View Full Version : Best used 4x5 for field work?

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09-07-2002, 01:17 AM
When we sell our house, I'll be ugrading to 4x5. I've been doing a lot of research and it's almost impossible to choose a system. Does anyone own a 4x5 system they can rave about, or recommend? I won't be doing any major hiking so weight isn't a huge issue. 4x5 dealers are scarce in New Zealand. The main shop in auckland sells Sinars, but I'm not sure if a Sinar F1 would be too much for the field?...

09-07-2002, 03:30 AM
I have a Sinar P2 and a Calumet Wood Field 4x5. I have used both in the field. The P2 is much larger and requires a heavier tripod, consequently it validates the Brett Weston quote "There's nothing worth photographing that's more than 50 feet from the car." I think he was shooting 11x14 at the time. Anyway, it can be done and the Sinar is an excellent camera.

The Wood Field camera is much easier to haul. It fits easily into a large backpack with a couple of lenses and some film holders. On the down side the movements aren't as big or precise, the bellows is fixed so I can't add extensions for macro work. For landscapes it's the hands down winner. For close work I'm always tempted to lug the Sinar.

I thing the F1 is a bit lighter than the P2, (I've never used one) so it's probably easier to haul around. You might also want to use quickloads or readyloads they're a lot smaller than film holders. Personally, I don't use them. I had quite a bit of trouble with readyloads when I started out and have never gone back to them. I hear they've been improved.


09-07-2002, 11:17 AM
I switched to a field camera a few years ago and eventually sold my monorail. I use a Tachihara 4x5 (which is the same camera as the Calumet Wood Field with minor 'improvements' like nylon washers). This camera, as stated folds up quite compactly and only weighs around four pounds (less than 2 kilos).

I use it with the "standard troika" of 4x5 lenses- 90mm, 150mm and 210mm. Movement with the 90mm is limited but when I am using the 90 I don't usually require much movement.

It is the least expensive new field camera available in the US (however the new Shen-Hao costs about the same now). The Shen-Hao has rear shift and I believe it has rear axis tilt. The Tachihara doesn't have any shift and tilt on both the front and rear is base tilt. However, axis tilt can be used on the front by slipping the front standard out of the track. To use this feature however you must be doing substantial tilting.

I have been using the Tach for a while now and it has never let me down and seems very stable and solid. (A vast improvement in the field over my Cambo 45NX!)


paul owen
09-07-2002, 01:09 PM
I am personally one of many VERY happy users of Ebony field cameras. They are expensive when compared to other makes, but they are superbly crafted and "do the job" . Maybe one to consider?

09-07-2002, 06:53 PM

Robert Kennedy
09-07-2002, 08:20 PM
I guess it depends on what you need in the end. I mean do you need full movements or just a basic rig?

One way to go would be to split the difference. Look for a light monorail or flexible field camera AND buy something like an old Crown Graphic.

Those Crowns are relatively light (well, for me they are, my other LF camera is a Calumet CC-400.... ), and they are CHEAP. Well made, but CHEAP. This way if you need a....ummmmmm...."stunt camera" you have one. So when it is raining, or you have to do some walking in the wilds where the camera might be exposed to the nastier aspects of the great outdoors you have a camera that you won't be too upset about loosing/damaging. Likewise in an urban situation. If someone snags your backpack with a Crown and an old Ektar on it, no big loss. Not compared to a new Sinar.....

09-07-2002, 11:14 PM
Just to be a bit contrary to Sherman, I also have a Tachi and 45NX, and as much I am delighted with the Tachi, the 45NX can be a fairly decent field camera, albeit a bit heavier - the secret is to set it up with the short rail and the bag bellows - in that form it will handle lenses to at least 240, and will fold reasonably compactly by turning the standards - the bag bellows allows this quite easily. When fitted with the fresnel you get a brighter screen, more movements, and you can fit the compendium bellows if you want it. The long rail can be stuck in the pack if you need a closeup.

09-07-2002, 11:35 PM

What exactly would you like to photograph with 4x5?

09-07-2002, 11:59 PM
Ross, the best compromise I found was the Linhof TK45, now TK45S. It is of a monorail design but it folds thin enough to carry on a backpack. Has all the movements you could want, and it is light enough to carry. Ok, it is not a 3 pund Tackihara, but then it offers much more than most field cameras.

09-08-2002, 08:56 AM
Hi Ross,

I tried using a Cambo for field work. But I didn't fancy developing major back problems before my 40th birthday. So I bought a new WISTA DX III for $ 1300,- I've been using it for several years now.

Maybe Wisner, Toyo, Linhoff etc. are better, but I couldn't mind less. The Wista fulfills all of my needs. It's kind of an improved Tachihara. Very light (3 lbs). Well finished. Back swing, shift and base tilt. Front swing, shift, base tilt, and rise. Linhof compatible lensplates. Mine doesn't have interchangeable bellows (other models do), but it has an international groundglass. So, I'm assured of accurate groundglass positioning, and compatibility with tons of accessories.

The movements are plenty for landscape and portrait photography. Although architecture calls for an optical bench camera, I do some architecture with it, and never encountered major problems. I use a 90mm SA and a 75mm SA with recessed lensboards. A bag bellows would be easier, but I manage to get my shots anyhow. Maximum bellowslenght is about 360 mm. For my 210 that's enough. For longer focal lenghts than 270mm I would need a tele-lens or extension tubes (which Wista sells). But untill now I never needed one.

Because the small weight of the camera I don't need a heavy tripod. My Manfrotto 55 (Bogen ??) is plenty sable enough. I carry all my gear (Wista, 3 lenses, filmloads and some small stuff) in a medium sized backpack. My Nikon F4 equipment weighs more...

Good luck,

G. Dumont
http://www.photocrack.com ('http://www.photocrack.com')

paul owen
09-08-2002, 11:03 AM
You'll probably end up doing what most of us did - draw up a shortlist on paper. Go through all the pros and cons of each type (field/monorail), what you intend shooting but most of all decide first what lenses you want to use - not all can cope with all lenses! I would suggest consulting a table that roughly compares 35mm lenses (focal length) against other formats. Then there's lens coverage! Welcome to the crazy world of LF!!

09-08-2002, 01:16 PM
Ross, a Sinar f1 is not the type of camera you would want to take out into the field. You need to balance your needs with your wants. For example, field work does not require as many camera movements as studio table-top work. A field camera needs to be portable and somewhat resistant to foul weather conditions. Read as many books as you can on outdoor photography with large format equipment. Flat- bed field cameras, and monorail cameras that are useable in the field, are easy to find, both new, and used. They come in many format sizes and shapes. They are made of metal, plastic, wood, and various combinations of these materials. When you discover what your needs are, come back and ask for opinions on one, or two cameras. Each one of us has his/her opinion of which type, brand, size, etc. camera is the best.

09-08-2002, 05:53 PM
I've had alot of luck with an old Super Graphic: metal field, most movements, and cheap. Sets up very quick, too. I've inadvertantly bashed in into many a rock over time, and it's hardly scratched. And when the day comes when I accidentally drop if over a cliff, it's not that big a loss (as long as one of my wide lenses isn't on it when it goes).

09-08-2002, 06:55 PM
Thanks for the great advice! I have plenty of time to give this a lot of thought. I'll post again when I am closer to my purchase.

John Hicks
09-10-2002, 01:08 AM
Well, here's my two cents worth....

A big disadvantage of some (most?) monorails is that they're incredibly bulky. Not heavy but huge. The Sinar F series isn't bad in this respect; you remove the bellows and swing the standards parallel to the rail and it's flat. It's pretty big in square footage but it's not thick.

Of course an objection is that you have to take the camera apart (no big deal, just flip levers) and put it back together but otoh with a lunchbox camera you still have to open it up, raise standards etc.

I think the best compromise is the collapsing-rail style such as the Linhof TK (I use a similar Canham). IMHO the extremes, the big non-collapsible monorail especially and the movement-limited Graphic, are often _very_ off-putting to new LF photographers.

The important thing is to buy _something_ and get started. Frankly I'd advise against buying one of the really expensive top-of-the-line cameras to start with simply because you have no experience from which to judge what camera is most suitable. If you lean towards a rail camera, a clean used Sinar is a good choice, while otoh if you lean towards a lunchbox camera a used Wista or Zone VI would be good . You may decide that your first camera is sufficient but if you don't you'll at least know what you _do_ want and be able to resell your first camera without losing a lot of money.

Robert Kennedy
09-10-2002, 01:18 AM
That last part is GREAT advice! Seriously. You can get into LF pretty cheaply if you shop around.

paul owen
09-11-2002, 02:17 PM
I'll disagree somewhat with the idea of cost. Unless you're able to buy a good used camera in an area where you will have no problem reselling and not losing vast amounts of money, I would tend towards spending a bit more cash! Half the problem is that people will buy cheap to see if they "like it" and a lot of the time the nature of the cheap camera ends up putting them off!! You then get very little return, if any, on your cheap camera. I personally knew that I REALLY wanted to get into LF. I used medium format but was very aware of the limitations that not having camera movements imposed on my photography. I wanted a camera that I WOULD'NT outgrow!! I thought long and hard and did a great deal of research as the nearest LF stockist is a 7 hour round trip! I decided to spend my hard earned cash wisely and bought (an expensive) camera that will outlast me - I don't drink or smoke so decided that this camera could be my vice!! I would advise not rushing into a purchase (very difficult) and do your homework and then spend your money wisely. Here in the UK, there is only a small market for used LF gear and if the same applies to you then think carefully.

09-11-2002, 03:26 PM
Over the years I have used various models of Toyo and Calumet monorails both in and out of the studio. Also Tachihara both in 4x5 and 8x10. Each had its pro's and con's. I now use a Super Graphic exclusuvely for field work. It is all metal body, compact, easy to set up and very flexible when in use. It has more than adequate front tilts.swings and shifts along with a drop bed that are more than enough for all but the most extreme situations. The Super will also take all size lenses fro 90m to 250mm without adaptors and will close with a 150 Schneider Symar attached.
I find it easy to pack along with 5 lenses,a dark cloth and filters in a small L.L.Bean backpack. I have hiked the Rockies of Colorado with this combo and never felt that I lacked anything in the way of usefullness. Much easier to handle than my Mamiya Rb systems on long treks. Can't beat that big negative either and most adequate to the task. Just my two cents worth.

09-15-2002, 06:41 PM
You've gotten a lot of good advice, I would add the following. You need to analyze how you are going to use the camera. If you plan on not going much further than 200 feet from your car, then any type of 4x5 will work - monorail or folding field camera.

If you plan on carrying the camera any distance over that, then you should look at a field camera. Without a doubt, and with all deference to those people who have given their opinions on the "best" field camera (usually because they own it) - the absolute best is a Linhof Technika.

In a field camera, you will need on occasion, to use corrections involving the camera back. Any field camera that does have or allow corrections (swing / tilt) of the camera back is, in my book, useless. I do not own a Technika (although I have used them extensively).

I own a smaller, all-metal camera that has the same type of adjusments as the Technika - the Horseman FA . I would not recommend the FA as it requires modification of the front lens standard in order to use lenses with fairly large rear lens elements.

I would suggest that you look at a used Linhof as they are all metal, extremely rugged, have a built-in market should you wish to re-sell the camera, and really are hard to beat for all around field use.

09-15-2002, 07:55 PM
In my opinion:

One of the most overlooked aspects of camera selection is how the weight of the system will affect your creative mind. Not only do heavy cameras, bags, tripods, and holders make it difficult to move very far, they wreak havoc on your enthusiasm and willingness to continue photographing, once you've begun.

Also, the weight of one component can increase the weight of another. A heavy camera often requires a heavier tripod and a stronger, heavier bag.

I think that unless you're going to need extensive movements or other features for a special application, you should increase your creative possibilities by limiting the weight of a 4x5 field camera to about 5lbs. My opinion only, but doing so has helped me greatly.

There are many items to carry in addition to the camera. Film holders, lenses, meter, darkcloth, filters, etc. increase the load. The bag itself probably will weigh at least 2lbs.

It's not hard to build a 4x5 system that weighs on your mind as well as your body. Think light!