I've been considering buying a build-it-yourself 4x5 kit as a relatively cheap way of getting into LF - anyone had any experience of these - good or bad?
I thought the www.alettaphoto.com or the www.benderphoto.com looked ok.
Many, many, many years ago I got a Bender kit, Don't know what i was thinking as i really didn't have the tools to keep everything square. love building things with my hands but it takes more than that. Got a couple of clamps and then decided that by the time i bought the necessary tools I could have had a camera ready built.
Luckily i sold the kit and so there was nothing loss.
If you had the tools, patience and like working with your hands I would go for it.
There is a shop in town that does a workshop on building a 4 x5 pinhole camera, and I am always tempted to sign up, but I already have too many cameras including a pinhole that hasn't seen the light of day since last year some time. SO.........
If you are looking for an inexpensive way into 4x5 I suggest you check out the online auction sites for either calumet or orbit 4x5 monorails. You can usually find them for about $150 including a normal lens.
If you like kits they look like fun. I was headed that way when I was given the same advice as bmac is giving. I am glad I did not get the kit. As a person with little free time, I would rather be shooting than putting a kit together. And ready to go cameras really are going cheap right now.
Try an old Crown or Speed Graphic. They are going cheap and are complete with a lens and shutter. If you decide you don't like it, you can always sell it to recover costs.
Building takes time, requires skill, patience and some hard work.
I built a Bender 4x5 when I was 16. It turned out pretty well, and is definitely a very light camera. However, I just found I didn't like working with it and by the end of that summer had saved up for and bought an old Linhof monorail. The Bender kits certainly yield a usable camera, but it is not precision, all too rigid, or for those with terribly exacting personalities. Half the point of buying it is really just the fun of building it. If you just want something cheap to start shooting 4x5 with, eBay and a used Cambo or Orbit seems the best way to go.
In 1968 I built a 4x5 view camera from scratch (not from a kit) because I had no money to buy a Calumet and I needed one for architectural work. It was a good project for me then, but today with the depreciation of all film based equipment, I would recommend used equipment. There are plenty of bargains.
I have a Bender but bought used on eB** for half the price of kit. Only problem was a cracked rail clamp. Called up Jay bender & ordered the parts; and I still use the camera. When I don't need all the swings, tilts, etc., I use something a little easier to focus( Crown or Century Graphic).
I built a Bender 4x5 a few years back. While I made some sweet negatives with it, I wouldn't recommend taking that route...not because it's especially difficult but because the end product isn't really worth the effort. I second the vote for a Crown Graphic. Play your cards right and you can have a complete kit (camera, lens and a few holders) for $400 or less. And you can hand hold it. what could be better?
I've got a half built 4x5 camera that I designed from scratch to be as easy, simple and cheap as possible (focusing, but no adjustments). So far it cost $10 for the lens, $5 for the darkslide, and $5 for MDF.
Like others have recognised, my woodworking skills are limited, and I'm just doing this for the fun of building a camera. It's only taken a couple of afternoons so far, and I now just need to mount the lens (currently requiring an on the fly redesign), and fix the light leaks. Should be finished next week.
Want to build a camera? I'm having a blast, and when it takes a picture I'll be proud of it. Definatly recommended.
Want a half decent large format on the cheap? Go the ebay route.