View Full Version : Appropriate equipment for LF

Jonathan Rice
28-Dec-2006, 09:08
I'm about to plunge into 4x5 phtography as cheaply as possible but without compromising the final print. This is driven partly by professional need to be able to take good clear transparencies of watercolour paintings either in the studio or outside under whitish sky conditions. I guess that a monorail studio view camera would be sensible but I fancy taking the thing out for landscape photos too. Because I'll need to take good colour transparencies I'm guessing that a modern, double coated lens is probably required? But could I get away with a good single-coated lens and does anyone have recommendations for affordable second-hand lenses? I'm guessing that I would need 150mm , 180mm or above? The smallest paintings I'll neeed to shoot would be about 25cm square.

Ought I to be considering only modern equipment or can something like a MPP Micro Technical camera with an International Back be used effectively (I know it would be good for B&W field work). I'm so new to this game. Do I use Dark Slides?

Any information would be useful...Thanks

Pete Watkins
28-Dec-2006, 09:37
I would go for a light monorail camera. I have an M.P.P. Micropress camera and I'm not very impressed with the build quality. In don't know about the other M.P.P.'s but I would steer away from them. Lenses, G-Clarons are reasonably cheap and very sharp at f22-f32, for copying Tominons (from Polaroid cameras) in Copal Press shutters are really nice. When photographing the paintings tungsten lights and tungsten balanced film is worth considering. I'm sure that I'm gonna be shot down about some of my opinions but thats life!

steve simmons
28-Dec-2006, 09:38
There are several articles in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site that will be ehlpful


I would not copy paintings outside under 'whitish' light and expect to get accurate color. Copywork is exacting and the lighting must be carefully controlled.

steve simmons

Ralph Barker
28-Dec-2006, 09:41
Welcome to the LF world, Jonathan. You'll find a number of helpful articles regarding camera and lens choices on the home page of this site. Just click on the "LF Home Page" link in the blue navigation bar above. There's more than enough information to get you completely confused. ;)

For copying artwork, almost any LF camera will do the trick for you - assuming that it has sufficient bellows draw for the lens being used and the working distance. If you set things up correctly, you won't need any movements. Other uses for the camera, however, may mandate other features. To maintain even lighting and controlled color temperature, however, you may find that getting a couple of electronic flash units advantageous.

As to lens choices, modern multi-coated APO lenses are a safe bet. But, you could easily get by with older lenses that are highly color-corrected (APO or near-APO), too. Note that a major function of multi-coating is to reduce flare - a situation that will be under your control when copying artwork. Multi-coating will, however, provide greater flexibility for other uses.

Ernest Purdum
28-Dec-2006, 09:47
You are going to get some recommendations that you buy a book before buying a lot of (comparatively) expensive equipment. That's very good advice.

There are many earlier lens and camera combinations which would well accomplish what you have in mind. The MPP is neither the lightest, nor the most convenient, but is a fine tool that would do all you have in mind. A good compromise, I think.

Multicoating has to do with avoiding flare and reduced contrast. It isn't a necessity for good color rendition. Single coating with careful lens shading will do fine.

Unless your lens works at a rather wide angle, you need a minimum of 150mm to cover 4" X 5" at infinity focus. with hopefully some extra coverage to allow use of movements.

One of the many affordable lenses is the 203mm Ektar. It would do your copying work well. Some people would prefer a shorter length for landscapes, but this is a very personal matter.

Ernest Purdum
28-Dec-2006, 09:57
I see no one has yet chimed in with specific book recommendations, so here they are:

Shaman "The View Camera"

Simmons "Using the View Camera"

Stone "A user's Guide to the View Camera"

Stroebel "View Camera Technique"

Try a library first.

All of these are very worthwhile. The last is a little controversial. It is the most thorough, and gthe mos t expensive, but meny complain it is less readable than the others.

Brian Ellis
28-Dec-2006, 10:00
If you're going to be doing primarily field work I'd suggest that you get a camera designed for that purpose, i.e. a field camera that is relatively light (6lbs or less), that sets up easily and quickly (most field cameras), and that is reasonably compact. A Tachihara or a Shen Hao makes a nice starter camera for landscape, exteriror architecture, and most kinds of general purpose photography. They both sell new for about $600. Or you can find them or another similar camera used for less. There are quite a few older used cameras on ebay all the time (e.g. Burke and James, Korona, used Wistas, etc.) that typically sell in the $500 - $700 price range. I'm not a big fan of the Speed Graphic/Graflex/Crown Graphic line of cameras for LF photography because of their limited movements but they are inexpensive and some people like them.

I'd suggest that you read some of the camera reviews on this web site to get an idea of what features might be important to you. There are many, many different LF cameras that probably would be suitable, it's mostly a matter of finding one that fits your initial needs. But don't worry too much about it, if you stick with LF photography it's unlikely that your first camera will be your last. The most important thing is to get started making photographs.

Coatings primarily affect flare. I don't use slide film but I've never noticed any major difference between the single coated and a multi-coated lenses I've owned. To the extent that a single coated lens might be more prone to flare you can deal with that by using a lens shade in high-flare potential situations. The main problem with older lenses is often the shutter, not the glass. You'll generally be safer with a modern Copal shutter than with the older Compurs, Betaxes, etc. If you buy a used lens make sure the seller can give you some assurance that the shutter works as it should, that the times are accurate (especially 1/30 and less since those are the times you'll most often use), that nothing is sticking, that it opens and closes properly on "B" and "T" settings (if it has both), that kind of thing.

Jim Noel
28-Dec-2006, 10:19
AN extremely lightweight monorail with a rail long enough to do the work you need is a Sinar Alpina. Except for the rail shape, it is a SInar F and they are often available in the $225 - 275 range. They tak all Sinar bellows, lensboards, etc and has all corrective movements.

steve simmons
28-Dec-2006, 10:22
Do I use Dark Slides?

This indicates to me that you know very little about large format. I would strongly suggest picking up one of the recommended books before buying anything. Also, if you are serious about copying paintings I would stay with a new multi-coated lens, something in the 210-240mm focal length for 4x5.

Lenses for landscape can be all over the place depending on your preferences. Again, there is a lot of information on the View Camera web site about lenses, cameras , etc.

steve simmons

Ole Tjugen
28-Dec-2006, 10:36
Simmons "Using the View Camera"

Steve Simmons is too modest to suggest it again, so I will. This is without a doubt the best investment for anyone about to enter LF. Read the book first, then decide on what equipment you want and need.

28-Dec-2006, 12:53

I'll second the notion that you should do some reading prior to doing anything. IMHO, there's nothing worse than spending a lot of hard-earned cash on equipment only to discover that it's not suitable for your needs.

Second worse thing - buying the appropriate pieces of equipment only to discover that you've absolutely NO idea on how to use them to your advantage.

Thirdly, understanding the barest of basics, loading up some very expensive color transparency film, taking the shot, having it processed only to discover that there's nothing recorded onto the film due to a small procedural mistake.

There are some people who like using monorails out in the field and vice versa. There are all kinds of cameras out there... and lenses.

It's really up to you to do some basic groundwork to understand the differences between the various camera types, lens types, films, etc.

Large format photography isn't like any other format whereby you pick up a camera and start shooting with it. There IS a bit of a learning curve that you have to go through in order to understand how things work.

Do some reading, ask some questions... we just don't want to see you wasting your money and taking the wrong path towards your objectives! :)

Good luck.


28-Dec-2006, 13:23
Points well taken. You like others may find that you do not like or have the temperment for large format photography. Some find that the care, time, expense, relative slowness in set-up and operation, weight, as well as the upside down and backward imaging not to their liking.


Jim Jones
28-Dec-2006, 13:59
For copying artwork a longer than normal lens avoids some problems. My first choice (since I already have them) might be a press camera (Speed Graphic or B&J) and the 203mm Ektar. Since front and rear movements aren't necessary for photographing art, the press camera is simple and quick to set up. Such cameras are an inexpensive way to ease into large format photography. You can always upgrade later. Well illuminated artwork against a dark background eliminates most problems of single coated or even uncoated lenses. If you don't have such a controlled environment, a lens hood helps. In large format photography, the latest and most expensive equipment isn't enough better for most shots to justify the cost. Cameras and lenses from a generation or two ago should suffice.

Claude Sapp
28-Dec-2006, 14:28
I think maybe resale value is a good metric to look at when buying your first camera. I would bet the number of LF photographers who have owned only one view camera is small; among my friends the number is zero, we have all had (or have) numerous cameras. My first camera was a homebuilt contraption, and I learned much from that experience. I made my own bellows for that thing, and bought a used 135mm lens. I learned what "focal length" meant when the damn thing would not focus on a landscape because the bellows did not compress down to 135mm. I cut the bellows in half and started this journey of learning, including owning a few view cameras. All that said, your first setup will probably not be your only and last setup, so get something relatively cheap that keeps its value in the resale market. For me, the Shen Hao was a great purchase, my first "real" view camera. Unless you get a longish lens, it should have plenty of bellows to do your object photography.

Jonathan Rice
29-Dec-2006, 09:29
Thank you all very much. Yes, my question about Dark Slides was a giveaway wasn't it? (been watching too many Star War episodes lately).

I'll try to get the books suggested.
Thanks again

Jonathan Rice

Richard Kelham
29-Dec-2006, 12:06
I have an M.P.P. Micropress camera and I'm not very impressed with the build quality. In don't know about the other M.P.P.'s but I would steer away from them.

As you say, you don't know about other MPPs....the Micro Technical is a very different animal. It would be quite good for Jonathan's uses as it is easy to keep the lens-panel and film plane parallel – very important for copying work and not easy with a wooden field camera. The MPP micro Technical is solidly constructed from metal and is to all intents and purposes a copy of the Linhof Technica. It does only have double extension bellows so don't buy too long a lens.

A modern lens in a good shutter is probably worth the extra expense. For copying work again good lighting is essential...but read up first, as everyone has said, 'cos mistakes start getting expensive when you're shooting LF colour.


Ken Lee
29-Dec-2006, 14:55
If you were going to take up the violin, it would be very helpful to spend even 5 minutes with an experienced player.

You might find it enormously helpful to connect with a Large Format photographer in your area. If you have to, pay the person for a few hours of teaching - but most of them would be happy to freely share their expertise.

andy bessette
29-Dec-2006, 22:01
If you were going to take up the violin, it would be very helpful to spend even 5 minutes with an experienced player.

You might find it enormously helpful to connect with a Large Format photographer in your area. If you have to, pay the person for a few hours of teaching - but most of them would be happy to freely share their expertise.

Yo Ken,

This seems so natural and obvious that I am quite embarrassed to admit that it had never occurred to me. If someone wanted to learn to snow ski or play tennis, they might never consider NOT taking lessons, but with something like large format photography, why should we think of it any differently? Thanks for pointing this out.

As I am also a novice, just getting equipped to shoot LF (4X5), I can recommend both the Shaman and Simmons books, which I happily own. But I know that, for myself, it took a LOT of other research and interviews for me to decide on which camera to start with (in truth, I have not quite decided, and bought both the Tachihara, for its' lighweight compactness, and the Wisner Technical Field, for its' longer bellows draw).

To me, choosing a suitable camera is such a very personal thing, I feel that no single person or book, nor even a diverse group of enthusiastic enthusiasts can make this selection for you, but only serve to guide each of us on our own individual path, a lifetime's work.

best, andy

Jonathan Rice
31-Dec-2006, 09:22
I am quite overwhelmed bythe usefulness of all your responses. Thank you again all, for so many different hints and tips. Fortunately I'm not a complete novice with cameras (I have twelve or so, 35mm and MF) though not LF, yet.

One thing has emerged as my greatest point of blindness. Because I don't yet have a LF camera to play with I am annoyingly ignorant of how film is actually dealt with on its way into the back of a 4x5 camera, the actual manipulation of the stuff from packet, through to exposure and out of the camera again. The principle is not so very different from that of 35mm or 120mm in that film must be kept unexposed until in place inside camera (and quite flat). Then the exposure is made. Then the film must come out of the camera again without being fogged or exposed.

There are several methods for achieving this in LF but this is where I really need some pointers. I would like to be able to get a 4x5 camera system that allows for convenient and ..dare I suggest...easy loading, shooting and removal of the film. I don't want to be fiddling about with anything unnecessarily archaic, or that makes this process more difficult or long-winded than it needs to be. Some LF camera backs seem to be more versatile than others. (I'm only talking in relation to loading and unloading of film). I want to take 4x5 transparencies, nothing else, to begin with. I probably won't need Polaroid or 6x9 but the capacity to load several 4x5 sheets at a time (if that's possible) would be an advantage. has anyone got advice solely about the minimum features of the back I should be looking for? The furthest I've got in this respect is that an International Back is an advantage on an older camera.

Many thanks all


31-Dec-2006, 09:43
Hi Jonathan,

If you only plan on shooting transparencies, you will have to decide for yourself if you wish to load and unload your own double or Graflex Grafmatic holders (or even the discontinued Mido holders) or to use the preloaded film available from Kodak (Readyload) or Fuji (Quickload) systems. You will have more available emulsions if you load and unload your own. However, it is far easier to load with more space available in a dark room or a darkened room that it is in a changing bag or a changing tent. Loading your own does take time and practice and you run greater risk of getting dust into the holders. The preloaded film has many fewer available emulsions, is much much more expensive, has less likelihood of having dust issues, and is much much lighter and much less volume for packing. If you opt for the preloaded film, you will have to at the very least purchase either a Kodak Readyload (new single sheet is preferable to the older discontinued double sheet) or the Fuji Quickload holder. Both will work with the other maker’s preloaded film.

I have been using Fuji Velvia and Provia 100 films for a very long time as the Quickload version but run the film through a Kodak Readyload holder.

Good luck.


Ole Tjugen
31-Dec-2006, 09:51
... I don't want to be fiddling about with anything unnecessarily archaic, or that makes this process more difficult or long-winded than it needs to be. ...

LF cameras can be said to be "necessarily archaic".

Oddly enough some of the most efficient film options like pack film and Grafmatics are long out of production, so we now have the choise between "archaic" double sheet film holders ("dark slides") and the not-much-better quickloads. One classic double film holder takes two sheets; if you need more, you need more holders.

Easy loading, shooting and removal of film are said to be the benefits of quickloads. I've never tried them, and am perfectly happy with ordinary "archaic" double film holders - loading is easy with a little practice, shooting is just the same, removing the film from the camera is certainly no more difficult, and unloading the film is even easier.

"International backs" are the de facto standard, and only a few very old camera don't have them. Many camera have Graflock backs, which are an advantage for (some) roll film holders, (some) digital backs, (some) reflecting viewers and suchlike. It's not necessary, but can be nice.

In use there is not much difference (except size) between my most modern camera and the other one which is virtually unchanged since 1900. I even use the same lenses on them - and on a camera which really was made around 1900. Some of the lenses are the same age, and some are brand new (less than a decade old, at least). To me part of the advantage of LF is the almost complete compatibility of everything over a period of a century or so!

steve simmons
31-Dec-2006, 10:16
In the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site there is an article on film holder choices. It will give you some visuals that will help you understand your choices.

steve simmons

neil poulsen
31-Dec-2006, 10:31
Consider getting a 150mm Componon S enlarging lens and a lens in a Copal 1 shutter. In addition to enlarging, this lens can be used for photographing your watercolors. I've used one for exactly this purpose, photographing a neighbor's watercolors. I thought the results were quite sharp.

Whatever lens in the Copal 1 that you get, one can determine a table to translate f-stops. We can help you with that calculation. Of course, if you were to get at 150mm taking lens, no translation would be necessary.

Jonathan Rice
31-Dec-2006, 18:26
Many thanks for that, Rich.



Jonathan Rice
31-Dec-2006, 18:34
That's great Ole. Thanks a lot for your information. Forgive my use of 'archaic' to describe photographic equipment that may well be durable and very fine. It has been hard for me to know what I'm looking for and what to avoid but your post has definitely helped to narrow things down a lot.


Jonathan Rice
31-Dec-2006, 18:35

Thanks again. I will go there directly!

Jonathan Rice
31-Dec-2006, 18:38
Thanks Niel,

As it happens I had favoured a 150mm taking lens, or 180mm. Why would you recommend Copal 1 shutter? Thanks for offering help with the calculations too.


John Kasaian
31-Dec-2006, 18:49

Just get a cheap but working 4x5 with a decent lens and shutter and start taking photographs. You'll soon learn what works for you, what you need and what you don't need. The Calumet 400 series and the Crown Graphics are all capable cameras. If you insist on "new" imports like the Tachi and Shen are good places to start. All will shoot portraits and all can be lugged out into the field (the Calumet requires a bit more enthusiasm the farther you get from the car) Read the books and articles and shoot your camera for a year. You'll know what you need by then. For your first lens get a 210mm-ish by any of the major manufacturers---Schneider, Nikkor, or Rodenstock. The Kodak 203 Ektar is also a great option as would be a Dagor or Wollensak Raptar---(the 165mm Velostigmat is a nice lens too) just make sure the shutter is good---iinvesting in a cla is a good idea.

Have fun!

Aaron van de Sande
31-Dec-2006, 20:51
Film handling is one of the toughest things to learn... using a changing bag, loading film holders (in the right direction) working out a process with filmholders so you don't double expose, tray developing without scratches....

Really the best thing you can do is get some inexpensive film and go at it.

14-Jan-2007, 12:26
considering the lens, i will go for an apo ronar 240 MC in black copal (from 200 to 500 $)
I guess that a monorail studio view camera would be sensible but I fancy taking the thing out for landscape photos too
As a monorail, while i'm found of arca swiss fline, i consider the Sinar Norma(from peanuts to 600 $) to be the best value for money 4x5 camera available in second hand.
But, i'm pretty shure, that a linhof technika IV (i prefer the V and later, but...) or a MPP in very good shape are good alternative if you don't need a lot of movements…
Note that these are not the cheapest alternative, but in my opinion... the best value for money !

Turner Reich
14-Jan-2007, 12:41
Do a bit of home work, go through some back issues of View Camera and read some posts on the net. Find someone with the type of camera you are moving up to. A minute with a master is worth more than reading a thousand books. And there is noting like jumping right in then finding the answers later. That's the most expensive, in time, which is the least available for most.

How about a Calumet cc4x5? Some sell with a lens for the same as without. Some sell with a lens and a case and some holders. Look on the eBay, you should be able to come up with a nice kit for a small amount. It's not like decades ago where you paid full retail price or bought the scarce used equipment.

and Good luck

Jonathan Rice
22-Jan-2007, 12:52
I have taken a lot of the advice given to me here. I've done some reading and have found an experienced LF photographer locally who will help, as well as an LF camera club.

In the end I bought a Sinar with an extension rail, 24" in all. I also bought a cheap lens, just to get the hang of things before I plunge into true expense. A 210mm F4.5, which, with the bellows extended, will focus pretty close up to my intended subjects. I'm still hunting for film holders. I'm going for a polaroid 545 to begin with, so I can shoot polaroids and try out some Quickloads with it.

Thanks all.


Richard Kelham
22-Jan-2007, 17:21
considering the lens, i will go for an apo ronar 240 MC in black copal (from 200 to 500 $)

I would think that if Jonathon wants to copy paintings as small as 25cm square he would need one helluva lot of bellows draw with a 240mm lens. Most of the field cameras (such as the Wista, Mpp etc) only run to double extension, or about 300mm.

The best colour fidelity would come from using a multicoated APO lens such as the latest Symmars or Sironars, but that kind of quality comes at a price. For all but the most critical work a multicoated Symmar-S (or equivalent) would be perfectly adequate it should be possible to pick up such a lens (150mm f5.6 version) in excellent condition for less than 150.


25-Jan-2007, 11:25
Right. The extension is often maxed out on my Wista technical field camera when I use my 300mm lens.

Also, regarding the film holders; I bought a Grafmatic holder many years ago thinking it would be more efficient and save me time, but in practice I've found that I still prefer the standard holders, both for loading, and for shooting.

I think the Grafmatic holders were most useful in the days when press photographers had to snap away like they do today with SLR's, but in today's more deliberate and contemplative "large format" work (the 4x5 was once considered medium format by the way), I think that the standard film holders are easier to work with. The only slight downside is the bulk.

Ole Tjugen
25-Jan-2007, 13:13
...The best colour fidelity would come from using a multicoated APO lens ...

I agree on the multicoating, but not the APO bit. An apochromatic lens will focus all colours at the same point, which does not imply better colour fidelity. At the working distances in question, an Apo Repro lens might be a good idea though, since the main interest is at ratios of 1:4 to 1:10. An APO lens optimised for infinity will be no better than anything else at these distances.

A couple of posts further up someone recommended to get a lens in a Copal 1 shutter.
I disagree - for your use, I would recommend any shutter size except #1!
Why? Becaause #1 is the only standard shutter size with asymmetric threads, which means that you cannot reverse the lens cells if you want to go closer than 1:1!

My favorite "close-up-and-macro lens" is an old 240mm f:5.6 Symmar. It's optimised for 1:10 (according to old Schneider literature), and the #2 shutter lets me swap the lens cells if I go closer than 1:1. Of course that takes a lot of bellows...