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The Lotus Rapid Field

System chart

»In summary, this camera did sweep me off my feet.« Gene Kennedy © 1998
Two or three months ago, I was informed that I would be reviewing a new 4x5 camera from Lotus, the Austrian maker of large wooden cameras and cutfilm holders, etc. After a year and a half of reviewing almost all of the premium field cameras, I did not think there was any way I would get swept off my feet by some newcomer in the world of folding flatbeds. I mean, really - how much better can you do than a Canham, Gandolfi, or Wisner, for $2500 or less? That question remains to be answered, but I will say this: Move over, boys - it's getting crowded up there at the top! If you are shopping for the finest wood field camera you can find, the Lotus View Rapid Field Camera 4x5 must be on your list of models to look at. This is no criticism of the other top cameras; it's just to let you know that the appearance of the Lotus Rapid Field 4x5 may have suddenly made your decision noticeably more difficult.
What is it about this new camera that puts it into this elite company? To begin with, the Lotus Rapid Field simply hits you in the face with its elegance and exquisite craftsmanship. It is made of European and American cherry wood, with powdercoated and black anodized aluminum and brass metal parts. With its black hardware and bellows, it has a contemporary rather than classical look, somewhat in the same way Keith Canham's wood cameras do. The bellows can also be ordered in red, but considering how good it looks in black, I can't imagine why anybody would want to.
Okay, so it looks great. What can it do? The Lotus Rapid Field has an assortment of movements typical of better wood folders. It has a full complement of movements on the front: swing, base and axis tilt, lateral shift, and rise and fall. The rear movements are limited to base tilt, swing, and lateral shift. There is no rear rise and fall, but that mechanism is available on special order for an additional charge. Lotus' entry into the »let's see who can make the longest bellows« contest checks in with a throw of more than 23-1/2 inches, due to its quadruple-extension bed. By using the dualtilt mechanism on the front standard, that draw can easily be stretched to more than 24 inches.
Why do they all do this? I mean, honestly, how many of you need 24 inches of bellows draw, or 22, or even 20? Think about what 24 inches of bellows does, smashed up behind your 90mm lens, when you try to raise the lens for an architectural shot.
Oh, that's what it does - it makes you want to buy the optional wide-angle bellows.Speaking of wide-angle applications, the Lotus camera doesn't allow you to bang into the ground glass, like some brands. With the standards upright and the standard bellows, the minimum extension is 84 mm, adequate for some 75mm lenses. With the bag bellows installed and the lensboard plane moved backward with the dualtilt front, the camera can handle a Schneider 47mm Super Angulon XL lens on a flat board or a Rodenstock 45mm Apo-Grandagon on a recessed board.
The Lotus has lots of focusing tracks, all with the traditional "focus with the righthand knob, lock with the left-hand" knob arrangement. The outer set of tracks move the rear standard backward, as much as 150 mm; the inner set of tracks move the front standard forward 150 mm or backward 30 mm. The rear standard can move up to 127 mm forward, independent of the outer tracks. And finally, inside the front focusing tracks, an additional sliding extension allows 19 mm or backward or 100 mm of forward movement. This last extension is the only one not moved by rack and pinion gear drives. It also provides the extra element that allows the camera to achieve its 24 inches of bellows draw.
All the racks and pinions on the Lotus are made of black Delrin, which makes the focusing as smooth as butter. This silkysmooth focusing won me over right away - there are many wood cameras whose focusing will never be described as »silky.« The knobs on the Lotus are softly rounded fourpointed plastic stars. My first impression was that I would prefer something more round, but after a while, they felt perfectly comfortable. The knobs for the front and rear focus tracks protrude from the side of the camera by about 11/16 inch; a very knowledgeable friend suggested that they might be dangerously vulnerable to impact,« considering the way American photographers treat their equipment.» Be careful out there!
The base of the Lotus is unique. Inside a square wood frame, three "slats" are evenly spaced, with openings between. Attached to the slats is a round metal disk, with the tripod mounting hole in the center. The whole thing has a distinctive appearance and probably provides some weight reduction at the same time. In summary, this camera did sweep me off my feet. I certainly don't envy those of you who have to choose.

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