4x5 Cameras : a round-up
By Q.-Tuan Luong for
the Large Format Page
Summary: an extensive
survey of 4x5 large format cameras arranged by increasing price
within categories, with links to user reviews. This
list is biaised towards cameras which are usable in the field.
You won't find many of the heavy top-of-the-line monorail studio
The prices listed are for new camera unless stated otherwise.
Flatbed cameras (sometimes called "field" cameras)
All these very different cameras share the fact that they can be
folded into a box, which helps their transport on field since the
package is compact and the belows self-protected.
Classic wooden cameras
Kodak, Burke and James, Korona:
A lot of variability among these cameras whose history spans the century !
Many of them were designed as 5x7 cameras. They are very cheap
not as slick as modern cameras.
The Deardorff comes very close, though.
Lightweight/basic modern wooden cameras
weight less than 4 lbs, have double extension,
fixed bellows generally between 11 inches and 14 inches. Typical movements
are full swings and base tilts, and front rise/fall. These cameras are
often made in Asia with cherrywood and look beautiful.
- Iston, Rajah, Ikeda Anba, Nagoaka:
cheap and very light cameras, which some find rough and flimsy.
Shenhao: a recently introduced (Jan 2001)
camera made in China, more featured than others in this family: has
back rise,shift,graflock,interchangeble bellows, 375mm extension. 4.8
lbs and compact. Can be bought for $500, but a future official importer
might charge more than $1000.
, Osaka, Calumet XM : a good basic
field camera. besides minor cosmetic differences,
these cameras are functionally identical ($600-$700).
- Woodman (Horseman/Komamura) add a .8 inch front shift
and a graflock back apart from that,
the specs are the same as the Tachihara/Osaka. See
View Camera Jan 97 for more details. ($1080)
- Wista 45DX: more rigid construction, back shift ($1300).
The 45DXII has *no* back shift and costs the same. The 45 type III has
a standard graflock back ($1500). The 45 type SW has interchangeable belows.
previous ones back rise and shift
Bigger/premium modern wooden and composite cameras
most weight about 6lbs (although the most
recent offerings are lighter, as indicated). For the added weight, you get
more rigid construction, triple extension,
interchangeable bellows, generally up to 18 inches or more of
have a couple of more
movements (shifts, lens axis tilts) and additional features. Of all
the flatbed cameras, this familly offer the maximum versatility.
cameras are typically made in the US or Europe with walnut
or mahogany, however some new designs use composite good quality
- Gandolfi Variant: composite black material, rugged but
heavy and big.
Comes in several versions
(review in View Camera, May 95, Jan 97, and in
Shutterbug, May 1995).
The most sophisticated version is very versatile with
all movements, yaw-free, calumet compatible
revolving/graflock back, scales, upgrades to larger
formats. 20 inches of bellows. If you buy direct from the factory,
the price is only around $1000, instead of $2000 through the US
The Precision Gandolfi ($1245)
is made of wood, resulting in a lighter weight. It
does not have the yaw free movements
that the Variant has, and cannot be ordered with horizontal shift on
both the front and the rear standards unlike the Variant.
comparable cameras. Beautiful craftmanship.
Some say the Wisner is built much better. Classical look
(mahogany and round knobs in brass). ($1400).
Zone VI ultralight: specs comparable to the previous, but
hardware in black anodised aluminum and another grade of mahogany
reduces weight to 4lbs. ($1500).
- Phillips: flatbed, but without side panels, sturdy hybrid
metal/wood, with a hobby-shop/hi-tech look.
standard movements, 18 inches of belows (three fixed types). very light at 4
lbs. Phillips has a bare-bones philosophy and favors lightweight
and rigidity over features. a bit fussy to operate. ($1575).
from Photo Techniques.
Walker Titan SF: a plastic camera made of
ABS with stainless steel fittings. Folds flatter but not lighter.
Apart from the material, which might be more rugged and
less affected by environmental
conditions (humidity and temperature) than wood, the features are
comparable to a Zone VI or Wisner traditional. Graflock back
compatible with Calumet ($1600).
: Additional patented movements
(geared axis tilt, and parallel rear fall/rise), and extra long
bellows (23 inches).
Classical look achieved with high quality traditional materials:
oil-finish varnished mahogany, kid-leather and China-silk belows,
round knobs in brass ($1750)
: comparable to the "technical" but with
slightly shorter bellows and lighter materials.
The real weight is 4.2 lbs. ($2200)
Lotus View Rapid Field Camera: all movements except rear rise
(rear axis tilt and fall/rise optional)
24 inches of bellows with many focusing tracks (in
Delrin, smooth focusing). Cherrywood, black anodized alumnium,
modern elegant look. 5 lbs.
Wisner pocket expedition
3.4 lbs, more versatile than the technical, thanks
to the geared sliding top rear focus which
makes it easier to use wide-angle lenses.
adds also geared front axis tilt and rise. The down-side of the
additional features is complexity of operation and set up ($2500).
- Canham: a 5x7 camera with a
4x5 back, which is slighly bigger than the previous ones, but the same weight
or lighter ($2500). Modern
and black anodized alumnium). 6lbs.
Apart from the additionnal bulk, it makes quite a dandy 4x5,
with its extra long bellows and movements (less vignetting due to bellows
sag than with a regular 4x5).
- Carbon Infinity: looked very solid but heavy and bulky. Lots of
movements. Major problems are the fact that the manufacturer has gone out of
business, and the price of this camera, which is very expensive compared to
the Gandolfi which is targetted to the same class of photographers.
Ebony: these overbuilt
"no compromise" cameras offer large
range of usable lenses, all movements but rear
made of ebony and titanium. 5lbs. (approximatively $2900 and up).
Their products may be ordered directly from
the factory in Japan or through Badger Graphic Sales in the US.
Metal field cameras
They have a more solid feeling than they wooden counterparts, and
are indeed very rigid and sturdy, with greater accessory systems like
reflex hoods, etc...
If your tripod is knocked over by the wind, a metal camera is quite likely
to remain functional with a few scratches, whereas a wooden camera could
be totally destroyed.
For these reasons they might be better for heavy use.
- Horseman FA: small and less than 4 lbs,
has the standard front movements
and a 4-rod back comparable to the Linhofs. Focussing hood.
usable only with lenses up to 210mm which are not too big ($3000).
Horseman HB: a newer camera (review in View Camera, May/June 95)
same size and weight as the previous. Differences is that it is
rubberized for weatherproofing and has
no back movements ($1700).
- Toyo 45A: features comparable to the
wood-fields, has Graflock back. Extension is 13in. An optional
extension back is available to go to 17in. Needs to drop bed for wide-angle.
The new AX has reversible back making it lighter and cheaper ($1500),
AII has revolving back ($2200). solid feeling but a bit heavy for its
Wista VX, SP, RF: standard movements, more versatile than other
metal fields because of
and extension rails.
The SP is a VX with rear-swing,
Wista RF is a SP with a rangefinder.
- Canham DLC:
innovative clean design combining advantages of monorail and flatbed,
this camera looks like black swiss cheese.
very versatile : many movements, wide range of focals,
"universal" bellows from 2.1 to 20.5 inches. compact. Offers the best
features/weight ratio of any camera. 4 lbs 11 ounces,
zero-detents are weak and make it difficult to align.
Best selling since its introduction a few
years ago ($2150.00).
Press and Technical cameras
they are cameras with rangefinders, viewfinding devices,
and could also be handheld, or at least used without ground-glass
viewing, which makes it possible to do photojournalistic photography.
Excellent construction, quite heavy (6lbs+).
Graphic press cameras: mostly big rigid box cameras with
some very limited front movements. They were used extensively by
photojournalists in the past. A variety of models, some
leather covered wooden body, some metal ("super") with ("speed") or without
shutter, etc.. (used $100-$300 for speed and crown, $500 for super).
Busch Pressman cameras are quite similar.
MPP: an English made camera very similar to the Linhof
Technika, sometimes available on the used market, less pricey than the Linhofs.
Meridian 45B: a used technical camera built like a
Graphic, with some functionalities of the Technikas.
Lighter than the Linhof, better for
wide-angles than long lenses.
Linhof Technika: Extremely well built and solid, with a
full-featured technical back allowing a fair number of movements and
a range of lenses from 65mm to 450mm.
This is the
camera of choice of a number of great landscape photographers
(used III: $600, used IV $1000, used V $1800, used Master $2500)
capacities, except for the latest model, the Master Technika 2000
($5000), which comes with no rangefinder.
Monorail cameras (sometimes called "view" cameras)
These cameras, although they are monorail, are usable in the
field because they are not too heavy or bulky. They are generally more
precise than the flat bed cameras, the adjustments are easier. They
are also more suitable for photography with very wide lenses.
- Bender a lightweight
(3lbs) wooden monorail for $300. Bag bellows and a longer rail
Not very rigid or precise (no geared focussing).
You build it yourself from a kit !
Calumet Cadet. Two entry level
cameras with fixed bellows (one normal, one wide-angle with a shorter rail).
Very light (5lbs) and cheap ($400/$500). Quite rigid despite many
plastic parts. Reasonably functional within their limitations.
Accepts many Calumet accessories.
The proven Calumet camera is a fully-featured monorail ($650), with
a bare-bones design. It can be folded for transport, and is
upgradable with Calumet accessories. heavy (8lbs).
adds to the previous camera calibrated scales, revolving back, and
more solid and precise parts ($950).
- Gowland Pocket view.
A line of ultra-light and tiny cameras (available in several formats), with
several variations which add convenience, weight, and price. There are
several versions, so check directly with Peter Gowland.
The original version were the lightest 4x5 ever made (less than 2lbs,
12.5" bellows). The "Baby" is 2.5lbs and has (full) movements on the front
only, 16" interchangeable bellows ($400). To change from horizontal to
vertical, standards have to be repositionned. Allen bolts are used
instead of knobs for some controls. There are two cameras with
a vertical/horizontal back and more movements at 3lbs/3.5lbs ($500/$600).
- Toyo 45CX.
A new entry level camera, very cheap
($600) for a fully-featured monorail. It's not really suitable for
field work, though. The rail is very big and the camera
quite heavy (8lbs) and bulky in the field (standards don't fold).
Toyo 45C adds to the previous camera calibrated scales,
revolving back, geared rise/fall, and a non-tapered studio design.
It's a full-blown studio camera for $1100.
The standards fold flat, but it's 9lbs.
- Toho 45 FX (not Toyo).
The lightest 4x5 camera with full movements and a wide range of lenses
accomodated, currently the lightest 4x5 in production. 3lbs.
Adequate rigidity, and easy to break down for transport.
To change from horizontal to
vertical, standards have to be repositionned. Produced and distributed
(Around $1500 in Tokyo).
- Arca-Swiss discovery.
Very functionnal, precise and well built cameras, with
a Swiss high quality feeling. Yaw-free.
Many feel that the Arca system has better ergonomy than Sinar.
Relatively light and compact for a monorail. Complete modular system,
but watch for
incompatibilities between older and newer equipment.
There are few US distributors and no website. ($1400).
Arca-Swiss F line is regarded
as one of the best lightweight (real weight: 7.5lbs) monorails ever for
studio/field use. FC (C for compact) has a longer telescoping
rail than the previous camera, which can be telescoped for transport,
making it more compact than a Sinar.
- Cambo 45 SF. Quite similar in design and
functionality to the F1, but heavier (9lbs) and not as solidly built
(plastic parts in some critical areas). $1700.
- Sinar A1 is an
entry-level camera, now discontinued. It
was quite close to the F1, which at 7lbs is Sinar's field
model, but remains quite bulky.
($1800). Swiss high quality. Yaw-free.
Sinar offers an extensive and modular system, with
many accessories not available in other systems. Adjustments are more
systematically done thanks to a built-in depth of field calculator.
The market share in studios is probably the largest
of any LF system, and rentals are easily available.
Telescoping monorail with an unique mechanical design allow the camera to be
collapsed instantly to book-size.
($3000). Maximum extension of 500mm, handles a 47mm lens with bag belows.
High german quality feeling.
Better in the field (excellent
portability) than in the studio (particular to operate and not modular).
real weight: 7.4lbs (3400g). tripod socket location not so good at
- Toyo VX125. The design is
quite close to the Arca Swiss.
Light and rigid thanks to the use of modern alloys.
Good in the studio (full movements, most of them geared, yaw-free) and in the
field (only slightly bigger than the Technikardan), comes with universal
bellows (58/300mm). Real weight: 6.3lbs (2850g). $4000 in the US,
but can be had for less
than $3000 in Europe and Japan).
A comprehensive table of specs
can be found in Strobel's book "View camera technique", which has been
updated for the 7th edition in 1999. However some pretty good stuff
(Tachi, Canham, etc..) is still missing from Strobel's list.
The recent years have seen many new great lightweight
designs, as manufacturers seem to realize that it's not because you
are a large format enthusiast that you don't venture away from your car.
More current, look in the Nov 98 issue of Popular
Photography (yes !) which compares 18 cameras less than $1850. The
magazine View Camera is a good source of descriptions and specs (more
like press releases than user's evaluations), but you'll have to wade
through numerous back issues.
Some of the prices in this page might be outdated. See listings in