View Full Version : Which Large Format Camera for a Newbie

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6-May-2008, 04:13

I am newbie to this wonderful forum - in the market for a large format, I do like the Ebony and interested in the 45SU, also have seen and very impressed with the Linhof Technikardan, but after reading Brian Ellis experience, I need to think again.

You good people out there, please can I have your experience on both, Pros and Cons and your advise, also experience with lenses as I am in the market for a couple to start with, I will be shooting landscapes, currently most of my photos on 35mm are between 20mm and 50mm.

I am coming across from 35mm SLR.

Regards and thanks.

David Rees
6-May-2008, 04:46
For landscape work, you will be well served with a 5x4 field camera, rather than a monorail, for reasons of size and weight, at least to start with. Since you seem to be leaning that way anyway, that's easy advice to give!

As to which 5x4 to buy, I'd venture to suggest that it doesn't matter that much. More important is to get hold of one, and start taking photos with it. With a year under your belt, you will be in a much better position to know your precise needs, and therefore able to find the camera that suits you.

If you purchase a 5x4 2nd-hand, use it for a year, and then sell it on, you are not likely to lose very much at all on the deal, so my advice is not as financially stupid as it would at first appear (though see below...).

You would also benefit from just getting one lens at first, and becoming familiar with LF technique, before buying a wide variety of lenses (I speak from experience here). Given your desire to photograph the landscape, and your 35mm lens choices, I think a 120mm, 135mm or 150mm would do fine as a first lens. Anything wider, such as a 90mm, gets harder to focus, and until you are really comfortable with the LF technique, will simply add additional grief.

I got into LF 3 years ago, with the purchase of a 2nd-hand Wista DX and 180mm lens. It proved an invaluable tool on which to learn, and a year ago, I added a Walker Titan XL (for wide-angle work, since I fitted it with a Bossscreen) and a 45SU for general work. I never did part with the Wista though, since I now use it as my backpacking camera (and I'm too sentimental to let it go).

I did sell on the 180mm lens, simply because I didn't like the Copal Press shutter it was fitted to, and wanted to standardise on the normal Copal shutters. I bought a replacement in that focal length, and a wide range of others. For landscape on 5x4 LF, I find I use my 120mm the most, followed by a 80mm XL and 180mm.

LF is great fun, but it is a very different way of working. Whenever I go out with LF kit, my goal is to find ONE good image on the day. This allows me the time to work for that one image.

Have fun!

Bob Salomon
6-May-2008, 04:58
but after reading Brian Ellis experience, I need to think again.[/QUOTE]

Why? There have been thousands of TK and TKS cameras sold over the last two decades and very, very few complaints or problems. It is all a matter of reading the instructions and following them. If you do the camera is extremely simple to operate.

That helps to explain why there are so few used ones available. Owners keep them and use them. But the important thing is to find a camera that you like and are comfortable with. Not one that you don't know and buy blind. Go get your hands on experience with whatever you will buy. Sometimes that means renting or at least visiting a well stocked dealer.

If we know where you are located we can direct you to someplace where you can get hands-on feel from many cameras.

Frank Petronio
6-May-2008, 05:10
If you can afford an Ebony and still have money left over for equally high quality lenses, a super tripod and head, plenty of film and shooting opportunities, then just get the Ebony and enjoy it. Go slow and figure it out, take a workshop to really learn it well.

But for $1000 investment you could get a very nice outfit that will make photos indistinguishable from the fancier gear. You might want to shoot for a while before committing to such an expensive camera that is somewhat obtuse to operate. Make you ham-fisted mistakes on something decent but cheap.

I advise you to get something simple and basic to learn on, like a $500 monorail that maybe harder to carry but more transparent in how to operate. That you can move a knob and make an obvious direct movement. Look for a nice used Sinar F1 or F2, or an older Linhof or Toyo studio monorail, or a nice old Arca-Swiss. Get a $250 150mm or 210mm lens, a solid tripod bigger than you think you need, some Polaroid while it is still available, film holders and a lot of film. If you shop at a reliable dealer, like Jim at mpex.com, he could put together a nice outfit that you can trust will work and be fairly priced.

Shoot and work up 100 sheets of film and then you'll know better what you want -- and you can swap the tyro gear out for about what you paid for it with little penalty.

Personally if I had Ebony money, I wouldn't get an Ebony, I'd get a Linhof or an Arca. But that's just me, I value precision of metal over the prettiness of a wooden camera. I don't really care for the Technikardan though -- it is overly complex -- beautiful design though -- but the Technika is really quite the bomb -- as is the Arca line.

Not to dissuade you from spending your wad, but the work in my portfolio is often made using a lens and camera worth about $500 total.

steve simmons
6-May-2008, 05:32
Before spending any money may I suggest some reading

The Free Articles in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site


one of these books

Jim Stone's User's Guide to the View Camera
Jack Dykinga's Large Format Nature Photography
Using the View Camera that I wrote.

Try your local library first.

After reviewing this material then come back and let us know what you think and what questions you then have..

steve simmons

Ron Marshall
6-May-2008, 05:42
Excellent advice so far. There are many good LF camera designs; some with features or quirks that one person may love and another may dislike enough to rule out using a particular camera.

It is easy to buy used LF equipment and sell with little or no loss; cheaper than renting.

6-May-2008, 06:04
I'm agree that a 120/135mm is an excellent choice for a first lens for a landscape photographer. There's something about 5x4 which leads me away from wider lenses, I used to shoot super wide on my digital slr but no more. I do occasionally use a 65mm or a 90mm but not as much as I thought I would.

Quite a few people don't take to LF so I'm not sure I'd go for an Ebony 45SU straight away, unless you're sure then go for it, they're lovely. If you intend long backpacking journeys it might be worth considering something smaller and lighter, all that large format gear adds up to a hefty weight, the SU ain't so light. I love my Chamonix 45N, it's light, has all the movement I need and allows the use of a wide range of focal length lens, but there's a waiting list if you want one of those though.

Walter Calahan
6-May-2008, 06:17
Well if you are interested in an Ebony, you won't go wrong.

I wished my first car was a Porche, but I settled for a Ford.

For a beginner, I recommend starting out with a less expensive rig.

6-May-2008, 06:22
I think David has given some really good advice. You probably need a field camera for your needs and a folding wooden field camera is probably the lightest and most compact option.

Also, regarding the camera. I have a Tachihara and a friend of mine has the Ebony SV45TE I think, though I've never asked which particular model he is using. Last time we met up I handed him my camera. He was amazed by how light it was. He handed me his Ebony and I was impressed by its smooth functionality, but was surprised by how heavy it is in comparison.

Now I can't do as many movements with my Tachihara as the Ebony and I'm pretty sure it won't allow as much bellows draw. But when I've got to carry the thing any distance I can tell you which I'd choose. 2 pounds less in the camera can be 2 pounds less in the pack, or another couple lenses, or some extra film depending on how you look at it.

And regarding the lenses. I think a used 120, 125, 135 or 150 f5.6 lens would really help you get going on the right foot. Just get one to start with and work around it. There is no sense buying up a ton of lenses before you make your first exposure. All of these focal lengths are relatively inexpensive used and if you find you want a different focal length you can probably sell one of these lenses with little to no loss. KEH is a great resource for used LF lenses too. Also remember that you can crop alot with 4X5 and still have a big chunk of film to work with so you don't need to have every possible focal length covered.

I hope you enjoy the 4X5 experience. I started unintentionally about a year ago and have enjoyed the format despite the little hiccups along the way.


John Kasaian
6-May-2008, 06:38
Get something cheap that works. The best camera for you will be the one you will want to take out and shoot with---and you won't know what qualities that entails until you get some experience. Calumet 400 series and Graphic Views are great cameras an not terribly expensive. For a flat bed type you might find an old Korona, B&J or Agfa. A "real" field camera would be something along the lines of a Tachihara---which holds it's value very well. I doubt you'll find any Shen Hao on the used market yet so a Tachi might be well your best deal on a used field camera. Even a Crown Graphic press camera is a pretty nice camera to start with----very limited movements but they are rugged and usually priced nicely.

All these cameras I've mentioned have been used to make exceptional photographs.

Put your money into the lens, which you'll be able to take along with you to use on the camera you move up to---if you do in fact move up. Many feel quite contented with what they start out with so don't be surprised if such happens to you as well.
A Schneider, Rodenstock or Nikor in a working shutter from 150 to 210 mm should work out fine for you---good camera shops with a LF clientele have a gazillion of them and they aren't expensive.

Of course if you want to go out and buy a brand new camera and lens, the economy will thank you :)

Jorge Gasteazoro
6-May-2008, 06:40
Unfortunatelly a camera is a personal choice and you have to use them before you "know" that it is the right camera for you. They are all a compromise.

Having said that, I used to own a Linhof TK45 and I loved the camera. I think Brian's review was more a personal dislike than failing of the camera. If you read the instructions, sit at home, put the camera on the tripod and pratice opening it and closing it a few times, you will see that there is nothing to it. On the field the camera is a joy to use.

I now have an Arca Swiss 8x10 and while the camera is damn near perfect for me as far as controls and ease of use, I am starting to doubt their reputation for quality.

I am with Frank on this, if you have the money to buy a quality camera, I would go with the Linhof or AS over the EBony.

John Schneider
6-May-2008, 07:40
I've had many cameras over the years, and the one constant is my Technikardan (my 1st camera). It's a masterful design, and you wouldn't go wrong with it. I spent 12 mos. investigating cameras before finally choosing the TK45, and I made the right choice (for me, that is).

I too had a fear of folding the bellows; in fact, the camera came shipped to me opened, as the store personnel (selling mostly 35mm and MF) were afraid of folding it also. However, once you practice a few times it's really a no-brainer, and shouldn't in any way bias anyone against the camera. In fact it's no more difficult than folding up a folding field camera, only different.

However, I think my experience is atypical; many people go through a few cameras before finding the one that suits their style, demand for ergonomics, and aesthetics. Unless you have strong reasons to do otherwise (as I did), I would buy an inexpensive 4x5, use it for a few months, and then make an informed decision as to what you really want in a camera.

Clay Turtle
6-May-2008, 07:46

I am newbie to this wonderful forum - in the market for a large format, please can I have your experience on both, Pros and Cons and your advise, also experience with lenses as I am in the market for a couple to start with, I will be shooting landscapes, currently most of my photos on 35mm are between 20mm and 50mm.
I am coming across from 35mm SLR.
Regards and thanks. All excellent advise so far so I having recently made the same change in venue, would ask "What training in 35mm did you have? I took some course work at a local votech which provided the experience & the (large format) camera, lens, etc as well as teaching correct exposure & lab techniques. Community colleges are another source that provide less expensive means of acquiring experience
besides finding others locally of similar interest.

Ernest Purdum
6-May-2008, 08:40
Unlesds your budget is really unlimited, I'd suggest starting with a camera that is cheap and capable of teaching you a lot. That means a monorail because the inexpensive field cameras don't have full movements so cant demonstrate all the advantages of large format. I like the Calumet CC-400 series myself, but there are other possibilities.

If you buy carefully, after your first LF camera has made you aware of what features you like and what you hate, you can probably sell it for near what you paid for it and buy a forever camera. Or, maybe you'll buy a field camera, but still keep the monorail for studio use.

6-May-2008, 12:19
For my 1st view camera I chose the 5x7 format so I could get a decent sized contact print (no enlarger or special equipment needed), but a small enough film size to be easily managed/developed (cheap and easy to do in trays- again no special equipment needed), and small/light enough equipment to backpack it. I chose the Shen Hao HXZ57ATII and I love it. It's solid, light and has lots of bellows and movements. I don't know exactly what Ebony 4x5's go for, but I'm pretty sure it would be more $ than my camera. You can buy Shen Hao from Badger (the FCL version- less bellows and movement) or direct from Shen Hao via a PayPal account I read the Stone and Simmons books and thought they were quite useful. Lots of good info on the LF info pages too.