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Thread: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Dec 2016

    Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    Hello Large Format community,

    I am an amateur photographer that has experience in 35mm and medium format. The large format bug bit me and now I am doing research on the subject. I am a bit overwhelm by the amount of cameras and prices for this format. I think that my budget for the camera and lens is around $400 USD.

    I would like to take your guidance in regards to what should be my first LF camera and lenses. I am intrigue by LF camera movements and would like to use the camera mostly for portraits and landscapes. is there a newbies thread in the forum? I have not found it...

    I am also looking for good excuses to tell my wife why I am going into LF photography and why I need the equipment; as she is already tired of ebay boxes for my other formats... .

    All the advice is greatly appreciated!!



  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    Welcome aboard!
    You can certainly build a 4x5 kit with a Calumet 400 or Graphic View around your budget.
    I suggest getting a copy of Steve Simmons Using The View Camera to start.
    "I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority"---EB White

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Feb 2001
    Nara, Japan

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    Hi Raul,

    Welcome. As a starting point, I suggest you read the articles on the home page They will give you an idea of the different kinds of cameras, formats and lenses. On the forum, there are any number of threads extolling the virtues of this or that camera, metal vs. wooden, monorail vs. field, whether you should buy a cheap camera to start with or jump straight into a $3,000 investment and so on.

    By the time you finish reading all this, you will learn that the most definite answer to any question is "maybe"!

    Also, your 30 days will be up and you'll be able to see the Buy/Sell forum and decide what you want to buy.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Ex-Seattlelite living in PNW

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    Welcome, Raul. Sometimes you can find a nice rig on CL. If you're not going to use many cam adjustments and will want to hike with it, then a folder type rig would likely work best. Nothing is written in granite, some people use a 'rail camera for variety of terrains. Support is v. important as well.

    If you are overwhelmed on cameras, then watch out for infinite (almost) variations on lenses. Fortunately, good portion of the equipment can be had for reasonable....and if you decide to graduate and move on to a different stratosphere, you can always sell things without getting dinged too much.

    Good luck.


  5. #5

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Oregon now (formerly Austria)

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    Hello Raul and welcome.

    First piece of advice from me: don't jump too fast!

    Take your time and find out what type of camera and what kind of lenses you might want relative to your shooting style and what and how you plan on photographing. Some considerations:

    LF is not just one thing. There are many types of cameras and film formats.

    As for format: For starting out, I'd recommend you stay with 4x5 if you're planning on enlarging/scanning. However, if you want to make contact prints and have the constitution for lugging around more weight, then you may want to explore 8x10 formats and larger. Be sure what you want to do here before moving on.

    Camera types: There are monorail cameras, folding metal cameras with full movements, metal and wood folding press cameras with more limited movements but with rangefinders for hand-holding, and, finally, there are wooden folding cameras of various weights and capabilities. You need to explore and become familiar with the various types.

    Lenses: Theoretically, any lens can be mounted and used on any view camera as long as it physically fits and there is enough bellows draw to focus with. LF lenses, unlike MF and 35mm systems don't have a lens mount. Instead, cameras are designed to take a lensboard, upon which the lens is mounted, usually by securing the threaded barrel of the lens/shutter with a retaining ring or flange. Lensboard sizes are specific to the particular camera you choose, but there are a few common sizes. Lenses themselves come in various focal lengths, 150-200mm being considered "normal" for the 4x5 format, 135mm semi-wide, 90mm wide and 75mm and shorter very wide. Moderately long lenses are 240-300mm; longer go up from 360mm to the extreme of around 600mm. Keep in mind that many cameras don't have the bellows draw to utilize longer lenses, especially the folding field cameras, and that using longer focal lengths on LF results in much reduced depth-of-field in comparison to smaller formats. Lenses are big, heavy and fast (i.e., larger maximum aperture) or small, compact and slow (or somewhere in the middle).

    An aspect of LF photography that confuses many moving up from smaller formats is the concept of lens "coverage." In order to use movements, especially for architectural work, a lens needs to project a much larger image circle than needed to just cover the film. LF lenses come in "families" based on their angles of coverage. Generally (and I'm being very general here...), there are "normal" lenses and "wide" lenses (note that "wide" here has nothing to do with focal length, but rather with angle of coverage). There are a few telephoto designs for LF as well. Do take time on the LF home page to familiarize yourself with the various types and their coverage capabilities before purchasing. As a general rule, longer lenses (say 150mm and longer) have more coverage than you'll likely need; it is in the shorter focal lengths that you often run into coverage problems. A 135mm "normal-design" (I'm talking about Plasmat designs here, e.g., Nikkor or Fujinon "W" lenses or Schneider "Symmar" types) will vignette with extreme movements. A 90mm lens for a 4x5 camera needs to be of a wide-angle design in order to cover at all. So, one thing you need to think about before buying is how much coverage you will need from your lenses. If you plan on using movements a lot, especially rise/fall and shift, then you should look at lenses with lots of coverage.

    The tradeoffs for both cameras an lenses are weight, bulk and movement capabilities versus portability. If you work in the studio primarily, then a heavy monorail camera is not a problem and offers a lot of bellows draw and movement capabilities and you can use big, fast lenses with lots of coverage. If (like me) you work in the field primarily and spend a lot of time hiking and climbing with your kit, then you may want to optimize your kit for portability, which means a lightweight folding camera with more limited movements and leightweight lenses that are slower and have less coverage. Of course, there is a spectrum of choices between the two extremes.

    Here's a down-and-dirty list of kinds of LF photography and some of the necessities they entail (Note: I'm assuming a 4x5 camera here; if you decide on a larger format, then the lens focal lengths are proportionally longer):

    Studio portraiture: Full-featured monorail camera with lots of bellows draw. Coverage is less of an issue with portraiture, but you'll likely want fast and longer "portrait-focal-length" lenses in the 210mm-360mm range to start.

    Table-top, product and other "close-up" photography: Again, a full featured monorail with lots of bellows draw is best (some monorails have more bellows draw than others). Rear-standard focus capability is a must. Many general-purpose lenses in the range from about 135mm-210mm can be used here, but if you do a lot of real close work, lenses optimized for macro work are great. Coverage is also less of an issue here, but faster lenses are really nice when working with modelling lights and lots of bellows draw.

    Architectural work: Lens coverage and a camera with adequate movements are the primary concerns here. If you want to keep things "square" and avoid converging verticals, you'll be using lots of front rise and lots of shift. Additionally, you'll likely be using shorter focal-length lenses in the 65mm (or shorter) to 135mm range; 90mm is a "standard" wide lens for architectural work. Shooting interiors in close quarters demands the utmost in coverage and camera flexibility and a monorail camera (with bag bellows) and big, fast short lenses with lots of coverage are standard. That said, I do a lot of architectural work outdoors (cityscapes, etc.) with a full-featured wooden folding camera with bag bellows and lenses with moderate coverage, although I routinely do run out of lens coverage.

    Hand-held more "spontaneous" LF photography: Hand-holding 4x5 cameras used to be the norm before smaller formats (just look at any film from the 40s-50s). Smaller formats replaced the "press" cameras in news reporting for obvious reasons, however, if you want to take advantage of larger film size, hand-holding a 4x5 camera still viable. Things you might hand-hold for are: street photography, informal portraits, working on moving vehicles (photos from trains, cars, boats) or anyplace tripods are inconvenient or not allowed. For this you'll need a press camera with rangefinder focusing. The Crown and Speed Graphic, Linhof press cameras and similar cameras from other manufacturers are standard here. Normally, you have a lens or two that is coupled to the rangefinder via a camming system since focusing on the ground glass is not practical. has all the info you'll ever need on those cameras.

    Landscape photography: I've saved this for last, since it is my area of greatest expertise. Most people who pack their camera around choose a folding model. Some like metal folding cameras for their ruggedness, sturdiness and durability (e.g., Toyo 45A Wista or Linhof metal cameras); the downside here is weight. Others, like me, opt for wooden folding cameras. A bare-bones wooden folder has more limited movements, bellows draw of around 300mm and often no shift feature; they are, however, very light. The most full-featured wooden folders have more bellows draw and more extensive movements. Traditional designs of this sort are heavier, but there is a new generation of full-featured wooden cameras that are very light (e.g., Chamonix 45N-2); the downside here is a bit less sturdiness and a bit more fiddly controls for the movements. Lenses with less coverage and smaller maximum apertures are significantly lighter and smaller, and are therefore often part of field kits.

    Now I'll get personal: For me, portability and light weight are paramount. My usual kit consists of a lightweight, but full-featured wooden field camera. (I love my Wista SW for city work, as it has a bag-bellows option, but my got-to field camera is my Wista DX; if I were to start over, I'd look at the Chamonix cameras very closely.) I could go a bit lighter, but I can't live without shift on at least one standard. My lens kit is all lightweight and/or slow lenses: 135mm Plasmat, 203mm Ektar, Fujinon 240mm, Nikkor M 300mm. My wide lens for day hikes is a Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f/8; the smaller of the 90mms offered by them.

    Sorry this has become so long, but I do hope it helps you in your decision-making.



  6. #6

    Join Date
    Dec 2016

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    Thank you so much for your replies and the time you took to help me out!!

    I purchased two books on LF that I am waiting anxiously to receive to continue my education before I pull the trigger on any camera

    As of now I am looking for a 4x5 camera and playing with the idea of a monorail or folding. Which folding camera that has the most movement do you guys recommend?
    Mostly for B&W portraits and landscapes.

    I know this is the tip of the iceberg, then I have to do research on tripods, developing and scanning.

    I look forward to hearing more from all of you.

    Thanks again,


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    South Dakota

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    I started with a Cambo monorail and went to a folding field camera within a year. I've been shooting 4x5 for about 20 years now. Mostly I photo small towns, abandoned farms, portraits (with flash for $$,) and trains. I'm largely an outdoor photographer on the Northern Plains. Some thoughts:

    1. Start with a clear vision of what you will shoot and where, your interests, your goals. You need to think through how you will make prints or post images online from a 4x5 negative--traditional dark room or scanner. You need to think through what lenses you anticipate using the most, based on what you use now. By thinking things through you will save a lot of time, money, and frustration. You also need to analyze your style in the field. It takes about 20 minutes to set up the camera, take a meter reading, focus, set exposure on the lens, etc. If you can work at a slow and thoughtful pace 4x5 will work for you. Otherwise, not so much.

    2. Camera. A field camera (folding) would be best for what you say you will do. They are more portable and more convenient. However, they are more expensive. You could make an inexpensive (but still good quality) monorail work for you by keeping it assembled with lens attached and bellows compressed. It will be bulky to hike with, but it will work. What ever camera you buy I suggest having a tripod head that uses Arca Swiss style quick release, and put a generic flat plate on the camera. A field camera has less movements but if you aren't doing product shots or architecture a field camera will have enough. I never use movements for portraits. I often use rise or fall for small town photos and some landscapes, sometimes use tilt for landscapes. My field camera almost always has enough movements and the times it doesn't, the lens coverage isn't enough anyway.

    3. Lenses. Start with one. Think this through carefully by analyzing what your most used lens is now. To get the equivalent lens from a 35mm camera to a 4x5 you can roughly multiply by three. Thus, if you use a 28mm on a Leica, a 90mm will be about what you want on 4x5. If you shoot portraits with an 85mm on a Nikon, you will want something between 210 and 250mm on 4x5. For landscape I'd suggest something 90mm to 135mm. You can find some GREAT portrait lenses that aren't too much money if you stay away from modern (anything with Copal shutter) and buy lenses 50+ years old. My favorite is a 240mm Dagor that was made around 1912. Do you need flash sync, or not?

    4. Accessories. Light meter, dark cloth (I use a jacket,) focus loupe, 4x5 film holders, maybe a cable release. If your camera doesn't have a built in level, buy a cheap six inch torpedo level and level up the camera with that.

    I suggest buying one lens and trying things out to see if this clicks with you or not. As for your wife, I just hide stuff in my car. Or, tell her you want to take photos of the kids and family. Wives seem to go along with that. Another secret I'll pass along is to never have all your stuff in one place where the wife can see it all at once.

    Kent in SD
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails DAIRfairviewS.jpg  
    In contento ed allegria
    Notte e di vogliam passar!

  8. #8
    Dave Karp
    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    Los Angeles, CA

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    I mostly photograph landscapes. I started with a monorail camera - an older style Calumet 45NX (same as the Cambo SC series). I think it helped to start with a monorail. I had the possibility of using all movements. After a while, I developed a way of working and learned what I needed in a view camera for my personal style. Then I supplemented my monorail with a folding field camera that had the features/movements I knew that I wanted when making photos.

    Of course, along the way I have had a few monorails and added an old Whole Plate camera. My current monorail is an ARCA Swiss Discovery, to which I added an older style ARCA Swiss 5x7 back purchased from a forum member, and for which I had a bellows made.

    Get ready to jump into the rabbit hole! :-)

  9. #9
    おせわに なります! Andrew O'Neill's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Coquitlam, BC, Canada, eh!

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Los Angeles

    Re: Hello from Los Angeles California...Questions from a want to be newbie...

    I really like the Linhof Color (and Kardan Color) line of cameras (monorails). They can be found very inexpensively on eBay and they are Linhof quality. Lenses: 210mm is great and cheap. 135 is nice, a little wide, also inexpensive. A 90mm Super Angulon f8 should set you back no more than $200 for a nice wide angle. A few accessories and you're ready to go. Don't stress too much, just jump in and enjoy.

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