The Digi-View Camera Revisited: Part 3

(You can click on any image to see an enlarged view.)

OK, two test shots down with the Ultima 35/D system and one more to go.

Test 1 for depth of field worked beautifully.  But test 2, an architectural shot to test distortion control was far less successful and exposed some real weaknesses in this sysem.  For this final test, I decided on a small collection of revolutionary war relics I have and arranged them, not to create a wonderful still life cover shot, but to force the use of some compound movements.  I’ll be honest, after the problems with the shot of the hotel I did not know how this would work.

Here is an overview of the setup on my patio.  You can see the two reflectors used to bounce the sunlight back on the objects.

I wanted a fairly dramatic lighting ratio and combining the sunlight through the diffused windows (created by unintended overspray when laminating some prints, but it proved valuable here and for some other shots I’ve done for handouts…) so a little reflector fill was all that was needed.  If I want more fill, there is enough data in the files to pull it out.

The first shot, with no movements dialed in to the camera, shows what the issues would be with any camera lacking optical movements.  This is shot with the 50mm Hasselblad lens at f11.  Distance was about two and a half feet to the front object and about three feet from the center of the pile.  I left the camera in a vertical position however, remembering the issues with the hotel shot, I did move the shift setting on the back just a bit to the right to get rid of the vignette on the right side of the image.

F11 brought most of it into semi-reasonable sharpness.  But in the commercial world, close is never close enough.  I tilted the back up straight in case there was some distortion in the rounded shape of the canteen but it did not seem to make any real difference though I left it there.   For depth of field there were two planes that needed addressing.  The horizontal plane of desired focus runs from the top of the front soapstone bullet mould to the top of the wooden canteen in back.  This required about 5 degrees of front downward tilt.

The vertical plane runs roughly alongside the metal bullet mould. This required about 4 degrees of clockwise swing.  This combination of movements would not have been possible in a normal tilt/shift lens and would require either a system such as this Ultima or the use of a normal view or technical camera.

Here is the corrected shot right out of the camera:

As you can see, now all parts of the setup are within the newly modified plane of focus.  Here is a shot that can be worked with.  So I did a little burning here and dodging there and fixed a few spots of dirt on the table and a cable I forgot to move, vignetted the edges and corners to bring your eye into the important parts, and came up with this final version.

By the way, like the other tests, these were shot with a Canon 5D attached to the Ultima camera system and using the Hasselblad Zeiss 50mm f4 lens.

Now that I have worked with this camera I have come to some conclusions about it.  I think it is a very workable studio camera rig for shooting a DSLR while providing view camera movements if — IF — you mount view camera lenses on it or do not need extreme movements.  But it is certainly not cheap nor is the camera very light to work with.  I personally think it is a bit too heavy to treat as a field camera although it has plenty of movements for that even with the medium format lenses.   It is a truly exquisite piece of engineering with butter smooth controls and gears, though I think they did not really think out the “L” bracket part very well.  That would be easy to solve with a ¼ inch drill and a ¼-20 tap but for as much money as this costs it should have been like that in the kit.

I like the ability to use medium format lenses such as those for the Hasselblad or the Mamiya, as well as normal view camera lenses since many photographers, especially pro shooters would already have those.  However the projected image circle of these medium format lenses is far less than the movements will allow and as we saw in the hotel shot, it is very easy to move right out of the coverage.  So the best solution would be to use view camera lenses.

But now we have a budget issue.  If you do not already have them then you will need to buy lenses.  And, unlike the medium format lenses and their bayonet mounts where any size lens available in that brand will fit on the same lens board, each of your view camera lenses will need its own board.  And Cambo acts as if their lens boards for the Ultima were made of platinum!  Getting enough for a compliment of lenses (remember all view camera lenses are prime lenses) will get incredibly expensive very quickly and on top of an already expensive bit of kit.

In terms of workmanship this is a beautiful rig, well made and relatively easy to shoot (except for switching orientation).  Indeed, I really have nothing seriously bad to say about it… but… I’m not convinced I would make much use of it in the field because of its weight and that, these days, is where I do most of my shooting.  The sliding back on my monorail camera works just as well (better actually since it will allow me to take 3-4 side by side shots with the camera in vertical position for a final resolution of 3-4 X the camera sensor) for a lot less money.  But the monorail camera itself is pretty clunky to haul around and set up outside of the studio, so I confess I tend not to even think of taking it and its bulky case.

The reality is that most of the landscape work that needs any optical movements, certainly 80% or better of it, could be handled with a tilt/shift lens.  But you may have noticed that Canon is not giving those away as door prizes and you will pay upwards of $1,000 average per lens for a set and even then there aren’t that many focal lengths available.  And the ones that would be a requirement for interior architecture work (the 17mm aand 24mm) are twice that price.  From a purely financial point of view, for students that may not be the ultimate answer either.

So I have one more option to try; a compromise of sorts.  And that would be using the sliding adapter for my view camera on a folding technical camera.  The good ones such as those from Linhof, Horseman, Wista, etc. have both front and rear movements and though they are not as extensive as you would find on a real monorail camera, they are more than enough for ALL landscape and even a lot of studio work.  And they are a lot easier to cart around and set up than either the monorail or the Ultima.  And, if you look for a good used one it will be a lot less expensive than the Ultima.

So when I revisit the issue of a Digi-View camera next time for the third take at this problem, a technical camera-based system is what I will be trying out.

Meantime, we are having a major brush fire ignite at school because of some requirements the State has allegedly just thrown at us vis-a-vis course repeatability issues so it may be a week before I can get back to testing my compromise solution so stand by.  And if any shorter topics come up in the meantime I’ll try to get them in.  After all, it was well over a year since the firsttest using my view camera…  so please bear with me.

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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