View Full Version : Newbie Impressions of Wisner Flight

Paul Kierstead
11-Nov-2003, 22:53
Though I would share this with y'all, since I have learned so much here. Hopefully you will find it interesting, amusing or at least better then TV.

Ok, first a little background: I am a LF newbie. Were not talking "not experienced", were talking never handled a LF camera ever before, never even touched one. I am a "technically" compentent outdoor photography, although the best I could say about a studio is that I know what one looks like. My aeshetics need a lot of work.

I have been shooting 35mm, digital and some medium format (Mamiya 7II). I liked th e MF but have had several incidents where it just didn't offer enough control. I have also found myself slowing down, taking my time and trying to be more careful about my image. I was a LF accident waiting to happen. So I traded the MF gear in and bought a Wisner 4x5 Flight and a couple of lenses (210 Rodenstock and 80 Super Symmar, gap to be filled sometime later..). It arrived today. In preparation, I read "View Camera Technique" and pretty much everything on this site.

Ah, so I unpack the camera and open the instructions. Yeah, right, instructions, you must be kidding. Now if you have never seen a field camera before, let alone operated one, opening one is not terrible obvious. I start by disconnecting the back from the bellows. Oops. No biggie, just reconnect. First quibble: Bellows tends to catch while attaching the back, making it harder then it should be. OK, fast forward 10 minutes: I figure out how to unfold it completely. Lots of nice intents (indents?) to zero the controls, that is nice. Play with the movements a little. Lotta focus knobs on this thing; I wonder how that patented "top-focus" thing works? No idea. Anyway, seems to be going well. Attach lens.

First big shock: I am in the house and the GG is *DARK*. Wow. Ok, that whole darkcloth thing is no joke. Even with a "fast" lens of 5.6 I can't see a **** thing. Go fetch black sheet.

Now I have a sheet over my head and the g/f thinks this is pretty funny. It is her birthday BTW, so my play time is limited; I better make some progress quick. Anyway, now to focus accross the room. Now I really have no feel for how much to extend the bellows at all, but eventually sort it out. Neat! I am impressed. Oddy enough, the whole upside down thing doesn't bother me nearly as much as I thought it might; maybe landscape will be different. Anyway, good fun. I don't have enough time to work out how to load film other then to note that getting a holder out was not at all obvious: You would never guess there is a little catch there and it has to be pulled slightly back to be withdrawn. I don't think anyone ever mentions that.

Now an interlude for some general impressions. This camera is LIGHT. Wow. After all I have read about LF weight, I expected much worse. Mind you it is a light LF and I am used to lugging a 10D+betterygrip+20 lbs of lenses, but still, very pleasant surprise. The film holders are a very unpleasant surprise; I only bought 5 used Fidelity ones, but man are they heavy. There has to be a good market for magnesium holders or something; it would be brutal to carry many of them. Workmanship: OK. I am impressed with the larger panels of the camera being correctly constructed to prevent warp (panel design in woodworking is tricky), but fit and finish are nothing special; there is evidence of tearout here and there and the odd wayward saw mark on a join. It is not top-quality wood-working, but not bad by todays standards. It seems well designed, but then again I know nothing about LF cameras. Everything seems tight and smooth, although there are a few quirks. For example, the rear focus knob: You loosen the left know, move the back standard forward some but then it binds a little and you have to loosen again. Repeat. Of course I could just loosen more to start with. My one *BIG* beef? The "yaw" level build in is really, really "slow" believe it or not. It seems to take forever to register a change, by which time you probably have over compensated. Not a deal killer, but irritating.

Move forward: I look around the house for someting to shoot after I have taken the g/f home. Ah, a rose I gave her but she has forgotten (we are both somewhat absent minded). OK, that will work. I have no flash PC cord, plus my wimpy flashes would put out the kind of power required, plus my house lights are decent enough to allow me to focus sensibly, so I wander to Hope Depot and buy a 1000W work light. Ahh...now that works better. I am shocked at how far from the GG you need to be; 35mm has given me all the wrong impression. Anyway, read the polaroid site to discover how to load type 55 and how to process it. Aww, I have no chemicals so will have to live dumping the negs in water for now. For that matter, I have no 4x5 neg scanner (looking at an epson 3200...), so it wouldn't help anyway. Read the instructions about 10 times to figure it out. Aha!

I set it all up with a black sheet for a backdrop, lighting courtesy of Home Depot, time to focus. Play with the knobs a little, toy with front tilt (I am shooting down on the rose). This is real sweet, I love it. This is control of the process. Finally get everything (apparently) in focus, do a dry run or two of the seqence and expose my very first LF picture, done on Polaroid type 55. Eventually it dries (that print coating stuff is evil for drying time, smell and ability to grab every bit of dust in a 10 km radius).

Scan of the print done on a very, very crappy HP flatbed:


PS Work: Spotting (A lot!), sharpening 'cause the scanner is very soft, levels to match the print and real tiny bit cropped off the right. Well, it is cliche, a little blown in the highlights and no great art, but for my very first LF exposure done I am on cloud nine. I look forward to learning lots more and having a blast.

11-Nov-2003, 23:17
You should be happy with your first shot. Hopefully the gf is too. Keep it as a momento. The first 1000 shots are the hardest. But harder still will be convincing the gf to share her demands on your time. When she realises that she's gradually becoming #2 your photographers artistry in time management will need to be developed.

Paul Kierstead
11-Nov-2003, 23:39
I was overjoyed to get any image at all :)

I was already battling time issues with her. She is very understanding. It helps I donated some of my Nikon gear to her so she can play too.

Ralph Barker
12-Nov-2003, 00:35
Congratulations on your first LF adventure, Paul. Those gazillion candle power shop lights do come in handy as focusing lights.

As far as the time management thing goes, you may find that a steady flow of roses will be helpful in that regard. ;-)

James Driscoll
12-Nov-2003, 06:33
Very nice first shot. Actually I recently located the first thing I ever shot with a View Camera. Does anybody else know the first shot the ever took with a LF camera???

It would be an interesting thread!!!

Mine isn't very exciting.....it is a "copy" shot that was meant to get us used to working the controls on the camera. It was also shot on P/N...and printing it made me realize this is what I want to do....no 700 hours in the darkroom with that 35mm neg anymore....

As for girlfriends and view cameras.....my first long relationship happened during my "discovery" of LF, and she was very supportive. Actually I trained her to be my assistant and she helped me out on my first pro gigs. She still uses me as a refrence.

My current GF/soon to be wife....met me after I completed my first book and was thrust into the world of living with entire shelves full of LF equipment. She is a Graphic Designer and always worked with 4x5 and 8x10 chromes....but never knew what the cameras looked like that supplied them!!! Now she can talk about Sinars like C. Koch can.....

If I could only get her to understand my hi-fi obsession........

Just get your GF involved....it will than be an extension of your relationship...your learning about the view camera and she can too.

Brian Kennedy
12-Nov-2003, 07:34
I enjoyed reading the story, Paul. I like your followup comment, too: I was overjoyed to get any image at all -- I know exactly how you felt! :-)

Sidney Cammeresi
12-Nov-2003, 08:35
My first LF shot was considerably less exciting. I didn't yet have a quick release plate to attach the camera to my tripod head, as I had hadn't yet received it, so I screwed it directly onto the tripod. This meant, of course, that I was pretty limited in what I could point the camera at, so I chose the only thing I could find with some variety of objects at the correct height: the top of my refrigerator.

Not the most impressive subject, but the Polaroid sure was impressive for sharpness, etc.

Brian Vuillemenot
12-Nov-2003, 11:00
Nice first shot. I still have mine from three years ago; most of it wasn't even in focus. Not to be a downer, but I've lost several girlfriends over photography related issues. In the future, I'm not even going to try to take any pictures with a girlfriend there, because it's just not worth the stress. Photography is hard enough without someone constantly asking, "Are you done yet?"

Ernest Purdum
12-Nov-2003, 11:23
Regarding the weight of holders, "Grafmatic" holders save some weight and even more bulk. You'll probably find, though, that you don't shoot as many images as you used to with smaller formats.

Brian Ellis
12-Nov-2003, 13:12
Thanks, that was fun reading. Wisner is famous (infamous?) for not supplying instructions. All the large format cameras I've had (five) came with instructions of some sort. Ebony's and Linhof's are excellent. Anyhow, you did well for a first photograph. I made my first one at high noon. No one told me you shouldn't pull the dark slide and then leave the film holder open to direct sunlight for a fifteen or twenty minutes while you fiddled around with other things. Took a while to figure out what all those streaks in the print were. My wife refers to herself as "the dray horse," which means she sometimes carries things. Try to get your g/f to a point where she does the same.

Jim Galli
12-Nov-2003, 15:12
Wisner will give you all the instruction you want when you pay for his workshop. But don't show up with a brand X (read non-Wisner) camera like a friend of mine did. You'll get the big cold shoulder. My first 4X5 shot was of a knot hole in the back fence. Yup, still have it. We need to start that thread James. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow.

12-Nov-2003, 18:23

Welcome to the world of large format photography. It's a journey...a VERY, VERY long journey!

James hit the nail on the head when he said to involve your G/F. You might have asked her to be your model (don't forget the glass of wine to keep her relaxed as you fiddle with the knobs on the camera) and that would have made the time fly by!

Alternatively, don't have the G/F around when you're shooting. That works too... unless the G/F happens to be your wife. Then, it doesn't work AS well. Then, you'll have to resort to bribes.

The worklight is exactly what you need to focus a large format camera. I use an Ianiro Testarossa and that saved me from going blind in my attempts to focus. Just make sure you don't back into the light...they kick off a wee bit of heat!

Thanks for the story...it was quite enjoyable and, as others have already said... not a bad first shot.


Paul Kierstead
17-Nov-2003, 11:49
Thank you very much for all of your suggestions and comments! My girlfriend already accompanies me on many of my hikes/walks/drives and refers to herself as my "beast of burden" :) I think the winter might leave me along on my travels a little more; for some odd reason she isn't terribly keen on trudging through the snow in -20C temperatures.

I am enjoying the experience very much so far.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
20-Jan-2004, 16:47
Paul, your first shot was much better than mine. I exposed two sheets of transparancy film and they came back blank. I was putting the holder in wrong - in on the right side instead of the left. Fortunately I figured it out and went out for a second try. Here is shot number three - the first to turn out.