4x5 cameras with truly parallel/aligned standards

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Michael R 1974, Sep 25, 2012.

  1. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I'm not sure if this will be a worthwhile thread or a can of worms, but the title is my question. I'd like to hear about some of the more ridiculously expensive cameras out there - Linhof TK45s, Toyo VX125, Arca Swiss, Sinar, (any others), in case I can afford one someday.

    Does all the extra money for the cameras I listed above buy you front and rear standards that are accurately square with eachother when the camera is "zeroed" out of the box?

    I have been thoroughly disappointed with the two cameras I've owned so far (one of them just purchased new) when it comes to parallelism/alignment. Neither of these cameras were cheap, though nowhere near the price of a Linhof or Arca. I have wasted thousands of dollars so far, after doing tons of careful research beforehand. If only there was some way to try these things in a store before buying.

    I don't have another purchase in me so I guess it's back to 35mm again until I am less poor. But I don't know how to avoid this in the future. I could not have done more research, spoken to more people etc.
     
  2. 250swb

    250swb Member

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    I'm racking my brains to undertsand why such precise alignment is required unless you are doing scientific work? I'd have thought just eyeballing the square alignment of the standards would be sufficient in order to not have converging this or that, if the camera was also set square on the tripod. True close up's and wide aperture photographs may need a more precise alignment, but wouldn't you do that via the ground glass screen and empirical knowledge about what is going on rather than trusting to a camera setting?

    Steve
     
  3. wildbill

    wildbill Member

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    My chamonix 45n-2 wasn't very expensive (used) at all but I'll sell it to you for $3000 if you'd like. Or I'll take that Walker and a few grand. Are your prints suffering from standarditis?
     
  4. Barrie B.

    Barrie B. Member

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    4 X 5 Squiare back.

    The Walker has a ` Fixed ' back with only movements on the front, excellent for wide to normal lenses . Cheers Barrie B.
     
  5. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    Used Sinar gear is dirt cheap. So too, are the used Toyo monorails (admittedly, no the VX125 however). Even old Linhof monorails are pretty darn inexpensive...

    but, I too wonder why such precision alignment is required? Isn't that what the ground glass is for? I mean, you can see the the alignment, or lack there of, on the ground glass...

    I agree that some cheap cameras make it difficult. Several of the popular less expensive models do not have separate controls for front rise and front center tilt for example.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2012
  6. aleksmiesak

    aleksmiesak Member

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    Yeah, I'm confused. Especially by the fact that you've tried two, weren't satisfied and gave up to go to 35mm. How is that a logical progression when aiming for perfection? These cameras maintain their value incredibly well so you could easily sell them if they didn't fit what you were looking for and upgrade to something else. Somehow the 35mm thing doesn't fit in that equation.
     
  7. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Thanks for the comments so far.

    To clarify a few things, first, it's not like I went out recently and bought two cameras. I've gone back and forth between 35mm and LF over the years. In the early 90s I started working in LF for the first time, then gave it up some years later to go back to 35mm. Etc. Then recently I decided to go back to LF again, purchased what I thought would be an excellent camera (I sold the old one some years ago). I'm not trying to compare the two formats. The first LF camera I had was not great, but with a lot of extra work for each shot, and a good deal of frustration I was able to make it work. That was not enjoyable though. There was a thread on here recently in which some people made the point our tools should be extensions of ourselves, and pleasurable to use, rather than things to fight in an effort to get a shot.

    Wide angle lenses demand a pretty accurate camera. I'm not saying it has to be perfect, but come on, these things should be pretty damn close for the money they cost. I do a lot of urban landscape/architecture-type work, usually under low light conditions. It would be nice to at least be able to rely on the camera being squared up properly when starting in zero/null position instead of having to fiddle for 20 minutes with bubble levels, rulers and whatever else just to get the damn thing aligned. It is not easy to do all this on the ground glass. Some help from the expensive equipment would be nice. My camera doesn't have markings or detents, but these would be useless anyway if the camera is out of alignment when they are zeroed.

    I put a lot of hard, careful work into my pictures and prints. I really don't think I'm asking too much for the camera to be accurately aligned. Perhaps if I had "cheaped out", but I didn't.

    What tolerance is acceptable to people? 1 degree out? 2 degrees out? Is an Arca or Technikardan that much better than a cheap Shen Hao? Or is it the luck of the draw and maybe I just always end up with the duds for some reason?

    This plain sucks. Anyway if I remain this pissed, look out for great deals on some brand new gear in the classifieds.

    And thanks, wildbill, for rubbing it in all the time. I do the best I can.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2012
  8. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    A camera's alignment is only as good as the person setting the zero detents. If you are talking about brand new cameras, then they should come setup, but used cameras are a mixed bag. It reads like your current cameras just need to be setup properly (though some 4x5 cameras don't have adjustable zero detents).
     
  9. dlin

    dlin Member

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    Sounds like you'd be best served by a monorail camera with clear detents on the zero positions and good levels on both front and rear standards. If you're working with primarily wideangle lenses, a bag bellows would be necessary. There are a number of good options available: Sinar, Arca Swiss, Linhof. You'd be trading off portability/compactness for this level of precision, but it sounds like a solution to your frustrations.
     
  10. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    ic: The first camera I had had zero detents, though not adjustable. The one I currently have has no detents, scales etc. It is supposed to be zeroed by "feel" (for example, you can easily feel with your fingertip when the front tilt is zeroed when the frame around the lens board is flush with the uprights on the front standard). The problem is, as it turns out when that is done and everything is flush, the lens is actually tilted forward slightly relative to the back.

    Dlin: I think that is the direction I'm leaning in. My first 4x5 was a monorail. With the more recent purchase I really thought I'd be best served by a "technical"-type folding camera since it is sort of a jack of all trades. But I think you are right that in the end I'm better served by a monorail for my purposes despite the increased bulk. I must admit however I'm having a very hard time figuring out which camera would be best for me (Sinar, Arca, Linhof...). I will have to get a second job though. Have you seen the price of a bag bellows for a Technikardan? Thanks very much for the feedback so far. It is indeed frustrating right now.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2012
  11. Oren Grad

    Oren Grad Subscriber

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    Have you considered a helical-focusing camera with shift movements like a Cambo Wide?
     
  12. 250swb

    250swb Member

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    To use wide lens on a large format camera the camera doesn't need to be accurately aligned at all, especially for cityscape, because the first thing you need to do is use the movements to straighten up converging verticals etc. So it hardly matters where the front standard starts from, wonky or perfect, it will still end up wonky in relation to the rest of the camera. A spirit level laid on the focusing screen is a good idea because that is your datum point for much of the time, but the rest of the camera can point in any direction when it comes out of the bag. Additionally the larger DOF of a wide lens takes care of near/far focus issues most of the time. If however it is so dark you can't see to compensate for converging lines etc, and you need the camera to click into place and get the best you can under the dark conditions, you are still going to have to use a spirit level on the rear standard every time you re-compose and focus the image. And a wide lens will exaggerate perspective anyway, so an out of alignment front standard by just a fraction isn't going to alter the image an awful lot.

    I would say try a monorail if you haven't already, they all do a very similar job so a Sinar would be great because of the vast range of bits that are easily available, but I honestly don't see how it would be better than a field camera or a technical camera.

    Steve
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 26, 2012
  13. thegman

    thegman Member

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    Maybe medium format is the best idea. To go from 4x5 back to 35mm must be like going from watching a movie at the IMAX to your mobile phone. The are medium format cameras out there with tilt/shift if you need it, and the difference in technical resolution/image quality won't be so much of a shock.

    If tilts/shifts don't matter to you so much, there are cameras like Mamiya 7, handles like a 35mm, gives resolution more like 4x5.
     
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  15. joh

    joh Subscriber

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    I purchased a linhof technika a few month ago and I'm very impressed that I can fold it up in a few seconds and all is parallel and ready to go. The last 15 years I used a Gandolfi Variant III, it's far superior in it's movements, but it can drive you crazy to get it parallel in dim light or if it must go really fast.
     
  16. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Tools become extensions of ourselves through use and practice.

    Fighting with (learning) a complicated, fully manual, "new to you" tool is only of value if the result you want requires the extra control or negative size or whatever.

    There are several concepts that make large format really special for me.

    First step for me is to point the camera at my composition (on a tripod). Nothing special there.

    Ok:

    Concept 1- Control of how the geometry in the chosen scene lands on the film. This is all about the back.

    The accuracy required to make your scene look right (with any lens) relates to the orientation of the film to the subject, not how well the camera is squared up to itself.

    With camera solidly pointed the right direction already, my next step is to orient the back/film to the subject. Level left/right, swing, and tilt until the geometry on the ground glass is what I want.

    (It is actually rare for me to find this squared up.)

    Concept 2- Control of focus. This is all about the front.

    The orientation of the lens controls the plane of sharp focus.

    But you can only choose one surface/plane to align to.

    Sure for the face of a building you can align the lens to that surface but so what. Most shots are of three dimensional subjects. Close is normally just fine and aperture has to be adjusted to get the rest anyway.
     
  17. Doremus Scudder

    Doremus Scudder Member

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    Michael,

    You don't say which cameras you are displeased with. I might submit, however, that you are being a bit too demanding. I have had and still have a number of cameras, from cheap wooden folders to upscale monorails. All of my cameras have had some kind of zero setting (a slot in the locking arms on the wooden folders, spring-loaded detents on others, etc.). All have been adequate for my needs as far as alignment goes.

    How precise you need to be in reaching parallel seems to be the issue here. I think that you will find that you need a lot less accuracy than you think, especially with wide-angle lenses. For me, getting somewhere close to parallel is fine for set-up. After that, I focus on the ground glass.

    First, everything you need to ensure your negatives are focused as you desire should be on the ground glass (that's why it's called a "view camera" after all). If you want to agonize over something, then it should be the placement and alignment of your ground glass with the film plane and the alignment of the grid on your ground glass; these are worthy subjects for anal retentiveness :smile:

    That and correct placement of the camera back (i.e., parallel to what you need it parallel to) are the most critical parts of composing a shot.
    But, if you have your gg correct, you can find parallel by looking at it (verticals and horizontals in the scene should line up with the grid as you wish them to).

    Similarly, focus is right there for you to see. I always check to make sure my desired plane of sharp focus is sharp, and then adjust to compensate, by tweaking the lens standard just a bit if I have the back where I want it.

    I often notice, especially with some of my wooden folders, that when I use a lot of front rise and the bellows are rather compacted, that the pressure often pushes the front standard out of alignment a bit. I simply re-align it to parallel using the ground glass as a visual guide.

    Come to think of it, I would likely work almost as efficiently with a camera that had absolutely no provision for setting things up parallel. I'd simply eyeball the setup (you'd be surprised how accurate you eye can be) and then deal with everything using the gridded ground glass and movements to position the plane of sharp focus.

    One more observation. Any machine that is meant to be user-adjustable is going to have more slop in the adjustments than something that is machined solid, measured with lasers and micrometers, and fixed immovably at the factory. A Hasselblad has no issues with parallelism, but you can't adjust it. The inaccuracies and imprecision inherent in view-camera construction are the price we pay for flexibility.

    Best,

    Doremus

    www.DoremusScudder.com
     
  18. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Thanks to everyone for the insight.

    Oren: I did look at that type of camera but ultimately went with a more standard design because I still needed the ability to do landscape and general work with lenses up to about 300mm, tilting back etc. For wide angle work (I don't use anything wider than 72mm/75mm though) something like a Cambo Wide would be great, but in the end I just needed more flexibility/versatility. Those cameras are too specialized for me.

    250swb: I like the idea of the spirit level on the focusing screen. I will try that. I'm still not entirely in agreement that it doesn't matter how much slop there is in the front standard though. Obviously when it comes to aligning the back with the subject for composition, convergence control etc etc I'm ok using the ground glass. Getting the front square with the back is the tricky part.

    the gman: That's a whole other debate... but I never much cared for medium format. I can get pretty good image quality out of 35mm, with tilt/shift lenses when I need them. Sure, there's a jump in quality to medium format, but I prefered the bigger jump to 4x5 and I enjoy working with sheet film. These are really the two formats for me. Just a personal preference though.

    joh: Yes, that's what I've heard/read about Linhof cameras. It sure makes things easier.

    Mark: Of course use and diligent practice are key. I don't want to give the impression I'm trying to be lazy about this. My photography and printing is about practice and hard work to achieve the final print. Perhaps I'm simply asking too much of a flexible camera. In the end that's the question I keep coming back to. Are flexibility and precision necessary tradeoffs, or are the more expensive cameras indeed both flexible and precise?

    Doremus: Don't get me started on ground glass/film plane alignment... :smile: I hope the camera is at least precise in that respect, or else the entire thing is a non-starter.

    Perhaps I'm simply relying too much on the camera for parallelism in a neutral position rather than just trusting my eyes (difficult at night etc). But I'm not sure I'm wrong in my expectations. Maybe I'm being too picky, maybe not. It seems going back to a monorail at some point would help, and/or investing in a more precision camera, but that last part bothers me because I wonder if you really get that level of precision in the high end cameras, or if I'll still have the same issues. For now I will have to get by with what I have.
     
  19. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    I've accumulated several 4x5 cameras over the years, and sometimes use an old Speed Graphic Anniversary model when really wide lenses and tilts or swings aren't needed. If the camera is properly aligned, the lens board and film plane are always parallel. There are also other advantages in having a cheap expendable LF camera.
     
  20. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    What are your desired/required tolerances... numerically speaking?
     
  21. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    First of all, there is no such thing as a camera where everything is always in perfect alignment. You
    can't take anything for granted, esp with used equipment. Second, well made equipment will have a
    provision to correct these kinds of problems. Even my Sinar Norma camera made half a century ago
    can be fine-tuned to regain its original settings, but the components are in good shape without much
    actual wear or slop. Third, to readjust things correctly you need proper machinist-quality levels and
    squares etc - don't expect to go to Home Cheapo and purchase any level worthy of the task. High
    end metal monorails or technical cameras made from die-castings are likley to be the best bet for
    long-term precision; but some expensive wooden cameras like Ebony can be surprisingly good. Wood
    can warp if its not kept sealed, of course. Used monorails, esp Sinar, seem to be a bargain at the
    moment, but beware of patched-together ones from worn or mismatched components.
     
  22. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Michael,

    I'm not suggesting that you are being lazy.

    One thing I would suggest right off, and you probably are anyway, is to practice the movements when it's bright out to get the feel of things.

    I do have a question or two:

    With regard to the architecture photos, are you simply trying to get verticals vertical or do you want to manipulate horizontals as well, and, how much DOF are you needing?
     
  23. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Detents are a mixed blessing. If they are correct it can save you a little time. If they are off then
    they'll obviously be deceptive. And if you need just a tiny bit of correction one way or the other from
    "zero", there will be a temptation for the detent to kick in anyway, and it will be hard to hold the
    adjustment. Detents also have a tendency to wear over time. So I never wholly trust them, even with the best of cameras. As already mentioned, it is far more important to check focus visually across the groundglass plane itself with a good loupe. And if you need to be fussy with verticals,
    use a groundglass with lines on it.
     
  24. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    My 45N-2 has no detents at all except for the sort of detent that consists of two pins that pull in to release the front tilt. I honestly think I am better for it, I always double check things anyway before putting a loupe on the ground glass and it makes tiny adjustments a breeze. I have used two other field cameras that had detents and I always found them to be somewhat of a disrupting while engaging in view camera movements..
     
  25. EASmithV

    EASmithV Member

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    perhaps something like this is better if you insist on perfect alignment?

    3484353736_503a9b87d3_o.jpg
     
  26. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Michael R 1974,

    Maybe you always wanted a P2...

    I always thought it would be cool to have micrometer controls, clear markings, and yaw-free design.

    Seems like a fine set of features to me.