I'm looking to get into Large Format with a 4x5 camera in the coming several months.
Even though I have not used a View Camera before I have read about some basic view camera concepts (i.e. about camera movements, bellows extenion, and the like). At least to the extent that I believe I can articulate what it is I consider essential and what is just a nice-to-have.
Here's what I consider essential:
- I'll probably be using lens focal lengths from 90 mm to 250 or 270 mm. The latter would be used for portraiture and I would expect to need to focus down to about 6 or 7 feet for head & shoulder shots. I expect that means I'm going to need close to about 400 mm of bellows to be available (even if only through a purchased bellows extension).
- Portability is fairly important. I will walk around with this thing, perhaps 2 or 3 miles in a day when I'm shooting monuments. A weight up to or around 7 lbs is acceptable but at the very least it needs to be able to fit in a reasonably deep backpack. I can live with requiring a few minutes of setup or teardown time (this is, after all, LF so that's part of the fun).
- Rigidity. Fairly important here as I will need to rack out the bellows a fair distance (see above). However, that's more than likely to be for inside portrait work. I'd also be interested in hearing what tripod/head combination can help mitigate camera shake concerns. Plus, assuming I've done everything by the book I don't want a gentle breeze ruining a sharp photo in as much as I can prevent it.
- Availability of bag bellows (or similar) is a nice to have. If it isn't, the camera should allow at least a bit of movement with a 75 mm lens with the available bellows (yeah, *that's* probably asking for a alot).
- Ability to mount a 6x9 or 6x12 roll film back. I expect that I will, especially initially, do a fair bit of shooting with 6x9 because it's a hell of a lot less expensive to make mistakes on that stuff than 80 cents/sheet sheet film. Of course, I've already figured out that roll film backs are, by far, the most ridiculously expensive accessyories in the LF world.
Except for the absurd 4" bellows extension that ToyoView sells for $500 or thereabouts.
Given the above it looks like I'm on the cusp of crossover between Field Cameras and Monorail Cameras (well, isn't everybody?) With a very little bit of research I'm sort of sizing up the following as the leading candidates:
- Walker SF 4X5: Ugly as sin, yes, but verything about the spec. sheet looks really good except the absence of a Fresnel focusing lens. BUT they are a bit pricey new ($1,750 or so), aren't available on the used market, have questionable resale because of same, and with very limited distribution I'd be plenty worried if a problem surfaced...
-Tachihara 4X5: It has the needed bellows extension and the light weight is nice BUT many have commented it's degree of available movement is not as good as advertised, and it lacks rigidity.
- Shen Hao 4x5: This looks really good on paper. Both wide angle bellows and a recessed lens board are available, I *might* be able to get by with 360mm of bellows, and they even have a 6x12 roll film back that costs $100 less than the Calumet C2N and an available Fresnel lens. I've heard the rigidity isn't bad for a "woodie" either and the fit and finish is actually pretty good.
- Zone VI: Good bellows length but I've heard it doesn't fare well with WA lenses. Fit and finish tends to vary a lot by sample or so I'm told. Rigidity isn't considered to be very good either.
- Toyo 45CF: Light and rigid. Just a shade too little bellows extension (without buying an absolutely absurdly expensive 4 " bellows inser) , no real rear movements, can barely use a 90 mm on it, and no bag bellows.
I've heard very good things about Canham field cameras but unless used samples are readily available for $1,500 or slightly less - I won't be considering them.
Very few monorail candidates. None, actually, unless a Sinar A1, F, or F1 can be made to fit in a backpack or one can assemble/disassemble them in under 10 minutes.
I'm willing to buy used. I'm not at all a brand snob. Having said that, I do want a product that the manufacturer (or at least the distributor) is willing to stand behind if I have questions or need a reference for a repair. This eliminates Wisner (too many horror stories) I expect.
My apologies for a lengthy post. Any help is appreciated.