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Thread: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

  1. #1

    Join Date
    May 2007
    New York City & Pontremoli, Italy

    Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    As far as I can tell, Monorail Cameras are heavier than the Folding (TOHO is the only exception that I know of).

    What is the reasoning behind this? Is it for the simple reason that Monorail cameras were intended primarily for studio use where weight is of negligible consideration? That a Folding does not require the extensive movements for its intended use (Landscape, etc.)?

    Could a Monorail be built out of current state-of-the-art materials to make it lighter and retain its traditional sturdiness?

    Just curious (it's a slow day at work).

  2. #2
    Small town, South Carolina, US
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    South Carolina, USA

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    Yes - of course (IMHO). Build one out of carbon fiber should get you close.

    The Gowland was also a lightweight monorail camera.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    New Jersey

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    I think the answer has more to do with materials than basic design. Most monorails are made from aluminum and other metals, most of the lightweight folders are made from wood. But there are also design considerations, because my metal Canham DLC^2 folder (Canham has a unique design made from machined alloy) is lighter than almost all monorails. I'm sure that if there were a market for both the camera and the cost, a carbon fiber monorail could be built that is very light. The tubing for the rail and standard bearers already exists in almost any diameter one wants, due to its use in CF tripods and racing bicycles. If you want the geared precision of a Sinar or Arca, I bet the internal gears could be made from modern composites, rather than metal. The heaviest component would probably be the ground glass!

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    Montreal, Canada

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    Such a thing did (briefly) exist. It was called Carbon Infinity. I don't know much about it or whether or not it was any good.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Nov 2017

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    There is strength and stiffness. And then there is practical use. Maybe you can get everything lighter with those materials but at a point you need bulk. Not because of the strength or stiffness but just to be able to handle it easily. And sometimes you need another property.

    I'm always surprised with CF tripods. They should be lighter than that. But then again, they have metal clamps and screws and so on. And then most users just plonk a honking big lump of metal on top of it. Total gain, maybe 500 gram compared to a metal tripod.

    So I think it is possible. But maybe you will end up with a very different camera once you've done the design. Just making a copy in another material isn't going to cut it.
    Expert in non-working solutions.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael R View Post
    Such a thing did (briefly) exist. It was called Carbon Infinity. I don't know much about it or whether or not it was any good.
    The Carbon Infinity was more of a flatbed/clamshell camera than a monorail, and it wasn't especially lightweight as 4x5's go.

    Anyway, specifically re lightweight monorails, with all the tinkering currently going on with 3D printing, we might expect to see more cameras like this 4x5 Standard:

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Jul 2020

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    The first 100 years of photography was with wooden cameras, and there was lots of variety. Metal cameras came rather late to the game, and monorails even later. Monorails offered a level of both modularity and precision that wasn't easily achievable with wood. This would have been an advantage to "some" photographers in the studio and in the field. Monorail cameras weren't made to be studio only cameras, since they were all made from lightweight metals for the most part. This allowed them to be portable when they needed to be, both in and out of the studio.

    All that being said, there were still plenty of Deardorffs that never left the studio, so it's not like monorails took over there either.

    Toyo used to make a carbon fiber field camera, but I think that's ended now.

    A compromise is the Graflex, Linhof Technika, or other metal field cameras that offer the smaller package size, but at a higher weight than the wooden versions.

    A monorail can work perfectly well in the field, it's just that something else might be better/easier for some people. It's a moot point now anyways, since nobody's going to make new LF monorail cameras of any kind these days.

  8. #8
    jp's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    Probably the thing to do would be for a tinkerer to start replacing parts of their metal monorail camera (such as calumet 8x10) one at a time with composite and see what it does for weight and stability.
    It would probably be easier and cheaper to just go to the gym and lose 10 pounds than to lighten a camera system by 10 pounds.

  9. #9
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    SF Bay area, CA

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    Monorails tend to be modular systems, and can be configured in more ways than flatbed or technical cameras. What you need to keep in mind is cumulative weight. In my case, I backpacked with Sinar monorails for many years because it's easier to balance a monorail on a tripod, saving tripod and head weight itself; and I like to use petite long lenses with longer bellows, which saves quite a bit of weight versus bulkier telephoto design lenses. Ultralight monorails like the Gowland or Toho look just way too vibration prone for my outdoor needs, and are quite limited in terms to system functionality too.

    I have supplemented my monorail gear with a lightweight 4x5 Ebony wooden folder for airline usage or longhaul backpacking now that I'm over 70. I also have an excellent Phillips 8x10 folder. But monorails are way more versatile and generally much faster to set up.

    And it is more enjoyable to lose 10 lbs hiking up lovely hills with your camera gear itself than running around on a monotonous treadmill like a hamster in some stinky gym!

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Jul 2008

    Re: Monorail vs. Folding Camera Weight

    In tune with the current fashion of lowest weight LF view cameras. Similar to lens with the largest image circle for the smallest size and largest full aperture, pick two as all three is not gonna happen.

    Given a camera film format size and specific camera requirements and capabilities, using current technology and design methods camera weight for a flat bed folder or monorail would be... identical. Historically field folders are designed and built with the specific goal of being lightweight, easy to pack-carry trading off camera capability. A good monorail camera system is modular and will have FAR more capability than any lightweight field folder.

    This is why knowing what the image goals are and the lenses needed to achieve this and where-how these images are created should drive the camera choice, not pick a reported "great" LF view camera as THE one... Only to discover the baked in limitations of the ToooT_ed LF view camera greatness.

    It is very possible folks new to LF view camera is perpetuating their roll film or digital camera habits and what was learned from all that projected into the world of LF view cameras .. except much of those expectations and experiences gained do not apply in the same way to LF view camera world.. That is when the frustrations and difficulties and more begin.

    There are hybrid LF view cameras like Canham DLC (like this one lots), Technikardan and others, These designs persist with the excellence and problems.

    As previously discussed lots, there is no ideal, just trade-offs with making a choice of what meets image making needs best.

    IMO, lowest weight trades off camera stability, rigidity (aka flimsy and awkward to use) and all those requirements that often aid in effective image making.


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