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  1. #1
    gbenaim's Avatar
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    Monorail for semi-field use:any experience?

    Hello again,

    Having considered my options, I'm tending towards getting one of the lighter monorails, like the Sinar F or A, given long lens use, weight, and price considerations. Basically the only field cam that allows some long lens use under $1000, the Shen HAo, is almost as heavy as a light monorail (6lbs SH vs 7lbs Sinar A/F). Since I don't backpack, because of back problems, but rather carry my gear using a little cart, I'm wondering whether it doesn't make more sense for me to go w a monorail. So I was curious if there are any photographers out there using monorails in the field, and what you can report from such use. I especially want to be able to use lenses in the 400mm range, and the price difference is also tempting. Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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    If you are transporting your gear on a cart, a few ounces of weight probably doesn't make any difference. My personal choice is a Sinar (I have a 4x5" F1 and 5x7" and 8x10" Normas), these two models are plentiful and not expensive (with the Norma, this was in production from I think 1948 to 1970, there is no reason to buy one in anything less than excellent to pristine condition).
    If you are in the US, the Graphic View is equally plentiful and cheap and would also give the rigidity you need.
    Sinar also gives you the option of buying a Sinar shutter, which clips straight in like any other modular component and of course allows the use of barrel lenses.
    Last edited by David H. Bebbington; 07-14-2005 at 09:01 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: Spelling error

  3. #3
    Ole
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    I use a Linhof Color as a field camera, even for backpacking. It's quicker and easier to set up than a "proper" field camera!
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  4. #4

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    I use a Sinar base on an 11x14 and also an 8x20. It has seen some serious field work and is definetely worth the bother. Getting a large baby carrier works well for hauling it around although I have put it in a very large backpack with only moderate trauma.

  5. #5

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    A metal monorail camera represents a modern improvement in the old-fashioned wooden flatbed camera design. It is more rigid, easier to use and has all sorts of other nifty advantages. When you add in the weight of tripod, lenses and film holders, the weight difference between a monorail total outfit and a field total outfit is insignificant.

    The only two claims to fame for a wooden field camera are that they look sexy and fold into a much smaller package (suitable for a backpack).

    I spent many years dragging both a 4x5 and an 8x10 Sinar around Southern California, assisting an advertising photographer. We were never more than a few hundred feet from our 4WD location truck. It was standard operating procedure for all photography crews.

    My only caveat is that our top-of-the-line Sinar, with its many tiny complicated micro-drives, was definitely built for a clean sterile studio environment. I spent many hours after a beach shoot cleaning sand out of nylon worm gears with a toothpick and Q-tip.

    My favorite camera for location work (from much experience) is the Calumet/Cambo 45NX. It has all the movement and rigidity you require but is quite simple in design and reasonably light in weight. Compared to the Swiss alternatives, the price is right, as well. All in all, a nice compromise.

  6. #6
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=John Cook]
    My only caveat is that our top-of-the-line Sinar, with its many tiny complicated micro-drives, was definitely built for a clean sterile studio environment. I spent many hours after a beach shoot cleaning sand out of nylon worm gears with a toothpick and Q-tip.
    QUOTE]
    Probably worth mentioning that the "cheaper" Sinars have sliding friction-lock movements instead of micro-drives. I have never got my Sinars particularly dirty but if I did, I would think a few minutes with a can of compressed air and some WD-40 would see them right afterwards. This is reflected in the relative prices - the "cheap" Sinar F1 costs £580 plus sales tax in the UK, the top-of-the-line P2 costs £4100 (4x5" size in each case) and as John says is probably a little delicate for out-of-doors use.

    PS: One downside of monorails out of doors is that I feel they need a heavier tripod, as they are more susceptible to wind-induced vibration. A handy thing to have can be a tripod head (such as Gitzo) which is big enough to allow two rail clamps to be used - this stops your monorail behaving like a tuning fork!
    Last edited by David H. Bebbington; 07-14-2005 at 07:03 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: Afterthought

  7. #7
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    We use a Graphic View II. It wasn't a real first hand choice, but we had accidentally gotten the bellowed body on rail for very cheap and slowly reassembled the entire camera. It's now in full working condition since a few months and we absolutely prefer this over the Linhof Tech V we had previously and sold out of frustration. The Graphic View offers more control over movement, has better knobs, is pretty sturdy and relatively cheap. It doesn't have all the movements of its more modern and pricy brethren, but it works for us for the time being. We lug it around in a big tool bag and soon we will add a backpack caddy to keep our hands free while on the bike with it. It sets up pretty easy, probably much like Ole's Color Linny. We have no experience with the kind of beach work as mentioned by last poster.

    We have a friend who is a fine arts photographers doing lots of travelling with his camera in a small cart like yours and he is now contemplating getting a new Master Kardan instead of his Master Technika. What he was thinking of getting also is a new type of (carry on) cart that allows him to wheel it along where possible, but that has backstraps to use for places that are awkward to reach with a cart, like buildings/streets with lots of steps and no elevator.

    On the whole, if you move things with a wheeled cart, it seems to be wise to invest in a good one with adequate wheels rather than compromise on comfort.

    Hope you got something out of this post.
    Cheers, medform-norm

  8. #8
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    I use an Omega view in the field mounted on its' tripod and carried over my shoulder (covering the legs with foam pipe insulation makes it not too uncomfortable). On a cart, it would be even easier. The bellows would easily allow a 400mm lens. Having done some photographing with a friend who carries his 8x10 Zone VI the same way, I don't feel I'm missing much using the monorail, as his camera (and bigass Zone VI tripod) weighs a whole lot more than my stuff does.
    John Voss

    My Blog

  9. #9
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    If you don't have to fit it into a backpack, a Sinar F/F1/F2 would be an excellent choice. You can find them lately for under $400, they are very expandable, parts are plentiful, and they are a pleasure to use. Also, in major cities, it's easy to rent lenses on Sinar boards.
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  10. #10
    Frank Petronio's Avatar
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    Sinar Normas are excellent cameras. So are the older versions of the Arca-Swiss, and they also have a simplier focusing mechanism that is easier to keep clean. John's comment about Cambos is true in that they are a good value. But when I was an assistant I worked for a cheapskate who had several and hated the suckers because they were loosey-goosey and I had to wedge paper into the standards to keep them from sliding down when doing any tilted shots.

    Used monorails are so cheap that you should do yourself a favor and spring for an extra $100 to get a good one!

    I've used both monorails and folders, and prefer a technika for the sheer abuse it's clamshell (with its folding focusing hood protecting the ground glass) will take. But I do know that I am more inclined to take advantage of a fully range of movements when using a monorail, wheras with a folder I am more apt to say "screw it" lets stop down abit more...

    But you may be more disciplined than me...

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