Camera guidance (new to LF)
I'm figuring out what first (and perhaps only) LF camera to buy. It's going to be 4x5, and I'm thinking most likely a field camera for the portability since I'm more interested in landscape than studio work. In fact, I'm heavily swayed towards a Shen-hao or Tachihara right now. My questions concern a) the range of movements available, and b) the ability to use different backs (especially polaroid for practice shots).
I know that when you get a field camera you're sacrificing the range you'd get from a view camera, but as someone who has NEVER used a large format camera before it's hard for me to really understand what I'm sacrificing in photographic terms. The shenhao does have most of the regular movements that a view camera has (all except for front shift, I think), so it's appealing in that respect, but I'm not sure how the ranges will affect my photography. If you're not familiar I can look up the specs, but the shift/rise/fall ranges are on the order of 30mm each way, and the tilts are in the 20-30 degree range I think (except base tilts which I think may be bigger).
For what it's worth, I'm mainly interested in landscapes, but I really want to be able to correct perspective when needed (e.g. I've seen nice photos of canyons and stuff where the verticals are kept vertical even when the horizon is up near the top of the frame), I do shoot architecture and city streets from time to time, and I would like to occasionally use tilts to give strange depth of field effects. For example, I had an opportunity to use a tilt-shift lens for 35mm the other day and did this (just as a whimsical quick test of swing movement), which is not great but it illustrates the kind of effect I'd like to have at my disposal:
The Shen Hao has a full compliment of movements. I don't think you'd out grow it for quite a while. Do youself a favor though and invest in a good book on L.F. Photography. I can recommend the following (in order of increasing detail and difficulty).
"Using the View Camera" by Steve Simmons
"A User's Guide to the View Camera, Third Edition" by Jim Stone
"View Camera Technique, Seventh Edition" by Leslie Stroebel
Jack Dykinga has also writen a book on the subject but, it is not so much about how to use a view camera as it is about how Jack uses his...It is a great book but, I don't recommend starting with it.
The main thing you'll lose with the Shen 4x5 is the chance to use longer lenses. IIRC the bellows are just over 300mm. Other then that for what you're talking about it should work just fine.
I took out Steve Simmons' book from my university's library. Term loan, it's basically mine indefinitely unless someone recalls it
I have small format for when I want long telephoto shots, so that's not a problem for me.
I am using a Shen-Hao HZX45A-II for urban scenes and architecture. Current lenses include 135mm and 210mm, and I have borrowed and used a 75mm on it. In practice there are enough movements available to go out of the image circle of some lenses, basically more movements possible than you might use for most images.
I am mostly using the Fuji Quickload and Kodak Readyload back systems for 4x5. My test shot back is a Polaroid 405 holder, which uses 10 shots per pack film (slightly smaller than 4x5). I do plan on getting a roll film back at some point, though probably a lever wind back due to the many night shooting situations I do. The worse aspect of the Polaroid 405 holder, or some roll film holders, is the ground glass needs to be removed to put those backs on the camera.
I had never owned a brand new camera previously, which was one of the things that led me to get my Shen-Hao. However, you might want to compare the new Shen-Hao pricing to the cameras that you can find used.
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I agree it should be fine. You probably won't need the large range of movements outdoors doing landscapes. I've usually used very little of the available movements on my cameras.. i also don't think I've ever used front shift in 25-years of using view cameras. I do, however, frequently use back shift.
I think you'll find that you'll use whatever movements you have and adapt to not having what you don't have.
I'll put in another vote for the Shen Hao. It is somewhat heavier than the Tachihara, but I believe it will be more robust in the long term as a result. The added weight also increases the vibration dampening factor. There is virtually no difference in terms of maximum bellows between the Shen and the Tachi - they are both about 300mm. Another plus for the Shen is wide-angle use. You can focus a 75mm to infinity on a flat board with the standard bellows, and use a 90mm with movements. The bag bellows (which is easy to change in and out, and only costs $100) will allow you to use a 65 or maybe even a 58mm with a flat lensboard. You can slide the rear standard forward to use with wideangle lenses, which is a big plus, since you don't have to worry about the camera bed intruding into the image area that way.
The very best way to decide between the two is to get them both in your hands and give them a whirl. You may find the weight difference to be significant for you, or you may not. You may find the additional movements on the Shen to be critical, or you may not. Same with the wide-angle capacity. I'll just leave it at I have had my Shen for close to six years now and been very very happy with it.
Thanks Juan and Gordon. Gordon, is it a big hassle to remove the ground glass and insert the polaroid holder, or is this something you can do fairly easily without disrupting your composition / focus?
Juan, as far as adapting to the movements I have goes, I guess that's a good point, but if I don't have the movements to play with I might as well stick with small format because the image quality is good enough for me - I don't need the huge negatives. I want camera movements, and I can think of a lot of cases in my real world photography where they would have been very useful. But it does sound like the shenhao probably has enough for me.
Polaroid holders have always slipped into my 4x5s spring backs quite easily. Some cameras have projections that make using Plaroid backs almost impossible, so thats one thing you'll want to check out before going shopping. Most field cameras offer plenty of movements for landscapes--more than you'll probably ever need .OTOH you'll need a lens with the coverage to permit you to use those moves.
By all means read Steve Simmon' book and give some thought to what lens you'll be using. I can't speak for others, but the 'equivalent' 35mm focal length is (for me) quite misleading. Normal 150mm LF lenses look much wider to me than a 50mm on a 35mm and few 4x5s can handle lenses longer than 300mm. Maybe I'm being trivial, but depending on the subject you might find a longer lens more satisfactory (the 203mmf/7.7 Ektar and 162mm Velostigmat are my current 4x5 companions)
John, your question reminds me of something. Can you compress perspective by using back tilts? What I mean is, in small format land, I'm accustomed to using wide angle lenses to exaggerate foreground and diminish background, but can you counteract this effect with a wide angle by using movements? Ie, capture a wide field of view, but keep the foreground size a bit more managed relative to the background? I guess movements are more restricted in the 90mm kind of range because of bellows compression and/or the standards being so close together... but assuming you have the movement available.