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Thread: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

  1. #1

    Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions


    I am brand new to the forum as I am looking to get (back) into LF photography after a 30 year absence. To my chagrin, I've forgotten most everything I allegedly knew.

    Back when I was an apprentice, my master used a Sinar 4x5 for studio work and as it is the only line I know and as there appear to be a decent variety in the eBay world, I'm looking at this line. I see F, F+, F2, C and P models for sale. As best I can tell the F2 is the latest of the field models, the C is an F front and P rear and the P is the first in the P lineup. It looks to my untrained eye that the P have the most granular levels of control. I have the brochure from, but lack of knowledge is leading me to non-conclusions so I wanted to ask experts. My use cases (initially) are some studio type still life images (for practice) and then outdoor landscapes, on black and white film as I suspect (but have not checked) that Ektachromes are long since gone. My intent is to process my own negatives and then scan them for post processing. I believe that there are digital options for 4x5 but I admit to some confusion here. With the patience of members, I have a number of questions.

    1. For my described use cases, is one system better than another, ie F2, C or P?
    2. All the cameras listed except one, do not have lenses, lens boards, shutters, dark cloths or film holders. When I worked 4x5 before I loaded film holders and got to release the shutter on the second camera. I have no expertise to speak of so I don't know what else I would need to be operational.
    3. I see many lenses mounted on Sinar DB lens boards. I think that these require a digital back and presumably some level of electronic controls. Should I be looking at this route instead of film? Where would I look for a digital back and what would people recommend?
    4. If I chose to start with film, and later wanted to go digital, what if anything would be reusable at that time?
    5. I see a variety of sizes of Copal shutters. Is there a simple reference that explains what the numbers mean and how one would choose which one to use?
    6. Does each lens require its own unique shutter and lens board?
    7. I've looked on Amazon for books and there is nearly nothing still in print. Are there older books I should be looking for used?
    8. The people I've sent questions to from eBay are all camera resellers and seem helpful. Is this a safe place for a newbie to be buying? I live north of Toronto and the large "pro" retailers don't do any LF at all. There may be smaller specialists, I found one nice fellow but his focus is 8x10 wood frame cameras, not really my interest at this time.
    9. What's the perspective on the availability of film? I can readily find B+W negative chemistry, but not whatever is needed from a gear perspective to develop 4x5 negs. I still have an old patterson tank for 35mm but know it won't be suitable.
    10. My intent is to use LF as a means to rebuild my "eye" Since switching to digital after nearly two decades away from film about five years ago, I think I am making better images than I have in the past, but have noticed an increased tendency not to "see" the image properly before releasing the shutter. I am hopeful that the disciplines involved in LF will help me achieve a better balance. Opinions requested. Am I nuts?

    Thank you all very much for your patience.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Madison, Wisconsin

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    If you intend to use the camera for landscape photography after some initial studio use, you may want to consider a field camera (flatbed), which is a little easier to transport. But people use both field and monorail cameras in the field. I wouldn't worry too much about learning to use something other than a Sinar. I started with a Deardorff 4x5 Special over 25 years ago, and figured that out (with the help of Steve Simmons' book) without a lot of difficulty, other than loading the film backwards the first time.
    In addition to the items you listed, you'll also need a light meter. The questions about switching to digital are a little more complex. I should state that I use only film in my large format cameras. There are digital backs that can be used with many different large format cameras, but the sensors are not 4x5 in size, so the sensor would not show as much of the area that your lenses can cover. Also, the resolution of large digital sensors can show the flaws of inferior lenses. Both Schneider and Rodenstock make a digital line of lenses that produce greater resolution (and, I believe, that also tend to be shorter in focal length due to the smaller size of the sensors. They are also very expensive. So, it's possible to use lenses intended for use with film, but you'll lose some of the resolution that the large format sensors are capable of showing.
    The differences in the Copal shutters are just to fit different sized lenses. I've never seen anything other than Copal 0, 1 or 3 shutters (what happened to Copal 2?). Smaller lenses use the Copal 0, smallish to moderate sized lenses use the Copal 1, and larger lenses use the 3. It's not too far from the truth to say that most wide angle lenses (say 58mm to 110mm) will use the 0, moderate wide angle and normal lenses (120mm or 135mm to 210mm) will use the 1, and longer focal lengths (240mm and up) will use the 3. Any seller should be able to tell you what shutter is needed for a particular lens. The only other difference is that the Copal 0 and 1 have shutter speeds up to 1/400", while the Copal 3 only goes to 1/125".
    Badger Graphics is a retailer, located in Wisconsin in the U.S., that handles a lot of large format equipment, and that has knowledgeable staff. I don't recall whether they handle Sinar, but they have a number of brands, as well as lenses and other necessities.
    Because large format does some things that other formats cannot handle nearly as well, and because large format digital sensors are so expensive, I expect large format film to be the last to go, and I think that will be a ways off yet. There may be fewer choices over time, especially in color films, but I think that there will still be a few manufacturers. I wouldn't be too surprised to see 35mm film replaced by digital almost entirely in the near future, but there are enough of us who want view camera movements but who can't afford the tens of thousands of dollars for a large format digital setup to make it worthwhile for some manufacturers to continue to produce film for us.
    Good luck.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Portland, OR USA

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    You have a lot of questions about diving into an expensive endeavor. I suggest you rub elbows with some other LF photographers who can help you decide what will work best for you. I know Rob Skeoch is in Canada, possibly in your area, and hosts gatherings of LF photographers to talk shop and share work.

    Sinar gear is good equipment. There is a lot of it on the used market right now and prices are probably as reasonable as they ever will be. A Sinar P camera in the studio is an excellent setup, but in the field they are pretty heavy. I owned a F2, and found it to be fine in the studio but a little shaky in the field.

    DB shutters are available in all-mechanical as well as electronic versions. They do break down and are neither easy nor cheap to repair. I would suggest acquiring individually-shuttered lenses.There are a ton of good, modern lenses for sale out there. If you do decide to stick with a Sinar system, there is a binocular viewer that eliminates the need for a dark cloth.

  4. #4

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    Look at the Sinar Norma. Philip Morgan has one for sale on the forum. It will give you most of the movements. It is fairly light and robust.
    I use a scan back with my Sinars. The Apo Sironar S will perform well but the sensor will show up poor lenses.

    The DB lenses are only a good choice if you have a Sinar shutter in good working condition.

    BTW the scan back does not require a shutter. I purchased a couple of manual DB lenses. They are cheaper, however they are not lighter as one might expect.

  5. #5
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    I've known people to take a Sinar P into the field, but I wouldn't recommend it. It's heavy, awkward to pack, and there's more that can get messed up by dirt and sand. It's easier to make an F work in the studio than to make a P practical in the field. The main functional difference is that a P uses asymmetric movements, so that you can see the effect of rear tilts and swings immediately without refocusing (if you follow the instructions) and can transfer those movements to the front standard as needed with the handy scales, while the F uses a DOF calculator to determine the focus spread and calculate the tilt or swing you need to achieve your goal. I've used both as well as cameras that have neither of these aids, and you can manage with any of them.

    Read the articles on the main page for general information about getting started in large format.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jan 2012

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    On the digital-film interface: technically speaking, yes, you can mount a digital back on a LF camera, but practically speaking, it doesn't work to well. First, the sensors are small, and the coverage minimal. With a sliding or stitching back (read Sexton on Luminous Landscape about one of these stitching backs), it can improve, but the reality is that the precision necessary for digital backs is an order of magnitude greater than needed for film, much less LF film, and thus the LF cameras don't really work too well for that, try as one might.

    The other issue is cost: digital gear, especially backs, are big money, and you can get into a whole LF setup, working, ready to go, with lenses and everything you need for film use for a lot less than the cost of the back. For digital printing, you will have to scan the LF negative, but apart from the hassle, its pretty easy, and even a modest scanner (Epson 700) does a nice enough job of that.

    Certainly to get back into LF, film is the way to go. If you decide you like it, and you must have digital, you will end up changing practically everything. People say you have to upgrade the lenses, but I'm having a decent use of an older 58 SA XL lens from 4x5 days on a digital back. More important for digital work is having a back (!) and a rigid and precise body, and its simply not worth making that committment now unless you are sure you want to go that direction. Keep in mind that digital view camera work is typically based off the 6x9 cm format, not 4x5. The stitching back that Sexton reviewed is one of the few exceptions, and while a little clunky, does give life to the 4x5 setups.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    If I had to go back to a sinar system, I would get:
    - sinar norma with tilt-head for the field - light, easy to use, solid, can protect ground glass during transportation, easy packing in rucksack.
    - rear standard and bellow frame of a sinar p in studio (and using the rest of the norma) p-line is great for studio, very solid, heavy, precise, easy to use, only self locking knobs.

    I would forget about the f-line.

  8. #8

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    I agree completely with Stephane,
    I use exactly what was suggested, except that I use a 216 mega pixel scanning back for fine art repro and for tabletop / still life.
    The first pic is a Sinar Norm with a 180 lens. The next shot is a hybrid with a P rear and a Norma front standard. Forget about lugging this one into the field.
    This one requires long extension. 480mm apo Ronar focused on a 6X9 inch area.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jul 2008

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    For field use, it has been a 5x7 C for over 20+ years, recently upgraded to a C2 from the purchase of a 4x5 C2 system. What is nice about Sinar is the system is large and it's interchangeability to build up a camera based on imaging needs. For indoor work, I'll put the P2 front with the P2 rear and this makes a nice camera to use due to the geared drives and etc.. It also become a HEAVY camera which is why the C makes a reasonable trade-off for weight, stability and size. The P rear also allows format changes with ease.

    On my current 5x7 C2 with the standard rail is cut down to 9" overall so it will fit into a 4x5 F case with 4 lenses, two 6" extensions, Sinar shutter, Spot meter, dark cloth, ground glass magnifier and etc using custom cut foam.

    My first view camera was an old 4x5 Sinar F with the low profile rail clamp (not Norma) it was OK for rigidity/stability but it was easy to use, what I learned on and low cost (IMO, a good value).

    As time passed, I got to own and use a number of Linhof Technika / Kardan, Toyo and etc.. yet the Sinar always felt ergonomically best for me.

    Due to my bias towards some "vintage and barrel lenses" the Sinar shutter makes it all work. The Sinar-Copal mechanical shutter works well as long as it has been cared for and maintained, the digital shutter is a problem child.

    Do consider a Sinar Pan-tilt head as it simply works well in many ways.


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Massachusetts USA

    Re: Guidance request - Sinar models, LF dumb questions, other opinions

    Another consideration is to keep the db mounted lenses, and adapt a field camera to the Sinar shutter. Some have done that here, and at least one manufacturer (Shen Hao) makes a wooden field camera which takes the Sinar shutter.

    There's "the field" (trekking long distances) and then there's walking a reasonable distance from the car. I have walked from the car with my Sinar P, even with a 5x7 back on the camera. You can carry it in a canvas tote bag. You might find this short article helpful: Carry Your Gear on a Budget.

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