The Digital View Camera Adventure Has Begun

I have been closely following the advancements of the technical camera marketplace for quite a few years. This is partly because of the connections I made in the industry thanks to my Mark II Artist’s Viewfinder app, and partly because of my personal interest in the topic. It’s easy to judge how much camera movements fascinate me from the sheer number of view camera books on my shelf.

Despite these, I only ventured into the world of perspective control as far as using tilt/shift lenses. Why? Cost, bulk and general immatureness of digital view camera solutions were the main factors. But recently a few products worth considering emerged, Cambo’s Actus family being my favorite.

Before anyone asks, “pancake” cameras are not my cup of tea. I prefer “monorail” cameras. My view camera must use the 5DS R as the recording device – I give medium format digital backs a few more years to evolve.

I have been thinking about buying an Actus for a while, but was hesitant because it lacked a few important features (geared shift for example). While the Actus-DB2 is spot-on, it’s digital back only (you know, the few more years to evolve).

Then I got a newsletter showing off the new Actus-GFX. It was almost perfect, so I immediately emailed Cambo asking if it’s possible to get the “almost” part out of the picture: build a customized Actus-GFX for me. The answer was a resounding yes, and within a week my camera began to took shape.

My one-lens wonder: custom Cambo Actus-G + Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 100mm f/4 + Canon EOS 5DS R.

The camera shown above has an Actus-G base – a special version of the GFX without the Fuji G mount. The monorail is borrowed from the Actus-DB2 – because it’s 22mm longer than the G’s. The AC-78E bayonet holder holds a Canon EF bayonet. When the time of a digital back comes, I just have to add the rear standard and bellows from the DB2, other parts are exactly the same. I like future-proof systems.

One of my gripes with the original Actus was that back fall, portrait camera orientation and an L bracket attached to the camera didn’t play well together. In other words I would have to remove the L bracket or live with limited fall range. But the Actus-G, with its elevated standards, is a completely different story.

The L bracket and remote release fits even at maximum back fall.

The above quick iPhone grab shows the camera at maximum fall. Well, it’s 0.3mm shy of maximum, but practically that doesn’t matter. Even the cable release fits without issues. A right-angle USB cable is required for tethering, and of course you have to lift the camera to be able to rotate it.

Speaking of movements, the front standard has 10 degree down, 9 degree up tilt and full 360 degree swing. The rear standard’s horizontal shift is +/-21mm (the scale goes to 20). For some reason the rise/fall labels are reversed (maybe they refer to the equivalent front standard movements?), but that doesn’t change the fact that you can shift 15mm down and 12mm up.

And it leads us to one sorely missing feature on the Actus-G: a rise/fall indicator. There’s a scale, but there’s no position indicator. It’s easy to fix (by gluing a 0.5mm stainless steel lip to the up/down moving part – as I did), but Cambo seriously overlooked this. The Actus-DB2 has an indicator on the other hand. Hope it will be fixed with future revisions of the camera.

The rise/fall indicator modification up close.

Tilt/swing gears are self-locking, but rise/fall/shift/focus utilize rack-and-pinion gears and separate tension/lock screws (that you can see on the image above, for example).

Let’s briefly talk about the lens and that yellow cable, as I plan to dedicate entire posts to these topics.

I wanted to start out with just one lens, avoiding wasting a huge pile of money if the system turns out something I don’t like. I turned out to be love at first use – thanks to the camera itself as well as the stunning Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 100mm f/4 lens. According to the MTF charts, this is the best of the HR Digaron range, and I expected it to approach my Zeiss Otuses and Apo Sonnar 2/135. But I wasn’t prepared for something that surpasses the 2/135 (with which I did a direct comparison). Slightly better resolution, free of vignetting, and a very flat field (unlike the 2/135), and a large enough image circle for shifting and thus high stitching potential. Absolutely stunning. Rendering is a bit different from the Zeiss-look I love so much, but quite like it.

Another reason I chose the HR-S 100 is that it has a large enough focal flange distance and short rear element to work well with the deep EF mount. Lens compatibility is a huge topic, best discussed in a later post.

I shoot tethered most of the time, and the Actus is no exception. I will have to replace my TetherPro USB cable with the right-angle connector version, though. Placing the plane of focus with Kuuvik Capture‘s multi-point live view feature is a piece of cake. The feature was designed to help the focusing process of tilt/shift lenses and view cameras taking advantage of the Scheimpflug principle. I’m putting together a demonstration of the Actus/5DS R/multi-point live view combination, so stay tuned!