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The Lotus Rapid Field

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Equipment Review, Kerry L. Thalmann -LOTUS RAPID FIELD 5X7
Built in a small village near Salzburg, Austria, the Lotus Rapid Field 5x7combines traditional and modern materials in a camera that is light enough for field use, but still has ample bellows draw and generous movements.
The camera body is made from cherry wood. Besides an attractive appearance, cherry is a durable hardwood that combines good strength and stability with light weight. This makes it a logical choice for a field camera that will be subjected to the elements, but still light enough to carry to remote locations.
Rather than using traditional brass, all of the large metal assemblies are made from black anodized or black powder-coated aluminum. Besides making the Lotus lighter, the aluminum parts are also more corrosion resistant. The focusing tracks and drive gears on the Lotus are machined from Delrin, a hard plastic composite material made by DuPont. Although Lotus is the first large format camera maker to use Delrin for focusing tracks, it is a time proven material with many desirable characteristics. It is an engineering plastic with metal-like properties including high tensile strength, impact resistance, outstanding fatigue endurance, excellent resistance to moisture and solvents, excellent dimensional stability and natural lubricity. Delrin has been around since 1960 and has an excellent track record for use in automotive, appliance and consumer products applications. As a user, I found the focusing of the Lotus Rapid Field to be silky smooth, even when used in sub-freezing temperatures.
The bellows are also made of a modern synthetic material that is more flexible, durable and resistant to moisture than traditional leather bellows. With both standards in the neutral positions, I measured a maximum bellows extension of 584mm (23"). For users wanting more extension, Lotus offers an optional extension feature that provides a maximum extension of 680mm with the standards in their neutral positions. In practical terms, the Lotus offered plenty of extension for my two longest lenses, the 450mm Fujinon C which needs 425.3mm of extension to focus at infinity, and the 720mm Nikkor T-ED, a telephoto design requiring 469.2mm of extension for infinity focus.
To facilitate the use of wide angle lenses, the Lotus incorporates an additional set of top mounted tracks and free-running pinion gears. Since focusing is still accomplished using the standard front and rear focusing knobs, no drive gear is necessary for these additional tracks. The rear standard slides smoothly right up behind the front standard for wide angle use. In this configuration, the Lotus worked well with my 110mm Super Symmar XL, the widest lens I normally use on the 5x7 format. With this lens mounted on a flat lens board, the tightly compressed bellows limited front rise to about 3/4". 90mm is the shortest lens that can be focused with the front standard in the neutral position. For shorter lenses, combining front base and axis tilts to achieve infinity focus is necessary. For unrestricted movements with lenses shorter than 110mm, Lotus offers an optional wide angle bellows that works with lenses from 45mm to 240mm.
While no lens shorter than the 72mm Super Angulon XL can cover the 5x7 format, some users may wish to use shorter lenses with the optional 4x5 reducing back. I have used many field cameras, but I cannot think of any with more generous movements than the Lotus. Now can I think of a situation in the field where the movements of the Lotus would not be up to the task. In practice, you are likely to run out of lens coverage well before exceeding the movement capabilities of the Lotus.
The front standard has the full complement of movements: base and axis tilts, shift, swing and rise and fall. Rear standard movements include base tilt, lateral shift, swing and rise. Rear axis tilt is available as an extra cost option. Using the rear shift movement, the rear standard can slide completely off the camera base. This allows the 5x7 back to be replaced by the optional 4x10 panoramic back.
All knobs on the Lotus are aluminum four-pointed stars rather than round knurled metal knobs. Besides being lighter in weight, the unique shape of these knobs allows them to be small in diameter, yet still easy to grip firmly. These knobs are so comfortable that they actually feel soft in my hands. The levers for the front shift and rear swing movements are large and easy to reach. This makes the Lotus a pleasure to operate in the real world. Even while wearing gloves for shooting in frigid weather.
Another feature that improves the usability of the Lotus is the lack of a center detent on the front axis tilt. Normally, I would consider that a drawback, not a feature. I like a camera that can be set-up fast with all movements in the neutral position. Therefore, I usually prefer firm, positive detents on all swing and tilt movements. Unfortunately, small adjustments near the neutral positions often prove difficult due to these detents. The standard has a tendency to jump right back to the detent position. By eliminating this detent, Lotus has eliminated the problem. In place of a detent, the Lotus has a small level on the top of the front standard that can be used with a similar level on the side of the rear standard to square up the camera. The front axis tilt also employs something the manufacturer calls "soft lock" that provides sufficient tension to hold even a relatively heavy lens in place, but still allows small finger tip adjustments. Initially, I thought the lack of a detent on the front axis tilt would prove highly inconvenient. However, upon using the Lotus in the field, I quickly became quite comfortable with its unique front standard design. The combination of level and "soft lock" allowed me to square up the camera quickly and then easily make small adjustments to the front tilt as desired.
Every view camera design is a series of trade offs involving size, weight, bellows length, movements, rigidity and cost. Different designs make slightly different trade offs to reach a compromise that the designer hopes will appeal to the most users. Ultralight models have less bellows extension, modest movements, and often lack rigidity. More rigid cameras tend to be quite heavy and often very expensive. In the Lotus, there is some sacrifice in rigidity in exchange for its lightweight, compact design with long bellows draw and generous movements. This lack of rigidity becomes
most apparent at long extensions. Here, the camera seems to benefit from the use of a heavy lens. The weight of the lens provides ballast that helps stabilize the front of the camera and makes it less likely to move in a strong wind. Although this lack of stability may appear disconcerting at first, in actual use, it would rarely be an issue. The camera uses the common Linhof/Wista lens boards. One board is included in the price of the camera.
The Lotus Rapid View is available in sizes from 4x5 through 20x24 and panoramic sizes from 4x10 up to 12x20. Lotus is also willing to customize cameras to meet specific user needs. There is currently no official US distributor, but Lotus cameras and accessories are sold through a number of North American dealers, or they can be purchased directly from the manufacturer. Lotus Cameras, www.lotus viewcamera.at. The 5x7 model sells for Euro 3058 / DM 5980 (equivalent to about $2800 depending on currency exchange rates). It is priced competitively with other high end 5x7 field cameras.
The Lotus Rapid View 5x7 is a very capable, versatile, lightweight field camera. It is more than just an update of the traditional wooden view camera. It is an evolutionary design that melds the best of the past with modern, lightweight, durable materials.
Kerry L. Thalmann is a large format nature photographer who lives near Portland, Oregon. He specializes in color landscape photography of the American West primarily in 4x5, but also occasionally 5x7 and 6x17. His work has been published in numerous national and regional magazines and calendars, and can be viewed at the Photographic Image Gallery in Portland.

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