Field or Mono Rail

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by childers-jk, Jul 17, 2006.

  1. childers-jk

    childers-jk Member

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    I am very interested in LF photography, and I have been shooting MF and 35mm for some time. I am interested in venturing into the world of LF and I am debating between a field format 4X5 or a Mono rail. What are the benefits, if any of a mono rail vs. field? I know a field camera is lighter and more mobile, but lack some of the adjustments of a mono rail. Also, is there a difference in the lenses for each? I understand that the standard lens work well on both, but is there a functional difference as far as dof between a field and mono rail camera?

    Again, thanks in advance for any advice or opinions.

    Jeff C.
     
  2. roteague

    roteague Member

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    It is like the difference between driving a sedan and a sport utility. Both do the same thing, but for various reasons. You need to tell us more about what your interests are, before we can provide more detailed answers.
     
  3. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Short answer is it depends.

    Some field cameras are heavier then some monorails.

    Some have more movements then some monorails.

    Lenses also depend on the camera.

    I guess if you look at the top of the line studio monorails then you'll have more movements and easier to use movements. But most people won't want to haul something like that into the field.

    If the camera you buy can handle the lens you want then DOF will be the same. Some cameras are easier to haul. Some are easier to setup. Some can handle long or short lenses easier.

    You can make general statements but enough cameras of both types exist to make any rule of thumb iffy.
     
  4. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Great analogy!
     
  5. childers-jk

    childers-jk Member

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    I am mostly interested in landscapes for the LF. I do, however, wish to experiment with LF portraiture. So I would like to have the flexibility for both. Weight is not so much an issue as control. I am not sure what other information you might need, but some model suggestions would be great, along with lens recommendations, especially for portrait work.
     
  6. roteague

    roteague Member

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    We, landscape photographers, use field cameras because of weight and size restrictions primarily. To get those savings you generally give up some movement capability. While I am not a portrature guy, I don't think the lesser movements of field cameras will impact your portraiture work.

    There are many good field cameras, either wood or metal (my choice), ranging from the cheap Chinese cameras to the more expensive European cameras. You will find as many opinions on cameras as there are photographers. My choice is the Toyo 45 AII.

    For lenses, generally a wide angle lens (90mm or so) is the most used lens for landscapes. That lens wouldn't be a good choice for portraits - I'll leave the recommendations on that to the portraiture guys - I imagine that you would need a longer lens. So, you are looking at needing two lenses.
     
  7. gbenaim

    gbenaim Member

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    Focal Length

    One important consideration, in addition to movements and weight, is focal lengths. Most entry level field cameras have a max extension around 300mm, which is good enough for a portrait lens but nothing longer (except telephoto designs). Some are also limited at the wider end, by lack of bag bellows or other design shortcomings. Monorails are usually more flexible in this regard, at both extremes. Look into the cost/availability of bag bellows for any system you look at if you'll be using anything wider than a 90mm (about 28mm equiv in 35mm).
     
  8. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    If portability isn't an issue, then a monorail will give you the most control and should be considered. Most have a full array of movements of both front and rear standards while many field cameras are more limited, especially in adjustments of the rear standard. Having said that, landscape photography generally requires fewer movements in the first place which is why field cameras are just that...field cameras.

    As to lenses, a 150 or 180 is pretty much the 'standard' lens for 4x5. However, a 210 lens (sort of 70mm..ish lens in 35mm) can serve as a decent portrait lens and a perfectly useful 'standard' lens as well.

    If cost matters, a monorail can be had for less than most field cameras at entry level quality, and used. But there are wonderful choices of new field cameras (Shen-Hao for instance) to be considered too. Good luck!
     
  9. SteveH

    SteveH Member

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    I am no where near as experienced as the rest of the individuals on this board, but I still feel as if my input may be of assistance.

    I would go for a monorail camera due to the absolute flexibility that it has. Although you pay a weight penality, it seems that you (as I am) aren't too worried about it. Most field cameras limit you in front movements, and all field cameras will limit you as far as bellow draw. With a monorail, all you need to do is add another rail, standard, and bellows (which now adays is fairly inexpensive).
    Take a look at the Sinar system. For the beginner, it is the easiest (I feel) to use, as it comes with a host of 'calculators' on it. It takes a lot of the guess work out. Plus, it is infinitely upgradable (Even to do 8x10 if you catch the 'bug').
    I'd say try a 210mm lens for portraits. Its the 'standard' focal length for that sort of thing. I am a fan of the Rodenstock Sinaron series, but Schneider and Fuji also make excellent stuff.
     
  10. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    I use the Linhof Technikardan 45S. These cameras are a field monorail camera. They may be a little heavier than some metal field cameras. They have an unusual way of collapsing and rotate on the collapsible rail for packing. It does take a bit to get use to the opening and closing of the camera. They offer more movement capabilities than most field camera. These cameras and their predecessor the Technikardan 45 can be purchased on eBay for a substantial discount from new. Both of these cameras use the Linhof Technika lensboard. The clamshell Linhof Technika (preferably IV through Master or 2000) could be another option.

    Rich
     
  11. Paul Sorensen

    Paul Sorensen Member

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    You will probably need to try some stuff out and see what works for you. I tried a couple different monorails, and found that they were cumbersome for me. The weight was not an issue, it was packability and ease of setup. I now use a wood field camera and love it. The beauty of buying a used camera is that if (when?) you decide the camera isn't for you, you can just sell it and recoup most of your expense. I think that starting with an inexpensive monorail might be a good choice, since they are usually available for somewhat less money than a field camera.
     
  12. leeturner

    leeturner Subscriber

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    I've recently had the same quandry. I bought a Horseman LX monorail for studio and outdoors. After a few years shooting motorsports and carrying around two big SLR's with 500mm and 300mm lenses I thought the weight would be more than manageable.Two trips with it and I started looking for a field camera to supplement it. It's heavy, doesn't fit in my backpack plus I found that I didn't need all the movements for landscape work. I still use it for architectural work where I can park the car close to the location. For field use I picked up an old MPP for £50, replaced the front standard with a later model (more movements) and stripped off the rangefinder. For under £100 I've ended up with a solid, portable camera that fits into a backback along with a TLR and film holders. I then built a lens board adaptor that lets me use the MPP lens boards on the Horseman.
    Judicous buying left me with a top class monorail plus a field camera for a total of less than £300. This left plenty of budget for decent lenses and a De Vere enlarger.
     
  13. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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  14. mjs

    mjs Member

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    I use a monorail 'cause I'm cheap

    I've used both wooden fields (Wisner Technical 4x5 and Ansco and B&J 5x7) and what I have now is an old Calumet CC400 monorail. Of these cameras, the Wisner was a lovely camera, the lightest of the lot, with plenty of movements for both landscapes and portraits. It was also, by far, the most expensive. The Ansco and B&J cameras were heavier and much bulkier but also much less expensive and are no-nonsense 'get the job done' cameras which were extremely durable and not terribly expensive. I currently use a Calumet CC400 monorail purchased dirt cheap via E-bay and will probably continue using it (at least, until I win the lottery!) I'm not a fan of the less expensive folding field cameras since 12" to 14" of bellows extension isn't enough for me. That said, I actually sawed a few inches off of the Calumet's rail, since it was 28" long and that was 'way more than I wanted. It has more movements than any of the field cameras I've used (but all of them had plenty for what I do,) and weighs about what the Ansco weighed (about 8 1/2 lbs., I think.) It's big fault is that it doesn't fold into a compact, easy to carry object. I usually just screw it firmly onto the tripod and carry it over one shoulder that way. It works for me.

    For me, price was the ultimate arbitrator and the old Calumets are really pretty good cameras: solid, well built, and reliable. And cheap, often less than US$100. Oh, and that rotating back is just incredibly convenient!

    For your own use, it would probably be very helpful to you if you could manage to use candidates for a day or even an afternoon. Or at least see them in person, practice folding and unfolding them, etc. We each want something different and it's hard to made a decision with so little information. Good luck!

    mjs
     
  15. leeturner

    leeturner Subscriber

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    Roger, I must be quite fortunate as I made some exposures in bright sunlight at midday and they appear fine. I suppose one good thing about the British climate is that the light is never that bright, certainly compared to my previous home in South Africa.
    I have to agree that if you buy an MPP then the users club is invaluable.
     
  16. uraniumnitrate

    uraniumnitrate Member

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    There is one relativelly unknown camera which where manufactured by Linhof and not many people knows about it! The babys name is Linhof kardan Standard! Thay had been manufactured in two different sizes 4x5 and 8x10! I never heard of any 5x7 but it may exist! This is a very simple light weight and versatile mono! I beleive this would be a good choice if you find one! I have seen those on Ebay time to time cheap and if something goes wrong you can repair it your self! Now if you need good lenses to this one (because as I told you that this camera knows a lot) so get some lenses which is oversize like if you get a 4x5 camera than get lenses which cover at least 5x7 and there you go! You can manufacture a very simple device to hold you Toyo bellows type of lenshade and the best lenses are one wide angle and one longer lens. I had a 121mm Schneider SA and the covertible Symmar! Never got any problem in any situations! This camera is weight less than say 80% of the field cameras. It has reversable back too!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 18, 2006
  17. manjo

    manjo Member

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    I am very interested in LF photography, and I have been shooting MF and 35mm for some time. I am interested in venturing into the world of LF and I am debating between a field format 4X5 or a Mono rail. What are the benefits, if any of a mono rail vs. field?

    well if you want easy portability then field is the best way to go. Monorails are heavy to carry around..

    I know a field camera is lighter and more mobile, but lack some of the adjustments of a mono rail. Also, is there a difference in the lenses for each? I understand that the standard lens work well on both, but is there a functional difference as far as dof between a field and mono rail camera?

    the field camera has the adjs you need to use on the filed, tilt, swing and raise (ususally for front lens plane). For landscape and portrait photos that is all u need. Some are geared some are not, but it does not make much difference.

    depending on what type of photography you do, outdoor vs indoors, I will say get a field camera. LIght one (3lbs) approx like my cherry wood wista DX
     
  18. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    My last Mk VII was the only time I had problems, and then only in Greece, but you can imagine I was well pissed off when it happened 1000 miles from home. It was clearly a design/manufacturing fault, not just wear and tear, though I suspect it was masked for the first 10-20 years of the camera's life by good blacking. I'd hate for anyone else to have the same problems, even if it's only a slender chance. Earlier non-International models may, I suspect, be safer, as may the Mk. VIII.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  19. leeturner

    leeturner Subscriber

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    The model I bought was the old Mk.III with the non-International back. I had an engineering shop (they skim engine heads) take off a sliver of the ground glass pegs to give me the correct spacing. The front standard and bellows were off a Mk. VII so that I could get front swing, or tilt when placed on it's side as I added an extra tripod mount. Thanks for the heads up on the problem Roger, as there are a lot of Mk VII's on Ebay and I was tempted a couple of times.
    The nice thing about this old camera is that it was cheap enough to modify to my own needs. As to the original post I still think that you will find a monorail too cumbersome in the field, unless you look at something like the Arca Misura.
     
  20. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Lee,

    Sounds like a nice camera. You found the register wrong, eh? What was it before the mod?

    The Misura is big, bulky and heavy next to the Toho FC45X, which weighs under 1.6 k. The cunning part is that the rail-and-standards are one unit, the bellows-front panel-and-back another. Movements are necessarily off axis but to me that's a small price to pay for an ultra-light, full-featured monorail.

    Cheers,

    R
     
  21. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Or the old, cheap and limited Linhof Color; or the newer (but out of production), heavier and superflexible Carbon Infinity. I recently upgraded from one to the other.
     
  22. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    Hi Ole,

    That may be true about the Carbon Infinity, but there seems that there were only between about 35?? and 60 or so ever made. They would be very difficult to find and quite costly as well. :rolleyes:

    As to the cumbersome nature of Monorail cameras the two that were mentioned the Linhof Technikardan 45 and 45S (mentioned by me and Roger Hicks has/had) and the Toho FC45X (mentioned as Roger's travel/backpacking camera) would not be that combersome.

    Rich
     
  23. childers-jk

    childers-jk Member

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    I would like to thank everyone for their comments. I am still in the decision phase, but because I am looking for both a landscape and portrait camera, I will probably lean towards a field camera. However, I have done a lot of research, and if I can find the Toho that Roger mentioned, that may be a fine option. I am not sure how much I am going to throw at this project, and if I can get a paying client to fund the thing, that may not be an issue. In the mean time I have enjoyed everyone’s thoughts and ideas. Thanks for taking the time to respond.
     
  24. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    Hi,

    Here is the link for the camera at Badger Graphic Sales, they are as far as I know the only US importer/distributor of the camera:

    http://www.badgergraphic.com/store/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=147

    Our own Kerry Thalmann has used the camera, is a great proponent of the camera and has a review of it on his site:

    http://www.thalmann.com/largeformat/toho.htm

    There is much discussion of this unusually designed and operated camera through a search on the internet.

    Hope this helps.

    Rich