Cambos Ultima 35

Yes, you now can get "full" shifts on a 35mm body, and also get full 30 percent swings too!
Photos © 2003, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved

As digital cameras continue to add more and more resolution at lower and lower prices, professional photographers are confronted with some daunting choices. Only a few years ago a working pro needed to pony up tens of thousands of dollars to get something even remotely capable of replacing medium format and sheet film. Today with super high-resolution cameras like the Canon EOS-1Ds, Kodak DCS 14n, and Nikon D1X, it's reasonable for any serious photographer to rely on a Digital SLR (D-SLR) as his primary camera.

My story is similar. I've replaced expensive and complicated multi-shot and line-scanning camera backs with a pair of Canon EOS-1Ds bodies. While I occasionally need the extra real estate of my excellent Cambo Ultima 4x5 view camera, it's faster and more cost-effective for me to shoot with the D-SLR. As I chat with other photographers all over the globe who have switched, like me, to D-SLRs, we all seem to really miss the advantages of working with large format cameras. For product photography, architectural interiors, and even for perspective-shifted people stuff, the fixed perspective of typical 35mm lenses is very limiting.

This ain't no garden-variety shift lens we're talking about here. The Ultima 35 affords full swings and tilts--even with a 28mm lens, which can yield some amazing images!

Perspective-Control Options
Over the years there have been any number of ways to add perspective control to 35mm format cameras. From PCS tilt/shift lenses in standard 35mm mounts to the wild and crazy Zörk lens tubes, photographers have tried everything. Of course, with film you could always just use a 4x5 view camera, and if you needed repeatability you could slide on a Graflok 120 back. Once you've invested a chunk of money in a pro D-SLR, however, you're not really in the mood to break out the view camera, load up some sheet film, make that trip to the color lab and then have a drum scan pulled. Happily, Cambo has come to the rescue with the Ultima 35.

Large Format Specs
The Ultima is the high end of the Dutch-made view camera line. Like other high-end machines the Ultima offers yaw-free image control movements, geared, fluid-smooth adjustments, and a rock-solid monorail configuration. While I suppose it is possible to configure a standard 4x5 Ultima to accept the much smaller imaging area of a 35mm camera, it would be very difficult to work with the minute focusing and image control movements needed with the smaller format on such a large machine. Thus the Ultima 35 combines that same monorail design and front and rear focusing blocks with a 35mm-sized set of standards and the cutest little bag bellows you've ever seen.

The solid Ultima 35 takes the pro Ultima 4x5 view camera and installs a
35mm-sized set of standards and bellows.

Feeling At Home
Since almost all of this camera is the same as the 4x5 version, I was instantly at home. As an Ultima 4x5 user I can vouch for this camera's rigidity, fluid-like smoothness, and controllability. All of the movements are geared, and the controls are nicely weighted. Certainly for a 35mm-sized camera like my Canon EOS-1Ds this camera will be solid enough, and the question that needs to be asked is if this camera is overkill. I can't imagine why Cambo chose to put these standards and bellows on their top of the line camera, since no one needs this level of ruggedness for such a small format. Using the camera in the studio, however, proves the wisdom of their decision.

The issue with a 35mm-sized camera is precision. To hang a Canon EOS-1Ds off of a lesser camera would have the photographer constantly trying to nudge a swing, tilt, or rise just a bit more this way or that. With the Ultima gearing system, everything can be dialed in, and dialed in precisely.

Lens Solutions
The real missing link in a system like this seems to be the lenses, since of course your standard 35mm lenses are useless due to the length of the bellows and camera. You need lenses that require a much greater distance from the back of the rear element to the imaging sensor, and Calumet Photographic, Inc. offers two solutions. The first and most obvious is to just use your medium format lenses. Adapters are offered for Hasselblad, Mamiya RB and 645 Pro lenses. Also offered are the exceptional Schneider APO-Digitar lenses, which I reviewed several years ago for Shutterbug, and was simply blown away. Schneider offers Digitars in focal lengths from 28mm all the way up to 180mm, so even wide angle photography is possible.

I always loved shooting musical instruments with my Sinar 4x5 camera. Now I can get the same wild swung standard effect on my Canon EOS-1Ds. For this shot of a rare Zemaitis guitar I swung the front standard and rear standard all the way out to get perfect sharpness from foreground to background.

Our Test Results
Calumet Photographic, Inc. made the Ultima 35 available for Shutterbug for a very brief period, but I was able to make good use of it in my studio and on a location shoot. In use the Ultima is truly a precision device. Setting the camera up and aligning your D-SLR is an exacting task. For vertical shots you must remove the camera, bolt on an "L" bracket, then precisely re-mount the camera. Forget about switching between horizontal and vertical at will! Once everything is set up and ready to roll, you're still in "View Camera" mindset. Even though you're shooting with a free-and-easy D-SLR like a Nikon D1X, Kodak DCS 14n, or Canon
EOS-1Ds, you're working with a sturdy camera on a sturdy tripod, making every slight adjustment, even to focus, with the sturdy geared controls. If you like precision in your photography then you'll love
this setup.

Architectural Ease
For architectural shots the combination of a 28mm Schneider APO-Digitar, Cambo Ultima 35, and the Canon EOS-1Ds creates the single most versatile tool the architectural photographer could possibly have. With a full 20mm rise and fall (over half a film frame!), 20Þ tilts, 30Þ swings, and 20mm lateral shifts, there is no situation that will stymie this camera. Unfortunately Schneider does not make anything between the 28mm and the 80mm APO-Digitar. Of course you could use a 4x5 film lens, but the APO-Digitars are so critically sharp within the 3" image circle that you'd be giving up a good deal of sharpness.

Steep Learning Curve
At work using my own Canon EOS-1Ds with the Ultima 35 and a 28mm APO-Digitar lens the learning curve was steep. I've spent a lot of time using the Ultima 4x5 model, but trying to use a wide angle lens, a view camera, and focus on a 35mm viewfinder is hard! Everything looks pretty sharp, so luckily I noticed that the Canon EOS-1Ds' focus point would actually light up as I got things in focus (cool!). Still, trying to get all of that camera and lens into control through the viewfinder of a 35mm camera is a tall task. I like this kind of methodical shooting, especially for critical tabletop product shots, but for perspective-swung people shots I'm not sure that the Ultima 35 would be my first choice. Something this robust doesn't really lend itself to the quick-shooting style you need for fast-paced people photography. For products, buildings, and scenics this is by far the most complete and well thought-out solution.

The Ultima 35 is an amazing device, and certainly the only camera of its kind out there right now. At $3995 it certainly is not cheap, but it is a beautifully made, professional-quality device. Of even more interest to pros out there should be the 2x3" conversion kit, which turns the camera into a device capable of handling medium format backs like the Phase One H 20. There's even a sliding back to allow for critical ground-glass focusing and then instant shooting.

For more information on the Cambo Ultima 35, contact Calumet Photographic, Inc. by calling (800) 225-8638 or visiting their website at