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Thursday, 08 October 2020


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For the lowest cost you neglected the Speed Graphic and Crown Graphic cameras. And you didn't mention the rugged metal folding field cameras, the Toyo 45A, and the Horseman 45. And why not mention cheap monorail cameras, with movements to make a pretzel blush?

Speaking of cheap, but extremely useful, I got an Omega 45D with a 150mm Nikkor for $165. I used to take an Omega 45E monorail on hikes when I was younger. I traded an old mountain bike for it.

I've been using wooden field cameras (and metal monorails) for 39 years. The main reason that I sold my featherweight Japanese 4x5 and bought a Zone VI (not IV) 4x5 was the longer bellows extension... one of my favorite focal lengths on the format is 300mm (85mm-e) and the Tachihara's 13" extension was barely adequate. That was in 1992 and I still use the Zone VI all the time.

But I am happy that you're even talking about view cameras!

And when you find a proper subject for your Wista, you'll soon be using it. Best of luck!.. (and try one of the old Kodak lenses, perhaps the 152/4.5 Ektar).

Don’t forget Intrepid and Chroma, super light field cameras made with modern materials you can buy new in box for less than $400. Seriously considered an Intrepid but ultimately ended up getting a Wista 45SP for not a lot more, mostly because I could get it in about week from a seller in Japan who frequents the large format photography forum versus several weeks with Intrepid. A lot heavier but nice that I can fold it up with my Schneider 150 mounted (albeit flipped around).

Talking about lenses: In the late seventies I bought my first enlarger, a basement-bargain piece of sh*t called Seagull from China. It worked, sort of, but the lens was crap. So I bought a 50mm 4.0 enlargement Nikkor. It was excellent, pin-sharp at F:8 to the corners. Guess what it cost? Forty dollars. And the price had just gone up!

Later I got a Durst 35, excellent gear.


A few comments based on my personal journey along this path:

1) There are potentially several advantages to using a monorail or technical-type view camera instead of a folding, field camera for some types of photography, so don't automatically cross them off your list.

2) While monorails and technical cameras are usually larger and heavier than field cameras (and sometimes quite a bit so), there are also many exceptions to the rule, especially if you'll be buying a used camera.

3) As an intermediate step, consider using a roll-film back and shooting 120/220 film instead of sheet film.

Shooting roll film is more affordable on a per-shot basis and it can be professionally developed (and scanned, if that suits your output needs) by many more labs than sheet film, hence it can often be a bit more convenient and cost-effective to use during the early stages of learning large format photography.

This will allow you to focus on learning how to use a view camera separately from learning how to load and develop sheet film, the combination of which can often overwhelm beginners who are trying to teach themselves via books and YouTube videos.

Of course, using roll-film results in only the small, central portion of the ground glass being used, which can make it somewhat more difficult to compose and focus a photo than when using a larger piece of film.

It also adds a crop factor to the equation, which effectively makes your lenses appear to be quite a bit longer than they are.

But in return, there's more DoF available without stopping down the lens as far, which also means more light will reach the ground glass, both of which can make composing and focusing noticeably easier than it might be otherwise.

Lastly, if all you really want from a view-camera are movements and/or the the experience of working with one -- it's fun, I swear! -- and using film is something to be tolerated and not celebrated, there are also several digital options available, ranging from inexpensive adapters that mount various digital cameras onto view cameras via a Graflok back to DIY conversions based on existing cameras to expensive but high-precision commercially available cameras.

Perhaps the best advice I can offer (as if I am any sort of expert [rolls eyes]) is not to force anything. If large-format photography is right for you, then the experience of working with a view camera will be a revelation. (In fact, if it's not a revelation, then this is likely a sign that it's not right for you and other formats beckon!)

So... (and I have two sleeves and a couple N95 masks), I lugged a 4x5 and an 8x10 (both Gibellini) to the Eastern Sierra and Yosemite this weekend. With the 4x5, weighing in at 5+ lbs, I carried the pack with the camera, 3 lens, 4 film holders, and bunch of whatevers, for 3+ miles hike down (and up again, also with my wife's pack as she was having some difficulties with her foot) the Merced Grove.

With the 8x10 though, it's 20 feet or less from the car.

I need to develop and scan, but here's one pic:

"We took a trip to the Eastern Sierra and Yosemite amid the Pandemic and horrible AQI. When we have to wear the N95 masks inside the car, you know it's really bad...

Nevertheless, I had a great time photographing with the 4x5 and 8x10. I could hike 4+ miles with the 4x5 and... twenty feet or so with the 8x10.

Anyway, with the Pandemic, a lot of food options are not available in Yosemite and Curry Village bought in ... Tacos Truck (of course). So in one picture, we have the shining example of the great American Park system, Yosemite, Tacos truck (in fact, it was Tuesday), an AQI of 150+ and the requirements to wear masks and physical distancing."

Well, if you buy a Zone IV, you might later wish that you had splurged for the extra II. :)

I've owned and still have lots of view cameras, they all have things that they are 'better' at, but most can do whatever you need. One feature I don't like is a small or specialty lens board like the Linhof knock-offs.
They can make it hard or impossible to mount larger lenses, and because they are metal with notches and a secondary circular light baffle, hard to make your own. But if you are not a tinkerer, even that doesn't matter.
As far as a 'conversation piece' my largest is an 11x14 Deardorff Commercial view on a 10 foot Bi-Post Studio Stand. It has a 24" Red Dot Artar. I keep it pointed out a second floor window at the local hills.
I had a guest stare at it for 5 minutes watching foreground trees sway in the wind upside down, he turned and asked me "Is this Live"??
I said Yes. View cameras can bring joy even when they are not used.

Or https://chroma.camera/advanced-4x5/ :-)

Yeah, this is great advice.

Based on my memories from 1982, when I was working to make the jump to sheet film, I was way too concerned with the things that were different from 35mm—having movements, particularly, and hence lens coverage as well.

I never did really make the jump, though I still have the camera (does this sound familiar to anyone?), but I got one good session of portraits out of it! (And various bad sessions outdoors that are best not talked about; I guess I learned enough to be able to do the portraits later.)

Most of the actual difference in results is from the sheer scale of the film (because, as they say, quantity has a quality all its own). And some, also, from the constrained ways you have to work with a big camera: on a tripod, few shots, etc. Those things do not depend at all on your exact choice of camera or lens.

(Sure, the top people in some particular areas of photography who use 4x5s do need to worry about the smaller details. And some of you might, some day, be those people. The chances that you will be those people with your first experience with 4x5 are, let's say, small. There are no doubt always exceptions, people who hit their niche and take off like rockets, but it's rare. Don't plan your life around being one! If you turn out to be, enjoy the ride.)

I got a monorail, a Toyo 45D, with a cheapish Rodenstock 210mm lens if I remember this right. I almost certainly would have been better served by a field camera, and possibly a wider lens. (Probably sacrificing that one good portrait session, in favor of actual landscape work.)

But...I suspect I would have been even better served by getting a modest medium-format system early and keeping with it. I've owned a Yashicamat 124G, a Fuji GS645, and a Norita Graflex 6x6 with only the normal 80mm lens, and gotten just a few useful things with each (least with the Fuji; mine had terrible pinhole problems in that little bellows, I think the design called for it collapsing too tightly to really be reliable). But the price jump to medium format always put me off, and my main focus was always basically journalistic, where serious 35mm gear was the only reasonable choice (before digital). So, a Hasselblad 6x6, or a Mamiya RB67, or else something cheap and quirky (but they weren't that much cheaper!).

The best thing of TOP is that it always provides me with interesting problems to solve in case I can’t sleep.
Combined with a vist to an Alec Soth exhibition yesterday (high scores on any level, not only on content but also on technique), this kept me busy for hours.
Wow… 4x5… also… and if… what… how… how much….

Before I went to art school I hadn’t used any camera. Our first purchase as students was a lab coat because we spent a lot of time mixing chemicals. There was one expensive Sinar monorail most of us were fighting for each week, but I never understood why it was better than the basic Cambo and Plaubel cameras we used. Most had a 150mm lens. I can’t remember we ever used anything else, although we had alternatives.

Starting photography this Spartan way did not make me an enthousiast. But I learned at least that everything you do before the exposure is much more important than what you do afterwards. The best print can’t save a lousy image or a bad idea.

As art director I liked to work with photographers who shot on 4x5, especially for portraits. Still see some of them occasionally. Two of them are successful and famous now, but I believe they still are using only 4x5 field cameras with a nifty hundred and fifty.

Okay, you may get a 135mm instead if environment is your thing.

One of mine is actually setup in my media room. Wish someone would make an affordable digital back for the 4x5 field camera. Might be fun.

I have an MPP technical camera in the attic - one of these: https://www.camleyphotographic.com/shop/mpp-mk-viii-micro-technical-rangefinder-camera-condition-5e-3416/

I replaced the ground glass screen with a Beattie Intenscreen which improved the view a lot. It came with a 90mm Angulon (which I still have but the shutter broke) and I bought a modern Schneider 150mm lens.

However, I never had much luck with it. I made a lot of B&W negs but the great majority were soft/ out of focus and unimpressive. I may actually have only got a couple of crisp shots out of it. Because of this, I gave up on the camera and it's been in the attic for at least 20 years.

I came across an article about these cameras that mentioned that the made a special order model for the MOD that had a non standard registration distance for the film holders and had to be used with dedicated film holders designed for that specific model. It crosses my mind that I might have acquired one of these specialist cameras and it doesn't work with my normal film holders. That could explain the consistent out of focus results.

Anyone have any ideas as to how I might find out if I do have the MOD models and how I might test/align the film holders with the focusing screen. I don't want to invest too much energy into this but if there is a quick and easy way to test and calibrate it...

My favourites having used about fifteen different ones in my life was the Ebony 45SU and the Linhof Master Technica.

As to movements, to be honest that really depends on what you shoot. Portraits and you use none. Architecture more. Some love playing with movements others don’t.

Not much need for resolution tests in large format is there. I wonder if a new lens manufacturer will imerge in the future. I still wish I had bought a philips when I had the chance.

Hi Mike,
Talk of packing a large piece of kit reminded me of this young man I saw in a street in Hong Kong a few years ago. Can be done if young and fit. Note the tripod in front of him.

[That makes me cringe, though. I know lots of photographers who have back and neck problems from draping gear over themselves in their youth. Especially with the weight off to one side like this young man has. I had neck problems for years and can't carry a camera around my neck to this day. I hope he quickly gets tired of carrying that around that way, for his sake. --Mike]

If you're picking a 4x5 for field use, don't overlook the various Graphics. They are light, fold up nicely, and, when equipped with view/rangefinder can also be used for street photography :-). Add a Grafmatic back and you can even do reasonably rapid 6-shot sequences. I bought mine from a retired news photographer, and had a lot of fun with it. The negatives and transparencies from that camera were really beautiful.

If horizontal landscapes are your itch a Speed Graphic will scratch it pretty nicely. The 127mm Ektar that comes with it is a lovely lens. If you get the Speed, it's focal plane shitter allows you to use enlarging lenses, old photocopier lenses and let you take photos of racing cars with egg-shaped wheels. If that's not your thing, the Crown weighs less and rumor has it that a hacksaw and some epoxy putty will make it a vertical format.

I've bought really nice ones for $10 standing in front of camera stores when someone comes out having failed to sell it to the store.

I've never dropped a Wista or a Deardorf on the sidewalk, but the Crown Graphic I dropped worked just fine afterward. On the other hand, I have seen some that look pretty brutalized that probably would still produce acceptable results handheld but are just a little too floppy to bother putting on a tripod. Keep a Wista under the seat in your car just in case? I think not. Graphic sharing space with the first aid kit? No problem.

Oh, and the rangefinders when set up right are wonderful for portraits with a strobe handheld.

The Graphics will do stuff that the other cameras can't except for maybe Linhof but the difference in price vs. Linhof is yard sale bicycle vs. reasonable used car.

I don't know anyone who has actually sold a graphic even after they get a fancy camera just because it's so nice to know you have a beater camera that you could use when the better camera is too nice to take to the beach in the rain. Despite not being worth the hassle of selling they make wonderful gifts and extended loans to friends who think they might want to try 4x5. Their significant other may banish you from diner parties, so there is that to consider.

When I turned 60, a while back, I bought what I thought would be my forever camera, a gorgeous Arca-Swiss F Field monorail. It had EVERYTHING, a folding rail, small lens boards, the movements, not geared, were still like butter. I don't recall its weight but of course, film holders, even the terrific Fuji Acros holder and sheets of film had some weight as did a decent tripod, lenses, meter, filters, and on and on. I thought I'd keep shooting film with it and scan it with my Microtek 1800F scanner and then print digitally. But the scanner died, digital got better and better, and I actually enjoyed time in front of the computer. What I really miss though are the movements. I had (and recently sold) all three of the Nikon PC-E lenses but it was never the same with them. I sold the Arca and never looked back though every time I open the freezer in my garage, I see the few boxes of film that remain. I think my prints are better than they ever were during my wet darkroom days but just the entire 4x5 process, slow and tedious as it was could be a genuine joy. I think it may have been Ted Orland who made a poster of the 189 or so things one could do wrong between seeing a potential image and actually exposing the 4x5 film, definitely not an iPhone approach.

Enjoy your Wista. As Charlie Cramer says, it's art, there are no wrong answers.

Under the heading 'How to Choose a 4x5', the article immediately narrows-down on old-style flat-bed cameras. And it dismisses the need for lenses having large image circles and for the camera movements to exploit them.

For architectural and table-top photography, large image circles and large movements are the primary requirement. They were the decisive reason that I finally took up 4x5. The increased resolution provided by the 4x5 film area just came along with it.

Yes, I'm a "fan of movements", but I don't go out looking for reasons to twist up my camera. I go out to make a photograph that portrays the building to its best advantage, and without imposing upon it the usual exaggerated convergence and tilting that happen when you point a rigid camera upwards. The overwhelming need is for wide-angle lenses having large image circles that can image the building with the camera level, coupled with lots of front rise. It's the very place that 4x5 excels.

Most photographers I've encountered have no inkling of the amazing capabilities of modern 4x5 lenses and cameras, nor of how these can enable them to transform their photography.

Field monorails such as the Toyo VX125, the Arca-Swiss F-Classic or F-Metric, or the Linhof Technikardan 45 are ideal.

Prefer a flatbed? The Walker Titan XL4x5 can accept lenses from ultra wide 35mm to normal-ish 180mm: http://walkercameras.com/XL_4x5.html

[The article does specify "flat-bed field view camera" right there in the first sentence, but okay, I changed the title for you.... --Mike]

@Dave Millier
About your focus problem:
If you can remove the back whether it is a spring back or a graflock back, the distance from the surface that clamps the film holder in place to the ground glass should be the same as the front surface of the film holder to the surface of the film. It’s pretty easy to check with a straight edge and a micrometer or just a steady hand with a fine ruler.

I have a film holder with a hole in the middle and a piece of frosted acetate in the film slot I made to use 40 years ago when checking out rental cameras when I was an assistant.

One other thing. You said that you replaced the ground glass with a bright screen. Are you sure you put it in facing the right way? Putting it if the wrong way forward will really mess things up. Those fresnel lenses some people like are likewise problematic in the sense that the surface and the focal plane are separated. Also those bright screens are bright because you are seeing mostly a virtual image. To use one you need to have some marks on the screen and move your head from side to side. This is called parallax focusing. If the image seems to move it’s not in focus no matter how sharp it looks. Parallax focusing is actually more accurate than ground glass focusing and is one of the reasons for the clear stripes on some view camera screens. Also it works with the lens stopped down!

In my opinion clear spots made with a drop of oil or nail polish and cut corners to check the coverage are essential if you are using any movements on a view camera.

@Dave Milliar: "Anyone have any ideas as to how I might find out if I do have the MOD models and how I might test/align the film holders with the focusing screen".

It's likely to have a broad arrow stamped or engraved upon it somewhere if it's ex MOD equipment. But either way, if there's a registration problem you can take measurements with a vernier caliper.

A vernier will allow you to take internal and external measurements, and measure depths of holes/steps to an accuracy of 1/20th of a mm or better. They are not difficult to use. Make a sketch and measure everything up, and go from there.

If you search for:
"Moore and Wright MW110-15DBL Digitronic Digital Caliper"
it will bring one up that should do the job. On the UK Amazon site, it's about £30. If you go via the Purchases through TOP link (top right of this page) and buy one, Mike gets a few pennies from the sale.

1/- A cautionary word to the wise: in settling on any style of large format camera make sure there is sufficient width to the bellows to allow space between the bellows and the edge of the image area to minimise risk of internal bellows flare.

2/- The entire history of lens design is available to you. Choose from coated, uncoated, Petzvals, Ektars, Imagons and more. Work out who you are, what you want to say about what you see. Make a highly personalised decision that is YOUR look, and own it.


Don't forget metal either. I have three 4x5 cameras.
Cambo wide with 65mm SA
Sinar Norma usually with 90mm SA
Linhof Super Technika iii with 150mm Xenar
I've used both the Cambo and Linhof for street photography but the Norma is almost exclusively used for urban work.
Still use a wet darkroom too....

Build your own. As has http://colinflanarygraham.com/darkshop/?cat=4

I would like to lob gentle curses at Messrs Colin Graham and Carl Weese. I bought two of Carl Weese’s 8x10 platinum-palladium contact prints from the 2010 TOP sale. The Pike Drive-in, Montgomery, Pennsylvania and The Bon-Aire Motel, Williamstown, OH. Well framed, they hang one above the other, being rotated at intervals. Seeing them every day shows how effective good 8x10 photographs can work on the wall. Both provide ongoing joy.

After resisting for years, I am foolishly starting to build myself an 8x10 camera so as to make contacts. Others can decide which is the most foolhardy. Wanting to make negatives four times larger than my 4x5s, or even contemplating such a build.

Either way, I blame Messrs Graham and Weese.

A few years ago I took my Toyo to photograph Mashramani (a carnival parade that celebrates indigenous heritage).

My office is close to one of the parade routes, so while it wasn't practical, it was manageable.

Used a 65mm Schneider super angulon (or something like that).

Done purely for the novelty value, of course, but I wonder how many people in the 21st century have done large format street photography. I'm not sure where I put those photos (not that they were any good).

A Beauty and Fashion Photographer I worked for used a 8"x10" ancient Deardorff with a 12" Ektar lens on a Saltzman tripod for everything. This outfit weighed in at about 40 lbs. He took it everywhere, because I was the guy lugging it around for him.
He was so talented and such a Good Businessman, he had both L'Oreal and Revlon at the same time.
We kept a set of Vice Grips on set, to lock in the tilt controls since every control on the camera was worn out.When something did break on the camera, I took it to The Violin Repairman next door to fix.
(the Studio was located next door to Carnegie Hall)
He made so much money with that camera, over time he sent all 4 of his children from 3 wives to good schools.

Most people are confused about field cameras. They think are best at driving to some scenery pretending to be Ansel Adams except not as good (not actually sure how good he was now, certainly can't look at his pictures any more). Perhaps in 1990 this was true: today if you actually want to be copy Adams you would use some digital camera, perhaps Sigma Quattro with Foveon in fancy-high-res mode, still a lot faster than a field camera, image quality better and even with that camera you can take 30 or 100 pictures in the time you can take one with the wooden box.

Completely wrong use for such a camera in 2020. What is the right use? Easy: street camera. If you want to take street portraits in 21st century no camera is better than a field camera.

You walk around with some official anointed 'street camera' (small, expensive) then people notice you because it is not any more 1950 and people are aware of cameras now. And they know you are trying to steal their photograph and, mostly, they don't like that. If it's the most anointed kind of 'street camera' they also notice it even more (anyone who thinks these cameras are discreet in any way has not carried one much) and they know that you are not only trying to steal their photographs, you are almost certainly richer than them. People don't like this even more.

Instead you can walk around with a wooden box on a tripod and a bag of bits. No-one, ever, refuses to have their picture taken because it is so interesting and strange. Better, offer them a print in return for their picture: now they give you something you give them something in return. Yes you do not get the same pictures you would with your pretend-discrete camera: you will not get pictures any of ten thousand people would take, mostly better than you. You will instead get more interesting pictures, pictures only a few hundred people could take better than you and not many even will try.

Of course you have to walk carrying this huge thing over your shoulder and if you are mot so rich and can't afford a fancy carbon tripod it will be heavy. But humans are good at walking if they will only try.

Well I have not done this but my friend has: is how I met him in fact. I have the print which I value above most things, and not just because he made it.

I'm glad to hear that about triplets, because I just got a Meyer-Optik Domiplan 50mm f2.8 for my Ihagee Exa. I posted about it on an Exakta Collectors Facebook group I'm part of (though I'm not a collector myself, I have just the one Exa), and someone wrote, "The Domiplan is a lens people like for its deficiencies." :)

You are quite right on all counts, Mike. Of course, not being “most people” I opted for both the light weight 4x5 (Chamonix 45N-2 in Canadian [of course] maple) and a carbon fibre tripod. And these days I don’t walk very far from the CR-V, especially on the Southern Tier dirt roads, strewn with rocks, that are my bane. Can’t wait for the Fujinon 240A to arrive that will be the equivalent of taking a few more steps - with gobs of coverage should I feel like twisting my bellows around. Not likely, though.

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