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Thread: Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2004

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    I'm looking to buy my first 4x5 field camera, but I have two strange requirements. First, I'm interested in large format for the movements (primarily tilt, I'm a landscape photographer), not the film size, so I'll probably be using a roll back most of the time (I have a great 120 scanner and nothing that handles 4x5). Second, I've got only one hand that works, so any control that involves holding one thing while operating another becomes impossible for me to use. Most non-spring-loaded controls are fine, but a sprung lever that had to be held back while manipulating one of the standards would be impossible.
    I'm looking for a light camera with decent front movements (rear movements are optional, as are shifts, unless there's a really good reason I'm not thinking of to use them for natural subjects). My preferred subject matter ranges from macros to vistas, but is almost always in the natural world and located more than 50 feet from the car (anything from day hikes to three and four day trips). I'd like a camera in the 4 pound range because of this.
    My thoughts on lenses are to start with something like a 125 (a wide normal on 4x5, but longer than normal with a roll back), then add a 210 and perhaps eventually a 75 or so (wide enough to be wide on a roll back). I'd like the capability to use these three on one bellows (and maybe a 300-I can't see going longer than that).
    I need the camera, one lens (125 or maybe 150) and a roll back (something that slips under the ground glass-graflok's too clumsy) to cost less than $1400 or so (new or used). I'm a student, so anything with an attractive student purchase program is a real option. I've thought of the Tachihara, the Toyo CF (weight and durability really attractive, movements maybe less so)or maybe the Shen Hao (although the weight scares me). Another option would be a used camera from a higher-end maker (is anyone looking to part with a Wista woodfield or something like that)? Of course, sight unseen, the Ebony RW45 sounds fantastic, but the camera alone seems to cost slightly more than my entire budget (anyone selling one of THOSE cheap?) I wouldn't imagine Ebony is big enough to offer student discounts-am I wrong?


  2. #2
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 1999
    Everett, WA

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    Most of the guys around here shy away from the Bender, but it is an extremely light (3 pounds) camera. It comes in a kit, but you can pick them up cheap. If you buy it off Ebay, make sure that you have time to examine and return it if need be.

    One of the things that really gets me about what you are looking for is the tripod. I think that the tripod, given that you only have one good hand, is more of a problem than the camera. A tripod with a quick release still requires one hand to grasp the camera while the release is tripped. Without the release you have to manipulate the screw on the tripod head. Then you have the problem with the tripod's setup and adjustment.

    What are you using now for your field photography?
    "It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jul 2005

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    The jump in quality between 35mm and 6x6cm is much greater than the jump from 6x6cm to 4x5inch film. Using a view camera requires absolute precision in adjustments etc to achieve that not so great jump in quality from 6x6cm to 4x5inch film format.

    Using a roll film back you just throw that potential increased quality away leaving the only advantage of:

    a) some movements (which exagerate lens aberations and therefore lose a little more quality)

    b) the ability to adjust plane of sharp focus. e.g. tilt which is not suitable for a lot of landscapes because of tall elements in foreground to mid distance

    b) 6x12cm format or something in between

    If you are happy with 6x6cm format then I would suggest looking at buying a secondhand Rollei SL66 medium format camera which has tilt available as standard. (camera no longer available as new) It will be much easier to use and much lighter and will produce quality as good if not better than using a roll film holder on a 4x5 camera.

    Some of the medium format fuji cameras also have tilt available but may be out of your price range.

  4. #4
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    Seems to me, Dan, that you may have trouble finding what you need with the weight limit you've established. First, if I understand your hand situation correctly, I believe you are going to want geared movements, not the conventional free-floating with a lock lever style. That alone will likely kill the 4# target, if not the budget, too.

    As to lenses, don't forget to apply the format adjustment if you'll be shooting mostly roll film, rather than 4x5. Then, think about the rnage of magnification you're looking for. Schneider G-Clarons do well at both macro distances and infinity, but I've never seen any shorter than 150mm. Older lenses (pronounced "less-expensive") of short focal lengths tend not to have much coverage, or were intended for 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 press-style use, and may not provide sufficent coverage to give you the movements you want. Nifty new designs like the Schneider Super Symmar get around that, but would be budget busters for you.

    Hopefully, someone else may have more specific suggestions that fit your objectives.

    As to those student discounts, I believe Ebony is following the lead of Rolls Royce in that respect. ;-)

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jul 2005

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    Linhof M679 has mostly geared movements but even second hand is likely way over your budget but does have the advantage of taking film backs from a range of medium format cameras using the relevant adapter(not cheap).

  6. #6
    tim atherton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs


    before considering a technical answer to your question, bear in mind that Sudek photogpraphed most wonderfually for most of his career after losing one arm in WWI, and using LF (4x5 ish and bigger)

    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn blog

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Pasadena, CA

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    Hello Dan,

    Someone mentioned the Fuji cameras with movements. Those ( the 680 series ) are heavy, expensive, and excellent front-movement only cameras with superb optics. They don't make the greatest field cameras, and they don't fold up in to a small light package. They do however make fantastic 6x8 images.

    If you like roll film backs for your 4x5, be sure to look for a model that has "grafloc sliders" to take Graflex accessories including the Grafmatic 6 shot 4x5 holders, Fujiroid, and Polaroid holders. Some of the Graflex roll film holders are inexpensive yet good.

    I have some pretty fancy LF cameras to use when I like, however I find rigidity and quickness to set up very useful qualities, especially when out shooting when the clouds are moving all around, painting the light. A few moments makes a big difference.

    Recently, I purchased a Toyo CF. Even the salespeople winced in pain at my purchase, so it was really cheap buy, brand new. It has only front standard movements, it is light, easy to set up, has a nice ground glass and it accomodates the small lenses in Copal 0 shutters really well. I use a 240 Fujinon with it, and it folds up neatly inside the camera. Style and class? Nope. Quick, cheap, and I don't have to worry if a wave from the mighty Kern river washes over me? Yes! It is rigid enough to work in strong winds, although I use the dark cloth as a wind shield sometimes. With the Toyo CF, you won't get many people asking you about that neat old camera or worshiping your good taste, however you'll be able to get many great shots in 4x5 plus whatever roll film backs you get. I've heard horror stories about the Toyo CF, however I love the one I got. It's a light weight, no frills plastic Crown Graflex - with no light leaks!

    Remember that unless you use a special "slip in" style roll film holder, you'll have quite a chore switching between looking at the ground glass and then putting in the roll film holder to take photos., so on second thought, maybe Graflex goodies will not work for you unless you can do them one-handed. I doubt that I could without using my chin.

    In terms of movements, the CF is well, not a great "one hand" setup, however it is possible to do. You can unwind one locking knob, set the other one firm, use your pinky to lift the standard or tilt it, then firm it up. You could also "pre set" it or perhaps even hang a rope/necklace like thing with a hook on it from your neck to help lift or pull on the front standard that way if the camera is low enough. There are few light-weight cameras that have all geared movements and no funny little latches.

    Perhaps there are a couple of modifications you could have done to increase the one handed usability of a camera. If the camera is cheap enough, why not?

    If for some reason you end up thinking about old Korona cameras and the like, be careful to check them out carefully. Many of them are made for glass plates instead of film ( to mention just one issue ), however they are sometimes very light, and they sometimes have geared movements.

    If you have a local camera store, you owe it to yourself to try some cameras out in person. There seems to be no "perfect" camera out there for everyone. Even the most expensive ones have their downsides.

    Sometimes, tilt is not the answer, as depth of field is reduced even though plain of focus is changed. It's suprising how much depth of field can be had from a non-shifting, non-tilting 6x9 rangefinder with a wide lens. It's a different kind of experience, however the Fuji GX690 cameras really make nice images if you like 6x9.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    Consider a Horseman VH. It's 120 only, but thinking through all the cameras I've played with in recent years, it may come closest to what you need. It's a rugged metal field camera but weighs only 3.75 pounds. I've grabbed mine and have it in my hands right now, and it seems to me that the key controls -really, all the controls - should not be a problem to use one-handed. Front rise is geared. I can also swap the ground glass with the baby-Graflok type rollholders with one hand - perhaps more easily than could be done with a 4x5 camera and rollholders, because of the smaller spacing of the things you need to grab as well as the particular design of the sliders on the Horseman back. There's a Horseman quick-release gadget that specifically fits this camera. Finally, used VH bodies in good shape turn up fairly frequently for well under $1000.

    What region are you in? Maybe someone here who has a VH or VH-R (same camera but with viewfinder/rangefinder) could let you have a look at one if you're not too far away. I do think it will be especially important for you to try before you buy, if at all possible.

    Good luck...

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Tracy, California

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs


    I have an absolutely mint condition Wista 45DX 4x5 Rosewood Field Camera with Rear Shift that I am willing to sell for $840. This camera is in perfect, as new condition. See the link below for more information.

    I also have a Fujinon CMW 125mm/5.6 lens in mint condition that I would be willing to sell for $325. See the link below for more information.

    I also have a Fujinon A 180mm/9.0 in case you are interested, but I must check my closet to make sure.

    For a 210 mm lens, let me recommend a G-Claron 210, and for the 75 mm lens, you might try a Rodenstock Grandagon-N 75mm/6.8, which can be purchased used. Other 75 mm lenses are larger and more expensive.

    If you are interested, you may contact me at

    Good luck.

  10. #10
    Robert A. Zeichner's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 1999
    Southfield, Michigan

    Field Camera (lightweight) with two odd needs

    If you need an easy way to position the camera once it is mounted, the Bogen 410 mini gear head might be the answer. This one comes with a quick release plate as well, but one that is a touch and go type. You can with one hand actuate the spring loaded attachment lever and then again, with one hand set the camera down on the plate and press it in until the lever pops closed. I tried it to be sure I wasn't misleading you and it did work for me. Adjustment of the camera position can be done one axis at a time with one hand and because it is a clutched system, nothing will move unless you want it to. It mounts on any tripod with a 3/8-16 stud. I would probably advise a tripod with lever type leg locks. Mine is a Gitzo which I love, but has those twist type clutch sleeves which might not be your cup of tea. As far as cameras go, it seems to me that several might work for you if you don't mind partially tightening the tilt knob to establish enough friction to allow repositioning of the front or rear standard and then go back and tighten the rest of the way. Some cameras have dual locking knobs for each side of the camera, but I know older ones like some Agfa-Ansco models have a single locking knob for this purpose. And my post wouldn't be complete if I didn't suggest a Kodak 203mm f7.7 Ektar. Lots of movement for 4x5, will cover 5x7, sharp, compact, light and fairly cheap to buy. I can fold mine into my Wisner which is a plus if you don't want to have another thing to do (assuming that's the FL you need for the next shot).

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