Discussion in 'Talk About Large Format Gear' started by Ian-Barber, May 13, 2018.
Ive seen a Zone VI camera which has taken my fancy. Anyone have any experience with them
They aren't very different in style to the Wista 45DX, everything operates in a similar way. There aren't may in the UK as they weren't sold here, so any would be a private import or bought while in the US. I doubt there would be any benefits compared to your current camera.
The only issue and it is the only issue I have with the Chamonix is the way the focus works. Sometimes, I find having the the single knob at the rear awkward and sometimes I feel restricted. I was just wondering if having the focus knobs on the front rail would feel more natural.
I think it's what you get used to, I have cameras with rear focussing and some with both front and rear focussing but the ones I use most (my 5x4 cameras) are front focussing. There can be advantages to rear focussing which is easier with close up work because front focussing shifts the position of the front standard has an effect on lens to object distance.
The Zone VI camera has front and rear focussing, they are quite heavy though and don't use the now almost standard Linhof/Wista lens board. I know from using my 10x8 A.fa Ansco Commercial View that having both front and rear focussing is the best of both worlds.
I suspect it's significantly slower focusing your Chamonix compared to my Wista/Super Graphic etc, particularly if you've just changed lenses. I've assumed your camera has the helical focussing which is at the rear but moves the front standard.
My choice if/when I replace my wista will be a Shen Hao possibly a TZ45-IIa, I had a play with a slightly earlier model when in Canada 18 months ago and was very impressed with the build quality. They have front and rear focussing viea side knows.
Good point about both the weight and lens board.
Not sure is this is helical focussing but here is a video showing the focusing.
There are several versions of the Zone VI camera. Early models were imported and re-badged Japanese cameras. I think they were Wista but my memory is unreliable on this point. There may have been others.
Eventually, a specific Zone VI camera was designed in association with Wisner, and later made by Fred Picker. (There is some dispute, not all of it friendly, about the exact history and provenance of this model, but that need not concern us here.)
If it's the Picker version, it will have a brass plate attached to the front bed, reading something like "Made by Zone VI Studios Newfane Vermont USA". Later models have gold-plated brass fittings and Calumet, after they had bought the company, issued a lightweight model with, I think, aluminium hardware.
It's a robust well-made wooden camera, but not as a finely made as a Gandolfi. The knobs are large and have the very common irritation that Ian mentions, of tightening the lock on the other side as they are focused. Almost all field cameras seem to share this. The brass fittings are very sturdy and the focus mechanism is all metal.
It has both front and rear focusing, which is extremely useful for close-up work. The front standard has swing and shift, rise and fall and base tilt. Centre tilt is possible, but there is an indent which makes small tilts rather difficult as it tends to snap back into the straight position. There is no indent for the height of the front standard, but there is a small mark on the upright. This might not be accurate for the usual off-centre Linhof board, but this is a very minor point. The front standard is fixed to the sliding base and not attached with multiple sockets in the way of many modern cameras.
The rear has tilt and swing and but not shift or rise. The back can be changed from landscape to portrait with the usual sliding clips. It takes standard 4x4 dark slides.
I don't think it can be folded with a lens in place, but I'm open to correction on this. Opening and closing are by the usual method but care needs to be taken to avoid the front standard's uprights from catching the bellows each time. One instance will do no harm but constant rubbing may cause wear, so you need to learn the trick – push the lensboard right to the top of the uprights before folding down. I think this is because the back end of the bellows is quite wide, which is a good thing. All cameras have some peculiarities.
The bellows is interchangeable with a bag bellows. I don't know if they are available on the second-hand market. There's plenty of extension for long lenses with the standard bellows. I'm afraid I can't tell you the minimum usable focal length.
There is one 3/8 tripod socket, very well fixed through the baseboard.
As Ian says, the original Zone VI wooden lensboard seems to be a special size, slightly larger than the normal Linhof size. I have made a small adaptor to make a Linhof board fit neatly and it works with no trouble. (Three very thin strips of wood.) The lensboard is held by two sliding locks rather than the usual one.
It is a little bit on the heavy side by current standards, but not excessively so. 5lbs 12 3/4 oz or 2628g. I'm sure there are heavier cameras in use.
I can't comment on the screen as such, but screens are easily replaced. I'm assuming that the price and the camera's condition are satisfactory. If you want it, and it's this model, I myself see no reason not to get it. If you found that it didn't suit you for some reason, it won't have lost any value.
Ian, David's post is very through...probably not much more I can add, but... Without being too redundant, I would like to restate David's point of all the various versions of the Zone VI Field camera. The very first one, which I bought in 1979 and still have/use to this day, was a re-badged Wista. It is such an early Wista model that the metal fittings are some kind of chrome plated metal. Fred had a ~10cm square steel plate embedded into the base of the camera for tripod attachment. I guess he felt that provided a more solid connection. The next Zone VI camera in collaboration with Ron Wisner was an okay camera, albeit pretty heavy by field camera standards (think Wisner 5x4 Technical Field weight class.) The early models when Fred took over production of "his" camera didn't include the bail release on the rear standard for easy insertion of the film holder. The earlier metal parts had some kind of coating on the metal parts to avoid oxidation, but it didn't work out so well.
Bottom line... I bought one of his cameras (the ones he made in Newfane) specifically because the bellows extension allowed me to comfortably use a 300mm lens; or so I thought. I found that once the bellows was racked out for focus on subjects that I normally shot with that focal length, the whole front standard moved quite a bit even with the focus knob locked down. I felt this would be an issue in windy conditions. I packed it up and sent it back. I suspect that the moving wood parts of the extension rails just weren't of close enough tolerance for solid extension. Perhaps, if wood is used, there must be some amount of "play" to allow the parts to move?
Thanks Ian, David and Alan, very thorough explanation and much appreciated
I forgot the bail back, because I don't have one. My brass work had the clear varnish which did chip a bit, but I rubbed up the exposed parts and re-varnished them. I didn't affect the operation of the camera. I haven't used long extensions in a high wind. All LF cameras fear the wind. For general photography, it seems to work well, although I do have a lighter camera that I use more often
David, I believe the later Picker versions had a better coating on the metal parts to stave off tarnish. Take a look at just about any of the Wisner Technical Field cameras nowadays and I'll bet the metal parts look pretty ugly. But, as you said, this doesn't affect mechanical operation at all; maybe not so aesthetically pleasing.
The only 5x4 camera that I've used, and currently own, that works pretty well in gusty wind is my sorta Arca-Swiss F-line camera. I say "sorta" because the function carries are from the older B (base tilt) era whilst the rest is current F-line parts. When mounted on the tripod I usually use for 10x8 with all controls locked down, that sucker is solid as a rock; even when sporting my 300mm lens!
Don't get me wrong...if I didn't have too many cameras already I'd love to own a Zone VI. Fred was a personal friend of mine, I lived fairly close to him and visited every so often to show off new work, and I was, of course, a good customer of Zone VI Studios. I've always had a soft spot for his cameras!
I believe the later ones were gold-plated, like a special edition Leica. Other woods, like walnut, were offered at some time.
When discussing this camera, we should remember that it was intended as a relatively low-cost camera. Other makers offer much higher standards of finish at much higher prices. For almost all users, it will serve them very well.
The bellows extension, when both front and back standards are extended until they just come off the rack, is eighteen inches, measured from ground glass to lensboard. Pretty good for a field camera. This can be extended by another inch or so, by tilting the front struts forward and straightening up the lens by using the centre tilt. As this was a patriotic product of the USA, it would have used the British Empire's system of measurement.
David, yep, that's a nice amount of bellows extension for a field camera. The issue I had with the one I bought brand new is that when I had my 12" lens extended to about 15 - 16"--I did a lot of work in and around rivers/brooks that demanded the reach of the longer lens, but required the bellows extension to focus on things in the water--the front standard and rack extension wobbled more than I cared for. I'm sure this could be a variable in manufacture and another camera might be tight as a snare drum, but I didn't want to mess with it. Also, being a bit of a woodworker myself I knew that the wood could expand/contract ever so slightly per environmental conditions which might make things better or worse. My 10x8 Deardorff is a wooden field camera, but has all metal tracks/gears for bed extension and focus. Even with my 19" lens extended on this camera, it locks down solid. Just one man's experience...
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