View Full Version : New To Large Format -- Help Me Choose a Camera

11-Sep-2011, 12:17
I have been doing digital photography for a while now. In the past 2 years I have messed with film a little with holgas and old 35mm cameras, but nothing large format. My main goal is that amazingly crisp, pure image everyone raves 4X5 and 8X10 cameras produce. I will be shooting in a studio setting (shooting stills and portraits), so I have no concern for portability, just for accuracy and reliability. I have about $750 to spend on the body, lens, light meter, and film. So far, here are the cameras I've been looking at... Let me know what you think.

Burke & James 8x10 View field camera, gray wood, red bellows, extension rail, Ex/Ex+ $395. (from http://www.igorcamera.com/large_format.htm)



maybe this, but id rather sharpness than portability: http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=320756405034

and maybe this for fun: http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=260850085525

Let me know what you guys think.

P.S. I'd like to jump right in... I don't have much interest in the soft focus of pinholes. Also, I will not be developing any of the film on my own. I will going to a studio for prints and contact prints.

bill kehoe
11-Sep-2011, 15:01
Well, given your budget and circumstances, I suggest you go with 4x5. 8x10 would be overkill for what you're trying to accomplish and it costs a lot more. Also, the older 8x10 cameras and lenses you'd be able to afford are very likely to have repair issues and design limitations. Don't do it.
Any of the older Calumet monorails would cover all your studio needs. There are a lot of them around and some are pretty inexpensive.
Caltar lenses seem to sell for less than competing brands and are very good quality. They're in modern shutters generally still operating reliably, which is a must. You will certainly want multicoating and as much extra coverage as you can get for your lens. I'd suggest the 135-150mm range.
You will want to have an ambient-light/flash meter such as the ones made by Sekonic.

11-Sep-2011, 15:01
I would say the sinar or cambo is the ticket. You can also try wooden field camera, shen hao, tachihara for lightness, these are more for field work.

11-Sep-2011, 17:38
So basically you are saying go for it...

How is this setup:




Robert Jonathan
11-Sep-2011, 18:51
Of the cameras you listed, the Legend is the best IMO. The Sinar F is overpriced, and to be honest, it's an awful camera (I'm going to get flack for saying that :)).

The Sinar P/P2/X are excellent, if not, THE best in terms of a studio camera, precision, and stability.

May I suggest you look at Horseman L series studio 4x5 cameras, or try this Cambo Master PC instead of the Legend: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Cambo-Master-PC-4x5-View-Camera-w-Case-/370535872681?pt=Film_Cameras&hash=item5645a8b8a9

And don't forget Toyo...

Frank Petronio
11-Sep-2011, 20:15
Seems useful, as would be about 100 similar threads: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?t=80481

You'll get ton of sometimes conflicting advice. The end point is that your first large format camera is simply the beginning. If you enjoy the experience then you should try different types of cameras and fine tune what works best for you. If you hate working with large format, if you buy something decent, then you can unload it and not lose anything.

8x10 is wonderful but for $750 you can do 4x5 well or 8x10 barely....

Here is what I wrote earlier and it seems applicable here too:

It seems that your requirements are very demanding but you haven't had much experience actually photographing with any of these large format cameras mentioned, even though we've pretty much covered all the high quality models in common use.... If you go out and make some pictures then many of your concerns will be eliminated and the remaining issues can be targeted and solved. I doubt anyone can purchase the perfect camera for themselves without having used several different models and kinds beforehand.

Nothing beats practical experience.

My advice has evolved to become: Start out with a simple, limited movement, inexpensive Crown Graphic with a normal 135mm press lens and get used to handling large format film and the workflow. Become comfortable with the Crown first. Then get an inexpensive but professional grade metal monorail with a full range of movements, interchangeable bellows, and a large lensboard - something like a Sinar Norma, F2, various Linhof Kardans, Toyo G, mid-to-upper level Cambos.

Invest in a solid tripod and a good normal lens like a 210/5.6 that allows plenty of movements. If you tend to like architecture, get a 90/4.5 or 90/5.6 lens with a large, bright image circle. Get a Harrison changing tent (or a darkroom), 10+ holders, and a lot of film. Shoot a lot. Make prints so you can see your progress.

Keep the Crown for bad weather, travel, and fast operation. Use the monorail for exacting work. Both compliment each other.

All of this gear can be had for $1000 USd, maybe $1500 USd if you are impatient.

The pictures you make with this gear have the potential to be state-of-the-art, just as good as anybody else's, better than Gursky's, Adams', or Weston's.

Forsake college classes and only use the text books for reference.

Do this for a year and you will be more of an expert than 98% of this forum ;-p

Then you can fuss about camera design or spend $5000 on some silly Ebony or whatever....

I love playing with camera gear too but I fear it is really a hobby unto itself, unrelated to making pictures.

I tell people you can get a decent 4x5 with a lens for $250 if you're patient but this is probably a fallacy - I know what to look for - what you should do is buy the $500 one from a really knowledgable and honest seller and know that you're getting a good camera right off the bat.

Ivan J. Eberle
11-Sep-2011, 21:37
How is the OP going to be printing? Darkroom or scanned hybrid?

If he's only doing portraits, and mainly concerned with sharpness, it's hard to beat a Mamiya RB or RZ camera or a 120 back on a 4x5. 120 is a one heck of a lot less expensive than 4x5 film. Moreover 120 can still be processed in about an hour by most any mini-lab whenever you need quick results. (Again, sure beats 4x5 and larger formats with difficult-to-out-source processing).

Especially when shot with high contrast/specular light sources (studio flash) 6x7 done right can have astounding resolution down to the facial pore level. Scanned well it can readily be printed to larger sizes than portraiture usually requires. Few or no print publication portraiture uses will require resolution beyond 6x7.

If you're scanning and printing cheap and dirty, or printing traditonally and/or hand retouching, larger film sizes win. Those were once the forte of LF over MF for portraiture. That and cheap knock-em-out-in-bulk contact-printed B+W headshots in 8x10 that aspiring actors and actresses used to order by the hundreds.

John NYC
11-Sep-2011, 23:27
I would avoid the big auction site if you don't know what you are doing. Watch the classifieds here or put a want to buy ad in. You do still need to be selective and careful though. Look for a folder or monorail 4x5. Get any variant of a 210mm lens from any of the big four (a.k.a., Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji, Nikon). The 210 is great for portraits and still life that you mention.

In addition to the light meter and film you mention, you'll need a bunch of other stuff, too, like film holders, loupe or reading glasses, cable release, etc. I'd say use a t-shirt like many do here for a dark cloth to save money, but that will look pretty un-pro in a studio doing a portrait, so you'll need a proper dark cloth of some sort. If you are doing b&w, you'll probably want to buy a filter or two also.

If you are in the studio, do you have a lot of natural light? If not, remember that shooting portraits with deep depth-of-field on 4x5 means f/16 or f/22. You are going to need lots of light from some source.

12-Sep-2011, 06:31
4x5 is going to be a lot easier to get someone else to process/print compared to 8x10.

Look here, craigslist, then ebay. we're knowledgeable about what we're selling here. C-list you can check it out in person before buying it.

There's a ton of options really. On the low end of cameras, a graflex view/view-II or calumet might be had for $100ish. A sinar or cambo would be a step up for more adjustments, accessories, flexibility.

I use a speed graphic very much like you posted. It's just as sharp as the other cameras as the sharpness comes mostly from the lens. It's graflex back also lets you put accessories on the back like the Fuji instant film back that you can't so easily put on traditional simple spring back. It's not so well suited to still life as the movements are less than a monorail. It' s great for people pix though as long as you don't go past about 240mm for lens f.l. I use a 210.

I have 210mm lenses from Nikon (sharpest and newest), older Fujinar (tessar and creamy wide open, sharp stopped down), and Meyer (triplet and creamy, w/o shutter). Scheider/rodenstock/caltar/fuji are going to be good choices for lenses; shutter is going to be most important; something that's had a recent CLA or you should budget for one. Look for the pc sync flash connection on the shutter so you can use it with your studio flashes. Older bi-pin shutters like the speed graphic's stock lens comes with work with a special cord, but the shutters are way older and you would want to budget for certain a CLA to get it working perfect.

Ivan J. Eberle
12-Sep-2011, 07:53
A functional X-sync on the shutter will likely be a great deal more important than precise shutter speeds for the studio, however, as you are likely to be using strobes nearly 100% of the time.

12-Sep-2011, 07:57
X-sync is one thing that can start getting unreliable along with the shutter speeds, and from what I've seen, can get unreliable before shutter speeds start to deviate too much.

12-Sep-2011, 08:10
As Frank said, you are bound to get a lot of conflicting advice. I for one, cringe when somebody inevitably recommends a press camera to a person whose interests are principally studio or landscape work. Yes, a press camera is a highly available and reasonably affordable introduction to sheet film photography, and many people developed a strong foundation using one, but the movements offered by the camera and the typical short tessar type lens included, are so limited and just plain inconvenient that I would only recommend one if a person has a strong interest in handheld LF photography. And in fact, entry level monorail cameras are so inexpensive nowadays that press cameras in decent or nice shape actually seem expensive.

If you really have no concern for portability then the Cambo Legend seems to provide great capability for the price. I use the older, simpler Cambos in 4x5 & 5x7 at home for studio type projects and have no complaints. I do think that a Legend would be a great step up for me to have, but spending for one is not my priority right now.

There are many other similarly heavy and stable monorail cameras to consider, including the better Toyo models, Horseman and Wista monorails, Sinar Norma, Sinar P and its variants, Linhof Kardans or Plaubels. The geometry and micrometer driven movements of the Sinar P and a few other cameras can really improve the productivity of a commercial photographer working on the clock. Those features are less important to me as an amateur.

If you are likely to find your self wanting accessories like reducing backs, 5x7 or 8x10 conversion, compendium lens hood, lensboard adapters, recessed lensboards, wide angle bellows, sliding roll film adapters, extension monorails, etc; then there is good reason to stay in the Cambo or Sinar product lines. These cameras were made in great numbers (comparably anyway) and accessories like these are far more plentiful and less expensive for these makes than from other manufacturers.

Since nobody else has addressed it, I would point out that, on the other hand, 8 x 10 is in many respects a different animal than 4x5. Photographing in 8x10 is a different experience. The relationship of the photographer to the ground glass is much more enveloping and engaging. 4x5 seems small to me, requiring focused concentration and I have settled on 5x7 as a transportable compromise. (It is important that I only shoot B&W. Color films are very hard to come by in 5x7.) 8x10 may be the best way to gain entry into a photographic process that is both highly deliberate and intuitive. If that is what that you are looking for and you can afford the film and processing costs for 8x10 (Color would drive those cost up greatly.) then you should not dismiss it out of hand. If you decide that 8x10 is your cup of tea then consider almost any old studio 8x10 camera such as the wooden Ansco, Kodak, or B&J cameras, or the camera I have experience with, the aluminum or magnesium Calumet C1. These days you can get set up with an 8x10 camera, a (definitely not state-of-the-art, but very capable) lens, film holders, meter, focusing cloth and maybe a suitable tripod, if needed, for your $750 budget. To save some money for film, many folks recommend using a DSLR to meter, and I am sure that one would offer many advantages over an entry level hand held meter (which, sadly, are no longer inexpensive.)

Very best of luck to you. I hope that you have a lot of fun and success.

- Alan

13-Sep-2011, 16:54
Thanks everyone. I'm currently looking at two options. The first is a cambo legend 4x5 with a APO-Symmar 150mm f5.6 in great condition for $470, the second is a Cambo NX 810 with no lens in good condition for $477. Thoughts?