View Full Version : Recommendations for a 4x5 monorail camera

Chuck Peacock
25-Feb-2008, 11:48

While I'm a new member of the list, Iíve been shooting 4x5 for about 30 years using a Crown Graphic and an Ikeda folding field camera. Lately Iíve been getting an itch to try some things that need movements the press/field cameras just canít handle and Iím considering getting a monorail.

Actually, I already have one Ė an ancient grey Calumet that a friend gave me as a fixer-upper. After much work, I have finally concluded that itís only good for parts, and the only part that seems to be in OK shape is the bellows. The reason I mention this is that it sets a firm bottom limit. Iím not interested in anything that needs a lot of work and I want something where the movements are smooth. The best I ever achieved with the Calumet was movements that wouldnít move at all until you forced them and then they jumped a quarter of an inch (if you were lucky).

While I like to think Iím pretty well versed in the workings of press cameras and lightweight field cameras, Iím the first to admit that I know nothing about what to look for in a monorail camera. So, here are the questions:

What should one look for in a used monorail camera?

What should one avoid in a used monorail camera (other than a basket case Calumet)?

What is it that makes a used Toyo CX sell for $350 while a used Sinar P2 goes for $2500?

Does anyone have any specific recommendations under $500? Under $1,000?


25-Feb-2008, 12:35
I've had a number of mono-rail cameras over the last 30 years and two areas that I always appreciated and looked for was locking geared movements (....and as many as I could get!) and rigidity of the entire camera.

The obvious trade off with my priorities is weight, but I've always worked on a large camera stand where weight was of little or no concern.


25-Feb-2008, 12:50
Hi, Chuck.
I'm not sure I totally understand what is locking up on you on the Calumet. If it is the movement along the rail itself, that is often a high spot that has developed by getting bumped or otherwise misshandled. A machinist friend of mine was able to fix exactly that problem on mine by identifying the spot and working on it carefully with some automotive grade sandpaper until it moves perfectly.

I've also been successful at getting other needed parts from Jose at Calumet repairs. The 400 series is still a very usable system when it is properly repaired and mantained.

If you defintely want to move forward, the more recent Calumets and Cambos are fine cameras either in the low price models or their top line cameras and many can be found on ebay or at KEH for very reasonable prices.

I've used a Cambo SCX since the early eighties with no problems whatever. It is definitely a heavy duty machine with every control I'll ever want. You might also look at the old Graphic Views. Great cameras for a limited budget, but less agile than the more modern gear.

If you are buying, consider whether you will want a camera that allows interchanable bellows. Much easier to use than recessed boards for your wide angle lenses.

Hope that helps.


25-Feb-2008, 14:15
Chuck: I just got myself a Cambo 45NX ,It tears down nicely and goes together real fast once you know what your doing [Grin] and can be had for short funds try your local craiglisting section on the web , or Largeformat for sale section and also photo.net for sale and apug.org for sale before going to the Big e-bay and good luck and enjoy yourself and do get yourself a book on Largeformat cameras Like Using a view camera by Steve simmons

Here is a Cambo on e-bal for short funds : 170196311751

Frank Petronio
25-Feb-2008, 15:23
While all of the popular brands make great cameras, I'll watch really top-notch extra high quality Linhof monorails go for a song on eBay... and while a Toyo or Cambo will do everything the Linhof will do, for the same money or just a bit more you can get something really made by magical German elves....

But... in terms of finding inexpensive add-on parts and accessories, the one to get is Sinar. There are more lensboards and bag bellows and 100 other gizmos for Sinar than any other brand, so if you are think of building a "system" it is hard to beat for price vs. performance. And Sinar is pretty nice quality too.

You see Sinar Fs sell in the $300-400 range all the time.

Glenn Thoreson
25-Feb-2008, 16:06
I never had a problem with my similar monorail camera. I'm assuming it's the Calumet CC 400 series you have. Mine was made by Kodak before Calumet and Burke & James picked it up. I always had butter smooth movement and secure locking. They're not complicated, mechanically. It should be a relatively simple fix, unless it's completely worn out. Replacements - Graflex Graphic View II and Linhof Color Kardan go cheap. If you're in the field with it a lot, my choice would be one of the light weight, collapsible (i.e. comes apart in sections) numbers. I'm not familiar with the names of all these cameras. I actually prefer a field camera anyway.

Don Dudenbostel
25-Feb-2008, 18:27
there are plenty of excellent monorails like the Cambo, Arca, Sinars and Linhof. My personal sselection was a new Sinar Norma nearly 40 years ago. I've used it profesionally for that period and shot thousands of sheets and carried it from one side of the country to the other many times. It's really seen the use but still functions like new and looks darn good too. I also have the 5x7 back and have run it through the ringer too. 4x5 Normas ususlly run around $700 to about 1K. Look for one that has the self braking focus. Nothing wrong with the other and either would make a great camera. The self brake is the last of the Normas. Also the Linhof Kardan Bi cameras run about the same and are equal in quality and performance. Second choice would be a Kardan Color 45 not the old Kardan color that used the Technika swings and tilts. Some of the less expensive and newer Sinars might be good choices but I have no experience with them. I also use a Calumet (original one) and Kodak that became the Calumet later. Both good but no firlls. I purchased a Cambo about thirty years ago for a company I worked for and like it but found it a little sloppy in construction compared to the Sinar. Of course the Sinar Normas were all hand made. In the early 70's I talked to the Sinar rep and at the time he said there were only 7 people in the factory that made the cameras and that years total production was only 750 cameras of all formats. Now that's almost custom built. To give you an idea of what the cost of my camera was in 1969 when I bought it I found the reciept in the instrucion book. I paid $365 which was the most expensive of the 4x5 in 1969. That today would be around $3K. Fom the use I've given these cameras I can say they're the finest of pecision quality and built to last generations of heavy commercial use. It was well worth the cost.

Ron Marshall
25-Feb-2008, 19:28
My first camera was a 4x5 Sinar F1, for which I subsequently obtained a 5x7 Norma back. Wonderful camera. I have a lighter Toho also, for hiking with.

Check out KEH camera brokers and Midwest Photo for used models, or ebay. They are a great value.

Chuck Peacock
25-Feb-2008, 21:26
A couple of people have asked what exactly was wrong with the Calumet. My friend got this camera from his local school system. They had used it as a parts camera to keep a number of others running and when they got new cameras, they sold the working ones and threw this one out. He salvaged it and gave it to me. It has a long list if problems:

- The handle including the left side level is missing -- I suppose I could have my local shoe repair guy make a new handle, cobble up a mount and add one of the Toyo two way levels I bought at a camera show years ago.

- The rail is missing its front and rear plastic stops -- I suppose I could kludge something up or just ignore this.

- There is some kind of gear inside the revolving back with a lead screw running through it. It's near the lock, but not coupled to it. This is corroded and won't move -- since I don't know what this is, I suppose I might not miss it.

- The upper part of the lensboard retainer is missing the shoulder screws that hold in down -- if this was all that was wrong, I'm a good enough machinist to make these.

- The camera appears to have a geared rise on the front standard -- but it doesn't actually do anything. Try as I might, I can't get the front standard to move more than about 1/8 inch. I even removed the knob & gear thinking they might be jammed, but somehow, the front standard itself is jammed.

- The metal around the slots that allow the standards to shift left and right is chewed up pretty badly. There are washers under the screw heads now, but it looks like they weren't there for some or most of its life. As it is, it makes these movements jerky. I might be able to fix this with a file and find sandpaper, but I'm a bit afraid there would be too much play when I was done.

- The rear part of the revolving back is gone, including the ground glass -- I can't think of anything I could do here without the part.

- The rail itself seems rough. I'm not sure if it's corroded or what. I tried cleaning it with acetone, but that didn't help -- I'm afraid all I could do here is remove it and go at it with fine steel wool. Again I'm afraid I'd end up with too much slop.

It's kind of the case of too many things wrong. One or two things I'd be willing to fix, but all of these -- I'm just too old to deal with it.

25-Feb-2008, 21:45

If you do get one, get one that is geared. That way if you decide to put a digital back on it, you won't have to worry about the focus shifting when you put that heavy digital back and cable on.

I have a Toyo Robos which has geared front and back rise and shift. The Robos has all the movements of the Sinar P2 and you can pick one up reasonable. In fact I believe that KEH or B&H has one for $1200 with factory case in 9 condition out of 10. I was lucky and bought mine in mint condition from Igor Camera on Ebay for $750 last year. The Robos is considered by many to be one of the best view cameras ever made and, ironically, also the most undervalued and under- appreciated cameras ever made. The Robos was discontinued by Toyo around '98 or '99 and sold new for $4400. It weighs 12lbs, is beautifully engineered, built like a tank, AND is a handsome piece of machinery to look at. Kind of like having your cake and getting to eat it too!

Nothing wrong with other brands such as the Sinar but whatever one you get make sure it's geared for when you go digital.


Kirk Fry
25-Feb-2008, 23:02
You old Calumet is really not worth fixing when you can buy good ones on Ebay for $99. I have had one for 30 years and it has always served me well.
I eventually move up to an old used ARCA B model. I like the camera a lot. If I had to do it over I would probably do the Sinar system. I bought a Linhof 45S on ebay for $180 and it is really really nice, but heavy. Real quality.

25-Feb-2008, 23:06
Hello again, Chuck.

Move the standards back and forth on the rail until they won't go and then attack those rough spots with automotive sand paper and steel wool like I mentioned my machinist friend did. If you are patient and gentle, you should fix it without any slop to worry about.

The front rise is accomplished by pulling out on the knob which seats the pinion gear into the rack. Rotate the knob for up or down. Then you push the knob back in when you have adjusted the rise to your desired position.

Once you've smoothed the swing plates, you should be able to find very thin nylon washers to use as shims if needed.

Check with Jose at Calumet for the other parts and keep your eyes open on ebay for the back. I've seen several of these come up as either the back alone or as part of a group of bits from one of these cameras.


3-May-2010, 15:55
I am in need of a Calumet 4x5 20inch monorail . Any help ?
Bill Turner cbtfoto@verizon.net

Eric Brody
3-May-2010, 17:24
If you want a monorail you can actually carry and possibly hike with that combines rigidity, smooooth movements, and just feels good to use, consider an Arca. Get in touch with Rod Klukas at Photomark in Phoenix. I have no connection to him or Photomark except as a satisfied customer.

Good luck.


Joshua Dunn
4-May-2010, 11:26
What Frank said, Except I would recommend a Sinar F2. The biggest difference between (but not the only) an F1 and an F2 is the F2 has geared front focus. I have seen them go for less than $500 on the big auction site. Infinitely versatile and accessories are plentiful and (if you are patient) cheap.

4-May-2010, 11:52
Someone on APUG this morning was selling a very nice condition Calumet, with original case, and 4 film holders for $100. Might still be available.

Peter De Smidt
4-May-2010, 12:45
You should decide what types of things you're going to photograph. In particular, if you're going to do a lot of traveling/hiking, you don't want a Sinar P, mainly because it is extremely heavy and bulky. On the other hand, if you're going to do a lot of studio work or right-next-to-the-car work, then a Sinar P (or p2) would be outstanding. All of the movements are geared, and the camera is very sturdy. And as Frank said, there are lots of accessories available for reasonable prices.

Horseman is another option, and some Horseman parts are interchangeable with Sinar. (Usually bellows and lensboards.)

If size and weight really matter, check out a Toho.

13-May-2010, 12:53
I know I will get some flack for this, but if you want a monorail that you can use in the field, I have a Linhof Standard. It is extremely light and portable yet can use most every Linhof accessory. It does have a Graflok back, is geared and has all the movements I can handle. Best part, they are usually available at very reasonable prices. The only difference I have found is that the bellows are fixed, but of course they can be replaced if needed. Take care.

neil poulsen
13-May-2010, 13:12
What kind of photos do you plan to take with this camera? Do you plan to work in a studio or take it outside? How important is weight to you? If you want to use it outside, how far from the car do you think you'll venture?

There are a few directions in which you could proceed, depending on what you have in mind.

23-May-2010, 04:57
Be sure that, when you do buy, you get a system that is versatile, expandable (and you can get parts for), and will serve your shooting goals--that is, don't be penny wise and pound foolish. For example, the Arca F-Line I will be putting up for sale soon (sorry for the shameless plug) is not the ideal studio camera but served me well for landscapes and architecture.

23-May-2010, 05:47
Get a used Graphic View II and the adapter to use your Crown Graphic lenses on it. They're cheap, they last forever, and they can do anything that the most expensive new monorail will do unless you're using lenses shorter than 90mm.

23-May-2010, 05:59
First determine what it is you like to shoot a lot of, determine a budget, and be prepared to exceed that budget by about 15-20%. A working camera is a working camera, it all depends on the user. Having said that, availability of parts, interchangeability, and price of accessories will become a factor in your decision.
A must-have, for me, is a Graflok back with a viewing hood; everything else is frills.

24-May-2010, 08:28
Take a look at the Linhof Technikardan. Absolutely brilliant for both backpacking and studio. Well worth its mony.

David Southwell ARPS

Chuck Peacock
24-May-2010, 08:32
Thanks to everyone for their replies, but my original post is more than two years old. Since then I've gotten a Sinar F2 for studio work and a Tachihara full-plate with 4x5 and 5x7 backs to be portable.

My current project is to take an old Speed Graphic that I never use, mate it with a 65mm Super-Angulon and a 6x12 roll-film back and make a portable medium/large format panoramic camera.

Anyone have any good ideas on how to make a 6x12 viewfinder other than paying Horseman or Linhof?


Lynn Jones
25-May-2010, 16:03
That was true, Don, and after the original maker Mr. Koch, turned it over to family, nearly all of the parts were made and machined by outside contractors. The people in the factory were simply assemblers. The only reason that they made a bit over 700 was that some major parts were considered to be cameras when in fact they were reducing or enlarging backs or extra bellow systems.

When we were considering importing and distributing Sinars in about 1966, the factory said that the US had made 103 cameras in the previous year, when we checked the actual invoices, there were only 60 some odd, the rest were major parts.

In the mid 60's through the mid 70's, calumet made and sold over 12,500 LF view cameras yearly while the rest of the world made less than 2,000 and in many years barely 1,000.

Chuck, regarding your Calumet, If it was from 1955 (when it was bought from Kodak) until mid 1964, it could be as bad as the Kodak Master View which is why Kodak sold it. From that time until they changed the color, they were all very well made, if that is your camera clean the monorail, check to be sure that the monorail wasn't slightly bent or distorted. You can check by looking at the thick nicely made red medallion on the front of the camera, if that is the case it is an old one and could have all sorts of problems. After about July or Aug of 64, the "Big C" medallion was too expensive (at nearly $2.00 each) and was replaced by a flat glued on medallion. In Jan of 64, we completely re-engineered and largely re-tooled the camera. By no later than May or so, all of the cameras were of the newest type. I spent about 7 years with that company, Calumets, Caltars, Color analyzers, 10x10 enlargers, color film and print processors, ultra hight quality film and plate processors, etc. I was Asst. to Corp. VP, East. Mgr., West. Mgr. and then went on to bd VP of Celestron, when the founder sold the company.