4x5 Field Camera: Wood or Metal?

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by mfratt, Dec 22, 2010.

  1. mfratt

    mfratt Member

    Messages:
    124
    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2010
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I use a monorail right now, and it is getting to be too much of a limitation to lug around, so I'd like to spring for a field camera. Despite the cost, I'm inclined to buy one new since I plan on keeping it for a very, very long time.

    I was looking at the Toyo 45AX and the Wista 45SWIII, both of which I like but I'm not sure whether metal or wood is better for me. I feel that both would have sufficient movements (and when I need more, I can just use my monorail), but I'm largely concerned with durability and longevity. I'm not rough on my equipment, but I don't exactly carry it around in a diaper either. I do a lot of shooting in cold weather and (though I try to avoid it) damp weather. I'd hate to have that beautiful wista smashed by a gust of wind throwing it into a rock.

    I feel like I'm emotionally drawn to the Wista but logically drawn to the Toyo. Can anyone help?

    Also, theres the problem of having to make this decision sight unseen. Where does one go to actually get hands on with these cameras before buying? I'm in Boston, MA but I wouldn't mind driving an hour or two to check one out properly.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 22, 2010
  2. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

    Messages:
    1,504
    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Westminster,
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Doesn't really matter, nor do plans on having a camera a very long time matter when buying used or new.

    I've used both wood and metal over the decades. Each does the job I've asked it.

    You must discern from your shooting style which is best for you. Ask 10 people and your'll get 10 unique perspectives.

    Right now I have a metal 4x5 and a wood 8x10. Both are perfect for what I do, but that does not answer your concerns.

    Best to try out both styles in the field. Road testing is the best solution.
     
  3. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,140
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Unless the force is enough to break away pieces, metal tends to deform permanently, wood tends to give and stay in the original shape. There are reasons why people still can use 100 year old wood cameras -- though one of those reasons is that a lot more wood cameras were made.

    Metal cameras look better on metal pods, wood cameras on wood pods...:wink:

    Typically, wood cameras are lighter.

    It would be great to get your hands on both and see how the controls, etc feel best for you.
     
  4. mfratt

    mfratt Member

    Messages:
    124
    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2010
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks for the input. Another question, though. What ate the advantages of the graflock back on the sister versus the standard wista back?
     
  5. munz6869

    munz6869 Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,157
    Joined:
    May 17, 2004
    Location:
    Hawthorn, Vi
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I have the Graflok back on my Wista, and I thought it would be very handy for rollfilm adapters, viewing hoods and the many other varied graflok attachments... In practice, I have a flip up hood on it and that's as much as I've used it (but the flip-up hood is VERY useful, and protects the GG) - yet to run a rollfilm through the camera in two and a half years...

    Marc!
     
  6. SteveR

    SteveR Member

    Messages:
    545
    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2009
    Location:
    Geelong, Aus
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Just to add another element into the mix for you to consider, is not just the weight/construction/durability of either camera, but the way they are put together (meaning, design, not actual construction) and whether that makes one or the other easier for you to use. As a quick example, hiking with a few photographers not too long ago, there were three Wista's on the trip, two metal fields (one being mine) and a woodie. At one point, as I was setting up a shot, the wood user was standing next to me and commented (almost in awe) at how easy my front tilt was to adjust, one thumb screw, tilt the standard with a thumb and forefinger, easy. I hadn't thought twice about it until he commented, then I saw him struggling with his front movements, two screws that had to be loosed at the same time, trying to flick the brass rails in while also holding the standard up to stop it falling all the way forward... a very cumbersome looking routine, and in the cold and drizzle, made me very thankful for the simpler handling of my, slightly heavier, metal field.

    I just wanted to throw that in, because of all the wood vs metal debates I've read, they all seem to focus on the weight vs ruggedness debate, forgetting other practical considerations. So, just something to make your decision a little harder again!
     
  7. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,970
    Joined:
    May 3, 2006
    Location:
    Ryde, Isle o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Also wood is easier to repair yourself if it does break.


    Steve.
     
  8. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

    Messages:
    1,931
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2004
    Location:
    Best/The Net
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Check for yourself the next items to compair.

    -maximum bellow extension
    -shift,tilt etc...
    -stability with 300mm lens attached
    -insert cassette, does it go smooth, or is your camera moving when inserting it.
    -do you find negative reviews about it
    -are there replacements available in case of problems
    -is weight a problem for you

    The rest is different for each person...
     
  9. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    17,523
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    There's something that's been missed, the metal cameras like the Toyo are designed to be used hand-held if required, it's a bit awkward using that Wista hand-held.

    I have a Wista 45DX and it's a great camera to use, essentially the same but no Graflok back and I've never found that to be an issue as I use a Wista RF back which has a plate which protects the screen.

    Recently I've switched to a metal Super Graphic here in Turkey & left the Wista in the UK. The Super Graphic's similar to the Toyo but has a range-finder as well, movements are a fraction quicker to use than the Wista as SteveR says, but that's never ben an issue. The major advantage is the Super Graphic is easy to use hand-held and previously I had to decide whether to take the Wista for tripod work or a Crown Graphic when I thought tripods might not be permitted.

    So take into account whether you need to work hand-held.

    Ian
     
  10. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

    Messages:
    9,184
    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
    Location:
    Washington D
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Another wood field camera to consider is the Shen Hao HZX45 AT II. I don't know if they're still making them out of teak or if they've switched to walnut, but mine is teak. It's a little heavier, but the teak wood means it will stand up to any climate you want to put it in. Movements, if they're important to you, are significant - you can about turn the bellows into a pretzel if you want. And they're cheaper than the Wista.
     
  11. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,140
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I almost added that to my post, but realized that my woodworking skills are embarressing (even worse than my spelling)...:laugh:
     
  12. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    17,523
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Wood bounces better than metal :D

    I had a quick release system on a tripod release my Wista without reason, it bounced on a tarmac road then split a major joint, I tapped the joint back into place with a shoe heel. it stayed like that another 15+ years before I re-glued the joint 2 years ago.

    Even of you can't fix it a good cabinet maker can mend a wooden camera, and even make new parts if needed. That's from practical experience - hoever with restortaion where parts were missing which is actually harder.

    Ian
     
  13. SeanEsopenko

    SeanEsopenko Member

    Messages:
    13
    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2010
    Location:
    Calgary, Can
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I have a Wista 45SP metal field camera with a graflock back, flip up 4x5 hood and 6x9 sliding film holder. I'm glad it's metal because I would have smashed a wooden field camera a few times by now. I crawl and climb to places that make a wood camera a bit of a liability.

    I'll sling the carrying strap through my tripod shoulder strap and sling that across from one shoulder to the other side to climb ladders and stuff like that. It bangs around a bit but I'm not too concerned. It's built like a tank.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. SMBooth

    SMBooth Member

    Messages:
    1,117
    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2008
    Location:
    Melbourne, N
    Shooter:
    Multi Format

    Not sure I was in AWE, well maybe a little..

    But it is a good point the operation is as important as the construction.
     
  16. mfratt

    mfratt Member

    Messages:
    124
    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2010
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Well now I'm even more indecisive!

    I do not want something I have to wrestle with in order to get it into position. This is annoying in any circumstance, let alone when its below zero and my fingers have lost most of their tactile abilities.

    It also seems like the picture I'm getting is that wood is more durable against the big knocks, but metal might be better for the usual "getting bumped around." Fair assessment?
     
  17. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,140
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    A metal camera is much better for self-defense than a wood one. But wood or metal, if the GG is not protected, it will be hard to use if it gets broken.
     
  18. Hikari

    Hikari Member

    Messages:
    188
    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2010
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Cameras are not soccer balls.

    I don't think anyone can claim one material is stronger than the other--but it is interesting to note most aircraft today are not made of wood. My metal Wista VX is probably the strongest camera I have ever owned. But you can beat any camera silly with a baseball bat. Do you normally abuse your equipment? In that case, nothing is safe and it does not matter what you get.
     
  19. John Kasaian

    John Kasaian Member

    Messages:
    1,030
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2002
    Tripods are for self defense. Thats what the pointy things on the ends of the legs are for!:wink:
    What focal length lenses do you plan on using? Make sure the bellows can handle them and all the rest of the details are....details.
    Wooden cameras are my preference, but I wouldn't turn up my nose at a Linhoff or Super Graphic. The ability to shoot handheld is something I've come to value(hence one of my current 5x7s is a Speeder)
    I think cameras are like tennis rackets. If it is a model you enjoy looking at and handling, and can imagine yourself using in the field then it is probably a safe pick. Go look at cameras and fall in love with one.:D
     
  20. SteveR

    SteveR Member

    Messages:
    545
    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2009
    Location:
    Geelong, Aus
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    hehe, okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but still...
     
  21. jelke

    jelke Member

    Messages:
    192
    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2002
  22. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    17,523
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I wouldn't call setting up a Wista wrestling :D

    The differences in operation are really slight, I can get my 45DX set up in about 30 second, and in the cold an all metal camera might be worse. On the few occasions when I go out shooting with other photographers I've often got my shot with my Wista while even MF users are still setting up :smile:

    Ideally you need to try both options, maybe find some LF users near you.

    A wooden camera has one other advantage - a lot more people will stop and talk to you when your out using it :D

    Ian
     
  23. rst

    rst Member

    Messages:
    1,109
    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2004
    Location:
    Germany
    Shooter:
    Pinhole
    Ha ha, I experience that all the time with my wooden pinhole camera and honestly, as interesting it is to talk to other people, sometimes it can be a disadvantage because you get distracted or miss the right time for your capture.

    Cheers
    Ruediger
     
  24. lilmsmaggie

    lilmsmaggie Member

    Messages:
    336
    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2009
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    If money is an issue, I'd seriously consider a Chamonix 45N-2. Carbon fiber and teak. You might be pleasantly surprised.

    Otherwise, an Ebony 45SU just might be the ticket for longevity.

    Just my 2 cents.
     
  25. jp498

    jp498 Member

    Messages:
    1,467
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Owls Head ME
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Whatever you get, the graflok back option is highly desirable. You can use a metal hood to reduce the need to use a darkcloth, you can snap a instant film back in and shoot color fuji instant, and of course use rollfilm adaptors. The normal traditional spring back is very functional, but doesn't spring back far enough to allow the instant film adaptor.
     
  26. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,140
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Ian made a good point about cold weather operation (one of the reasons I like woods pods (have used both wood and metal pods in sub-freezing weather...wood is much nicer...even in the 32F to 40F temps.)

    And one gets quick using whatever type of camera one owns. I have lent my Gowland PocketView, but people only borrow it once due to its lack of indents, etc. But I love it (bought it new about 25 years ago).

    Vaughn