View Full Version : 4x5 Beginner camera

Ken Grooms
23-Oct-2006, 19:34
What's the best beginner camera for 4x5? Thanks.

steve simmons
23-Oct-2006, 19:45
You need to do some reading.

go to


and then to the Free Articles section.

Get a copy of

Using the View Camera, User's Guide to the View Camera, or Large Format Nature Photography from your local library.

What do you want to photograph?

steve simmons

Rafael Garcia
23-Oct-2006, 20:00
Steve's advice is good. If you have done so already you have an idea of what type you need (monorail vs field, lots of movements, etc.). Budget is next. You can get a vintage camera pretty cheap if you are careful. I paid $300.00 for my wood field camera (5x7) with a pretty good lens and about six filmholders. Then I paid $75.00 plus $80.00 for a truly antique metal 4x5 and a not-so-great press camera lens and shutter. This last camera was made for 9x12 cm film, but I adapted a 4x5 back to it that I found in eBay for $30.00. When I get a better lens it is going to be fine. It has limited movements, but it is a good learning camera for the money. You can see them (and many others) in the post Show me yours! in 'On Photography'. Or you can get a new entry level 4x5 for $600.00 plus lens - see the ads in View Camera or other magazines.

Ken Grooms
24-Oct-2006, 04:38
I want a Rodenstock lens (maybe 210). Will this limit my 4x5 camera selection?

Ole Tjugen
24-Oct-2006, 04:50
I want a Rodenstock lens (maybe 210). Will this limit my 4x5 camera selection?

No, it won't limit your selection. I know of only one camera that can't use a 210mm lens, and that's hardly a "beginner camera".

The nice thing about LF is that just about any camera can use just about any lens, the only limitations are on the very very short and very long lenses. 99% of all 4x5" cameras ever made can use 99% of all lenses ever made with a focal length from 90mm to about 270mm (I cut it there because that's just about the limit for very old pre-anniversary Speed Graphics, one of which I just happen to own).

Scott Knowles
24-Oct-2006, 05:05
What's the best beginner camera for 4x5? Thanks.
The advice given is good, find the three books by Steve Simmons, Leslie Stoebel and Steve Stone. You need to do some homework first, about large format photography, about what type of photography you want to do, and about your passion, motivation and discipline to learn and work in large format photography.

It's hard to help without more information about your experience and knowledge of photography, aside from just using a camera. Large format photography is entirely different thought and work process in the field, and it's easy to be overwhelmed and or frustrated without patience. Not to mention the cost of film.

An important part is money. How much do you want to spend? Check out this post (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?t=18172) about cameras and stuff. You need to establish an overal budget and parse the money within it, and plan for additional equipment later.

Good luck.

Ron Marshall
24-Oct-2006, 05:53
There are many well written 4x5 camera reviews on the home page of this site:


Then basically the decision is between a folding camera (field camera) or a monorail, and how much you wish to spend.

24-Oct-2006, 06:38

My strategy was to buy a 2nd hand, cheap, simple, mainstream monorail camera. Before spending a lot of money it seemed wise to me to gain some experience with a camera that could be sold off again with no or little money to be lost.

I used it for a year, discovering that the movements I need are not as extreme as I expected, that weigth and bulkiness was a major factor out-doors, but also that I wanted some extra rail/bellow extension that you normally do not get from mainstream fieldcamera's.

YMMV here :)

After a year I sold the monorail, kept the lenses and bought a new camerabody that fitted my needs.

To summarize: get an inexpensive first camera, gain experience, buy the camera you really need.


24-Oct-2006, 07:24
Perhaps a used Tachihara, or Shen Hao, with a Caltar 210mm (or 180mm). If you feel the need to upgrade, you will probably, never need another 210mm and can always sell the tach or shen without much loss.

Other than that, there is a whole world to choose from, money the only hinderance.

Jack Flesher
24-Oct-2006, 08:29
Lots of good advice here. I would only clarify that if you are going to primarily use your camera in a studio environment, start with a monorail -- but if youw ant to use it in the field, then I think it's better to consider starting with a field (folding) camera. Otherwise you may get turned off lugging a 12 pound monster around in the outdoors ;)

Added consideration: MOST (not all) field cameras use or can be adapted to technika style lensboards, as can most (if not all) monorails. So if you start with those and decide to upgrade your camera later later you probably won't need to re-mount your lenses.

Bob Gentile
24-Oct-2006, 10:25
"... get an inexpensive first camera, gain experience, buy the camera you really need..."
That's my feeling, too. Until you've used one for a while, you don't have a basis for making a "buy decision." Without some experience, you have no way of knowing how much you don't know. So... jump in cheaply (Crown Graphic?), get some experience, and then make an informed decision.

Kinda like... Ready. Fire. Aim.

24-Oct-2006, 11:37
As I live in the Caribbean, buying camera equipment inevitably means getting it right the first time round. When I initially started considering large format (LF), my main fear was whether I would find LF too difficult to stick with, and end up buying a camera system that I would not use again after the initial "honeymoon". I took almost a YEAR researching. I read every post on APUG, LF forum, Photo.net etc. on LF photography; I read every available perspective on various cameras and on various lenses; I read tutorials; I bought all the books suggested (as well as a rather nice one by Roger Hicks/Frances Schultz on moving up from 35mm to LF), and read I them through; I then had to determine my picture-taking style, and whether it was compatible with the use of a large format camera.

One fine day in June 2004, I placed an order with Badger Graphic for one of the most expensive 4x5 cameras on the market. I am not rich, and that purchase constituted a significant investment for me. However, I was certain that that camera could do what I needed it to do, and it was a consensus decision based on all the excellent experience of my peers. Maybe another camera X or Y may suit me better, but I will never know. I firmly believe, however, that if I had gone the route of a cheap "beginner camera" I would have been frustrated by its shortcomings, and extrapolated that to LF photography, in general. I doubt I would have continued. So my 2 cents is: if you're sure about the LF trip, buy the best camera (that suits your needs) that you can afford. It also has the added benefit of supporting those LF camera makers who persevere in an otherwise digital world. :)

Joseph O'Neil
24-Oct-2006, 12:54
So my 2 cents is: if you're sure about the LF trip, buy the best camera (that suits your needs) that you can afford. It also has the added benefit of supporting those LF camera makers who persevere in an otherwise digital world. :)


I almost agree with you, but on the flip side. Spend money on a good lens first, decent camera body second. :)

The lens does not have to be brand new to be good, but in my case, I bought a brand new Rodenstock Sironar (135mm) on my older but excellent condition Crown Graphic for a couple of years before i upgraded my camera.

Yes I did outgrow the Crown, but it's such a nice camera, I still keep it as a backup. The simplicity of the Crown helped me learn a lot. I find too that there is a certian beauty to using a fine lens that even with limited movements you still feel good about your work.


Ken Grooms
24-Oct-2006, 12:54
This 4x5 camera is for Studio only with natural light. I plan to shoot at a steep angle downward, so I will need a camera that does not move. (I have a very sturdy tripod) Thanks.

Joseph O'Neil
24-Oct-2006, 13:01
This 4x5 camera is for Studio only with natural light. I plan to shoot at a steep angle downward, so I will need a camera that does not move. (I have a very sturdy tripod) Thanks.

Then get a good, heavy, monorail. Lighter monorails at a steep angle may vibrate a bit, so a new or good used, heavy Toyo or Sinar or Arca-Swiss. I've even seen a used Linhof monorail (8x10) that I drolled over for a few months, but the cost was close to a good, sued car. :(

I know and i have seen people very happily use field cameras in the studio, but I woudl good with a heavy monorail myself.


Frank Petronio
24-Oct-2006, 13:40
A Linhof GT-E is a relatively inexpensive (for a Linhof) but robust monorail that WILL NOT MOVE. I saw on eBay for $800 or so and they are really nicely made.

A Sinar F won't move either, they cost under $500 used on eBay, and there are a lot more parts and peices for Sinar floating around relatively inexpensively.

Oh, and be sure to get ONLY Rodenstock lenses...

Jack Flesher
24-Oct-2006, 14:24
This 4x5 camera is for Studio only with natural light. I plan to shoot at a steep angle downward, so I will need a camera that does not move. (I have a very sturdy tripod) Thanks.

Ditto all the comments regarding a sturdy monorail. Older Toyo, Horseman, Sinar, Linhof or Arca monorails are all excellent and reasonably priced, yet relatively easy to get parts like lensboards and bellows for.

steve simmons
24-Oct-2006, 14:29
Ignore the comment about buying only brand x or y. There are many choices and good ones. Different vintage lenses have different looks. For the most part I suggest lenses that are at least single coated for black and white and multi-coated for color work but I don't get too fussy about brand names. If you are doing work for clients and have to submit color transparencies then stick with one brand name as there are slight color differences that would show up on close inspection on a light table.

steve simmons

Ken Grooms
24-Oct-2006, 17:50
I only want a 4x5 studio camera. I will use natural light to shoot leaves laying on a table top to begin with. I want a 75mm (35mm equivalent) - 250mm? - lens, or a lens/bellows combo that will achieve a 75-85mm equivalent.
This is the shot I want to take:

Any advise on how I can achieve this would be greatly appreciated.

steve simmons
24-Oct-2006, 19:13
Once again, if you will do the reading I and a few others have suggested you will find all of your answers.

My guess is that if you like lf you will want to do more than just that one shot. If that one shot is all you want to do, well you've already done it.

steve simmons

Jack Flesher
25-Oct-2006, 09:22
I had yet another thought...

Since you are looking at studio only and like to work at closer range, then you might want to consider an 8x10 camera with a 4x5 reducing back... And I'm sure the Deacons of the forum will flame me for even suggesting a beginner consider this, but...

1) With an 8x10 you can get a 4x5 reducing back and use it just like any 4x5 studio camera;

2) 8x10 cameras in standard trim come with significantly longer bellows than a comparable 4x5, which makes it easy to use longer lenses at high reproduction ratios;

2A) Yet almost all of them will easily collapse to where you can still focus a 150 or 120 at infinity and a few to where you can focus a 90 at infinity;

3) As you get into LF you quickly learn the advantages inherent with larger negatives and most will agree you can see differences between 4x5 and 8x10 even in 16x20 prints.

BUT!!! There are some negatives aside from size weight:

1) 8x10 cameras are going to cost say 50% more used than a comparable 4x5;

2) Most 210 lenses for 4x5 will cover 8x10 at the closer focusing ranges you are talking about, but wont be ideal. So a 300 would be abetter choice. The minor good news here is there are some relatively inexpensive (sub $500 range used) yet excellent lenses in 12" (300mm) lenses that cover 8x10 with room to spare, like a Kodak Ektar, convertable Symmar or even possibly an older Fujinon 300 C.

3) 8x10 film and processiong is more expensive than 4x5 -- but only about 2x the cost for 4x the film area.

Only offered FWIW,

Ken Grooms
25-Oct-2006, 18:53
Jack - I got hutzba...but not That much hutzba! Besides, there's no 8x10 quickload sheets! ;)

Jim Jones
26-Oct-2006, 15:51
Ken -- If I was starting out in LF for the subject you mention, I'd appreciate a press camera with a focal plane shutter and an enlarging lens of 135 to 180mm. It certainly doesn't have to be a Rodenstock lens; others do as well. One can even get by without a shutter by using open flash or other techniques. If you only shoot with the film and subject planes parallel, you don't even have to worry about tilts. I sometimes use a press camera in preference to my flatbed and monorail view cameras for convenience. Even an Anniversary or older model of Speed Graphic would suffice. A patient and wise ebay shopper could set up such a system for under $200 USD, maybe under $100. You won't have to sacrifice quality when shooting leaves, either. Adapting older equipment to modern tasks does sometimes require a little ingenuity. Eventually you will encounter subjects where a more versatile camera than a press camera is needed. By then you should have the experience to make a wiser choice than now.

Ken Grooms
27-Oct-2006, 04:49
That's sounds interesting, Jim. There's a lot on Ebay right now. Thanks!:)

Ole Tjugen
27-Oct-2006, 05:38
Through a little bit of luck, some patience, and several surpricing coincidences, I've managed to get a fully working pre-anniversary Speed graphic with fully working shutter, light tight bellows, several lens boards and a few lenses for less than $100.

It started with the lens boards - I was after a cable release and some spare parts for my Linhof Color, and bought a box of "assorted photography stuff" on ebay for $25. I saw there were at least eight good cable releases in it, so I decided anything else was a bonus. Among the stuff was also a new Linhof ground glass and 14 Speed Graphic lens boards - 8 old type, 5 newer, and one "baby Graphic". In another of these boxes there was a tiny little iris lens mount, only about 10cm across with a max lens diameter of 6cm.

In the meanwhile I've been accumulating old lenses - Rapid Rectilinears, Aplanats, old Anastigmats, Petzvals and whatever. Most of them without shutters, though. One very fine one is a Busch Aplanat No.3 with corroded barrel but perfect optics. It cost me $10...

So I started looking round for an old Speed Graphic to play with. In the end I put in a low bid on a very old one, state unknown, no lens, scuffed body. I got it for $56. It turned out to have a brand new synthetic bellows and a working (and even accurate) focal plane shutter! As well as a (working) Kalart rangefinder and focuspot...

So a Pre-Anniversary Speed Graphic for $56, say $25 for the lens boards and the iris, and $10 for the lens - that's $89 in total. I've spent the remaining $11 on another lens - a Perken Son & Rayment WA Portable Symmetrical "Optimus" 5x4" - 82mm focal length, f:16, and covers 4x5" with movements to spare.

These old lenses may not be as sharp as modern lenses over the whole field, but the central sharpness is as least as good as most modern lenses. With only 4 elements in 2 groups they don't need coating to be good and contrasty, either!

Ken Grooms
28-Oct-2006, 18:09
I just called my local dealer. He said he has a Pre-Anniversary 4x5 Speed Graphic and 150mm Ectar? lens that he will show me how to use next week! I can't wait!:)

Donald Qualls
28-Oct-2006, 20:50
If the focal plane shutter works and the bellows are good, that's a heck of a good first 4x5, Ken. I have an Anniversary Speed; I usually carry it with a 13.5 cm f/4.5 Skopar a few years older than the camera.

Ken Grooms
28-Oct-2006, 21:17
I'm so glad to hear that. I should have figured (My local dealer finds great stuff all the time - like the best camera/lens combo I've ever tried - DS M3 50 2).

Thank you!

Ken Grooms
28-Oct-2006, 21:20
Sorry - I forgot to ask - He's asking $329 - Is that a fair price in Excellent condition with clean glass? Thanks.

Frank Petronio
29-Oct-2006, 05:54
Yeah but get him to toss in some holders and film. Or at least a cheap plastic loupe.

Got a place to load film? Processing?

fred arnold
29-Oct-2006, 08:16
Just curious, but where do you guys stand on the old Calumet 4x5 monorails? (I'm not in the market, but I see one every now and then) I used one years ago and my only memory is "heavy". (and I guess "bleeping metal monorail will bring you up short if it catches a tree as you go by") No particular reason other than that nobody has mentioned them yet, despite their excess of movements relative to the various graphic press cameras which have been.

Ernest Purdum
29-Oct-2006, 10:37
These old (CC-400 series) Calumets were the mainstay of photographic training for many years. I think there was a good reason for this. They provided the student experience with all the view camera movements. Later, it might be decided that some or all of these were unnecessary for the work intended, but if so it would be an informed decision.

They had several other virtues. They stand up remarkably well. Lens boards and perhaps other parts are still available at modest cost from Calumet.

They were not perfect, of course. Particularly when in the vertical position, slippage of the focusing drives can be a nuisance. (Cleaning the rollers and their grooves can help.) Occasionally broken knobs are encountered. Better replacements can be found at www.mcmaster.com.

Someone who starts off with one of these will very likely want to move on to something else later. If so, having used the Calumet, he or she will be in a better position to know what to look for in a replacement. The Calumet can then very likely be sold for roughly the same price at which it was required. Alternatively, the buyer of a field camera might decide to keep the monorail for occasional use when fuller movements would be appropriate.

Jim Jones
29-Oct-2006, 13:45
Sorry - I forgot to ask - He's asking $329 - Is that a fair price in Excellent condition with clean glass? Thanks.

You can certainly find one cheaper on ebay if you are knowledgeable and patient. It is a gamble, though. A pre-Anniversary model, a fine lens (and I can't tell about the Ektar without more information), a few film holders, and most of all, the knowledge and goodwill of a local dealer, are valuable to a LF beginner. Ask him how much trade-in he will allow on the camera if you upgrade to something more sophisticated.

Ole Tjugen
29-Oct-2006, 15:12
Sorry - I forgot to ask - He's asking $329 - Is that a fair price in Excellent condition with clean glass? Thanks.

I admit to being one of the worst proponents of "dirt cheap bargains" here, but if I were you I'd buy it. A decent lens and a dealer you can get back to and complain if something isn't as expected - that's worth $250 IMO. That leaves $79 for the camera; a very fair price. If there are any light leaks or other problems, you know where to go. :)

I know that you can get a working LF setup for less than $100, but to do that you need a:time to search for bargains, b: luck with the "bargains" you get, and c: a thorough knowledge of unpopular old stuff. Or maybe just "b: Luck" - but if you believe in that, you should by a lottery ticket.

Donald Qualls
29-Oct-2006, 16:47
Sorry - I forgot to ask - He's asking $329 - Is that a fair price in Excellent condition with clean glass? Thanks.

I paid $150 for my Anny with blank lens board, no lens, (easily replaced) bad beam splitter in the (adjustable) Kalart RF, and only one infinity stop (should normally have two), but with a good focal plane shutter; I've since obtained the additional infinity stop and a replacement beam splitter (which I haven't gotten installed yet), and spent $180 on a Componon 150/5.6 in shutter, which can double as a 265/12.5 with the front group removed. Add that clean 150 Ektar (presumably f/4.5 to f/5.6 somewhere) in a good working front shutter with flash synch, and as long as the FPS is good, $329 isn't excessive (especially if the RF is still usable -- takes about half an hour to adjust it for a given lens). Still worth asking if he'll throw in a few film holders, though... ;)

You won't be able to use Graflok accessories, but that mostly means roll holders; most Polaroid backs will slide under the ground glass like a fattish film holder (go gently, though, just in case yours is tight), as will a Grafmatic. And I prefer the older 24-speed focal plane shutter over the newer ones with only six or so speeds. Do remember not to point the uncapped, open front lens near the sun, lest you burn a hole in the focal plane shutter... :eek:

Ken Grooms
30-Oct-2006, 21:42
Met with my local dealer and came to the conclusion that a monorail would better suit my needs, but he only had an expensive Omega. But Ebay has a lot of inexpensive ($200-$300) Toyos that look nice. Maybe I'll get one. Funny thing is none of them seem to come with a back. O well, I guess you can't get everything for 200 bucks!

I also got a cheap lens recommendation from Tim Sharkey - a Schneider G-Claron 210 f/9, which he informs me is actually multi-coated although that fact is not in the literature.

I've already been considering the Rodenstock 180 f/5.6 Sironar-N and Nikkor 150 f/5.6 - W. Lots of good stuff out there!

Frank Petronio
30-Oct-2006, 21:55
Almost all of them come with backs. What you might be looking for is called a "film holder". You'll want to buy 5 or more, they hold two sheet each, look for modern plastic ones made by Lisco or Fidelity to start. The film holder actually slides in between the ground glass back assembly and the rear end of the camera. The back is usually held onto the camera with large leaf springs. It sounds odd but if you see someone use a 4x5 it will all be very easy to grasp.

You should find loading film even more interesting ;) Again, RTFM.

Ken Grooms
30-Oct-2006, 22:05
I know - I just got my Soebel books yesterday!:eek::confused: :(

I think I'll practice with one sheet in the light for about a month!

Donald Qualls
2-Nov-2006, 14:41
Loading sheet film into the holder isn't difficult. I did it successfully, in the dark, without prior practice, on the first try (with a plate holder and film sheath, 9x12 cm); did it again, successfully, on the first try with a 4x5 film holder. Yes, I've had a couple 4x5 sheets go into the dark slide slot or otherwise get crossed up in the first few dozen loads, but practicing in the light wouldn't really have helped that, and I haven't had that problem in the past three loading sessions, so I think I have it beat now.