Advice on 4x5 field camera : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm a 35mm SLR snapshooter who is interested in getting into 4x5. I plan on doing mostly field work, but some portraits too. I don't want a lot of sophistication or features. Furthermore, I only want to make this purchase once. In other words, I don't like the concept of an "entry level camera" that assumes you'll have to upgrade later. Budget is an issue; I'm hoping there are very good cameras that may not be too pricy because they don't have a lot of sophistication. To keep costs down I will probably try to get by with one lens.

To illustrate my philsophy, my SLR is a Nikon FM2. I bought it because it's a simple, rugged, high-quality camera. When I bought it I chose not to buy the more sophisticated FA, and I wouldn't buy an auto focus camera today. To me, more features means having features I won't use and having more things to go wrong.

I know this is ultimately a personal choice, but I'm looking for your opinions, along with the basis for your opinions. Talk me into something (or out of something!).

Thanks for the help!

-- Max Rahder (, April 25, 1998


You're right, it's a very personal choice. Only you can decide which features are important to you and only you know how much you want to spend. Remember, however, that the camera body is only one of the many components that comprise the LF system. It's not inexpensive to get into.

That said, I personally would look at a metal field camera. They are more rugged and durable than the wood ones. Doing mostly field work and portraits means you do not need a camera capable of extreme movements. Linhoff is probably the cadillac of LF cameras but one which would probably be overkill for your needs. I use the Wista SP which I have been very happy with.

I would recommend that you look at Leslie Stroebel's book, "View Camera Techniques", 6th edition, which goes into considerable detail on the various features on the many LF cameras you have to choose from.

-- Mark Windom (, April 25, 1998.

Remember that the initial investment in a camera, lens, film holders, tripod, focusing cloth and hand held meter are only the tip of the iceberg, and your wallet is the Titanic on a collision course with it. Used is undoubtedly the way to go for economic reason, and the net and Shutterbug are two good sources for pricing on used, and new for that matter.

But, for the big picture, what is your present film and processing budget? Your $4.00 roll, of 24 exposures, of say, Tri-X, just turned into $3.90 for 6 exposures. Everytime you click the shutter, deposit 65 cents and plan on an hour or so processing film and making proofs.

Want chromes? Try $2.00 a sheet and another $2.00 for processing. If you aren't in a large metro area, processing color print film and getting prints isn't a simple proposition either.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not out to sabotage your plans, but if you are concerned with economics, large format takes deep pockets. I buy 100 sheet boxes of Tri-X, $65.00 for 4X5 and 50 sheets of 8X10 are $125.00.

Beyond money, you are also dealing with equipment that is neither small or light weight, 6 or 8 film holders will probably weigh as much as your whole camera bag does now. Just something to consider.

I have shot 4X5 for 19 years and loved every minute of it, but it has taken me all of those 19 years to acquire the camera and lenses that I have, just because it is not an inexpensive format. If you can take the initial sticker shock and live with taking less pictures and making them count more, and lugging around a ton of stuff, I think you will be very happy with the results that you attain, but large format is not for the faint of heart, or the undedicated.

-- Marv Thomspon (, April 25, 1998.

Take a look at two solid options. A new Calumet entry type that will last a long, long time. Cost is $400 plus accessories. Or, a used Sinar F or F1 for around $1000. Both will work well with the Sinar probably lasting much longer with more precision. What you do with them is entirely your creativity & drive as the images are the result ofyour own work and the lenses you buy. But, go with at least 2 lenses as one will be quite limiting. But if you only go with one, my personal choice would be something longer than normal.

-- Dan Smith (, April 26, 1998.

One way to start would be to rent a camera and a couple of lenses for a couple of weeks. Preferably the camera you are thinking about purchasing. View camera gave a good review to the Calumet Cadet a few issues back so that might be a good place to start. Another must item for purchase or rent is a Polaroid back, preferably new. And several boxes of polaroid film, b&w and color. Polaroid is the best teaching tool you can buy, period. Another fast introduction might be to invest in a workshop like the ones held in Santa Fe, NM. If you are purchasing a caamera, check out the used equipment in your area. AS far as len selection goes, if you really only want to buy one lens, ask yourself what kind of pictures do I want to make? There are several excellent books on the topic of using a VC, find one or two that immediately make sense to you and are clearly written. The technical world of VC photography is fraught with arguments over the best way to do things, so just try and concentrate first on making good pictures. Good luck, Ellis

-- Ellis (, April 27, 1998.

Several other LFer's have suggested the Calumet Cadet. The price for the camera ALONE as others have said is around $400. There had been some problem with rear standard stability (shifting when you locked it down), but I was told that this problem has been resolved. For another $300 or so, you can get a complete package including 2 film holders, dark cloth (be sure to upgrade to the professional dark cloth - the one that comes with the kit sheds - the professional cloth is a 2 color cloth, white on one side and black on the other; I think that it costs another $10), and a 150mm Rodenstock lens.

Is the Cadet the best camera you can buy? Probably not, but it's a way to get into LF. Later, if you decide you want a better camera, Calumet had a policy where they would credit the full price of the Cadet to the purchase of another LF camera that you buy from them. Also Calumet has a 14 day no quibble return policy (check with them before ordering). If you hate the cadet...

Other people have suggested renting a camera before you buy. It's a great idea. Even better is taking a LF course at a community or junior college (or even a four year college). This way you have somebody to show you how to use the camera, get some free (generally) dark room time to process your negatives (and print them). I don't know how much time the rental people will have to teach you to use the camera.

Other LF books include Steve Simmons (great book) and Jim Stone's (it was okay).

-- Stuart Goldstein (, April 27, 1998.

For feild work and portraits I would recomment a Speed or Crown Graphic. These cameras are available at very reasonable prices, and have more than enough movements for these subjects. They are very rugged and well made cameras. If you find it doesnt meet your needs, you can always get what you paid for it. Ive used one for several years now, and while I have had the desire to get new lenses every now and then, I have never had the desire to go to another camera. I think they are great cameras.

-- Ron Shaw (, April 27, 1998.

Here's what I think I've settled on:

A new Osaka 4x5, $650 from Bromwell. I'm nervous buying a used camera because I'm not sure I'd detect flaws or shortcomings.

6 lisco filmholders. $100 or so.

A focusing cloth. $40.

Maybe a Polaroid 545i film holder, $170 from Calumet.

And I'll probably splurge on a Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm lens. Used if I can find one, otherwise $770 from Calumet.

All of this, plus some negative film and Polaroid film and I'm spending about $2,000. Uffda! But I'll probably still do it.

-- Max Rahder (, May 13, 1998.


A few weeks ago I bought a Tachihara from Badger Graphic. Their price is $500, which is cheaper then some used Tachihara's are advertised for in the current issue of View Camera magazine. As a first lens I got a 210mm Fuji. I decided that that lens would best match my most common uses for the camera, and so far I think it was a good decision. The lens is a little heavy, but I like it. I did get the Polaroid 545i back. Taking Polaroids has really worked out well.

One suprise for me is that using movements has been very natural in practice. I had read about things like the Scheimpflug Rule and seen book illustrations of how shifts affect the image. I had gotten to the point where I was thinking of these things as theoretical concepts. But it's not theoretical when you're looking at the ground glass and swing the front standard and see things come into focus. And because of handling the camera myself I know realize how simple some of the concepts are. This will be obvious to anyone who's done it, but for me it was an "of course!" moment when I realized that focusing moves the film plane closer and farther to the subject, so tilts/swings are just another way of focusing, except they allow the each side of the film plane to be moved independently!

If this thread still exists in a few months I'll post another response then...

-- Max Rahder (, July 14, 1998.

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