View Full Version : Help Me Decide - 1st Monorail 4x5 - 3 options

31-Jul-2012, 12:48
Hi folks! I'm new to the forum and would love some opinions!

I have a crown graphic that I'm really enjoying - but I'm wishing I had longer bellows and more movements... so I'd love a monorail camera.

After reading lots of information on this site and others (and the LF.info camera reviews) I've narrowed my wish list down a couple good options. My #1 choice would be the Cambo SF because I tend to do more photos on location (hiking, at the park, etc) and I would like to minimize bulk and setup hassle... I know - sounds like I shouldnt be wanting a monorail - but I would rather have the movements and use-ability first - then the travel-ability second on the priorities...

Background Info if you need it:
Current 4x5 gear includes:
135mm and a 210mm, a singer 120 back, 3 film holders (not enough for longer trips), and a PA-45 fuji pack film holder, CrownGraphic and CarbonFiber Tripod... (loops, cable releases, etc)

What I shoot:
Mostly Portraits and Landscapes... might get into some architecture?

Why a monorail?
I would like to have better control over my focal plane for portraiture (I think swing is what I'd need for this) and more tilt for landscapes. I also just like the process of 4x5 and composing on the ground glass...

I've found the following options:
1) Cambo 45 SC in seemingly 'average' condition, with gridded ground glass - at the auction site (unknown seller) for $200 with 6 film holders. The photos show markings on all the movement, so it seems like a plus.

2) Calumet 45 N in Good condition, plain non-gridded GG... also at the auction site (but from a good, trusted seller) also $200 but no film holders (but good return policy)

3) Cambo 45 SR without Spirit Levels - in Good condition - from a good, trusted seller for $170. I haven't found any information on the SR model so this would probablly be a bad choice unless one of you have any info? I contacted the seller company and the rep didn't have any additional information because the item was at the warehouse... but good return policy...

I hope this isn't too specific or too much info - thanks so much for your feedback!!

31-Jul-2012, 14:03
I'd look for a Toyo G. Extremely nice cameras, very solidly built and pretty easy to find.

I would definitely look for a more recent one with metal locking knobs for the shift and swing locks. Mine had plastic locks and they seem to break. If you have a G with the metal levers (they are smaller than the plastic levers and smooth rather than ridged where you put your fingers) they are pretty much bullet proof cameras.

Personally I like my Chamonix much better. 2x the price but much easier to carry around. But the Toyo is a rock solid camera, very nicely made. Other than the knob thing, it's a perfect camera.

31-Jul-2012, 14:28
Whatever you get, make sure it has a graflok back. The Toyo G (or G-II) is a nice camera. Don't know how it compares to the Cambo or Calumet. If you're interested, I have a Graphic View II that I'm selling. Not in the same class as the Toyo though.


31-Jul-2012, 15:02
A SINAR NORMA is very well made, monorail, extremely flexible, and comes with a graflok back. I break mine down to travel in a backpack, and reassembly takes about two minutes flat. You can't find any camera that is better constructed than the NORMA. It makes a great outfit coupled with my Linhof 3333.

31-Jul-2012, 15:47
I've been using a Chamonix in the field for the last couple of years, and other folding cameras before that. Recently, though, like you, I'm trying the monorail for some current projects, both for rigidity and ease of use in the field. Changing lenses and refocussing is way easier with a monorail than with the Chamonix where you have to detach the front standard and then be careful to re-align things. If weight is critical, its a different discussion, of course. I happened to have an Arca Swiss model C that I had stored and have been testing in the field. I believe it is another sleeper to consider for ebay purchases. I haven't used the Cambo's but they look a bit rickety to me compared to some others, which are only marginally more expensive. In fact, its impressive to see how many top of the line monorails are sold on Ebay for under $400. In the 80's I never dreamed I'd own a Sinar, but they're giving 'em away now.

One thing I really like about my Arca is the ability to do rise and fall without the swing and tilt being affected like with most lightweights where a single screw often controls several functions. That's a real time consumer IMO, having to re-set your tilt just to get a little rise. It looks like some of the controls are combined on the Cambo's which could mean more fiddling than with the above suggested Norma, for example, which is known to be a fine user.

Frank Petronio
31-Jul-2012, 16:14
Smart thinking, a press camera and a monorail give you a lot of options for less money than many popular cameras. They are all great values, $200 for a decent Cambo is hard to beat. I would buy based on condition and cosmetics - no point in getting something worn out at these prices.

General impressions of under-$500 monorails:

Cambo: can be heavier and coarser than other brands but very robust.

Toyo: really solid and balanced, more plastic parts though.

Arca: the older ones are affordable, the lightest, great design but many plastic parts that become brittle with age. A Discovery or Arca F is more expensive but very solid yet light/compact.

Linhof: real sleeper if you find a cheap one, probably the best quality but used parts are rare/expensive on eBay. The leather bellows often age out before the camera and replacements are expensive ;-/

Sinar F: solid, versatile, plentiful. Plastic parts can fail but easy to find spares.

Sinar Norma: best quality for the buck, still easy to find parts, my current and lasting camera.

Calumet, older models, oddball brands: knock yourself out but with prices so low, why not make life simple and go with a better quality, newer camera? Still, a $100 Calumet coat hanger monorail makes just as good a photo as any of them, including those $$$$ Ebonies.

Bill Koechling
31-Jul-2012, 16:37
Yep... Frank nailed it and he ought to know. He's bought, sold and used everthing you'd ever want to consider.

My vote goes to the Arca C. It's VERY light, solid and has base (and axis) tilts which I prefer. Bob Watkins at Precision Camera Works (http://www.precisioncameraworks.com/) near Chicago works on these.

Close second goes to Sinar F.

Cambo is rugged but too heavy.

31-Jul-2012, 16:46
There is actually a clear choice for you:
Graphic View 2. They are inexpensive and bulletproof. The only drawback (that I'm aware of) is that you must use a recessed lensboard for lenses shorter than 100mm.
Get the adapter which will allow you to use your Crown Graphic lensboards.

31-Jul-2012, 17:27
You'll do well with any of those Cambos, but as someone else mentioned... check to make sure it has a Graflok back. I think any of those should. We shoot similar subjects and Cambo has been good camera for me since the early 1980s.

31-Jul-2012, 17:28
p.s. buy a few more film holders. You don't have enough. :)

31-Jul-2012, 17:29
p.s. for architecture a 90 mm lens wouldn't be bad either. For that you may want a recessed lensboard and bag bellows too. I do lots of my architecture shooting with 135 so don't rush into buying shorter lens until you have convinced yoruself you need it. I took 30 years to get to that realization, and even then I rarely use it.

31-Jul-2012, 18:00
I've used both the Norma and the Arcas (Discovery and B/C model). I find the Arca's a bit easier to use, but the Norma is a great camera and you can't go wrong with any of the above.

Alan Gales
31-Jul-2012, 18:22
There is what looks like a very nice Sinar Norma on ebay right now with a Fujinon 180mm f/5.6 lens with 5 days left. There are no bids yet with starting price at $599.99 or $660.00 buy it now with free shipping. I figure the lens is probably worth close to $200.00. You could always sell it if you didn't want it.

For comparison I paid about $600.00 for my Sinar P with a Schneider 210mm f/5.6 lens.

I don't know the Seller personally but he has 100% positive feedback and has sold a few things. The item # is 230832327227. If you are interested you could contact the Seller and ask a few questions.

Cambo/Calumets are nice and they are cheap nowadays but I have owned both and I feel it is worth the extra money to step up to Sinar if you can afford it.

Frank Petronio
31-Jul-2012, 18:30
It isn't that the other cameras are bad - in fact a Linhof monorail can be the best if you are looking for sheer build quality - but the Sinars, and to a lessor extent the Toyos and Cambos, have a ready supply of bag bellows, lens boards, extension rails and more readily available from eBay, KEH, MPEX, this forum's Buy & Sell section, etc.

Fatif from Italy makes a wonderful camera but it might take you years to find a replacement bellows or rail for it.

All of the "name brands" are good cameras so buy the one in best shape. Some Sinars and others have been ridden very hard and put away wet so use some horse sense (pardon the lousy pun).

31-Jul-2012, 18:59
I have a Cambo 45 SC and I love it, but I have never tried to pack it around. Not that you can't, just a lot heavier and harder to set up then my Crown Graphic so I have never bothered. It does fit well in my little Case Logic backpack so I may have to try it out.

Of course if I am working out of my van and not hiking around who knows what I'll carry.

31-Jul-2012, 19:04
I've got a Cambo 4x5 monorail and previously had a Sinar F2. In my infinitely-less-knowledgable-than-these-other-guys experience, I would pick the Cambo over the Sinar if I planned to go hiking any significant distance. My Cambo weighs half the weight of the Sinar and will fold up/pack up much smaller. If hiking was a secondary use of the camera, I would possibly go for a Sinar again. But the Sinar is clearly a better made camera and there are a ton of parts available for it.

That said, I really like the Cambo and I've seen half a ton of parts available for it here and on the auction site. I have this model (Cambo 45NX apparently):


It's not as "precise" as the Sinar but it does what it's meant to do and I'm happy with that.

Alan Gales
31-Jul-2012, 20:00
You bring up a very good point, Welly. The Cambo 45NX is extremely light for a monorail.

Joseph Dickerson
1-Aug-2012, 08:09
Sorry, but no way does the Cambo weigh half what the Sinar F2 does. According to the Cambo 45n/nx review on this very forum the Cambo weighs nine pounds and the Sinar F1/2 weighs about seven and a half pounds. Before you flame me, look it up. :p

While I'm up here on my soap box, why would anyone recommend a camera (Fatif) that "will take years to find a replacement bellows for". Yeah, it's a nice camera but...

Russ, please re-read what Frank P. wrote and you'll be fine.


1-Aug-2012, 08:30
Wow - thank you -everyone- for all the feedback and thoughtfull responses!

From my running tally of opinions/Suggestions:
Toyo G/GII
Graphic ViewII x2
Sinar Norma x3
Arca Swiss C x2
Arca Discovery
Arca F
Sinar F x2
Cambo 45 SC
Cambo 45 NX

I looked at the ebay listing mentioned above by Alan re: the Sinar Norma.... but it only has a 9" rail. Are they extendable? I also found a 16" rail and another 9" rail... if they're extendable (i.e. you can connect the two rails) having 2x 9" rails would be perfect. This would add ~$70 to the price of the kit and its already over my allowed budget... bit if its the right system, I'd rather buy it once than buying twice...

I found a couple nice looking ToyoG's for $350 or $400 with a rear 45degree hood and 90mm wideangle (with some fungus)

The Graphic View II seems to have rather limited shift and swing... but not having any experience with those movements - I dont know how sufficient that would be

more research to do

Thanks ALL!!

Drew Wiley
1-Aug-2012, 08:47
Norma rails are interchangable with later Sinar rails. Bellows will generally interchange too.
So you can either extend or compress the system. For wide angle work Sinar offers a bag
bellows, and the nice thing is that there is a lot of used Sinar components for sale quite
reasonably at the moment. The original Norma tapered bellows was quite versatile and might mitigate the need for a separate bag versus long bellows. I use mine from 90mm to
450mm lenses. But finding Norma gear in good condition takes a bit more patience than
locating later Sinar gear, and expect to do a tune up if you do find it.

1-Aug-2012, 08:59
Norma rails are interchangable with later Sinar rails. Bellows will generally interchange too.
So you can either extend or compress the system.

So, the rails are interchangable - but are they extendable by connecting other 9" rails?

Frank Petronio
1-Aug-2012, 09:09
So, the rails are interchangable - but are they extendable by connecting other 9" rails?

Yes you can extend them a mile long, the 9" base is the starting point.

Before I bought anything, I'd do a good round of search engine work, the Sinar system is extensively documented and talked about.

Buy based on condition, many are beat.

1-Aug-2012, 09:24
General impressions of under-$500 monorails:

where's Horseman??

I picked one up a while ago at a garage sale..played with it before selling it (don't need a monorail 4x5 myself)

OH MAN..was I impressed - uses sinar boards.. reasonably priced.. One of those Horseman L cameras is what I'd be looking for

1-Aug-2012, 10:17
Sinar base rails are 12" long, and there are 6, 12, and 18" extensions for it. They can be added endlessly, as Frank mentioned.

The Cambo SCII ("II" = "4x5", and "SC" = "Super Cambo") is basically the same camera as the Calumet 45n and 45nx, which was made by Cambo. Calumet ended up buying Cambo. The nx has a rotating back, the n does not. All of these have Graflok/International backs, as do all Sinar cameras. The Cambo version may have some graduation marks that the Calumet version lacks, but if you use a loupe to check your movements (as you should) that will be of no consequence. They are about the same weight as a Sinar F/F2, but they consume more space because of their oversized U-frames. The base rails are square in section on all the Cambos and Cambo-made Calumets, which helps identify them. They can be shortened (with a hacksaw), so the strategy for needing different lengths of rail is to have several rails in different lengths.

There is also the older Calumet CC series, which is derived from the Kodak Master View (and which is similar to cameras branded Burke and James, and Arkay). These are robust and durable. But you need the special wide-angle model if you want to use short lenses. And they are quite heavy. They lack the component system interchangeable design of the Cambo and Sinar cameras. You can usually find one in decent condition for closer to $100.

The main difference in these is their support for shorter lenses. The Cambos (including those branded Calumet) prefer a recessed board and bag bellows for 65mm lenses and won't accommodate 47mm lenses at all. They need bag bellows for 90mm lenses if you want much in the way of movements. Sinars can accommodate down to 47mm lenses on flat boards with the right bag bellows. The older Calumets came in separate versions for short lenses. Dealing with short lenses is why I moved from the early Calumet to the Cambo, and then (as my lenses tastes got even shorter--coupled to using roll-film holders) from the Cambo to the Sinar.

There are many other brands, of course. The Toyos (with which I have no experience) are also cheap (in most models) and plentiful. The Horseman monorails share interchangeability with some Sinar parts, including bellows and boards, but not including rails.

Rick "who still prefers monorail cameras" Denney

1-Aug-2012, 16:04
Thanks all...

can anyone comment on:
1) The pack-a-bility of the Toyo G... I know its a hefty 12lbs +/- but there seems to be some nice ones to be had

2) I've read a few concerning reviews about the Sinar F having a weak/fragile monorail mounting bracket which was (reportedly) improved on the much more expensive F2 vesion.

3) Can anyone tell me the importance of 'on-axis' tilt versus base tilt? It seems both the Sinar F and the Sinar Norma are lacking the on-axis tilt (which seems like a nice feature for portraits as you can compose first, and tilt later... is that right?)

Thanks all - I feel much more informed and much more dangerous to my bank account ;)

Frank Petronio
1-Aug-2012, 16:38
1. It's bulky.

2. The F2 is a solid design, the F1 (and older F) are weaker. They can break but not that often, and a spot of tape will keep you shooting until you can epoxy it or buy another front standard.

3. Base tilts are far better for everything.

Everything I said will be disputed but I'm right.

1-Aug-2012, 16:43
The F front standard is fine as long as you don't overtightened it. Don't worry about it--but don't buy a broken one. The standards by themselves are pretty easy to find, too. The real advantage to the F2 (except for the very first ones) is separate shift and swing locks, and that's why I replaced my F front standard with an F2 model. That means more when you are trying to make really small changes in those movements--for me about twice avery ten shots--particularly closeups of inanimate scenes. The F2 standard also has gear-driven focus, but I have always been happy just focusing the rear standard.

Base versus axis tilts is a matter of preference. I've had both and found neither annoying compared to the other. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Both, though, will require refocusing.

With portraits, it won't matter. I don't think I would ever use tilts for portraits, at least with 4x5--I'm happy with the focus plane staying vertical. I might want to turn it side to side (say, to focus both eyes when the model is only partially facing the camera), but that is swing, not tilt, and swings are axial on both Sinars and Cambos, (or nearly so if you are also shifting--again, not useful for portraits in my experience). Even then, you'll need a patient model who can stay still for a long time if your depth of field is so shallow that swings and tilts are necessary. It becomes more important with larger formats.

You may develop a preference for base versus axial tilts, but I doubt you or anyone else could predict what that preference will be. Few end up with only the camera they start with, which favors a conservative spending strategy. Give yourself room to change your mind as you gain experience.

Rick "date a little before you propose marriage" Denney

1-Aug-2012, 17:07
Sorry, but no way does the Cambo weigh half what the Sinar F2 does. According to the Cambo 45n/nx review on this very forum the Cambo weighs nine pounds and the Sinar F1/2 weighs about seven and a half pounds. Before you flame me, look it up. :p

It's maybe three-quarters of the weight then but someone definitely has their figures wrong! :) I haven't had a Sinar F2 around for a while but I can assure you, my Sinar was noticeably heavier than the Cambo. In fact, when my Cambo arrived in the post, I was quite taken aback how light it was and was wondering where the rest of it! You only have to look at the two cameras and you'll see there's more to the Sinar.

Alan Gales
1-Aug-2012, 17:54
It's maybe three-quarters of the weight then but someone definitely has their figures wrong! :) I haven't had a Sinar F2 around for a while but I can assure you, my Sinar was noticeably heavier than the Cambo. In fact, when my Cambo arrived in the post, I was quite taken aback how light it was and was wondering where the rest of it! You only have to look at the two cameras and you'll see there's more to the Sinar.

I have a Cambo around here that looks like yours. It doesn't have a model name on it. I think it's the same camera. I did have a Sinar F that I parted out. The Sinar was definitely heavier.

1-Aug-2012, 18:14
I'm going to recommend the Sinar F2 as well. I agree with all the reasons everyone else has mentioned above, and will also throw in that because, generally speaking, all the Sinar monorail cameras after the Norma were built as a modular, interchangeable system of camera components, expanding your F2 to other formats and uses will be far easier in the future than with any other option. There really isn't any part or accessory for my Sinar that I could ever want, that I couldn't find for sale somewhere within about 24 hours.

1-Aug-2012, 18:27
Ok. I just weighed my Cambo 45 on the bathroom scale. Camera in backpack, two lenses with backboards, shutter release cable. It weighed exactly 10 pounds. Film holders and film will obviously add a bit of extra weight. Four 4x5 film holders, grabbed at random, weighed 1 1/2 pounds, minus an ounce or two. That does not seem terribly bad to me. I have shlepped a lot more weight than that around the mountains before.

Bill Koechling
2-Aug-2012, 13:47
Thanks all...

can anyone comment on:

3) Can anyone tell me the importance of 'on-axis' tilt versus base tilt? It seems both the Sinar F and the Sinar Norma are lacking the on-axis tilt (which seems like a nice feature for portraits as you can compose first, and tilt later... is that right?)

As one who has always framed the shot - including rough focus - then tilted as needed, it was always annoying to have to then re-focus. Base tilts mostly eliminate that need to re-focus - or sometimes re-compose the shot after everything shifted and then re-focus. You can live without base tilts but it was real easy to get used to having it.

2-Aug-2012, 14:25
Thanks, everyone, for all the information.
As I was looking - the $$$ kept creeping up up and up... then it dawned on me - I've never even seen a monorail in person - let alone held one and tried it out. So in the end - budget concerns prevailed and I found a KEH 'bargain' Cambo SCII for $125. Added a couple lensboards and I'll get to a solid intro for ~$200.

I do feel a bit of buyers remorse... kinda like I took the 'blue pill' - and now I'm trying to get my ignorance back <--(I'm refering to The Matrix... not to those other blue 'enhancement' pills ;)

... I just hope it gets here before my upcoming road trip to Cali!

Thanks all!

Alan Gales
2-Aug-2012, 15:14
Use it for a while and you will learn what you like and dislike about it. You may find it perfect for what you need. For the price you paid you will have no trouble getting your money back if you do decide you want something different later.

As for the Matrix reference, I don't agree. You can talk cameras to people all day but there is no experience like user's experience!

3-Aug-2012, 09:42
I'm using the Toyo G, a great system, and bought it quite cheaply. However, if I were to invest in a system again, I'd plump for the Sinar, common as dirt s/hand and straightforward to buy parts and accessories for.

Jeff Dexheimer
3-Aug-2012, 21:31
If I were to buy a monorail today, I would look for a sinar f2. You can usually find them for under $500. They are as modular as a camera can get, meaning you can add accessories to your hearts content. They are relatively light and they pack up small for what you get.

hmm... I think I just convinced myself to buy a Sinar f2 as my next camera.

7-Aug-2012, 13:54
Oh geez... Now I'm in trouble!

I haven't even received the Cambo in the mail yet - and I found a nice sinar F1 with case, & extension rail... added a few lens boards and film holders - now I have 2 monorails on the way!!

I guess I'll get to set up both and see which one "fits" me better.

Then I'll have to start selling some gear!

Rod Klukas
8-Aug-2012, 19:57
The Arca-Swiss 4x5 C has a universal bellows so 55-300mm lenses in long focus types are accomodated on flat boards. In telephoto a 500mm Nikon is no problem.
All this with one bellows. a longer bellows is an option as well.
The basic camera weighs under 5 lbs and has one of the best focus screens ever made.

9-Aug-2012, 06:48
You'r a glutton for punishement, Russ. :) Now is the time to face your addiction. You really NEED two cameras.

10-Aug-2012, 09:34
If you're still looking at Cambo, try to find a Master PC or a Legend PC. I shot the legend for quite a while and really liked it, and just upgraded to a Master PC. I could not be happier.

Jay DeFehr
10-Aug-2012, 10:33
My first monorail is a Sinar P, and it suits me to a tee! It certainly is not a backpacker, but neither am I. It's modular, precise, logically arranged and intuitive to operate. The Sinar shutter is a very handy accessory, as is the binocular reflex viewer, and I love the way everything fits together so perfectly. All of this applies equally to the more portable Sinar F. Congratulations, and enjoy!