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Thread: Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

  1. #1

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    Hi guys, first I'd like to say that I've already spent literally dozens of hours researching LF cameras and visiting photo stores, but I've become almost parali zed with too much information. Fortunately, I?ve been able to narrow my choices down to three monorail cameras. I'd like to turn it over to you all to help me through the final stretch.

    The camera I buy will be used almost exclusively in the field and possibly on hi kes. I'm not too worried about the weight of the camera, but bulk is an issue. My subjects range from macro to landscape. I'd like something that is reliable , easy-to-use (and relatively quick on setup/breakdown), precise, and affordable (probably the most important feature).

    I'm currently using a Speed Graphic which I outgrew in about a week. I want lot s of symetrical movements that I feel only a monorail design could provide. How ever, I should note that I?m still very new to large format (<5 months) so the l ittle gizmos that Sinar offers are very tempting (DOF, tilt, and swing calculato rs).

    Anyway, here are the finalists (in no particular order) along with their prices and their perceived strengths and weaknesses:

    Sinar F1 ($700): Good: easy to use; yaw-free; DOF, tilt, and swing calculators; Graflok compatibi lity Bad: not particularly precise, kind of heavy and bulky, not highly regarded

    Sinar Norma ($800-$1000): Good: very stable and well built, relatively cheap, light (~5 lbs.), compact, hi ghly regarded, compatible with current Sinar accessories, easy to use, Graflok b ack Bad: not yaw-free, no DOF or swing calculators

    Arca Swiss Discovery w/ Caltar 150mm II-N & accessories ($1200): Good: yaw free, cheaper than AS F-line w/ most of features, quality build, Grafl ok compatibility, precise Bad: poor product support, no DOF calculator etc.

    Sorry for the exceedingly long post. I hope there?s enough information here to give you an idea of what might be a good match. I?m still open to suggestions o f other cameras, but please bear in mind that I?m only considering monorail desi gns that can be purchased for less than $1,200 used.

    Thank you all very very much. I really do appreciate your time and consideratio n to my current situation.

  2. #2

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    If you ask me you should use the Speed Graphic for a while longer until you really understand what you are lacking or what is is that you need. Where exactly is the Graphic lacking?

  3. #3

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    <a name="1">John,</a>

    I, too, am new to LF, but I'm using a spectacular camera. It's a used Linhof Kardan Bi, and I would recommend that you check it out if you haven't done so. It's rock-solid, has base- and axial tilts, geared focus and shift, and looks like such a precise piece of technical equipment that people say "Wow" when they see it.

    As with any camera, there are reasons not to buy it. It's a bit heavy (about 10 pounds). Also, accessories and parts may be hard to find (I'm not sure whether or not the camera can be used with new accessories or parts). Linhof accessories are, in my opinion, best left to buyers with deeper-than-normal pockets - buyers such as the Department of Defense.

    The Kardan Bi would probably be near the top of your price range, but the quality of the camera is amazing. I think that you would be very happy with it.

  4. #4
    Yes, but why? David R Munson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1999
    Saitama, Japan

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    Like Matthew, I use a Kardan Bi and it really is a great system. I second everything he says and have a few things to add myself. First, accessories to fit the rail are no longer made and can be hard to find and expensive when you do find them. On the other hand, all accessories like backs, bellows, and lensboards are standard and you can use current accessories of that type. The basic rail is 12" long and 12" rail extensions don't seem to be too terribly hard to locate if you know where to look. I've found that for most stuff the 12" rail is fine, and in circumstances when I've needed more extension, I've just used rise, base tilt, and axis tilt to cantilever the front and back out, and in this manner you can essentially double the extension without a rail extension. While it has its limitations, it really is a fantastic camera system on par with almost any current offering.
    So apparently my signature was full of dead links after a few years away...

  5. #5
    Kevin Kolosky
    Join Date
    Jun 1999

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities


    When I started in large format a long long time ago I had a calumet. today I own a sinar, but there are many times when I would just as well have that calumet back, or maybe the cambo that I traded it in on. I would definitely spend less money on the camera and alot more money on the lenses, a good tripod, and a good light meter. That is because unless you are doing architecture or table top stuff you will be surprised at how little camera movement you use, and how easy it is to do by just watching the ground glass. So why put all of that money into the box, when it is the lenses that will give you the quality you are after. I think you can get a nice calumet with a revolving back for a couple of hundred bucks or a cambo for not much more. Buy yourself a Pentax 1 degree zone vi modified meter and a carbon fiber tripod with the money you save.


  6. #6

    Join Date
    Nov 1998

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    FWIW long ago I found monorail cameras to be an incredible pain in the posterior as far as toting the things around goes. They can be lightweight but they can a lso be really bulky.

    Of the ones you mentioned, if I had to choose from monorails, the Sinal F/F1 w ould be the one simply because it can be taken apart and packed relatively flat and it's plentiful on the used-gear market so can be had for a reasonable price.

    I strongly feel that the way to proceed, and the way you _will_ proceed either intentionally or unintentionally, is to buy _something_ and go shoot lots of fi lm and you'll surely learn what sort of camera you really want. You can't possib ly know that yet, so don't get bogged down. Buy a used camera in decent conditio n and you'll most likely get pretty much what you paid for it back when resale t ime comes.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Aug 2000

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    I agree with Kevin. you may WANT a monorail to use in the field,.. and you may THINK you need a lot of movements. But after shooting for awhile, you will find that you don't. The only really useful movement for most field work is tilt, and nearly all LF cameras offer that in some form or another. You said that weight is not so critical as bulk - well, I know of no monorail that is more compact than a field camera (nor lighter).

  8. #8

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    Thanks for all the very helpful replies. I appreciate that I'm still very new to LF and that it's very difficult at this point to know exactly what I'm missing and where I might take LF as I move forward. I must admit that the only movements that I'm missing right now are front tilt and rise. The Speed Graphic has very limited rise (~20mm) and no forward tilt at all. I'd like to be able to eliminate converging verticals in city scapes and also increase DOF in landscapes. If I could say that this was all I was going to need for the rest of my life I'd see the obvious advantage of sticking with a field camera (the Shen Hao in particular is very tempting), but if at all possible, I'd like to get a camera that will allow me to experiment and grow in whatever direction I decide to go.

    One last point, I totally agree and understand that ultimately the camera is just a black box and that lenses are key. I already have a Schneider f/8 90mm Super Angulon, and intend to get a good lens in the 180-210mm range in the near future. I also already have a tripod and light meter that I'm very happy with.

    Thanks again for all your help!

  9. #9
    All metric sizes to 24x30 Ole Tjugen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities


    I started with a Linhof Technica III 5x7". Nice camera, built like a tank, limited movements, and difficult to find film for. I also only had one lens; a 300mm/f:4.5 Schneider Xenar. Some months ago, I came across another oldie, a Linhof Color (NOT Kardan) 4x5, with four lenses. This old camera has all the movement I need, film is (relatively) easy to find, the four lenses (135 Planar, 150 Symmar, 210 APO-Lanthar and 340 Tele-Xenar) cover just about every situation (I've since bought a 90mm Angulon), and it has rotating back. Total price was around $1000 - including the trade-in of my second Technica 5x7 (yes, I had two of them!)

    If you're serious about macro, long bellows and stable rail/bed should be more important than tilt/swing/DOF calculators.

  10. #10

    Yet another"which LF should I buy" post -- but w/ redeemable qualities

    I went through a similar decision process within the last year and chose the Arca-Swiss F-C as a first large-format camera. The Discovery seems to offer features very similar to the F-line cameras, and the same relative compactness.

    I approached the process much as you have, with a lot of reading and an acknowledgment that the decision would be based on incomplete knowledge not just about view-camera photography but about what my needs were and would become. Incomplete knowledge ruled out a flatbed camera because I couldn?t be confident I understood, or even fully recognized, the interplay of the design compromises involved. Nor, as a beginner, could I be sure that I might not eventually want a longer or shorter lens than a particular flatbed could accommodate, or that I might not someday fall in love with architectural or studio applications I hadn?t yet explored. Not knowing my way around the various camera movements in actual practice, I wanted a straightforward, transparent user interface that would allow my learning curve to be as purely photographic as possible.

    One piece of knowledge I did have was that I would be taking the camera outdoors and perhaps carrying it some distance. The Arca- Swiss seemed much less bulky than the Sinars, and people on this board and elsewhere supported it as a fully viable camera for field use short of overnight backpacking. Today I?m sure I wouldn?t want anything bulkier than my Arca-Swiss.

    I?ve been delighted with my choice. Not only has the Arca made it very easy to learn things that I could likely have learned with any number of other cameras, but it never leaves me wondering what I could do if more tilt, rise or shift were available. For me, having a lot of not-strictly-needed rise and shift (and lens coverage) has been a nice compositional luxury for landscape work, especially if time is short, conditions are changing, or I am lazy.

    As these things often go, of course, I began to do my first overnight backpacking some months after getting my camera, and I sometimes wish I had known about and considered the lightweight Toho FC-45X monorail camera that Kerry Thalmann reviews extensively on his website ( It weighs just over 3 pounds, has a longer maximum extension than the basic F1 or Discovery, and sells for $1,295 at Badger Graphic Sales.

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