Happy 30th Birthday to the Wista field view camera, which was first offered for sale in 1980.
The Wista has been available over the years in numerous iterations, and in Japanese cherry, Japanese rosewood (shown), and ebony—and lately there has been a special edition in Chinese quince, a fruitwood. (The quince tree is similar to an apple or pear tree.) Various versions have distinct features such as back shift and removable bellows. All share the strong family resemblances imbued in the camera by designer Sadamu Yasutake. The bellows have changed from leather to synthetic over the years, although I'm told leather bellows can still be special-ordered in Japan.
The Wista was first popularized in the U.S. when Fred Picker of Zone VI Studios dubbed it the first "Zone VI Field Camera" (one wag on CompuServe grafted the initials "FP" on to a picture of a Nikon F4 and called it the "Zone VI 35mm camera." Zone VI, which is now owned by Calumet, did later manufacture its own cameras.) It is now distributed in the U.S. by HP Marketing Corp.
Long criticized among aficionados for its short, 12" bellows draw and less than ideal rigidity in extreme configurations, it nevertheless remains uniquely easy and hand-friendly to use with the normal-range (135mm–180mm) lenses for which it was intended (a used 150mm Sironar-N would be perfect). Yasutake-san showed great genius with ergonomics, and this is the aspect of the camera that most distinguishes it. The one caveat is that special attention must be taken to learn the trick of folding the camera up—the correct procedure eludes the uninitiated, and examples with disastrously crunched-up bellows are unfortunately extremely common on the used market. Very easy to do once you learn how, however.
Rising prices in the U.S. and much more advantageously-priced newer Chinese cameras such as those from Shen-Hao and Chamonix overshadow the Wista now, and I'm told it gets very little mindshare among beginner LF shooters these days. I owned one from 1984 to 1989—had to sell it because of financial hardship—have always remembered it with extreme fondness—and it will always remain a sentimental favorite with me.
(Thanks to K. R. Matsuse)
Illustration: I've forgotten now where I nabbed this picture from—probably from Ebay—but if I've stepped on anybody's toes by using it here, please let me know.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.