View Full Version : New article by Ernest Purdum: Cheap View Cameras

QT Luong
20-Aug-2005, 15:55
A new article by Ernest Purdum,
Cheap View Cameras (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/cameras/cheap-views.html) has been posted. Please feel free to leave any constructive comments on this thread.

20-Aug-2005, 19:19
Yes, yes yes! It's just a light tight box that holds a lens at one end and film at the other. Buy the best lens you can afford and go make pictures. I've owned expensive and economical cameras and you know what? The pictures with the economical cameras were better. I wasn't worried about damaging the camera. Camera's just a tool; it's a hammer, screw driver or saw. You have to use it to make things. Or you can do like so many, sit and admire it's beauty and brag about it's expense. Oh yes, and argue endlessly over which is best, HC110 or D76.

21-Aug-2005, 06:28
"It's just a light tight box that holds a lens at one end and film at the other" (Leonard).
Not so, Leonard, not so. If it were so, the expensive beast would never come to be...
Unfortunately, the things are more complicated. The "light tight box" must have their "lens and film end" precisely (read PRECISELY) parallel (in a 0 state) and then even when they move they have to move precisely... It's there where the problems start. Also they have to be rigid and to be that even when they have been moved. And then they must have this precision during their life time, repeatable etc. etc.
You know that all. A camera is far, far away from being a simple hammer ( heck!) a screw driver or a saw. It's a precision machine. Unfortunately. Sure you can have a good picture from a cheap camera. But a precise camera is never cheap because it's made to take a lot of good pictures with no doubts about the result.

Michael Jones
21-Aug-2005, 07:26
A precision machine? Have you ever owned a wooden field camera? Regardless of price, they are a light tight wooden box with a lens at one end and a ground glass at the other so you can see how far out of alignment things really are until until you adjust them. When you want precison, take your Sinar/Linhof/optical bench camera out AFTER its been aligned by its manufacturer's rep. A camera is just a tool and you match your tools to the job.

Ernest: you are absolutely correct. To attract more people into large format, we have to remind them of the learing curve and part of that learning is learning our our own likes, styles and mannerisms by taking many, many photographs. Spend your money on film. Only then do you know which tool your should (or want) to use. The most basic equipment we can use as described in your article is lightyears ahead of Hill & Adamson's equipment and better than anything Weston used. We ( at least I) still haven't matched them.


21-Aug-2005, 08:07
"Regardless of price, they are a light tight wooden box" (michael). Wooden box? Have you forgotten all the non wooden cameras? Have you seen the price of non wooden cameras?

21-Aug-2005, 08:11
A big selling feature for the Graphic View (when new) compared to the Kodak was the excellent built-in tripod head, and may actually be a liability now. Important when buying online -- most don't have the very desirable GRAFLOCK back. Probably the best buy currently in used monorails is the Linhof Kardan Color 45S. These are going for a couple hundred dollars, and are state-of-the-art Linhof quality -- their only "drawback" is that nothing is geared.

21-Aug-2005, 08:47
Linhof Kardan Color 45 S - absolutely. The non geared back is their advantage today - it lowers their price without giving up the quality. To get to the LF, an amateur is today in a better position than ever - all the relatively cheap monorails that some time ago were just a professional's tools are now available for cheap money. The time of Graphics belongs to the past. If you want to start with a cheap LF get what today's pros throw away.

Ole Tjugen
21-Aug-2005, 09:09
I notice that "gps" has never used a precision hammer for any length of time - or he would have known that a good hammer is not just a lump of metal at the end of a stick.

But it is the same with cameras: An old tailboard camera (or German "Reisekamera") with extremely limited movements is more than good enough for most scenes. Sometimes only a full monorail will do, but it's not the thing to drag into the mountains / icefields / deserts. I would far rather have an old tailboard for that...

The one thing I missed in the article is non-US cameras. Surely there have been cameras made in the rest of the world too? I still use one of my first (and cheapest) cameras, a Linhof Color (not "Kardan", and feel it deserves a place in the list of cheap entry cameras.

Brian C. Miller
21-Aug-2005, 10:35
gps, the only thing on a view camera that needs to be precise is the ground glass to film plane! Everything else moves, swivels, tilts, and goes all over the place. Wasn't there an LF camera ad where the camera was nearly tied in a knot? How much does that precision gearing with degree markings really matter for repeatability? I have never once duplicated any movements between shots. All of them have been unique for the scene, and everything had to be adjusted for the image and not marked angles on geared movements.

21-Aug-2005, 11:44

The camera above doesn't loose "precision" because it cannot move; it really IS a "box with a lens and film holder" and focusing mechanism. :) However, it is not a view camera


Then there's the Boy Hobo, albeit with a focusing dohickie. Also not a view camera.

I know that it is good to have a precision View Camera for production product work. They use a limited (though large) number of setup with anticipable movements.

21-Aug-2005, 11:50
A PhD friend of mine recently asked what the definition of "View Camera" is. After looking through lots of books, all I could come up with was more of the reasons to use one (movements) and not the history behind the name. Can someone give the true explanation of why it is called a "View Camera"? I ask now since this topic seems to leans towards what makes box cameras not View cameras.

Erik Sherman
21-Aug-2005, 11:54
Avoiding arguments about precision for a moment, I think that the underlying angle of the article makes sense. I remember learning how to use a view camera with an old Calumet camera and lens. I eventually moved to Toyo for studio work and a used Wisner 5x7 with 4x5 back and other goodies that I bought from a retired doctor who *thought* that he had wanted to be a photographer, and the additional capabilities are useful. But they aren't necessary to start experiencing just what LF offers.

21-Aug-2005, 12:33
"An old tailboard camera ... with extremely limited movements is more than good enough for most scenes" (Ole)
I see Ole, that you used your "precision hammer" for your thoughts about LF photography. Sorry, but for me an old tailboard camera is less than good enough for most scenes.

21-Aug-2005, 12:39
Brien,have you heard about 0 settings? So much for repeatability. That's a movement you surely repeated many times over in your photography.

21-Aug-2005, 15:18
Darr: A PhD friend of mine recently asked what the definition of "View Camera" is.

He's got the PhD! He's baiting you! Tell him to figure it out his-own-bright-self. Walk away. Be happy.

Ernest Purdum
21-Aug-2005, 18:35

The original meaning of "view camera" was one which permitted composing on a ground glass. The opposite was a "blind camera" which used a viewfinder as an indirect means of composing. Many cameras, of course, can be used either way. The lterm "technical camera" is often used for the more advanced of these.

Like many other words, the meaning has changed over the years. In the United States, it now means a camera with adjustable "movements". Curiously, both the Focal Dictionary and the Focal Encyclopedia say that "field camera" is synonymous. I think most people consider the field camera to be a type of view camera, but are more apt to mean a monorail when they use the term view camera. "Stand camera" is sometimes used, most often outside the United States.

Recently, on eBay at least, I have noticed the term "box camera" referring to a folding camera which closes up into a box. The term should be used only for cameras which do not fold. Not all box cameras are basic instrruments. Newman & Guardia, for example, made box cameras with movements, and which could be focused on a groundglass.

21-Aug-2005, 19:30
Thank you Ernest for all the view camera definition info!
I cannot tell you how "empty" all these photography books I have are of that information


Brian C. Miller
21-Aug-2005, 20:10
gps: "Brien,have you heard about 0 settings? "

Aside from testing the gg-fp relation, no, I haven't used the zero detent. I don't use my view cameras as box cameras. The box cameras are smaller and easier to manage, even compared to the Graflex Super Graphic. (Believe it or not, my Pentax 6x7 w/90mm lens weighs the same as the Graflex!)

By the way, could you please apply the precision of your view camera to the spelling of my name? After all, I do presume that your camera has more precision than your spelling... :-)

Glenn Thoreson
21-Aug-2005, 21:17
Well, how about this: I always have scraps of hardwood and aluminum laying around my shop. I save bits and pieces and make things with them. The latest is a 4X5 monorail view camera. It has most movements, which are not geared or zero marked. I can see if it's lopsided by looking at the GG. Bellows from a DeJur emlarger. Total cost, less lens and Graflok back (which I already had), somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 bucks. Mostly for knobs. I will put this up against any high dollar camera, using the same lens and film, any day. And yes, I use Speed Graphics (14 of 'em) and other "oddball" cameras with excellent results. They're all just a box to keep the dark in.

22-Aug-2005, 02:02
Well, Brian, I can see that you care more about the precision of your name spelling than that of your camera movements. Sorry that my keyboard doesn't have 0 settings for your name spelling... :-)

Michael Jones
22-Aug-2005, 06:08

Please read more carefully. My second sentence is: Have you ever owned a wooden field camera?
Thus qualified, I spoke of light tight wooden boxes. And yes, I have owned and used several Sinars, Linhofs and Masterviews. What's your point? The only way you know what will be on your negative is by looking at the ground glass and then only if the gg to film plane is matched to your holders.

You also seem to have missed the point of the Ernestís article which is that an introduction to large format need not cost a fortune. The goal is to get out and create images.


22-Aug-2005, 06:16
michael, please read more carefully. I have not said one thing about Ernest's article. I reacted at the Leonard's point. Yes, I owned and I own a wooden field camera. What's your point? You seem to have missed the point of my post.

22-Aug-2005, 08:31
Good grief! I meant it's only a tool as in that it's meant to be used. It can and should be replaced if need be. I just think that a lot of folks spend big bucks on a beautiful camera that make pictures no better than an economical one. Case in point; friend of mine spent 300.00 and about 50 hours building a 12x20. Does the job just as good as a Wisner. So if you got the money spend it. If you're like me, buy the most usable camera you think you'll need and buy the best lens you can afford. My 8x10s were a Kodak 2D and a Burke & James field. Oh yeah, there's a couple of real precision pieces of equipment. Of course when you use the economical cameras you can't stand there with your nose in the air looking oh so intense.

Ole Tjugen
22-Aug-2005, 11:43
At present count I own six hammers and nine view cameras. The hammers are far more specialised than the cameras, but they are all basically metal lumps at the end of a shaft. In the same way all these cameras are a light tight bellows between a lensboard and a film plane.

I wouldn't use the 12x16" tailboard camera for tabletop photography, just as I wouldn't use a 6kg sledgehammer to drive nails. I have a 4x5" monorail (Linhof Color) for that use, and a carpenter's hammer for the nails...

22-Aug-2005, 11:55
Hell my precision Sinar cost me a whoppin 250 US dollars. Now is the time to get in on LF cheap. The glass will still kick you in the butt but since you did not spend a ton on the body then that is not too bad either.

I think this comment from leonard sums up those who feel the need to spend a ton of money of LF equipment: "Of course when you use the economical cameras you can't stand there with your nose in the air looking oh so intense".

22-Aug-2005, 12:47
Now that's what I call a great and cheap start in LF! No reason that you couldn't stand behind your precision Sinar (for 250 $!) with your nose in the air loking oh so intense!

22-Aug-2005, 13:13
As a former professional framer (construction), let me say that a hammer is not a lump on top of a stick. A good hammer is a marvel, and I paid more for the hammers and especially handles I went through in a year than I did for my Century 1 8x10. So _there_! (... as I walk away in feigned selfrighteousness...) :)

(And is it a Bad Thing that I used a Leica M2 as a hammer once?)