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Wednesday, 22 January 2020


"So, view cameras: I'm not good with them, don't use them, have a reputation as someone who dislikes and disapproves of them, and they're obsolescent."
And you forgot the 'fact' that they are the main cause of global warming!

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" - except on the interweb ;-)

[Did you read the paragraph after that one?? --Mike]

Back in the early 2000s, I was in the final phase of trying to keep myself in the realm of film. Having dreamt of view-camera photography all my life, I made the jump and bought myself a second-hand KB Canham DLC 4-by-5 camera. Those are the all-metal ones, very portable, the design modernist, Bauhaus-style, beautifully engineered by the excellent Mr Canham. A 210mm Rodenstock Sironar came with it.

I got myself a Polaroid back, and over the next few years every once in a while I did some black-and-white Polaroids. But I never took the time to make this a serious part of my photography. Life was too busy, and sadly I found out that to me, the appeal of the view finder camera was more conceptual than practical. Those who have found a way of working with this supremely elegant type of camera are very very fortunate. And those who actually make these cameras, like Mr Canham, should be very very proud.

I still have the Canham and the lens, it's on a tripod in my study, next to my desk, looking out of the window. When a visitor enters the room, they immediately see the illuminated ground glass, showing the inverted image of the walnut tree outside the house. Whenever I have a new lens for my Fuji, the first picture I take is of the Canham. My 7-year old twin daughters enjoy exploring the laws of perspective with it, raising and tilting the front, changing the focus. Perhaps one day they will put some film back into it too.

Hey, Mike. Do I not remember another flirtation with a view camera shortly before your move to New York? (You may have referred to this as a "single-use device.") This was about the same time you were planning for a basement darkroom, I recall. Then, as I also recall, the camera was offered for sale on TOP. Of course, I may not be remembering any of this correctly, as I am losing memories as I age.

[I DID take some pictures with that one! Every now and then I have to engage in a nostalgic reboot of my old obsessions, it seems. --Mike]

I kind of resent the word "obsolescent" as applied to view cameras. These cameras as still being made and sold new, and used by many photographers, including by those of us who still shoot film in multiple formats in addition to digital. For each project, it's own tool. I do believe.

Like you, Mike, I had a fascination with view cameras. Lovely things, they reminded me of furniture that rose to the level of artwork. I bought one sometime in the 1980s, a metal Wista 45SP, with a selection of good Schneider lenses. I loved playing around with it but I also proved to myself I was a complete klutz when I used it. Often I had dark corners in pictures due to my failure to pay attention to the controls. I loaded film in the holders backwards for a day trip one winter and came home with zero images since I was exposing the wrong side of the sheets. One vacation I took Ektachrome film and loaded the holders in campgrounds using those light-tight bags with a plastic framework. I was careful by then and never made loading mistakes. Upon my return home I took the film to a local custom processor who promptly ruined half of it during processing. I should have learned my lesson when the whole outfit was stolen during a home burglary. Instead I used the insurance money to buy another outfit, identical to the first. After a couple of years, I finally decided I was not a view camera guy so I sold everything and tried medium format for a time. But 35mm remained my format until digital came along.

Oddly enough, I just saw my view camera on Antiques Roadshow (Winterthur 3) - Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 with the attached flash. It was horrifying...

The appraiser basically tossed away the camera and the flash hood ("maybe $200") and valued the flash base as a "Luke Skywalker" light saber - $600-800.

I know this happens... it's even worse that this is the only reason a camera has been on the show.

"and they're obsolescent"??? Not in my view (pun intended). Large format gives me the most gratification, even more than with full frame digital. There is a gravitas to holding an 8X10 negative. Try that with an SD card.

I like the idea of having a camera set up viewing a scene upside down.
Instead of a view camera, I think I will put the latest Leica M10M on a tabletop tripod looking out my window, with the live view broadcast to an iPad. I will turn the iPad upside down. Every few hours I will recharge the batteries.


We are of the vintage when, as kids, there was a good chance we got photographed by the guy with a camera that was huge.

Once in a while he would cover his head with the cloth behind the camera. Then he touched the lens and next pressed a long wire and it was all over. Now we understand why he had to do so many things just to take a photo. And those photos turned out super sharp and grainless. Now we also know why.

Nothing like a view camera that tells what a proper (and beautiful) camera should look like.

Dan K.

These aren’t ‘obsolescent’ at all.
It worries me when I read stuff like this on TOP, because it shows a generational gap, a lack of knowledge of what a younger group of photographers are doing.
Generally not blog writers or readers, I guess - but check YouTube and you’ll find plenty of view-camera enthusiasts like Nick Carver, Ben Horne, Alan Brock and plenty more.
A whole older generation may have view cameras gathering dust as conversation pieces - but there are photographers out here who would love to USE them.
Ironically, I was struggling to decide whether to buy a used Canham DLC 4x5 last week, but concluded I can’t afford it right now. That’s the way the world is.

Although I am a long-standing fan of view cameras and their in-camera movement capability, I was never attracted to (thus have never owned) any that fold or were made of wood, preferring to use metal monorail designs instead.

Unfortunately, these days, I also prefer digital to film capture and my attempts over the past decade to combine digital cameras and traditional view cameras have not been as successful as I hoped.

And short of creating one as complicated and sophisticated (and expensive!) as the impressive CapCam, which uses high-precision linear actuators controlled by a computer to position the lens and sensor independently, the only option available to me was to give up tilt and swing movements altogether (because I wasn't able to implement them with sufficient precision) and learn to be happy using only rise / fall / shift movements.

So that is what I did and after a few modestly successful efforts, I finally came up with a camera that works well for my purposes, a photo of which I am (immodestly, I confess) posting below:

Time and technology march ever onward, though, so perhaps at a future date, I'll be able to come up with another camera that isn't as intentionally limited in its capabilities as this one and scratch the itch for photographing with a proper view camera once again.

Here's hoping! 8^)

View cameras are fantastic. I have a Tachihara which I bought in the mid-1980s, and it looks very much like the Wista in your first picture. I wonder if the same subcontractor made the metal parts? I dare say that the typical Instagram or Flickr digital photographer will benefit greatly by using a view camera - for a year or two.

I've been leafing through a 2013 book, 50 Portraits, by Gregory Heisler, whom your readers will recognize as an enormously successful photographer for prestigious magazines. All the photographs were done on assignment and were the product, as he says, of minutes, not hours, with the subjects (although LOTS of setup time). Of the 50, 35 were done with traditional view cameras ranging from 4x5 to 11x14, and a few more with an old Graflex Super-D (4x5). (The remaining dozen were medium format.)

I have aways loved View Cameras as well. I was trained in a commercial studio where if it was Color we shot 8x10 (Deardorff) if it was B&W we shot 4x5 (Curtain rod Calumet) and if it was People we shot Hasselblad. We proofed on Polaroid for everything.
It is where I developed a real attachment to Polaroid, I loved Type 52, but also used P/N
My first personal View Camera was a 4x5 Burke & James Commercial view, with a series 3 Dagor. It was Army surplus gray, Red Bellows.
I got mildly obsessed, --11x14 & 8x10 Deardorffs ,a 5x7 B&J Saturn Monorail, the 4x5B&J, a 4x5 Wista which I liked but became frustrated by the tiny Technika lens board, and short Bellows, so I added a 4x5 Zone VI - the one with interchangeable Bellows & full movements. I've kept all of them. But when polaroid died, I used them less and less. I just really liked working that way of working- Polaroid first (or only) then a few sheets of film.
Ive even supported the various iterations of Polaroid revival films which sadly haven't worked.
I was good at Commercial Photography with them, but less good at personal work. But the affection remains.

I used two view cameras in my film days.

Indoors, a Sinar Norma was always a pleasure to use: simple, elegant and functional.

For traveling, I backpacked with a Crown Graphic (an exemplar of American utilitarian design) with a set of lenses from a Wide Angle 65mm Angulon to a 6" Gold-Rim Dagor. To reduce my carry weight I had a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod.

I would load my film holders with T-Max and develop them in a Jobo processor at home. If I was on the road, it was a week or two before I could develop the film and look at the negatives.

Today, if I am using film, I will use my Hasselblad loaded with T-Max.

Times have changed.

And yet you periodically slander the RB Graflex, the queen of cameras.

I always thought the view camera was the ultimate photographic tool, still do though what I can accomplish these days with digital far surpasses my efforts with the 4x5. I had two cameras over many years, first a Toyo Field,45A from Helix in Chicago a metal beauty that easily met any need I had. I started with one lens, a 210 f/5.6 Fujinon W. It lasted me a good while until I moved to Oregon and bought an f/8 Nikon 90. When I turned 60, those long years ago, I treated myself to a Arca-Swiss Field Camera, just like my hero Jack Dykinga used. I loved it, I loved the entire process; finding the shot, unloading the camera, affixing the lens, and trying not to make one of the 189 or so mistakes one can make with a view camera, from forgetting to close the shutter before pulling the dark slide, to forgetting to stop down the lens and making the exposure at f/5.6 instead of f/22. I loved Ansel, I loved Minor, I loved the Zone System and its purported precision. I got a digital spot meter and a densitometer so I could be more precise in my film tests. If I went out with my medium format gear, (I was a fool and had multiple systems back then), I always wished I had brought the Arca. Lots of Oregon waterfalls, coastal scenes, and even mountain trails later, I realized I could no longer make adequate use of it and digital had stolen my heart. Now I occasionally use a tilt-shift lens on my digital camera and pretend it's a view camera, but it's not...not even close. Nostalgia pure and simple.

I bought a Cherry Wista when the bellows were still leather. A friend bought one when they switched to what my friend thought was paper. I still have mine, he sold his. I also have 3 lens/shutters on boards for it and 2 rollbacks (6x7 & 6x12). I keep thinking I want to use it with the rollbacks but it is awkward to use a rollback W/O a Graflok back and I can't afford the current price of a Graflok to fit it ($699). I haven't given up the idea though.

When I was younger and poor (as opposed to older and poor now) I lusted after a Zone VI 8X10 setup. I never knew if the Zone VI product was good, bad, or mediocre but it was presented so beautifully. That coincided with lust for the Zone VI enlarger. Also never knew its quality. So now I ask the TOP proprietor and community for opinions on that stuff. Occasionally I still consider 8X10, thinking of shooting Polaroids with it. But this will probably never come to pass. (The only Zone VI product I could afford was a 2-reel cylindrical film washer, with I used and loved for 20+ years until I traded up for a used 4-reel version.)

I used to hang out in Ferranti-Dege when I was a student in Cambridge about a million years ago. Not to look at the view camera, which I have convinced myself, perhaps wishfully, that I can actually recall, but to spend what little money I had on Plus-X and Tri-X, which I ran through my Mamiya Sekor 500DTL and developed in Rodinal in my dormitory closet darkroom. Sweet memories.

2019 marked my most recent (and probably, hopefully) last "return" to film. In the 1990s I used a lovely Wisner Technical Field, but that all ended in the early 2000s when I ripped out my darkroom and got rid of my gear. (With all I've heard lately about Ron Wisner's business practices, in hindsight I'm surprised my Wisner Technical Field was ever delivered!)

The plan in 2019 was to come back to large format photography. I started with a Wista 45VX (the all metal compatriots of your lovely wooden Wista in the picture). But I wanted more movements, so I bought a Toyo D45M, a really nice professional's view camera.

Anyway, long story short, I got over the romance part fairly quickly. I became quite proficient at camera scanning my 4x5 negatives, but the magic was gone.

But I'm still using a view camera! Thanks to TOP reader and contributor JG, who put me onto the lovely Toyo VX23D, I now have a full-blow digital view camera. The Toyo is the "adapter" for my Fuji GFX 50R. On the front rides a motley crew of lenses that all work just fine. I even got great results -- against all conventional wisdom -- with some terrific old Fujinon-W large format lenses. I'm using other lenses now, but it was fun for a while to let those old Fujinons have one more ride.

As a P.S., anyone keen to try large format photography should look into Intrepid field cameras. I never owned one of these, but they're (relatively) cheap as chips, and are being built new right now.

Wista cameras and accessories are still available through B&H, ranging in price from about $3000 to just under $10,000. The 45DX is $3000 in rosewood, $4300 in ebony. I happen to have a Wista SP.

There were several LF camera makers at PhotoPlus in NYC last October. The most outstanding in my mind because of how beautifully it was, is made by Gibellini. There were others that are much less pricey, such as by Intrepid who's 4x5 is extremely light and very inexpensive.

Unlike your previous posters, I've been happily working with 4x5 view cameras since 1982 (my first was a Tachihara similar to your Wista). And the use of a view camera was part of my professional practice until 2009. Large format cameras aren't for everyone, obviously; but for me, they've been the right tool for the job. Of course I've always used, and still use, smaller formats for hand-held work- but the 4x5 is closest to my heart.

Ronald BJ Wisner, the epitome of everything that can be wrong with a camera maker. Lucky you, never having had business dealings with him.

[I had many business dealings with him, but as an editor, in his capacity as a writer. Very frustrating, and sometimes worse. Of course, I am not without my flaws, so I should not judge. --Mike]

I have a low on glamour but entirely serviceable studio rail Toyo 4x5, which I was able to purchase when a VFX company I worked for closed its doors (sniff). I still use it after careful scouting, for photos neither fast or spontaneous. But when all planets are in alignment it brings me great joy. Then I pay for a pricey drum scan, and I consider life complete.

Mike, I disagree with your maxim "We are what we are", at least as you apply it here. Rather, I suggest you simply didn't find the right tool that operated the way that worked for you.

Years ago, I knew that I wouldn’t ever use a large format camera. I saw no purpose, no advantage, and they looked ridiculous. Plus, I was far too active and dynamic.

Happily, eventually I discovered I wanted to photograph architecture with professional results. From many prior failures, I knew that trying to do so with ordinary cameras was frustratingly difficult or impossible. At that moment, I stumbled across the right tools for doing what I wanted.

Now I now consider that certain large format cameras and lenses are superb and efficient tools for architectural photography. For "formal" square-on, front elevation viewpoints in restricted settings, one needs lenses with large image circles and large camera movements, in particular front rise and lateral shift, together, simultaneously. With certain large format cameras, doing so is easy and straightforward. With most other cameras, it's not. Most digital shift lenses offer only one axis of shift, not two.

Those interested should check out the Toyo VX-125, the Arca-Swiss F-Metric and the Linhof Technikardan. These are compact monorail-type cameras providing lots of front rise. I'd like to recommend the Cambo Wide DS with 4x5 back because it's very compact, robust and even faster to use, but the helical-mounted lenses have become rare. There are some other cameras, too. Rather than a dark-cloth, I strongly recommend one of the lightweight reflex (mirror) viewers that clip over the ground-glass.

Large format might just be the right tool for whatever it is you want to achieve.

In the early days of my career I shot for a decade with a LInhof Technika. It's the finest camera I ever owned. I had a Zeiss Planare 250mm f5.6 for it that was, perhaps, the most exciting portrait lens I've ever used. After shooting thousands of sheets of color and black & white 4x5 film there came a point where clients decided that shooting digital meant no more film costs, no more Polaroid, and no more waiting. About a year after we bought the first Kodak DCS 760 digi-cam the Linhof got sold off. Not a single client at that time was interested in shooting film anymore. Even less interested in paying for processing or scanning.

It's sad to be in a profession that today, in most ways, is racing to the bottom and loosing its institutional memory.

I used view cameras for years, 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10, until I gave up film for good 15 years ago, and then I went to the dark side and took up digital 5 years later. Well, I'm still doing it as an old man and really like my Panasonic Micro 4/3s, Lensbabies, Lightroom and Photoshop, and Epson 3880. Digital has kept me in photo. I got tired of view cameras eventually because they became too constraining. Glad I made the switch; my photographs are better for it.

Ron Wisner. I bought a 5x7 and an 8x10 from him in the mid 90s. Actually getting the cameras after ordering them was like pulling teeth. He gave new meaning to procrastination. Unbelievable. Good cameras though.

I liked the Wistas and still have one. What they lacked in movements and bellows draw they made up in compactness and portability. The view camera I used the most was a Zone VI 4x5. It was a tough, well made, wooden camera with all the movements. It also had an accessory short bellows for wide angle lens. Although it was sold by Fred Picker's company, I was told that Ron Wisner designed it.

I still have my Wista 45RF in the camera case. Big, solid, all metal, adjustable viewfinder for different lenses. Bought it 35 years ago because it had better features as the Linhof Technika.

Like you I struggle with view cameras. I had a Wista too, but by the time I had set up my angles, focused, metered and inserted the dark slide I often found that the impulse to take a picture had disappeared. The negatives were a joy to print though. So it went the way of all things that I just didn't get on with. I'm now experimenting with a Mamiya Press 6 x 9 rangefinder which I'm hoping will give 90 percent of the quality of any woody 5 x 4 (much more precisely made of metal). I know I'll get fried for writing that!!!
Strangely enough I never minded using a monorail in the studio, but that was for work. All this from someone who feels dismayed when they see people with digital cameras taking fifty shots of something in fifty seconds and then moving on to the next thing without any apparent thought.

Suggestions that a new, younger generation of photographers are using large format film (5x4 & 8x10 inch) cameras seems accurate. In the UK, the Intrepid Camera Co., are producing low cost and low weight cameras, by sidestepping the intricate woodwork used to make Deardorff’s, Ebony, Gandolfi and others. With the Intrepid range, a buyer gets a new camera for generally much less than prices being asked on fleabay.
I have neither seen nor handled one, but can see no reason why, for most purposes, they would not be more than adequate. Intrepid seem to be thriving by producing functional cameras, at prices that allow the purchase of reasonable amounts of film. Additionally, they are providing an ecosystem of supporting products and advice.

When I was first interested in view cameras, everyone advised against the Graflex Graphic press cameras, saying the limitations would frustrate me. But they are inexpensive and so iconic. I'm glad I bought some (I'm on my second). If nothing else, they are great subjects for still life photos. For awhile, I also had a Toyo View monorail. I decided I wasn't a studio camera type person, but now I regret selling it. Then there is the Graflex Graphic View monorail cameras which look so art deco and have the nice red bellows...

Old school

I still have a Toyo Deluxe 4x5 with a 240mm 4.5 Xenar stuck away in a case in the basement. Don't use it but can't bring myself to sell it either. Used to have a 4x5 Pacemaker Graphic with a couple of lenses, cams and roll film backs but gave all it to my son when he was in college.
He still has the camera and this Christmas I stuck a box of Ilford direct positive paper in his sock. Looking forward to seeing what he does with it.
If you go to places where photographers tend to gather (like national parks) pulling out a vintage piece of film gear generally strikes up a nice conversation. If you break out LF gear and get under the dark cloth you will attract a crowd of both photographers and non-photographers alike and inviting them to take a look at the ground glass is an excellent way to generate a little positive energy in a time when we could use some.
After all as every TOP regular knows, half the fun of photography is talking about it with people.

I expect the many of the TOP community will have seen the 1974 film of Fred Gandolfi talking about making cameras with his brother Arthur? The firm was in business from 1888 to 2017.

I purchased my Wista Field 45 in 1978 from Lens and Repro in New York. I used it until about 2006 or 2007. At one time I purchased a 4x5 to 5x7 expander back so I could use it for 5x7 platinum prints.

The first thing I did when I got my camera was run to the refrigerator, pull out a green pepper and make a photograph with the polaroid 545 holder.

It was a great camera.

I still retain the right/dream/delusion of dropping out of the digital rat race and going full-bore luddite who only shoots with a large format camera (at least 8x10) and contact prints solely with a light bulb a la Weston. In the meantime, this article might nudge me to break out the Crown Graphic.

I had a big crush on one of the women who worked at Ferranti-Dege in the early 2000s. Once I showed her a picture of a sunset that I'd taken and she said it looked like a postcard which I took as a great compliment. I think they might have had a Deardorff 5*7 on display there when I was going.

I later shot 5*7 myself. I eventually got a Deardorff which I didn't like all that much but I started with a crappy Kodak n.33 that I rebult from a eBay wreck. It was a cheap camera when it was made but I really loved it. It was very light. (Had minimal movements).

I used to carry it around Walden Pond and take pictures of strangers. I think it was so weird and disarming to people that it made the whole thing much easier for me and I like to think they have a special intimacy. There was another guy doing the same thing with a Mamita, i think his pictures were better than mine but it's not a contest.

I was in my first nursing job when doing all the developing got kind of old. Then I bought a sailboat and sold all my camera stuff. Nursing has darkened me quite a bit and I think of ways to reinvigorate my feelings for my fellow humans. Walking around with a view camera and taking pictures of strangers was a pretty great way to connect with people. But I know I'm not going to get another view camera.

I do wonder what the digital equivalent of a view camera is but I fear that it's another view camera.


I just posted photos from a portrait of a local horse trainer in Colorado I made on the last day of 2019 with a 1904 Century 8x10 camera.


There's a behind-the-scenes photo, too.

Sometimes I carry a Busch-Pressman 4x5 and one film holder and use it like a point and shoot. Like this shot of Central Camera in Chicago. (I love photo stores, too, Mike!)


There's something to be said for going out with the big boys.

[And a nice photo of the horse trainer it is, too. Good job.

I spent many happy hours in Central Camera! Like walking through history. --Mike]

I can buy a flatbed scanner for less than $100. Thin and small. I wonder why nobody has made a simple scanning back for 4x5 that either slides in place of the film holder, or if thicker, attaches to the standard (graflex?) hooks in every 4x5 camera. Could connect with a mobile phone either with wire or Bluetooth. That would make me take out my view camera and I am sure I am not the only one. Playing with film is a very big hassle, especially on 4x5. I know there used to be at least one scanning back but it cost thousands of dollars. A bit steep for occasional Sunday hobby.

I have fond memories of those counties you mention. In the mid-1970s, as a new grad, I worked on a long-term lake water quality research project out of the U of M Biological Station in Pellston, MI. The team hauled a Boston Whaler along those same roads on the way to obtain water samples from all of the lakes in the area. That locality, a hand-me-down Canon RM, and almost exclusive use of a fully equipped darkroom give those memories a halcyon quality.

Back in the mid 70s my photographic mentor was a big view camera aficionado, he had 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 varieties that I was free to use - and I did almost every weekend for a few years. I've personally only owned press cameras with limited movements, and nothing larger than 4x5. There is something about an 8x10 contact print...

I would very much like to find an 8x10 since I'm moving to the scenic wonderland of NH. I keep my eye out...

Yes, I remember the story about the article. What a pity.

Lovely piece. Maybe I should find a view camera for my collection. I don’t really have a good space for it though.

Something different “ Chroma - Lasercut Acrylic 4x5 Field Camera”

Over the years have used my 11x14 more and more, mostly from the back of my car. I have noticed that over the past few years or so, more and more people stop by and stare at what I am doing. Most ask questions. Lately has become a distraction for me operating the camera and have bungled up a few shots because of this distraction. Because of this, now shoot with the 11x14 on weekdays and save digital for weekends... No one ever stops by to talk when I'm shooting digital.

Have had a weak spot for view cameras for far too many years. I love 'em despite all evidence to the fact that I am a very poor large format photographer.

I feel the need to publicly confess my folly. I've bought Cambos, Linhofs (several), Wistas, MPPs (several), Speed Graphics (several), Wistas, Pinholes, Sinars and Mentor Reflexes. I love them but have to own up to the fact I don't take good photos with them. In fact, messing around with LF probably harmed my career. I think I'm cured now.

Late to the comment party ;-) but I am loving my view cameras more and more. I am going to "trade in" (plus cash ha ha) my Tachihara 8x10 for a super light weight Chamonix 8x10 with non-rotating back.

(17 seconds exposure>

You've successfully shamed me into dusting off my Wista and JOBO tank, and ordering a box of film and some chemistry from B&H. Next order of business is to lightproof a closet since my darkroom is long gone!

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