Last fall I reviewed the Intrepid Camera, a low-cost 4x5 large-format film camera. Although the sentiment behind the camera was admirable, I found it lacking in finish and functionality. Well now Intrepid has come out with their second version which aims to correct many of the flaws of their first generation. Were they successful? In a word: Yes!
The Problems of the First Generation
As a longtime evangelist of film, it pained me to give a less than flattering review of the first Intrepid camera, but there were too many flaws I couldn't overlook. The camera, though functional, seemed unfinished. The wood had a rough finish, and the bored holes were rough as well. The bed scraped across the base of the camera while focusing, and front movements, while present, seemed clunky. The camera was light, but because of that lightness paired with its unfinished nature, it did not inspire confidence.
Learning From the First
I wouldn't say that Intrepid went back to the drawing board completely with version 2, but they certainly went into this design with a little more ambition. It seems like they wanted to make a camera that, although cheap, didn't feel flimsy. Suffice it to say that although the camera is still extremely lightweight, the whole package seems more refined. Surfaces are now finished and don't feel like they could cause splinters. Focusing is smooth as butter. The ground glass, although very clear, is somewhat dim, especially in low light. I'd recommend replacing it or adding a fresnel for better light distribution across the image.
All in all, I have to say that with the exception of an embarrassing mishap, which I go into in the real-world review video above, I had no problems with the functionality of the camera.
Tips for Successful Use
Sturdiness and stability are always important in large-format photography, but with a camera so light, that goes double. Be sure to crank down on those knobs when setting your camera, else you will definitely knock it out of proper alignment for your shot. I know this first hand. Also, although the camera is incredibly light, a sturdy tripod is a must. If you've got this thing on a rickety cheap tripod you can forget about being in focus if you're anywhere near wide open on your lens. The tolerances of large-format photography are thin enough as it is, but it's entirely too easy to bump and move a light tripod. You'll be pushing your film holder in with a decent amount of force and you'll need support that doesn't move. Either that or if you're in the field and want a light tripod for hiking, be sure to bring some sort of weight to hold down your tripod for extra stability.
There are some great things to like about this camera. Namely:
- Lightweight (not that big of a deal unless you're hiking long distances where every ounce matters)
- Much more refined than the first version
- Cheap! At £250 (Currently a bit more than $300 USD) it's a no brainer.
- Functional. Although it has non movements in the back, it's very flexible up front
Could Use Work
- The ground glass is not so great in low light, with the edges all but unreadable. Get a fresnel. Intrepid, if you're listening: Offer a fresnel as an add-on!
Who Is This Thing For?
At first, I thought the obvious end user for a product like this would be new large format users. The price point alone screams "beginner." However, after some time with it, I think the best person for a camera like this would be someone who has experience with large format already and needs a lightweight second camera for long hikes or location work where weight savings matter. The reason for this is that with large format there are already so many ways for you to mess up. This camera, because of its weight and the way you adjust for movements, is fairly unforgiving. There are no measurement scales on the camera. No levels. There's no way to know if you are at zero (level) on the front standard. If you don't crank it down enough, you could knock it out of focus very easily. A beginner might get frustrated with not knowing why their images are turning out soft.
That said, a beginner could absolutely use this camera to great effect as long as they are tenacious with their technique. It's a good buy. Hell, it's a great buy. Just know that you can't be sloppy.
I took the camera with me on a few shoots so that you could see some real-world use and I give my thoughts on its performance in the above video. If you have any questions or comments, fire away below!
You can order version 2 of the Intrepid Camera through their website.