View Full Version : Can a rail camera be better to work faster in the field?

Nelson Sousa
8-Mar-2010, 12:19
I´m shoosing my first 8x10 camera. I will do mainly out of the studio work.
My question is: can a "studio" camera like the Sinar P2 or the recent Arca-swiss ones, with all its sofisticated adjustments be better to carry around than a field camera?
I know they are supposed to be more cumbersome to carry, BUT can they actually be faster to operate in the field than a "field camera", because of their more developed adjustments?

What says your real world experience, using the two kinds of cameras? Don´t forget I'm speaking about 8x10".


Mark Woods
8-Mar-2010, 12:36
I bought a Deardorff V8 to shoot 8x10 after lugging my Sinar P2 around. I do shoot the Sinar in 4x5 or 5x7 in the field, just not 8x10.

8-Mar-2010, 12:43
I shoot Arca Swiss 4X5 and 8X10. The 4X5 is a Field model and is as fast to set up, take down, and shoot as a friend who has a 4X5 Zone Vi field and a 8X10 Deardorff. Plus I can change bellows quickly to use lenses at opposite ends of the range. After watching my friend and others using the field cameras I am happy to have the Arcas.

The 4X5 Field is no more cumbersome or heavy than a wooden field camera.

8-Mar-2010, 12:49
I found that I set-up and shoot my Toyo-Field 45AX far quicker than my Robos which is similar to the Sinar P2. With the Robos, though, I always use the front shift which I rarely use on the Field. Probably the convenience of the geared movements makes you experiment more.

Ken Lee
8-Mar-2010, 13:19
"I know they are supposed to be more cumbersome to carry, BUT can they actually be faster to operate in the field than a "field camera", because of their more developed adjustments?"

In my opinion, yes. I've owned Tachihara, Shen-Hao, Kodak and Wisner field cameras, and a Sinar, Calumet, and Arca-Swiss rail cameras. 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10.

With the right case, you can leave a monorail camera fully assembled, with a lens on the camera. You just put it on the tripod, level it, and you're ready. This is especially helpful if you tend to shoot with the same lens for most scenes. With a metal camera, you don't have to worry about scratches and water damage. You don't even need a case for the camera. You can leave it in the trunk of your vehicle, assembled - or carry it in a simple canvas bag.

With a complete set of geared adjustments available in both front and rear, you can work very easily, often without having to come out from under the cloth until you are ready to shoot.

8x10 equipment is heavy: the film holders in particular. If you are going to carry a bunch of 8x10 holders, a cloth, a meter, and a strong tripod, then the weight of the camera is a small consideration.

If you plan to walk or trek with your camera, then you might consider a smaller size of film. 4x5 holders are 1/4 the weight of 8x10 holders. You can either carry 4x more holders, or 1/4 the weight. A 4x5 camera weighs less, the tripod can be lighter, etc.

8-Mar-2010, 13:46
Hi Nelson,

I don’t use an 8x10, or know why it’s important for you to work “faster,” but a few of my habits might be transferable to that format size, and help you choose the field (or studio) camera that’s best for you.

I should add I don’t do a lot of portraits or architecture in the field – mainly landscapes.

My 4x5 field camera (5 lbs.) & 4x5 studio camera (15 lbs.) both get field action, and when I’m walking out the door, three key considerations help me choose which to bring:

1) How far will I walk/hike to my destination, and just what else am I “lugging” there?
2) How much time will I have to set-up, compose, take the shot, and take-down?
3) How sophisticated will my camera movements be? (This of course, influences #2).

For example…

When I’m near my destination w/ plenty of time, I enjoy using my studio camera – whether or not I think movements will be sophisticated. Once I have it set-up, I like having all the optional movements, plus the ease of applying them, some of which I may not have anticipated.

On the other hand, when I have a “hike” ahead of me, usually there is no question – I bring the much lighter field camera, no matter what I think about #2 or #3. Only if I think I’ll need several extraordinarily precise movements, and have little chance of getting the shot I want w/o them, will I consider making the extraordinary effort of hiking over hill & dale with my studio camera! But my landscape shots most typically don’t need movements like that.

I used to think that the “shorter” set-up requirements of a field camera might “save time” – when time is “of the essence” – but I’ve never felt this actually made a significant difference on any particular outing. This might be different w/ 8x10 cameras, or the type of work you do. Besides, I usually don’t shoot under time constraints, especially if they’re under my control…

To me, “slowing-down” is one of the attractions of LF work, “speeding-up” one of its cardinal sins…

Frank Petronio
8-Mar-2010, 14:06
As long as you aren't hiking or a marshmellow, then I think a heavy tripod and solid studio camera is always going to be faster and sharper than a field camera and a mediocre tripod. You really have to try it to understand the difference, but you can be more confident that nothing is wiggling around or changing with a heavier set-up.

I think a lot of beginners make a big mistake by buying these light wooden cameras that are difficult to set-up and adjust, and move as soon as you insert a film holder or a gust of wind comes along. Yes you can shoot w ultralight gear and you can carry it to the top of Everest for all I care, but if you want to learn how to use a view camera as easily as possible, go with a quality monorail (especially now their prices have fallen so low).

8-Mar-2010, 15:48
just went from folding field to Arca Swiss F-line. can clamp the detachable rail onto tripod and slide camera onto rail in about 15 seconds... and the main lens is left in place. no folding and clamping down a half dozen knobs. Just rack out the focus and remove the lens cap. Nothing could be faster. Mine is not the field version (the standard 171mm front and rear) but is moderately light. There is a special case available from http://www.photobackpacker.com/ (an APUG sponsor) that makes it quick to put away and get out in the Kelty pack. This is the fastest setup I have ever used. Also the most rigid and precise. I'm sold

Brian Ellis
8-Mar-2010, 16:09
You ask whether the studio camera might be "faster to operate in the field," not just set up. I don't think there's a clear answer to that, I think it depends a lot on the particular camera, the person using it, and the photograph being made. When I was at Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee's workshop there was a guy next to me using a studio camera of some sort and I was using my Deardorff 8x10. I made at least one photograph while he was still struggling to get the thing out of his pack and onto the tripod ready to shoot. But I'm sure there would have been times when someone with a different studio camera or a photographer more adept at using it would have been quicker.

I've never owned and never care to own a true studio camera because I don't do any studio work and I don't want to carry one around in the field. I've owned 14 field cameras and none of them shared any of the traits Frank mentions. Fortunately the only choices aren't to either get a studio camera or be stuck with a field camera that is difficult to set up and adjust or that moves as soon as you insert a film holder or a gust of wind comes along.

Nelson Sousa
8-Mar-2010, 19:00
Thank you everyone for the imput. Very usefull.

I'm not planning to walk a lot with the big camera. Most of the time, when I feel I need the 8x10 is in the city or the interior of some nice building.
When I speaked about speed of operation was because I would love to make a few shots of some favorite landscapes, wich usually implies dealing with very ellusive weather and light conditions - in a moment it's there, the next second it's not anymore - and even with the medium format sometimes it's to slow.

Best wishes, from Portugal.

Dirk Rösler
8-Mar-2010, 20:30
It's a never ending quest, the right camera for the right place and application. I have been rail (Cambo) and field (Wista metal, Chamonix) and back on rails (Sinar) and plan to keep it this way.

My realisation with a lighter camera was that I traded weight for less flexibility (a personal preference) and in the end I decided that the saved/added weight and bulk of the camera body were not worth the lost features and the introduction of new problems (accuracy of movements, lockdown).

I now carry 3-4 kilos more, and in the field have a backpack, camera on rail in one hand, tripod in the other... or in the case of 4x5 and 5x7 the camera stays on the tripod over my shoulder. Yes, it is tiring, but also more confidence in working with it...

Frank Petronio
8-Mar-2010, 20:52
I've had Technikas (Brian...) which are not wobbly at all and they're beautiful cameras... but getting at the controls is difficult compared to making moves with a monorail, especially a better quality one like a Sinar-Arca-Linhof.

Now I know it shouldn't matter, but when I use a monorail I tend to use more movements and experiment with them. With a field camera there is more to fiddle with, and let's say in the case of some of the lighter wooden ones, you do have to be concerned that everything is locked down perfectly, etc.

Drew Wiley
8-Mar-2010, 23:12
My Sinar F was substantially faster to set up, operate, and shoot than my folding flat
bed cameras. I could leave the lens and shadeon it, drop it on the rail clamp, extend the bellows, and remove the lens caps. It was, alas, a lot bulkier and heavier too.

evan clarke
9-Mar-2010, 05:35
I carry 4x5 and 8x10 Arcas and usually have my photograph made and the camera stowed by the time my comrades have their folding cameras set up...Evan Clarke

Darren H
9-Mar-2010, 10:34
The way I think about it is I would rather have the extra bulk of the monorail in the backpack than the extra fiddly controls some folding field cameras have when on the tripod. So if you find the right monorail you can limit the bulk (think Arca folding) and still get the benefit of the monorail controls.

I learned 4x5 on a Technika metal folding camera. Nice camera. Small. Easy to carry. I found it was slow in actual usage when on the tripod. Now I use the Arca-Swiss Discovry with a folding rail and while it is bulkier to carry, it is a much easier camera to use on the tripod.

Both are rigid, but the Arca-Swiss is much more user friendly on the tripod for me.

There are some times I do think about an ultralight wooden folder with a single lens, but if I want small, I now go with my Panasonic LX-3! :-)

Good luck!!

Nelson Sousa
9-Mar-2010, 15:19
:) I also tend to "ask" for my girlfriend LX3 when I go to non-photographic journeys.

Thank you all

Drew Wiley
10-Mar-2010, 20:23
I rarely use the Sinar anymore. It was wonderful for twenty years, but meant that in
the mtns my pack wt was typically around 85 lbs, with little room left over for food.
So when I turned 50 I treated myself to a folding Ebony 4x5, which in the mtns gives
about the same pack wt as the 8x10 on shorter hikes - around 70-75 lbs. Some of
that weight is now extra foood! I got old and lazy. Now that I'm over sixty I'm wondering if I could fill the bellows with helium for a little extra lift.

11-Mar-2010, 00:08
Nothing looks better under the redwoods than a beautiful reddish wood camera with gold colored hardware. Who cares about speed of use when one beholds such a wonderful sight!

And I love watching the camera unfold magically to become the giant Bellows Monster, Gatherer of Light. It stands magestically above the sword ferns, resting on the three wooden legs of the Ries. A sight to behold!

But I did like the way I saw Richard Misrach photograph -- 8x10 Deardorf/lens that stayed on the pod, holders in a shoulder bag -- moved pretty quick and could knock off images quickly if there was the need.

One of the recent lightweight cameras (Phillips, Ritter, etc) and a lightweight lens such as the slower 300mm nikkons or fujis -- and one could shoulder the camera fairly easily. A GG protector would be nice to have, though.


PS -- if I ever go back to 4x5, I already have a sweet set up -- the Gowland PocketView...a monorail that weighs less than 2.5 pounds. Has its limitations, but is great for backpacking.

Matus Kalisky
11-Mar-2010, 13:34
Tachihara 4x5 is the only LF camera I have used up to now. It is light and compact, but if money were no objection I would probably get an Arca Field (with the smaller standards) or Toyo 125VX as I would like to get more precision for setting up the camera, zeroing the movements and movements themselves. It would mean 2 - 3 pounds more but I think it would be worth it (I am not doing more than one day trips with camera in backpack).

jim kitchen
11-Mar-2010, 19:56
Everyone has their own comfort level... :)

Years ago my first 4X5 happened to be a rail camera that was tucked neatly primed within my wickedly thin canvas backpack, where the camera bounced continuously against my shoulders with every step I took along a trail. I quickly decided to change that pain in the ass annoyance to a smaller more comfortable portable field camera, and I never looked back. Today, I carry my 8X10 field camera and my lenses comfortably within my backpack, my film holders in a separate backpack strung across my chest, my surveyor's tripod on my right shoulder for balance, and my viewing card set firmly in my left hand as I hike.

That said, I am never cognizant about my equipment's mantling speed, its apparent elegance, or execution when I hike in the mountains, and although time may be precious for a few image makers, I happen to be very oblivious to that thought.

I think my age has something to do with this issue and the fact that I can set my instrument from memory, quickly...

jim k

Nelson Sousa
12-Mar-2010, 04:49
OK, I’m thinking about buying the Arca-Swiss F-Metric 8x10 with the Orbix feature.

Before my questions, I should say that around here, in good old Portugal, there isn’t a large-format photo community – I hardly know someone that shoots it – and can’t find a shop that sells Arca-Swiss.
So, I was getting information about the system in a catalog and in a French site that seems to be the closest thing to the company official web site (http://www.galerie-photo.com/a-visit-to-arca-swiss.html), but reading Ling Z’s thread “Praises on new Arca Swiss F-Metric 8X10” I’m thinking their info is not updated.

Mainly, concerning bellows properties: looking at that site, the bellows seemed to be very limiting for extreme wide-angle lenses, even using the wide-angle bellows, but Ling Z refers “The new bellows is very soft and flexible. My 65mm lens can focus at infinity without any problem.” Is this confirmed by practice? Are we speaking about the regular bellows or the wide-angle one? The leather or the Synthetic one?
Is now easy to use a lens like the Super-Symmar XL Aspheric 5,6/150mm?

And is it possible to positively use the Super-Angulon XL 5,6/72mm with this outfit? (without changing the back stand for a 5x7 one – film hard to find, and more gear and clumsiness to go around. And I think that having more film available will allow for more displacement of the lens, right? We can crop the void film after.)

Is it possible to use the Apo-Tele-Xenar 12/800mm, or similar Nikkors, with the regular or long bellows?

2: From the same thread “Anyone have any complaints about wobble in the rear 8x10 standard when it is locked down with some tilt applied?” “Rory, I agree there's slight wobble in the rear standard when it's locked down. This is due to the nature how the frame is attached to the F-Metric function carrier.”
As this been a real issue using the camera? Any way of improving it?

3: The choice between telescopic and collapsible bench (rail). In real use, what are the pros and cons of each one? Are they equally strong/rigid and reliable?
What is the “closed” size of the standard (50cm) telescopic one?
Is the collapsible bench in the advertising catalog photo the standard 50cm (It would be something like 25cm when collapsed, with the two function carriers attached to the same portion resulting in a very compact configuration of the whole camera)? (I´m thinking about packing issues)

4: The F-metric outfit has a rear format frame of the F-Classic type. Is there a 8x10 F-metric one? Are there real advantages in changing this specific component from the F-Classic to the F-Metric?

It's photography golden hour. Great shots for you all! Nelson

Nelson Sousa
12-Mar-2010, 04:57
The advertising photo I mentioned:

Frank Petronio
12-Mar-2010, 06:50
You should start a new thread with these specific questions about Arca-Swiss. There are probably only a handful of people on this forum who have an 8x10 Arca-Swiss w Orbix to advise you from. Unfortunately the company provides very little customer support and relies on its user base to help each other. The cameras are very nice and there is such a demand that they can afford to be arrogant, even if it is at the point of being rude.

Pete Roody
12-Mar-2010, 09:27
OK, I’m thinking about buying the Arca-Swiss F-Metric 8x10 with the Orbix feature.

Before my questions, I should say that around here, in good old Portugal, there isn’t a large-format photo community – I hardly know someone that shoots it – and can’t find a shop that sells Arca-Swiss.
So, I was getting information about the system in a catalog and in a French site that seems to be the closest thing to the company official web site (http://www.galerie-photo.com/a-visit-to-arca-swiss.html), but reading Ling Z’s thread “Praises on new Arca Swiss F-Metric 8X10” I’m thinking their info is not updated.

It's photography golden hour. Great shots for you all! Nelson

Hi Nelson,

I have the original F-Classic 8x10 and I was able to play with the new version quite a bit at recent camera shows. One big advantage on the new camera is the bellows. It is much more flexible than the older series. I was able to focus a Nikon 150 SW at infinity with a full range of movements. I don't think you would shoot much wider than 150mm with 8x10. You can also use 120mm and probably get some movements but I wasn't able to try that combo. As for longer lenses, you can certainly use a 600mm (non-telephoto) lens with movements. The bellows on this camera is very versatile. They did make the front standard smaller with the new camera (i prefer the 171mm standard). The new front standard is big enough for any modern lens. The 171mm size is better for big petzvals though.


Rui Morais de Sousa
9-Jun-2010, 15:54
Hi Nelson,
I have some good news for you: I am portuguese, living in Portugal, and also shoot large format: 9x12/4x5, 13x18 and 8x10"! Yes, we are quite rare over here, but we do exist!
In 4x5 I have two types of cameras: a monorail Sinar F2 and a Gandolfi Variant (level III). Although the Gandolfi is a field model, I guess that it is at least so heavy or heavier than the Sinar monorail, although it also has almost so much movements.
In 8x10 (and 13x18/5x7 with a reducing back), I use a Gandolfi Precision. Although it is also a field camera, it is also not "light". As some other people have said, I wouldn't choose a very light camera: I prefer my cameras and my tripods on the heavier side (yes, I know my back pains, but bad photographs cause even more pain...).
Both types of cameras have, obviously, advantages and disadvantages, even if the weight is similar: the Sinar can easily accomodate all my lenses from the 58mm Super Angulon to the 600mm, allowing for some "extreme" movements, or even longer bellows if I get a couple more acessories. The Variant III can't go over the 480mm Apo-Ronar (you can change the bellows for a Wide A, but it is not so easy to use the 58mm).
Although the Gandolfi Precision 8x10 doesn't allow for an interchangeable bellows, it has a clever design that allows to easily fit a Grandagon 115mm, all the way up to the 600mm (yes I would prefer 800, even if only for a better close-up capability with the 600...).
For me, the great advantage of these specific field cameras is ease of transportation, not weight!
Cheers, and maybe we see us around sometime.

Glenn Goldapp
9-Jun-2010, 19:39
I have a sinar F 8x10. Would never carry a P. I lug the monster around fairly well. The primary reason - all my lenses use only one shutter. I find that a big advantage. I have used sinar for so long that I would not know how to focus without the Sinar grids. Depth of field adjustment is also a dream. I have a 4x5 F I bought in '73 and still use it. Same shutter as 810.

Bruce Watson
10-Jun-2010, 09:04
When I speaked about speed of operation was because I would love to make a few shots of some favorite landscapes, wich usually implies dealing with very ellusive weather and light conditions - in a moment it's there, the next second it's not anymore - and even with the medium format sometimes it's to slow.

LF isn't going to help you with this. Rapidly changing light conditions or weather aren't LF's forte. If you need speed to chase cloud formations, you should consider instead smaller formats and perhaps zoom lenses. If you insist on LF, then a press camera that you can shoot hand-held might work. I'm just sayin' that if you need speed, you should use equipment that helps you respond quickly.

Alternatively, you might consider adopting a more LF attitude. That is, setup on your scene, then stand back and watch the light and/or the weather change. When it gets to where you like it, make an exposure. Just be prepared to tear down your setup without ever making a photograph. Some times the weather/light just doesn't cooperate. :eek:

Daniel Unkefer
10-Jun-2010, 15:07
I've shouldered my 8x10 Sinar Norma (with wooden tripod) for very long hikes, and when I get to where I want to use it, I'm glad it's along. A shoulder bag holds all the misc stuff.

13-Apr-2011, 17:40
I have a tachihara field and a cambo monorail. both 4x5. The cambo weighs about twice the tachi. The axis movements help me work smoother and maybe faster as there is little change in composition with movement. I have every lens on linhof boards. I prefer using the cambo unless hiking or biking far with a pack. The cambo needs a super trekker backpack while the tachi needs a mini trekker?! If both were 8x10, I think the difference would still apply.

13-Apr-2011, 17:47
Rail cameras are usually the fancy-pants cousins to the field cameras, but I think it comes down to what you are used to working with, and what you're willing to carry.
I use the field more than the monorail outside, because I can put everything in a shoulder bag (incl four lenses and at least 4 Grafmatics), and use a smaller tripod.

13-Apr-2011, 19:09
Not all 8x10 monorails are created equal for field use. If you can carry a monorail in a big box, not broken down, then you can just hoist it out and plop it on the tripod. Can't be much quicker than that. However, you are stuck working out of a car, baby stroller, etc. Hard to backpack a non-deconstructed monorail.

An Arca Swiss F-Line is a different animal and is really a hybrid monorail/field camera. It would be my choice for a monorail in the field. You can leave the rail extended in a view camera box like any monorail and have very quick setup. Or you can collapse the camera and stow it in a backpack. The telescoping rail is more solid than the collapsing rail (and therefore heavier). However, with the telescoping rail you can get a short piece, attach both standards and bellows to it, and have a very compact unit for a backpack.

I can't imagine lugging a Sinar 8x10 around. A Sinar p2 weighs 18 pounds. It would be less cumbersome to attach a fully extended Wehman Lightweight to a hat.

13-Apr-2011, 19:18
Yes, once they are located there by hauling, lugging, dragging or wheelbarrowing.

When I had my Toyo G 4x5 it was quick, accurate and a pleasure to use. I believe my photography was better then too.

14-Apr-2011, 14:16
I think a lot of this depends on the monorail. The Gowland 4x5 Pocket View is a very backpackable rail camera. It doesn't have any nice features like indents, gearing etc.. like a Sinar rail camera though. There was supposedly even a Gowland 8x10 that was very light- perhaps one of the lightest 8x10s ever produced. These cameras aren't necessairly easy or fast to setup because of the use of allen wrench screws instead of knobs but they are actually lighter to haul into the field then conventional folding cameras.