View Full Version : Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs
I'm looking to buy my first 4x5 field camera, but I have two strange requirements. First, I'm interested in large format for the movements (primarily tilt, I'm a landscape photographer), not the film size, so I'll probably be using a roll back most of the time (I have a great 120 scanner and nothing that handles 4x5). Second, I've got only one hand that works, so any control that involves holding one thing while operating another becomes impossible for me to use. Most non-spring-loaded controls are fine, but a sprung lever that had to be held back while manipulating one of the standards would be impossible.
I'm looking for a light camera with decent front movements (rear movements are optional, as are shifts, unless there's a really good reason I'm not thinking of to use them for natural subjects). My preferred subject matter ranges from macros to vistas, but is almost always in the natural world and located more than 50 feet from the car (anything from day hikes to three and four day trips). I'd like a camera in the 4 pound range because of this.
My thoughts on lenses are to start with something like a 125 (a wide normal on 4x5, but longer than normal with a roll back), then add a 210 and perhaps eventually a 75 or so (wide enough to be wide on a roll back). I'd like the capability to use these three on one bellows (and maybe a 300-I can't see going longer than that).
I need the camera, one lens (125 or maybe 150) and a roll back (something that slips under the ground glass-graflok's too clumsy) to cost less than $1400 or so (new or used). I'm a student, so anything with an attractive student purchase program is a real option. I've thought of the Tachihara, the Toyo CF (weight and durability really attractive, movements maybe less so)or maybe the Shen Hao (although the weight scares me). Another option would be a used camera from a higher-end maker (is anyone looking to part with a Wista woodfield or something like that)? Of course, sight unseen, the Ebony RW45 sounds fantastic, but the camera alone seems to cost slightly more than my entire budget (anyone selling one of THOSE cheap?) I wouldn't imagine Ebony is big enough to offer student discounts-am I wrong?
Brian C. Miller
Most of the guys around here shy away from the Bender (http://www.benderphoto.com/), but it is an extremely light (3 pounds) camera. It comes in a kit, but you can pick them up cheap. If you buy it off Ebay, make sure that you have time to examine and return it if need be.
One of the things that really gets me about what you are looking for is the tripod. I think that the tripod, given that you only have one good hand, is more of a problem than the camera. A tripod with a quick release still requires one hand to grasp the camera while the release is tripped. Without the release you have to manipulate the screw on the tripod head. Then you have the problem with the tripod's setup and adjustment.
What are you using now for your field photography?
The jump in quality between 35mm and 6x6cm is much greater than the jump from 6x6cm to 4x5inch film. Using a view camera requires absolute precision in adjustments etc to achieve that not so great jump in quality from 6x6cm to 4x5inch film format.
Using a roll film back you just throw that potential increased quality away leaving the only advantage of:
a) some movements (which exagerate lens aberations and therefore lose a little more quality)
b) the ability to adjust plane of sharp focus. e.g. tilt which is not suitable for a lot of landscapes because of tall elements in foreground to mid distance
b) 6x12cm format or something in between
If you are happy with 6x6cm format then I would suggest looking at buying a secondhand Rollei SL66 medium format camera which has tilt available as standard. (camera no longer available as new) It will be much easier to use and much lighter and will produce quality as good if not better than using a roll film holder on a 4x5 camera.
Some of the medium format fuji cameras also have tilt available but may be out of your price range.
Seems to me, Dan, that you may have trouble finding what you need with the weight limit you've established. First, if I understand your hand situation correctly, I believe you are going to want geared movements, not the conventional free-floating with a lock lever style. That alone will likely kill the 4# target, if not the budget, too.
As to lenses, don't forget to apply the format adjustment if you'll be shooting mostly roll film, rather than 4x5. Then, think about the rnage of magnification you're looking for. Schneider G-Clarons do well at both macro distances and infinity, but I've never seen any shorter than 150mm. Older lenses (pronounced "less-expensive") of short focal lengths tend not to have much coverage, or were intended for 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 press-style use, and may not provide sufficent coverage to give you the movements you want. Nifty new designs like the Schneider Super Symmar get around that, but would be budget busters for you.
Hopefully, someone else may have more specific suggestions that fit your objectives.
As to those student discounts, I believe Ebony is following the lead of Rolls Royce in that respect. ;-)
Linhof M679 has mostly geared movements but even second hand is likely way over your budget but does have the advantage of taking film backs from a range of medium format cameras using the relevant adapter(not cheap).
before considering a technical answer to your question, bear in mind that Sudek photogpraphed most wonderfually for most of his career after losing one arm in WWI, and using LF (4x5 ish and bigger)
Someone mentioned the Fuji cameras with movements. Those ( the 680 series ) are heavy, expensive, and excellent front-movement only cameras with superb optics. They don't make the greatest field cameras, and they don't fold up in to a small light package. They do however make fantastic 6x8 images.
If you like roll film backs for your 4x5, be sure to look for a model that has "grafloc sliders" to take Graflex accessories including the Grafmatic 6 shot 4x5 holders, Fujiroid, and Polaroid holders. Some of the Graflex roll film holders are inexpensive yet good.
I have some pretty fancy LF cameras to use when I like, however I find rigidity and quickness to set up very useful qualities, especially when out shooting when the clouds are moving all around, painting the light. A few moments makes a big difference.
Recently, I purchased a Toyo CF. Even the salespeople winced in pain at my purchase, so it was really cheap buy, brand new. It has only front standard movements, it is light, easy to set up, has a nice ground glass and it accomodates the small lenses in Copal 0 shutters really well. I use a 240 Fujinon with it, and it folds up neatly inside the camera. Style and class? Nope. Quick, cheap, and I don't have to worry if a wave from the mighty Kern river washes over me? Yes! It is rigid enough to work in strong winds, although I use the dark cloth as a wind shield sometimes. With the Toyo CF, you won't get many people asking you about that neat old camera or worshiping your good taste, however you'll be able to get many great shots in 4x5 plus whatever roll film backs you get. I've heard horror stories about the Toyo CF, however I love the one I got. It's a light weight, no frills plastic Crown Graflex - with no light leaks!
Remember that unless you use a special "slip in" style roll film holder, you'll have quite a chore switching between looking at the ground glass and then putting in the roll film holder to take photos., so on second thought, maybe Graflex goodies will not work for you unless you can do them one-handed. I doubt that I could without using my chin.
In terms of movements, the CF is well, not a great "one hand" setup, however it is possible to do. You can unwind one locking knob, set the other one firm, use your pinky to lift the standard or tilt it, then firm it up. You could also "pre set" it or perhaps even hang a rope/necklace like thing with a hook on it from your neck to help lift or pull on the front standard that way if the camera is low enough. There are few light-weight cameras that have all geared movements and no funny little latches.
Perhaps there are a couple of modifications you could have done to increase the one handed usability of a camera. If the camera is cheap enough, why not?
If for some reason you end up thinking about old Korona cameras and the like, be careful to check them out carefully. Many of them are made for glass plates instead of film ( to mention just one issue ), however they are sometimes very light, and they sometimes have geared movements.
If you have a local camera store, you owe it to yourself to try some cameras out in person. There seems to be no "perfect" camera out there for everyone. Even the most expensive ones have their downsides.
Sometimes, tilt is not the answer, as depth of field is reduced even though plain of focus is changed. It's suprising how much depth of field can be had from a non-shifting, non-tilting 6x9 rangefinder with a wide lens. It's a different kind of experience, however the Fuji GX690 cameras really make nice images if you like 6x9.
Consider a Horseman VH. It's 120 only, but thinking through all the cameras I've played with in recent years, it may come closest to what you need. It's a rugged metal field camera but weighs only 3.75 pounds. I've grabbed mine and have it in my hands right now, and it seems to me that the key controls -really, all the controls - should not be a problem to use one-handed. Front rise is geared. I can also swap the ground glass with the baby-Graflok type rollholders with one hand - perhaps more easily than could be done with a 4x5 camera and rollholders, because of the smaller spacing of the things you need to grab as well as the particular design of the sliders on the Horseman back. There's a Horseman quick-release gadget that specifically fits this camera. Finally, used VH bodies in good shape turn up fairly frequently for well under $1000.
What region are you in? Maybe someone here who has a VH or VH-R (same camera but with viewfinder/rangefinder) could let you have a look at one if you're not too far away. I do think it will be especially important for you to try before you buy, if at all possible.
I have an absolutely mint condition Wista 45DX 4x5 Rosewood Field Camera with Rear Shift that I am willing to sell for $840. This camera is in perfect, as new condition. See the link below for more information.
I also have a Fujinon CMW 125mm/5.6 lens in mint condition that I would be willing to sell for $325. See the link below for more information.
I also have a Fujinon A 180mm/9.0 in case you are interested, but I must check my closet to make sure.
For a 210 mm lens, let me recommend a G-Claron 210, and for the 75 mm lens, you might try a Rodenstock Grandagon-N 75mm/6.8, which can be purchased used. Other 75 mm lenses are larger and more expensive.
If you are interested, you may contact me at email@example.com.
Robert A. Zeichner
If you need an easy way to position the camera once it is mounted, the Bogen 410 mini gear head might be the answer. This one comes with a quick release plate as well, but one that is a touch and go type. You can with one hand actuate the spring loaded attachment lever and then again, with one hand set the camera down on the plate and press it in until the lever pops closed. I tried it to be sure I wasn't misleading you and it did work for me. Adjustment of the camera position can be done one axis at a time with one hand and because it is a clutched system, nothing will move unless you want it to. It mounts on any tripod with a 3/8-16 stud. I would probably advise a tripod with lever type leg locks. Mine is a Gitzo which I love, but has those twist type clutch sleeves which might not be your cup of tea. As far as cameras go, it seems to me that several might work for you if you don't mind partially tightening the tilt knob to establish enough friction to allow repositioning of the front or rear standard and then go back and tighten the rest of the way. Some cameras have dual locking knobs for each side of the camera, but I know older ones like some Agfa-Ansco models have a single locking knob for this purpose. And my post wouldn't be complete if I didn't suggest a Kodak 203mm f7.7 Ektar. Lots of movement for 4x5, will cover 5x7, sharp, compact, light and fairly cheap to buy. I can fold mine into my Wisner which is a plus if you don't want to have another thing to do (assuming that's the FL you need for the next shot).
You know, I can't think of a 120 back on a medium format or large format that I can load one-handed. While I am sure you have adapted with a much higher degree of creative dexterity than I have, it probably makes sense to determine what kind of back is the best for you to load, and base the rest of your system on using that back - whether it is a Hasselblad A-12, a Rollei SL66, a Fuji or one of the large format roll backs from Horseman, Linhof, Graflex, etc.
I'd imagine any spring-loaded locking knobs could be defeated with lock washers and a little destructive machining.
I'd also venture that a sturdy tripod and mounting system would be a large benefit, as it would provide the required stability for attaching backs and making movements. So maybe it means a heavier, more expensive tripod and a lighter, cheaper camera....
Original Poster's reply to questions asked
I use the Hasselblad system right now (501CM, three lenses), and love it except for the absence of close focusing and tilts (I can load an A12 back easily one-handed). I have a Manfrotto Carbon One tripod with their new hydrostatic ballhead, which works well for me, and will take any light 4x5. The poster who mentioned a rosewood Wista for sale intrigued me, because a friend has a Wista, and I know that I can handle one. How much does the rosewood one weigh?
One odd camera I have considered, given my affection for 'blads, is Hasselblad's own Flexbody. I've seen one, and I can handle the movements. The two problems are whether the lenses (it uses standard 'blad lenses, nice because I own three) have enough coverage to permit sufficient movement (tilt seems to be OK, rise quite limited) , and whether any exist for sale anywhere in the world. The Flexbody was discontinued years ago, and I actually have Hasselblad's East Coast rep chasing down whether the last one exists anywhere. I've NEVER seen a used one for sale. I also don't know if I could afford it, even if one could be found.
Jason Greenberg Motamedi
For what its worth, I broke my hand and arm many years ago in a stupid motorcycle accident, and ended up using borrowing a 6x9 Linhof Technika camera to use. It worked fine with one hand (except the back movements, which requires three hands) but was too heavy. So I would support Oren's suggestion to look for a Horseman VH, its quite a bit lighter than the Linhof, and will work easily with one hand. I think you will find that the Wista and other folding wooden field cameras, including the Ebony, will much more difficult to use with a single hand.
Since you seem to be happy with the MF format, and given all the complications with LF and your handicap, I will second Rob's suggestion to find a Rollei SL66 and try it out. It has that bit of tilt that might do the trick.
Depending on where you live you really should visit a fully stocked dealer and handle some cameras personally to see which fit your needs and applications best.
as a Shen Hao user, I would encourage you to give one a try, and not let the "weight" deter you. It only weighs 6#, which isn't far off your requirement. You can operate the front movements with one hand, provided you unlock one knob at at time. Given your one-handedness, a bit more weight in the camera could actually be a good thing, because it would reduce residual vibration from things like inserting film holders.
I would second the recommendation of the Rodenstock 75 6.8 lens. They are not rare used, and they have great coverage. Look for the Calumet Caltar version of it, because it is the exact same lens, but since it doesn't have the prestige name on it, it sells for less.
Hasselblad flexbodies do show up on that auction site from time to time. They usually go for close to if not more than your budget. Make absolutely certain that if you bid on one, it has the full set of accessories (auxiliary focusing screens, cable releases, etc). Just do a search on the Cameras & Photo category for "Hasselblad FlexBody".
Another vote for the Horseman VH or VHR. Meets all of your requirements I think, and the VHR can be used in rangefinder mode. A very cool camera system. Also if you are shooting 2x3 consider the very sharp 75mm f5.6 Horseman Super lens, a great lightweight lens for this format.
Oops, that should read 75mm f5.6 Horseman Professional lens.
Also if you really want a 4x5 camera that is also good with roll film backs, the Horseman FA, HD and HF are all very similar to the VH and VHR (and very light weight) but with the larger back.
The weight of the Wista field camera is 3.2 pounds or 1.5 kilograms.
"You know, I can't think of a 120 back on a medium format or large format that I can load one-handed."
I think with some fussing around it wouldn't be to hard to load a hassleblad one-handed.
""You know, I can't think of a 120 back on a medium format or large format that I can load one-handed.""
Rollei 600x or SLX since it has power wind to the first frame and power take up after the last frame and the inserts are loaded in a straight line path. No rollers or clips to thread film around or under. Inserts just drop in to the opened back and no need to move the empty spool when re-loading. So one hand loading is easy.
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