View Full Version : What next? (4x5)

7-Jun-2015, 17:29
I started my large format photography journey about two and half years ago by buying a Penta 45F (Wista 45 clone) from Ebay. For my first lens I bought a Super Angulon 90/8.
Now, 2 years later I think I have gotten a bit more serious about LF. I'm still a beginner though, having exposed less than 30 sheets.

My main interest in 4x5 is color landscape photography. That's what makes me pack my gear and hop in my car. I do hope though that in the future I could go further away from a parking lot but due to my current equipment that hasn't been really possible. My equipment consists of the camera, spotmeter, two 2x sheet holders, 90mm SA 90/8 and a heavy tripod which is apparently Gitzo s.5 Tele Studex and which I got for free.

The experience I have had thus far of LF photography is that it's fun and at times frustrating. Fun, because many of my photos have turned out good. Frustrating, because my tripod is so heavy and because the camera is slowly falling apart and knobs for movements etc. aren't sturdy enough. Every time I set up my camera it's a bit hassle and I wonder if something will break this time. It's a cheap clone camera after all :cool: Other than that it has served me well, even if using 90mm lens with it doesn't seem like it was meant to be and the camera doesn't have anything to hold a black cloth nor does it have a too bright ground glass (though that might have something to do with f.8 lens as well).

Now then, I'm wondering which steps to take next. I have been thinking about saving money to buy a new 4x5 camera, possibly a Chamonix? My current camera is still in one piece (relatively speaking, at least no light leaks) but I think I'll need to replace it sooner or later. I'm also wondering if my current tripod is a bit overkill and if I could find some smaller and lighter tripod which then in turn might encourage me to take more photos when the set up wouldn't take as much time and tripod be as clumsy as it is now.

So, is Chamonix something someone who has gotten used to working with Wista 45 like controls might appreciate and more importantly, should I first rather buy one more sheet holder and a more lightweight tripod? These are all questions related to what one sees as important, but even then I'd like to have your insight and views on this.

Many thanks!

7-Jun-2015, 18:26
I'd suggest more sheet holders. I go out with 4-6 holders and have another 6 nearby for backup if needed. Wasting film doesn't pay off except to Kodak, but shooting more on outings on account of education and opportunity will make you learn/improve faster. You can get holders for $0-10 each.

For a modest 4x5 camera, you can have a much lighter for a tripod. If it's not salty/corrosive where you are, a tiltall is an underrated and historically proven tripod of good value. I woudn't recommend other tripods in it's size+cost class. Other good smaller tripods are going to be expensive OR flimsy. A ries junior or J series is a bigger tripod that's still affordable used. A good tripod will last as you change cameras and needs change. I am using a Ries Junior right now for 4x5 as I shoot mostly at the ocean and my tiltall of 20+ years got corroded and seized up.

It seems if you have any mechanical ability, the current camera could be made tighter; I'm not familiar with it.

I use a speed graphic which does not have a bright groundglass, nor a place to clip a darkcloth (I use my shirt or jacket) nor a level or fancy knobs. I am happy with it. The simplicity makes it fast to setup and use. Other people want other abilities and it would not suit everyone. Something need not be sturdy to hold a 90/8. I'd upgrade cameras last.

Alan Gales
7-Jun-2015, 18:29
I have never handled one but the consensus on the forum is that Chamonix is both lightweight and very sturdy. I think you will really like one. Pair it with a lightweight but sturdy carbon fiber tripod and you should be very happy. Just start saving your coin.

It's nice to own a minimum of 5 film holders so you can load up a box of 10 sheets of film.

Welcome to the forum!

7-Jun-2015, 18:50
Seeing as you shoot infrequently, and you have a decent camera already, you might consider putting your money into film and small gear upgrades, such as several more film holders, a second lens or a new, brighter ground glass, for example.
A lighter, but stable and well-designed tripod, makes a big difference in how long you spend outdoors shooting; the latest CF tripod offerings are mostly of good to very good quality, and many can be had for under $400.
Cameras and lenses usually go in a pack, easier to transport, but the tripod is usually carried by hand, or over one's shoulder. After a couple of hours, a heavy tripod feels much heavier than your backpack.

7-Jun-2015, 19:46
+ 1 on a carbon fiber tripod... a heavy tripod is often tougher to bear as it doesn't usually carry well with axial weight distribution in a backpack. also more film holders. If you are interested in color, a lee filter kit with a couple of grad filters, nd filter, and polarizer are perhaps the next piece of equipment category that you didn;t mention you carry. that can set you back a couple of hundred bucks. Sounds like you are frustrated with the gears on your camera...maybe you could get a local repair shop to look at it.

John Kasaian
7-Jun-2015, 21:22
Definitely more film holders or better yet, Grafmatics.
If your camera is "falling apart" does that mean you can't lock down your movements to keep the camera rigid when you're shooting? That might warrant switching ponies, or at the very least some repairs. There are plenty of people here who can recommend light weight tripods.

When I was putting together my kit, once a year I'd treat myself to a modest upgrade of some sort---a better loop or tripod, some film holders or a coupe of top of the line cable releases, some filters...a longer lens...you get the idea. After a half dozen years I had assembled a system I really enjoy working with but without straining my budget too much.

Doremus Scudder
8-Jun-2015, 08:13
This might get a bit long, so I apologize in advance...

I have focused most, if not all of my gear-acquisition on putting together an affordable, very lightweight kit. I think my experiences will help you.

First of all, you need to find a camera/tripod combination that is lightweight but remains sturdy. Many seem to think that a tripod needs to weigh a ton to keep a camera steady. That's just not the case; a camera only needs to be still while exposing, not anchored to something. With the exception of windy conditions, a lightweight tripod will work just fine for most applications as long as it supports the camera without collapsing, and locks down securely. Lighter cameras that weigh in under four or five pounds, like the Chamonix you mention as well as the Wista DX, Woodman, Shen Hao PTB and many others, do fine on a smaller tripod.

I mainly use a Manfrotto 3205 tripod with a 3052 head (now called "junior" for some reason; it's a 3-way pan/tilt head, but with knobs instead of long handles) together with a Wista DX or other lightweight camera. The tripod extends to 58 inches and weighs under six pounds with the head. A carbon-fiber tripod in the same size would be considerably lighter. The camera weighs in at 3.4 pounds, so the whole set-up is right at nine pounds. My Woodman camera weighs even less, as do the Chamonix and the Shen Hao PTB. These cameras are smaller than many so they pack more easily. It's surprising how many heavy, bulky wooden folding cameras there are out there, so look at dimensions and weight when choosing.

The main thing is to put together a small and light enough kit, as well as a carrying system, that allows everything to be easily packed longer distances and over rougher terrain. I carry my kit in a combination of lumbar pack (camera with lens mounted, three other lenses, filters and doo-dads), fly-fishing vest (meter, viewing filter, lens hood/filter holder, flashlight, cleaning stuff, etc., etc.) and a small over-the-shoulder pouch (6-7 filmholders, one more lens and exposure record). I carry the tripod in a free hand usually, but it straps onto the back of the lumbar pack easily (along with the darkcloth) so I can use my hands when climbing/scrambling. I've had this kit in real rough terrain and it performs very well.

Lightweight and small lenses help as well in cutting down weight, bulk and the need for larger filters, etc., all of which add weight and size to your kit. Check out Kerry Thalmann's website about smaller lenses. Personally, I carry a 90mm f/8 Super Angulon, a 135mm plasmat (all the brands are fairly small in this length), a 203mm f/7.7 Ektar (small and sharp, one of my favorites), a Fujinon A 240mm and a 300mm f/9 Nikkor M. I'll add a 75mm lens or the Fujinon A 180mm from time to time when needed. All these lenses together, plus the camera weigh less than a three-lens MF kit.

Some general observations, in no particular order:

I like my Wista DX for the back country and hiking because it folds up with a smaller lens mounted (I can even fold it up with the Fuji A 240mm mounted), thus saving space.

A lightweight tripod can be made more stable by weighting it. I always hang my filmholder pouch from the center-column lock knob when setting up. When it gets windy, I break out a backpackers nylon water "bucket" (really a pouch with handles), fill it with rocks, and hang it on the center column.

I like a lumbar pack that has a supplementary shoulder strap. When I set up, I unbuckle the hip belt and let the bag hang at my side, just like a "camera bag"! It never has to touch the ground and is easy to work out of this way. Plus, I can stand in knee-deep water and not get my gear wet except for the tripod legs.

The combination of lumbar pack, filmholder pouch and vest or pockets allows me to distribute the weight of the kit so it is all much closer to my body and therefore easier to carry and balance with.

Lightweight lenses usually have smaller maximum apertures. A good viewing screen will help. I like my Wista Fresnel screen since I don't even have to use a darkcloth with longer lenses on sunny days. That said, I use a Woodman in Europe with a standard ground glass together with a lot of f/9 lenses and have no problem; you just need a good dark cloth and let your eyes adjust a bit if the ambient light is really bright.

I have step-up rings on all my lenses so I can use either 52mm or 67mm filters. In a pinch, I can just carry 67mm filters and use a 52-67mm step-up ring. I carry six or seven filters usually, in a wallet-type pouch (yellow, orange, red, green, 80B or 44A, and a polarizer).

To save space but still protect everything, I've cobbled together boxes for my camera and lenses out of very stiff corrugated cardboard and duct tape (or the like). I also have a plastic ground-glass protector for all my cameras; nice to have when you smack your pack on a rock screeing down a slippery slope or clambering through a narrow canyon.

Filmholders are fairly cheap. I have a cooler full of loaded holders that lives in my car/camp/house so I can change out exposed for unexposed easily. I work slowly and selectively, and rarely shoot an entire six filmholders in one day.

A picture of my kit "in action" on the Oregon coast is on my website here: http://doremusscudder.com/?m=9&s=40 . You can see the Wista DX with a 300mm Nikkor M on a top-hat lensboard mounted on the above-mentioned tripod and head. The film pouch is hung on the center-column lock knob and my favorite lumbar pack is at my side. I'm metering with a Pentax spot meter that is tethered to the fishing vest I'm wearing so if I drop it, it won't hit the ground.

Okay, that's about it. Hope it helped somewhat.



8-Jun-2015, 10:31
Many thanks, especially to you Doremus for sharing your workflow (and work - your landscape photography is truly inspiring) and to everyone giving your insight! It's very valuable for me.

I decided to act without too much hesitation, since summer is short in Finland and I hope to make most of it. From what I read in your replies I came to a conclusion that at the moment I would be best served by buying 1) lighter and faster to use tripod and 2) more sheet holders. I did some further reading and concluded that buying a Leica Tilt-All would be a good idea and luckily I was able to find one in good condition on Ebay. As for sheet holders, I decided to try Grafmatics and bought one that according to the seller is in good condition including septums.

Things to buy saved for a later moment include filters (I have been thinking about Cokin P-series) and a Chamonix for which I'll have to save money. My Penta 45F is a decent camera as someone mentioned and I'm able to make photos with it. It is sturdy enough and I can lock movements. At the same time, however, it feels a bit flimsy. When I open the camera and pull the front on the rails it might wobble and shooting with a 90mm lens doesn't help since the front doesn't get that far on the rails making it a bit more likely to fall back. Movements are stiff (front rise requires force to push it up). It's a (bad) combination of stiffness and flimsiness... Thus something a bit more finished and polished is something I'd like to have after this guerilla-camera. :)

8-Jun-2015, 10:37
My Penta 45F is a decent camera as someone mentioned and I'm able to make photos with it. It is sturdy enough and I can lock movements. At the same time, however, it feels a bit flimsy. When I open the camera and pull the front on the rails it might wobble and shooting with a 90mm lens doesn't help since the front doesn't get that far on the rails making it a bit more likely to fall back. Movements are stiff (front rise requires force to push it up). It's a (bad) combination of stiffness and flimsiness... Thus something a bit more finished and polished is something I'd like to have after this guerilla-camera. :)

You could opt for a real Wista next time; the 45N is the basic model, it is very robust, sturdy and precise; very well-made.
I owned an RF for a time and I really liked it; I could shoot architecture, portraits and urban landscapes with it, and it was easy to carry around.

21-Jul-2015, 16:42
An update month later: I received my Grafmatic, Tilt-All and also bought a Fuji 135mm --- and I love them all! I'm expecting to receive my first sheets of Provia exposed with this equipment from the lab on Thursday so I'm really excited to see the results. It was especially liberating to see how easy it is to compose with the bright image Fuji's 5.6 gives. Using Penta feels now also more comfortable, I'm beginning to think there is no reason to upgrade my camera in the near future :)

21-Jul-2015, 18:32
... I'm beginning to think there is no reason to upgrade my camera in the near future :)

Don't worry, that feeling will pass :rolleyes:

21-Jul-2015, 18:40
Don't worry, that feeling will pass :rolleyes:

That's right, you'll never pass GAS.

22-Jul-2015, 10:29
That's right, you'll never pass GAS.

Well, yeah... I was kind of speaking about rational choices, not about this inevitable force of nature which pulls us like gravity no matter what... ;)

27-Jul-2015, 19:52
I like the tent spike idea. The rock in the bag seems to work also. I would just have the bag touching the ground. I rarely do photography in the wind. All you have to do is try to nudge the weighted tripod it does not move. About a year ago I bought the very long set of spikes for my gitzo cf tripod, and I have not been weighing the tripod much since that purchase. Now to find a good light-weight spike.

2-Aug-2015, 05:03
I have had several 4x5 cameras and by far my Chamonix 45 F2 is my favorite. Sturdy and very easy to work with. I bought mine used here on this forum and it was "like new". I have had several tripods as well and finally bought a Giotto CF that works for my LF, MF and digital cameras. I agree you would probably want at least 4-5 film holders.