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Thread: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

  1. #1
    Large Format Curious
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    Question Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    I wanted to open up a can of worms I've seen both here and many other places (not even related to photography).

    When someone enters a field, either as a trainee planning to start their career, or an established professional, or a hobbyist, there's always the question of what tools to get for the job.

    Do you get something cheap and simple, figuring that as you learn and improve, you'll upgrade and replace your "starter set" with more professional level gear? Or do you get professional level tools, learn to take care of them, and grow into them as you learn and improve?

    When I lecture university students (on non-photography related subjects), I am very clear on following the second path - despite the cost, it's better to cry once than fool oneself into thinking it's cheaper to buy cheap tools and upgrade later (in many cases ending up spending much more than what a good quality tool would have cost in the first place). That applies pretty clearly to engineering, to music (you get the best instrument you can afford), mechanics (cheap tools often make the work that much more difficult and time consuming), and many other fields. We don't recommend that people go out and buy the cheapest second hand computer they can find to see if they like computers and would like to learn programming :-p.

    Now photography isn't engineering (although it seems to me there are an awful lot of gear-focused engineer types practicing photography), and there are many approaches and ways of working, as well as sub-fields (landscape, architecture, portraiture, etc), which is something a little bit different than in many other disciplines. I also recognize that the vast majority of the people here, everyone shooting LF, are amateurs (myself included), which in my opinion muddies the debate somewhat. I'm not sure amateurs need professional grade tools.

    So I'd like to hear people's views on this.

    For someone who's been shooting film for a while and knows their way around a light meter, developing B&W/C-41/E6 and using a darkroom, but is new to LF - there are used Intrepids, Wistas, Sinars and the like for a few hundred dollars, or things like Ebony's and Arca Swiss' for many thousands of dollars, and that's just for the camera, not the lenses or anything else. What would the arguments be to aim for one end of the scale vs the other?

    Looking forward to learning more, and hearing peoples opinions and experience.

    Thor

  2. #2

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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    Having been the Linhof, Wista and, long ago, the Sinar distributor, always go with the best that you can afford.
    There can be big differences on how large format cameras perform. Maximum extension, without accessories, ease of movements, amount of movements, type of movements, ease of setting up and taking down, range of accessories, parallisim or lack of parallaisim - especially if that changes while focusing or moving the standards, range of lenses, range of boards, etc., etc., etc..

  3. #3

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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    The difference is that many import hand tools will not be made well, or even work, and fall apart/break, where better tools just do the job...

    The good news with cameras is about all were made well and completely usable to tackle the photo job at hand... So the cameras, lenses, etc were well made enough...

    The problem is more about what age, use/abuse, storage environment , inital materials used, and was it made to withstand these factors...

    Many are using gear over a hundred years old here, and with proper care, repair, restoration it keeps going...

    There is very little bad gear as most of it has died over time, but as all of it is used and getting older, everything needs to be attended to...

    Brand new gear from now might not age as well, so consider the future it will have to endure (I suspect the designers of today use the modern materials available without consideration of what age and conditions will do to it, such as some plastics, etc)...

    Don't assume it has been thought through, make good informed choices...

    Steve K

  4. #4

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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    In general I'm in the "buy the best you can afford" school, because well-made equipment is more fun to use, and more likely to satisfy your requirements. However LF cameras are a bit different, since they are all compromises of a sort. Almost all LF cameras optimize one characteristic over another: they may have more movements, or longer/interchangeable bellows allowing for a greater variety of focal length lenses, but then they may be heavier or less "packable." Unless you know in advance which features mean the most to you, it is difficult to define "best."

    My first LF camera was a Sinar F, the most transportable in the Sinar line, and one of their least expensive models. (Aside, Sinars are Swiss-made precision cameras, the equal of their Swiss cousins, the Arca-Swiss; you are incorrect to assume a quality difference between the two brands.) The Sinar excelled in flexibility: it was a monorail with generous movements everywhere, and part of the Sinar system which meant that with all parts interchangeable, it could be modified to do anything. But it was not the lightest of field cameras, and not very easy to pack compactly. An excellent camera, but not the best for the backpacking and field use I enjoyed most.

    My second was a Wista wooden field (actually one of the early ZoneVI cameras with the strengthened base plate). It was light, easy to fold and put in a backpack, but limited in its movements and not as rigid as the Sinar. Neither of these was a show-stopper, but with a fixed bellows it was limited in terms of either very short lenses, or longer ones. I enjoyed using it, but was aware of its limitations.

    Ultimately I traded both in and got a Canham DLC (upgraded to a ^2 model later) which is a metal folder with interchangeable bellows. It is lighter than the Sinar, heavier than the Wista, with flexibility in-between the two. It is my favored compromise, and handles both my Schneider 80mm and my Fujinon 300mm, my personal extremes. It is precision-made out of alloy, but is somewhat idiosyncratic in design; I love mine, but some dislike theirs.

    I use my history to show how "best" and "highest quality" are somewhat independent. In terms of sheer engineering quality, I would place the Sinars, Arcas,and Linhofs at the top, but you still have all the trade-offs to work through. And you may well find that a Wista, a Canham, a Chamonix or other is the best fit for your needs. So to go full-circle (and end this post!) I would still go for the highest-quality enlarger you can afford, or tripod, or any other equipment where the design doesn't have to include the variety of compromises as LF cameras. But for cameras, there is no way that I'm aware of of knowing what you really want without some experience.

  5. #5
    8x10, 5x7, 4x5, et al Leigh's Avatar
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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    I've always bought the best available. That includes other categories besides tools.

    An excellent item will do what it's supposed to do every time.
    If the results are not what you expect, the reason is obvious.

    - Leigh
    If you believe you can, or you believe you can't... you're right.

  6. #6

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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    Pay now, or pay later. I also belong to the school of buy the best you can afford. Whether it's power tools or cameras, it will, in the long run, imo, make a difference.

    re:large format cameras, the Intrepid is a decent and very affordable camera, I have the 8x10. But I also have Zone VI and Canham cameras and for the heavy lifting, I'll always use those cameras first. While the Intrepid fills a very specific niche (lightweight packing camera for many), I don't believe any photographer would consider the Intrepid equal in any way to the Zone or Canham (other than it can be used to make photographs).
    notch codes ? I only use one film...

  7. #7
    Christopher Barrett's Avatar
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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    When I was getting ready to start building my darkroom I bought a new track saw, MFT table, sander and dust vac from Festool. Great tools made the process really enjoyable. On the camera side, my 8x10, 4x5 & 6x9 are Arca Swiss, plus an Ebony 4x5 and a Chamonix 4x10. So yeah... I'm on board with the best equipment you can manage.

  8. #8

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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Lewin View Post
    In general I'm in the "buy the best you can afford" school, because well-made equipment is more fun to use, and more likely to satisfy your requirements. However LF cameras are a bit different, since they are all compromises of a sort. Almost all LF cameras optimize one characteristic over another: they may have more movements, or longer/interchangeable bellows allowing for a greater variety of focal length lenses, but then they may be heavier or less "packable." Unless you know in advance which features mean the most to you, it is difficult to define "best."

    My first LF camera was a Sinar F, the most transportable in the Sinar line, and one of their least expensive models. (Aside, Sinars are Swiss-made precision cameras, the equal of their Swiss cousins, the Arca-Swiss; you are incorrect to assume a quality difference between the two brands.) The Sinar excelled in flexibility: it was a monorail with generous movements everywhere, and part of the Sinar system which meant that with all parts interchangeable, it could be modified to do anything. But it was not the lightest of field cameras, and not very easy to pack compactly. An excellent camera, but not the best for the backpacking and field use I enjoyed most.

    My second was a Wista wooden field (actually one of the early ZoneVI cameras with the strengthened base plate). It was light, easy to fold and put in a backpack, but limited in its movements and not as rigid as the Sinar. Neither of these was a show-stopper, but with a fixed bellows it was limited in terms of either very short lenses, or longer ones. I enjoyed using it, but was aware of its limitations.

    Ultimately I traded both in and got a Canham DLC (upgraded to a ^2 model later) which is a metal folder with interchangeable bellows. It is lighter than the Sinar, heavier than the Wista, with flexibility in-between the two. It is my favored compromise, and handles both my Schneider 80mm and my Fujinon 300mm, my personal extremes. It is precision-made out of alloy, but is somewhat idiosyncratic in design; I love mine, but some dislike theirs.

    I use my history to show how "best" and "highest quality" are somewhat independent. In terms of sheer engineering quality, I would place the Sinars, Arcas,and Linhofs at the top, but you still have all the trade-offs to work through. And you may well find that a Wista, a Canham, a Chamonix or other is the best fit for your needs. So to go full-circle (and end this post!) I would still go for the highest-quality enlarger you can afford, or tripod, or any other equipment where the design doesn't have to include the variety of compromises as LF cameras. But for cameras, there is no way that I'm aware of of knowing what you really want without some experience.
    You do know that Arca has been French for several Years and that Sinaris now owned by Leica?

  9. #9

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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Salomon View Post
    You do know that Arca has been French for several Years and that Sinaris now owned by Leica?
    Bob, I'm aware that Sinar is owned by Leica, but thought the digital LF cameras (which is all I'm aware of them manufacturing any more) were still made in Switzerland? Same for Area-Swiss, the ownership may be French (I did not know that one) but is the manufacturing still done in Switzerland? And while you are keeping me up-to-date, is Broncolor (which used to be part of Sinar) still Swiss, and also owned by Leica?

  10. #10

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    Re: Tools: Cheap and disposable vs. the best you can find/afford?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Lewin View Post
    Bob, I'm aware that Sinar is owned by Leica, but thought the digital LF cameras (which is all I'm aware of them manufacturing any more) were still made in Switzerland? Same for Area-Swiss, the ownership may be French (I did not know that one) but is the manufacturing still done in Switzerland? And while you are keeping me up-to-date, is Broncolor (which used to be part of Sinar) still Swiss, and also owned by Leica?
    Peter, yes, Sinar is still made in Switzerland. Arca is made in France. Broncolor is still Swiss and was never part of Sinar.

    Originally Sinar, in the U.S., was imported by Paillard who were in Lower Linden, NJ. Paillard also distributed other high end, primarily Swiss cameras, like Bolex, and Hermès office machines.
    At the same time EPOI distributed Plaubel LF cameras.

    Then EPOI became the Sinar distributor and dropped Plaubel. They also became the Broncolor distributor which had been distributed by Interstate, the Miranda distributor in the U.S.

    They also had an informal arrangement with Foba and fairly quietly sold Foba.

    As EPOI was about to close Sinar, Broncolor and Foba formed a new importing and distributing company in Edison, NJ called Sinar Bron as they both had an interest financially. So both factories owned the U.S. company. But Sinar and Bron and Foba were always separate companies. And that should also explain why Leica didn’t end up owning all 3 companies but only Sinar who had bounced around between a few companies, including their Swiss distributor, before Leica finally became the current owner.

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