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Thread: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

  1. #11

    Join Date
    Mar 2014

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    You should be able to find a Sinar F and 150/180/210 lens for $300ish without much effort.

  2. #12

    Join Date
    Jul 2016

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by BertieWooster View Post
    camera/lens combination that does either 4x5 or 8x10.
    >> I'd start with 4x5". LF allows custom development for each particular sheet, so mastering N+/- development is a powerful tool that's integral to most LF workflows. With 4x5" you will shot more than with 8x10, probably, so you may learn more, faster and cheaper.

    >> I'd start with a ($200) CAMBO SC 4x5", cheap, sturdy and unlimited. A monorail is ideal to learn as you will practice easily all movements with no limitations. You will learn what limitations you want to allow in a field camera for the future. You may later sell the SC or to keep it to complement a future lightweight Field Camera. I love/have the old SINAR Norma, it's a bit more expensive than the SC but it's an absolutely refined thing: see how it handles a 2kg lens: , it would be difficult to find a modern camera that is that agile , A SINAR F and many others would also be suitable, of course, but don't spend much until you know what suits your taste, each photographer has his own preferences... single thing is that a monorail is perfect to learn.

    >> Glass. Spend the minimum money possible until you know what you want. LF glass has many nuances and features (architecture, landscape and portrait have diverse choices), much more (IMHO) than in small formats, so learn a lot before investing. I'd start with a general usage Normal lens, around 150mm, a Plasmat like Symmar-S, Sironar-N, Nikon W or a Fuji would be perfect. All can be found multicoated, and any of those may cast (say) 300MPix "effective" resolution on your 4x5 sheets, well... that resolving power is only a bonus, LF has many other resources and also drawbacks.

    You may also get a cheap Symmar convertible that has two focals, 150mm f/5.6 and 265mm f/12, the 265 conversion (remove the front cell) has soft corners until you stop a lot, but this is irrelevant for portraits. (Single coated, it may not be a problem if well used).

    Make sure that the shutter of the lens you buy is in shape, buy from a seller that has a clear return policy and good reputation.

    A good guide for exposures:

  3. #13

    Join Date
    May 2012
    Jacksonville Florida

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by Two23 View Post
    I would start with a monorail camera as those are very reasonable and plentiful on the used market. You're only going to be able to afford one modern lens and I suggest a 150mm or 180mm. You could go for older, pre-WW2 lenses and get a 210mm Tessar in a Compound shutter (or Velostigmat) and a wider 4 or 5 inch (100-125mm) Dagor in a Compur shutter. Use a black jacket for a dark cloth. You can use an inexpensive plastic 6x magnifying loupe for focusing. I would also buy maybe two film holders. I assume you have a decent tripod. With your budget don't even think of 8x10.

    I agree about using a monorail in 4x5 - they are almost given away today. As for lenses the old Symmars are hard to beat for the price. As for pre-WW2 lenses Zeiss Jena are good value and if you can afford it, a set of 1920's Protarlinses are excellent for B/W. If you want to shoot color then stay with a Symmar 120 on up for 4x5.

  4. #14
    Tin Can's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    2 things most beginners don't like

    Replacing bellows, difficulty and cost varies greatly

    Shutter repair is a dying skill, parts extinct for many
    sin eater

  5. #15

    Join Date
    Jul 2008

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    *"portraiture and landscapes"

    *"Weight isn't hugely important. I can deal with considerable inconvenience - as long as I can get the results."

    *"I would need to be able to get some tilt. My only real concern is image quality and flexibility."

    *"I only want to have my cake and eat it, how hard can that be?"

    Prime consideration would be lenses. What any image maker must understand is, LF is NOT like small format cameras where the camera brand often dictates what lenses can be used. Lenses on LF cameras are in the majority mounted on flat boards. This allows most ANY lens to be used on a LF camera long as the camera can properly support the lens to be used. If the camera has a built in shutter, barrel lenses can be used. This the rational behind deciding on lenses first, camera second, tripod_camera support system third. As for lenses, choose modern lenses in modern proven accurate, reliable shutters (typically Copal) in the focal lengths that will meet your image making needs from any of the big four (Rodenstock, Nikon, Schneider, Fujinon). Alternative to lens in shutter is to get a Sinar with Sinar shutter or have a Sinar shutter installed on to the camera of choice allowing most any lens in barrel or similar to be used.

    *For 4x5 portraiture, typical focal lengths would be medium wide say 110mm to 135mm to Head-shoulder portraits at 210mm to 360mm (this is long_ish). Aperture used could be anything from f4.5 or larger to f22.

    *For 4x5 landscapes, lens choice becomes a matter of image in mind. From ultra wide 38mm Schneider Super Angulon XL to 900mm+ process lenses once used for Graphic arts work.

    Lots to consider here.

    Suggest finding a 4x5 Sinar monorail with modern lens set. Ideally, this would be a Sinar Norma, cleaned, lubed and properly adjusted. A ~GOOD~ Sinar can last for as long as you want to do any LF image making, has few limitations on what lenses can be used with this camera system with accessories and ease image recording format changes. Sinar is a system you will NOT out grow and can meet most any image making demand that comes up. If you're patient, Norma's do appear on the used market for not a lot of $. One of the serious problems with any older and well used LF camera is the bellows. On press cameras like a Graflex, replacing the bellows might not be so easy or low cost. On a Sinar, the bellows are interchangeable easily changed or replaced in seconds. Add to this bellows from the 4x5 Sinar Norma fits the last version of Sinar P made and are completely backwards interchangeable.

    Second choice would be a Sinar F (F, F+, F2). They sold a LOT of these and it would be very possible to find a good used Sinar F system with lenses, film holders, case, Ground Glass magnifier and etc for $400 ish on the used market. There was a time when there was a LOT of used LF stuff on the market at scrap heap prices, these days most of that has passed.

    Third choice would be a Sinar P, this is likely out of budget, but not by much. It is really a studio-indoor camera, yet some take their Sinar P outdoors or on location. Sinar Front_Rear standards can be mixed matched combined as needed.

    Regardless of camera choice, it MUST be in good mechanical condition as these cameras are not decades old since they were made-sold. Lubricants dry out, moving parts wear out, cameras get dropped-abused in surprising ways, storage can and will cause materials to degrade and fall apart. All these factors must be figured into any camera purchase. Much the same applies to lenses, with the number one problem of shutter problems which will cause serious grief for anyone beginning this road to LF image making.

    Once lens-camera combo is decided upon, comes a proper tripod. This is as important as the lens choice and camera choice due to the demand for camera stability. A flimsy camera support system can wreck each sheet of film exposed. Don't fall into the lowest weight camera-tripod ideology-fantasy as there are givens based on camera size-weight and what a given tripod with tripod head that is ideal. Tripod leg materials like wood can work wonders to damp out vibrations that will affect image quality.

    After all this hardware stuff is settled, there are film holders, dark cloth, light meter, light filters (most common Polarizer, ND, B&W colors) ground glass magnifier, camera-lens case to consider.

    Then comes film, film processing, print making and print mounting to framing.

    It is all part of an entire image making system with many parts involved.


  6. #16
    Corran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    North GA Mountains

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    4x5 Crown or Speed Graphic with a 90mm Angulon, Super Angulon, or similar, 135mm Xenar or Optar as is typically included, and 210mm Symmar or similar is a perfectly fine starter kit that would probably clock in under $500 if you are patient and will do most things adequately.
    Bryan | Blog | YouTube | Instagram
    All comments and thoughtful critique welcome

  7. #17

    Join Date
    Jul 2016

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by Corran View Post
    210mm Symmar or similar is a perfectly fine starter kit that would probably clock in under $500
    $132+shipping, mint, right now, and from Japan:

    Click image for larger version. 

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  8. #18

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and comprehensive replies. I hadn't expected such an excellent response to my query. I have read every reply, and will be re-reading them over the coming days and weeks. I already have a much clearer idea of my requirements, thanks to the information you've provided. I'm going to have to think carefully about which lenses to get.

    Unless I somehow chance upon an amazing bargain between now and 30 days time, then I'll make a request post in the sales forum once I have 'come of age', forum-wise.

    Again, my sincere thanks to everyone that's taken the time to reply. It's reassuring to know that there is such a good community of large format users.

  9. #19

    Join Date
    Dec 2001

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    Bertie, I shoot Graphics (2x3, not 4x5) and a Cambo SC (also 2x3, a smaller version of the 4x5s). I like my little Graphics but they're limited; their only generally usable movement is front rise. If you want what a view camera can do, get a view camera. Cambo SC-2s (that's the 4x5er) can, with a bit of waiting, be bought for very little and are well-supported. Sinars are usually a little more expensive and are also well-supported. Both are modular and will support a wide range of focal lengths.

    That said, many of us bought our first LF camera after a lot of thinking and imagining about what we'd like to accomplish. And many of us learned, after using that first LF camera for a while, what we actually needed and that the first camera wasn't it. Whatever you do will be wrong, so plunge right in and learn by doing. I don't know whether camera prices have hit the bottom yet, but many of us have sold the first (wrong) camera for only a small loss and sometimes a small gain. The risks from making a mistake aren't large.

    About lenses. The world, i.e., and to a lesser extent this forum's for sale section, is awash in post-WW II coated LF lenses. Its hard to make a bad mistake with any lens from the big four, in alphabetical order Fuji Photo Film, Nikon, Rodenstock and Schneider. I'm a tightwad, have had good luck with selected lenses from less well-known manufacturers such as Berthiot and Boyer.

    About old lenses. I've got good results from ancient, some pre-WW I, Carl Zeiss Jena f/6.3 Tessars. The big risk with these, as with all used lenses, is that the shutters may be much less than 100% functional.

    More about old lenses. Untill recently no one much cared about bokum and people used lenses that gave good image quality on the formats they were sold for. Virtually all anastigmats do this. The bokum nuts get the effects they like by using lenses on formats larger than they were intended to be used on, also by shooting wide open (this reduces coverage). Soft focus lenses are an exception, there's always been a minority element that loved what they do.

    About learning from text. This site has many resources. Read the FAQs; a click on LF Home Page (upper left corner of the screen) will take you to them. Also go to the lenses section. There's a sticky there "Where to look for information ..."
    The first post in that discussion has a link to a large list of links to catalogs, useful articles, ... It also lists books on LF photography that have been recommended highly here and on the French LF forum. Download the PDF, the index doesn't work with on-line pdf readers.

    Good luck, have fun.

  10. #20
    Unwitting Thread Killer Ari's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Ottawa, Canada

    Re: Kit recommendations for a complete beginner

    Monorail is the best to learn with, nothing beats it as a first camera. Even the song says so...

    Pair it with a 135mm or 150mm lens in a working shutter, and you're in business.

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