Tell me about wooden cameras
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?
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.
Rosewood was used by pattern makers for ages because of its dimensional stability.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
Some pretty good photographers have used cameras made of wood or even cameras that could be considered primitive or basic.
"She's always out making pictures, She's always out making scenes.
She's always out the window, When it comes to making Dreams.
It's all mixed up, It's all mixed up, It's all mixed up."
From It's All Mixed Up by The Cars
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.
* Just because your eyes are closed, doesn't mean the lights in the darkroom are off. *
* When the film you put in the camera is worth more than the camera you put the film in... *
* When I started using 8x10, it amazed me how many shots were close to the car. *
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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 summicron1; 10-19-2012 at 10:33 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Also, wood doesn't rust!
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.
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.
Originally Posted by Michael R 1974
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.
Have you considered a Walker camera? Built from ABS injected plastic:
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.