By Carlos Co for the Large Format Page
The camera is very complex and fussy and it took me at least three hours to figure out the movements and an efficient sequence of operations to open and CLOSE the camera. Good thing the camera is so beautiful, because thoughts of giving up and returning it passed my mind. The camera does not come with instructions, and I just couldn't wait till the next day to call up Ron Wisner for tips. But eventually once I figured it out, everything was easy. Note that I have small fingers. If you have big fingers, the small knobs may be harder to use.
The geared front rise/fall is extremely useful for wide angles. Based on the table top work I tried last night, I really liked the front geared tilts, too. Yes, it is fussy, but after a few hours of practice, I have to say that the front movements are WELL WORTH the extra complexity and cost. Note that the front rise/fall/tilts can also be adjusted manually without using the gears.
Fred and Dennis at Darkroom Innovations tells me that one half of the people who have bought the Wisner PE love it completely, while the other half absolutely hate it. If you try buying one from them, they will STRONGLY DISCOURAGE you from buying it, suggesting that the regular expedition and technical versions without the front gearing are better. I strong disagree with that - the front movements are wonderful, it just takes time to get used to them. The first time I tried setting up the camera, the front movements drove me nuts. Hours of practice later, I began to realize why Wisner bothered to spend the time and money to patent it.
If you go to a store to try out the cameras, I doubt you will end up buying the Wisner PE unless your wife wants it for the living room. The store would be closing and you would still not be comfortable with the PE movements. Even Fred at Darkroom Innovations says he has given up trying to close the Wisner PE and lets Dennis do it. Personally, after one whole night of struggling with the camera, I have a developed a very strong liking for it.
My recommendation is to buy the camera and play with it seriously for at least 12 hours (don't give up before 12 hours) - then decide whether you like it or not. I cannot confidently say that you will like the camera even though I absolutely love mine. I hated it for the first fours hours, but by the eight hour, I felt really good with the camera. Now, I also think that the extra cost of the PE is definitely worth it.
2. If you have big fingers or absolutely need to wear gloves when taking pictures, don't get the PE.
3. If you intend to use shifts and swings a lot with short lenses, don't get the PE - it is definitely possible, but it can be inconvenient.
If issues 2 and 3 don't really apply to you, and issue 1 fits your personality, then I can guarantee that you'd love the camera as much as I do. Otherwise, consider the DLC and Arca F-line Field, both of which I looked at before coming to the decision of buying the Wisner PE.
The PE is a superb camera that takes some getting use to, but when you learn the ropes and tricks it is easy. I have used a Technical 4x5 for 5 years, so I have something to compare to. Using Carlos picture, I was able to nail the PE down in about 2 hours. For what it is worth, here is a "detailed" set of notes I made for myself ... hope it helps anyone using the PE. Once you do it a few times, it is not that difficult and the new features are nice and the weight is great.
2. Crank front standard (focus wheel) full forward
3. Carefully lift & move front standard lens stage (keep in horizontal position) to the top of the struts, then rotate vertical.
4. Lightly tighten the base strut screws (full back position).
5. Fit the front standard wheel locks into the notches in the struts. Lightly tighten standard knobs so it holds in the notches, being sure that the bottom of struts are still in the normal or back position (also loosely tightened).
6. Next, rotate the bottom of the lens stage forward to the "detent" just forward of neutral. Then holding the front standard wheel locks and the struts, lightly push or pull the struts forward or back to align the "dots.
7. When all is in proper alignment and front standard is vertically aligned, finish tightening knobs and return front standard "rise" to a middle position and insert lens.
8. Once lens is mounted, check all alignments and proceed with photography.
2. Crank the front standard (focus wheel), full forward and loosen all front standard control locks
3. Lift front standard to top of struts (while still vertical) and then while holding the wood standard, rotate it face down to a horizontal position pulling it forward and laying it down so the top of the standard is close to (almost touching) the "tilt" control axle.
4. Holding the base strut control lock knobs, pull the horizontal struts full forward, so that the base strut and "tilt" control knobs are touching. Leave knobs loose.
5. Next, crank the rear standard (focus knob) slightly back from the closed position. Now crank the "front" standard to the closed position. Finally, return the rear standard to the "closed" position, again leaving your knobs slightly loose.
6. Lastly, loosen the rear strut knobs and lower the rear standard to the closed position. The two lock springs should "snap" closed easily.
Note: If not, do NOT force. Go back and check to see that you "zeroed" out all your movements. Check particularly for non-zeroed swings and be sure the front rise was lowered.