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Intrepid 4x5 Gen 4: After 4 months

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

I have been photographing with large format cameras since about 1995. Mostly for landscape work in the field. In that time I have owned and used a Speed Graphic, a Bush Pressman D, an old Calumet monorail, and a Walnut Zone VI SN:4554. My current 4x5's include a Mahogany Zone VI and an Intrepid gen 4.

I have been using the Intrepid Gen 4 since it arrived on my doorstep back in September of 2020, and it has quickly become my go to field camera. It's very easy to know that it is my go to 4x5 because the lens boards for the Zone VI don't fit the Intrepid, and whatever lens boards my lenses are on dictates what camera I am using, and my lenses have been on the Intrepid lens boards since I got it. Initially it was mainly because of the weight. The Zone VI in all it's brass and gold plated glory tips the scales right around 6 pounds. While the Intrepid with it's modern Ikea flat pack plywood and black “anodized like finish” aluminum weighs in at an amazing 2.5 pounds. I doubt that even the old Speed Graphic was that svelte.

In the beginning the Intrepid was a bit “stiff.” The focusing sort of bound up a bit while turning, a lot of that was due to the Arca style tripod plate attachment screw sticking up through the very thin aluminum bed of the camera and scraping the plastic focusing mechanism at points. I used the Sirui small plate and the screw stuck up too far through the bottom. I tried adding various washers and shims with no success for various reasons. Then I tried a cheap Sirui knock off plate which I bought on Amazon (Ivation is the brand name)

and the screw was evidently shorter because it doesn't protrude and therefore no more binding.

Also setting up the Intrepid was something to get used and somewhat cumbersome compared to just unfolding the Zone VI and adding a lens. You have to unfold the Intrepid, but then you have to pick a hole for the front standard to screw into based upon the focal length you have in mind for your shot. Same if you want to change focal lengths during your shoot. In practice it's really not a big deal once you get used to what focal length what hole works with. But it is something that adds to the “dance” of what is large format photography. My lenses are spaced out enough that I use all four holes in order: 90/135/210/300 so it's become very easy to pick which hole and go. And the camera works fine with those focal lengths. There isn't a whole lot of movements available with a 90mm lens but there are some, and the camera is reported to be able to be used with a 75mm lens, and I know Alex Burke has done so, but I would imagine that there would be no movements at all at that focal length. (Hey keep in mind 99% of all the cameras out there have no movements available.) And at the other end, 300mm seems to be the limit of the bellows draw, but the camera works fine as well at that focal length.

Large format field photography in general is a strange thing. On the one hand it requires absolute precision and discipline with your technique in order to not just totally screw everything up and get no image whatsoever. And on the other, for a lot of it you have to use your “best guess” and intuition and “feel” your way through. Composition is like that. So is focusing and camera movements. The ground glass that comes with the Intrepid is somewhat dim and grainy. A lot of people like to install an inexpensive Fresnel focusing lens on top of the ground glass to brighten things up. I actually have one that came with my Zone VI. It aids composition, but is a little harder to focus. I find the ground glass on the Intrepid is fine for my purposes and allows me to get the job done. I do wish that the corners were a bit cut off so that I could see if I have lens coverage when doing any kind of camera movements, but other than that it's fine.

So in general, the Intrepid is a bit more fiddly to use in practice, but the weight savings more than make up for it. And your not shooting 4x5 film because you want to avoid “fiddlyness,” as the whole process is almost the definition of “fiddly.”

Then there is cost. A used decent condition Zone VI is running around $1000 USD at the end of 2020. The Intrepid was around $375 USD new, shipped. The fit and finish from the factory was very good. It's not the custom luxury cabinet quality of a Zone VI or a Wisner, but for what it is and how it's constructed, it's a quality item. A lot like Ikea furniture. It does the job, is somewhat stylish and inovatively inexpensive.

There was a lead time from order to delivery. I think I ordered it in August and it took about 6 weeks to arrive. $375 for this camera feels about right considering the materials and construction and for what it is. But $375 for what this camera is capable of and the competence in which it carries out it's mission makes it a bargain. The real value will manifest over time. How durable and robust is the camera? My Zone VI is approximately 20 years old at this point and virtually new. If treated well, I am sure it will have a useful life span of decades if not centuries (assuming film is still around.) There are people still using similarly constructed cameras from the early 1900's. The Intrepid is a modern interpretation with modern materials and construction. It may last as long, but only time will tell. I know I plan on using mine for as long as I can.

So what's my final thought on the Intrepid? If Intrepid announced they were quitting business, and I had the opportunity before they stopped production, I'd order another one as a back up. Yes it's that good and a unique product that fulfills a role no other camera on the market does, at a price point that is 2/3rds less than what the used market is asking for anything that can accomplish the same mission.

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