REVIEW: RSW45 by Joe Cornish
The following review first appeared in the October 2001 issue of Britain's premier landscape photography magazine, Outdoor Photography, pp. 85-89. The text is reproduced here with the kind permission of Outdoor Photography magazine and the author, Joe Cornish.
For more information about Outdoor Photography please contact Keith Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Cornish is a professional landscape photographer who lives in the UK. He frequently leads landscape photography workshops both in the UK and overseas. For more information contact email@example.com.
The RSW45 is available exclusively from Robert White in the UK. See resellers for further information.
The Ebony RSW45 could provide all you'll ever need from a large format camera - and it's the manufacturer's least expensive model. Joe Cornish has been trying it for size.
Just as the battle for SLR sales is fought with multiple exposure programmes and automation, so view camera manufacturers promote their wares on the basis of the range and flexibility of their movements. A top of the range view camera such as the Ebony SV45U2 has every conceivable swing, shift, tilt, rise, fall and cross on both front and rear standards. It also has a huge triple draw bellows extension, and a price to match its specification. At the very bottom of the Ebony range sits the recently introduced RSW45 at a much more modest price. On paper, this is the archetypal stripped-down 'poverty' model with movements limited to front rise and fall, and front tilt.
But from the moment I unwrapped it, the RSW45 seemed to offer everything I really needed. For a start it is one of the lightest, most compact 5x4 in cameras on the market, all the better for carrying up the hill. Secondly, its non-folding design means it is quicker to set up than any monorail, or folding flatbed type ever could be. Thirdly, it incorporates the movements that most landscape photographers really need, and no more. This means less weight and complication, and less to go wrong.
Its limited bellows 'draw' means it is really intended for wideangle to normal focal length lenses - which most landscape photographers use most of the time. It has conventional, non-interchangeable pleated bellows, yet these are so remarkably thin and 'scrunchable' that even the widest of all lenses that will cover 5x4 in (the Schneider 47mm XL Super Angulon) can be used on a flat panel. The modern generation of super-wide lenses, however, has to be used with great care on any camera due to its extreme intolerance of focusing error. I had concerns that the RSW45's double extension design (the film panel and lens panel both riding backward and forward respectively from a central platform) might compromise rigidity. But the RSW45 proved significantly more rigid than any other non-folding camera I have used, and I would say its rigidity is on a par with much heavier, bulkier technical cameras.
I was able to use the RSW45 over a period of six weeks, and during that time it saw some demanding conditions, including high winds by the Yorkshire coast, and dodging rain showers high up on the hills of Northern Skye. In very damp conditions the ebony wood swelled sufficiently to make focusing firm, but everything remained smooth, and on retiring to drier climes, all returned to normal. The ground glass screen incorporates an excellent grid, and proved as bright and user-friendly as that on other Ebony models I have used. The international back is easily removed and allows quick fitting of any standard roll film back such as the Horseman 6x12cm, which I used on several occasions. The back frame can be easily unclipped to switch from a horizontal to vertical orientation.
Spirit levels are vital to the precise methods employed by most 5x4 in users, and the RSW45 has two, detecting fore and aft tilt and lateral tilt on the rear standard. I would have liked a fore and aft spirit level on the front standard as well, but really this is a minor omission.
With only front rise and fall, and front tilt, the RSW45 is clearly not flexible enough for studio work or for complicated interior set-ups. But the truth is that for the majority of outdoor applications (apart from long lens or close-up photography), these movements are enough most of the time. The rise is particularly generous, and if you should happen to use a lot of it, the scrunchable bellows can be pushed out of the way easily to prevent internal vignetting. Of course it is vital to re-pleat the bellows afterwards, otherwise their lifespan is likely to be considerably shortened.
If you are a system filter user, and sometimes use graduated filters, then the lack of any rise on the rear standard can limit the amount of effective lens fall when using small lenses in combination with a bit of lens tilt. This is because the front standard drive rails block the filter. In this situation the only solution is either do without the graduate, or without the lens fall, or without the lens tilt. Larger lenses, such as the 90mm XL tested here avoid the problem because the lens front projects well beyond the drive rails. There is one other potential solution, and that is to turn the camera upside down, if your tripod has such a capability. Then you have all the fall you could possibly need, but this really is a last resort.
Ebony makes both extension lens panels, and an extension back which incorporates its own bellows extension. Armed with these accessories the RSW45 performs perfectly well as a mount for longer lenses, and I managed to use 210mm, 300mm and 400mm lenses on it quite successfully.
By now you will have gathered that I didn't like this camera. I absolutely loved it. It is just as beautifully made as its costlier brethren, yet by reducing the specification to the bare necessities, Ebony has made a quality camera that is genuinely affordable. Its simplicity is also an advantage, reducing weight and helping to avoid the problems caused on more complex models when swing and cross movements get 'un-zeroed' by mistake and remain undetected. Simplicity also seems to result in superior rigidity. This is one of those rare objects which genuinely deserves the description 'less is more'. The fact is that if you are a landscape photographer, this is not just the cheapest Ebony you can buy, it may also be the best you'll find.