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  • Jon Brock

Review Cambo Actus MV

For many years I made most of my images with a Large Format Technical View Camera in 5x4 (primarily a Linhof Technikardan) and 10x8 film formats. It was slow, heavy and complex to use but it was integral to how I made images. When I switched over to digital photography around 2017 I struggled for years to find anything that gave me the same control over image making (i.e. movements such as tilt, shift, rise, fall and swing) and felt like a suitable replacement. At that point there was nothing outside a phase back that gave similar flexibility and I went through a succession of suboptimal solutions.

Photo courtesy of David Tolcher

Around a year ago I switched to using my GFX 100S with a brand new technical camera from Cambo - the Cambo Actus MV. The Fuji GFX 100s gives me image stabilisation and a similar sensor to the Sony A7RIV but in a larger form factor and a ratio closer to my favoured 5x4 image shape. And the 100S's EVF was a revelation. For someone with failing close focus eyesight, it makes focusing a view camera even in low light not only possible but pleasurable. The sharpness of the image made can be checked in camera using image preview mode. All a dream to one brought up on ground glass, a darkcloth and sheets of Velvia.

MV stands for Maximum Versatility. And Cambo seems to have thrown the kitchen sink at designing this technical camera. Abandoning backwards support for film, it was designed from the ground up for digital mirrorless cameras and digital backs. It has a full range of movements. Front tilt and rear tilt, front swing, front and rear shift, rise and fall. The only movement it doesn’t have is rear swing - not a big loss to be honest. It has bayonets to support Fuji, Nikon, Hasselblad, Canon and Sony mirrorless cameras as well as Phase One digital backs. Each bayonet has a rotating mechanism that allows the camera to be orientated upright or horizontal. Lens support is extensive and includes adapters for a range of medium format glass (Hasselblad, Pentax 645, Mamiya etc.) as well as copal 0/1 plates and a line-up of dedicated Actus lenses.

I got my hands on an MV as soon as I became aware of it thanks to Paula at Linhof Studio. Once it was in my hands it became clear the design owes more than a little to the inspiration behind the TK. Here is a portable (well more on that later) studio camera designed for field use. Like the TK it has a telescopic rail - extending from 140mm folded to 300mm at full extension. More rail length than I could ever need. Unconstrained macro and longer lens work was back on the agenda. The rail is Arca compatible, so it works very well with my Arca Cube.

Moreover, the movements are precise. The key movements are fully geared, butter smooth and a delight to use. The rear focus knob has a micro adjuster for fine focusing. The zeroed movements have click based detents and are clearly labelled. For the first time, at least on my copy, the zeroed swing appears to be pretty neutral. Even on my TK I had to remember to add a degree of swing to 'neutralise' the camera setup.

Details abound. For example there is a lock screw at each end of the base of the rail which stops the camera sliding down an Arca head and off to disaster. I removed the front screw to make it easy to remove the MV. All the locks are on one side and the focusing/movement knobs on the other. Great (if you are right handed). The positioning of the controls is logical and consistent. Packed away, the fall movements can be fully engaged to minimise the overall size and the standards come off the rail at the touch of a button in Arca view camera style.

The Force of Colliding Worlds - GFX 100S Cambo Actus MV

The Actus system does have one technical limitation in that it cannot focus native large format lenses wider than 60mm. There is a sensible physical reason for this as there is a high risk of the lens rear element accidently smashing into the sensor (a potentially disastrous accident) and with 30-50mm distance between the lens and sensor such a setup would have very limited movements. The 35mm Pentax 645 lens is a very good wide angle option with a GFX having plenty of lens registration room and lens coverage to enable good movements. I now use the 35mm Actus lens which is based on the Contax 645 35mm Zeiss Distagon lens, arguably one of the better pieces of wide angle glass available to put in front of a camera.

If the MV has an achilles heel, it is the weight and size. Although half the weight of their previous studio camera it is 2.5x the weight of the baby Actus. Nothing compared to a 5x4 or 10x8 view camera and 5-6 film holders, it is still noticeable after a few years of not carrying such equipment. It forced me to bring my largest f stop bag back out of retirement. Quite a shock to the system.

A year in. I love it. It has brought back the control I desire over my image making and the proof is in the using - 90%+ of the time this is the camera I want to take into the field. I am sure more solutions will appear but alongside the Arca Universalis system the Cambo is worthy of investigation if you want to fully explore movements. All my recent images have been made with this camera. Highly recommended.

(c) Jon Brock 2022 and 2023. This article is an excerpt from an article I wrote for On Landscape last year.


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