View Full Version : LF VIRGIN - seeks advice!

Nick Wood
31-Oct-2006, 03:06
OK, OK, I know you lot have heard it many times before, but I'm tearing myself apart here trying to choose which camera will be my introduction to LF. To (hopefully) help matters, I've decided against monorails for now, and have whittled the choice down to either a Technika IV or Tachihara.

I don't foresee any studio work - mainly landscapes/architectural. I've fondled a friend's Technikarden and Technika, and I liked what I fondled! Haven't even seen a Tachihara let alone touched one, but reviews seem to be good and I like the sound of its weight.

Sadly budget is limited. The only reason why I've specified Technika IV is that there's one ending on eBay in a couple of day's time. There's also a Tachihara ending in a few day's time; it's only a couple of months old and comes with a Schneider APO Symmar L 150 / 5.6. The Linhof doesn't come with a lens (or indeed lens panel).

I haven't got a clue how much either of these will end up going for, but have a feeling the Tachihara may be prohibitively expensive due to its age.

MPPs seem to be going through around the 250 mark (with lens), but ideally I want a camera which is going to last as long as I do. I get the impression MPPs are cheaper Technika replicas... oh dear, what am I starting here?


(and thanks in anticipation)

steve simmons
31-Oct-2006, 04:47
I would suggest doing some reading before you buy anything. Go to

www.viewcamera.com and then to Free Articles. There are several that may be helpful.

LF is all about lens choice. Try and decide what range of lenses you will want to use before buying a camera. If you work with 35mm now multiply your favorite lenses focal lengths by 3. This is not a perfect factor because of the different aspect ratio but it will get you close. This will help you decide what you need in terms of extension and compression capabilities with your camera.

Here are a couple of books

User's Guide to the Vierw Camera, Using the View Camera, or Large Format Nature Photography. Check your local library. If this e-bay camera gets away there will be another one.

steve simmons

Frank Petronio
31-Oct-2006, 05:06
FWIW, a Tachihara will feel like it is built from toothpicks compared to a Technika. Not that it isn't a good camera, but the two cameras are like night and day.

A good Technika IV will sell in the $800 to $1200 range, maybe more with extras. A 4x5 Tachi shouldn't ever go over $600. US Dollars. Prices vary a lot on eBay.

I'd look for a good outfit - holders, lens, the works - from a reputable seller and maybe circle back to someone for advice before buying.

Nick Wood
31-Oct-2006, 05:13
Thanks, Steve.

Apart from this website the only serious LF reading I've done is Mr Adams' The Camera.

I currently shoot MF 6x6 more often than not with a 50mm lens, which I assume is roughly equivalent to a 90mm lens in LF 4x5?


steve simmons
31-Oct-2006, 05:33
Yes, the factor from medium format is 2, which again is not perfect but close.


Ron Marshall
31-Oct-2006, 05:58
Nick, you probably have seen the camera reviews on the front page of this site:


Here are a couple of reputable stores which carry a good secection of used LF equipment, which will give you a good idea of camera prices:

KEH Camera Brokers; http://www.keh.com/OnLineStore/ProductList.aspx

Midwest Photo Exchange; http://www.mpex.com/InventoryList.aspx?DID=30&CID=401&FS=Large%20Format&SS=CAMERAS

There are also the classified ads at APUG:


Juergen Sattler
31-Oct-2006, 06:13
I would also suggest that you look at a Shen Hao - it offers much more movements than a Tachihara or Linhof Technika. Linhofs are very robust cameras but they are not for everyone - movements are awkward, especially the back movements. I found the Shen Hao a very good camera (I use it as a back-up to a Canham) with lots of movements, very well built and very resaonably priced. I would always pick the Shen over the Tachihara (same price, more for the bucks!).

Ralph Barker
31-Oct-2006, 07:24
Nick, if you click on the "LF Home Page" link near the top of the page, you'll also find a number of beginner-oriented articles here that may help you decide which equipment is best for you. Additionally, your question pops up all the time here. A search on something like "beginner" should point you toward previous discussions of your question.

Frank Petronio
31-Oct-2006, 07:26
Jim at mpex.com is very helpful and he could assemble a good starter outfit of used gear to fit your reasonable budget/ There prices are only a slight margin over eBay too. The fellow at Badger Graphic is also great if you are buying new gear.

Nick Wood
31-Oct-2006, 07:47
Thanks for all the advice so far.

I'm sure you all know the feeling - I've done a lot of reading and just want to get on with it now.

I'm still favouring field vs monorail due to portability and (hopefully) no need for drastic movements in the field, but it does raise yet another question.

As I said earlier, most of my MF photography uses a 50mm lens. Most of the specs I've read to date on 4x5 field cameras suggest lenses down to 75mm are no problem without resorting to recessed panels or bag bellows. However, what I don't want to happen is buy a camera + 90mm lens but find there are little or no movements at minimum bellows extension.

Is this a problem with field cameras (including the Technika)?


steve simmons
31-Oct-2006, 08:12
"I'm still favouring field vs monorail due to portability and (hopefully) no need for drastic movements in the field, but it does raise yet another question"

I do not understand this statement. There are monorail and there are folding cameras.

I usually recommend a bag bellows and or a recessed board for any lens shorter than 90mm. The Canham DLC is the only exception to this. There are people who willclaim they can use A 65 such and such a camera but I have tried it and it is a PITA compared to a camera that is designed/equiped for such a lens.

Again, if you have not done so read the article Getting Started in Large Format on the View Camera site. If you follow those guidelines you won't go wrong.

steve simmons

Ron Marshall
31-Oct-2006, 08:18
In the review of the Technica IV, on this site, the author states that the bed must be lowered even with a 90mm. Have a look at the review.

I have a 3lb Toho monorail, lighter than most field cameras and with greater movements.

31-Oct-2006, 08:42
Part of your decision depends on the amount and type of “Architectural” photography you intend to do. I have a Tech IV (great camera) and I also do Architectural photography, but I wouldn’t think of taking the Tech IV on an Architectural assignment. Using a 90mm or wider on the Tech IV is a challenge, mostly from a movement stand point. For the occasional photo of a building it may be OK, but not for serious Architectural work.


John Kasaian
31-Oct-2006, 08:47
FWIW I'd avoid ebay for a first LF camera. Unless you're looking for a 'beater' it is unlikely you'll get a good deal and more importantly you ought to be able to examine your camera before you commit. As to which camera, Linhof or Tachihara (or MPP) here's one option: Look at the work of several photographers and consider the model camera used by the photographer whose work you enjoy the most (Roman Laranc for example, uses a Linhof Technika.) Why? Because if somebody else can take sucesful photos of subjects that appeal to you, the chances are similar equipment will work for (or at the very least not hinder) you.



David Karp
31-Oct-2006, 08:57
Give Jim a call at Midwest Photo Exchange (mpex.com). He will take the time to talk to you about what you want to accomplish with your LF photography and help you pick the right camera. He once talked me out of a camera I really wanted because after our discussion he realized that I would not like some of its characteristics. Later, he sold me a Walker Titan SF that I love.

Regarding a Tachi. Don't buy a used one unless you get a great deal. New ones from Jim will run a bit under US$600. Sometimes they go for that much used on EBay.

Nick Wood
31-Oct-2006, 09:08

Yes, I did read "Getting Started ..." which is what led to my question.

Based on an anticipated predominant use of a 90mm lens, the question is what folding camera is going to give me enough movement? The article mentions "The camera movements I consider essential are front and rear swing and front and rear tilt."

The trouble is I don't know how much swing and tilt I'm likely to need when shooting landscapes. The other trouble is I'm dismissing monorails because a lot of my work is in Scotland where I sometimes walk over fairly rough terrain several miles before setting up. That tripod gets awfully heavy after the first mile.

Is there a monorail that fits neatly into a backpack?

Thanks again (to all of you).


steve simmons
31-Oct-2006, 09:15
Landscape require relatiely less movements than arch but generally more than portraiture. Movements are generally limited by lens design and not camera design. This is not necessarily true with very short or very long lenses. But anything in the mid range (90-210). With lenses shorter than 90 the limit on movements may be a compressed bellows if you do not have a wide angle or bag bellows.

Depending on your budget consider Arca Swiss. They make very compact monorail cameras.

The camera movements I consider essential are front and rear swing and front and rear tilt."

I said this because not all cameras have front and rear shift and front and rear rise and fall. There are work arounds using swings and tilts.

steve simmons

Ron Marshall
31-Oct-2006, 09:34
Is there a monorail that fits neatly into a backpack?


The Toho fits into a backpack and only needs a light tripod. I use a Gitzo 1227.


Brian Ellis
31-Oct-2006, 09:35
There are reviews of the Tachihara and a Technika V (same basic camera as the IV) on my web site, cited below. I liked both cameras and my present camera is a Master Technika. However, for someone just starting in LF with no clear reason to buy one or the other I'd suggest the Tachihara only because you can buy one new for relatively little money by LF camera standards ($600 at MidWest Photo Exchange). The Technika IVs were introduced in 1956/1957 and were made until the Technika V was introduced (don't remember exactly when, probably some time around the late 1960s). So you'd be getting a very old camera with the Technika IV, repairs to which are very expensive, and you'd pay more for it ($1000 or so on ebay).

The Tachihara is a very nice, very simple, well-made, light weight camera. The only really rational reason I replaced mine with a Technika V (as opposed to my mostly subjective preference for a metal camera) was that the longer bellows of the V allowed me to use a longer lens than the 13 inch bellows of the Tachihara.

I just saw your last message. It isn't true that most LF field cameras can take a 75mm lens without a recessed board. In fact most field cameras probably can't, which is why bag bellows are sold for many of them. Since you indicate a preference for shorter lenses, that's another reason to start with the Tachihara. It has a very flexible bellows and you can use a 75mm lens on it, certainly without a bag bellows since the Tachihara doesn't take a bag bellows and probably without a recessed board. I can't say for sure about the recessed board, the shortest lens I owned was a 90mm (which definitely didn't require a recessed board). With a Technika IV 75mm is pushing things, that's the widest lens that can be used on any Technika except the latest Master 2000 even with a recessed board. For anything shorter than 75mm you need to buy the wide angle focusing device (well over $1000 new). So you'd definitely need a recessed board with a Technika IV to use a 75mm lens and even then movements are restricted, especially on Technikas before the Master.

You're correct that you shouldn't need extensive movements in the field. Both the Technika and Tachihara have more-than-adequate movements for almost all kinds of photography, a lot of interior architecture and commercial product photography probably being the only two general exceptions. My first LF camera had every movement that a LF camera can have and I found most of them to be more of a pain than anything else. I almost never needed anything beyond the basic movements but before closing the camera after each use I had to check every one to make sure they all were zeroed out.

You'll likely be fine with either camera, I just think life will be a little simpler starting out with a new Tachihara rather than taking a chance on an old Technika, especially since you indicate a preference for shorter lenses.

31-Oct-2006, 11:15
I just went through the same decision. I ended up ordering a Shen Hao. I actually just put in an order this week, so I don't have it yet, but I'm sure it was the right decision from the reviews I've read. Remember when you read my opinions here that I'm a large-format novice, so take this with a grain of salt. I'm just explaining my own decision-making process.

Reason for a shen hao over a tachihara

- More movements
- Interchangable bellows, back slides forward more for wide angle use (to avoid bed vignetting)
- Graflok back (for roll film holders, etc)
- Not so cheesy looking (this is a minor consideration, but I don't like the red / gold look of the tachi)

Reasons to get the tachihara:
- A couple pounds lighter
- More cheesy looking (some people like it!)

Here's a comparison of the movements that I put together while making my decision. I totalled the front & back movements to get the max range of each:

77 mm max rise, 72mm max fall
45mm shift either way (back only)
37 swing either way
tilt: 130 max either way (plus axis tilts)
50-360mm bellows

rise/fall: 40mm rise, 30mm fall
swing: +/- 23 back only
shift: none
tilt: 120mm total either way
bellows: 65-330mm

Another you might consider is the Toyo 45CF, a reinforced plastic camera that's supposed to be pretty good. I ultimately decided against it because I still wanted the movements of the shenhao.

rise/fall: 28.5mm rise, 20.5 mm fall
shift: 28.5mm eithe way
tilt: +/- 15 degrees
swing: +/- 20 degrees
bellows: 80 - 360mm

For some perspective, here's how some lenses do (according to the lens comparison page on this site). No point getting a camera with a ton of movements if your lenses won't cover them, and good coverage lenses aren't cheap. I think you do get more movement out of your lens if you're focusing on closer objects (the specs are for infinity if I'm not wrong here).

90/6.8 grandagon N max movements:
Rise Shift Tilt Swing
44.79 39.53 26.46 23.71

210/5.6 sironar N max movements:
rise shift tilt swing
90.02 82.64 23.20 21.48

An avg. 150/5.6 movements:
rise shift tilt swing
40.59 35.63 15.14 13.36

Richard Kelham
31-Oct-2006, 11:22
The MPP is a well-engineered camera and should last many years if not seriously abused. Like The Technika using it with a 90mm lens is OK but gives little or no scope for the use of movements. They were often supplied with 90mm Angulon lenses (or their Wray equivalent) which only just cover the 5x4 format anyway so the lack of movements wasn't a problem.

They are strictly speaking Technical cameras rather than Field cameras, but are perfectly usable for landscape work. The range of movements is perfectly adequate for that. For a beginner the MPP is probably a good choice as it is affordable, rugged, reasonably easy to come by, and easy to re-sell if you want to move on (I'm assuming you're UK based). There is information, and help, available from the MPP Users Group http://www.mppusers.freeuk.com/ use the money you save on buying a good lens like the new Super Symmar.

Good luck.


31-Oct-2006, 11:57
Unless you are in a particular hurry to buy a LF camera I would suggest that you attend a Large Format Workshop. That way you will get real hands on experience with a few LF cameras and be in a much better position to make an informed decision. All the statistics in the world cannot compare with actually using these cameras when it comes to making a choice.

I attended a Light and Land LF Workshop in Whitby in 2005 with Joe Cornish and David Ward. They both let attendees use their own cameras (Joe was using an Ebony 45SU, David uses a Linhof Technikardan) and had a number of other cameras available for people to borrow as well. On my workshop these included a Lotus and several Linhof Technikas. There is of course the added benefit of having experienced LF users on hand to help you through all of the inevitable problems!

David Whistance

Nick Wood
31-Oct-2006, 16:54
I'm overwhelmed by all the great advice from all of you.

eBay can wait. Whatever I end up with, it'll certainly be a much more informed choice as a result of this forum!



Brian Ellis
31-Oct-2006, 22:44
"I just went through the same decision. I ended up ordering a Shen Hao. I actually just put in an order this week, so I don't have it yet, but I'm sure it was the right decision from the reviews I've read."

You don't yet have the camera but you know it was the right decision? I hate to tell you this but none of us ever bought a camera because we thought it was the wrong decision. Unfortunately after a period of use many of us find that we did indeed make the wrong decision in the sense that our we learn that there were better choices out there than the one we first made. I'd be very surprised if more than a relative handful of the people here who have been using LF equipment for more than maybe five years are still using their first camera as their principal camera. So you might reserve judgedom on the wisdom of your choice, and defer making recommendations to others, until you've used your camera at least a few times.

Alan Davenport
31-Oct-2006, 23:17
Hi Nick,

I'll weigh in here since I own and use a Tachihara with a 90mm lens. (OK, to be perfectly honest, I own and use a Calumet Wood Field XM, but it's a rebadged Tachihara. A Tachumet?)

I like the Tachihara a lot. Light weight, well built, plenty of movements. And it's a pretty little thing to boot. Priced at the entry end of the LF price range.

I use a 90mm f/8 Super Angulon with my Tachi. Alright you caught me again; the lens has a Calumet label also. Thanks to that label, it cost me half of what Super Angulons with the Schneider name engraved on 'em were going for. Multicoated, too.

Moral: always check the label if you like to drink champagne on a beer budget. Calumet, in particular, has a history of selling equipment from A-list manufacturers, and their previously-loved units often sell for much less thanks to snooty LF snobs who insist on the OEM badges even tho the equipment is identical.

Back to the camera: with a 90mm lens on a flat lensboard, the Tachi's bellows is compressed enough that you'll fight against the bellows to use more than a smidge of rise or a few degrees of tilt. The good news it that you need less tilt with a wide angle lens (in the same situation.) For architectural photography you might find it worthwhile to get a recessed lensboard which would solve the bellow issues to a large degree. (Another aside: Tachihara's literature claims you can use a 65mm lens with this camera. Probably yes with a recessed board but I doubt it with a flat board, though I haven't got a 65 to try with it.) For my purposes, mostly landscape, I get by with a flat board.

The Tachihara's bellows are not interchangeable, so you won't have the option of a bag bellows. Another option might be the Shen Hao, which does have interchangeable bellows and reportedly more movements than the Tachi. I've never handled a Shen Hao so that's all I can offer. I've managed to exceed the image circle on a 10 inch lens (which covers 8x10 with room to spare) with the movements on the Tachihara, so I don't feel the need to experiment further.

Monorails: I started with a monorail, believing that it was the "smart" thing to do when I was trying to learn about cameras with movements. Smart perhaps, but not easy to lug around. At almost 3X the weight of the Tachihara and 4 times the bulk, I also learned why Weston stayed close to the car. The Toho might be a notable exception but I've never seen one of them sell cheap.

Used Tachiharas sometimes sell for around US$300, and 90mm Super Angulons in the same range. I'd stay away from the "non-Super" Angulon lenses and the like, as they have very limited image circles and offer very little change for front movements on a 4x5 camera. Likewise, I see little need for the newer, faster SAs and Grandagons which gain you a stop or so of speed and a bit larger circle but exact a penalty in gold. A good darkcloth and a loupe will make an f/8 lens as easy to focus as any other.

Whatever you decide on, welcome to the asylum!

Brian Ellis
1-Nov-2006, 02:09
"Back to the camera: with a 90mm lens on a flat lensboard, the Tachi's bellows is compressed enough that you'll fight against the bellows to use more than a smidge of rise or a few degrees of tilt."

If you're battling the bellows to use movements with a 90mm lens there might be a problem with your bellows shrinking or drying out. I used a 90mm F5.6 Super Angulon on a flat lensboard with my Tachihara and don't recall any major restrictions on movements. Of course with a wide angle lens very small movements have a big effect.

"Another aside: Tachihara's literature claims you can use a 65mm lens with this camera. Probably yes with a recessed board but I doubt it with a flat board, though I haven't got a 65 to try with it."

I tested a 65mm lens on my Tachihara. It was on a flat lens board and the lens worked fine on the camera. However, I didn't buy the lens and it's been a long time ago so I don't recall how much, if any, room for movements there was. Probably little if any on a flat board but probably more on a recessed board.

"The Tachihara's bellows are not interchangeable, so you won't have the option of a bag bellows. Another option might be the Shen Hao, which does have interchangeable bellows and reportedly more movements than the Tachi. "

The fact that you don't need a bag bellows with a Tachihara to use at least a 65mm lens (and I think there's a post in another part of this forum where someone talks about using a 58mm lens on a Tachihara) seems to me a major advantage for the camera, not a disadvantage. I'd hate to have to buy, drag around, and install a bag bellows every time I wanted to use a 90mm or shorter lens as is the case with many cameras including the Shen Hao (from reading only, not from personal experience).

It's understandable but unfortunate I think that some newcomers become enthralled with movements when buying their first large format camera. They don't realize that on a camera such as the Tachihara with front rise, fall, and swing plus rear tilt and swing, having additional movements such as rise, fall, and shift on the rear isn't terribly useful for most kinds of photography. But I can certainly understand the appeal of a lot of movements to a newcomer. The availability of every possible movement front and rear except rear fall was one of the main reasons I bought my first LF camera, a Linhof Technikardan, which turned out to be a mistake. I found that the only movements I used 90% of the time were tilt and swing, the others just added unnecessary weight and cost to the camera for the landscape and architectural photography that I mostly do, plus something that had to be checked every time I closed the camera.

1-Nov-2006, 19:32
I'd be very surprised if more than a relative handful of the people here who have been using LF equipment for more than maybe five years are still using their first camera as their principal camera.

That's true, but it also implies that the camera that is right for one person will be wrong for another, and in that sense those with experience are no more qualified to give opinions on another person's purchase than those of us who've never touched a camera in our lives ;)

As you've pointed out, this stuff is pretty subjective. I based my decision on the fact that a fair number of people seemed to be happy with the camera. I'll report back as to whether or not it was a good decision later, but from my experience with other decisions like this I know that ultimately I learn to adapt to what I've got, and I don't get too hung up on the details or wistful for unnecessary upgrades. For example, I've been using 35mm and digital SLRs for quite awhile, and anybody who hangs out on any of the digital oriented forums will attest to the fact that there are thousands who seem totally miserable with the handling of their particular camera and are looking for justifications to upgrade or switch brands or whatever... but ultimately it's all a matter of how adaptable you are, and how much of a gear-o-phile you are.

I agree with you 100% that paper specs aren't everything, and that buying just on the basis of getting the most movements is probably the wrong approach. But as you point out, a novice doesn't necessarily know which movements they'll end up using the most, so it's worthwhile starting with something reasonably flexible.

I don't do this professionally. That's another important caveat I guess. I can understand that if it's your paying job where getting it right is the difference between a paycheck and a lawsuit, gear decisions are a bit more critical.