by Hamish Reid Copyright © 1994
The A1 was discontinued in 97. It was quite similar to the current F1. Editor
The Sinar A1 is Sinar's cheap (US $850) 4x5 introductory or beginner's version of the F1 (being, in fact, the F1 in all but name, rail, and rail attachments, as far as I can tell). Sinar sells it with a four year full price-back arrangement if you trade up to a more expensive Sinar model; you also get a reasonable case for the A1 included in the price (the case also fits lenses, spare bellows, and backs in with the body).
The A1 has friction movements and geared rear focusing; the movements are roughly 70mm rise/fall and shift, at least 35 degrees swing and (base) tilt (all figures for each standard). The A1 has an easy-to-use tilt, swing, and depth of field / f-stop calculator built in. Bellows are fully interchangeable (and come in three increasingly wide-angle models). The film back is not rotatable, but is easily taken out and put back vertically or horizontally without much fuss. Maximum bellows extension is with the standard rail is 19"; there is also a 6" rail extension available. Minimum extension is a function of lens rear element size when using the wide angle bellows. The rail attaches to both 1/4" and 3/8" screw mounts.
Sinar provide a few pricey accesories like binocular reflex viewing hoods, etc, but third party accesories like the Calumet roll film back, filter holders, lens shades, etc. work well with the Sinar (it's worth remembering too that Horseman accesories and lensboards generally fit Sinar models).
The setup I used included:
The rented items were from Gasser's in San Francisco.
In summary, the A1 is a nice way to get into 4x5 if you don't mind either getting third party accessories or can put up with Sinar's prices ($2,200 for a roll film back?). The A1 is light, strong, has adequate movements, is easy to use, and produces good results. I have only minor criticisms, all of which are covered in a later paragraph.
Oh, and it also attracts curious crowds wherever you go....
Most of my large-format photography is either landscapes (urban, desert, California's Central Valley, mountains, etc.), architecture, or high art (the usual nonsense). I did not want to use it much for portraits or commercial still-life / product stuff, but I didn't want to pre-empt this either.
In the end, though, what made me go with the Sinar was really the store support here - I walked into Gasser's and they cheerfully let me play with the body (and several lenses, etc.) for an hour or two - no rush - and were happy to talk about the pros and cons of the various options. They knew a lot about it, and they're only a cheap phone call or short drive away from here. (I also played with one of the Horseman models at Gasser's, but it was hideously expensive; I also got to look at the Technikarden, but that was really only to get a feel for how the other half live).
This is worth its weight in gold (and it only costs about $16) - it's remarkably easy to pull the lever unintentionally when you meant to pull the bellows release lever or without getting a good grip on the lensboard - and this little accesory has saved my skin already. I leave mine on all the time.
This does all get better with time and practice, and I've pretty much mastered the art of getting just the right rise out of the mechanism on demand, but it's still irritating - especially since front rise is by far the most common movement I use at the moment.
It's also an awful fiddle to attach to the tripod head because it slides too easily in the rail, meaning it always disappears one way or another as you try to mate it to the thread on the tripod head. Yes, I need to buy a better head attachment. One day....
Additionally, there's no zero detent on the front or rear standard shift movements (but the swings have zero detents). The movements themselves are nice and smooth, but you can't judge whether they're centred without looking at the scale; this is a pain for front standard shifts.
Sinar certainly seem to concentrate on the high end and digital market (i.e. over $10,000 per basic body). I've got to admit that I like what I've seen of these high end Sinars, but I'll never be able to afford them....
One other important difference between the F1 and the F2 is the monorail block on the front standard. The F2 has a front standard block that encircles the monorail like the rear standard block. The F1 has the old-style hinged clamp that can be opened and slid over the middle of the rail. The problem with this style is what I consider to be a design flaw. If you are not EXTREMELY CAREFUL when tightening the clamp, you will break the plastic around the clamp hinge and it will not tighten well. I have been through two rail blocks for the front standard of my F+ because of this problem. If the price of a front F2 standard was not so high (over $500) I would upgrade my existing camera. If I were contemplating the purchase of the F1 or F2, I would fork out the extra $$$ for the F2 based on the block design alone. Bruce Clarke
Just a few comments from someone who did step up from a Sinar F2 to a Sinar P2. The F2 is a really excellent camera for almost every kind of work. It's only real deficiency is the lack of precision drives for the movements. In fact, I went to the P2 because I do a lot of studio work, and some of it entails very precise repeatable settings, and the P2 really shines. Also, with the P2's assymetrical swings and tilts, you see the image adjusting as you apply movements...so that you can control depth of field, zones of sharpness, ans perspective with incredible ease. With the F series you have to go through a dual focussing routine and read off an angle and then move and re-focus. The P2 is just a lot faster, and you see it all happen..it is truly a marvelous piece of precision machinery. The great thing was that in the process of doing the upgrade, I was able to use every Sinar accessory I have with the new camera. The Sinar system is very compreh comprehensive (as are the prices!!!!). I have been able to get excellent used bits and pieces for between 33 and 50 % off new prices, and have thus been able to add to my system. And...I have used the P2 outside for architectural photography, and although it is heavier than the F2, it still is quite portable...but I wouldn't take the thing on a hike! Brian Segal
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