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Scott Teven
19-Dec-2008, 20:12
I am a new member of the forum and I am shopping for my first serious LF camera. My large format experience is very limited compared many of the posters on this forum. I shoot landscapes and some architecture and want a camera that has movements so I can learn and apply the standard functions of a LF camera. A good workshop would also be of interest to me. Anyone know of any good LF workshop in Texas?

I currently own a medium format Century Graphic, 2 lenses (101mm Kodak Ektar and an 8" Wollensack Raptor) and two 6x9 Graflex backs. I have used this gear about 30 times or so with marginal results. I have been frustrated with inaccurate focus perhaps due to my limited experience and the backs not holding the film flat. The adjustments on this camera seem flimsy.

I like the 6x9 format because I am so comfortable with the 2x3 composition of 35mm which I have used for many years. However, it may be better for me to start with a 4x5 that can easily be adaptapted to 6x9 and perhaps even a digital back further down the road. I have been doing research on the Arca Swiss and Ebony & Linhof Technika cameras and have read several good threads on this forum which compare them. The prices new are pretty steep though.

I think a used camera would be better for me than a brand new one. I understand that my first LF camera probably won't be my last. It would be great to get a used setup with a few lenses that I could get comfortable with awhile. I have noticed some used models on Ebay that seem quite affordable. I could use some feedback on other reputable used camera dealers.

It would be nice to be able to visit a store to try these out. I am based in Houston, Texas and have found next to nothing locally. I will be in Austin in a week if anyone knows of a good resource there.

CG
19-Dec-2008, 21:01
Welcome aboard Scott. I think your thoughts make good sense. They mirror what I tell people in the same situation. Buy used to get good at using LF and also to not overspend on a first camera that is mainly a learning vehicle. You will find that things you thought were important may not seem so after you have more experience, and vise versa, and why pay extra to learn you want a different camera?

Best,

C

jeroldharter
19-Dec-2008, 21:13
My advice is to buy the Arca Swiss Discovery for sale on another post for $850 (I don't have anything to do with it). That is a good price for an Arca. I tried 2 other systems before gravitating to Arca. It should retain its value well if for some reason you want to try something else later.

David Karp
19-Dec-2008, 21:42
Buying used is a good idea. I have only one piece of new gear. I have lots of pieces of used gear that looked and performed like brand new when I received them.

Scott Teven
19-Dec-2008, 22:17
My advice is to buy the Arca Swiss Discovery for sale on another post for $850 (I don't have anything to do with it). That is a good price for an Arca. I tried 2 other systems before gravitating to Arca. It should retain its value well if for some reason you want to try something else later.

Hi Jerold - I will have privilages to access the For Sale section of the LF Forum in about a week. I read in a post that there are several listed there. By the way, I started college at UW Stevens Point in the 70's. Man, was it cold walking to class from the dorm! http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/images/smilies/cool.gif

Nick_3536
20-Dec-2008, 01:01
If you like 2:3 why not get a used 5x7? You can even add a 4x5 back if you really want 4x5.

Won't a 8" raptor cover 5x7? Or is that a tele?

neil poulsen
20-Dec-2008, 01:37
I've never purchased anything new for large format. I theorize that there are people out there who buy new. Otherwise, how else could I buy used? But, I can't name anyone in particular.

The thing is, used equipment can be excellent, and it's SO MUCH less expensive. So, why would one WANT to buy new? The logic evades me.

Of course, some common sense should previal. Don't purchase anything that's been obviously knocked about. Also, it's a good idea to buy name brands. Ask questions about whatever you purchase.

But buying new? I'll leave that to someone else.

Bill L.
20-Dec-2008, 05:33
Hi Scott,

I'd be hesitant to buy new until you are sure that you are happy with the format. There are a lot of great deals on used equipment as people either get out of LF, upgrade their gear, or just clean out their closets to make room for new stuff. Once you can, check out the for sale forum here, and you may wish to check Midwest Photo (mpex.com) as they do a brisk trade in used gear. E-bay is a good source if you know exactly what you are looking for and how to get the seller to describe the condition; lately for myself I find I'd rather go through some place like Midwest, where you know the seller actually knows what they are talking about.

As for the Century - are you using the rangefinder? If so, are you sure the rangefinder is calibrated to either of the lenses (it won't be calibrated to both). Have you tried focusing using the ground glass to focus? I use some of the old graphic 6x9 backs, and while they're not perfect, they're not too bad (at least the couple I have) for film flatness. I wouldn't want to do huge enlargements from them, but they should give you satisfactory 8x12's at least. You might have someone take a look at the camera and lenses they are set up correctly. One of my hobby cameras is a 6x9 Graflex RB series B (Graflex's SLR, rather than rangefinder press camera) from the 40's with a Kodak 127 Ektar and a 6x9 120 back from the same era, and I've had pretty decent luck with the sharpness of the negatives.

Cheers!
Bill

bumgardnern
20-Dec-2008, 07:08
I recently bought my first LF kit. I bought used because I was able to get an amaIng deal. If their is a photographers swap meet in your area you might go and see what the locals are selling. You would be supprised at how some of the retireing pros are willing to deal.

Brian Ellis
20-Dec-2008, 07:43
Used is the way to go. A LF camera is a pretty simple piece of equipment (compared to something like a used car), anything wrong with it can usually be seen just by looking closely and playing around with it.

You could check out the following dealers in used LF gear: MidWest Photo Exchange (my favorite and the favorite of many others here), KenMar Camera (seldom mentioned but reputable and usually with a good selection at good prices), Lens and Repro (good selection, high prices), KEH (fair selection, high prices), Quality Camera (a one-man outfit, his web site seldom works, but people who've dealt with him say he's fine), Igor Camera (or Igor something), good selection, good price, my one experience wasn't great, he sold me a Shen Hao that wasn't a Shen Hao but the return and refund went smoothly), and the used photo departments of Adorama Camera and B&H (though my experience with B&H was bad most other people like them). IMHO for overall good selection, good price, honesty, and ease of dealing MidWest is the best. I'm sure there are other places that I haven't dealt with and that are fine too.

Frank Petronio
20-Dec-2008, 08:12
If a camera otherwise looks good cosmetically and all the controls move and lock smoothly, the issues I'd check for include:

1. That the ground glass back (and fresnel if included) is in the factory perfect position. It would be unlikely but not surprising for someone to have replaced a ground glass and forgotten to include the shims, or to mount the fresnel improperly, or to do something that would otherwise make the plane of focus different than what it would be in a film holder.

I guess the best way to check is to do a film test by focusing carefully on a moderately close subject with the lens wide open. Some of the more technically inclined can use micrometers and whatnot to actually measure this. Also checking on what the proper position and original configuration of the "rear end" of a certain camera can be done on a forum like this one.

FWIW, metal cameras are more reliable in this regard, although some of the finest cameras still use shims to fine tune the ground glass position.

2. With some camera this is a inherit design flaw, but I think it is reasonable to expect to be able to tip the camera down 90 degrees and not have the focus creep due to gravity. Again the better monorail and the quality wooden designs are better in this regard. A Cambo or Calumet or other friction locked monorail might have trouble. Of course using a 10 lb lens on a 3 lb camera isn't fair -- simulate real world conditions -- but it's one of the reasons I hate certain designs, they are just flawed -- although I guess they work OK for simple horizontal landscapes like most people tend to do.

3. The dreaded leaky bellows can be tested by taking the camera outside on a bright day, pulling the dark slide and walking away for 30 minutes or so. Then take a picture. If that doesn't introduce a light leak then nothing will. Don't make the mistake of my friend who did a few test Polaroids in normal weather then went to the equator and shot in light 4-6 stops stronger....

Bellows can be repaired. A good strong flashlight and allowing your eyes to adjust to darkness is a good way to find pinholes. Also replacing bellows isn't too scary.

4. Rangefinders on Graphics, Technikas, 110 conversions, etc... I have never been able to adjust them perfectly myself, even with instructions. And then, even when I've had an expert adjust them, I found that my technique for focusing was very critical of even slightly angling the point of focus off (for instance tipping the camera down a few degrees to find a nice contrasty place to focus on.) Either get expert at this or assume it has some slop and you need to compensate (stop down, step back, check the ground glass, etc.) I've used these a lot and this comment comes from lots of wasted film.

Find a way to get test film processed quickly and do real tests ASAP and nearly every problem or issue will be revealed. And don't be too paranoid, I've rarely been surprised by some hidden problem.

FWIW, I've boughten several "near mint" Crowns and they have always been 100%, although I did pay a premium over the typical estate sale "I know nothing about antique cameras" eBay listing. Another good thing to look for is a quality Arca, Sinar, or Linhof that has just been serviced... Sinar Fs are dirt cheap.

Finally, sometimes even new cameras can have these problems. It is better to buy a used higher quality camera than a cheap new one.

John Kasaian
20-Dec-2008, 08:33
I'm not wealthy so nearly all my gear is used.

seawolf66
20-Dec-2008, 08:40
One thing about Buying used is you not out that much money should you decide its not for you ! as many of a person has in the past,, Everything I bought in 4x5 is used some purchase's a little on the well worn side and still usable and some came in as brand new ?? but hay it was used, I just got a bunch of 4x5 film holders and you would think they were never used or used dam little : Rmemeber its your money use it wisely:

jnanian
20-Dec-2008, 10:15
used.

Scott Teven
20-Dec-2008, 10:50
As for the Century - are you using the rangefinder? If so, are you sure the rangefinder is calibrated to either of the lenses (it won't be calibrated to both). Have you tried focusing using the ground glass to focus? I use some of the old graphic 6x9 backs, and while they're not perfect, they're not too bad (at least the couple I have) for film flatness.
Cheers! Bill

Scott Teven
20-Dec-2008, 10:55
I took off the rangefinder shortly after I got the Century Graphic and focused on the ground glass. I found this difficult on sunny days with the lens wide open even with the pop-out shade mechanism. The ground glass on a 6x9 is also a pretty cramped space - perhaps another reason to use 4x5 or larger?

I have read a few posts suggesting that a binocular (reflex) viewer is indispensible (Arca Swiss offers this option). This seems like a good idea. It gets pretty hot in the Texas summer and I know I would be sweating under a hood.

I have read suggestions that a 135-150 lens is a better choice for a first lens purchase because this would help my understanding of camera movements.

The wisdom of buying used at this early stage of my LF exploration is clear now. I also think my purchase would be more clearly informed if buying from a dealer.

Grateful thanks to Neil, Bill, Brian, Frank & others for your informative replies!

Scott

Eric Brody
20-Dec-2008, 16:43
Call Jim at Midwest, tell him your price range and basic desires. He is knowledgeable, fair, and his prices are reasonable. I have not bought anything expensive from eBay but I do not like paypal.

Avoid problems, call Jim. I have no connection to Midwest except as a satisfied customer.

Good luck.

Eric

wclavey
20-Dec-2008, 21:31
Scott:

There are a few of us LF shooters learning our way through it (...and some very experienced ones, too...) here in Houston. You can look for me or Venchka (Wayne) or optique (Steve, over on APUG - - not sure if he is on this forum) locally. We all live on the west side of town - - Wayne and I try to go out shooting together at least once a month - - try to learn stuff from each other. And Wayne and I are also trying to get an informal traditional darkroom group meeting periodically here as well... or first meeting is this Sunday night (12/21 @ 6:00 pm)...We also hang out on the Texas Photo Forum. So while you can get camera advice from the others on the forum, you can also get together and learn with us. Welcome!

Bill L.
21-Dec-2008, 06:42
I took off the rangefinder shortly after I got the Century Graphic and focused on the ground glass. I found this difficult on sunny days with the lens wide open even with the pop-out shade mechanism. The ground glass on a 6x9 is also a pretty cramped space - perhaps another reason to use 4x5 or larger?

I have read a few posts suggesting that a binocular (reflex) viewer is indispensible (Arca Swiss offers this option). This seems like a good idea. It gets pretty hot in the Texas summer and I know I would be sweating under a hood.

I have read suggestions that a 135-150 lens is a better choice for a first lens purchase because this would help my understanding of camera movements.

The wisdom of buying used at this early stage of my LF exploration is clear now. I also think my purchase would be more clearly informed if buying from a dealer.

Grateful thanks to Neil, Bill, Brian, Frank & others for your informative replies!

Scott

Hi Scott,

I find the 4x5 much easier than the 6x9 if using a ground glass, simply because of the larger ground glass to work on. Please note you will have less DOF with the 4x5 for the same angle of view due to the longer focal length lens required. For your current camera - if you aren't using one, get a 4-7X loupe for critical focusing. Personally, I'd recommend ditching the pop-up hood and getting a dark cloth (or some equivalent like a BTZS hood) - I've never had much luck trying to use one of the graflex pop-up shades. I've never used the reflex viewers on the back of a view/press camera, though my 6x9 Graflex is an SLR, so I guess it comes with one built in. . .

One other thing to consider is whether you can borrow/rent someone's 4x5 to see if you like it.

Cheers,
Bill

Ernest Purdum
21-Dec-2008, 08:21
Regarding the 135 - 150mm lens, it isn't the focal length that is important, it's the image circle. This has to be large enough to enable use of your movements without running the picture right off the groundglass. You'll eventually want several lenses, particularly since you intend some architectural work. To start with, though, it's easy to find a good used relatively inexpensive 203 to 250mm lens with a good image circle. Nearly everyone shooting 4" X 5" eventually wants a lens in sthis focal length range so starting with one is a reasonable idea.

Ole Tjugen
21-Dec-2008, 09:08
I own three LF lenses bought new - but all were bought at reasonable prices and after they were discontinued by the maker (or the maker was "discontinued", in the case of Docter Optics).

The rest of my lenses have up to a century and a half of previous use.

All my cameras have been bought used, and I don't regret that at all. A carefully used camera is as good as a new one, and in most cases a little use makes the movements smoother.

As long as the bellows are decent and there aren't too many cracks in the woodwork, I'd recommend used every time. Besides - you can sell a second-hand camera for just about the same as you paid for it if you decide it's not what you wanted. You'll never recoup the cost of a new camera that way! :)