View Full Version : Canham v. Wisner

Laura Lea Nalle
20-Apr-2005, 14:07
Ok, so I posted a question about Wisner Pocket Expedition and the Flight because I couldn't decide which one. I have read through all the archives about Wisner, and there seems to be some debate about his business practices but *general* consensus that his cameras are really great. I think that I would end up with the Flight if I did go with Wisner.

What I didn't mention in my first post for the sake of simplicity, is that I've also been considering the Canham 4x5/5x7. I keep thinking I have my mind made up on the Flight, then I look at the Canham again and love it, and keep going back and forth- which is typical of me until I totally have my mind made up; I like to think it's a thoughtful and thoroughly researched purchase, not simply being indecisive- after all, a photographer's equipment is very important and becomes an extension of him or herself. (I'm a philosophy grad student, ok, I can't help but consider all the sides of a situation and see each for their own benefits and drawbacks- and this process takes time!)

In either case, what I love about the Flight is it's light weight, compact size, simplicity of use, capability of wide angle, and length of bellows for longer focal lengths. What I'm not thrilled about is that it may seem a little on the flimsy side and also the prospect of having trouble with RW, as it seems so many people have. I like to deal with honest, good people, and feel good about who I'm giving that much money to. He told me it would take 6-8 weeks to get a Flight. I can live with that, I suppose, if that's all it takes and I don't have to send it back for long turnover repairs.

What I love about the Canham (which I should mention I will use as a 4x5, not a 5x7, at least initially) is that KC seems to be a good, honest, respectable human being and camera maker, the ease of wide angle, the length of bellows, its sturdiness, and the ability to modify it to a 5x7 or 4x10 (though I'm not certain I would use these other formats for some time). What I don't love about the Canham, is its extra weight compared to the Flight (2.5 lbs. more- which doesn't seem like so much, but when you're backpacking and on long treks, EVERY ounce and cubic inch counts!), its bulkier dimensions for a 4x5 (about twice the cu. in. as the Flight), and it's extra cost (about $500 more). The weight and bulkier dimensions are looking like the biggest issues for me. On day hikes, this is not such a big deal, but when I'm backpacking, I'll also be carrying a tent, sleeping bag, water (depending on where I am), food, little stove, pots, plus the camera gear, etc. Space is precious and so is weight in these circumstances- and I don't *always* have a partner to share the load.

So, if any of you out there can relate to my predicament, and/or can advise on either or both of these cameras, please let me know. It's hard to quantify these different benefits and drawbacks when it comes down to practicle use. (Of course my back and my knees are screaming that it's easy and obvious!) I appreciate hearing from those who have more experience with large format, specifically experience backpacking and hiking with all your gear. I have greatly appreciated the feedback on my previous post and have taken your recommendations to heart.

Thanks again,

Juergen Sattler
20-Apr-2005, 14:31
I think you are comparing apples with oranges. If I understand you correctly you are looking at the 5x7 Canham and the 4x5 Wisner. Why do you think you need the 5x7? OK, it has longer bellows draw and yes, you could go to the bigger format if you wanted to, but why?

I own the DLC45 and am very happy with it - it is one of the lighter field cameras out there with (almost) the movements of a mono rail. The standard bellows will focus a 65mm lens at infinity - not much movements left then, but with a 65 on a 4x5 you won't get much movement anyway before you run out of coverage.

I don't know anything about the Wisners, other than the terrible business practices he displays again and again (just do a search on this site and on photo.net)

Also, I doubt that this will be your last LF camera purchase - I am on my 6th now - it takes a while until you find the one that fits you best - all the research won't give you that answer - only working with the camera in the field will.

Good Luck with whatever you decide.

Eric Biggerstaff
20-Apr-2005, 14:33

They are both great cameras but when you get into this class of product there are many options. I have used both (lucky to have friends who have each) and both are wonderful. Recently I decided to look at a new 4X5 and so I know the pain you are going through. For years I have used a Tachihara (great little 4X5) and a Zone VI ( which I really like). I went through all the web sites and like you asked for advice.

In the end, the best advise I got was from John Sexton who told me to ask photographers whose work I admire what cameras they like (he uses a Linhof by the way), and so that is what I did. I ended up sending several emails to people whose work I have long admired and they ended up giving me great ideas on what they look for in a camera. Many of the photographers I already knew but several were "out of the blue" emails. I got a reply from all and used their advice.

This probably doesn't help much, but the words are free so take it for what it is worth. You might want to drop a few people a line and find out what they really think about cameras.

By the way, in the end I decided on an Ebony SV45Ti, now I just need to come up with the cash!

Have a great day! :-)


William Blunt
20-Apr-2005, 14:35
I own and use both Wisner and Canham cameras . The 5x7 wood Canham and a 4x10 Wisner Tech. Both are great cameras and no complaints. You might want to consider the Canham metal 4x5 as it is l;ighter and compact. Keith Canham is great at service and really stands behind his products. I have never dealt directly with Ron Wisner so can't comment on that.
Wm Blunt

Robert Musgjerd
20-Apr-2005, 15:19
Go Canaham I have owned both in 8x10and 11x14 quite frankly the Canham is better built and his service is outstanding.
I have another Canham being built right now. You need to have good service with these types of cameras and I will put my
hard earned bucks with Canham
Good hunting

John Berry ( Roadkill )
20-Apr-2005, 15:22
I use a wisner 4X5 traditional. I wouldn't trade it for one of the lighter ones straight across. The extra weight is worth the stability. I use longer lenses and wouldn't want to give up any bellows length. ( no gripe with the bellows on the flight ) I haven't shot the flight so I don't know how stiff it is. If it turns out to be a little flimsy are you ready to accept a little blur in your negs? As a former Green Beret, I understand the urge to keep the weight down. I always carry more water than need, I don't like it but I do it. I used to hump 60# of 8X10 on the trails at Mt Ranier, I'm getting to old for that crap now. I will still do the 4x5 though. I don't carry the minimum, I load for the possible.The weight savings are nothing if it wont do the job. I saved weight elsewhere, I carry a fiji quickload and a couple of graphmatics. I can put more than one kind of film in the box to save space. I only take the 90-135-&300 lenses with me. Saving weight does me no good when I hump all that crap for 6 hrs and don't have the proper tool when I get there. Sometime we just have to buck-up and do the drudge. We go the extra effort to get the extra results. If weight was all I cared about I would only carry the rolli 35s. It's nice to have that shot on the wall and set back and say "yeh, it was worth it." Whether your Pack is 40# or 60# it will still feel the same 100# 4 hrs in. Tell me I'm lyin. LOL Remember, satisfaction is relative to effort. Cost savings of traditional over flight will leave you with enoughto get a NICE compact lens to save weight on.
I have a friend that just sold his canham as it was not stiff enough when he was shooting looong lenses. Other than that he was very happy with it. Happy shooting, John

John Berry ( Roadkill )
20-Apr-2005, 15:27
Tha canham was the metal not the wood. John

Gem Singer
20-Apr-2005, 15:43
Hello again Laura Lea,

In the past, I owned two 4X5 Wisner Tech. Fields and backpack hiked with each of them. At the present time, I own a Canham 5X7 Traditional with the 4X5 reducing back. The 5X7 Canham (wood traditional) is slightly larger in size, however it is in the same weight range as the 4X5 Wisner Tech Fields. It is only slightly heavier in weight than the Wisner Expo. Actually, it is a metal camera that folds easily into a beautiful walnut wood box. The 5X7 Canham Traditional is a fine field camera, and the more I use it, the more I appreciate it.

As you already know, the camera is modular and can be converted to the 4X5, 5X7 and 4X10 formats. I recently sold my Canham 4X10 conversion kit because 4X10 cut film and 4X10 film holders are just too difficult to obtain. Besides, I'm not enthralled with panoramic formats. I'm still in the process of deciding whether the 5X7 format is for me. Since my enlarger only handles up to 4X5 film, I can only make contact prints from 5X7 film in my darkroom. I much prefer making 8X10 contact prints.

I believe that you should consider the all metal Canham DLC45. It sounds to me that you would enjoy working with a Canham camera, and the DLC45 model would probably be better suited to your present needs. If you decide to add the 4X10 or 5X7 formats in the future, you will have no trouble selling the DLC45 or trading toward the 5X7 Traditional. Canham cameras hold their value very well.

I live in Irving,TX, in the vicinity of the DFW airport. You mentioned that you also live in Texas. If you are close enough drop by, I will be glad to let you try out my 5X7 Canham Traditional to see if it actually suits your purpose. I am expecting to receive a new Canham JMC810 camera this Thursday. It is the larger version of the DLC45. Feel free to contact me off of this forum. Click in my name to obtain the e-mail address.

20-Apr-2005, 16:58
In addition to the [almost] Flight, nee Pocket Expedition, I have owned and used a (wood) Canham 5x7. It is without a doubt a wonderful camera and I still regret selling that one. The obvious advantage is that as a 4x5, the Canham will allow you to move up to 5x7 very easily. And 5x7 is a lovely size for alternative processes. But yes, it is bigger than a comparable 4x5. And depending upon how much you really want to backpack, it could become a hindrance. Then again, any camera while backpacking is a hindrance. It depends upon your priorities.

As someone noted, this probably won't be your only large format camera purchase. We buy different cameras not just because we're a bunch of gear heads, but because needs and priorities change. Unless you're into extremes of focal length, a Tachihara will do most of what you probably want to do while remaining very compact and lightweight. Even new, its a lot less money than either of the cameras discussed so far. (A quick check of the usual suspects showed a price of about $600.) You can always sell it later and get most of your investment back to put into a more expensive camera if you still want to.

20-Apr-2005, 17:36
How about this not turn into a bash wisner thread. There has been enough of those.

Jim Rice
20-Apr-2005, 17:58
I use a Wisner 4x5 tech. It took me a while to get used to it, longer than I would have liked. But once I did, I have never looked back.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
20-Apr-2005, 18:13
I own a Canham 4x5/5x7, and absolutely love it. That said, if you really are planning on using the camera for 4x5, I can't recommend it. Yes, the camera is wide angle friendly, but it is a wide angle friendly 5x7. Yes, the camera is light, but it is a light weight 5x7, and as such will be much larger than a 4x5.

If you want a 4x5, buy a 4x5, not a 5x7.

Dan Neilson
20-Apr-2005, 19:12
I own and use a Wisner Pocket Expedition. I also have a Canham JMC 8X10. I like the wide range of lenses that the Wisner can handle, but i don't think that it has any advantage over the 4X5 Canham. I really like the looks of the Wisner. It is much prettier than the Canham, although that doesn't show up on the negatives. I also have considered the 5X7 canham, mostly for the ability to use the 6X12 roll film back. I have used Linhof cameras which, when it comes to smoothness and stability, make either the Canham or Wisner seem like junk.

I have concluded that there is no perfect camera. If I could afford it, I would buy a Ebony, although I have had a chance to play with John Layton's new camera and it is also a work of art. Based on what it seems to me that you are looking for, I would have to agree with several of the other posts and recommend the Canham 4X5. If you are really considering moving into 5X7 or using the 6X12 back, you might as well go for the 5X7 model now.

There's my 2 cents. Take it for what it's worth and good luck.

Scott Rosenberg
20-Apr-2005, 20:37

these posts are useful to a point, but remember, my perfect camera for backpacking might not meet your needs at all. there really is no substitute for personal, hands-on experience. it could be something as simple as a preference for t-bars, levers, or knobs on your controls, but this is something that will be personal to you and only discovered by handling the cameras. if you are driving distance to the DFW area, i would encourage you to take eugene up on his offer.

good luck!

Brian Ellis
20-Apr-2005, 20:57
Unless you plan to use normal lenses longer than 300mm or telephoto lenses longer than 400mm, or lenses shorter than 65mm, a Tachihara with front rise, fall, tilt, and swing and back swing and tilt will suit your needs as well as any of the cameras you've mentioned at about a third of their cost. It weighs about 4 lbs, is well built, easy to operate, and the movements it has are more than adequate for landscape and almost any other type of photography you're likely to do. I'd dearly love to own Canham's wood 8x10 but the rest of his cameras don't do much for me. And I would never ever rely on a promised delivery time from Wisnerr.

Jeff Corbett
20-Apr-2005, 21:06
I have owned and worked with both the Wisner 4x5 Pocket Expedition and the Canham 4x5/5x7 wood (which I use as both a 4x5 and a 5x7). Like you, I also carry the camera significant distances, and in spite of the size and weight I always take the Canham. The reason is how the different camera adjustments are controlled. On the pocket expedition a single knob locks front size/fall, axis tilt, and base tilt. While adjusting rise for example, you are almost certain to change axis and/or base tilt which now requires you to start again on the focussing, etc. Same with swing and shift. Drove me crazy. One reason I like to Canham is seperate locks for rise/fall, axis tilt, and base tilt. I can correct any movement without messing up the others. My one complaint about the Canham is rigidity, which is not as much a concern when the 4x5/5x7 is used as a 4x5.

21-Apr-2005, 04:06
I use an 8x10 pocket exped. and an 8x20 expedition. Fantastic cameras.

Herb Cunningham
21-Apr-2005, 07:04
A lot of us have had more cameras than we would admit. the ONLY way to determine which one is for you is to handle it,
and there are a bunch of retailers who will let you try one and send it back, Midwest photo, Jim Andraki, for one, Tony at Southeastern Camera in Cary NC has a used Canham metal 4x5, in perfect condition-I expect he would let you try it out, etc.

For light weight, 90mm to 300mm, I like the RW45 Ebony.

I f you want more info, email me off line

Ted Harris
21-Apr-2005, 07:37
First, on't ignore Jason's point. If you can;t see shooting 5x7 anytime in he near future then why the additional size and weight of the Canham? OTOH, I own a Canham T57 and it is my primary field camera; but then I shoot more 5x7 than 4x5.

Second, one of the things Eugene mentioned is that the Canham T57/45 is a 'metal camera in a wood box' and while I am not sure I would describe it exactlythat way it is more of a metal camera than a wood camera and the two behave differently and feel different. Some folk like one and some the other. I definitely prefer the precision you get with metalcameras when locking them down and adjusting movements. One mor epoint to consider.

David A. Goldfarb
21-Apr-2005, 08:06
If you're backpacking, Laura, be sure to check out Kerry Thalmann's website at http://www.thalmann.com/largeformat/ as well as his posts here in the archives on the subject and his articles in _View Camera_ magazine. He's really covered every angle on trimming every ounce without sacrificing image quality, and tradeoffs between light weight and convenience.

21-Apr-2005, 09:44
Laura, here is my 2 centsworth:

1. Forget about other formats that you may or may not want to use in the future; buy the right 4x5. Specifically, forget the Canham 5x7, focus on his 4x5's.

2. Avoid cameras that have one knob (pair) for both front tilt and front rise; there are many cameras with separate controls, there is no reason to give yourself this grief unless you are going ultra-light, like with a Gowland (2lb. monorail).

3. A camera need not be rock solid to take a perfect exposure, it just needs to be absolutely still. On the other hand, who wants to fuss with a floppy camera? If you want light weight, you either have to sacrifice some rigidity or go with a monorail. Along with Gowland, Toho and Arca-Swiss make monorails intended for use in the field. Floppiness is rarely a problem with extensions of 300mm or less.

4. Any camera will give you enough tilt and swing; the one movement that it is good to have lots of is rise. And for those who have found some use for shift, I guess it would be good to have a lot of that too.

5. When choosing amongst top quality products like the Canhams and Wisners, you are guaranteed an excellent, capable camera, so issues that seem secondary can be given greater weight. How easy is it to setup and tear down? When folded up, how smooth is the exterior, are there sharp corners or knobs that might catch on something when taking it out of the pack? How pretty is it? Do the knobs screw all the way off, such that you may lose them? How good is the carrying handle? Etc.

steve simmons
21-Apr-2005, 09:48
This is one of those ford vs chevy, audi vs saab, etc. types of debates. Before buying any camera may I suggest some of the articles on the View Camera web site


There are also several 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 for AMPHOTO

If it is convenient for you View Camera magazine is doing a Large Format Photo Conference in Springfield, MA May 20-22. The trade show is free and most of the camera makers and retail selelrs will be there.

The program and info is on our web site as well.

If you do decide on a Wisner buy it from a store that has it in stock. The problems that seem to occur are when people deal directly with the factory.

steve simmons

Michael Kadillak
21-Apr-2005, 10:22
I own two Canham cameras (8x10 woodie and 5x7 metal) and have met Keith on several occasions and he is top drawer. The kind of guy that garners trust and in this business, that is a huge thing.

My 5x7 metal camera goes with me with the 4x5 back because it is light and makes great photographs. Every camera has its nuances and simply using it regularly overcomes any unique features it may possess. Although many try to affix a negative to its lower back hinge and some flexibility in this area, I have yet to realize a negative consequence while making a photograph.

Go for it!


Pat Kearns
21-Apr-2005, 12:12
Everyone has given some very good advice and the cameras of their choice. When I decided to enter LF I debated what format as well. I like to enlarge my photos and love an 11x14 print so that meant either a ULF or 4x5 and buy an enlarger. I settled on the 4x5 and bought an enlarger from a retired photographer. It is easier backpacking a 4x5 than a ULF not to mention more afforable. Just because that Canham 5x7 looks great doesn't mean it is the right format for you. I just thought I would add another argument to ponder and philosophize about. Good luck with whatever camera you choose and welcome to the club.

Steve McKinney
21-Apr-2005, 16:48
Hi Laura,

I'm a 4x5 Pocket Expedition shooter and I'm very happy with it. I specifically chose it for its light weight and compact size, as I, like you, was putting together a backcountry backpacking kit. I now have a nice light PE and 3 lens kit for backpacking.

Don't forget that the pack you choose is nearly as important as the camera. My choice of pack allows me to put the camera, lenses, filters, meter, dark cloth, etc. in a detachable day pack and detachable main pack top and range from my campsite with small kit rather than my full pack. If your interested in the kit I've put together, let me know.

22-Apr-2005, 05:24
I shoot with an 8x10 pocket expedition.....easy to pack 9.5 lb.....I also just bought an 8x20 expedition....fantastic camera and weighs in at 14 lb.

Rick Moore
22-Apr-2005, 10:51
One thing not mentioned so far, when using a 5x7 camera for 4x5 film - you will experience less bellows flare, leading to higher contast negatives and transparencies.


Don Wallace
25-Apr-2005, 11:37
I have used a range of mostly low end 4x5 cameras and I am now in heaven with my Wisner 4x5 Technical Field. It is light, sturdy, and easy to set up once you get used to it.

Initially, I found the Wisner company a little slow to respond but this has changed, I think, in the last year. I needed some new boards in a hurry, called Mr. Wisner, and got them in a hurry.