Updated July 11, 2021

Introduction

Digital view cameras allow for a full range of camera movements -- sometimes as many as are available to people using monorail 4x5 and 8x10 view cameras. Typically digital view cameras are used with specialized and very expensive medium format backs. I needed a less expensive, and more robust, way to use camera movements with a digital camera.

Fujifilm's GFX 50R medium format camera offers a much less expensive option than a medium format back  (albeit with important limitations). My challenge was to find a camera to use it on that provided the  movements. The Actus system from Cambo is a popular choice for people seeking camera movements  with a Fuji GFX camera. The F-Universalis from Arca-Swiss is another option. Relatively inexpensive tilt-shift adapters are yet another option. I used tilt-shift adapters extensively with my APS-C tilt-shift outfit. They provide a useful but limited set of movements. I always wanted more, e.g., the ability to combine tilt with rise, which isn't possible with a single tilt-shift adapter.

A friend and fellow photographer showed me the Toyo VX23D, a very flexible professional digital view camera that was produced in the early days of medium format digital technical cameras. These are available on the used market for a small fraction of the cost of currently available systems such as the Cambo Actus or the Arca-Swiss F-Universalis.

The Toyo VX23D, in combination with a Fuji GFX 50R, gives me all the camera movements I used to have when I worked with 4x5 film and view cameras. It has limitations, which I discuss below, but for the kind of photography I do it is an excellent and inexpensive solution.

On this page, I provide an overview of the system I have built. I've also prepared a gallery of pictures that show the camera and its features, and a collection of sample images that show infinity performance (bottom of page).

If you're interested in building a system like this, send me an email via my contact page, and I will send you detailed instructions.

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Toyo VX23D Digital View Camera

The Toyo VX23D is a digital view camera that was designed for medium format backs, e.g., ones using the Hasselblad H mount or Mamiya 645AF mount. Both stationary and sliding adapters were available. With these kinds of backs, the sensor is in almost the same plane as the mount adapter; on a VX23D, these kinds of backs can be used with wide angle symmetrical lenses for technical cameras such as the Schneider Kreuznach Apo-Digitar XL 35mm f/5.6 and the Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 28mm f/4.5.

As a fully-fledged monorail view camera, the VX23D provides generous movements on both the front and rear standards:

• 70mm of rise

20mm shift in one direction and 40mm in the other (allowing for a maximum combined shift of 60mm using the movements on both standards)

+/-25 degrees of base tilt

+/-25 degrees of swing

In comparison to the Cambo Actus and the Arca-Swiss F-Universalis, the Toyo VX23D has a much more complete set of movements. For example, on its front standard, the F-Universalis provides geared tilt, manual swing, and rise/fall -- but not shift.

The rise movement of the Toyo VX23D is geared and lockable on both standards. Shift movements are geared, but cannot be locked. Tilts and swings are manual (by pressure), and are lockable. There are detents for the 0 position for swings and tilts. The fine focus mechanism on each standard is geared and lockable, and allows 14mm of forwards and backwards travel. For coarse focus, the standards slide by pressure along the rail, and are locked down with a knob.

The standards can be mounted on the rail on either side of the tripod mounting block (my preferred approach), or both together on one side or the other of the tripod mounting block. The tripod mounting block has a foot that, at first glance, resembles an Arca-Swiss-style foot. However, this foot does not fit on most Arca-compatible clamps because it is too wide. It does fit in a Hejnar F63 clamp, which has extremely wide jaws. It's not difficult to have the tripod foot machined to the dimensions of Arca-Swiss standard.

The  rail supplied originally with the camera is two sections that screw together to make a 24cm rail; separated the sections are 16.5cm and 7.5cm. Rails from other Toyo G series cameras can also be used, subject to the limitations of the bellows.

The Toyo bellows supplied originally with the camera is a leather, bag style bellows that clips into the standard. It allows the full range of movements when the standards are close together; when the standards are fully separated on the 24cm rail, very limited movements are available.

Toyo likely intended this camera for work in studios. Thus, weight saving does not seem to have been a top priority. Using both sections of the original rail, the front and rear standards, the bellows and the tripod block, the VX23D weighs 2,544 grams. 

Flat and recessed lens boards compatible with the Toyo field cameras (45A, 45AX, 45A II, 45CF), and the Toyo 23G and 45CX monorail view cameras are compatible with this camera. The compendium shade for these cameras also fits the VX23D; the compendium for the larger 4x5 Toyo cameras  does not fit.

Using a Fujifilm GFX 50R as a Medium Format Back

Toyo did not design the VX23D to be used with a mirrorless camera like the GFX 50R. Therefore, using a GFX 50R on a VX23D requires some compromises, and the creation of some custom components. I have found this to be well worth the effort, and can provide additional details upon request.

While some other mirrorless cameras could be used with a VX23D, I view the GFX 50R as the best all-around choice. The 33mm x 44mm sensor is a good match for available lenses (see below) and provides outstanding image quality. Most importantly, the design of the body is ideal in that the grip is small and the camera can lay flat on its mount. Mirrorless cameras with larger grips generally do not work. For example, the Fuji GFX 50S and GFX 100 have a much larger grip than the GFX 50R. The 50S will only work with select lenses 60mm or longer. Among full frame cameras, the Sigma FP could be a good choice too because of its flat design (but I have not tried it).

To mount my GFX 50R, I built a custom board that allows the camera to mount and dismount easily, while leaving the front function button and the lens release button accessible (see pictures in the Gallery, bottom of page). The camera adapter board is square, which makes switching from portrait to landscape orientation straightforward (release the clip on the standard, rotate the board 90 degrees, remount the board and secure it with the clip). Details on how I built the camera mounting board are available in separate notes. Send me an email via the Contact page if you'd like a copy.

Path of light through the frozen flood water

Lenses

The sensor in the GFX 50R is deeply recessed (flange focal distance of 26.7mm). Thus, wide angle lenses from Schneider Kreuznach and Rodenstock (like the two noted above) that work with medium format backs can't be used with a GFX 50R + VX23D outfit. Fortunately, many other lenses can be used, subject only to the availability of mounting boards, and limitations imposed by the designs of the lenses, the VX23D, and the Fuji GFX 50R.

I have had to fabricate custom lens boards to use most of my lenses (see picture gallery), and can provide details upon request. In most cases this involved adapting and modifying Toyo lens boards. A machinist would consider the necessary work to be very simple.

Most wide symmetrical or near symmetrical lenses shorter than 60mm do not work well (or at all) on a VX23D plus GFX 50R pairing, but they also don't work with other technical cameras designed for the GFX 50R/S, such as the Cambo Actus GFX. These lenses normally suffer from lens cast issues on the 50R/S sensor, and may not fit because insufficient space is  available to accommodate them. The newer BSI sensor in the GFX 100 and GFX 100S cameras greatly reduces, or eliminates, lens cast when shifting; unfortunately, these cameras (and the GFX 50S) are not a good match for a Toyo VX23D because of their large grips. Fortunately, there are excellent lens options for the GFX 50R and VX23D combination.

On my VX23D plus GFX 50R setup, I currently use these lenses:

24 mm: Samyang 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC Tilt-Shift Lens. This is a tilt-shift lens designed for full-frame cameras.T he image circle is large enough to cover the GFX sensor, and  allows for 10mm (or more at times) shift. I removed the shift mechanism and the tilt controls, and mounted it to a Toyo lens board.

35mm: SMC Pentax-A 645 35mm f/3.5. This medium format SLR lens for the Pentax 645 systems is an excellent performer and allows for a useful amount of shift. Using it requires a custom lens board, but no modifications to the lens.

50mm: Mamiya G 50mm f/4. Designed for the Mamiya 6 rangefinder camera system, this superb near-symmetrical lens allows 15mm of shift. Symmetrical lenses shorter than 60mm usually exhibit lens cast on the sensor in the GFX 50R, especially when shifting. This lens does not, and it's also nearly distortion free. Adapting it required several inexpensive but  irreversible modifications, and construction of a custom lens board.

60mmSchneider-Kreuznach Apo-Componon 60mm f/4 in the Makro-Iris mount. This lens has a small image circle at 60mm, but it's an excellent performer. It mounts on a custom recessed lens board that can be shared with several other excellent lenses.

90mm: Schneider-Kreuznach Apo-Componon 90mm f/4.5 in the Makro-Iris mount. This lens has a generous image circle that allows 20mm of shift. It's an excellent performer, and mounts to the same custom lens board as my Apo-Componon 60mm f/4 .

120mm: Schneider-Kreuznach Makro-Symmar 120mm f/5.9. Strictly speaking, this is a macro lens. However, at f/11 it's sharp across the entire frame at infinity. At its design distances (under 2m), it's superb from wide open. Mine is in an industrial mount (hence the unusual f/5.9 maximum aperture). 

150mm: I have two excellent options at this focal length. (1) I use the Schneider-Kreuznach Componon-S 150mm f/5.6. This is an enlarger lens, but it's also a superb taking lens, even at infinity. The image circle allows for more than 20mm of shift. However, long enlarger lenses are prone to flare and glare, so excess light has to be controlled with a rear baffle. It's sharp and contrasty when the baffle and a special "beehive" hood are used. (2) I also use a Mamiya G 150mm f/4.5 lens for the Mamiya 6 rangefinder system. It required the same modifications performed on my Mamiya G 50/4, and shares the lens board. It is superb from f/4.5.

180mm: Schneider-Kreuznach Componon-S 180mm f/5.6. This is another enlarger lens that also works very well as a taking lens. Like its 150mm sibling, excess light has to be controlled with a rear baffle. 


Many other lenses can be adapted to a Toyo VX23D / Fuji GFX 50R outfit. I discuss some good choices, and some that won't work for various reasons, in a separate document that you can request from me.

Stitched panorama using Mamiya G 50mm f/4: f/11 with -/+ 15mm shift

Click on the image for a full-resolution JPEG. The point of focus is the cell tower in the centre of the image at the horizon.

Transporting the Outfit

My standard setup (VX23D, Fuji GFX 50R, accessories, and the lenses listed above) weighs approximately 20 lbs (9 kg). This is a heavy load for me; a good pack is essential. My solution is twofold:

• A good backpack designed for hiking rather than photography (Ortlieb Atrack 35 litre)

• A custom foam insert that fully protects the VX23D and the GFX 50R, while leaving room for lenses and accessories

I work in all kinds of conditions, from swamps to cities. This carrying system makes working with a full-blown medium format digital view camera both possible and enjoyable. Pictures of my setup are in the gallery (link at the top of this page).

Pictures and Notes

Sample Test Images from Catholic Hill

When I'm evaluating lenses to see whether or not they work well on my outfit, one of the tests I perform is performance at or near infinity. This gives me a good sense for the performance of lenses that were not necessarily designed for infinity, and lets me evaluate the size and quality of the image circle.

The view from the highest point of land in Guelph, known as "Catholic Hill", offers a long view over downtown Guelph. From  where I stand to make these pictures, there's a cell tower in the centre of the frame, located 4,280m from the shooting position; it provides a convenient target for "infinity" tests.

I've placed full resolution JPEG sample images for various lenses that I tested in a Google Drive folder. For each lens, I provide at least three images, at f/8, f/11, and f/16. In some cases there are larger and smaller apertures. Files are organized in folders by lens, and labelled with the lens used, and exposure information. For zoom lenses, I usually provide three focal lengths. Processing is minimal: sometimes none, but occasionally a slight lowering of exposure. For some lenses I made panoramas to test shift performance (usually f/11); these are included where available.

The collection includes lenses I currently own and use (the ones listed earlier), along with ones I've used but no longer own. There are a couple large format Fujinon-W lenses that show how good these old lenses can be on digital. There are also samples from some native Fujinon GF lenses: GF 45-100/4 at various focal lengths; GF 63/2.8; and GF 50/3.5. These all are superb lenses that showcase what the GFX 50R/S camera is capable of. They also provide a good baseline for comparing the performance of adapted lenses at those focal lengths. Look for additional notes in "Read Me" files in each folder.

You are welcome to download these files if you're interested in comparing lens performance. However, please keep the following caveats in mind:

• The pictures were made on different days, different times, and even different seasons. Some days were cool and crystal clear, while others were hazy. Contrast is strongly affected by the intensity and angle of sunlight. Comparing a picture made on a cloudy day with flat light to one made on a sunny day with strong shadows will give you a misleading impression of relative lens contrast and sharpness.

• Unless otherwise noted, the intended focus point is a cell tower over 4km from where I'm standing when I make these pictures. For each lens, I made several exposures, re-focusing in between each set. The pictures posted here are the ones where I think I focused most accurately on the tower. Nonetheless, extremely small focus differences can have a significant impact at wide apertures. Especially when comparing different lenses with similar focal lengths, these differences can give the false impression that one lens is better than another.  Differences may be entirely due to minor focus differences.

• When using adapted lenses, many issues that affect image quality, but are not related to the lens itself, can be introduced. Most common are adapter problems (e.g., misalignment of the lens relative to the sensor, stray light causing flare and reducing contrast due to shiny adapter interiors). The risk of problems is much greater on a camera like the VX23D, where the lens and camera standards tilt, swing and shift. I did my best to eliminate errors, but on occasion I've discovered that what I thought was a bad lens was simply a poorly  adapted lens.

• For some lenses, the hood used makes an enormous difference. For example, as noted above, the Componon-S 150mm f/5.6 and 180mm f/5.6 are prone to veiling flare if a rear-mounted baffle and special beehive hood are not used. I've posted sets of pictures with different hoods for these lenses.

• Finally, I didn't keep all the lenses I tested. Some were very good, but I found better ones (e.g., I liked the Bogen 6x6 60mm f/4, but the Apo-Componon HM 60mm f/4 was much better ). Others simply were not good enough (e.g., as much as I liked the SMC Pentax 67 45mm f/4.5, it wasn't good enough in my view). Folders marked with an asterisk * are for lenses I currently own and use.

Other Resources

For information and review about Pentax lenses, including 645 and 67, see the Pentax Lens Reviews database at the Pentax Forums site.

A comprehensive inventory of enlarger lenses of all brands and types is available at Jon Jovic's Photo Cornucopia site.

Robert O'Toole's Close-up Photography site is a phenomenal resource for information about enlarger lenses and machine vision lenses.

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