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Thread: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

  1. #1
    Imagowan
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    Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    Hi there! My name is Issy. Nice to meet you! I am new to this forum and new to large format photography. I am going to Yale for my MFA in the fall and have been shooting digitally, 35mm, and medium format. I am interested in large format because I would like to start to mature in the way I think and make images. Large format forces me to slow down and to critically think about and creatively construct an image in ways that I really appreciate. I tend to shoot fairly candidly, but often use of the fly lighting to highlight the visual absurdity I so often see. Almost all my photos include people. I would so appreciate any advice into what camera might be best. I know I want a folding field camera that will be light and not cumbersome. As of now I don't drive (hopefully will soon) so a light durable camera would be best. Any ideas on what type this might be? Better to get new or used? Go with a KEH, eBay, or B&H? Finally, what lenses might you recommend for environmental portraiture and scenes? I know these are many questions, but I truly am serious about committing myself to learning and working with these beautiful cameras. My website is www.isabelmagowan.com as a reference to the sorts of things I shoot. Thank you so incredibly much!
    Last edited by Imagowan; 18-Jul-2013 at 08:01. Reason: Spelled stuff wrong

  2. #2

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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    You can't go wrong dealing with KEH. They under-rate their equipment and have an excellent return policy.Personally, I never suggest to newcomers to the fold that they buy through auction sites since too many sellers are not to be trusted. Jim at MPEX (Midwest Photo Exchange)is an excellent person with whom to deal. He is knowledgeable and very helpful.
    Lenses in the 150-210 mm range should suit your projects well.
    Almost any of the 4x5 wooden field cameras will fill your needs, but they are difficult to find.

    Good luck!
    jim

  3. #3

    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    Or you could find something close at hand, here on our For Sale forum.
    I have a Shenhao PTB that would fit your interests IMHO.
    Hope you find what you want.

  4. #4

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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    Hi Issy--

    If you want a classic lightweight 4x5 wood field, gotta be on a tripod camera, the Chamonix 45N is a great choice--very light and well-constructed. Looking at your site, you might also be interested in something less conventional that suits your style of photography. Take a look at the Wanderlust Travelwide, which should be available by the end of the year. The Travelwide uses a wide lens. If you want a camera with something closer to a normal view lens, the Razzle 4x5 is good choice for a hand held camera.

  5. #5
    Luc Benac lbenac's Avatar
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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    I would suggest a Wista 45DX. The model that has a hole in the bottom plate so a small lense can be left mounted. The Wista GG/Fresnel is excellent.
    You could get this with a small 200mm like a Nikkor-M 200/8 or Xenar 210/6.1 and later on add a small 150mm/135mm or 125mm to suit or the reverse :-)
    The Wista folds into a compact package that is really easy to carry around with a light carbon tripod

    Cheers,

    Luc
    Field # ShenHao XPO45 - Monorail # Sinar P, F2
    6x6 # Minolta 1965 Autocord, 6x9 # Kodak 1946 Medalist II



    http://www.lucbenacphoto.com/

  6. #6
    IanG's Avatar
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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    Quote Originally Posted by lbenac View Post
    I would suggest a Wista 45DX. The model that has a hole in the bottom plate so a small lense can be left mounted. The Wista GG/Fresnel is excellent.
    You could get this with a small 200mm like a Nikkor-M 200/8 or Xenar 210/6.1 and later on add a small 150mm/135mm or 125mm to suit or the reverse :-)
    The Wista folds into a compact package that is really easy to carry around with a light carbon tripod

    Cheers,

    Luc
    I can second a Wista 45DX, I've used once since 1986 light and great to use.

    Ian

  7. #7

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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    While I use a wooden Chamonix and like it very much but frankly I don't believe they are ideal "first cameras". All of the wooden folding cameras I've worked with, including Tachiharas, Wistas, Wisners, and my current Chamonix... use relatively obscure and contorted controls for their movements and folding. Not that a reasonably bright person can't figure it out, but having an experienced person around to simply help you open and close the camera the first time would not be a bad idea. But even once you master the basics, this class of wooden folders is still going to be more complex, fiddly, expensive, and also not as sturdy as some other choices.

    If you want durability, versatility, and a full range of movements then a classic metal monorail will be much more capable. Once you start needing or wanting to use movements, a monorail makes accessing them very simple and obvious. You can actually see that you're tilting or shifting the film or lens plane. All of the wooden folding cameras mentioned here make their limited movements more obscure (not intentionally, every design compromises something). Examples of good monorails are the Sinar Norma or F2 models, Arca-Swiss series, Toyo G, Cambo SC or better, Linhof Kardan series, etc. They cost $200 and up... Some of the premium models like the Arca-Swiss F-line or Linhof Technikardan are nearly as light and compact as the popular wooden folding cameras but more capable and also much sturdier. Not cheap though!

    But in many cases you may not want to use movements at all. In which case a simple, vintage press camera, like a Graflex Crown Graphic - which can be handheld and rangefinder focused - is going to make just as good a photo as the most expensive 4x5 camera available. That it folds up with the lens mounted, is very robust, inexpensive, and simple are added bonuses. They cost $200 and up... And many famous photos have been made with these simple beasts.

    Both a Crown Graphic and a metal monorail can be purchased together for less money than many of the popular wooden folding cameras alone. It wouldn't be a bad idea to start with an inexpensive Crown Graphic and see how you like it, then progress from there if you want more capabilities. This forum has a buy and sell section available to new members after 30 days (to cut down on spammers) and you could probably do better than KEH prices (although KEH is hassle-free and reliable). If you buy smart, you can resell to break even.

    I've done a lot of environmental portraiture. My most used lens is a 135, but sometimes a 90 and a 210 are useful. There are, of course other choices in incremental focal lengths but the slightly wide "normal" 135 is pretty classic, like a 40mm on a Leica.

    Even with a bulkier monorail, you should be able to fit a simple basic kit into an airline carry-on sized bag or backpack and hand carry your tripod.

    Actually my tripod is my most expensive single component, with larger cameras you need better support and that's where the most money should go ;-p

  8. #8

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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    Otto is right about a Crown Graphic for environmental portraiture. I own a wooden Tachihara folding field camera for landscapes but bought a Crown for portraits outdoors. The Crown is light in weight, extremely fast to set up, and very durable. Being fast to set up can be extremely important when shooting people. My camera came with the usual 135mm lens. I added a 210mm Caltar ll-E lens which is a rebadged Rodenstock Geronar. These little 210's can be had for cheap (I have seen them go on Ebay for less than $100.00 letely) and they will also fold up inside the camera just like the 135 lenses. The 135/210 is a great combination!

    Pair one of these with an old Tiltall tripod and you have a real nice set-up. Used Tiltalls can easily be found for under $100.00.


    Just beware that large format is addicting. I also own a 4x5 monorail and an 8x10 field camera.

  9. #9
    Imagowan
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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    Hi guys,

    Just wanted to start by saying how great you all are! What informative and helpful answers! Thank you so so much!

    I am a bit confused of the differences between wooden folding cameras and non wooden folding cameras. Is it a matter of style? Weight? durability?

    As of now I have compiled a list of potential Cameras- mainly based on your recommendations. They are are as follows:

    1. Gandolfi Traditional Field
    2. Ebony (SV45Ti, SV45u, SV45TE, RW45)
    3. Chamonix 45n-2
    4. shen Hao
    5. Horseman 4x5 Woodman
    6. Wista 45DX

    The weight is super important to me. I really need to be carry this thing without being miserable. I am thinking something under four pounds. Ideally the camera I get will be very light. I am a bit worried about the durability of the wood camera, but believe these are the lighter cameras. I would like the camera to be sturdy, well engineered, not easily breakable. Set up would ideally be quick and not too annoying. I would need it to shoot wide angle and close up (so different lenses and long belows?) I am looking to use it on a tripod. While it would be nice to have a full range of movements, I know this is not possible. It would be great to have as many as possible, but I understand that I need to compromise somewhere! I would say weight is most important to me although I willing to overlook this by a pound or more if this will give me a better all around camera. Sometimes I shoot in situations with a bunch of people or at unusual gatherings and settings so the camera should not be too flimsy. (basically it looks as though I am trying to find a dream camera that just does not exist. Honestly, though, I just want to find the best light weight camera)

    I am not looking to break the bank but am willing to spend up if need be. I am having a hard time trying to tell which of these cameras would be best for me and distinguishing the pros and cons of each. If you have any other help, thoughts, wisdom, advice, and suggestions that would be incredible!

    again thank you so much for being so kind and helpful

  10. #10

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    Re: Need expert advice- best light weight folding field camera?

    From those on your list I'd get the Chamonix. Best compromise on weight, usability, cost, flexibility and rigidity. The ebony models are probably better but 3-5 times the price and heavier.

    The only other on your list I have experience of is a wista, and I found using front base tilt to be a massive pain, although I was using someone else's camera so I wasn't used to it.

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