Five Years of Practical use
with the Wisner Expedition Technical Field
By Terrance Hounsell © 2006 for
have been a photographer and a photographic artist for over 30 years. I use my
4x5 for commercial and fine art applications. In addition I also use a variety
of 35mm film and digital SLRs and rangefinders, 120 SLRs, TLRs and
rangefinders; but my preference is for 4x5. I started into large format with
8x10 but soon discovered that for me 4x5 is the best compromise in terms of
film availability, lens choice, weight and ease of use etc… I found that the
4x5 negative size is a good compromise in terms of image quality and given
modern film and lenses a larger format is unnecessary for me. In addition 4x5
enlargers are common and not the behemoths that 8x10 enlargers usually are. I
enjoy spending long hours printing in the darkroom and intend to continue
printing with silver gelatin for the foreseeable future. I have tried many of
the alternate processes but for now I will stick with mastering silver gelatin.
An example of my work is provided below:
Storm gathering over Signal Hill in St.
I have put
1500-2000 sheets of film through my WETF Camera over the last 5 years. When I
purchased the WETF (from MPEX) I was doing a fair bit of commercial
architectural shooting so I wanted a camera that offered a lot of movements.
The WETF CAMERA actually out performs some of the other cameras that I had
previously used when it comes to movements so I thought it was a good choice in
its dual roles of Commercial Architectural and Fine Art Landscape. As a basis
for comparison some large format Cameras that I have owned include the
following: 8x10 Bender, 8x10 Wista, 4x5 Burke and James, 4x5 Cambo, 4x5 Linhof
Technika IV and the 4x5 Nagaoka. I have also used the 4x5 Zone VI and the 4x5
Linhof TK and the 8x10 Deardorf.
- Interestingly my Expedition
carries a Wisner Technical nameplate, I believe that is how they are all
labeled, as they are considered to be the Expedition variant of the
Technical Field. Thus for this review I will call it the WETF Camera.
- The specifications show that
while very similar there are slight differences between the Technical and
the Expedition models. Essentially the Expedition is more compact and
lighter. The price of having a smaller case is that the maximum normal
bellows extension is 2.5 inches (63.5mm) shorter, but still ample at 20.5
inches (521mm), and the minimum normal bellows is 2-1/4 inches (58mm)
instead of 3-1/2 inches (90mm), which is a bonus.
- The WETF Camera is made of
cherry wood that really looks good, many a cabinet maker has admired it.
Black American Cherry is one of the more dimensionally stable woods and is
pattern grade thus suitable for this type of joinery. It is lighter in
color than mahogany but still has a beautiful grain and figuring. There
may be tiny imperfections here and there but you are dealing with a natural
substance and this is part of the charm. Cherry has a higher strength to
weight ratio resulting in a Camera that is lightweight (4.4 pounds) and
the thinner wood is still rigid. I was surprised to see that the wood in
the WETF Camera was noticeably thinner than for the other TF Cameras, more
so than I had expected but the rigidity is still very good.
- The layout of the WETF Camera
is one of its strongest points. The controls are sensibly placed; they
seem to just fall to hand instinctively. Very high marks for ergonomics
- The WETF Camera is easy to
fold; it almost does it by itself. I have read way too much on discussion
on the net about the difficulties of folding field Cameras but this one is
easy. (see photo below)
- The glossy varnish finish on
the wood is hard and durable and very few marks can be seen even at the
tripod attachment (see photo below)
- The tripod attachment provides
a choice of ¼-20 or 3/8-16 and is at the point of balance as it should be.
- One pet peeve of mine is that
there are no detents for some of the movements and the zero points are not
especially well marked (see photo below). I don’t feel that this is in
keeping with a camera of this quality should be an inexpensive and easy
- I have big hands so
occasionally when using short lenses the rear standard overlaps the
rear-focusing knob and makes reaching the knobs as bit difficult. (see
photo below). Unfortunately
this is unavoidable and I have encountered this with most other cameras of
the folding field type that I have used.
- Occasionally when using long
lenses the focusing rails reach the end of their travel and if uneven
pressure is applied when re-engaged the rails a small misalignment may
occur. This is evident when the rails don’t line up with the camera body
when the camera is folded. It is a simple matter to back the rails off and
reengage using even pressure. This is not uncommon with other field
Cameras that I have used.
- I use a Cambo viewing hood
because up here in Newfoundland the wind plays havoc with the dark cloth
and warm breath condenses on the ground glass when shooting in cold
weather. With the Cambo’s 2x magnification you can focus well enough and I
have found my negatives to be a sharp as when I have focused used a stronger
loupe. The Wisner hardware for attaching the Cambo viewer attachment is
unconscionably expensive for what it is. I have used Velcro to attach to
viewer and have found it to work well. (see 2 photos below) I wish that the Cambo viewer
were collapsible so it would take up less room in my pack.
- I have found that when
shooting quickly (or carelessly) film holders have a tendency not to seat
properly. To allow for slight variations in film holder dimensions there
is a bit of tolerance in the distance between the film holder stop and the
detent. Thus if the film holder is pushed in until it bottoms out it can
overshoot the detent in the back of the Camera and not be properly seated.
You will get light streaks on you negatives as a result. This is not uncommon
with other Cameras and really is a matter of operator error so I always
“jiggle” my film holders to make sure they are properly seated.
- The springs fitted along the
back are made of a special high carbon stainless steel. They were
initially a bit tight for a Grafmatic film holder, which is thicker than a
normal holder, but the spring have loosen slightly with use and seem to be
fine now. Polaroid type 545 holders fit fine from day one.
- The standard bellows is made
from red kid leather with a black silk lining; it is striking to look at
and definitely adds to the overall appearance of the Camera. The bag
bellows is made from a burgundy colored kid leather, and it is unlined.
They are fairly easily interchanged but if you have a lot of lenses like I
do changing can become a bit of a chore. However, this is unavoidable
except with something like a universal bellows that some other
manufacturers have on offer. There isn’t one available for the WETF Camera
as far as I am aware. The bellows on the WETF Camera is 2 inches shorter
than on the regular Technical Field because the WETF Camera case is
smaller and there isn’t room for the longer bellows to be compressed into.
Having said that 20.5 inches is ample bellows extension and more than most
- Although the regular bellows
should work well with the 90mm lens I find that using movements damages
the bellows and thus I recommend that the bag bellows be used. The
standard pleated bellows works well with the Schneider 110mm Super Symmar
XL when photographing landscapes. However, when photographing architecture
requiring large movements the bag bellows is required. For those shooting
Infrared I have been told that there is an IR bellows from the Zone VI
Camera that fits the WETF.
- In order to shift from
Horizontal or landscape orientation to vertical or portrait orientation
you simply remove the back or the Camera and turn it 90 degrees. The back
is actually square and has two brass pins about an inch in from the corner
on each side. The Camera has two brass bars with hole drilled in them on
the lower edge of the body to accept the lower brass pins and two
brass-retaining clips that retain the upper brass pins. The pins that end
up on the side are unused. I have found that with use the sliding clips have
become loose. I have retightened them but find that I must constantly keep
squeezing them to keep them in the closed position. I believe that the
arrangement is a friction fit that relies partially on compressing the
plastic washers that are under the brass washers. (see photo below) I am going to try replacing
the plastic washers with a slightly softer plastic as I think the original
plastic washer may have hardened and do not compress properly any more.
This is the traditional method of retaining field camera back but I feel
that there is room for improvement. I do not trust this system and have
almost lost the entire back several times. I have used other Cameras with
revolving backs, a nice touch, but an unacceptable penalty in terms of
weight and folded thickness for a field Camera.
- I have lubricated the wooden
bearing surfaces that come in contact with the film holders using some
liquid silicone on a nylon swab. This seems to be effective at reducing
- The Brass fittings on the WETF
Camera are actually aluminum that has been brass anodized. All of these
fitting are showing minor amounts of pitting and discoloration. I
frequently use the Camera near salt water so I keep a Pelican metal
desiccant with indicator in the case at all times. The Low pro soft case
fits into a Pelican 1550 and this can be made airtight so the desiccant
can be effective. The camera is stored in a climate-controlled room. The
worst of the corrosion can be seen in the photograph below.
- The three spirit levels are useful
and they can easily be seen. However, their sensitivity does not appear to
be linear. I find that they seem to resist movement and suddenly shoot
past level before they will respond to small adjustment; this can be
maddening but again you adjust your setup routine to compensate.
- I have found that occasionally
the friction in the focusing knobs becomes unbalanced. The knob on one
side drags more than on the other side so you must continually focus,
loosen, focus, loosen, focus etc…. Keep them well lubricated.
- The WETF Camera has a very
nice carrying handle, it is sturdy, well made and should last for many,
many years. It feels nice in the hand. It is so heavy duty that it is
still a bit stiff and doesn’t always lie perfectly flat; I’m sure the
stiffness will reduce with use. There is no fear of it breaking.
- The WETF Camera has a full
range of movements and exceeds many studio Cameras. All 6 degrees of
freedom are covered: 3 translational rise/shift/focus and 3 rotational
tilt/swing/yaw are accounted for and in each case the range is more than
- The WETF Camera has a geared
rear base tilt and this is appreciated. I think the Pocket Expedition has
a geared front so this would be appreciated too. As an aside I would like
to try the Pocket Expedition with the geared front movements. They are not
necessary but I’m the type of user that would appreciate them and use
USING LENSES WITH THE WETF CAMERA
- The lenses that I am currently
using on my WETF Camera are:
- Nikkor 65mm f/4 SW
- Schneider 72mm Super Angulon
XL (see photo below)
- Rodenstock 90mm f/4.5
- Schneider 110mm Super Symmar
- Schneider 150mm f/5.6 Super
- Rodenstock 210mm f/5.6 APO
- Schneider 400mm f/5.6 APO
- Fujinon T 600mm f/12 Tele
- I like lenses with big image
circles and find the extra coverage worthwhile. All of my lenses cover 5x7
with movement except the 65mm. I do realize that it is counter productive
to pay extra for a lightweight Expedition Camera and then carry heavy
lenses around so I usually select only 3-4 to carry and leave the rest
behind. The 72mm SAXL, 110mm SS, 210mm Sinaron and 400mm ATX combination
seems to get the most use.
- With extra wide lenses such as
the Nikkor 65mm and the Schneider 72mm XL you must use rear base tilt on
the front standard and then front axis tilt on the front standard to
orientate the lens to the vertical again. This is a usable arrangement; I
haven’t tried recessed boards.
- The 65mm is a bit tricky to
use because it picks up a lot of unwanted foreground detail that is not
easily seen on the ground glass especially in the corners. You have to be
careful with movements because it is so close to the ground glass it may
strike it. Coverage is not great so you have to ensure that the centering
is accurate. I recently acquired a Schneider centre filter but haven’t
used it enough to comment on whether it is worth the expense or not. Since
acquiring the 72mm XL I have found the 65mm to be redundant so I will
transfer it to a 6x12 roll film Camera that I am building.
- Tele lenses also have their
pros and cons. On the Pro side: they require less Camera extension so the
Camera is more rigid and less likely to vibrate. A more compact
configuration also has benefits in areas where wind is an issue the lower
sail area also means less vibration. On the Con side: tele lenses don’t
have asymmetrical nodal points so axial movements mean refocusing to
- The 400mm APO Tele Xenar a
fantastic lens that I will never sell despite it being a bit large for
this Camera. If the front standard is not carefully tightened this heavy
lens is prone to slipping out of position especially when the Camera is
pointed down at an awkward angle. (see photo below)
- The lens boards are very well
constructed with rails and stiles surrounding a central panel, very strong
and stable. However, the lens boards are only held in place by two brass
strips that are fastened to the Camera with two tiny, and I mean tiny,
brass screws. (see photo below) Despite being a traditional arrangement it does
not inspire confidence. I sometimes carrying the Camera mounted on the
tripod with a lens fitted slung over my shoulder. This problem is not
particular to Wisner; on a friends Zone VI Camera the same screws had
worked loose so I replaced the tiny screws with slightly larger ones that
I epoxied in place. If I detect any loosening of the screws on the WETF
Camera I will make the same modification but so far everything is fine.
- The WETF Camera is very
compact and being smaller folded up makes a big difference in my modestly
sized pack the LowePro Omni Trekker (see photo below). I use it in combination with Pelican 1550 hard shell
and this combination is indispensable for traveling when you may be forced
to check you camera system as general baggage! The Omni Trekker can be
slung over your arm like a laptop case, carried like a brief case by
handles or best of all carried like a backpack. The backpack is not great
but it is adequate for short hikes of a few miles or a few hours. I have three
and the two older ones show few signs of wear while the newest one of them
suffers from a broken zipper and a failed snap.
- The Wisner ground glass has a
grid and this helps me sight verticals and horizontals, and spot
convergence. A definite must as far as I am concerned.
- I purchased a Wisner Fresnel,
it was easy to install, works well and is competitively priced as compared
to other Fresnels on the market. Beware of cheaper Fresnels that are very
thin, as I could not get them to lie flat against the focusing screen. The
Wisner Fresnel is available as either fixed or permanent. I went for the
permanent and am happy with that arrangement. However, light fall off is
very noticeable with wide-angle lenses and for this reason if a wide angle
Fresnel were offered I would have purchased the removable Fresnel so I
could use both types.
- It is worth reading Ron
Wisner’s Fresnel articles on his website. The most important bit of
information that he kindly passes on is that no Fresnel regardless of
manufacturer should ever be installed in front of the ground glass. The
Fresnel would displace the ground glass away from the lens and thus when
the film holder is inserted the film will lie in front of the plane of
- As a lightweight option I have
a Velbon Carmagne with a Giotto medium ball head, this worked well with
the super light (2.5 pound) Nagoaka 4x5 Camera but I find that it is
really not sufficient for the WETF Camera.
- With the WETF Camera I am
currently using a Gitzo 2228 tripod with a Manfrotto 0410 head. There is a
carbon fibre version of this tripod but I didn’t think that the few ounces
difference in weight justified the additional cost. The best feature of
this tripod is the free-floating legs that do not use fixed detents but
rather lock into any position you choose. This is a nice set up but I
wouldn’t want to use any tripod that was less rigid. The 2228 is not rigid
enough at the offset joint when using the center column at 90 degrees.
However, the hook at the bottom of the center post allows you to counter
balance the Camera. I often hang a weight, such as my backpack, to
stabilize the tripod.
- It pays to carry something
that allows you to add a stabilizing weight to the tripod. I carry a bit
of mesh netting and simply hang a rock from the center column. The netting
takes up very little space in my pack. Stabilizing the tripod is especially with the 600mm
millimeter lens because vibration is more likely as a result of higher
image magnification and bellows extension. Despite the WETF Camera being
quite solid I prefer tele design lens because bellows extension is reduced
by one third in most cases.
- The Manfrotto 0410 head works
allows you to roughly position the Camera using the outside release knobs
and then you can make micro adjustments using the inner knobs on each
axis. Despite being the lighter of two similar Manfrotto heads it is more
than sufficient for the WETF Camera. I will be sticking with this head. (see
- If you intend to use a roll
film holder you may want to purchase the WETF Camera with a Graflok back.
Adding one later involves waiting and expense (if you can get one). My
WETF didn’t come with a Graflok back and I wasn’t concerned because I felt
that with this type of back you must remove the ground glass and sooner or
later it will end up falling from a rocky perch and get broken. Having
said that I am concerned with Wisner’s lack of production these days so I
just bought a spare back for the WETF on eBay and it happens to be a
Graflok. (see photo below)
- In my humble opinion Wisner
service does not appear to be as good as it once was and this seems to be
a bone of contention on various Internet forums. For example I received a
lens board that was seriously defective and it took me nearly a year of numerous
telephone calls and emails to get a replacement. Other Wisner users have
had similar experiences and told me that they have received better service
by going through Wisner dealers than by dealing directly. Make no mistake
Ron Wisner is a nice guy and a great photographer who has done a lot for
the large format community and there is no doubt that we all appreciate
that. It just seems that sometimes he is too busy to give proper attention
to the sales end of things. In fairness to Ron he has placed a notice on
his website refusing new business in his new location until all old
business has been taken care of. I hope that he has continued success as
his contributions to large format photography are greatly appreciated.
- As I am in a somewhat remote
part of the world I have purchased a spare back, normal bellows, ground
glass and Fresnel. Given that Wisner is not currently in production I
can’t afford the wait or worse still face the unavailability of these
components. Better safe than sorry.
Camera has some minor warts but it does have a very nice blend of features and
weight versus cost. The ergonomics are exceptional. It seems to hold its value
on the resale market. However, the WETF Camera is a bit of a rarity on the
resale market because their owners hold on to them.
things that I would change to make the WETF Camera perfect for me:
1) Titanium or similar fittings for
superior corrosion resistance,
2) Better zeroing index marks or
3) Yaw Free Movements to speed up focusing.
This is not really necessary but since I making a wish list I though it would
no such thing as the perfect Camera or we would all be using it. Overall this
is a marvelous Camera with many well thought out features. Let me conclude my
review by saying that I enjoy using the WETF CAMERA immensely and will probably
have it until they pry it from cold dead hands.
This review is presented a frank discussion of my experience
with this camera as a user of this particular model. I do not represent myself
as an expert or authority in any way. I do not recommend or dissuade anyone in
his or her purchase or use of any photography equipment.
Coming to Newfoundland?
On a personal note any
large format photographer planning a visit to Newfoundland can contact me at
email@example.com and I would be pleased to offer any advice or
assistance that I can.