tone can be read in a typed post) was one of a somewhat elitist attitude.
As Kerry very eloquently posted about Phillips and his cameras/designs, copying is pretty standard in the LF/ULF world, I mean lets be honest, the F&S and Koronas look alot like the designs of most every LF/ULF camera, for that matter most all LF/ULF cameras have very similar designs year after year. Also, given a recent post I believe your figure of $4k for a shen hao 717 is a bit off, I believe if I can remember the email and post Ive read recently that the shenhao 717 is $3300. $700 is a big difference (an additional 2 S&S holders actually)
Its frustrating that such seemingly elitist attitudes are fairly common in a community that would benefit much more from a familial attitude.
In all fairness to Ryan, Badger Graphic lists the Shen-Hao FCL717-A at $3995 - pretty darn close to $4000. Emile de Leon is another dealer of Shen-Hao ULF cameras. He lists the Shen-Hao FCL717-A at $3700, but based on what Emile posted on the LF Forum, I don't believe that price includes the cost of shipping the camera from China to the end user - which can be very significant. Best to check with Emile for the total cost and availability of the 7x17 Shen-Hao. He's a good guy and a straight shooter.
Originally Posted by Ryan McIntosh
As part of getting this business off the ground, I've done quite a bit of research into the cost of shipping these cameras from China to the US. Unfortunately, if you're shipping anything bigger than a letter, unless you ship enough at one time to fill a standardised shipping container (or maybe a 1/2 a container), the shipping cost is very significant. Shipping a 7x17 single camera from China to the US can easily run close to $300. So, again Ryan's $4000 price for the 7x17 Shen-Hao isn't out of line with reality.
Unlike Shen-Hao, Chamonix will not be selling their cameras directly to end users. They don't even do so in China where they sell through a small network of dealers (this model is similar to Canham and Ebony who only sell through dealeras and don't compete with those dealers for sales). In the case of Chamonix, nobody at the company speaks English (or anything other than Chinese). They are also a very small shop with a handful of craftsmen who build their cameras and holders. They would rather spend their time building products than marketing, selling and providing pre and post sales support. That's where I come in. Chamonix cameras and holders sold through me will cost the same (within a couple percent - depending on fluctuating exchange rates) as buying the camera from a dealer in China and shipping it to the US (or elsewhere). Purchasing through me eliminates the language difficulties of dealing directly with someone who doesn't speak English as their primary language. As a convenience to buyers, I will also be set up to accept payment, in US dollars by credit card.
I'm not here to bash Shen-Hao's products or their way of doing business. Obviously, they've sold a lot of cameras and have many satisfied customers. I haven't personally seen their 7x17. I've only seen pictures of it. I have seen their similar 8x10 model at the LF Conference in Rockford last June. Obviously, as someone about to launch a competive product, it would not be appropriate to comment on the quality of their products (especially since I haven't seen this particular product in person). However, I will say this based on handling and using the 7x17 Chamonix camera and holders, don't assume just becuase something is made in China that it is inferior in quality. That may be true of some low price merchandise, but when it comes to hand made objects costing multiple thousands of dollars, it is definitely not the case. When it comes to hand made wooden products, whether it's furniture, musical instruments or ULF cameras, there are skilled craftsmen all around the globe who dedicate themselves to building the finest products possible.
Yes, they do. In fact, I'm considering 14x17 myself as most of the lenses I have for 7x17 have enough coverage to be usable on 14x17.
Originally Posted by RobertP
Thanks a lots for all your advices, I have lots to read to see and to think.
After I've done it, I'll make a decision....about what camera I'll buy.
You have given me lots information(bellow extension,I haven't tought about it), distributors, brands that I don't know well, great informations to decided what camera to buy!