View Full Version : Recommendations on a good first 4x5 camera

15-Apr-2016, 00:40
Recently i have been looking into large format photography and it has lead me to the conclusion that it is definitely something i want to take up and as such i am in need of a camera. In terms of price cheaper is better as long as it still does everything i need it to. Like a lot of the other postings on here with this topic im not sure whether i want to be looking for a field camera or a monorail. I'm leaning towards a monorail mostly because i would very much like the ability to use very wide angle lenses while making use of bag bellows and i haven't seen many field cameras that fit that bill. Obviously the downside is transporting a monorail is not quite as easy especially over longer hikes. I have been looking at something like a Sinar F1 partly because of the giant list of possible accessories available and there is someone selling one locally for 500$(CAD) that includes a bag bellows and an aluminium case as well as some other bits and pieces like film holders.

So my question is do i really want a monorail and if so what are some good options that are still relatively transportable, is the F1 one of those options, or if a field camera might be better for my purposes what a good option for that would be given i want to be able to use an ultra wide angle lens?

Mick Fagan
15-Apr-2016, 03:22
Depends upon on how wide you wish to go, but my Shen Hao HZX45-IIA 4x5 wooden folding field camera, can and does take a 65mm lens using the standard bellows, with one caveat, I use a recessed lens board. I know of a few people running 65mm lens on their 4x5" wooden folders and have personally seen two of them, one using a bag bellows, the other the same as myself using a recessed board and standard bellows.


I can use the 65mm lens mounted onto a flat lens board, but I then use my bag bellows. I tried it once, purely just to see if it was dooable.

Attached is a picture of a 15mm recessed lens board for the Shen Hao, which is pretty much what my 65mm lens is attached too. I do have a bag bellows, which I carry and do use sometimes, it can be transported flat, which is how they leave the factory, plus it can be placed on the camera in about 1-2 minutes very easily.

I do have a monorail camera (three actually) I have taken some of them into the field for the hell of it, but they are reasonably bulky and within reason most of what you wish to do can be achieved with a wooden folder. That said, a good monorail is a joy to use.



Nodda Duma
15-Apr-2016, 03:52
My first dive into large format was last year with a 4x5 Seneca No. 2 for doing dry plate photography.

It's old, it's ugly, has limited motion, and widest aperture is only f/11.

But it has it where it counts:

It was a minimal investment ($20 on eBay), simple to use, the bellows are light tight, the shutter is dead-nuts on, optics are clean, and it came with plate holders and film adapters so I could get up and running quickly without scrambling for missing stuff. Which is everything a camera needs to do to let me take great photos.

So as you look just keep in mind what's important for a camera to do its job.

Don Dudenbostel
15-Apr-2016, 05:41
Here's something to consider. If you're going to use a very wide lens like a 58mm or 47mm Super Angulon XL or even a 65mm Super Angulon, Nikkor SW or Grandagon you won't have much movement capability with any camera due to the limited size of the image circle. The 47 and 58 will only allow a few mm of movement at best. The 65 slightly more but in reality that amount of limited movement isn't of much value.

With a 75 you can get a usable amount of movement but still limited.

Look at the Anba Ikeda and Nagaoka. Very nice little light weight cameras and nicely made. You most likely will be limited to the standard bellows. I can't remember if they interchange but keep in mind with extreme wides you won't have much usable movement anyway.

From experience the value of a wide angle bellows is with a 75 / 72 at minimum and more so with a 90 or 120 / 125.

Jim Jones
15-Apr-2016, 05:51
My Anba Ikeda wasn't really cheap, but otherwise a similar camera might fit your requirements. It accepts a 65mm lens on a flat Linhof style lensboard and extends to about 13 inches. It is also one of the lightest available 4x5 cameras. The bellows is not interchangeable. It, and the similar Nagaoka and Tachihara, were available in several variations with different specifications. Unless you use long or heavy lenses, this class of camera seems more satisfactory than the monorail that some people carry when far afield. .

Don Dudenbostel
15-Apr-2016, 05:53
Not trying to shift your interest from 4x5 but if I wanted an ultra wide camera that's great to bile with and easy to use I'd get a Plaubel pro shift SW69. It's 6x9 on 120 roll film and has rise capability and a great 47mm Super Angulon f5.6. They're quite a bit more expensive is the downside.

I have a Brooks Veriwide with a 47 and roll backs and reay enjoy using it and it's a great size and weight.

Tim Meisburger
15-Apr-2016, 06:39
When buying their first camera I believe that for most people the best choice is a field camera. It doesn't do some things as well as a specialist camera, but it will do most things pretty well. So, if you are sure you want to work in a studio, or do commercial architecture, then a monorail could be a good choice. But just remember it is a specialist camera, not a generalist. The same can be said for specialist press cameras. yes they are 4x5, but they really only shine handheld, and do other things less well or as easy as a field camera.

My two cents, for what its worth...

15-Apr-2016, 07:24
I have a couple of Cambos, one set up as a wide angle camera. They're dirt cheap, have all the movements and accessories that you would want available, and are a lot cheaper than a Sinar. That said, they never leave the shop. I had initially thought I wanted a Sinar, but on the most common model the front standard rail mount is plastic and often broken, and I soon realized that sellers didn't know or wouldn't tell if theirs was broken, so I decided I'd look for something else.

Carrying a monorail camera is a pain. It's one of those things where you think there'd be a good way, but there isn't quite. For the road, I have an old wooden folding view camera. It's fine and with a recessed board will take W/A lenses. You don't get much in the way of movements with it--a little front rise, a little back swing--but that's enough for me.

As people are already saying, there are a lot of nice flatbed cameras out there that would do what you want. Their main shortcoming is really long lenses, but that doesn't sound like something you want, anyway.

15-Apr-2016, 07:35
The Chamonix 45F1 is another option that allows movements with the 65mm on a flat lensboard and it's universal bellows.I don't know the widest lens it's possible to use since the 65 is the widest I've got. To me monorails are heavy and cumbersome taking to much pleasure out of the shooting when out in the field.

Peter De Smidt
15-Apr-2016, 07:39
I agree with Michael. The Sinar system is terrific, but the entry F has a number of weaknesses. Other brands will give you a better camera for the same or less money. Toyo, Cambo, Horseman, ..., are worth checking out.

One thing to note, while many people love super wides with 35mm or digital, they often don't go as wide with 4x5". For instance, with 35mm I used my 20mm a lot, but in 4x5 my widest lens is 90mm. That's just an observation, and of course their are exceptions. You might start with a 75mm or a 90mm, lenses which are fairly inexpensive with a little looking, and they're easier to use. If after some experience you desire something wider, you can always add another lens.

15-Apr-2016, 07:55
I started with a Sinar F monorail. Then I bought a Nagaoka (japanese wood folding 4x5). I use the Nagaoka for 90% of my 4x5 photos. A wooden folding field 4x5 is really the best "all arounder" for most people - lightweight, small size, functional, flexible. Most work great with lenses from 75 to 300mm, or say 90 to 210mm if you want movements at each end.

The Sinar is a pleasure to use, for sure. But what I didn't understand when starting large format is that a little movement goes a long way. You'll see these pictures of monorails with snake-like movements set up - but no one uses that in real life. The Sinar has way more movements than the Nagaoka but I never used them! And it weighs 3x as much as the Nagaoka and takes up 5x as much space. So, it stays at home where I use it for portraits.

Like others have said, once you're much wider than 75mm you won't have a big enough image circle for significant movements. And, the lens will be so close to the ground glass that even if you had the image circle, you can't move the bellows or standards, even with a bag bellows. A recessed lens board will give you a little more flexibility if the standards or bellows are causing the issue.

A bag bellows is most useful for lenses in the 75 to 125mm range. Much wider, and you run out of image circle or the standards hit each other too much for movements. Much longer, and you might as well just use a normal bellows.

So, if you plan on mostly shooting with a 75mm and 90mm with bag bellows, and are SURE you need the extra movements, then a monorail is probably right for you. The lightest-weight and most compact monorail I have ever found is a Sinar A (a.k.a. Sinar Alpina). They have a different rail than the F with a much smaller and lighter rail clamp. They usually came in a lightweight plastic carrying case, as shown in this image (https://img0.etsystatic.com/100/0/8983865/il_570xN.830025384_7zar.jpg). There is one on eBay right now for $280, with a bag bellows, no case. They are fairly hard to come by but are good cameras and are fully compatible with the Sinar system (except the rails which are exclusive to A/alpina models). They also don't have the primary weakness of the F/F1/F+ which is the front standard clamp (fixed on the F2).

But if you want the most portable all-arounder, get a folding wood field camera. Tachihara, Ikeda Anbo, Nagaoka, Hasemi, Toko are some of the many Japanese brands. Good cameras, lightweight. Like a lot of 4x5's the early ones tended to have fewer movements than the later ones. Take a look at the standards and see what you are getting. For example, this Nagaoka (http://www.ebay.com/itm/172162088508) has front swing, while this older model (http://www.ebay.com/itm/281956736941) does not. Note the difference in knobs on the front standard. Likewise, this model (http://www.ebay.com/itm/162016716386) has a fixed rear standard, unlike the other two.

Wista, Zone VI, Wisner, are very good as well. Shen Hao and Chamonix are new Chinese-made. And Ebony for new Japanese-made. And rarely, you will see a Deardorff 4x5 a.k.a. Deardorff Special.

Peter De Smidt
15-Apr-2016, 08:00
A Toho FC45x is way lighter and more compact than a Sinar A1 (Alpina). The A1 is a good camera, but the rail is bulky to pack. It's a better camera, imo, than an F.

15-Apr-2016, 08:02
Oh interesting, haven't run into that one. It looks pretty neat though, cool rail: http://www.thalmann.com/largeformat/toho.htm

Peter De Smidt
15-Apr-2016, 08:16
I owned one for a few years. It can't be beat for multi-day backpacking. That said, it's not as easy to use as a regular monorail. It's quite fiddly. I don't recommend it as a first LF camera, unless the main goal is light weight.

15-Apr-2016, 08:22
The camera you can afford is the best place to start, keep in mind the cost of film and accessories, too, when budgeting.
There's also no better way to find out what you want/need in a 4x5 camera than by using a 4x5 camera (any one will do), and playing with it.

Kyle M.
15-Apr-2016, 08:27
I started my foray into large format with a pacemaker crown graphic and a Schneider Xenar 135mm F=4.7 lens. I was lucky enough to find a near mint one with a warranty on ebay. The lens is calibrated to the rangefinder so I can shoot it hand held if I feel the need. But I've only actually done that twice, with great results by the way. Yes it is lacking in movements but thats fine for my shooting style, the lens also doesn't have much coverage for movements. For what I paid for it ($400) you could get a nice monorail, lens, and holders. But for what I do the Crown Graphic suits me. I later acquired an Arca Swiss monorail and hardly use it, it's light for a monorail but it's just too awkward to take into the field if I'm going very far from the car. I find that the Crown Graphic is by far and away. It all depends on what you want to do with the camera. Also LF can be addictive at this point I have three 4x5 cameras with a fourth on the way in the mail and five lenses with a sixth on the way and I've only been shooting LF since late November.

Len Middleton
15-Apr-2016, 08:58
Sorry I cannot see your location (Tapatalk, or not posted?), however you do indicate CAD in your pricing, so welcome to another Canadian here, as there are a few of us.

If you have never done LF photography, you might want to try to arrange an outing with someone else doing LF work. That way you can get a feel for it, have someone to ask questions and get advice, even though they are likely extremely opinionated. Besides another LF photographer is likely happy to have someone to talk to about one of their favourite pastimes and providing services as a Sherpa are generally welcomed...

Might help you make a better first decision on what LF camera to get. I say first decision, as while my first LF camera (Technika IV) was generally a good decision, it had a limitation that I resolved with later purchases (Karden monorail to supplement then Technika V to replace it). If you buy used, making changes are less painful.

Hopefully that helps,


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

15-Apr-2016, 09:26
LF is a completely different ball game compared to 35mm and/or medium format, and your past experience will not have prepared you for the many things that need to be done before the first click of the shutter. Even viewing the image on the ground glass will take some practice. Len makes a good suggestion, and it would give you a feel for LF before buying an expensive camera, lens and associated paraphernalia.
Field vs. monorail - there are compelling reasons for both. And many of us have several cameras of both types :)


15-Apr-2016, 11:20
Thank you everyone for all the replies, reading what many of you are saying im starting to lean towards a field camera though the Sinar A and Toho FC45x also look like good choices of the field cameras i am looking at the Shen Hao HZX45-IIA, Nagaoka, Tachihara, and Anba Ikeda. Much of my decision will be based on what i can find for a decent price used as i am not rich and don't want to be spending money if i don't have to. Other than the cameras listed what might some other ones be to keep an eye out for and do any of those cameras have major drawbacks such as hard to find lens boards or stuff like that which may not be totally apparent at first.

15-Apr-2016, 11:32
I can tell you 1 of the things I like about my Wista is that it takes Linhof-Technika lens boards. They are plentiful, and the Chinese clones are cheap on the big auction site. I imagine some of the other brands you are looking at also use these boards, but I haven't done any research so I can't speak to that.

Tin Can
15-Apr-2016, 11:40
First 4x5, make sure it has light tight bellows as few first timers want to replace a bellows.

I don't recommend a $500 CAD Sinar F1 for anybody.

Whatever you buy will be not what you want in under 2 years. You will buy a different camera and lens.

So buy cheap, but with good bellows, and a cheap lens with good working shutter. Best deals are camera with one lens.

Shop here on this forum when you become able to.

Window shop on eBay for 30 days.

Len Middleton
15-Apr-2016, 11:46
Good idea to post your location, as there are some members in BC, and a few in Vancouver.

Certainly you can start to make a list of all the bis you will need for the kit to photography what you want in the way you want, and start to acquire it all.

A less expensive route would be to purchase someone's kit who is moving out of LF, as that would be much less expensive. Might not have everything you will want, but cover a lot of what you need, and you will need a lot...

15-Apr-2016, 11:53
Most brands of Japanese and Chinese field cameras take the Linhof-Technika style lens boards - e.g. Nagaoka, Ikeda Anba, Tachihara, ShenHao, Wista, and Ebony 4x5's.

Deardorf, Wisner, and Zone VI 4x5's typically take 4x4" lens boards that are bigger.

If you are patient and don't mind not-perfect condition or a "name brand", you can find a wood folding camera for under $500. But monorails are always going to be cheaper due to the weight and non-hipster appeal vs. a wood camera.

I'd stay away from stuff like this (http://www.ebay.com/itm/172164056900) that needs repairs, takes non-standard film holders and lens boards.

Kyle M.
15-Apr-2016, 14:09
I will second anything that takes Linhof-Technika style boards. My Arca Swiss monorail has a Technika adapter board on it and I can get Shen Hao Technika style boards for about $20 a piece on ebay.

15-Apr-2016, 16:29
To help you, and anyone else looking for a comparison between a field camera and a monorail camera:

The Wista 45D metal field camera weighs 2,907 grams, and measures 205 x 180 x 105 mm.
The Toyo D45M with 6" rail, Technika lens board adapter and focusing hood, weighs 3,529 grams and measures 310 x 225 x 190 mm.
Though I don't have a photo, the Sinar F1 with Technika adapter and 12" rail weighs 3,137 grams and measures 325 x 190 x 180 mm.

I carry both the Wista and the Toyo outdoors, depending on the lenses I carry. With the Toyo, I carry a 12" rail separately, which adds 350 grams. Photography with long and wide lenses is far easier with the Toyo, which has geared rise/fall and shift, and geared focusing over the entire rail. The Wista is great for general landscape. Closeups are more difficult with field cameras due to the front focusing, which means you have to constantly move the tripod in small increments to get the right framing. This gets tiring after a few times. Both the Wista and the Toyo are fully metal, tough cameras and can be carried in a backpack without protection.

If you intend shooting wide angle, I will caution you against the Sinar Alpins/A1. The rail is fixed, and sticks into your throat when you use a loupe. It was meant as a beginner camera for studio use where longer lenses would be normally used.


Peter De Smidt
15-Apr-2016, 16:40
The Sinar A1/Alpina had an accessory 6" rail. It could be added to the main rail, or it could be used by itself with wide angle lenses.

Alan Gales
15-Apr-2016, 16:47
I'd recommend a monorail for your first camera. It will have all the movements and is very straight forward to use so great to learn on. Look for a very inexpensive Cambo/Calumet or Toyo camera preferably with a 210mm f/5.6 lens to start. You can add a wide angle and bag bellows later after you learn what you are doing. First you need to decide if you even like large format.

Later if you decide that you want a field camera then keep the monorail for portraits or architecture. If you find that you don't use movements all that much then you may want a Crown Graphic over a field camera.

Don't sweat it. Like Randy says, you will probably change your mind on what camera you like later. You will do the same with lenses. Just dive in and have fun!

15-Apr-2016, 16:56
Thanks for pointing that out. I didn't know about the 6" rail for the Alpina. A friend had one, and he constantly complained about it. He solved it by buying an F2 :)


15-Apr-2016, 17:35
The Wista 45D metal field camera weighs 2,907 grams, and measures 205 x 180 x 105 mm.
The Toyo D45M with 6" rail, Technika lens board adapter and focusing hood, weighs 3,529 grams and measures 310 x 225 x 190 mm.
Though I don't have a photo, the Sinar F1 with Technika adapter and 12" rail weighs 3,137 grams and measures 325 x 190 x 180 mm.

Compare those to a wood Nagoka 4x5. Weighs 1180g, measures 200 x 175 x 65 mm.

15-Apr-2016, 18:32
Yes, of course wooden cameras are smaller and lighter. If I had one, I would have measured and taken a photo of it as well. Each camera type has its pros and cons, and everyone needs to figure out what works best for them. Which is why spending a lot of money in the beginning is a bad idea.


16-Apr-2016, 14:18
Thank you everyone for the input, now it's just a matter of watching ebay for something to come up, i think i will go with one of the Japanese field cameras assuming a reasonably priced one shows up at some point.

24-Apr-2016, 14:49
Does anyone have any thoughts on Wista 4x5 field cameras, there seem to be quite a few out on the used market for decent prices, are they good cameras do they have any major shortcomings?

24-Apr-2016, 17:18
My 1st and only LF is a Wista 45DX. I can't offer a comparison to other cameras, but it is a well-made & designed camera. The only thing that would improve it is a central pivot point on the tilt — but that's not something found on many, if any, field cameras.

FWIW, I paid ~500 USD for a cherrywood model (http://mercury-photo.com/portfolio/okie-x/). Haven't seen any for quite that low a price since then, but maybe you'll get lucky!

28-Apr-2016, 16:14
I am looking for a sinar F1 camera, is it good choice for the first 4x5 ?

28-Apr-2016, 16:35
I'd get an F2 over an F1. Much better build quality. The last two I bought on this forum ran under $400 with lens boards and two bellows. L

Peter De Smidt
28-Apr-2016, 16:39
Luis is right. Get an F2.

28-Apr-2016, 16:47
If you're going to shoot in studio, or not too far from the car, or if you're young and strong, I have a C2 listed with all kinds of goodies included...


29-Apr-2016, 12:14
I've used a Horseman LE in the field a number of times but it is heavy, 9LBS sans lens I think. It is a great camera, geared movements, interchangeable bellows, built like a tank, it can be taken down to a compact state but the more you take it down the more you have to put together when you use it. I bought some luggage to take it in the field with but I broke down and bought a Shen-Hao HZX-45 IIA, just got tired of lugging the heavy Horseman around.