View Full Version : Advice on 4x5 field camera
I'm a 35mm SLR snapshooter who is interested in getting into 4x5. I plan on doin g mostly field work, but some portraits too. I don't want a lot of sophisticatio n or features. Furthermore, I only want to make this purchase once. In other wor ds, I don't like the concept of an "entry level camera" that assumes you'll have to upgrade later. Budget is an issue; I'm hoping there are very good cameras th at may not be too pricy because they don't have a lot of sophistication. To keep costs down I will probably try to get by with one lens.
To illustrate my philsophy, my SLR is a Nikon FM2. I bought it because it's a si mple, rugged, high-quality camera. When I bought it I chose not to buy the more sophisticated FA, and I wouldn't buy an auto focus camera today. To me, more fea tures means having features I won't use and having more things to go wrong.
I know this is ultimately a personal choice, but I'm looking for your opinions, along with the basis for your opinions. Talk me into something (or out of someth ing!).
Thanks for the help!
You're right, it's a very personal choice. Only you can decide which features a re important to you and only you know how much you want to spend. Remember, how ever, that the camera body is only one of the many components that comprise the LF system. It's not inexpensive to get into.
That said, I personally would look at a metal field camera. They are more rugge d and durable than the wood ones. Doing mostly field work and portraits means y ou do not need a camera capable of extreme movements. Linhoff is probably the c adillac of LF cameras but one which would probably be overkill for your needs. I use the Wista SP which I have been very happy with.
I would recommend that you look at Leslie Stroebel's book, "View Camera Techniqu es", 6th edition, which goes into considerable detail on the various features on the many LF cameras you have to choose from.
Remember that the initial investment in a camera, lens, film holders, tripod, fo cusing cloth and hand held meter are only the tip of the iceberg, and your walle t is the Titanic on a collision course with it. Used is undoubtedly the way to g o for economic reason, and the net and Shutterbug are two good sources for prici ng on used, and new for that matter.
But, for the big picture, what is your present film and processing budget? Your $4.00 roll, of 24 exposures, of say, Tri-X, just turned into $3.90 for 6 exposur es. Everytime you click the shutter, deposit 65 cents and plan on an hour or so processing film and making proofs.
Want chromes? Try $2.00 a sheet and another $2.00 for processing. If you aren't in a large metro area, processing color print film and getting pri nts isn't a simple proposition either.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not out to sabotage your plans, but if you are concerned with economics, large format takes deep pockets. I buy 100 sheet boxes of Tri-X , $65.00 for 4X5 and 50 sheets of 8X10 are $125.00.
Beyond money, you are also dealing with equipment that is neither small or light weight, 6 or 8 film holders will probably weigh as much as your whole camera ba g does now. Just something to consider.
I have shot 4X5 for 19 years and loved every minute of it, but it has taken me a ll of those 19 years to acquire the camera and lenses that I have, just because it is not an inexpensive format. If you can take the initial sticker shock and l ive with taking less pictures and making them count more, and lugging around a t on of stuff, I think you will be very happy with the results that you attain, b ut large format is not for the faint of heart, or the undedicated.
Take a look at two solid options. A new Calumet entry type that will last a lon g, long time. Cost is $400 plus accessories. Or, a used Sinar F or F1 for arou nd $1000. Both will work well with the Sinar probably lasting much longer with more precision. What you do with them is entirely your creativity & drive as th e images are the result ofyour own work and the lenses you buy. But, go with at least 2 lenses as one will be quite limiting. But if you only go with one, my personal choice would be something longer than normal.
One way to start would be to rent a camera and a couple of lenses for a couple o f weeks. Preferably the camera you are thinking about purchasing. View camera ga ve a good review to the Calumet Cadet a few issues back so that might be a good place to start. Another must item for purchase or rent is a Polaroid back, prefe rably new. And several boxes of polaroid film, b&w and color. Polaroid is the be st teaching tool you can buy, period. Another fast introduction might be to inve st in a workshop like the ones held in Santa Fe, NM. If you are purchasing a caa mera, check out the used equipment in your area. AS far as len selection goes, i f you really only want to buy one lens, ask yourself what kind of pictures do I want to make? There are several excellent books on the topic of using a VC, find one or two that immediately make sense to you and are clearly written. The tech nical world of VC photography is fraught with arguments over the best way to do things, so just try and concentrate first on making good pictures. Good luck, Ellis
Several other LFer's have suggested the Calumet Cadet. The price for the camera ALONE as others have said is around $400. There had been some problem with rear standard stability (shifting when you locked it down), but I was told that this problem has been resolved. For another $300 or so, you can get a complete packag e including 2 film holders, dark cloth (be sure to upgrade to the professional d ark cloth - the one that comes with the kit sheds - the professional cloth is a 2 color cloth, white on one side and black on the other; I think that it costs a nother $10), and a 150mm Rodenstock lens.
Is the Cadet the best camera you can buy? Probably not, but it's a way to get in to LF. Later, if you decide you want a better camera, Calumet had a policy where they would credit the full price of the Cadet to the purchase of another LF cam era that you buy from them. Also Calumet has a 14 day no quibble return policy ( check with them before ordering). If you hate the cadet...
Other people have suggested renting a camera before you buy. It's a great idea. Even better is taking a LF course at a community or junior college (or even a fo ur year college). This way you have somebody to show you how to use the camera, get some free (generally) dark room time to process your negatives (and print th em). I don't know how much time the rental people will have to teach you to use the camera.
Other LF books include Steve Simmons (great book) and Jim Stone's (it was okay).
For feild work and portraits I would recomment a Speed or Crown Graphic. These c ameras are available at very reasonable prices, and have more than enough moveme nts for these subjects. They are very rugged and well made cameras. If you find it doesnt meet your needs, you can always get what you paid for it. Ive used one for several years now, and while I have had the desire to get new lenses every now and then, I have never had the desire to go to another camera. I think they are great cameras.
Here's what I think I've settled on:
A new Osaka 4x5, $650 from Bromwell. I'm nervous buying a used camera because I' m not sure I'd detect flaws or shortcomings.
6 lisco filmholders. $100 or so.
A focusing cloth. $40.
Maybe a Polaroid 545i film holder, $170 from Calumet.
And I'll probably splurge on a Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm lens. Used if I ca n find one, otherwise $770 from Calumet.
All of this, plus some negative film and Polaroid film and I'm spending about $2 ,000. Uffda! But I'll probably still do it.
A few weeks ago I bought a Tachihara from Ba dger Graphic. Their price is $500, which is cheaper then some used Tachihara's a re advertised for in the current issue of View Camera magazine. As a first lens I got a 210mm Fuji. I decided that that lens would best match my most common use s for the camera, and so far I think it was a good decision. The lens is a littl e heavy, but I like it. I did get the Polaroid 545i back. Taking Polaroids has r eally worked out well.
One suprise for me is that using movements has been very natural in practice. I had read about things like the Scheimpflug Rule and seen book illustrations of how shifts affect the image. I had gotten to the poi nt where I was thinking of these things as theoretical concepts. But it's not th eoretical when you're looking at the ground glass and swing the front standard a nd see things come into focus. And because of handling the camera mysel f I know realize how simple some of the concepts are. This will be obvious to an yone who's done it, but for me it was an "of course!" moment when I re alized that focusing moves the film plane closer and farther to the subject, so tilts/swings are just another way of focusing, except they allow the each side o f the film plane to be moved independently!
If this thread still exists in a f ew months I'll post another response then...
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