Chamonix 045N-2 compared to Wista 45DX
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:
And here they are, opened (sans lens).
With the cameras open and ready to shoot, we can compare some aspects of each in practical use.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
And the Wista mechanism:
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.
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:
(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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.