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Adventures with the Cambo Actus GFX

A New Technical Camera Adventure with David Reid
18th February 2020 Al Simmons
A new technical camera adventure with david reid

We love finding solutions for new clients, and in the autumn of last year we received an enquiry from David Reid, a photographer based in Yorkshire. David was interested in using his Fujifilm GFX as part of a technical camera system, and we had lengthy conversations by email and over the phone. We went on to uncover what would most suit David’s photography, and his existing lenses. This started David’s new technical camera adventure, using the Cambo Actus GFX.

Tell us a bit about yourself, David.

I’m a retired lecturer in photography who has made photographic, video and audio work. I taught students to write on the many roles that photography has in our world, and guided them on their production of art photography.

Since retiring three years ago I made no serious photography, until the GFX transformed my life. Another great leap was when I began on a new technical camera adventure with the Cambo Actus GFX.

Where did your passion for photography come from?

I have always been attracted to the idea of taking photographs. It was in the late 1960s that I first dabbled with making images, but I did not understand what an interesting subject photography was until much later in life. I wish I knew then what I came to learn later, as images I could have taken then would be fascinating to see now.

It was another twenty years before I made the move from casual photography to a more consistant form of practice and study. Early on I was looking at Don McCullin, Joseph Sudek, and Robert Frank. I remember seeing photographs in the newly formed Independent Newspaper, and thinking that I’d liked to make photographs like that. I was a process engineer at the time but I wanted a life in photography. I spent the next decade transforming from one to another through post-graduate photographic studies.

What kind of work do you shoot, and where do you get your inspiration from?

I am mostly engaged with a macro still life work. I made portraits for a number of years, and then worked with video and audio for a decade. The photographers I admire the most are Keith Arnatt, Jeff Wall and Cindy Sherman, who create their own photographic worlds. I want to take what I find before me in my everyday life and transform it into photography. It is this transformation that fascinates me.

You’ve recently started shooting with the Cambo Actus with the Fujifilm GFX-50R, what was it that drew you to this system?

At the beginning of last autumn, an idea that had been percolating at the back of my mind for all that time began to take material form. I started to pick up fragments of autumn debris and taking them home to photograph on the dining room table. I was using a Fujifilm X Pro 2 at the time and I bought the Fuji FX 80 macro lens to enable this process.

As the project progressed, I had noted on DPReview that Fuji had brought out the GFX medium format system. After a couple of visits to see it I bought the GFX50R and the 120 GF macro lens. The autumn debris project was now seriously under way, and I began to toy with the idea of using the GFX50R as a digital back with a long-forgotten Toyo field camera I had.

Searching online, I happened upon the Cambo Actus GFX system as a means of making the GFX into a view camera. Having just spent a fortune on moving to the GFX, I wasn’t ready to go for the Actus right away. Instead, I opted for a Fotodiox adaptor, but that was a disappointment.

The Actus seed had been planted, and after a couple of months I started to take a serious look online to find out more about what it could do. I dropped Teamwork an email, and I was off an a new photographic adventure. Al at Teamwork described the Actus system as “a brilliant system, which I use most of the time. Tactile, accurate and simple.” Teamwork could have sold me the system on that description alone, and I soon learned Al was spot on in his description. In order to test the system fully, I took advantage of a Hire Towards Purchase for the extended end of year holiday period.

I had spent years with the Toyo, but my main reason for using it was its 5×4 negative, rather than to employ any of the technical movements. Coming back to the Toyo I found it too big and heavy for me to easily move. The Actus was the opposite; compact, light and lovely to handle. It was not only love at first sight, but first touch too.

How has it benefited the work that you shoot, and what does it offer you that previous systems didn’t?

Most of the macro work so far has been on a tabletop, so having the compact Actus GFX system on a lightweight tripod makes it easier to work with. Most importantly, it brings the advantages of view camera operation into a whole new world of mobility, lightness and flexibility.

In one sense you can move more swiftly with it (compared to traditional view cameras) but compared to use of the GFX with its own GF lenses, it offers a welcome slowness of composition. The scene before the camera expands, as the options available through shift, tilt and swing require you to think as you make. This invites a mindset of photography as a more considered philosophy of looking.

Digital manipulation offers endless ways to make images, which are limited only by your imagination. The Actus is an expansive tool, and through a pleasurable ease of image making, it combines tradition and digital innovation.

The beauty of the Cambo Actus is in the ability to use various digital cameras in combination with various lenses, but its a relatively specialist piece of equipment. How were Teamwork able to help you find the system that best suited your needs?

As an individual dedicated to one camera system, the prime fascination with the Actus GFX is the range of lens plates available. These allow for many different lenses to be used. The new dedicated GF lenses are excellent, and superb quality images can be made with the GFX system. Since I started my new technical camera adventure, the Actus GFX has opened up the possibility of using lenses I have had for decades from previous medium and large format systems. As well as this, I can make use of old enlarger lenses, along with the dedicated Cambo Actar series.

At first, the choices were bewildering, but in email and phones exchanges with Al at Teamwork over a number of weeks, I began to understand the system. Al responded to my dumb questions with informed insight and an insider’s enthusiasm for the Actus. Within a few weeks Teamwork had provided me with the perfect set up to supplement the camera system – Arca Swiss D4 Geared head, Gitzo 4543LS tripod, Hasselblad-V, Copal-0enlarger lens plates, and a 90mm Actar lens. I now have a vast new system for image making.

What projects do you have planned with your new Actus-GFX?

The main project is my tabletop macro work. The photographic response to my gathering of natural found objects – which began with the GFX – is now expanded since my technical camera adventure. This expansion operates through a new emphasis on relations between objects and the space they are photographed within.

Most of my lenses in this system have translated into different focal lengths, for instance my 50mm enlarger lens only operates in extreme close-up at a few inches. The Actar 90 is a nice addition, with good colour rendition and contrast. My use of the older lenses bring a grungy old world clarity and colour into the mix.

I’m not aiming for technical perfection but more poetic transformation of the scene before me. These will work as singular images for a gallery wall, and also as a series to be gathered together within a small hand made book, in a project to be developed with bookbinder Heather Dewick.

I’d like to return to portrait and landscape making, something I have not done for many years. The Actus has returned me to serious daily photographic making, and it forms the basis not only of new picture production but also for a deeper step into the world of editing. I am now using Capture One 20, and exploring digital printing with an Epson P800, and have made the further discovery of Japanese inkjet paper from the Awagami Factory. Exciting times! Thank you Cambo, and thank you Teamwork for getting me started on this new technical camera adventure.


 

Interested in seeing what a technical camera could do for your photography? Wondering why shoot medium format? Contact us to discuss our range of recommended systems.

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