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Thread: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

  1. #1

    Join Date
    May 2008
    Beds, UK

    Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie


    I am newbie to this wonderful forum - in the market for a large format, I do like the Ebony and interested in the 45SU, also have seen and very impressed with the Linhof Technikardan, but after reading Brian Ellis experience, I need to think again.

    You good people out there, please can I have your experience on both, Pros and Cons and your advise, also experience with lenses as I am in the market for a couple to start with, I will be shooting landscapes, currently most of my photos on 35mm are between 20mm and 50mm.

    I am coming across from 35mm SLR.

    Regards and thanks.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    near Stirling, Scotland

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    For landscape work, you will be well served with a 5x4 field camera, rather than a monorail, for reasons of size and weight, at least to start with. Since you seem to be leaning that way anyway, that's easy advice to give!

    As to which 5x4 to buy, I'd venture to suggest that it doesn't matter that much. More important is to get hold of one, and start taking photos with it. With a year under your belt, you will be in a much better position to know your precise needs, and therefore able to find the camera that suits you.

    If you purchase a 5x4 2nd-hand, use it for a year, and then sell it on, you are not likely to lose very much at all on the deal, so my advice is not as financially stupid as it would at first appear (though see below...).

    You would also benefit from just getting one lens at first, and becoming familiar with LF technique, before buying a wide variety of lenses (I speak from experience here). Given your desire to photograph the landscape, and your 35mm lens choices, I think a 120mm, 135mm or 150mm would do fine as a first lens. Anything wider, such as a 90mm, gets harder to focus, and until you are really comfortable with the LF technique, will simply add additional grief.

    I got into LF 3 years ago, with the purchase of a 2nd-hand Wista DX and 180mm lens. It proved an invaluable tool on which to learn, and a year ago, I added a Walker Titan XL (for wide-angle work, since I fitted it with a Bossscreen) and a 45SU for general work. I never did part with the Wista though, since I now use it as my backpacking camera (and I'm too sentimental to let it go).

    I did sell on the 180mm lens, simply because I didn't like the Copal Press shutter it was fitted to, and wanted to standardise on the normal Copal shutters. I bought a replacement in that focal length, and a wide range of others. For landscape on 5x4 LF, I find I use my 120mm the most, followed by a 80mm XL and 180mm.

    LF is great fun, but it is a very different way of working. Whenever I go out with LF kit, my goal is to find ONE good image on the day. This allows me the time to work for that one image.

    Have fun!

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 1998

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    but after reading Brian Ellis experience, I need to think again.[/QUOTE]

    Why? There have been thousands of TK and TKS cameras sold over the last two decades and very, very few complaints or problems. It is all a matter of reading the instructions and following them. If you do the camera is extremely simple to operate.

    That helps to explain why there are so few used ones available. Owners keep them and use them. But the important thing is to find a camera that you like and are comfortable with. Not one that you don't know and buy blind. Go get your hands on experience with whatever you will buy. Sometimes that means renting or at least visiting a well stocked dealer.

    If we know where you are located we can direct you to someplace where you can get hands-on feel from many cameras.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    If you can afford an Ebony and still have money left over for equally high quality lenses, a super tripod and head, plenty of film and shooting opportunities, then just get the Ebony and enjoy it. Go slow and figure it out, take a workshop to really learn it well.

    But for $1000 investment you could get a very nice outfit that will make photos indistinguishable from the fancier gear. You might want to shoot for a while before committing to such an expensive camera that is somewhat obtuse to operate. Make you ham-fisted mistakes on something decent but cheap.

    I advise you to get something simple and basic to learn on, like a $500 monorail that maybe harder to carry but more transparent in how to operate. That you can move a knob and make an obvious direct movement. Look for a nice used Sinar F1 or F2, or an older Linhof or Toyo studio monorail, or a nice old Arca-Swiss. Get a $250 150mm or 210mm lens, a solid tripod bigger than you think you need, some Polaroid while it is still available, film holders and a lot of film. If you shop at a reliable dealer, like Jim at, he could put together a nice outfit that you can trust will work and be fairly priced.

    Shoot and work up 100 sheets of film and then you'll know better what you want -- and you can swap the tyro gear out for about what you paid for it with little penalty.

    Personally if I had Ebony money, I wouldn't get an Ebony, I'd get a Linhof or an Arca. But that's just me, I value precision of metal over the prettiness of a wooden camera. I don't really care for the Technikardan though -- it is overly complex -- beautiful design though -- but the Technika is really quite the bomb -- as is the Arca line.

    Not to dissuade you from spending your wad, but the work in my portfolio is often made using a lens and camera worth about $500 total.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 1999

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    Before spending any money may I suggest some reading

    The Free Articles in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site

    one of these books

    Jim Stone's User's Guide to the View Camera
    Jack Dykinga's Large Format Nature Photography
    Using the View Camera that I wrote.

    Try your local library first.

    After reviewing this material then come back and let us know what you think and what questions you then have..

    steve simmons

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    Excellent advice so far. There are many good LF camera designs; some with features or quirks that one person may love and another may dislike enough to rule out using a particular camera.

    It is easy to buy used LF equipment and sell with little or no loss; cheaper than renting.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    up north in't England

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    I'm agree that a 120/135mm is an excellent choice for a first lens for a landscape photographer. There's something about 5x4 which leads me away from wider lenses, I used to shoot super wide on my digital slr but no more. I do occasionally use a 65mm or a 90mm but not as much as I thought I would.

    Quite a few people don't take to LF so I'm not sure I'd go for an Ebony 45SU straight away, unless you're sure then go for it, they're lovely. If you intend long backpacking journeys it might be worth considering something smaller and lighter, all that large format gear adds up to a hefty weight, the SU ain't so light. I love my Chamonix 45N, it's light, has all the movement I need and allows the use of a wide range of focal length lens, but there's a waiting list if you want one of those though.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    May 2006
    Westminster, MD

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    Well if you are interested in an Ebony, you won't go wrong.

    I wished my first car was a Porche, but I settled for a Ford.

    For a beginner, I recommend starting out with a less expensive rig.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Lakewood, CO

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    I think David has given some really good advice. You probably need a field camera for your needs and a folding wooden field camera is probably the lightest and most compact option.

    Also, regarding the camera. I have a Tachihara and a friend of mine has the Ebony SV45TE I think, though I've never asked which particular model he is using. Last time we met up I handed him my camera. He was amazed by how light it was. He handed me his Ebony and I was impressed by its smooth functionality, but was surprised by how heavy it is in comparison.

    Now I can't do as many movements with my Tachihara as the Ebony and I'm pretty sure it won't allow as much bellows draw. But when I've got to carry the thing any distance I can tell you which I'd choose. 2 pounds less in the camera can be 2 pounds less in the pack, or another couple lenses, or some extra film depending on how you look at it.

    And regarding the lenses. I think a used 120, 125, 135 or 150 f5.6 lens would really help you get going on the right foot. Just get one to start with and work around it. There is no sense buying up a ton of lenses before you make your first exposure. All of these focal lengths are relatively inexpensive used and if you find you want a different focal length you can probably sell one of these lenses with little to no loss. KEH is a great resource for used LF lenses too. Also remember that you can crop alot with 4X5 and still have a big chunk of film to work with so you don't need to have every possible focal length covered.

    I hope you enjoy the 4X5 experience. I started unintentionally about a year ago and have enjoyed the format despite the little hiccups along the way.


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Re: Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

    Get something cheap that works. The best camera for you will be the one you will want to take out and shoot with---and you won't know what qualities that entails until you get some experience. Calumet 400 series and Graphic Views are great cameras an not terribly expensive. For a flat bed type you might find an old Korona, B&J or Agfa. A "real" field camera would be something along the lines of a Tachihara---which holds it's value very well. I doubt you'll find any Shen Hao on the used market yet so a Tachi might be well your best deal on a used field camera. Even a Crown Graphic press camera is a pretty nice camera to start with----very limited movements but they are rugged and usually priced nicely.

    All these cameras I've mentioned have been used to make exceptional photographs.

    Put your money into the lens, which you'll be able to take along with you to use on the camera you move up to---if you do in fact move up. Many feel quite contented with what they start out with so don't be surprised if such happens to you as well.
    A Schneider, Rodenstock or Nikor in a working shutter from 150 to 210 mm should work out fine for you---good camera shops with a LF clientele have a gazillion of them and they aren't expensive.

    Of course if you want to go out and buy a brand new camera and lens, the economy will thank you
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

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