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  1. #1

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    4x5 Field Camera: Wood or Metal?

    I use a monorail right now, and it is getting to be too much of a limitation to lug around, so I'd like to spring for a field camera. Despite the cost, I'm inclined to buy one new since I plan on keeping it for a very, very long time.

    I was looking at the Toyo 45AX and the Wista 45SWIII, both of which I like but I'm not sure whether metal or wood is better for me. I feel that both would have sufficient movements (and when I need more, I can just use my monorail), but I'm largely concerned with durability and longevity. I'm not rough on my equipment, but I don't exactly carry it around in a diaper either. I do a lot of shooting in cold weather and (though I try to avoid it) damp weather. I'd hate to have that beautiful wista smashed by a gust of wind throwing it into a rock.

    I feel like I'm emotionally drawn to the Wista but logically drawn to the Toyo. Can anyone help?

    Also, theres the problem of having to make this decision sight unseen. Where does one go to actually get hands on with these cameras before buying? I'm in Boston, MA but I wouldn't mind driving an hour or two to check one out properly.
    Last edited by mfratt; 12-22-2010 at 08:59 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    ~ Michelle

  2. #2

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    Doesn't really matter, nor do plans on having a camera a very long time matter when buying used or new.

    I've used both wood and metal over the decades. Each does the job I've asked it.

    You must discern from your shooting style which is best for you. Ask 10 people and your'll get 10 unique perspectives.

    Right now I have a metal 4x5 and a wood 8x10. Both are perfect for what I do, but that does not answer your concerns.

    Best to try out both styles in the field. Road testing is the best solution.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

  3. #3
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Unless the force is enough to break away pieces, metal tends to deform permanently, wood tends to give and stay in the original shape. There are reasons why people still can use 100 year old wood cameras -- though one of those reasons is that a lot more wood cameras were made.

    Metal cameras look better on metal pods, wood cameras on wood pods...

    Typically, wood cameras are lighter.

    It would be great to get your hands on both and see how the controls, etc feel best for you.
    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

  4. #4

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    Thanks for the input. Another question, though. What ate the advantages of the graflock back on the sister versus the standard wista back?
    ~ Michelle

  5. #5
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    I have the Graflok back on my Wista, and I thought it would be very handy for rollfilm adapters, viewing hoods and the many other varied graflok attachments... In practice, I have a flip up hood on it and that's as much as I've used it (but the flip-up hood is VERY useful, and protects the GG) - yet to run a rollfilm through the camera in two and a half years...

    Marc!
    Marc Morel
    photographie argentique!
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  6. #6
    SteveR's Avatar
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    Just to add another element into the mix for you to consider, is not just the weight/construction/durability of either camera, but the way they are put together (meaning, design, not actual construction) and whether that makes one or the other easier for you to use. As a quick example, hiking with a few photographers not too long ago, there were three Wista's on the trip, two metal fields (one being mine) and a woodie. At one point, as I was setting up a shot, the wood user was standing next to me and commented (almost in awe) at how easy my front tilt was to adjust, one thumb screw, tilt the standard with a thumb and forefinger, easy. I hadn't thought twice about it until he commented, then I saw him struggling with his front movements, two screws that had to be loosed at the same time, trying to flick the brass rails in while also holding the standard up to stop it falling all the way forward... a very cumbersome looking routine, and in the cold and drizzle, made me very thankful for the simpler handling of my, slightly heavier, metal field.

    I just wanted to throw that in, because of all the wood vs metal debates I've read, they all seem to focus on the weight vs ruggedness debate, forgetting other practical considerations. So, just something to make your decision a little harder again!
    ____________________________________________

    My goal in life, is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am.

  7. #7
    Steve Smith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaughn View Post
    Unless the force is enough to break away pieces, metal tends to deform permanently, wood tends to give and stay in the original shape. There are reasons why people still can use 100 year old wood cameras.
    Also wood is easier to repair yourself if it does break.


    Steve.
    "People who say things won't work are a dime a dozen. People who figure out how to make things work are worth a fortune" - Dave Rat.

  8. #8
    Willie Jan's Avatar
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    Check for yourself the next items to compair.

    -maximum bellow extension
    -shift,tilt etc...
    -stability with 300mm lens attached
    -insert cassette, does it go smooth, or is your camera moving when inserting it.
    -do you find negative reviews about it
    -are there replacements available in case of problems
    -is weight a problem for you

    The rest is different for each person...

  9. #9
    Ian Grant's Avatar
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    There's something that's been missed, the metal cameras like the Toyo are designed to be used hand-held if required, it's a bit awkward using that Wista hand-held.

    I have a Wista 45DX and it's a great camera to use, essentially the same but no Graflok back and I've never found that to be an issue as I use a Wista RF back which has a plate which protects the screen.

    Recently I've switched to a metal Super Graphic here in Turkey & left the Wista in the UK. The Super Graphic's similar to the Toyo but has a range-finder as well, movements are a fraction quicker to use than the Wista as SteveR says, but that's never ben an issue. The major advantage is the Super Graphic is easy to use hand-held and previously I had to decide whether to take the Wista for tripod work or a Crown Graphic when I thought tripods might not be permitted.

    So take into account whether you need to work hand-held.

    Ian

  10. #10
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    Another wood field camera to consider is the Shen Hao HZX45 AT II. I don't know if they're still making them out of teak or if they've switched to walnut, but mine is teak. It's a little heavier, but the teak wood means it will stand up to any climate you want to put it in. Movements, if they're important to you, are significant - you can about turn the bellows into a pretzel if you want. And they're cheaper than the Wista.

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