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Thread: need help and advise on Large format cameras

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jul 2006

    Question need help and advise on Large format cameras


    I am an amateur photographer who has been shooting in 35mm camera for the last 6 years. I want to shift to large format camera. Being a newbie to large format, I am eager to know and find out what is the best camera to start off.

    Also I am based out of Bangalore, India. Are there any places in India where i can get these cameras ?

    Cost being a big priority which is the best way to go about in large format cameras ? Buy or build ?

    How good or reliable would a large format camera be if it were built ?

    What is a good starting lens (balance between quality and value)

    Are large format negatives and slides available in India ?

    Do labs in India process the large format films ?

    Too many questions and the net has very few answers. Appears asif no Indian manufacturer exists for large format cameras.

    Would really appreciate if someone can help me with the specifics.

    warm regards,


  2. #2
    Greg Lockrey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Temperance, MI

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras

    Look at the Shen Hao line. It would be tough to beat them for the price.
    Greg Lockrey

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    Money is just a tool.
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  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jul 2006

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras

    Jumping from 35mm to large format will be a bit shocking. Have you tried medium format?

    It's the in-between. Fair-sized negs, cheap cameras, (holga to hasselblad) and they often work like a 35mm SLR or Rangefinder.

    Sorry, my own routes with LF photography are definitely not for a beginner, and I've caused a bit of trouble for myself 'cheaping out' along the way

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2001

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras

    Wasn't there are a camera called Raja? I seem to remember something like that from the 1980s and 1990s.

    With respect to your other questions I strongly recommend that in addition to the information on this site you review the following:

    Leslie Strobel, View Camera Technique
    Jack Dykinga, Large Format Nature Photography
    Steve Simmons, Using the View Camera

    Best wishes..

  5. #5
    Rafael Garcia's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Atlanta, GA, USA

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras


    As you would expect, there is no 'right' answer to your questions. I will let you know how I am doing the same thing:

    After buying an old American 5x7 camera in eBay, a Gundlach Korona View that came with lens and filmholders, and taking it out several times I was very, very satisfied with the results. The camera, on the other hand, although beautiful, was too bulky and heavy to carry around for long distances. I ended taking photographs in places I could drive to. It was a great way to start, but the lesson was that there is a LOT more to carry with LF than just the camera; portability is a must.

    I bought a very inexpensive Enlish style, Japanese mad camera from the 1930's, an Asanuma King 1, made for half-plate bookform filmholders for half of what I paid for the Korona. The camera is very compact and light. I made two backs for it, using springs from old B&J cameras bought cheap in eBay, a 4x5 and a 5x7. I made my own lensboards for the three lenses I bought over a period of time, and, even though I didn't really need to, got new bellows made for the camera. My total investment was around $300.00 US without including the cost of lenses. I have a 90mm Angulon, a 150mm Fujinon, and a 210mm Symmar convertible to 370mm, which all together cost around $500.00 US. You can do well with just the 150mm for a few years if you want to. The camera has most functions of a modern camera and when polished and adjusted looks just as nice as a modern camera. It gives me the option of shooting two formats and pride in my own handiwork. You can read my posts in this forum and see photos of it if you search for them here.

    If you want a new camera, Shen Hao is unbeatable. It is Chinese and should be obtainable out of Hong Kong or similar places, or through mail-order here in the US in several places. I know little about them except for their reputation and that they look fantastic.

    Good luck, have fun!

  6. #6

    Join Date
    May 2006
    Westminster, MD

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras

    Shen Hao cameras are great. Start with a good 135mm or 150mm or 210mm lens. Many many used lenses of these focal lengths are in the market place at reasonable prices.

    Bombay has a number of professional processing labs. Not that I've used them, but a good friend here in the states has an uncle who owns one in Bombay. 4x5 sheet film should be available. You'll need to call around. Perhaps a well placed call to a professional studio could steer you right.

    I'm sure you could get a camera built in India for a reasonable price. I remember when I visited Pakistan many years ago pretty much anything could be built if you showed a quality craftsman a set of plans.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

  7. #7

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras


    I started my move to large format from 135 by building a Bender 4x5. If you like building things it was a lot of fun and I think the camera looks great. If you are VERY patient, you can make very good images with that camera. The 'new' Bulldog kit from Camera Bellows may be better if you are most interested in wide to normal lenses. The main advantages of the Bender are it is very light and has a ton of movements. Disadvantages are it takes a while to set up and get everything zero'd, no geared movements, not rock solid... I got hooked on the large negatives so I didn't even use my 35mm Nikon gear anymore but I didn't like all the time involved with setting up the camera so I wasn't shooting much. I moved on to TLRs and that was better than 135 but not as good as 4x5 for the nature/landscape images I like to make. Then I got a Crown Graphic with a 135mm Xenar, I shot a lot with that camera but missed the movements of the Bender. Now I have a Shen-Hao and am very satisfied but I'm eying 5x7 so I could make contact prints If you are on a tight budget, I'd start with a Crown or Speed Graphic. If you've got a little more money go for a Shen Hao or Tachihara. If you've got a ton of money don't ask me, I don't even look at camera's that go for over $1k. I've got a Kodak Ektar 203mm lens on the way that cost me a whole $100, they are supposed to be very nice lenses. Keep in mind I do outdoor photography so I'm after a field camera, if you are interested in studio photography or don't plan on walking far a mono-rail is what you probably want and used ones can be had quite inexpensively.

    Do a lot of reading and research so you know what you want to do with the camera and how much you want to spend and that will help narrow your choices down


  8. #8
    Ted Harris's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    New Hampshire

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras

    You've gotten some good advice and a few ore thigs to think about:

    1) The Indian made camera is called th Raj ... no idea if it is still manufactured or where in India it was made.

    2) I know that 4x5 film and processing were available in many of India's larger cities 8-9 years ago (the lat time I was there). At that time in your general part of the country processing was available in both Bangalore and Madras. I recall seeing some used equipment in a shop window in Bangalore. I also recall being able to get supplies in Delhi in years past.

    3) You need to think about howyou will be using your gear and thus how important portability will be. There are two basic types of large format cameras: rail cameras and field cameras. Field cameras, by far the most portable (with the exception of one or two rail cameras), can be furthe divided into metal bodied and wood bodied. The Tachihara and Shen Hao already mentioned along with th Ikeda Anba are among the least expensive of the wood cameras and the Shene Hao th most fully featured of thr three. However, if you are going to be doing mostly landscape work then huge amounts of movements are not necessary. Among the metal bodied cameras the Toyo AX is probably the least expensive. I always used metal camera when in India as they (IMO) stood up better to some of the major temperature and humidity swings to which I subjected them and are mor eprecise to operate.

    4) The books recommended earlier are all excellent. Yu will also find a wealth of information on this website's home page, in the free articles section of, and by looking through the offerings described by some of th major world mail order dealers (Robert White, Badger Graphic Sales, B&H). Finally, if you want to make a telephone call to the States a call to Jim at Midwest Photo will answer all the questions you have and he will be able to nicely outfit you as well (614-261-1264).

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    St. Louis, Missouri

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras

    Twenty-six years ago I was, like you, using 35mm. I bought a used 4x5 kit camera, one lens and a couple of film holders for $175.00. I knew little about LF but figured “How far wrong can I go?” I took it to a local park and after an hour in the woods, I was in love with the “experience” of working with the view camera. Not everyone has that reaction. Before you jump into LF ask yourself some questions.
    1. Are you willing to spend the extra time on each image required by the larger camera? Are you a patient person?
    2. Are you going to photograph things that are relatively stationery or are you interested in fast action? The LF camera is pretty useless for fast action.
    3. LF lenses are slower and they have to be stopped down further to achieve adequate depth of field so hand holding, while possible with some cameras, is difficult so you will be using a tripod most if not all of the time. Does that suit your style?
    More than anything else, working with a view camera is an entirely different experience than working with 36mm. Looking at the image on the ground glass, with both eyes, is a world apart from “peeking” at the image with one eye through a little peep hole viewfinder. Great as the experience is for most of us, some don’t like it. It’s too slow, too heavy, takes too much effort, or maybe just doesn’t fit your style. I’m not trying to talk you out of it, only alerting you that it is “different” and isn’t for everyone. Hopefully you’ll love it.

    You don’t have to spend a lot of money. The important things are a good lens and a light tight box (camera) to hold the lens and film. Everything else a matter of convenience. When the shutter opens, there is nothing between the film and the subject except the lens.

    My advice is to get what you can comfortably afford. Whatever it is will not be your last view camera if you enjoy the experience and it won’t matter what it is if you don’t like the experience. In many ways a low cost “learner” camera is a good way to start. It gives you a chance to learn the basics while developing a since of what features you need for the type of work you want to do. So you’ll have a better grasp of what to look for when you’re ready to spend more. Start with one lens. It doesn’t really matter what focal length. There is a learning curve and having too much “stuff” to start makes it more difficult. Get started and have fun!

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Re: need help and advise on Large format cameras

    Hello Vasudevan

    If cost is an issue you'll no doubt be shooting b&w so consider developing your own film---its not hard. I don't know what the Raj cameras are going for in India but they are worth exploring. IIRC the Raj was a good copy of the Deardorff. I don't know what the conditions are now, but when I was in India back in '86 tariffs on imported goods were astronomical so if you can use locally manufactured materieals you'll probably be better off. I recall that photographic paper is made in India too. Perhaps the same company also makes sheet film?

    For the ultimate in cheapness you might build a pinhole to start with. 8x10 or 5x7 ortho film (APHS from Freestyle in the USA is the cheapest I know of---maybe you have a better local source) will give you beautiful details when souped in expired paper developer to bring out the shades of gray---you can develop 'by inspection' in trays under a red safelight since its orthochromatic) The negatives will be large enough to contact print. This won't give you the complete LF experience of pc but it should be a useful introduction to give you a better idea of what LF photography is like. If you don't like it, you're only out a box of film and some chemicals.

    Good luck!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.


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