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Photographing the Lake District with James Bell and the Cambo Actus-XCD

Photographing the Lake District with James Bell and the Cambo Actus-XCD
5th March 2021 Al Simmons

James Bell is a professional landscape photographer based around the Lake District. In the Summer of 2020 James contacted us looking for a high quality tilt and shift solution to use with his Hasselblad X1D. After trying out a few different options, James settled on the Cambo Actus-XCD, opening up a world of perspective control.

Time has passed quickly from those long Summer days, and we finally got round to asking James a few questions about his experience with the Cambo Actus outfit, and he kindly shared some images he has made with the system.

Photographing the lake district with the cambo actus-xcd

How long have you been working professionally as a landscape photographer, James?


I’ve been making my landscape photographs for over 20 years and I don’t consider it work to be honest, but it’s helped support my family for about 15 years now.

I view landscape photography as an ever changing and evolving pursuit. It’s a process of self improvement and a challenge against the elements and myself. The landscape is constantly evolving and the weather changing. I never tire of the Lake District and the challenge of seeing my next image.

Photographing the lake district with the cambo actus-xcd

You have been using the Hasselblad X1D for some time, how has medium format benefited your work?


I invested in the X1D at launch back in 2016 and have really enjoyed using the camera. Prior to this I was on the constant upgrade cycle of DSLRs which almost feel like fashion items they change so quickly.

I wanted a more simpler and cleaner experience to make my images. I believe the images I’m making with my X1D are the truest most realistic prints I’ve ever made. I believe they will stand the test of time as trends come and go. I appreciate the user experience and the files that come from the camera require very little post processing so I’m not tied to my workstation for hours after a shoot to get the realistic images I desire.

My second self published book Capture Lakeland Volume 2 is 99% Hasselblad images of which I am immensely proud of.

You got in touch looking for a more versatile system and workflow, what attracted you about the Cambo Actus?


I’d never heard of the Actus system until began dialog with Teamwork. My initial thoughts were to go down the technical camera route and particularly the Cambo WRC-400 or WRS-1600. Since I left my DSLR setup I have missed the ability to maintain perspective control in camera and manipulate my plane of focus to achieve sharp images from the tiniest foreground detail to the details in the distance.

I rented a demo Actus system to pair up with my X1D and Hasselblad CFV-II digital back and quickly realised this approach and operation would really suit me.

Photographing the lake district with the cambo actus-xcd

And what’s your experience of the Actus so far?


I’m loving the ability to make the images I couldn’t before. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me. The system is built very well and is easy to use with a very short learning curve. I’ve managed to make some images I’m extremely pleased with and wouldn’t have otherwise captured in one frame.

I wish the setup was a lot lighter but the extra weight is worth it.

Photographing the lake district with the cambo actus-xcd

How does the traditional view camera process enhance your experience when making work?


When I moved from DSLR to Medium format and prime lenses I promised myself I’d use this setup to slow down, be more considered and really take my time composing and making my shots. This happened but I soon slipped back into shooting too many images, because I could. The Actus has added another layer of thought and time to my image making which in my field is good. I don’t want to come home with 100 images. I want to come home with 5-10 that are really strong and worthwhile.

My current setup helps me to be more considered, to take more time and as a result make better images in my view.

Photographing the lake district with the cambo actus-xcd

Why are camera movements important to you?


The images I love to make most are not really possible to make authentically without movements. I want to get as much right in camera as I can in terms of perspective correction and depth of field. I find portrait images most appealing, those that show a lot of foreground to connect us to the scene and draw us into the landscape.

Having the ability to capture what I see in one frame is really quite appealing to me and also very rewarding when it comes together. Made in camera not in photoshop so to speak.

One of the many beauties of the Cambo Actus is the flexibility when it comes to lens choice. What are you using in combination with your X1D?


I’m using a Hasselblad 40mm CFE IF Lens and enjoying the results. I tested a few lenses during my decision making process and found this lens in combination with my X1D to be perfect for my needs. I only wish it were a bit lighter, as the lens alone is 1.1kg.

Photographing the lake district with the cambo actus-xcd

How was your experience with Teamwork’s assistance in finding your solution?


I couldn’t have asked for more from Teamwork. I picked up the phone as a guy who knew nothing about technical or view cameras and digital backs etc. I found Al to be extremely helpful, generous with his time and patient with me during the decision making process. If I asked questions he didn’t know the answer to he’d find out and together we spent a few weeks exploring all options before finally settling on the system I’m enjoying today.

It has been refreshing to deal with a company so knowledgeable and personable.

What’s next for you in terms of projects?


My main focus is on servicing my print buyers and developing my range of prints of the Lake District. I am also working on the promotion of a recent project where I was commissioned to make what we believe is the largest landscape photograph in private collection in the UK so I’m hoping to share that with people soon. I’m also working on my third self published coffee table book capture lakeland volume 3. I’m also enjoying making Landscape Photography vlogs on YouTube documenting the behind the scenes process of making my images here in the Lake District.

Photographing the lake district with the cambo actus-xcd

To see more of James’ work and for print purchases, visit his website. You can follow his updates on Instagram, and have a watch of his Vlog series for an insight into his process.

If you’re interested in testing out the brilliant Cambo Actus for yourself, get in touch with one of our team to find out more.

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