Canham KBC 4x5/5x7 camera: a review

by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page


These cameras are made by Keith Canham, a craftman and engineer based in Arizona who assembles himself all the cameras, in various formats up to 20x24. The camera that I own is the 4x5/5x7. At the time of writting of this version, I have shot several thousand transparencies with the camera.

Keith Canham has all the metal parts made by someone else with very high precision standards. They are aircraft-quality anodised aluminium, and have been designed with weight saving in mind. The wood is black walnut. The camera is very well put together with impeccable finition. It has a slick and contemporary look quite different from traditional wooden cameras, and this difference reflects an innovative design.

The size of the camera is intermediate between a traditional 4x5 and a traditional 5x7. This makes it a very good performing 4x5 (with the longest bellows of all and plenty of movements) at the expense of some extra bulk. On the other hand it makes a light and compact 5x7, at the expense of a few limitations which are detailed later.

It can be transformed from 5x7 into a 4x5 just by changing the back. However, for some weird reason, the 4x5 back is thicker than the 5x7 back, and therefore the camera has to be refocused. By changing the rear standard and the bellows (which can be done in 30s), it can be transformed into a 4x10. Keith is designing a custom modification to allow it to be transformed into a 8x10 as well (but it will not fold this way). The real 8x10 camera weights only 9 lbs.

The cost, $2500 is a bit expensive, compared to some Zone VI, Wisner and Wista cameras, but you get a high quality camera which has few equivalents among the woodfield. Since there are not many around (and the owners seem satisfied) it is difficult to find them on the used market. The camera can be ordered (for a $60 charge) with a front standard which will take the Technika-style lensboards, which are easy to find new and used, quite small, and a de factor standard for field cameras. The standard lensboards are compatible with Toyo and are slighly larger. I personally use the Technika lensboards for two reasons. The size advantage doesn't look like much, but with seven lenses to pack, it makes a difference. I also own a Technika and before, I had a Tachihara which used Technika lensboard.

The ground glass is not very bright, and has a fairly coarse grain, but on the other hand, it does not suffer from a very pronounced hot-spot. I found it too difficult to focus with the original ground glass, and tried adding a fresnel, replaced it with a toyo glass, and eventually settled on a Boss screen which is a considerable improvement.

There is a dedicated compendium shade which screws on top of the front standard and is well-designed.


Wide-angle configuration (with 90mm lens)

Long lens configuration (with 720mm T lens)


Materials: walnut / 6061 t6 aluminum hard black anodized
Weight: 6lbs.
Dimensions: 9.5" x 10.375" x 4.25
Lens Board: Canham 4.3" or Toyo field (Technika add $60)

Min. Bellows - Standard: 3"
Min Bellows - Wide Angle: 0"
Max Bellows - Standard: 28"
Max Bellows - Wide Angle: 9"

Rear Shift: 7"
Rear Swing: 22 degrees
Rear Tilt: 20 degrees back / limited by bellows forward

Front Swing: 42 deg.
Front Tilt - Axis: limited by bellows
Front Tilt - Base: 45 deg. forward / 90 deg. back
Front Rise: 1.125"
Front Fall: 2"

Likes and Dislikes

What I like:

The few (minor) problems I had in field:

Limitations due to the compact design (which show up mostly in 5x7): On my camera, it looks like the front and the rear standard are not perfectly aligned in the neutral position (probably a general drawback of wooden cameras). Keith measured them and said that actually the image plane and focal plane are well-aligned, but that when you set up the camera you have to be very careful to sit properly the rods in the zero-mark notches, which means pushing the front standard forward with a significant pressure. Failing to do that could result in partly soft images.

On my version, I missed calibrated scales, in particular on the focus track (for depth of field calculations) or on the rising/falling front (to center the lens). If you own an older camera like me, Keith can send you a mylar piece of tape you stick on the rail. Current cameras come with engraved scales. I suppose you could switch the old rail for a new part with the engraving, but I have not bothered to do so.

My camera developped a light leak after a few years of use. In some particular conditions (sun at a low angle striking the lower back of the camera), my transparencies suffer from the same light leak pattern. Keith was responsive and tried hard to eliminate the problem, but so far without success. This seems to be an isolated problem.

I also noticed that the back standard would periodically become a bit loose, even when everything was locked down. Keith fixed that a couple of times (when I sent him back the camera to fix other problems). I eventually found out that you can fix this just by re-tightening some of the bolts. Don't loose the wrench kit that you got with your camera !



One of the best things about buying a camera from Keith is the service. Unlike other manufacturers, KB Canham does not advertise heavily a life-time warranty, but I have found that he really stands behind his product, providing truly outstanding service and attention. He was extremely nice to deal with, once fixed the camera and replaced a defective bellows at no charge, and within a few days.

When I bought the KBC, there was no real alternative as a lightweight 5x7. Since then, amazingly, the number of offerings has become quite significant for such an orphaned format. However, I think that the KBC, although not perfect, is still among the best 5x7 field cameras. It is well-made, capable, and quite light and compact. In 4x5, I would look at the DLC 4x5 from Canham, if weight and size are critical, otherwise the MQC 5x7 metal based on the successful DLC design is also certainly worth checking out. Those cameras, although made of metal, share a lot of design features with the KBC. The weight, size, and capabilities of the KBC and the MQC are quite similar. Besides the wood vs metal issue, which will cause many to prefer the MQC, there are some differences, some favoring the KBC:

More info

  2038 East Downing
  Mesa, AZ 85213
  (480) 964-8624

Michael Mutmansky's review of the DLC adresses some points which are also valid about the KBC.

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