View Full Version : Help With New Camera Selection

Bill McMannis
7-Jul-2004, 18:41
Hello everyone,

I am in the process of replacing my second LF camera. Currently I use a Zone VI, but I have found it less solid than I prefer. The front standard wobbles. I also find I need to make frequent repairs to the camera. I also am tired of having to switch between the wide angle and standard bellows when working. A camera with a universal bellows would be nice.

Previously, I used a Sinar F+. That camera performed well and seldom needed work, but I found it too cumbersome to use in the field. It also had the problem of switching bellows from standard to wide angle.

I do some architectural work and as much landscape photography as I can squeeze in. While on occasion I may work out of a backpack, I typically drive to where I want to photograph and work within walking distance (a mile or two) from the tailgate of my car.

Currently, I am looking at four cameras. The first is the Toyo A45II. Next on my list are the Ebony SV45TE and the SV45U2. Finally ( a long shot) there is the Linhoh MT 2000.

The Toyo appears to be a lot of camera for the money. I really like what I read about the Ebony SV45U2, but I do not know if the asymmetrical tilts warrants the $1000 premium over the very nice SV45TE. The Linhof sounds as solid as a tank, but it seems the accessories are far more costly compared to the other cameras besides costing a bit more to begin with.

I considered a Wisner, but it seems too similar to what I currently have.

I plan on purchasing new later this month. Any comments on these four cameras would be appreciated. Also, am I overlooking a camera that fits my needs?

Thanks! Bill McMannis

Jim Rhoades
7-Jul-2004, 19:19
I'm just wondering. A few years back I played with the lightweight Zone VI by Calumet at the New York show. It was a rattletrap. I did buy an older, used Zone VI. For the extra two pounds I have a very tight camera. What type of repairs do you find you are doing? Mine seems fine. What are the weak spots?

Gem Singer
7-Jul-2004, 20:31
Hi Bill,

I recently went through a similar decision making process. However, I went from a wooden 4X5 Wisner Tech Field to a metal Toyo 45AII. After using the Toyo for seven years, I finally realized that I was really a "wooden field camera guy". I sold the Toyo and went back to a 4X5 wooden field camera, the Ebony SV45TE.

Price was no object. I could have purchased the SV45U2, but came to the same conclusion that you did regarding the extra $1000 for the asymmetrical tilts. However, if you desire to use wide angle lenses shorter than 90mm, the optional wide angle bellows is still necessary, unless you opt for the universal bellows. That will enable you to use lenses down to 65mm without the necessity of changing to the wide angle bellows. I bought the optional wide angle bellows.

The Toyo 45AII had numerous limitations on the bellows length, use of wide angle lenses, and the movements it offered. It's not the greatest camera for architectural photography.

If you are a "metal field camera guy" by all means purchase the Linhof. If you are a "wooden field camera guy", don't hesitate. Get the Ebony.

As usual, I recommend calling Jim, at Midwest Photo Exchange (www.mpex.com). He handles new, and used, Ebonys and Linhofs, as well as a large assortment of lenses, including Fuji lenses. He is knowledgeable, reliable, and has very reasonable prices.

Frank Petronio
7-Jul-2004, 20:36
An Arca Swiss Discovery with the leather wide angle bellows allows you to work with lenses up to 180-210mm, and is in the middle price range. It is very well made and lots of people backpack with them.

You can find nice Linhof Technicas IV and Vs for around $1000 to $1500. You loose the wide angle abilities of the MT 2000 but you could find a wide angle focusing device for $250 or so...

The Toyo is not sexy but it is a reliable workhorse. Another similar camera to consider is the Wista VX or SP - metal body, geared tilt and rise, good fresnel and hood - in fact it is better in many ways than the Linhof. I used mine (an SP) with lenses down to 65mm without a bag bellows or theactrics (just a recessed lensboard.) It was always smooth and solid. Only drawback is a shorter bellows than the Linhof.

Have fun with your quest...

Chris Gittins
8-Jul-2004, 06:40
I'm a "metal field camera guy." I considered a Toyo but ended up going with a Wista VX (or SP, whichever model has the microfocus on the back). It got the nod over the Toyo because it had center tilt as opposed to base tilt. I purchased it used from Midwest and am very happy with it. It is extremely solid and the gearing is very smooth. It doesn't have a fresnel, but I wanted it without. Definitely worth a look if you're considering a metal field.


Peter Collins
8-Jul-2004, 06:55
What is the max extension of the Wista SP/VX?

Chris Gittins
8-Jul-2004, 07:01
Not sure. I haven't used anything longer than 180 with mine. Check the B&H website. I think they have all the specs listed.


jerry brodkey
8-Jul-2004, 07:22
I have two cameras with asymmetrical tilts and I wish they all did. It is a real boon for architectural subjects. You won't know how great it is until you actually try it. It is probably not that important for landscapes....

Guy Tal
8-Jul-2004, 08:03
Chris - a fresnel is standard on all metal Wistas. Did you remove yours?
Tha max bellows on my VX is just a hair short of 300mm. I can use a 300mm lens with it and focus to infinity and down to about 15ft, but the bellows is definitely stretched at the extremes and doesn't leave much room for movements. I ended up selling the 300. I would say you can comfortably use a 240 or even a 270. On the short end I had no problem using a 75mm, and supposedly it will take a 65 as well. It doesn't have front fall, although you can drop the bed and use the fairly generous front rise to position the lens - not as convenient, but works.
It is very solid and smooth, making it a pleasure to operate, and it folds into a solid brick (with lens mounted and GG covered), which is great when you want to throw it in a backpack and not have to worry about anything getting scratched or bent etc.

Scenic Wild Photography (http://www.scenicwild.com)

Bill McMannis
8-Jul-2004, 08:10
Thanks for all of the suggestions.

To answer Jim's questions regarding my current Zone VI. I bought mine used from Jim at Midwest. He reports mine is from the late 90's. It is the heavier version with gold plated hardware. I have had difficulties with the bale mechanism for loading filmholders. Being a wooden camera, I do not want to over tighten. The set screws come loose every few weeks. When this happens, there is not enough force holding the filmholder in place and I get light leaks. These screws are difficult to get at in the field so I find I should inspect these on the bench before they cause problems. My other difficulty was with the lower metal tab that holds the lensboard in place. As I said above, I bought the camera used and I suspect a previous owner would only open the upper tab and pop out the lensboard with the lower tabl closed. As a result, the metal bushings in the wood on the front standard stripped from the wood. I extracted the bushings and epoxied them in place. My repairs on this should last forever, assuming the photographer opens both tabs when removing lensboards.

Perhaps I have all of the repairs behind me now. I still do not like the way the front standard flexes and I see no way to fix that.

Thanks for the Wista suggestions, I will look into them. I do like the idea of wood camera, so right now I am leaning towards the Ebony SV45TE.

Thanks again, Bill

Danny Burk
8-Jul-2004, 08:36
Bill -

I have an Ebony SV45U2 and love it. Personally, I find asymmetric movements VERY useful for landscape work. Of course they can't be used at all times, since they're restricted to the rear standard and you'll still need to use front tilt if you have verticals that must be kept perfectly vertical. For landscape use, many times there is no appreciable difference in the results. Asym tilts are extremely convenient and efficient.

I have a short review of the SV45U2 on my website. It's not extensive as are my other, more comprehensive, reviews, but I'll be glad to answer questions that you may have.

Regards, Danny www.dannyburk.com

Frank Petronio
8-Jul-2004, 08:38
Forgot to mention the Walker - they are kind of like the Ebonies, only made from a high tech man-made material (ABS, I think). This looks nicer than it sounds - they are built like wooden cameras but more robust. They also have longer extensions, nice hardware, etc. Mike Walker is a nice guy too - I think Robert White (UK) and MPEX sell them.

I prefer base tilts myself, especially for landscape. Focus the infinity, then tilt for foreground focus - the infinity doesn't shift (much) - quicker and easier IMHO. That said, I don't see the point of going beyond the base Ebony RW or 45S with a universal bellows. Certainly price/performance doesn't justify the price of the higher end models.

If you want to go cheap, the 1980s Zone VI cameras were made by Wista, and they were nicer than the later Zone VIs.

Ben Calwell
8-Jul-2004, 11:19

You know your needs better than I do, but you mentioned that you shoot architecture and don't venture far from your car. If that's the case, then it seems to me that a monorail and bag bellows would be the right tool for the job. In my opinion, a folding field camera, unless it has a bag bellows, is a pain to use for architecture, especially when a lot of lens rise might be needed. I would get an Arca Discovery with bag bellows or go back to a Sinar. To me, Sinar Fs are light and compact enough for field work from a vehicle, plus you've got a more technical tool for architectural shots.

Matt Long
8-Jul-2004, 11:44

If you're thinking of purchasing a Toyo and drooling over a Linhof, consider the Wista techinical cameras (VX, SP, etc.). I've owned a Wista SP for several years and use lenses ranging from 75mm to 300mm with the standard bed/bellows combination. I use Wista's "extended lensboard" with the 300 to eke out a few more mm's of extension and use a recessed lensboard with the 75 on the other end. I have both the long bellows and extended bed as well as a bag bellows and have rarely used either -- my current setup admirably meets my needs.

If I were to shop for a new Wista again, I would probably choose the VX over the SP -- I don't use the micro swing feature and the VX is a tad lighter. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me and we can chat in more detail. Good luck!

Chris Gittins
8-Jul-2004, 14:25
In response to Guy's question, I bought my SP used and it came w/o a fresnel. (I probably would have removed it if it had come with one.) I'd estimate it's age at 10-15 years, perhaps that was pre-fresnel?

I'll second Matt's comment about micro-swing. I got the SP instead of the VX thinking, "Maybe the micro-swing will come in useful someday." Perhaps it will, but I haven't had occassion to use it so far. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have gotten the VX to save a little weight and volume. That said, I love the SP - not sexy but built like a tank and doesn't everything I want it do.


Brian Ellis
8-Jul-2004, 16:01
I've owned the Ebony SV45Ti, the Ebony SV45Te, and two Linhof Technikas, a Technika V and a Master Technika (my present camera, which I sold the Ebony Te to buy). For a feeling of pure precision, great engineering, great construction, durability, smoothness of movements, and a general overall feeling of great build quality I don't know of anything that beats a Technika. If those are things you're looking for, and it sounds like you are to some extenet at least, the Technika 2000 may be the camera for you (I assume you use lenses wider than 75mm and don't want to fiddle with or pay for the wide angle focusing device, which is why you mention the 2000 rather than the Master).

The Technika does have some downsides, the back is a pain to use because of all the knobs you have to fiddle with and the bellows isn't overly long though adequate for most needs (15"). It weighs about the same as the two Ebony cameras you mention but about 2 pounds more than the Ebony 45 SVTi which you didn't mention but which, if I were doing it over again, I'd keep instead of replacing it with the 45SVTe because it's as good as the Te but weighs two pounds less. Technikas earlier than the 2000 weren't that easy to use with lenses shorter than 90mm and couldn't be used at all with lenses shorter than 75mm unless you got the wide angle focusing device. However, the 2000 presumably has cured that disadvantage.

The Ebony was a very fine camera but despite what you sometimes read here and other places, it isn't as firm, solid, and precise as a good metal camera like the Technika IMHO. It probably is the best in those respects compared to any other wood camera but not compared to a Technika in my opinion.

If you're coming from a Zone VI to the Ebony then the Ebony might seem great to you. Coming from a Technika to an Ebony it didn't seem great to me though it certainly wasn't bad, nothing wobbled or flopped around and the focusing was very smooth. Speaking of focusing, in a year of usage I never did get used to the three knob system of focusing, where with some lenses you have to focus part of the way with the front knob and then switch off to the middle knob to focus the rest of the way. OTOH, I assume having three rails presumably promoted stability and being able to focus with the back was very nice on occasion.

If you get the SVTe you'll still need to buy a bag bellows ($300 new) with lenses shorter than about 90mm since it doesn't come with the universal bellows though you probably could special order it with the universal. I bought the bag bellows and found it very inconvenient to use because it didn't attach easily to the front of the camera. I returned it once to the factory and when it came back it was a little better but not much. The SV45U2 comes with the Universal bellows so you can use it with wider lenses than the Te without the bag bellows, I forget just how much wider.

I bought the Te rather than the U2 or the other model that has the asymetric back because I don't use back movements all that much and I thought it was ridiculous to pay $700 or so for this feature when IIRC Wehman has it on its 8x10 cameras that sell for about $1,800 for the whole camera. However, if you use back movements a lot it might be worth the extra money to you. In fact if back movements are really important to you either of the two Ebonys might be a better choice than the Technika 2000. Even without the asymetric back the back movements on the Te were simpler to use and worked better than those on the Technika, which is sort of a "free floating" back that doesn't move all that much.

You can, of course, buy the Ebony from MidWest or Badger and return it if you don't like it. I imagine you can do the same with a new 2000.

Good luck, having to choose between Ebony and Linhof cameras isn't all bad.

Jean-Louis Llech
9-Jul-2004, 05:00
you might also consider the Linhof Master Technika Classic.
- With the rangefinder-coupled lenses, and the viewfinder, you'll do some photographies you'll never have done with another camera, a tripod and a darkcloth.
- With the GG focusing, you'll do all others.
You'll use this camera for a lifetime, and it will be the most beautiful piece of your heritage.

Frank Petronio
9-Jul-2004, 09:32
Jean-Louis, Bob Salomon should really send you some Linhof trinkets - you are a great salesman! (I thought you liked Arcas too?)

Jeffrey Scott
9-Jul-2004, 21:31
You didn't mention what lenses you have, but for anything no longer than 500 tele , you might want to consider the Ebony 45SU, as that is superb for architechure and landscape work. I use the standard, universal bellows on mine with lenses from 58XL to 305 G-Claron with full movements.

paul owen
10-Jul-2004, 04:47
Like Jeff, I second the Ebony 45SU - a truly great camera! The universal bellows that are supplied with the camera are great for lenses as short as 58XL and fine for longer lenses too. The question as to the "worth" of the assymetric tilts ... I cannot imagine life without them!! Despite what many imagine, the Ebony cameras are VERY solid even when fully extended, more so than many metal-camera users would like to admit ! Feel free to email me off forum if you have any further questions re: the SU. Good luck!

Herb Cunningham
10-Jul-2004, 09:41
Just goes to show how personal tastes influence our choices. I started out years ago with speed graphics, about 6 years ago got an Ebony SV45TE, found it too difficult to adjust and the sharp knurling on the knobs was irritating, got a Linhof Super Tech, it was too heavy, Got a Wisner Tech Field, and love it.

It is worth a trip to a big shop where they have all the differnt models and get a feel for them.

If weight is not an issure, metal will always be more rigid.

10-Jul-2004, 14:29
Sounds like the Linhof MT 2000 might be the ticket for you. I've often thought of getting one. Don't discount the Wisners too as with the PE they have all the gearing you could want from 4x5/5x7/8x10 with light weight.

Jim Rice
10-Jul-2004, 17:57
I found my answer in the Wisner Tech. Changing the bellows is a serious PITA, but settings stay put, and I can focus to about eight feet with my 16 1/2" (420mm) Red Dot Apo-Artar. It's heavy, it's wooden, it's beautiful, and I love it.

Bill McMannis
14-Jul-2004, 09:19
Thanks to everyone for the advice. Chosing a camera is such a difficult decision, especially when you want the next purchase to be the last camera for a long, long time.

I plan on going with the Ebony SV45U2. The comments regarding the usefulness of asymmetrical tilts was a factor as was the universal bellows. The Linhof was a close second, but the Ebony's movements are so much greater that was the deciding factor.

I will check in after I have the camera and let you know how it works out.

Thanks, again.