Tell me about wooden cameras

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Michael R 1974, Oct 19, 2012.

  1. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    In my continuing quest for better camera precision in a flat bed, perhaps non folding field camera I have been looking into Ebony 4x5 cameras as options.

    Everything I've ever read about Ebony cameras is positive. But I never considered one because I've always been afraid of wooden cameras. My assumption was that no matter how precise it is when you buy it, or how well built it is, wood will inevitably shrink/swell/warp etc over time with temperature and humidity changes, causing a loss of alignment.

    Yet, people still buy them - and they ain't exactly cheap, meaning they are bought by serious and/or professional photographers.

    So am I wrong about avoiding a wooden camera, particularly for work with shorter lenses ranging from say 72-150mm?
     
  2. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    I'm not sure that mechanical precision is that important. Everything on a view camera is infinitely adjustable so as long as it doesn't move between composing the shot and pressing the shutter it will be fine.

    You don't want anything warping though as this can affect the correct seating of lens boards, the ground glass back and the focussing rack, possibly leading to light leaks and difficult focussing.

    Judging by the number of wooden cameras in existence, I don't think it's as much of a problem as you are imagining it to be.


    Steve.
     
  3. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Rosewood was used by pattern makers for ages because of its dimensional stability.
     
  4. mopar_guy

    mopar_guy Subscriber

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  5. Jeff Searust

    Jeff Searust Member

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    I have a 90 year old Kodak 2D that I would put up against something like Canham any day of the week. I regularly use a 90mm lens.
     
  6. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    Graphic Speed Graphics were made from the finest straight grain mohogony (sp?) for decades, used by professional photographers in every situation imaginable, including combat in world war II, and always sworn by for stability and durability.

    If the camera is made well, it's going to hold up as well as anything made of metal and be a lot nicer to use.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 19, 2012
  7. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Also, wood doesn't rust!


    Steve.
     
  8. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    For a view camera, precise alignment is not critical. Plus, since the alignment is adjustable by definition, any view camera will have some degree of difference from what might be "perfect" if you were to measure it with lasers or whatever.

    What matters is that the back is accurately flat so that there are not light leaks around the holders, and that the film plane match the focus plane of the GG.
    Wood cameras can accomplish that just fine, and if there are issues there, it can be corrected. Richard Ritter offers that sort of "tune up" service, for example.

    If your work requires critical alignment for example to keep right angles in the subject perfectly square, you can use a gridded GG or perhaps some sort of mask to ensure the lines are rendered the way you need. If that is a requirement, you'll need a way of checking it no matter how precise the camera is. Even if the camera is all metal with dovetailed mating surfaces there is always some play or backlash that you would need to account (and adjust) for.

    In practice, for 99.999% of subject matter, critical alignment is no issue whatsoever. Where it is critical there are many more things to worry about than just the camera's precision.

    Finally, wooden cameras offer many advantages, they are light compared to most metal cameras, they don't transmit vibrations, they are more comfortable to work with in cold weather, and less subject to problems in heat or cold, and there are many, many more choices second-hand and new.
     
  9. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    My Deardorff V8 is the 54th one made with front swings, in 1950. It is as solid and functional today as it was the day it was made, including the original bellows. These cameras were made of wood which was seasoned for decades, they do not shrink/swell/warp, and mine has not worn significantly despite showing cosmetic signs of extensive use.
    Wood cameras are not metal, however. You might be better served by one of the metal field cameras, say a Calumet C1 or a Kodak Master. For very short lenses, use a monorail.
     
  10. thegman

    thegman Member

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    Have you considered a Walker camera? Built from ABS injected plastic:

    http://walkercameras.com/

    I'm sure wood cameras are perfectly stable, and view cameras are as precise as you want them to be, but a Walker may *feel* more precise and appeal to the perfectionist in you.
     
  11. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Wood view cameras have advantages and I have two wood 8x10 cameras, made over 100 years apart. However, there is a reason most monorails are made of metal. I think you need a metal monorail.
     
  12. mcd

    mcd Member

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    After working with heavily used Deardorffs and Burke and James cameras in a catalog studio, I bought metal field cameras for myself. The wooden cameras get sloppy after years of heavy use. To be fair, you would probably never put the use on one that a commercial studio did.
     
  13. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    So will a metal camera if it is never cleaned or otherwise maintained.
     
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  15. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

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    Bang on metal it deforms. Bang on wood, if it does not break, it keeps its shape.
     
  16. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

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    I bought a Wooden Toko 4x5 for my main camera in commercial studio because it has 14 inches of bellows and rear shift and rear focus. The extra bellows allowed me to do table top work with a 210 lens. I used that camera everyday for 10 years and was never too gentle with it. I still have it and still use it and it is beat and battered and scarred but it still is tight and the original bellows are still good. There is one bit of play that has developed in the rear but it is because of the worn metal part that tightens the rear shift. I stick credit card in the gap and it is fine.

    I also have a zone 6 wooden 8x10 that has seen as much use as my old 4x5. I have had collapsing tripod accidents twice and had to get carpenters glue and put the camera back together. Still it is not warped and it is as solid as ever and light tight.

    Dennis
     
  17. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    If I were into cameras and status I would buy an Ebony. But since I am into form, function and above all, making a great living from my photographs, I bought a Chamonix 45N-2 and so have plenty of other large format shooting pros, even Kerry Thalman now uses one.

    I have noticed a lot of your posts verge on gear precision paranoia and big price tag gear....are you really into making photographs then?

    Just saying man, a great photographer could take any well made wooden field camera and make stunning imagery happen....just say'n...
     
  18. pgomena

    pgomena Member

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    I prefer wooden cameras because they tend to be lighter than metal ones. I owned a Zone VI re-branded Wista that had a front standard that didn't lock down very well, replaced it with a Zone VI brand camera about 8 years later and still use it. I own an 1895 whole-plate camera that produces good, sharp negatives and has no problems with wood beyond screw holes that were a bit enlarged and wobbly. I bought some larger brass screws, problem solved. The Korona 8x10 I owned had more problems from worn-out metal components than anything to do with the wood.

    Peter Gomena
     
  19. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I can see how my posts read that way. Yes I am into making photographs - and prints, and no I am not into status or gear for the sake of gear. But yes, I am somewhat of an obsessive stickler for precision, and I find LF purchases difficult to make because there isn't anywhere I can go to actually see or try anything before buying.
     
  20. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Edward Weston was plagued by problems with wooden cameras, but still made fine photographs. For most of us, other features are more important than the material used to make the camera.
     
  21. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I shoot both monorails and flatebeds, and there are pros & cons to each. The Ebony is very nice in
    the sense of being compact and lightwt - nice for airline travel and backpacking trips, and superbly
    made. If you want a flatbed and can afford Ebony, buy it. They work wood as if it were metal - same
    quality of machining, and the hardware is titanium. Precision mfg DOES make a difference. The wood
    is either actual ebony or pattern-grade mahogany which has been specially selected and seasoned
    for probably decades for dimensional stability. The only thing I didn't like was the fresnel, so I removed it. No big deal. I use the simplified 4x5 RW45 and it takes lenses from around 90mm to 360
    using a universal bellows and standard boards. You can extend that range with recessed or tophat
    boards, or of course, telephoto design lenses. Don't paint yourself into a corner just with focal length
    lenses you are currently interested in - you might change your mind later and appreciate greater
    flexibility in the system.
     
  22. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    PS - obviously my Ebony is a folder. The nonfolding ones are prized by certain architectural photographers and will take wider lenses, while giving up longer focal lengths unless you add an
    extender back. If you are working all the extremes, something like the metal Sinar monorail system
    is more convenient because you can configure it with all kinds of rail lengths and different kinds of
    bellows; but the kit is generally quite a bit bulkier than in either a collapsing or folding Ebony wood
    camera of the same format. There are plenty of nice cameras out there worth owning. But Ebony
    just might be the best of the wooden ones.
     
  23. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Never had one until a year ago. I bought wood Burke and James 5x7 on Ebay for $150. It's an amazing camera. I put it in my old RZ bag with one lens and 2 film holders and it weights about 6 pounds. It doesn't have the precise scales and movements like my Sinar 4x5, but its a perfect field camera. I make my own lens boards too. I"m going to take it to Yosemite this winter.
     
  24. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I think if I could afford one the 45SU (non folding) seems like the one that would work best for me. I really like non-folders.
     
  25. Stephanie Brim

    Stephanie Brim Member

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    I have a beaten up Burke & James. I LOVE my beaten up Burke & James. You can pry it out of my cold, dead hands. The format is nice (5x7), I have the complete camera with extension bed so I can shoot a relatively large range of focal lengths, the back rotates pretty easily so I can shoot either portrait or landscape at my leisure. and the amount of movements I have, while not quite as awesome as a monorail in most cases, is nothing to shake a stick at. I'm pretty happy with it. Once I get a 4x5 reducing back, I'll probably never look at another view camera again...unless a Kodak 2D shows up at my doorstep for a song.
     
  26. KenS

    KenS Member

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    I use a Linhof Bi-Kardan for 4x5. I keep looking for rear standards to make it a 'convertible' rather than carrying 2 separate cameras. Over the years the 'prices' on gear I was looking for seemed to keep increasing out of my 'affordable' range and instead decided to get an 8x10 B & J. Not a 'bad' looking camera when it arrived... but I am afraid that the surplus US Navy WWII battleship grey paint was a bit of a turn-off... and it was soon decided that that paint would come off nice and easy with the aid of a tin on "1860 Furniture Stripper"... to reveal some well put together Maple. The wood did not need any re-sanding whatsoever. It was then given a few of coats of Tung oil as a 'natural finish' and now looks kinda 'proud' sitting atop a nice wooden tripod. I did however install a new 3/8' tripod bushing such that it 'sat' better balanced on the tripod head.

    Ken