Cambo Actus Update by Bryan Treen

Most of the time lately, when I go out shooting, I have been taking along the Cambo Actus camera.  I enjoy using camera movements to, for instance, adjust the depth of field to my liking among other things. The Actus is a miniature view camera with tilt, swing and shift on the front,  and rise and fall and shift on the back so I’m finding I don't need to lug around my 4x5 view camera and its’ many accessories.  This is a big deal for me because I just can’t handle the weight and size anymore and I’m tired of messing with film holders because of the dust and general hassle, (well I haven't given up on film entirely yet).

I’m still learning to use the Actus, because it is not a direct replacement for a 4x5 camera in the sense that everything is not the same as a view camera.  The biggest difference is the diminutive size of the camera and the back.  I ran into the same learning curve when I was using my Hasselblad Flexbody with its 2” x 2” ground glass.  Let’s say I’m shooting a beach landscape and I want to have everything in focus from the rocks at my feet to the boulders some distance away and f16 won’t do it.  I’ll use lens tilt to do this and on the Actus this means using small precise adjustments (thank you Actus geared tilt) and zooming the monitor display on the Sony A7R to check the focus ( I am even using a 4x loupe on the back monitor to check focus ).  This can get quite fiddly depending on the situation.  I find with smaller distances such as table top shots extending the depth of field with lens tilt is a piece of cake, but for large distances like some landscapes it is more difficult to put the plane of focus where I want it than if I was using a large 4x5 camera.  That’s what I’m running into anyway, but it is working and the more I use it the easier it seems to get.  Maybe it’s just me.

Another plus for the Actus, like all view cameras, is that it has bellows.  For some reason I’ve had the urge to shoot flowers this winter.  I’ve even bought flowers for my wife at the grocers, secretly knowing that they will do double duty in front of my camera.   And now that summer is around the corner I’m in the garden with my camera or taking shots of cut flowers.  Using a Hasselblad 40mm lens I can get within inches of the flowers.  Not exactly macro but more or less macro close.  With the Actus I can use the whole arsenal of view camera movements.  I can rack the bellows in and out and use lens tilt and back rise and get a close up with everything in focus and the composition just the way I like it.  It’s a lot of fun.

Here’s a shot of some Peonies that are blooming their hearts out.  It isn’t a macro style shot but I can thank Mr. Scheimpflug for the focus.

Negative Results? by Bryan Treen


Well, I finally got around to trying out the New55 instant film that I received in August.  I set up a table top flower arrangement still life with a black background, and used my 4x5 camera with my Polaroid 545 Pro film holder.  A bit of front tilt and  f16 at 4 seconds using the film at ISO 100.

The folks at New55 used a Kickstarter campaign to develop an alternative to the Polaroid Type 55 Positive/Negative instant film that was discontinued some years ago.  Another company,  The Impossible Project, managed to save some of the Polaroid manufacturing machinery in 1988 and they now successfully make “pack film” for instant cameras and sheet film for 8x10 view cameras.  In fact, they sold over 1 million films last year.  Unfortunately, they don’t make 4x5 film; the 4x5 machinery was destroyed before they could rescue it.  So 4x5 instant film was gone, dead, finis.  Until the New55 company came along.

The New55 people are upfront that their film is not the same as Type 55.  It is a “new” Type 55.  Different film, different developing chemicals, etc.  But it does provide an instant positive and an instant negative like the Polaroid.  In fact they claim the positive is the same sensitivity (ISO) as the negative which the Polaroid film was not.  So that's nice.

I won’t go into the trials and tribulations facing New55.  You can check out the blog at  Obviously making this film is no easy task.  

Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, was pretty much a genius.  His quote “Don’t undertake a project unless it’s manifestly important and nearly impossible” is the basis for the Impossible Project company name and applies equally to New55.

Now the thing that made Polaroid sheet film incredibly cool was that the negative quality was amazing.  Excellent tonality, very little grain and high resolution made this film stand out from all the others.  And it was instant.  Well, maybe not instant, it was more of a I’m working on it, not long now, kind of thing.  But compared to needing a dark room, well yeah, really quick.

Is New55 excellent like Type55? 

The answer is no, but let me qualify that.  First of all New55 is decidedly less instant than Polaroid.  You actually need to use a 50% fixer solution on the negative after you peel it apart.  Polaroid asked you to dunk the neg in a clearing bath of sodium sulfite, but I never bothered.  I just washed the negatives and hung them up to dry.  No problem with many, many negatives.  But the New55 had me buying rubber gloves and Pyrex glass trays at the grocery store so I could put the film in the fixer, then wash it.

Second of all, the film is sensitive to fogging.  It seems you really need to keep light away from it while fixing and washing.  Wait a minute, that sounds like a darkroom.  I did the processing in the laundry room at night with the door just a bit ajar so I could see what I was doing.  Maybe I’m missing some secret instruction (no instructions were included with my film, just a list of supporters but I couldn't even find my name because the list wasn’t sorted) and dang it, I had fogging and weirdness happening.  If you need a darkroom, you can’t call your film instant.  Just saying.


Third of all, the fogging and weirdness are kind of cool.  Really cool.  They could call this stuff New55 Art Project Kit.  Instant Art Photos!  I’ve got 4 sheets of film left.  I’m going to find myself some kind of red light and give this a go again.  Maybe the fogging and weirdness will go away.  The film seems to have nice resolution and quality.  So I’m not giving up yet.  However, since I have acquired my Cambo Actus mini view camera which uses a Sony A7R back and Hasselblad lenses, using New55 in a View Camera seems almost medieval.  Real hair shirt photography.  Okay, okay . . . I’m just getting lazy.


View Cameras - Then and Now by Bryan Treen

I still use my view camera, but it is getting to be more and more of a burden to carry around.  Also, there is no denying the inconvenience factor.  The set-up, the shooting rigamarole, the film handling, and so on.  Of course there is a certain zen factor in all of this which cannot be denied and which I enjoy.  I’ve been using a Hasselblad Flexbody and a digital back to allow me to use movements without film which was fine.  But I did miss front tilts and swings which the Flexbody doesn’t have.  It only has back tilts and rise and fall which works but …  


Last year Cambo introduced a new camera, the Actus.  Interestingly, it can use different digital cameras as a digital back and can use all sorts of ‘legacy’ lenses.  Using medium format lenses gives a large enough image circle to cover the digital sensor when using tilts or other movements.  Otherwise the image wouldn’t cover all of the sensor.  Well, I have collected a good assortment of Hasselblad lenses over the years so the Cambo Actus really caught my attention.  It is small, light, has all the movements I really want and I can use my existing medium format lenses.


So, after a flurry of Ebaying, it was goodbye Flexbody (with a tinge of regret) and hello used Sony A7R.  The Sony is a small mirrorless full frame 36 megapixel camera which will act as the digital back in my Hasselblad/Actus/Sony frankenkamera.  After selling some other photography items, I then ordered the Actus. 

Well!  The Actus is everything I hoped it to be.  Using peak focusing on the Sony (I’m using my loupe on its LCD monitor) and back button focus enlarging, it is quite easy to put the depth of field where I want using tilts and swings and with everything in sharp focus.  The Hasselblad lenses play nice with the Sony sensor and the geared movements are precise, except for the front swing which is a tiny bit sloppy.  So I’m having big fun learning how to use this high tech/old school frankenstein camera.

Oh, and the New55 film project, after many manufacturing struggles, has just sent me the box of instant 4x5 sheet film which I ordered two years ago.  I can't wait to try it out.  View cameras are Back!

New 55 Film Project by Bryan Treen

I love shooting digital. It’s convenient and instant.  But I still shoot medium and large format film. It reminds me of a recent New Yorker cartoon with the caption “I’m attracted to vinyl because of the expense and inconvenience”.  It’s kind of the same thing with me and 4x5 photography.  


I have a guilty stash of 4x5 sheet film that includes a small stock of Polaroid Type 55 PN and a couple of boxes of Fuji Acros 4x5 Quickloads.  Why am I feeling guilty?  Because my 4x5 Type 55 film is hopelessly expired and the Quickloads are also expired.  Part of the problem was that when the Type 55 was discontinued, I panicked and bought everything I could get my hands on.  Way more than I could reasonably use before it expired. Same thing when Fuji discontinued the  quickloads.  It's still cool though, expired Type 55 can produce some nifty effects (as long as the pods aren't dried out).  The expired Acros is probably not much of a problem. I intend to test these assumptions soon.  I need to get the big camera out and shoot something.


When Type 55 instant film was discontinued it was a big loss to the large format camera community.  This film was superb and was developed by Polaroid with the assistance of none other than Ansel Adams.  Type 55 came in a cardboard sleeve and you put it into a special holder, pulled out the sleeve which acted like a dark slide, made the exposure, then pulled it out of the holder and pulled it apart.  It was really a lot of fun.  The film was very slow, most people shot it at 25 to 35 asa for the negative so the grain was very fine and the negatives were creamy and gorgeous.  Yes, a Polaroid film with a positive and a negative.  The positive was rated at a different ISO so you had to choose between the positive or the negative before shooting.  And everyone loved the gorgeous negatives.


Then, it seemed not long after that loss, Fuji’s Quickloads were discontinued and it seemed like they were kicking us 4x5 shooters while we were down.  Quickloads have the film in a cardboard sleeve just like the Polaroid Type 55PN.  But it’s not instant film.  You just put the sleeve in a holder, then into the camera where the film holder would go.  No need to load film holders in the dark before you go shooting which is  inconvenient and leads to those dreaded dust spots.


All of this background is a way of introducing the new kid on the block, the New55 Kickstarter project.  They have been working feverishly to solve the technical problems and produce a replacement instant PN 4x5 film.  Over a year ago I signed up for a box of New55 with no guarantees that they can pull this off.  So did a lot of other people.  To help raise more funds to solve the production problems, New 55 has recently offered Quickloads they call “1 Shot”.  I bought a small box to support them and to try it out.  Check out their blog at and maybe support them by buying a t-shirt or something.  All of us 4x5 shooters will thank you.



On Being Digital by Bryan Treen

Its pretty much official, the compact disc is dead.  A young lady listening to music at my brother’s place asked him “who are you streaming this from?”  The CD explanation just made things confusing.  Oh, oh, Luddite alert.  


Anyhow, to get with the program, I have decided to build a music server.  I’m sidestepping the whole streaming scenario.  Maybe i’m delusional but I believe high quality signals need to travel down wires.  Don’t tell me about Sonos or Tidal, I’m not listening.  So, it’s a computer music server for me and it hasn’t been much fun spending my free time ripping my entire CD library into a Mac Mini and figuring out the best way to make it work.  


This whole process got me to thinking about analog versus digital and the holy grail of Resolution in audio and photography.  In digital audio resolution is about bit rates and sampling depth.  In digital photography its pixel size and number, and sensor size.  I think the analog corollary in each case also has important implications in the recording or capture of music and images, and in the listening or viewing of the results.  Analog and digital are so different.  Recording through an analog preamp or mixing board an engineer can really push the levels.  Slamming the VU meter into the red will produce a thicker more aggressive sound, without distortion.  Recording to a digital deck or board the engineer must never let the signal go over or it will clip and produce a nasty sound.  Same with photography, when shooting film the photographer can “push” the exposure if necessary.  Shooting digital, if the exposure is too far to the left or to the right it will “clip” and the blacks and whites will be blocked.


My old hi-fi way of doing things was to pop a CD into a cheap Blu-ray player which acted as a CD transport.  The digital out on the player then fed a good quality digital to analog converter.  The new way is zeros and ones in a computer file feeding a s/pdif converter and then to the DA converter.  After that of course we are in the analog domain, notwithstanding the time I overheard a salesperson at Future Shop up-selling “digital speakers” but then he also said that Harmon-Kardon watts were more powerful than Sony watts.   


This resolution thing can be hard to get a handle on.  I remember a series of articles an audiophile magazine ran a number of years ago.  The idea was to visit famous musicians and check out their hi-fi systems.  The series was a flop.  Most musicians had crappy stereos.  My favorite was the real estate maven of Bakersfield and a pioneer of the Bakersfield sound, Buck Owens.  He used a cassette tape player feeding a tube guitar amp.  Now, that’s low-res analog sound.  Who's going to tell the artist how to properly play back his music?  Not me.  Actually, very few people have a revealing stereo.  Les Paul used a radio transmitter so he could listen to his newfangled multi-track mixes on his car radio.  That's how most people listened to music in the 50’s and even today using Spotify or some other streaming virtual radio feeding 3 inch speakers.



Today most people view photographs on LCD displays, so all that’s required is enough pixels to fill the screen.  So do we need high resolution files?  We do if we want to make prints from our digital files.  Some people like to use film and make prints in the darkroom.  Or scan the negative and make an inkjet print.  Or use a digital file to make a digital negative and then hand make a platinum print.  Some people like to play vinyl on a turntable, or play a digital music file through a single ended tube amp using NOS tubes made in 1943.  Different horses for different courses as they say.  The reason people like to do all these things is that it lets them really connect to the image or to the music, to respond to the art on a more intimate level.


So the compact disc is dead because digital has moved on to a higher plane.  But Vinyl and turntables are still being made because of their analog sound.  Digital cameras are transitioning to mirrorless full frame high megapixel sensors, but film is still available because of it’s analog look.  It’s an analog/digital mashup and I think that is really great. 




Location, Location, Location by Bryan Treen

I seem to spend a lot of my landscape photography time thinking about, or looking for, locations.  Sometimes I just set off without a destination in mind hoping something will catch my eye.  Often I sit and think about a location and then return to a familiar spot to try to capture it properly.  Even if it is a new location I know it will take time to understand what I’m trying to achieve.  Each location will reveal itself differently depending on the time of day, the weather, or the season.  Understanding the variations can take patience and it helps to be prepared.

Two very helpful software tools that help me in the planning are “The Photographers Ephemeris” and “Photopills”.  The “Ephemeris” has been on my iPad and desktop for about four years.  Photopills  has a goofy name but is jam-packed with features and it has been on my iPad for a couple of years.  Both these software tools are well worth having and are priced low enough that it’s a no-brainer to use them.

Basically, they give detailed info on the sun and the moon including time and direction of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset.  Moon phase and illumination, twilight times and more.  Using either of these tools is somewhat magical.  I have no idea how they do it.  A lot of math I guess.  It will even determine when the sun or moon will be visible behind hills, or mountains.  

So, if you want to take a picture of the sunrise peeking through an arch in Badlands National Park in  South Dakota (I’d like to do this sometime) then you can do all the planning before you hit the road.   You just find the location and drop a pin on the map and the app will do all the work.  You just need to show up on time.  Well, except these apps won’t guarantee a sunny day, or handle your logistics.

I recently decided that I wanted to take some sunrise shots at Goose Spit Point, a local sand spit that overlooks the Straight of Georgia.  The weather had been dry but kind of stormy with some dramatic clouds.  Checking with Photopills I learned that that the sun would peek over the ocean at 6:41 am and that I would need to be careful not to shoot into the sun.  So I got up at 6:00.  It was dark and dry outside.  Time to hit the road.  I had pre-packed the gear into my car the night before so I drove over to Starbucks for a take-out coffee. 

When I arrived at Goose Spit it was still super dark.  I got my flashlight out and found a path to the beach.  Using the flashlight I set up my tripod and camera being extra careful not to drop my lens or my back.  It was still very dark and I wondered if the cloud cover might wreck the shot.  I also discovered that I had left my coffee in the car.  I had hoped to take some shots with very minimal lighting and tried to focus on the beach using the flashlight but that didn’t work at all.  Then at precisely 6:41 the sky lightened a bit and at 6:48 the golden hour began.  I spent 2 hours on the beach but the sky wouldn’t cooperate with the image I had in my head.  I got some useable shots and, of course, it was fun.  Even while I was drinking the cold coffee on the way home.

A New Old Lens And An Old New Camera by Bryan Treen

My Flexbody has just returned from America where it went for surgery.  The Shutter cocking mechanism was getting stiff and finally jammed and it turned out that it needed a shutter rod replacement.  Hasselblad service in New Jersey did a great job with minimal wait times and the patient looks and functions like new.   Hasselblad still has parts and service for the flexbody even though its short production run stopped in 2003.

I didn’t realize how much I would miss this camera while it was away.  I really enjoy using view camera style movements like tilts when shooting landscapes and the flexbody is the only camera I have which lets me do this AND use a digital back.  It’s also superb for macro style closeups because it has adjustable bellows.  I can really get in close with the 50mm CF lens.

While the camera was off for surgery, I happened to be visiting, the Analog Photography Users Group website.  This is a great site that I visit on a regular basis.  It caters to film photographer Luddites and covers everything analog from cameras to darkrooms.  My usual visit is to check out the large format and the medium format threads, and then have a look at the For Sale listings (of course).  Lo and behold, a Hasselblad 250mm lens was offered for sale.  I already have three Hasselblad lenses in the standard medium format setup; the 50mm wide angle, the 80mm normal, and the 150mm tele or portrait lens.  I’ve always found the 150 to be a bit short and had been thinking about a longer lens.

Hasselblad lenses for the 500 series, or “V” cameras, come in various flavors but all of them are made in Germany by Carl Zeiss with leaf shutters in the lens.  The early lenses are cool looking satin chrome, very retro.  These early “C” lenses are single coated and equipped with Synchro-Compur shutters.  Then came the identical “C” T* lenses which are multicoated.  All the lenses after this have Prontor shutters and starting in the 1970s they are all finished in black.  After the C lenses came the improved CF lens.  My 50mm, 80mm, and 150mm are all CF T* lenses.  Next came the CFE (E for electronic) lenses which have electronic contacts that can be used in the  200 series cameras but of course also work in the ‘V’ series cameras which don’t have batteries.  Then came the CFI, for ‘improved’.  Got that?

So, the 250mm lens comes in two choices, the Sonnar and the Superachromat. The Superachromat is one of the finest lenses ever made on earth and on the used market is priced accordingly (in the thousands). So what I got was the original “C” chrome 250 mm Sonnar f5.6 lens.  These lenses are quite a bit cheaper than the later lenses because they are more prone to flare and the mechanical shutters are at least 35 years old.  They are also fantastic value.  Every Hasselblad lens, including the 250mm Sonnar, is a spectacular performer.  Some are better optically than others, of course, but all Carl Zeiss medium format glass is superb with a creamy, contrasty, sharp look that is legendary.  So, for a crazy cheap price, I have another sensational lens.  Life is good. 

But, life is never easy.  All of my other Hasselblad lenses use bay 60 filters.  The 250mm is different, it uses bay 50 filters.  Bay stands for bayonet.  Except for haze filters, graduated ND rectangular filters and polarizers, I have standardized all my filters at 77mm.  I use step up rings and the Lee filter system for the filters and the Lee lens hood.  This setup covers my medium format lenses and my large format lenses.   So I just needed to buy a used Lee filter bay 50 ring and a bay 50 haze filter from our favorite auction site.  Now everything fits together.

I haven’t used this new lens on the Flexbody yet, and I’m really looking forward to it.  It’s a bit of a beast but isn’t too big or too heavy.  Carl Zeiss also made 350mm and 500mm lenses, and those look to be a real handful.  They’re big and heavy and a bit pricey.  I think keeping everything rock solid for sharp focus will be a difficult proposition with the 350mm and longer lenses.  An alternative to those longer lenses would be the Hasselblad 2x Mutar.  This little beauty is also made by Carl Zeiss and doubles the focal length of any lens with very little optical compromise.  Unfortunately, an old Mutar will cost more than my newly acquired 250mm C.  I’m in no rush, I know there will be lots of opportunities to use the 250 C and if I find I need a 500mm lens, I will probably look for a Mutar instead.

Camera Movements by Bryan Treen

I’m thinking about movements because my beloved Hasselblad Flexbody just got jammed in the ‘Open’ position and I had to send it off to Hasselblad service in New Jersey.  The Flexbody was only manufactured for 8 years until 2003.

From the first time I looked through the ground glass of a large format camera, I was hooked.  That was over 15 years ago and started my love affair with high resolution cameras and especially cameras that moved.  I don’t mean the cameras changed locations, I mean the lens or the film plane, or both, can move.  They can go back and forward (tilt), side to side, (swing) or up and down, (rise/fall) or all three.

What’s the point you might ask?  I won’t go into the technical bits, but maybe you want to take a shot of a bouquet of flowers, and you want all the flowers (not just the ones in front) to be in focus.  No problem.  Or you’re shooting a three quarter view of a car and you want the front bumper and the back tire to be in focus.  No problem.  Or you’re shooting upwards at a building or some trees and you want them to be straight, not converging.  No problem.

Of course one way to keep everything in focus is to use focus stacking and then put the shots together in Photoshop.  But really, that isn't much fun. Thank you Theodor Scheimpflug who developed the fun way to do it 100 years ago.  I’m not shy about it, I just love to Scheimpflug and I'm not the only one.  There are lots of large format photographers and there seems to be a  resurgence of interest in cameras with movements within the last year or so.  New cameras are being released that can use the Scheimpflug principle.  One example is the new Cambo Actus, a small, lightweight camera that uses a mirrorless camera body as a digital back/viewfinder.  It can also use a variety of  legacy lenses.  It's a miniature view camera.

I still use my 4x5 view camera, but the camera I use most is the Hasselblad Flexbody because it is also a mini view camera.  It's small and light, and can also do digital.  It has movements, not too many and only on the back, but they’re the ones that I use most; tilt and shift.  It takes my Hasselblad ‘V’ lenses, viewfinders, and backs, etc.  So it can shoot film but will also accept my digital back.  Unfortunately, a sliding back won't fit so you need to remove the viewfinder and put on the back before and after shooting.  On the positive side, if you're going to use digital with movements you need precision geared movements and the Flexbody has that.

A view camera is a very, very manual camera.  So is the Flexbody.  No batteries.  Essentially it’s really a small box with openings on each end and a flexible bit in the middle.  That's it.  When you're starting out It can be helpful to use a check list until you memorize the sequence of events.  Taking a photograph goes like this.  Start by attaching the small ground glass and a viewfinder on the back.  Turn the winding knob on top to OPEN to open and cock the lens.  Focus by adjusting the lens and tilting and raising or lowering the back ever so precisely (I am shortening this step for brevity).  Use your favorite light meter (mine’s a Pentax spot meter) and set the exposure.  Check your focus and lock everything down so it won't move and go out of focus.  Then remove the ground glass and viewfinder.  Attach the digital back being very careful not to drop it.  Attach a ‘wake-up’ cable from the digital back to the lens (Hasselblad lenses each have their own leaf shutters).  Use the cable release to trip the winder to CLOSED, then turn on the digital back.  Push the small button on the wake-up cable.  Hurry up and use the cable release to trip the shutter within 5 seconds.  That’s all there is to it.  Re-attach the ground glass (don’t drop the digital back), zero all the movements and start again.

So, the Flexbody is not a point and shoot camera, but compared to a large format film camera it's a piece of cake to set up and get a good shot.  When I was starting out with my 4x5, I shot 3 or 4 blank exposures before I remembered to close the lens before pulling out the dark slide.

Yes, view cameras can be a PITA and they certainly aren't for everyone, but they can make beautiful images , and the photographer is genuinely in the moment when composing and shooting.  And if you’re in a forest the trees will remain straight.  I hope Hasselblad gets my Flexbody back to good health and on my tripod again soon.