View Full Version : Complete Newbie to LF Photography

13-May-2009, 17:44
Hey all, my name is Brooks. I have been a photographer for quite a while now, having cut my teeth on 35mm before going digital and "upgrading" to a Nikon D40. After obsessively shooting with my D40, I couldn't manage to find what I was looking for, so I went back to film in the purchase of a Nikon FG-20. I've shot the heck out of that thing, but began feeling the need for something more "manual" or "old school" or something... So I picked up a Yashica A TLR and have shot quite a bit through it as well. I love both my FG-20 and my Yashica, but am seriously considering selling my entire D40 kit.

So here I am today, pondering another upgrade, this time to a Large Format camera. I've tried to do quite a bit of research on the topic, I've read a ton on the Bender and Bulldog kits, I've learned (I think) the difference between a field camera and a monorail, etc... So I am asking for some purchase advice. My budget is limited, as in I would like to be able to buy my entire LF outfit for what I could sell the D40 kit for. (50% of retail value would get me about $750, but if I find an eager buyer, I could likely get more)

Here is what I know that I want:

* Folder/Field camera, not a monorail.

* Ability to shoot at a rather wide angle. I really like landscape and nature photography and will likely focus almost solely on the "wide view" of things.

* I prefer the "look" of the wood cameras, but that isn't a necessity.

* Reasonably compact, as in I would like to be able to take it hiking/camping with me.

* Decent movement abilities. However, keeping my LF experience level in mind, even a very modest amount of movements will likely befuddle, bewitch and delight me for a long time to come.

That's really about all I've got for my criteria so far. I have no problem (and would in fact prefer, given my budget) to buy used.

I know these types of posts are very common on any hobby forum, and I've fielded quite a few of them myself on a digital photography forum I frequent, so I hope I have made this informative enough to warrant a response, instead of the typical "So, which LF camera is the bestest EVER?!" type post which I assume must pop up here on occasion.

Thanks so much in advance for any responses and help! This looks like it's going to be a great place to learn and grow in the LF hobby.

Ron Marshall
13-May-2009, 18:13
You should be able to find a basic used wooden field camera for about $450; a single used lens for about $300; use your camera as a meter; a few used filmholders.

I assume you already have a tripod and head.

13-May-2009, 18:17
Yes, I already have several tripods with heads, everything from a cheap $20 walmart rig to this huge all solid metal ultra industrial grade thing my dad bought me. I swear, that tripod could hold a truck up if it could balance it.

Got any specific recommendations on a field camera / lens combo to look for?


MIke Sherck
13-May-2009, 18:19
Call Jim at Midwest (www.mpeg.com) and see if he has anything he can put together for you in your budget. Perhaps a used Tachihara, or something of that nature, a lens, some film holders. It ought to be doable.


Merg Ross
13-May-2009, 20:42
Call Jim at Midwest (www.mpeg.com) and see if he has anything he can put together for you in your budget. Perhaps a used Tachihara, or something of that nature, a lens, some film holders. It ought to be doable.


Excellent advice. I talked to Jim today and he is a busy man. Trust him, without too many questions, and he will set you up with what you need to get started.

Tim Meisburger
13-May-2009, 20:48
I think there is a Busch Pressman on the For Sale section for $200 right now. Based on my own experience, which is similar to yours, that would do you fine until you learned you either loved it, or not. I got my first LF camera last September, and now have three, and am afraid I am on the slippery slope. I had a D40, but gave it to my wife

13-May-2009, 20:55
I was about to say craigslist. However, you could get hosed not knowing what's good and bad. Jim will take care of you.

In 30 days you will get access to the toy store at this forum. All manner og goodies come and go.

For starting out in 4x5, lenses of 125mm-127mm-135mm are plenty wide and plenty good and plenty cheap.

If a Crown or Speed Graphic with a Kodak Ektar 127mm lens jumps at you for little money go for it. Great learning kit. Great handheld street kit.

Good luck!

Brian Wallen
15-May-2009, 01:20

Many of us have been down this path. It is filled with periods of ignorance and information overload, and often frequent swaps--all part of the fun and adventure.

I've tried to organize some of my experience here to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.

There is also a lot of useful information in the articles listed on the LF Photo home page.

Reserve judgement about movements. Learning to use them is a little like learning to drive--in a rearview mirror. It is initially confusing, but with use, they become automatic and techniques that you wonder how you ever got along without.

15-May-2009, 07:42
I'm pretty new at LF and this is what I've spent so far. You might want to make yourself a spreadsheet.

Already had:
light meter
pelican case for film holders/lightmeter.
shutter release cable
can of air for dusting
All the computer/printer things for digital including a epson 7600 printer.

Have spent money on:
$105 Graflex speed graphic with 135mm lens (Ebay)
$7 touchup paint (Autozone)
$110 shutter/lens cleaning,lube,adjustment (SK Grimes)
$70 12 film holders (Ebay)
$80 HP Combiplan processing tank (B&H)
$10 black felt for darkroom or hotel bathroom door cover. (Walmart)
$120 100 sheets Tmax 400 film (B&H)
$20 4x5 negative pages (B&H)
$40 chemicals (B&H)
$15 new leather strap for graflex (local cobbler)

At some point I will want:
4x5 enlarger & lens (currently have a 6x7)
Epson Scanner
2nd lens/shutter/lensboard of longer focal length
Pelican case and/or backpack suitable for the camera and accessories.
2nd processing tank to let me process 12 images at a time and/or two different processing variations at a time.

I've bought all the cheap stuff I need, and there are still some big ticket items to go. Until then, I'll have to live with contact prints and scan them in on a normal flatbed scanner if I want to put them on the web. No big rush on the wishlist of items.

15-May-2009, 10:10
Thanks for the replies everyone, I appreciate it. Also, thanks for the link Brian. You have compiled a lot of good info there!

17-May-2009, 06:17
Keh.com has several used Field Cameras and is a good source of used 4x5 gear. Except for my Shen Hao, bought new, all my other gear came from Keh. If considering new gear the Shen-Hao and Chamonix are the choices for field cameras. Shen-Hao has worldwide stocking distribution and is available everywhere. I hear good things about Chamonix too and in the USA is only available via special order! If you want all the movement a field camera has stay away from a Crown/speed graphic (nothing wrong with them i have two that were refurbished they just dont have the movements that a field camera has).

You almost never see Shen-Hao or Chamonix on Craig's list or E Bay which speaks to their popularity.

17-May-2009, 12:02
Thanks Wally!

Actually even though I said I didn't want a monorail, I've came across an extreme deal on a bender camera kit. After reading through tons of reviews and articles on it, I think that for the price I found it for, is the way I am going to go.

Now, to decide on a lens... :P

22-May-2009, 11:05
Congrats on the camera! Its a disease but its too late for you! ;-). Lens wise I would look for a 150ish in size. The 'ish' is the -/+ 15mm around 150. My thoughts are to stick with one lens, and shoot a bunch of pictures with it. Get a feel for what it does, and if it incorporates well into how you currently shoot. Hmm, with that in mind what is your favorite lens in 35mm? A wide angle lens in 4x5 is pretty much anything lower than 130, anyone correct me if I'm wrong.

Also, be prepared for the time difference in setting up your shots vs the 35mm. This part drives my wife nuts, especially if I'm the one shooting the shot. With time and practice it goes faster.

film wise there are some good deals to be had with color a bit more expensive than B&W. I currently shoot Fomapan B&W in 4x5 and 120 and for the price/quality love it. After that you have kodak and ilford and you cant go wrong with either. If you like shooting at night learn about film reciprocity if you are using fomapan, its failure rate, though fun to play with, makes for loooooooong shots.

We currently use an old day pack to cart the film, camera, tripod, light meter, stop watch, notebook, tripods, snacks...:-). Yes I am the sherpa.

enough rambling, get the lens, get the film start shooting and enjoy it!


22-May-2009, 13:52
Thanks! Even though I said I was getting the bender, I was outbid on it with about 15 seconds to go! Frustrating, but a blessing in disguise as well! I found an EXCELLENT 'buy it now' deal on a 4x5 Cambo SC. Again, a monorail, but for the condition and price, I just couldn't pass it up. It should be here tomorrow hopefully!

22-May-2009, 13:55
It's bad enough to come down with the Large Format Flew. But to also fall victim to ebayBIN. You got it Bad!

Enjoy. Slow down. Shop here first.

22-May-2009, 16:43
Midwest also sells the Shen Hao. The Chamonix is the competitor however I believe is only available via special order. Both of these are excellent quality and for a little bit more money than for a used Wista you get a new camera. The issue with the press type of cameras is they do not have the range of movements that these two field cameras have. You almost never see the Shen Hao or Chamonix on Craig's List or E Bay. I have the Shen Hao and wouldn't trade it for any camera. With either you wont be sorry