View Full Version : New to LF

28-Aug-2010, 07:04
I am looking for advice in order to make a decision on buying a starter 4x5 camera for which I am setting aside a budget of $3500 or so for an entire kit (camera, 1 or 2 lenses, film holders, etc.).

I plan on using it on hikes, therefore, mostly for landscape and some architecture along the way.

Currently using 35mm rangefinder and medium format 6x7 in both cases using lenses ranging from 24-70 if stated in 35mm terms.

I have looked online at the Ebony RW 45, Chamonix 45N-2 and on the other extreme a used Arca Swiss F-line that I found on eBay for a starting bid of $2250.

My thoughts:

I can buy a Chamonix (which seems like good value) and invest in lenses for an eventual camera upgrade. Or take the financial plunge on an Ebony or the Arca Swiss and stick to one lens but have a long term purchase in the Arca Swiss, for instance. Keeping in mind that weight is an issue as I want to enjoy hiking and the all new LF experience -:) Therefore, which of these cameras would afford me the best all around package in weight, ease of use and lend itself to landscape and architecture with the most amount of flexibility in terms of camera movements (shift, tilt, rise, fall)

Anyone have some thoughts or advice for a newcomer? Nick

Jay DeFehr
28-Aug-2010, 07:55
I'm intrigued by the Argentum cameras:


These cameras are made by hand, by a single artisan, who is also their designer; Mr. Istvan Soltesz. I like his design philosophy, and his cameras' features are most notable for what's not included, and why.

Unfortunately, I don't think you're likely to find a used one, but a new one might be less expensive than a comparable used one, depending on the model you choose.

I understand that as a novice, you're tempted to get a "full featured" camera, with every possible movement and option, in the hope that one camera will do everything you want it to do, but I caution against this attitude. Every feature included in a camera's design involves a compromise. The best design is one that fulfills its intended use, with precision and economy. As a beginner, I think you'll be happier with a camera that is easy to use in a logical and intuitive way, than a Swiss army-type, all-in-one model. You seem to have a good grasp of how you want to use your camera, which is an important first step in choosing the right camera for you. I urge you to be realistic about your needs, and consider how the quality of the complete photography experience is enhanced by simple, yet precise, purpose-built equipment.

Whatever you choose, I wish you good light, and good luck!

28-Aug-2010, 08:08
Have you decided what format you want to use? It seems you have been looking at some 4x5 cameras, but what about 5x7 or 8x10?

What about a Canham DLC for light weight and flexibility? I have never used one, they are way out of my budget, but seem like an interesting lightweight "do everything" camera.

28-Aug-2010, 08:38
Jay, thanks for your sound advice. You're right, I am trying to be more efficient than practical in finding a camera. I had a look at the Argentum site and will consider their cameras along with the Ebony and Chamonix I mentioned in my previous thread.

Thanks again!

28-Aug-2010, 08:41
For 4X5 and for backpacking/Hicking/hauling long distances on your shoulder either the Shen Hao or Chamonix field cameras work best and are usually often much less when new than other makes are used. If you need a rail camera these can be had later for not to much money depending on how long you will wait to pick one up on EBay, Craigs List, This forum, or from reputable resellers like KEH.com. New the Shen Hao and Chamonix are around $650-700. Lens holders can be had used for $10-20 each depending on quality purchased. That leaves the rest of the budget for lenses and 90MM, 135/150, & 210/240 probably can be had for $1000 total (used prices) and will probably cover 90% of your shooting. I would invest in a good spot meter $200-500. I personally have a Shen Hao and am very happy with it.

28-Aug-2010, 08:50
Cameras, as someone already said, are all, in some respects, compromises. However i would say this having taught LF photography for a very long time both in college and privately, the most efficient camera is the best. having a camera such as an Arca Swiss field which with one extra rail, allows closeup, fairly long(up to 720mm tele or 360mm long focus), as well as short as 47mm with no bellows change, is a plus. It has a great screen, is extremely precise, is modular so allows format changes up to 8x10, yet collapses and is very portable. It never gets in your way and so you deal with your image without the frustration of the camera failed, or I forgot to... etc.
ARCA stands for:All 'Round CAmera, and they mean it.
So if you can do it look at one and/or speak with someone who uses them.
I think you will be impressed and even make more photographs when you are not fighting your camera and your energy is focused on making images.

28-Aug-2010, 09:14
For a starter camera, I would recommend not buying a new camera. Your budget is way more than what you would need to spend to get started. I got into LF with about $600 and that covered a mint condition Crown Graphic, a Schneider 135mm f/5.6 lens, 8 film holders, a 6x9 120 roll film holder, a Jobo rotary tank, and other odds and ends. If you are going backpacking, you will want something light and tough, and the best example I can think of, for a beginner or experienced LF shooter, would be the Toyo 45CF which is carbon fiber, has more movements than something like a Crown Graphic, is very light, and is not very expensive, even new. Later you may want a more complex camera for more movements, which would be something like the Ebony, Chamonix, Canham, Wista field cameras. Do not buy a monorail camera unless it will be dedicated for studio use, or unless you don't plan on walking more than 50 feet from your car. As far as lenses go, your best bet would be to start off with something semi-wide like a 135mm or 150mm, and a normal lens like a 210mm. Lenses made by Nikon, Rodenstock, Schneider, and Fujinon are all excellent high quality lenses. I highly recommend getting a wider aperture lens like f/5.6. A lot of times, focusing with an f/8 lens is a pain because of how dark it is on the glass. Definitely get a good spot meter, Pentax digitals are great, so are the Sekonics. I have a Sekonic L758 and would not trade it for anything. Fresnel lenses for the ground glass are usually great and they make the image brighter for focusing, but keep in mind, not all fresnels are created equal. Some are better with wide lenses, some better with longer lenses.

Ernest Purdum
28-Aug-2010, 11:43
If you buy an inexpensive camera now, it will give you a better idea of what to put more money into later on. No expensive mistakes. Buying used, there is a good chance that when you are finished with it you can sell it for the same price or consider it cheap rent if you cant.

The Calumet CC-400 series have all the basic movements and are very cheap. They can stand up under a lot of ham-handedness, so there are many in good shape today.

Having saved money on a camera, spend it on books, then on lenses. Make sure that any lens you buy for 4X5 will cover at least 5X7 so you will be able to use your movements. Not all lenses are expensive. The 203mm Ektar or Optar could teach you a lot about LF.

28-Aug-2010, 12:54
I started out a couple of months ago with a cheap Crown Graphic. I was not satisfied with it, but having it for a while and using it made it much easier for me to understand what I needed in a camera. I have now sold the Crown and just bought a MPP mk7, Im much happier with this camera so far. No money lost on the Crown, and it was educational.

Any camera is a set of compromises, and those compromises will affect all photographers differently. Id start out with flexibility and generality, not moving on to a streamlined camera with fewer functions unless I knew those were the features I wanted.

Buy and sell used if you want to keep the camera finding process at a reasonable price level :)

28-Aug-2010, 13:01
I like the advice I've gotten from all of you so far, thanks very much. For sure every reply has a great advice.

I have pondered over buying used and only used for some weeks now and there are some good pickings out there. However, I was leaning toward the Chamonix as it may afford me the biggest bang for the buck considering it is light weight, seems very sturdy and reliable, great variety of movements, good customer service so far, its not that much more than a used camera and less than half of the cost of an Ebony RW45 (of course there are compromises and I am not comparing them to be exactly the same-the titanium hardware and the leather bellows of the Ebony are very attractive but I can use the $1100 elsewhere, maybe even a plane ticket for me and my camera), and I am sure that it works since its new and don't have to worry about the condition of a used camera and focus on my art as Rod so eloquently pointed out.

I also concur with Rod on the Arca Swiss Field and I would like so much to go for it but weighing in at 7 lbs vs 3 lbs for the Chamonix or Ebony RW45 is a huge consideration for me thinking that I want to enjoy the hike and that the photography is as enjoyable as I when I go street shooting with my Leicas.

As an aside, I have ordered a few books that were cited in this forum as being the best tools for learning LF and crossing over from my other formats I have the Sekonic L-758 which I use regularly and a Gitzo travel tripod, so the money I will save will buy lots of film and provide me a fair amount of practice in order to seek and perfect my style in LF photography.

Thanks to all of you and I welcome any further comments to my not so experienced approach to LF. Nick

Brian Stein
28-Aug-2010, 18:03
You seem pretty set on getting into this seriously and with a yen for a new camera and a substantial budget. With this in mind I think your choice of chamonix will suit you well and is a reasonable compromise in weight, features, and cost.

the money I will save will buy lots of film and provide me a fair amount of practice in order to seek and perfect my style in LF photography
This is clearly the most important thing. get your camera, 6 holders, and one lens (have look in the lens for 4x5 landscape thread for ideas) and start. When you are more experienced buy more lenses.

28-Aug-2010, 18:08
Thanks for the advice, Brian!

Larry Gebhardt
28-Aug-2010, 18:58
My advice would be for the Chamonix and several lenses. Focus on the light weight lenses. The Chamonix is a very rigid camera, and the weight is perfect for hiking. I shoot most of my pictures with a 135mm Sironar S and a 200mm Nikon M, which are both nice lenses, and they weigh very little. A light weight pack lets you carry more film and hike for longer distances. Both let you get more images.

John Kasaian
28-Aug-2010, 19:16
With your generous budget, I'd be looking for a 5x7 Nagaoka to take back packing :D

Jack Dahlgren
29-Aug-2010, 08:55
I got a used RW45 for a reasonable price and have nothing but good things to say about it. But my first 4x5 was a $35 Speed Graphic. Don't spend too much before you have tried it out. I think that more people quit 4x5 than stick with it.

If you are buying new, the Chamonix is going to be a better bargain and if you keep it nice will hold resale value.

Richard M. Coda
29-Aug-2010, 09:15
What Rod said.

I've had an Ebony. Sold it after 1 year. It was like a Rubic's cube (maybe I'm just not that smart). Then bought An Arca 4x5. Then an Arca 8x10. Then a Canham 11x14 back for my 8x10.

If you want to play with a big camera... don't complain about the weight.