After 34 years in the large
format arena, I've learned that there are really only two kinds
of view cameras. The first, made of elegant hardwood and fitted with
fine brass hardware, is the kind we carefully polish and prop up in
the office as a conversation piece. The other, made of chipped gray
aluminum and sporting a tape-festooned bellows, is the one we actually
take out and use. Now, with the availability in this country of the
Lotus View Rapid Field camera, we can enjoy the aesthetics of a fine
creative tool while making money with it.
The Rapid Field is the evolutionary outcome of Austrian photographer
Burkhardt Kiegeland's collaboration with a woodworker and machinist
to build 4x10" film holders and other specialized accessories
for his personal needs. Today, in addition to manufacturing holders
in all standard and panoramic formats from 4x5" to 20x24",
Lotus produces 10 cameras covering the same size range. Made from a
unique blend of oiled cherrywood and black anodized aluminum, with strategic
parts made of modern synthetic materials, these handsome models offer
the precision and stability of a technical camera in a very lightweight
To reduce weight without compromising rigidity, the camera bed consists
of an open wood frame reinforced with three slats and a large, aluminum
tripod mounting plate in which a 3/8" brass bushing is set. Mounted
directly on top of the bed, and further bracing it, is a pair of beefy
T-shaped aluminum guides in which the wooden front and rear focusing
tracks slide. The rear track is strengthened by aluminum channels that
form the top-side rear standard drive, plus the rack portion of the
main focusing drive. The latter part is cut from Delrin, a tough space
age material that machines with the precision of metal but works smoothly
and silently against its mating pinion gear without grimy lubrication.
design is intelligently continued in the front and rear standards, each
having a somewhat skeletal appearance that belies its true strength. At
the base of each is the compact, all-aluminum swing, tilt, and shift mechanism
on which each movement is locked with its own non-metallic star knob.
Again, appearance is deceiving, and while the knobs look a little undersized
their placement makes for easy operation with gloved hands. All movements
operate with the same smooth-ness as the focusing track and, with one
exception, tighten positively.
The "errant" move-ment is front axis tilt, its dual locks
designed to allow a controlled amount of slippage so that the lens can
be tweaked with a fingertip during setup. While the action is sufficiently
tight to hold most lenses in place, my concern is that the heavy, protruding
front cell of a telephoto-design lens (or ultra-short optic) could cause
the front end to sag unexpectedly. This did not happen during my tests,
but coming from the Vise-Grip school of instrument locks I found it a
little disconcerting. Should this become a problem, it would be a relatively
simple task for the user to replace the plastic pivot washers with ones
made of fiber or rubber for increased friction at this point.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of this camera is the durable 24"
quadruple extension bellows, equal to four times the focal length of the
format's standard lens, that allows full range movements even at
maximum draw. An extra front extension rail, cleverly tucked inside the
main focusing track but not gear driven, must be extended for the last
4". Despite the slender aluminum arms then supporting the front
standard, the weight of the lens holds the extra rail surprisingly steady.
The supple, synthetic bellows will focus a 75mm lens on a flat board,
but the tightly packed pleats preclude virtually all movement.
The standard bellows is interchangeable with the optional Lotus Bag &
Field Bellows, a smart hybrid design that combines seven bellows pleats
with a standard bag bellows to accommodate lenses from 47mm (on a flat
lensboard) to 240mm. With a recessed board, optics as short as 45mm can
be used with sufficient movement. Other accessories include 4x10"
and 5x7" step-up backs, a Fresnel focusing screen, a pinhole adapter
with interchangeable hole sizes, and a lens mounted compendium-style filter
hood. The Rapid Field can be ordered with factory installed rear rise
at an additional cost.
Held in the conventional two-way horizontal/vertical back by leaf spring-tensioned
arms, the ground glass frame opens wide enough to accept standard film
holders, Polaroid 545 and 405 holders as well as many rollfilm backs without
the need of a Graflok mechanism. The standard fine matte ground glass
is ruled with a 1cm grid and has a printed outline for 9x12cm plus corner
markings for 6x6cm, 6x7cm, and 6x9cm formats. An accessory Fresnel screen
is available for focusing wide angle lenses. The camera accepts metal
Technica lensboards as well as the many clones of this style on the market.
With its well placed controls, smooth operation, and exceptional stability,
the Rapid Field was truly a pleasure to work with. Although space limitations
keep me from going into the many amiable details, I highly recommend that
interested readers investigate Lotus' rental program for a hands-on
appreciation of the overall finesse of this new, yet superbly classic,
view camera. Lotus also stocks a complete line of lenses, tripods, accessories,
and materials, including Bergger BPF 200 film (in standard and hard to
find sheet sizes) and silver-rich Prestige fine art paper, for the serious
large format photographer.
For more information, contact Lotus View Camera/North America, 5955 Palo
Verde Dr., Rockford, IL 61114; (815) 282-9876; fax: (815) 282-0902; e-mail:
web site at: www.lotusviewcamera.at/
Bellows Range: 600mm
maximum, 85mm minimum
Focal Length Range With Flat Board: 47-800mm (telephoto
Front Axis Tilt: BEL
Front Base Tilt: BEL forward, BEL backward
Front Swing: 30° right, 30° left
Front Rise And Fall: 40mm up, 40mm down
Front Lateral Shift: 34mm left, 34mm right
Rear Axis Tilt: ACO
Rear Base Tilt: BEL forward, 30° backward
Rear Swing: 25° right, 25° left
Rear Rise And Fall: ACO, 70mm total travel
Rear Lateral Shift: Unlimited (BEL, limited only by bellows;
ACO, additional cost option)
Lensboard: Linhof Technika
Back: Two-way horizontal/vertical
Ground Glass: Fine matte with centimeter grid; 9x12cm
frame outline; corner markings for 6x6cm, 6x7cm, and 6x9cm formats
Tripod Socket: 3/8"
Folded Size And Weight: Approx. 250x210x130mm (10x8.4x5.2")
including knobs; 4.8 lbs