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Tuesday, 13 November 2007


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I bought a used Linhof Technika V back in the early 1980s and have been happy with it ever since. Had to replace the bellows twice (2 trips to the factory in Munich) and that was it as far as repairs go. Got a couple of lenses with the original package but bought three more because I could afford to. The neat thing is you can take hand held pictures (with a roll film back) as well as use the thing as a view camera. There's a neat optical device that gives you a right-side up image without the need for a dark cloth. Very nice. You can pick these cameras up on ebay for a song (compared to factory fresh units). I was also able to get a 4x5 enlarger for little money (and since a few more on ebay for spare parts) and so I was on my way. The only regret I sometimes have is lack of funds for a really large format camera — ever seen 20x25" contact prints?


The nice thing about modern view cameras in my opinion is that there are really no bad choices out there; just choices that fit your working requirements more or less well (e.g. an emphasis on portability rather than endless extendability and add-ons). And while your former partner may have had a view camera that was a nightmare, you don't have to make his choice of gear. But I suspect that you know this already and are more interested in exploring the mental state of potential before a choice is made. Incidentally, there are today more good, inexpensive choices in robust, used LF gear today than ever before -- but given what you've written maybe that makes your mental state worse than ever! I will lightly resist making my own recommendations as to specific gear (>cough< used Linhof). Ok, I couldn't resist. Good luck, and view the choice as an opportunity rather than being doomed -- even if you wind up with a truly awful camera, experience shows that you will be able to make at least some wonderful pictures.

Ben Marks

My first assisting job 1962 with William Vandivert, The old camera bag finally couldn't take it any more. He had to buy a new one.

There was no way anyone would believe he had been doing photography with the new bag for 25 years--so we kicked it around for a week or two to break it in. Ha! Now that looks like a working photographer's camera bag.

I was at Marty Forcher's camera repair and in comes 3 old Leica 3F's, so dirty you would have though they came out of a dumpster--I can't remember his name but he was one of the famous photojournalists of the time. To this day I still don't like walking around with a new looking camera.
It's just not PROFESSIONAL looking.

I'd like to think that my best photos would have come from my best gear, but I'm not sure that is the case. One of best pictures I ever took was from a hand-me-down Zenit E (my first SLR), just as the twilight fell and the bugs started rising. Aside from other Zenit idiosyncracies it didn't have a functioning light meter, so getting a properly exposed shot was like getting a free bucket of cold beer on a hot day. The Helios 58/2 was OK for portraiture, and anything that stayed put, but not much else. After graduating through a Practika to a Pentax SLR and then - only this year - to a K10d, the joy of getting a good picture is balanced by the realisation that I most need to improve the thing behind the machine. That is agony enough, I'd say.

[mike].....my prejudice. I actually like my cameras to be well-worn. I like plain, hard-wearing, utilitarian objects.....Perfect cameras are embarrassing.....[/mike]

Well, Mike, there are two ways to possess a well-worn camera:

(1) Buy a NEW camera that fits only what you need [plain] and is sturdily built [hard-wearing] and then use the heck out of it.
If the newness bothers you,
then give the camera some temporary tattoos made from duct tape and stickers.

(2) Buy a USED camera that fits only what you need [plain] and is sturdily built [hard-wearing] and then use the heck out of it.
Recycling is also good.

It is kind of Reverse Lookism to be snobby about a new camera if it fits your needs -- sorry about using one of those Politically Correct phrases. [....laughing....]

Good luck in your search; I hope you find something soon, because I really like those Michigan photographs. Perhaps because I, too, live near the shores of a Great Lake. (My own gear suggestion is to get some Kodak lenses for whatever you find; they don't look new but make fine images.)

Mike, I bet you remove the inner labels of your clothes! Well, I do have the same need to feel things I own are broken in. Quality stuff gets old. Grows on you, I guess. I do some very stupid things, like grease new leather shoes so they become limp and take my feet shape, and obviously stop looking new!
Well, I guess you know when something looks like part of yourself, and it's noticeable, be it clothing, a camera or anything else, there's nothing so noticeable as a person with a new, unfamiliar toy (or house, wife, social position, whatever). We could take it back to the old greek proverb: Know thyself, be thyself.

I have been using my Olympus E-510 (with Live View) as a kind of mini-4x5. Have even thought of getting out my old view camera focusing cloth to drape over my head.

I've also been very happy with my used Tech V, but if you don't plan to use the rangefinder, there are more convenient cameras out there.

Sinar F and F1s are fantastic deals these days. I've seen one of the new Chamonix cameras from China, and these are a great design, based on the Phillips cameras, and very reasonably priced.

You're still shooting that Minolta, right? I imagine that you'll feel much more decisive on the day the camera actually bites the dust, which could be a while yet. In this way, cameras are kind of like shoes. Many of us will hold onto a trusty pair of shoes until they really fall apart -- while new shoes have to be "broken in" before they feel right. Now that I mention that, I've had my current formal work shoes for 8 months and I still hate them...

I've gone through a similar dilemma with lenses: wanting to buy small fast primes, waiting in vain for Nikon to release some that would AF on my D40, and then giving up and installing a split prism focus screen and buying old manual lenses on eBay. Installing the focus screen nulled my warranty, but now the camera feels truly mine.

Just get the Pentax K10D and the three pancake primes: 21, 40, and 70. You'll be out about $1700 US, and you'll have the camera you want. Trust me on this.

There is also the not insignificant gratification in coaxing a thing of beauty out of what looks to most people like an ugly, obsolete piece of junk--a mix of the geek, the aesthete and the alpha beast--the primal triumph of the tool-user. Add to that the alchemical thrill of film and darkroom, spiritual solidarity with admired classic masters, etc., and we're talking a hefty dose of pleasure for certain personalities.

But, as Nigel says, the knowledge that ultimately the equipment is not the limiting factor is also powerfully humbling.


I'm sure you've considered this, but before you commit fully to a view camera that's a hassle to take anywhere outside of the studio, you might give another look to flexible field cameras.

I have a Toyo Super Graphic (that's right, from after Toyo bought Graflex, but it's the same as the Graflex Super Graphic), and it has a very comfortable range of movements. You obviously can't twist it into a pretzel like you can with a view camera, but unless you're doing tabletop work, I doubt it would be an issue.

It's pretty nice to have such a flexible camera that weighs about 5 pounds and folds up into a lunchbox... I got mine cheap because the rangefinder is a little busted.

Then again, LF gear is so inexpensive compared to 35mm Digital and MF that it's reasonable to own both a field and view camera... :)

The first thing to do with a new camera is to patch black electrical tape over the makers name. Anonymity - lovely!

And what ever is wrong with lifting the bellows up with a piece of string! I remember using a wooden, half plate, glass negative beastie that could only be exposed when there was no-one walking down the corridor outside because the back vibrated so much, and I will not go into the problems using the whole plate jobbie.

Ah, the good old days when the result on the negative was the only thing that mattered!


There's a trend for making "relic" electric guitars...new copies of old instruments that look old, right down to the aged finish. They make me somewhat uncomfortable.



A sure-fire formula for acquiring a camera that's full of foibles that will require work-arounds, and that will challenge you to find ways to make it do what you want: Buy any view camera on eBay that's listed as "Excellent".

Joking aside, Ben's right. There are no bad choices in new view cameras. And as long as you're willing to patch up anything that's worn out, there really aren't many bad choices in used cameras. Over the years I've put together a collection of new and old view cameras, and every one of them will allow me to make a technically perfect picture. From an old Korona Pictorial View (on which the bellows have been replaced) to a brand new Shen-Hao, every large format camera that I own works extremely well. View cameras are such simple devices that there's little that can go wrong with them that can't be corrected.

If it's the view camera experience that you want, get a view camera. You can find perfectly functional used equipment for a song, and whatever you buy will hold its value better than most camera equipment. In my experience, any equipment that I decided I didn't want didn't cost me anything, as I was able to sell it for what I paid for it.

Best of luck getting past the tragedy of choice.


I've been shooting my Toyo 45AX for the last six months and I am addicted to it.

I went from a Canon AE-1 to a full Hasselblad kit to my Toyo with a couple of lenses.

I haven't shot the "little" cameras since I got the Toyo.

Actually, I think the 'snapshot' of the young lady actually transcends snapshot by a large margin; very well spotted and shop. The composition and colors really appeal to me, and I am not much for color.

Screw the cameras; whatever ya want to use. However, FWIW, I do my best work with my Wisner; not because it is 4x5, not because it is a great camera (it is only decent), but because everything is about the image and I get very very focused on the image. Next up is my Bessa, for very similar reasons. I have a bunch of digital gear that works great for 'production', but for creativity it somehow gets in the way.

I reckon large-format cameras are like the classic VW Beetle (or 'Bugs' as you call them across the Pond). They may be basic, old-fashioned and lack features but the mechanics are simple enough that you can fix pretty much anything that goes wrong with a piece of string or a roll of gaffer tape. Like VWs, they also inspire huge loyalty and a fair amount of geekiness.

On the other hand, modern SLRs are more like a shiny new BMW. They're sleek, fast and capable. They also come complete with fussy and over-complicated control systems and enough computer power to take them to the moon and back. And like BMWs, if they go wrong getting them fixed is going to be expensive.

I regularly use an LF camera. I don't own a car. :-)

One camera you don't want to disfigure is your latest small-sensor digicam. I've been through several of these, and have sold most of the old ones on eBay about 1 - 2 years after buying them.

Haven't sold any of my SLRs, though (film and digital). They're still with me. If I had sold my Nikon D70 when I got my D200, I wouldn't have be able to send it off for IR conversion.


Insecurity and shoutiness about camera gear only ever seems to come from people who a.) have spent more money than they can reasonably afford on their kit or b.) wish they could spend more money on kit than they have already. The worst thing for them is admit anything which might, in the early hours of the morning, turn into an admission that they've picked the wrong gear...

Very long books also engender the same passionate defence: if you spend six month reading War and Peace, the last thing you're going to tell people is that, 'Yeah, it's alright'. The experience of reading a v. long book/buying an expensive camera creeps into your soul and turns into evangelism.

I've been a Minolta shooter since I got my first srT101 with my Bar Mitzvah money in 1970. Reluctantly I am in the process of selling what's left. I'll replace my Dimage A1 with a Canon G9 for walking around and my Maxxum 7D for a Nikon 300D for, well, walking around. To help make the decision I tried the new Sony A700, the Nikon and the new Canon 40D at the NY Photo Expo last month. I was surprised to discover how awkward it was to figure out the Canon (granted in the hectic trade show environment). Some menu items required using 2 wheels to operate. Even Sony's A700 didn't feel as natural and obvious to me as the 7D I've carried the last few years. The Nikon came closest (and boy was the focusing fast and accurate!)

I suspect these rapid, subjective views have more to do with my familiarity with the 7D than anything intrinsic in the newer cameras, but I have to say I remember that 7D feeling like a natural old friend the day I got it. I've long been aware that lots of cameras, even ones at lower prices, have superior image quality, but my 7D really felt like a natural extension of me - and that led to more and better pictures (I hope) even if the IQ could have been better.

Here's to beat up old friend cameras! And praying the Nikon earns that badge of respect.

Thats a great photo. What a face!


Re the pre-sell of the Nikon D300. In the November issue of Black and White Photography, an English publication, Calumet has a full page ad for the new Canon and Nikon entries. Obviously for sale right now. Interestingly, for the D300 a 3year professional warranty is offered for 99.99 pounds. A similar warranty for the D3 costs 149.99 pounds!

Wonderful article, Mike. I so wish I'd kept my Rolleiflex.

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