Have you considered a helical-focusing camera with shift movements like a Cambo Wide?
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.
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.
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.
Last edited by 250swb; 09-26-2012 at 03:45 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
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.
Tools become extensions of ourselves through use and practice.
Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
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.
Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
First step for me is to point the camera at my composition (on a tripod). Nothing special there.
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.
Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR
"We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin
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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
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.
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... 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.
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.
What are your desired/required tolerances... numerically speaking?
Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
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.