View Full Version : Field Camera or View Camera

1-Aug-2004, 19:08

The reason I am interested in Large format is to create landscape photographs that could be enlarged to nice size wall prints (30x40). Which of the two large format cameras would I want to purchase; a field camera or a view camera. Some people have suggested to read "How to use the View Camera.", would this book also be any benefit to me if I am using a field camera instead of a view camera?

Thanks, Barret.

1-Aug-2004, 19:15
Field cameras are much easier to use on (and carry to) location than monorails. Fewer movements (or less range in movements) than a monorail, but very similar in operation (ie. the book will be beneficial). Regards,

Bruce Watson
1-Aug-2004, 19:32
Life is never so simple, it seems, as to offer either-or choices. How about a mono-rail view camera meant for use in the field? Like the Toho:


I love mine. Best of both worlds with full movements on both ends, and it weighs less then 1.25 Kg (2lb, 12 oz) which is very helpful in getting to those landscapes so you can take the photographs ;-). And, for me at least, it's quite easy to use.

Absolutely, a good book on using a view camera will be useful, and applies to all large format cameras (all the common ones anyway). And so will these webpages:

http://www.largeformatphotography.info/ http://www.largeformatphotography.info/matos-begin.html

Al Miller
1-Aug-2004, 19:53
Of course there is no completely right answer to this, my opinion is to start off with a field camera: Its lighter, will likely have adequate movements, and infinitely more portable. This is from someone who started LF photography with an interest in outdoor landscapes, but due to fate ended up with a 4x5 Sinar Norma monorail camera.

After I had done enough to realize that I needed a field camera, ordered a Wisner field camera, and love it, particularly for carrying into the backcountry. I still carry the Sinar in its hard-sided case in the car, and sometimes use it for roadside shots where I might want some of the more extreme movements it provids.

Being one to not learn my own lessons, earlier this year when I got bitten by the 8x10 bug, I recently bought an old Toyo 810G.... If you see some guy struggling with a giant heavy grey case strapped to a huge backpack frame up some trail in Colorao cursing himself, that would probably be me. Its a great camera though!

John Cook
1-Aug-2004, 19:57
You need to answer two questions. First, how practical do you want to be? The monorail design is a modern improvement on the old-fashioned flatbed design. It is easier to use, is far more stable, has more movements and is much more versatile. It is the obvious practical choice. And yet, many of us buy cameras purely because they are beautiful. If you want something to fondle on a cold winter evening in front of the fire, a mahogany field camera wins over a metal monorail every time. (I have an Ebony, named Veronica.)

Second question: how far do you plan to get away from your car? I worked for several years out of Hollywood, shooting automobile brochures, fashion and Max Factor cosmetic ads. We were all over the Mojave, Owens Valley and forests and hills. But never more than fifty feet from our 4WD location truck. We used a monorail. Business is business.

And yet, many contributors to this site seem to eternally walk the length of the Appalachian Trail with an 8x20 outfit. Uphill both ways. For this, every ounce is important. If you are planning to take off cross country and canít afford a mule, the field camera is your only choice.

Leonard Evens
1-Aug-2004, 20:01
Field cameras are view cameras. The distinction you have in mind is between a field camera which usually folds up into a compact box and a monorail camera which has the functioning elements of the camera set up on a rail. In a field camera, there is usually a bed, instead of a rail, which folds out with the front lens sliding outward on the bed. But both in monorails and field cameras there are many variations of the design, and in some cases it is hard to tell the difference. Since you are interested in landscape photography, you don't want a heavy studio monorail, but as Hogarth pointed out, a Toho would work fine. Others have pointed out the advantages of a simpler folding field camera.

The book Using the View Camera will apply to either type of camera of view camera.

Frank Petronio
1-Aug-2004, 20:42
Take a class or a workshop so you can actually use one. Read. Make friends with a local photographer. Half the fun is figuring out what you want to do.

1-Aug-2004, 20:50
Consider a 4x5 Crown Graphic as a starter.

Donald Hutton
1-Aug-2004, 22:06
For landscapes, there are very few advantages to a monorail. A compact, lightweight field camera should be able to do what you require 99% of the time. For that dreadful 1%, you can always blame missing the perfect light. You can buy a new Tachihara or equivalent for under $700 - it's probably the way to go. But beware - I look at my large format gear and see $$$$$ lying in a comparatively compact bag that produces very few images. OTOH, they are the images that soothe my soul! It's a slippery slope.

steve simmons
2-Aug-2004, 07:44
Here are some books that might be helpful

User's Guide to the View Camera by Jim Stone

Large Format Nature Photography by Jack Dykinga

Using the View Camera that I wrote

Here is a web site with several free articles


Take your time and consider what features are important to you (weight, bellows length, etc before you buy a camera. The press type cameras are cheap and readily available but some people find them very limiting.

If you have any questions post them here or send them to me directly.

steve simmons

publisher, View Camera magazine


Alan Davenport
2-Aug-2004, 07:59
They're all "view" cameras, IMO. (That's a term that isn't really well defined.) What you're really asking is field vs. studio, where "studio" cameras are monorail types.

As for getting the photos, either will do equally well. Equally. The tradeoff is that you give up some movements in exchange for smaller size and lighter weight. However, the movements you lose (with a field camera) are seldom a problem. Many times you can duplicate a movement (such as shifts which are often missing on field cameras) by using other movements that end up the same (swings on both front and rear can give the same end point as a shift, though not as easily.) Also, the movements lost in going to a field camera are seldom needed for field photography. IOW, you probably won't miss them.

If you think like Mr. Weston did, (there is nothing photogenic that can't be seen from the car) then you might be happy with a monorail in the field. If not you'll want a field camera.

Frank Petronio
2-Aug-2004, 09:37
After years of using both, I've found that a good monorail is faster and easier to work with in the field than most folding field cameras. On average, a monorail is bulkier and heavier than a field camera, but in terms of actual use the monorail is a faster and easier camera to operate.

Monorail designs like the Toho, Gowland, and Arca-Swiss blur the line between field and view cameras - they are worth checking out - pay attention to Kerry Thalman's articles on this subject.


Scott Walton
2-Aug-2004, 10:35
If your doing only field work, a field camera is the way to go. If your needing/wanting to do correctives like straightening buildings, trees ect., look into a "technical" field camera. These have movements on the lens board and film plane. Just remember, the movements on a field camera are not as much as a monorail but in most cases they are plenty. Linhof's (what I have) have front and back movements as well as a few other manufacturers.

Harley Goldman
2-Aug-2004, 16:42
Since you are new to 4x5, I would suggest buying a relatively inexpensive used camera. Odds are, whatever camera you pick is not the camera you will want once you have shooting a while. I started with a wooden field camera, but now shoot with an Arca monorail when I am not far from the truck (up to a couple of miles) and a Toho monorail when I am backpacking. I prefer the way a monorail camera functions compared to a field camera, but that is strictly a matter of personal taste. Maybe a used Tachihara or Shen Hao (wooden field) would be a great way to start. Or a used Toho.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
5-Aug-2004, 06:54
I have been using a monorail to learn on and I find the controls to be wonderful, especially with my large hands. I worry about tinkering with tiny controls on field cameras. It seems to me that technical cameras like Wista VX would be easier for me to use than a wooden field camera. Would that be a correct assessment?

Heather Johnson
12-May-2011, 14:24
I want to purchase a large format 8 x 10 camera to create intimate photographs of people in southern landscapes. I want to blow them up at the minimum size of 30 x 40. I am planning to take one of the santa fe workshops use the camera and I have the jim stone book to the view camera. I want the deardorff camera. I have a question though- Can you use it the 8x10 view camera in a commercial setting and do some creative lighting work with these cameras also???? Thanks:)

Lachlan 717
12-May-2011, 14:31
For me, it's this simple:

It's easier to take a Field camera in to a studio than to take a Studio camera into the field.

And don't be fooled by those advertising photos showing cameras with massive swings and tilts; most portrait and landscape work requires small movements, not huge ones.

12-May-2011, 17:02
Yes you can use a Deardorff in the studio, in fact some of the finest studio photographers used Deadorffs, Irvin Penn and Avedon to name but two, what you do with the light has no relervance what so ever to the choice of camera, having both a Deardorff and a Sinar P2 I would say that for portraits and straightforward stuff the Deardorff is all that you will need, it is also a lot easier to use and carry around . you might find the work of Laura Mcphee worth looking at, she as I understand it also works with a Deardorff


12-May-2011, 17:54
30x40" print may need a 4x5 camera on tripod with very careful ground glass focusing. A view camera will suit your need. If it is for landscape shooting, Sinar P or F2 is a good choice. I think you may find a cheap F2 at xbay easily. Choices of lens are many. No need to use new or expensive one. There are many used Super Angulon available. 90mm is a good start.

12-May-2011, 18:45
Something like a Crown or Speed Graphic would be an inexpensive choice to get your feet wet doing LF shooting. Large format takes some getting used to, and I think that you will need some practice to get your techniques right. There is nothing to stop you from loading the film backwards, double exposing, or missing exposures, etc., etc. It's happened to all of us more experienced shooters! Still does in fact!

13-May-2011, 10:24
I want to purchase a large format 8 x 10 camera to create intimate photographs of people in southern landscapes. I want to blow them up at the minimum size of 30 x 40. I am planning to take one of the santa fe workshops use the camera and I have the jim stone book to the view camera. I want the deardorff camera. I have a question though- Can you use it the 8x10 view camera in a commercial setting and do some creative lighting work with these cameras also???? Thanks:)

Yes. But it is not the only option.

Rick "also noting that dealing with 8x10 film is more challenging than choosing the camera" Denney

13-May-2011, 10:32
Nowadays they are "two for a penny" so get both!