Author Topic: A Look at the Cambo Actus Mini-B Tricked Out  (Read 202 times)

Michael Erlewine

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A Look at the Cambo Actus Mini-B Tricked Out
« on: October 02, 2020, 18:47:14 »
If you wonder what would lead me to take a perfectly good Nikon DSLR (and eventually a Nikon Z7), separate the lens from the cameral body, and begin to work with an unwieldly machine like the average View Camera, here is why.

The answer is simple: better and better exotic lenses.

There are a small host of fantastic lenses that don’t easily fit on a camera body, and many don’t even fit on the average bellows rail. I fell in love with these “exotic” lens years ago, for the most part because they are APO (apochromatic) or nearly so.

As for using bellows with my DSLRs, I started (as most do) with the various Nikon bellows systems, the Nikon PB-6, but especially the PB-4, the one with Tilt/Shift capabilities.

I liked what I photographed with bellows and, particularly the various movements like Tilt and Shift. And so, at some point I began to look beyond what Nikon offered and into the Large Format and View Cameras, what are sometimes called technical cameras.

After moving away from the Nikon bellow systems, I’ve had a bunch of view cameras, everything from the tiny Kenlock/Spiratone view camera to the Novoflex BALLPRO-Tilt/Shit, to the Rollei X-ACT-2 (14 lbs with camera/lenses), and then to the Cambo-Actus-XL-35 View Camera (10.6 lbs without camera/lenses), and finally the current one I use all the time, the Cambo Actus Mini-B (2.2 lbs.), more or less tricked out. I include more remarks on some of these other systems farther down.

Of course, I soon wanted to have a view camera with all the possible movements, in case I needed them. For the most part that seemed to end up with quite large (and heavy) view cameras that weighed somewhere around 14 lbs. (with camera and lenses, etc). Although I sometimes did, such a heavy camera was not something I could (or would) take outside and carry around. For me, that was just too bulky and awkward the few times I did.

Even when I ended up putting together the large Cambo Actus XV-35, kind of the Cadillac of the Actus line, I soon found, at least for my purposes, that it was too large and I missed the svelteness and easy-to-use nature of the smaller Cambo Actus Mini-B with a Nikon DSLR or mirrorless camera as a digital back.

In the end, instead of going for the largest machine, with all the bells and whistles, I took the Cambo Actus Mini-B and added what I could to that view camera to make it more powerful. I tricked it out as best I could. And all of these add-ons were expensive as well, but I built a view camera that I am very happy with. And so, I want to talk about this, in case some of you reading might benefit.

The original Cambo Actus Mini-B came with a fixed rear standard with one camera-mounting plate, in my case the Nikon-F. If I wanted to switch to another camera body other than Nikon, I had to unscrew the Nikon mount (removing several tiny screws) and screw on the alternate mount. Needless to say, this was awkward, especially in the field, and basically was a PITA. Here is how I upgraded my Actus Mini-B which cost around $1975,00.

ACB-979 Upgrade from Actus-B to ACTUS-G -$1,060.00

Eventually, Cambo came out with the ACB-979 Upgrade. This conversion set allows me to attach a choice of various camera mounts to my existing Actus-B camera body in a couple of seconds, with no screws, etc..

The upgrade set consists of an alternate
Rear Standard with a lever-release to swap cameras, and a height adjuster for the front standard.

For example, I have the AC-784, which is the camera mount for the Nikon Z7.  Other mounts include Fujifilm GFX50s, the Leica SL/Panasonic-L body, the Hasselblad X1D, Digital back, and there may be others.

A second upgrade that I find very important and which obviates the need for longer rails and bellows is the following:

The AC-373 Dual Base Tilt for Actus

AC-373 adds an extra base tilt adjustment to your Actus camera's, one for the front and another for the rear standard. This kit is a retrofit for all existing ACTUS cameras, Mini, B, G, and DB versions.

The rear base tilt unit mounts between the rear standard focusing unit and the monorail and makes an extra layer of sliding focus too.  An additionally included feature is that this layer allows for 42mm more focus draw, compared to the original configuration.
The front base tilt unit mounts with 4 screws between the front standard and the monorail.

Incremental settings up to 15 degrees of the base tilt are set and locked with a positive lock.

AC-373 gives you additional freedom of movements in applying technical camera settings. Next to that, you can set indirect vertical movements by applying base tilt to both standards, increasing more vertical shift when your optics allow for that.

The greatest value in my work for this AC-373 addition is the additional 42mm to the focus rail. This saves me from having to buy a longer rail and longer bellows for the system and this works with my current bellows (5-fold bellows, 11-inch rail) to accommodate the large-format lenses I tend to often use. Many of my 150mm LF lenses require all the reach I can get for some of the magnifications I need.

Another TOTALLY useful addition is the:

AC-380 Fine-Tune Focus $530.00

The AC-380 is a replacement focus assembly for the Actus camera bodies, with the unique ability to drive the focus movement in normal ratio as well as with a fine ratio of 1:5, allowing very precise focusing in all situations. The extra focus layer knob has a smaller diameter for optimum feeling of fine focus.

AC-380 can be added to every Actus-B, -G and -DB version ever delivered, by a simple replacement routine.

Next to the rear focus movement, the AC-380 is also suitable to replace the Tilt movement on the front standard of the Actus-B series in the same way, but I have not found that necessary. I do find this fine-tuning dual-knob accessory of critical importance, allowing me to march through focus layers and use the fine tune knob for special areas (like spheres) where smaller steps are required.

Lens Plates

There are a number of lens plates available, and I have used them in a variety of ways, often jury-rigging them with various odd combinations.

ACB-0 Copal #0
ACB-1 Copal #1
ACB-39 M39 Mount
ACB-NF Nikon F-Mount

Other lens mounts include Leica-R, Hasselblad, Mamiya RZ-RB, Mamiya 645 Pro TL, Pentax 645, and probably others.

Different length rails include:

AC-315 155mm
AC-330 300mm
AC-345 450mm

Different bellows include:

AC-210 Standard 3-folds
AC-214 200 mm 5 folds (AC -330 rail)

Different Rails include:

Macro AC-215 30cm rail, 7 folds
Macro AC-216 45cm 9 folds

Brief Look at Other Technical Cameras I have looked at:

 (1) Kenlock, (Spiratone, Hama) 35mm View Camera

Not easy to find, but I found one and tried it out. It’s cute and almost robust enough for studio work, which means it does better in a glass case than in actuality. Just too brittle and finicky.

It has swing, Rise, fall, shift, just like the big boys, and although I loved it for its lack of weight, it really could not take the heft of even the Nikon Z7, although it could fit on it. Looks like a dream come true, but its not something that will stand up to daily use, IMO. I decided to kick the can down the road.

(2) Rollei X-ACT-2 (14 lbs with camera/enses). This system, while well made, was just too heavy and awkward, IMO.


Next, let’s look at the Novoflex BALPRO TILT/SHIFT Bellows kit. I have no interest in the non-Tilt/Shift BALPRO-1 Universal Bellows. The Novoflex BALLPRO Tilt/Shift I still have, although I seldom use it. Like most Novoflex products, it is strong and well-made. I use Novoflex focus rails all the time.

The Novoflex BALPRO TILT/SHIFT is solidly made, using, as mentioned, the typical Novoflex rail. It cost (2020) $1245.75, which is reasonable, but there are some painful facts that come with it. Let me detail the main ones. This system does not include any mounts for camera or lenses, so those have to be bought separately and they (like all Novoflex) products are not inexpensive.

On the rear standard, you have to find the adapter for your camera type PLUS the plate for the BALLPRO. Camera mounts include Nikon-F, Leica-M, Olympus, M-42, Pentax-K, and perhaps others.

On the front-standard, you also need a basic lens plate PLUS the kind of adapter for your particular lenses, each quite expensive.

Next, there is no way to switch from horizontal to vertical mode other than to loosen the two front screws, which allows the lens plate to move (or fall out), and then by-hand turn the plate 90-degrees, but there are no marking dots for 90-degrees, so that is a pain. The same is true for the rear standard.

The rear standard shifts (by turning a screw), but while there are increment marks, they are inside the back of the rear-standard. Another locking screw allows the rear standard to rotate right or left, but with no increment marks. On the front is something similar, a lock-screw that allows shift (with increment marks) and another lock-screw that allows right and left turns, but with no increment marks.

There is no way to get front/back tilt other than to mount the whole rail on a 90-degree angle, which is a royal PITA.

And so, I keep my BALPRO T/S because it is well made and I do use it once in a great while. Yet, by the time you trick the whole thing out with plates, adapters, etc., you might as well buy yourself a real view camera, like the Cambo Actus Mini-B, IMO.

BALPRO T/S  $1295
Nikon Adapter $95.70
Camera plate $71.62
Lensplate  $67
LensAdapter Nikon $219

TOTAL $1748

And, if you want the shift adapter, add another $412.50
For total of $2160

The basic Cambo Actus-B4 kit (with Nikon plate) is $1975, so do the math. All you need is a couple of lens plates, like a Nikon F-Mount plate and perhaps a Copal #0 or a Copal #1. I find a M39 plate very useful.


So, there is a brief look at the Cambo Actus Mini-B, upgraded as best as I could.

Cambo ACTUS-B Mini Specifications

Size L / W / H
15 x 10 x 17 CM:   
Weight:   1000 grams
Front Swing:   360 degrees
Front Tilt:   19 degrees (+10/-9)
Rear Shift Vertical:   27mm (12/15)
Rear Shift Horizontal:   40mm (20/20)
Focus Travel:   up to 125mm (Sony E-mount)
   up to 145mm (Nikon F-mount)
   up to 141mm (Canon EOS-mount)
Lens plates options:   Cambo ACTAR lens series
   Copal 0 and 1 (#3 on request)
   Hasselblad C Bayonet
   M39 Leica thread
   Mamiya 645 ProTL bayonet
   Mamiya RZ/RB bayonet
   Pentax 645 bayonet (for mirror less bodies only)
   Leica R Bayonet  (for mirror less bodies only)
   Nikon-F Bayonet  (for mirror less bodies only)
      Canon-EOS bayonet (for mirror less bodies only)

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Erik Lund

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Re: A Look at the Cambo Actus Mini-B Tricked Out
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2020, 13:01:27 »
Amazing contraption indeed! Looks like a mechanical collage ;)
And with fitting array of APO lenses too!

Thanks for sharing !
Erik Lund


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Re: A Look at the Cambo Actus Mini-B Tricked Out
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2020, 14:58:15 »
Fascinating Michael.

You asked for thoughts on photographic lenses & kit recently.
It looks like your new project has got off to a great start - informative and visually engaging too