QUESTIONS ABOUT EBONY CAMERAS
Here is a compilation of frequently asked questions. If you have a question that is not answered below please contact us directly.
1) Ebony make some cameras in ebony and some in mahogany, and some models are available in either wood. Why is this? What are the characteristics of each wood? What are the primary considerations in deciding between them? And what is the best way of maintaining each type of wood?
First of all, we are very particular about the type of wood that we use for our cameras. The ebony is genuine Macassar ebony (Diospyros Macassar) from Indonesia. This is not to be confused with other inferior types of ebony wood from West Africa, for example. The mahogany wood we use is also the best available, in this case from Honduras.
We originally began using Macassar ebony for the wooden components of our cameras because of its excellent structural characteristics. Later on we introduced mahogany for some models, particularly the larger ones, because it is lighter than ebony but is similarly hard, structurally stable and durable. In the case of both the mahogany and ebony wood only quarter-sawn heartwood is used. This means the grain is absolutely straight and extremely dense. Only wood that is at least 20 years old is selected, to further reduce the possibility of the wooden parts "moving" - i.e. expanding, contracting or warping etc. After the various camera parts have been cut from the wood, they are then kiln-dried, before being re-cut for absolute precision. Lastly, the ebony wood parts are soaked in wood oil (a special kind of "teak oil" blended in person by Ebony's Master wood craftsman), while the mahogany parts are finished with Lacquer Japan, or "urushi". This unique and exquisite lacquer is applied by one of Japan's top lacquerware specialists in a small traditional village called Kiso, Nagano prefecture, which has been famous for many centuries in Japan as a center for top-quality lacquerware.
So, which wood for your camera? There are three factors to take into account.
The first is aesthetic. Some people like the natural deep black-brown lustre of ebony. Others prefer the more traditional warm red-brown tones of mahogany. This is entirely a matter of personal choice.
The second concerns maintenance. The finish on the ebony cameras is very easy to maintain. Even relatively severe scuffs and scratches can be removed with the application of a high-grade teak oil. The Lacquer Japan used for the mahogany cameras however is a different matter. While this lacquer is renowned for its durability, cameras are working tools, so if a camera is being used regularly, as we hope it will be, scratches are inevitable. While most customers probably won't be too bothered by the "battle scarred" appearance of their camera after 10 years of hard use, for those who are, the services of a professional wood craftsman - either in Japan, or possibly a local French polisher - will be required to return the finish of a mahogany camera to its original condition.
The third factor to consider is weight. An SV810E for example is a big camera, weighing a kilo (2.2lbs) more than the SV810, its counterpart in mahogany. For those of us with cars, assistants and/or strong backs of course, weight is not a problem, but for photographers who take their cameras backpacking, for example, an SV810 is probably a more realistic option.
A final consideration is the price difference. Ebony wood is more expensive than mahogany and also harder to work with, thus ebony models are more expensive than their mahogany counterparts. And as the size of the format increases, so does the price difference between mahogany and ebony wood cameras.
With regard to day-to-day maintenance, this is very straightforward. Obviously water and cameras don't mix, so although you can take your camera out in the pouring rain without any problems, it's a good idea to give it a thorough wipe-down with a dry rag when you get back indoors. And a simple but effective way to maintain, lubricate and water-proof the wooden parts is to give them a rub with a piece of candle wax from time to time, removing any excess pieces of wax with a cloth. That's really all you need to do. It is important to remember that Ebony cameras are primarily designed to be used as sturdy and reliable photographic tools, rather than to be admired as "objets d'art", and as such require very little maintenance. Although of course there are many collectors out there with their chamois cloths who would beg to differ!
2) What about the metal parts or the bellows? Do they require any maintenance?
Again, very little. The metal-to-metal surfaces can feel a bit stiff or "sticky" initially - this is because titanium has a high coefficient of friction compared with other metals. This is something you'll get used to after a while, and also with use the movements will get smoother. However if it causes major problems please inquire with Ebony about obtaining a liquid lubricant for the metal parts. If the metal parts get badly scratched, gentle rubbing with extremely fine sand paper in the direction of the brush marks will (eventually - titanium is very hard!) improve its appearance.
As for the bellows, although they are flexible they are also rugged, and designed to withstand at least 10 years of hard professional use. After that time they may start to wear a bit thin in places, and eventually a small hole may appear, at which point it is obviously time to replace them. There are two ways to prolong the life of your bellows: 1) With folding cameras, expecially in the case of those with universal bellows, it is essential that the camera be folded and unfolded correctly. Otherwise the leather can get pinched between the metal parts and wear and tear will be the result. 2) Especially if you live in a hot, dry climate, an occasional application of mink oil will help to keep the bellows soft and supple. Mink oil also improves their water-resistance.
3) I've noticed that in cool, dry conditions my camera movements don't feel as tight as usual. And in hot humid conditions the focusing knobs start to get stiff. Is there anything I can do about this?
The wooden parts of Ebony cameras are much less likely to expand or contract than the wooden parts of other cameras, partly because of the type of wood used, and the way it is selected and treated, and partly because of the way the cameras are constructed - the types of joints used, the large amount of metal reinforcement, etc. Nevertheless in cool, dry conditions the wooden parts will shrink slightly, and in warm, humid conditions, they will expand slightly. The former situation will cause the the camera rails to loosen slightly and feel less rigid, while the latter will cause the focusing knobs to feel very tight, and in some cases to seize up altogether.
However, the remedy to this problem is simple and is actually built into the camera design. Every wooden Ebony camera has two rectangular metal plates above the rails on each side of the camera bed. In these plates are a number of phillips screws (between 4 and 7, depending on the camera model.) If the front rails seem a bit "floppy", just tighten the front four phillips screws (two on each side) a few degrees. Everything should then feel a lot more solid. Conversely, if the front focus knob feels too tight, simply loosen these same four screws a few degrees. The same applies to the back rails and the back focus knobs, loosening or tightening the back four screws as appropriate. See pictures below.
4) The 45S, 23S, SW45, SW23 and RW45 do not feature interchangeable wide-angle bellows. Why?
The S-series and the SW-series are not designed to be used with very long lenses, and particularly in the case of the 'Super Wide' SW series, they are ideally suited for use with very short lenses. The bellows, although having pleats and therefore apparently of standard design, are in fact extremely supple and designed specifically for use as wide-angle bellows. Thus with these cameras there is no need for bag-type interchangeable wide-angle bellows. (The unique design of the bellows on these cameras avoids the common problem of 'bellows shadow' or vignetting to which bag bellows are prone.) The RW45 on the other hand is not designed to be used with very short lenses, therefore it has no need for interchangeable wide-angle bellows.
5) What is the difference between the universal bellows and the standard bellows?
The 45SU, SV45 and SV57 cameras allow you to take advantage of a unique bellows design - the universal bellows. It is supplied as the default bellows for the 45SU, the SV45U2 and all SV57 cameras, and is available as an option for the other SV45 cameras. The unpleated front section is more flexible than that of the standard bellows, and allows greater freedom of movement with wide-angle lenses. However it is particularly important to fold cameras with the universal bellows correctly, otherwise the front section can get caught in the metal parts.
6) Ebony are the only company making wooden field cameras that utilize titanium for the metal components. Are there properties of titanium that make it better than the aluminum or chrome-plated brass that other manufacturers use?
Like ebony wood, titanium has three properties which make it the ultimate camera construction material - it is extremely hard, extremely strong, and extremely durable. Ebony use the top grade of titanium for their cameras, which should not be confused with weaker and heavier grades. Compared with other metals titanium is also relatively light. And like ebony wood it is extremely difficult to work with! (N.B. Camera focus and lock knobs are made of aluminum.)
1) I have a Schneider 90mmXL Super Angulon lens. I would like to use it with an Ebony 4x5 camera, but I've heard that the rear element is too big to enter the hole in front boards of cameras that accept Linhof-type lensboards. Is this true?
Yes, this is true. Shortly after this problem was noticed, Schneider changed the design of this lens so that it is possible to unscrew the metal protective flange at the back of the rear element: the element may then be inserted in the hole and the lens used as normal. However one has to be very careful to avoid scratching the glass of the rear element when the protective flange is removed. All new 90mm XL Super Angulon lenses have a removeable rear flange, but if buying a second-hand lens, ensure that it is has this feature if you wish to use it with a 6x9 or 4x5 Ebony camera.