Cambo Factory Visit


Exterior of the Cambo Photographic Industry (Cambo) Factory in Kampen, The Netherlands

This winter, I was lucky enough to be able to get a tour of the Cambo Facotry in Kapem in the Netherlands. I was visiting a friend in Amsterdam, and Lance Schad from Digital Transitions (a Cambo Dealer and my PhaseOne dealer of choice) suggested that I visit the Cambo factory while I was there. This turned out to be a very interesting experience for me, and I hope that it will be an interesting behind the scenes look at the production of Cambo’s cameras for you.

In this review, I will be covering the vintage cameras, as well as the factory and production process of Cambo cameras, I also made some images of their newer offerings (released at Photokina 2012) which include the WRS-5000 (a slightly improved version of the WRS-AE) and the compact WRC-400 which are fully integrated into the current system of adapters and plates that Cambo makes. Pictures of these cameras can be seen in the Set I uploaded to Flickr here. Some other items can be found there which are not discussed in this review.

Kampen is located between an hour and an hour and a half outside of central Amsterdam, where I was staying. Rene Rook from Cambo (who Lance put me in contact with) was nice enough to pick me and my friend up form the train station and drive us the short distance to the industrial park which houses Cambo’s factory and headquarters. From the outside it is fairly unassuming, which was helped by the fact that it was a very overcast day when we went, however inside the lights were on and everyone was busy at work. They had just returned from their holiday break and were back in production.


Upon entering the building you are immediately struck by a display, showcasing some of Cambo’s Heritage. Cambo was founded in 1947 and began its life producing 4×5 cameras before branching out into other cameras (which we will see later). Cambo still produces three solutions which cover the 4×5 image. First there is the Cambo SC-2 Basic which Cambo asserts is “tried and proven” as well as built in “traditional Cambo robust, metal construction” which are two hallmarks of the brand. Looking at these cameras from the companies past, the SC-2 Basic’s heritage is clear (I believe this camera can be used with Cambo adapter plates with MFDB’s but do not quote me). Then there is the higher end Cambo Ultima Series Ultima 45 Camera which is designed to be a hybrid camera functioning in both the film and digital realms. The Ultima features far more precise gearing then the SC-2 Basic, allowing for it to be precisely focused to the standards of demanding modern digital backs. Both of these products are compatible with the majority of Cambo’s accessories including focusing hoods and lens boards, which can also be adapted from other brands such as Sinar. Finally, and most interestingly, there is the Cambo Wide DS Series WDS Camera which is familiar in form and design to MFDB technical cameras like the others offered from Cambo but uniquely offers coverage for 4×5 film and features an insert for a ground glass with traditional graflok back. This solution was created, as its name suggests for use with wider angle lenses and still allowing for coverage of the 4×5 frame. Again this camera is capable of taking Digital backs (with the proper adapters) and allows for hybrid use in the same way that the Ultima 45 camera does while not sacrificing its capabilities as a traditional 4×5 camera. The Cambo WDS is the most interesting to me, since I have been looking for a compact 4×5 system for a while. Movements are not essential for me, I do not use them in my photography on smaller formats and see no reason to change this. Consequently compact solutions like the Cambo WDS and the Arca-Swiss RL3D(i) are ones that I have considered and am still considering to let me get that big 4×5 negative or transparency in a compact package. With the end of the era of the Copal shutter, the WDS will be capable of using the Schneider electronic shutter system.


Vintage Cambo Cameras displayed in the Factory Show Room

Walking further into the factory, you are faced with the showroom, which contains cabinets containing the current line up of products and then the very interesting display cases that you see above which house some more of the companies heritage (which they are clearly very proud of) showcasing some of the rare-r cameras that the company has produced.

I was not sure how to do this next part of the review, but have decided to link to the Flickr page containing the camera I will be discussing about and the continue the discussion here while we look at some of the interesting cameras in this case:

The Cambo Passport Camera (shown in the upper right hand picture above) took four images simultaneously allowing for four copies of the passport image to be recorded identically on the same piece of 4×5 film. Even rarer then this model, is the one which sits directly to its left. This model, was produced by Cambo and branded for Kodak, however, Kodak had its own liscening issues and very few examples of this camera were every produced (**Update** I may have led you astray and it may have been produced by Cambo for Polaroid and then they got in trouble with Kodak, I will confirm).

The Cambo Mugshot Camera  is another rare and unique piece housed in Cambo’s small “museum” if you will. This camera may look similar to some of the old TLR-style 4×5 cameras, and you would be right in making this assumption, since after all it has two lenses. However, this very special and unique camera was produced at the request of Police forces so that they could observe the subject while they are taking the picture….you have to keep your eyes on those convicts….the mechanisms on the side of the camera allow for the two lenses to be focused simultaneously without having to close the top lens for the making of an image. In this way the process was more efficient as well as safer. I found this camera to be one of the most entertaining vintage cameras shown by Cambo.

Cambo also had a Special 4×5 50th Anniversary Edition in Gold on display which was fittingly produced for their “Golden Anniversary”, a nice touch which added to the sense of pride in the company and its products felt throughout the production process of Cambo’s cameras.


After viewing the current Cambo line up, including thier releases from Photokina 2012 (which can be viewed at the Flickr link above) which I will be reviewing with the help of Digital Transitions later this month, we entered into the Cambo factory floor. Entering this large industrial room, you are immediately hit with the contrast between modern CNC machines and traditional metal precision metal working equipment. The picture above, highlights rather well which of these two types of equipment is being used today.


Here we see a Cambo Technician preparing a newly acquired CNC machine for the production of Cambo’s products. Each of those holders sitting on the bench to the right will be fitted with a block of aluminum which will then sit in waiting (the part of the machine that says indumatik light) until the Bridgeport CNC machine is ready to work tis magic on it. This new machine allows for further efficiency since it can be programed with the a job and then left to run independently.


While CNC machines fascinate and perplex me with wonderment in their precision and complexity, I found what we see in the above photo, all the more fascinating. Here we see the raw aluminum before being shaped into precise photographic instruments. To me, it is truly fascinating that from these raw blocks of metal will come the wonderful and detailed products which Cambo is known for. Inauspicious beginnings as it were.


Left to Right: Computer controlling CNC Machines, Raw-CNC WRS Rear, and Raw-CNC WRS Front

Click to view links above to view the images larger on Flickr

Continuing with the CNC machining process, we get a behind the scenes look, as well as a look at the final product in these next three photos. On the left we have one of the computers controlling the CNC machines which were busy blasting away metal to form the final products you see on the right. While being mesmerized by CNC machines, I have some idea about the back end. I used to fool around with 3D modeling and played with 3D printing in its early days (think like Shapeways) and further find it fascinating for people to be able to model things so precisely on the computer and then have them magically appear in a physical form in front of them. This magical physical form is what you see before you in the center and right images. The Right image presents the front of the body of the WRS which has been closely machined along with the holes and threading for the screws which will hold the few other parts of the body together after assembly. These two images show the metal in its raw post CNC-ing state. I was highly entertained when I learned that I could put the pieces together (3 in the case of the center) and they would fully fit together and more or less function before being buffed and coated. This speaks to the high level of precision possible with Cambo’s CNC machines, which they measure and quality check using this ultra-precise measuring device.


In another room away from the main Factory floor, Cambo buffs their own products, allowing for the sharp edges of the CNC production process to be smoothed out and the product to become closer to the finished product that will be shipped out. This machine oscillates and contains (I believe ceramic? maybe silicon?) triangular tiles which are soaked in a lubricated fluid and buff the product while it passively oscillated around the machine. When it comes out of here, a piece of the WRS body will only need to be coated (in black) and have its designations and markers applied.


Cambo also posse this machine which forms for them the plastic parts that they need for certain parts of their products. This again, shows the economic efficiency of Cambo. Rather then having these parts made someplace like China, and then having them shipped, they have their own machine. Other then this obvious cost saver, Cambo produces small batches of plastic products as they need them, and no supplier would want to supply at the small quantities that Cambo requires. All of the one-of-a-kind molds are housed in a special fireproof vault which can be seen here. Along with the Coating (Blackening) process which is similar to the DLC or PVD coating on black watches, which is also done in the Netherlands, this plastic machine allows for Cambo to proudly state that their cameras are a “Made in The Netherlands” because as we can see, it is almost if not entirely produced in the country.


Finally, we come to the assembly process where the finished parts are put together into the final products:


At this bench, the cameras will be assembled, checked, re-checked and confirmed to be functioning. The assembly and stock room is almost as large as the main room of the factory. Cambo stocks a large number of their products including their studio stands (which can be custom ordered to desired heights) as well as their cinema equipment, which they also make a large part of in house. They do stock a number of lenses, which they have mounted into their proprietary helical mount (and checked using this machine) however stocks of these and their camera bodies are lower because they are always in demand. Dealers generally have a very good stock of bodies as well as lenses. Cambo is known for their customer support and they will work with customers to get them the lenses they need in the quickest possible manner. They are also very helpful and approachable to discuss the gear if it needs to be serviced, or remounted (possibly into the new tilt-swing mount) although this does not happen often, since Cambo’s products will last for many years if treated properly while functioning perfectly. That said, Cambo also has a large stock of parts for their current and passed cameras dating back all the way to 1947.

It was an absolute joy to be able to get this intimate look at the production of Cambo’s cameras, and I would like to thank both Lance Schad and Rene Rook for helping me to make this happen. I hope that it has been as enjoyable for you to read this as it was for me to visit the Cambo factory, again more images of current Cambo products, as well as some other shots of the factory are available on my Flickr page here.

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