The Zone VI field camera

Compiled by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page

Quick review by Philip Greenspun

I just returned my Zone VI 4x5 field camera and I thought I'd let you know why. Good point: the camera looks beautiful, with its polished mahogany standards and gold-plated fixtures; people always stop to ask you if it is an antique (with a Sinar, they just stop to ask if you are sane).

Bad points:

  1. the camera is heavy and bulky, almost as bad as a Sinar F2 and not nearly as small as a Horseman FA
  2. the lensboards are big losers. First of all, they have to be almost forced into the camera since the clips don't retract far enough. Secondly, after laboriously removing a lens, one must then push the clips back to fold the camera (a Horseman would let you leave a small lens mounted so I hear). Finally, the dish around the rear element isn't large enough for either of the two spanner wrenches I tried to work, i.e. you have to spend $150 for a special wrench or you can't share lenses with another camera.
  3. the camera would be way better if it had a collapsible focussing hood so that the ground glass was protected in transport and also so that one didn't have to carry a bulky focussing cloth
  4. folding up the camera is a tedious nightmare of unscrewing what seems like dozens of crudely knurled knobs -- not much fun on a freezing day.
  5. focussing involves manipulating knobs on both sides of the camera
  6. even with all knobs tightened, the standards seem to move without my wanting them to.
Using one of these for just a day will remind you of why they invented Nikons.

User's review by Howard Lester

I purchased a ZONE VI 4x5" from ZONE VI in 1989 and have been quite happy with it. I returned it once, for two reasons: The rear focusing was not smooth, and one of the rotating clips was loose and needed to be re-worked.

It has performed well ever since. It is extremely sturdy and robust; unfortunately that partly contributes to it's relatively high weight of 6 lbs., as compared to the 3-1/2 lbs. of the typical Japanese cherrywood cameras. The more obvious reason for the extra weight has already been alluded to: it has rear focusing as well as front, allowing the camera to extend the bellows to 22", compared to the usual 12" or 13" of the others. The addition of rear focusing means more wood and metal.

I have never had any problems mounting lenses, using a cheap spanner wrench, or mounting lensboards. The camera clips that hold the lensboards work smoothly on mine. The side knobs that clamp down the opposite focusing knobs DO loosen as you focus (a pain), but once you lock those knobs down, they do NOT move. It is FAR more secure than a simple clamp system used on some other field cameras. You can feel confident that once everything is locked, the camera, with all its adjustments, will stay where you set it. And, the camera has never moved from the act of inserting a film holder EXCEPT when something wasn't fully tightened.

The front standard WILL move back and forth, even after tightening, but that causes no problems once the camera is focused and ready to shoot.

No, the camera does not have a collapsible focusing hood; instead I use a $15 plastic insert sold by Calumet to otherwise protect the fresnel lens or ground glass. However, ANYthing to avoid the need for a focusing cloth would be worthwhile on ANY large format camera!

Folding the camera can be a bit of a nuisance if you don't have everything lined up just right, and no, it doesn't allow you to fold it with a lens in place as some other cameras do, but it's not so tedious once you learn the routine. Since we large format users *typically* use just rise/fall and tilt the majority of the time, and the rear focusing is not used too often, there are generally only four knobs to loosen and two to re-tighten during the folding process.


The real downside for me is that it's HEAVY. It's a royal pain to have to schlep it and all the extra stuff around. Before buying the ZONE VI, I had first borrowed a Tachihara for three months to help me decide if I really wanted to go large format. I could put it, with 150mm lens folded inside, three film holders, cloth, a Nikon FM to use as a light meter(!).. all into a Lands' End cloth attache! And, I could use the Tachihara on a lightweight Bogen 3001. But the ZONE VI requires at least a Bogen 3021 - still more weight - and whatever else I've managed to stuff into an internal frame backpack with side pockets makes for a fairly heavy package by comparison.

Another downside: The bellows is so long that you MUST buy/use the accessory bag bellows if you want to use full rise and fall with a 90mm or wider lens. The bellows is so compressed when using a 90 that you can't move it around. The short bellows of the other wooden cameras have, in effect, more flexibility when compressed to the same length as that of the ZONE VI. And, at short focal lengths, the operation of the front standard is kind of "kludgy". It's not something I can describe in writing. However, I HAVE gotten some excellent transparencies from the 90mm lens withOUT using a bag bellows. I just could not take advantage of extensive rise and fall.

I was also disappointed that the [overpriced] accessory fresnel lens does not have a grid.

I've thought about selling the ZONE VI and getting something lighter, but every time I go through the entire argument, I stay with what I have. All of its advantages, uh, "outweigh" the weight disadvantage. I paid $900 for it seven years ago. Is it worth the $1400 or $1500 they're now asking? I don't know, but at that price, for something comparable, I'd certainly look at a Wisner, and others.

Another user's review by Kerry Thalmann

I used a Zone VI as my primary large format camera for about two years, at which time I replaced it with a Wisner Technical Field Camera. Comparisons to the Wisner are inevitable due to similarities in design and features (the Zone VI was originally designed by Ron Wisner). Zone VI has since made a few minor changes, but the design is still very similar to the Wisner Traditional. In terms of functionality, the two cameras are very similar (but not identical, the Wisner has slightly longer bellows, for example), but in terms of quality, the Wisner wins hands down. No comparison. Quite frankly, I don't know why any one would purchase a new Zone VI (they can be bargains on the used market) when the Wisner Traditional is much better built, has slightly longer bellows, and only costs $50 more.

I know that's a pretty strong condemnation of the Zone VI, so I'll back it up with a few points. I bought my camera shortly after Zone VI was bought by Calumet. I also bought it during a holiday sale promo. So, demand was way up (I had to wait about two months to get my camera). Perhaps this increased demand lead to some of the quality problems I observed with my particular camera. Perhaps, this situation has been corrected now that they have made it up the initial steep production ramp.

These problems were the result of poor workmanship. Specifically, poor fit and finish of the wooden parts. The finish on the camera was very uneven (looked like someone just slapped on one thick, uneven coat of varnish). One additional problem was the result of poor material selection/process. I am referring to the gold plated hardware "feature". This finish was very thin and became very pitted and black in spots after a very short time (keep in mind I only used this camera for two years). The front standard was especially bad. When I called Zone VI, they told me I needed to polish the hardware (in spite of their claim that the gold plated hardware "will never tarnish"). I used the polish they recommended (Rubin Brite - a jeweler's rouge). Which did improve the appearance, but also stripped off much of the remaining thin gold plating exposing the bare brass underneath.

Positive points. I did like the "easy-open bail" feature. Made it easy to insert film holders without disturbing the camera position. Although, I prefer the look of the Wisner red leather bellows, the vinyl coated Zone VI bellows were better suited to working in the often rainy climate where I live (NW Oregon).

Max. Bellows: 18"
Weight: 6 lbs.
Folded Dimensions: 7.75" x 9.5" x 3.75"
Actual New Price: $1395 (from Calumet 1-800-CALUMET)

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