View Full Version : What LF camera? Rangefinderviewfield?

12-Sep-2005, 10:25
Let a beginner ask a question about a camera choice.

Today, I'm using a Leica M and Canon EOS equipment, will skip medium format and go straight to 4x5" for landscape photography.

I saw that there were/are 'hybrid' cameras like some Linhof Technikas and Graflex reporter cameras that are basically field cameras and, if necessary, can be used handheld and do not always require a loupe to focus as some models have a rangefinder with coupled lenses.

I like this concept very much because there are situations when I need the quality of a large format but have good light, a simple image to take and no time because the situation might change. In other cases I will use a tripod and take my time.

What cameras would you recommend for these two ways of working?

Ole Tjugen
12-Sep-2005, 10:31
You've answered your own question already - a Linhof Technika will do. They tend to be expensive or very old, but they're great cameras.

12-Sep-2005, 10:35
The Technika is a wonderful camera, but it is heavy and clumsy to hand-hold. I'd suggest that you start with a clean Crown Graphic or Busch Pressman D. Depreciation is near zero, and after six months you can decide if you want/need a Technika.

Neal Wydra
12-Sep-2005, 10:44
Dear Clemens,

I would like to second the Crown Graphic. It's actually quite handy as a "walking around" camera (or at least as handy as a 4x5 can be). You can add, but won't necessarily need a Grafmatic six shot back. Check out www.graflex.org.

John Cook
12-Sep-2005, 10:51
You are comparing a Model T antique to a modern Formula One race car. Each of these two cameras was designed for a very different purpose.

During my career I have owned two Technikas. Superbly crafted machines. Absolutely no expense spared in design nor assembly.

A Technika has enough movements to just barely compete with a field camera if you have lots of time and patience. They are heavy to carry around. I had a good laugh, the first time I tried the supplied neck strap!

The price is up there with the Leicas. My first one in 1970 was about $900. Today, with a lens, viewfinder and grip you are talking more like $10,000. Walking around the ghetto with one of these is like having Paris Hilton nude at your side while trying not to attract too much attention.

On the other hand, a Crown or Speed Graphic was originally built as the least expensive way to do hand-held photojournalism. Most models are constructed of imitation leather over plywood, with virtually no useful movements except a slightly rising front. To put it bluntly, they are crude.

They were built to take a great deal of abuse, and most now offered for sale have received a lot of it since they were new, many years ago.

If you plan to do some architecture, enjoy beautiful equipment and have deep pockets, go with the Linhof.

If you plan to shoot people pictures off the back end of an open, mud-splattered Jeep in the rain, perhaps a Crown Graphic will be your cup of tea. But beware, some of these are in pretty bad condition these days.

David A. Goldfarb
12-Sep-2005, 10:53
A Technika is more versatile as a view camera than a Graphic and can be cammed for many lenses, but it's also heavier to hand hold than a Graphic and considerably more expensive. There is a pretty good description of the various Technika models at www.cameraquest.com, and graflex.org will tell you all you need to know about the Graphics, Graflex reflex cameras, and a few related press cameras like the Busch Pressman.

David A. Goldfarb
12-Sep-2005, 10:59
PS--if you're on a budget, you could get a Sinar Alpina or F or F1 monorail *and* a Crown Graphic with a rangefinder coupled lens for very little money these days.

12-Sep-2005, 11:13
John Cook, your description of a Crown/Speed Graphic is misleading -- it would appear that you've never actually owned/used one.

John Cook
12-Sep-2005, 11:17
Just one more tidbit (besides the Paris Hilton remark) about the image you portray with various equipment.

As a starving student in art school in 1968, I was walking with my Technika along Sunset Boulevard very early one morning. Suddenly a Rolls Royce pulled up and Andy Williams got out and posed by the front fender for me.

Mr. Williams clearly thought I must be some important photojournalist with that big, expensive camera.

Years later, I found myself shooting for an ad agency in a large factory. The corporation employed a full-time in-house industrial photographer who assisted the art director and me on the shoot.

While under the dark cloth, I overheard the art director ask the in-house photographer if he thought that I was any good.

The photographer replied that I must know what I was doing. I was using a Linhof!

Kevin Crisp
12-Sep-2005, 11:47
I would not describe a Crown as a crude camera. Mine is 50 years old, everything works and works smoothly. It is very well made. The available front rise is more than slight, and once you learn how to do it you can tilt the front too. The imitation leather is actually real leather. It is not difficult to find one that has not been abused and they are reasonably priced. I think a Crown certainly fills one of your needs quite adequately, and may be sufficient for the second as well. Modern smaller plasmats (like the 135 Schneider Symmar-S I use on mine) fold up inside the camera and handheld results can be outstanding with enough light. It does have some drawbacks as a tripod mounted field camera, but these are unlikely in many or most circumstances (depends on what you do, of course) to prevent you from accomplishing what you want. The Busch pressman (aka the Tower press camera as sold by Sears) is also well made, and has a revolving back and easier movements. Its main drawbacks are the harder to find lens boards and the relatively small size of the front bellows opening. Some common LF lenses have rear elements too big for the opening.

John Cook
12-Sep-2005, 11:48
Bill, my comments about the Graphic hardly constitute a detailed equipment review. They are merely a very personal opinion based upon years of hands-on professional experience.

I will be delighted to read and carefully consider a differing opinion from you. Perhaps I have been cruel and insensitive.

These cameras have not been manufactured since the 1970's. Thirty years (absolute minimum) of banging around in the trunk of a police cruiser takes its toll on condition. Not to mention all those that (barely) survived WWII.

For this reason, I willingly paid a steep premium when offered a new-in-the-box Crown Graphic from an estate sale fifteen years ago.

The camera I purchased had a dark, coarse ground glass, minimal bellows, poor lens, and a few worthless token movements. Lots of nostalgia but short on versatility.

To quote an old Swedish carpenter from my youth, “My son, cheap tools are like cheap women.”

John Kasaian
12-Sep-2005, 12:55
It kind of comes down to this:
If you'll be using a tripod, a Technica will give you all the movements you'll probably want.
If you'll be shooting handheld, you won't be using movements anyway and a Crown is a lighter burden for both wallet and back.
If "image" is important, get a Hasselblad.
As John Cook mentioned, condition is important (with either camera since both models have reputations for being well used ---beaten to death---in professional life)

To qoute my Irish lawyer: "The cheaper the woman the more co$tly the alimony"

Ron Marshall
12-Sep-2005, 13:02
Wista and Horseman also make rangefinder models, which can be found used for a reasonable price. If you want to go for a two camera solution then I second the above recomendation for a Sinar F1, they are cheap now used; then a Crown Graphic as a second camera.

David A. Goldfarb
12-Sep-2005, 13:03
And on the third hand, if you like to travel with one camera that does everything, you might prefer the Technika. I shoot it handheld press-camera style as much as I use it on a tripod view-camera style. I use a Tech V, which you might see as a compromise--more than a Graphic, but lots less expensive than a new Master Tech, and not much less functionality.

12-Sep-2005, 13:46
It's a Linhof Super Technika if it has a rangefinder.
Just be very careful with which model Super you get.
Rangefinder cams are critical and depend upon model.
Get the right ones.

12-Sep-2005, 14:01
So Mr. Cook gave away his age! Lemmie ask ya, Sonny, what's this about Paris Hilton? Unlike Ms. Hilton, the virtue of the handheld Technika is that there are no tripod legs to spread in public, although the Technika has been know to rip its wrappers off - eventually.

And you and the rest of you, some proper terminology PuhLeez! Linhof Super Technika is the range finder. (oops - showing my age, repeating myself.)

Edward Mast
12-Sep-2005, 14:03
A (perhaps) 0ff the wall suggestion. What about looking for a Graflex Super D 4x5 in good condition on ebay for hand held work, and then just get a good wood-field 4x5 for tripod work (at a price less than a recent Linhof.)? My first large format camera was a 31/4 x 41/4 Graflex. These are somewhat unweildy cameras, but fun to use (a giant single lens reflex) and you're still seeing your image on a ground glass rather than through a viewfinder.

12-Sep-2005, 14:23
John: I always agree with you and appreciate your postings, until now!

The mental picture you portray of the Crowns is entirely untrue. It's an insult to those who do appreciate the fine Crown/Speed cameras and an embarrassmnent to you...

A lens is not a camera. My focus screens are bright and fine, and I own more than a half dozen. That 'plywood' is Mohogany. Brand new 4x5's are sold today with 'doubl extension bellows', the same as the Crown/Speed. They are finely built workhorse cameras that people have cherished for more than 75 years. And the simple fact that so many have survived, in working condition, the abuse shown them is testement enough to their quality!

I would guarantee, and bet any amount of money, that a Crown would produce a negative as good as any Linhof using the same lens and film!

You are right about it's minimal movements. But few people appreciate the way you put it!

You are also right about 'cheap tools'. Fortunately, the Crown is anything but 'cheap'!

On the bright side, thoughtless and denigrating comments such as yours will only help keep the cost of s Crown down dso more people can buy them and thouroughly enjoy using them!

Ted Harris
12-Sep-2005, 17:40
There are a number of cameras to consider with coupled rangefinder. Only the Technika and Wista are available new in4x5 AFAIK. In the used market there are other choices in addition to those listed. Burke &James made a press camera, MPP a technical camera and there are a number of others. As has already been discussed, all of these will be at least 30 years old so you need to carefully evaluate their condition.

As for the Graphic, while I disagree with John, I do believe that many of us who used them because we had to in the 1950's and 1960's hold them in somewhat lower (but still fond) regard than those who have come to them recently.

12-Sep-2005, 18:07
Add to the list the venerable Printex 4x5. Stone simple, rangefinder, one lens. No movements, but who uses movements with a hand-held rangefinder? Oh, a little rise? Okay, a little rise. (I don't believe it for a second!)

QT Luong
12-Sep-2005, 19:09
Realistically, it is not possible to shoot a landscape hand-held with any 4x5 camera and get LF quality.
In LF, you almost always need to stop down the lens to f11-f22 (sometimes more) to get enough depth of field. Even if you use a 90mm lens (fairly wide on 4x5. close to 28-24 in 35mm format) you still need 1/125s at least to handhold. With 100 ASA film, this would be possible only in full sun at mid-day, and no polarizer.

David A. Goldfarb
12-Sep-2005, 19:45
Of course any shot will be sharper with any camera on a tripod as opposed to handheld, but there are some kinds of photographs that can't be made with a tripod, and some places where you can't take a tripod, and some times where the necessity of having a tripod in contrast with the seriousness of one's photographic intentions will result in leaving the camera at home and missing the impromptu grab shot you might have gotten if you had a camera with you, and some times where you'll get to Maui, as I was with my Tech V about a month ago, and your tripod will be with your checked luggage back in Newark, New Jersey for the next 24 hours, but I was still taking pictures.

Frank Petronio
12-Sep-2005, 19:48
I really think a Littman is the ticket here ;-)

John Cook
12-Sep-2005, 19:52
Ted is correct that I am very fond of Graphic cameras. They do, indeed, bring back many warm memories of simpler times.

I remember not only press cards in hats, but hats as well. Heavy six-button wool overcoats with patch pockets large enough for six holders. And flashbulbs. And Super XX...

Perhaps we can compromise and agree that they could be called, “the Timex of cameras”. Simple but stout. Utilitarian not elegant.

“They take a licking and just keep on clicking!”

12-Sep-2005, 20:01
QTRealistically, it is not possible to shoot a landscape hand-held with any 4x5 camera and get LF quality.

I know. I look at a lot of aerial negatives. Kinda futile to tripod mount on an aeroplane.

12-Sep-2005, 20:26
This analysis may be correct for shooting near/far landscapes with slow color film, but I have lots of old hand-held 4x5 Kodachromes shot at the classic "1/50@f:8 and be there" which are sharp as a razor in the plane of focus. (Extended DOF is seldom an issue for people, flowers, animals, etc, images). For classic B&W, either TMY or FP5 give ISO=400, giving 1/200@f:22.

Oren Grad
12-Sep-2005, 20:42
A lot depends on you.

Just speaking for myself, there's no way I could hand-hold a fully-equipped Technika and make negatives that would be of any use, let alone "large format quality" - I simply don't have the strength to hold a 7+ pound camera for snapshooting. I've done occasional experiments hand-held with my 3.25x4.25 Graphics, the lightest of which is a stripped-down camera that comes in at less than five pounds with lens and film holder, but in most cases I would not enlarge even those negatives - I'd just make little contact prints.

Even if you're stronger than I am, QT makes an excellent point - short of working with a powerful flash, which will make the rig even more unwieldy, depth-of-field considerations with the focal lengths typical of 4x5 will mean there will be a very narrow range of workable aperture/shutter speed combinations. If you have a strong and steady hand, there certainly are some beautiful photographs that can be made, that make a virtue of the limited DOF. But don't imagine it will be easy to go around snapshooting pan-focus landscape pictures.

Also, even if you can handle the weight, bear in mind that a camera like a Graphic or a Technika is really big and awkward compared to any 35 or medium format camera designed for hand-held use. A Technika may be comparable to an M-Leica in its mechanical precision and the quality of its fit and finish. I'm a long-time M-Leica fan myself - it's my favorite 35mm camera, by far - but I've hoisted fully-equipped Technikas as well, and it ain't remotely the same experience. At best, an M-Leica fits the hand like a glove and almost vanishes as an intermediary between you and what you're seeing. A Technika is a boat anchor that will make every single exposure a Herculean feat.

Especially since 4x5 is entirely new to you, I'd very strongly suggest you find some way to try before you buy.

David A. Goldfarb
12-Sep-2005, 21:05
Definitely try before you buy, if you can.

Anyone who has met me knows that I'm not a really big guy (5'7", 160 lbs, and I don't work out), but somehow I seem to manage with the Technika. I broke my left wrist a few years ago, so my left hand is even a bit weak (maybe I make up for it by playing the trombone, which is supported with the left hand). Maybe shoot 8x10" or larger, and the Technika starts to feel like a nimble and versatile camera by comparison.

These were all shot with the Tech V, 210mm lens, EI 200 film, and a Norman 200C setup on a simple flash bracket--


Here's a landscape on Tri-X (150/4.5 lens with a K2 filter) that would have been better had I had a tripod, but it was still good enough for publication handheld, and was one of those impromptu snapshots that I got just because I was casually walking around with the camera over my shoulder--


Here's another impromptu snapshot with the 6x7cm back on a Tech V and TX (150/4.5 and K2 filter again)--


And another with the 6x7cm back and Fuji RMS (probably EI 100 or 200--135/3.5 lens)--


Sorry if the captions on those pages are a little enigmatic. They make more sense if you come through the front door--http://www.echonyc.com/~goldfarb/photo/

12-Sep-2005, 21:29
David, I fail to see how the chess table would have been improved with a tripod.

David A. Goldfarb
12-Sep-2005, 22:02
Would have been a tad sharper (probably not visible on screen), and I probably would have set it up so the legs of the table wouldn't converge.

12-Sep-2005, 22:13
John: Thank you ;-) That's more like it. Yes, I could agree with the 'Timex" analogy. Although I obviously like them much better than some here. But they were never designed to be a view or technical camera. Apples & oranges as it were...

And a comment on something I think David said. I recently shot a dozen negs from an open baggage car on a moving train. Would have been impossible with a tripod. It worked _very_ well with my Super Graphic and a Grafmatic. Yep, I did blur a couple, but still... How else could one take such photos? I walked around all day with that Super hung around my neck like a 35mm and had a grand time and some good shots. I never wouls have done it with a tripod or view camera. There's a place for hand-holding, even with a 4x5 camera ;-)

Ole Tjugen
12-Sep-2005, 23:53
I've shot hand held with a Technika - a 5x7" one - and got sharp negatives at 1/50 second (the fastest shutter time on a Compound #5) with a 300mm lens. The weight actually makes it easier to hold still!

13-Sep-2005, 00:42
I think people miss out on a lot of fun by not hand-holding 4x5. It offers oportunitities that a tripod can't handle, and it's just plain _fun_! I wish I had a 5x7 I could use that way. I even have dreams of fudging up a rangefinder and grip for my 8x10 one of these days.

What's it all for if not for fun? (discounting pros who have to shoot particulars)...

adrian tyler
13-Sep-2005, 00:51
i take pictures hand held with the master tecnica, with 400 asa film in summer f11 is the norm, maybe down to f22 in brutal sunlight, no problem with a 150mm lens. with the 80mm lens i-ve mage beautiful pictures even down to 15th of a second, hand held.

so there...


13-Sep-2005, 01:34
Thank you, folks,

while your replies were coming in I spent a moment looking for used Linhof and Graflex gear - obviously there are worlds between the prices.

Is there a website dedicated to Graflex, listing the different models and giving some hints on how to use, maintain and repair these old cameras? Is it still possible to get spare parts? And what about modern lenses? As far as I know only a few lenses are available because they need to be equipped with cams. In general I will look for glass equivalent to 24/50/100/200mm in the 35mm world.

Ole Tjugen
13-Sep-2005, 06:09
www.graflex.org (http://www.graflex.org) should answer most of your questions about Graflexes :)

Modern lenses? Yes of course - but what is modern? Most of my lenses are at least 35 years old (and in one case 135 years), so I could consider anything less than 60 years old to be "modern". The advances in LF optics made over the last 50 years are negligible compared to the advances in 35mm (zoom) lenses!

15-Sep-2005, 06:23
In the meanwhile I have done two things: I looked into the Graflex site and made a little survey of film and development costs... quite impressive.

When using a roll film cassette instead of cut film, what will be good wide angle lenses? Are there any lenses at all that will be an equivalent to a 21mm or so lens in a 35mm camera?

15-Sep-2005, 07:18
Clemens: When using a roll film cassette instead of cut film, what will be good wide angle lenses? Are there any lenses at all that will be an equivalent to a 21mm or so lens in a 35mm camera?

Exclusively using a film format of less than 6x12 on 4x5 is a complete waste of money, time and effort, so I presume you are speaking of 6x12, otherwise you would ask a Medium Format group.

75mm on a 12cm format will get you close to the equivalent you asked about. The Super/Angulon will have more light fall-off than, for example, the 21mm Super/Angulon on 35mm. Keep in mind that using 6x12 removes a substantial portion of the 4x5 frame, that the aspect-ratio of 4x5, all that extra vertical coverage, makes for a wider look and feel in 4x5 than 35mm. This is to say, that if you are not going to use 'perspective' controls (movements other than rise), you might abandon the general purpose 4x5 right now and save yourself the effort of schlepping that piece of hardware around - look instead to specialized 6x12 outfits that are far lighter, simpler, easier to manage. If you are not going to use movements with 75mm, and money is not an issue, and you do choose a specialized wide camera, then look into one of the Biogons. There are at least two 75mm designs for 4x5.

16-Sep-2005, 06:45

my idea is to use roll film sometimes, let's say for images that need more quality than I achieve with my 35mm Leica but not the super quality that is possible with 4x5, or just for testing purposes until I am more familiar with the camera.

And, of course, I forgot to mention that I am also looking for a real long lens. I haven't seen something longer than 400mm yet, not to mention the costs that might limit my tele ambitions.

A short look into a well-known internet auction site has showed me that here in Germany Graflex is extremely rare, so I will have to find a reliable dealer in the USA. Any recommendations?

Frank Petronio
16-Sep-2005, 08:14
If you search around the Linhof website you'll find that there is a photographer in Germany that uses a Technika with 70mm roll film in large cassettes typically used for aerial photography. He shoots his Linhof using a "Leica-style" and uses a lot of film.

16-Sep-2005, 08:50


Photo courtesy Claudio Bottari as presented on Bob Monaghan's excellent site. For more detail see medfmt.8k.com/mf/veriwide.html (http://medfmt.8k.com/mf/veriwide.html)

If you wish to replicate the Leica with 21mm S/A on MF rollfilm, then consider the Plaubel Veriwide and the Brooks Veriwide. The Plaubel is 6x9 and the Veriwide is 6x8.

A Veriwide will cost you no more than an outstanding LF 75mm lens. You need not purchase a Veriwide with the optical finder which can cost another $700: the finder the same one used on the 21mm S/A you already own.

I have owned both and presently use the Brooks with the F5.6 47mm lens. I wish I still had the Plaubel.

Frank Petronio
16-Sep-2005, 12:04
To find a Veriwide 100 as clean as that photo, be prepared to spend twice as much or be very patient. Most are tarnished and beat up, as they very useful and well used cameras. They also have a very delicate (poorly engineered, poorly made) film transport system and the lens mount is fragile - one hard knock will cause it to loose alignment (the mount is made from tin - err... thin aluminum). Don't get me wrong - they are great 6x10 (seven frame) cameras if you get a good one and baby it, but buyer beware.

I owned two. I wish somebody made a more robust version because it is a great idea - it captures the most amount of information possible (the lens is sharp and the 6x10 format is large) in a near Leica sized package.