Best 4x5 camera? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I've got a long term plan to get a 4x5 camera. The reason it's a long term plan rather than a short term one is mostly because I've got plenty of work to do mastering the smaller formats, and partly because it's not easy to figure out which camera/lenses to buy.

So just asking about cameras at the moment. I intend to use it for perhaps 70% landscape, maybe 10% still life, and the other 20% - well maybe general photography.

I had strongly been leaning towards the Master technika, but since reading the review of it here, I'm not so sure. I had wanted to get one of these because I thought the rangefinder focusing might present some opportunities that I wouldn't otherwise get. I'm not sure I buy the argument about not enough DOF. I use f1.4 lenses on 135 and I don't have a problem with that. I can buy the argument though that f5.6 or f8 maximum aperture is not enough light for most casual shooting and I don't want to think about attaching a flash.

So if anyone has any other comments on the RF aspect I'd be glad to hear it. There is also the Wista 45 RF camera.

The other thing about the Master Technika of course is the price... added to which is the special cams you need for focusing. If the price gets me something much more useful then I'm the sort of person who would pay the price anyway. On the other hand it is hard to see the value. $1500 gets you a top of the range wonder camera for 35mm. I don't quite see why a top range 4x5 camera that was designed in the stone age must cost $5000, but hey. So if the camera I desire costs this much, I may save it up and get it. But if I can get away with a lot less, so much the better for my bank balance.

Yes I know guys, that in one sense, one 4x5 camera is the same as another one. They are all just light tight boxes. But the fact that $7000 cameras exist must mean that there are people who find value for money in doing that. Personally I'd like to get away with $2000, but let's just see what advice I get.

Of course, as I said I want to do 70% landscape, but I had thought the RF might be useful for other things, but as I said, now I'm not so sure.

So, what 4x5 camera would people recommend for me? As I said, I tend to get whatever the best camera is, even if the price is high. On the other hand, it's hard to see the value in any high priced 4x5 camera since they have all the technology of a 50 year old SLR.

I _may_ want to buy this camera new, so please recommend currently available ones (yes, I can figure out for myself the relative merits of used vs new, so please don't advise me on that).

The only other paramater I want to add is that small/light is good. Very good. Like everyone else I've got too much gear now, and the lighter the better. Also, easy to set up is good. That's another area where I thought the Linhof would be good, but now I'm not so sure about that either.

Someone's going to say, why don't rent them and see. Well there isn't a wide variety of gear in this part of the world to rent, so I'm sure I'm going to be much better off taking the advice of the much more knowledgable people here than trying to worry about that. After all, if Phil G. thinks he stuffed up in his choice of 4x5, I'm sure I would too without the advice of more experienced users.

Someone else will say to get a really cheap 4x5 to start off and get a better one later on. Let me figure that one out. For now, I'm just thinking about what I want ideally. Once I know that I can figure what compromises I want to make along the way.

-- Chris Bitmead (, May 05, 1998


Well... I dont know about best...I guess its somewhat subjective, but if I could afford a new 4x5, I think I would get the Toyo 45AII. Very well made and tough. At around 1500 new. I dont know why the Master Technika costs so much. You can check out the Toyos at Hope you find something you like. As far as the rangefinder goes, I never use them. I always compose and focus on the groung glass.

-- Ron Shaw (, May 05, 1998.

I suppose this is a tired old question. Should I get a field or monorail?

-- Chris Bitmead (, May 05, 1998.

Dear Chris, please send your money, all of your money, to me. Do it now. Hesitate no further, just send it all to me NOW. If you are looking to buy something that you can look at and admire: buy the Linhof. Or If you are looking for a great, very flexible camera you can also admire, and like the Technika not get in your way when you are traveling, get a Canham DLC or the Canham 4x5/5x7 camera, and three good lenses. I'm partial to Nikkor glass and also to Rodenstock. I recommend these focal lengths: 90mm, 210mm (or 180mm), and a 300mm f/9 M-Nikkor. Buy a (new) Polaroid 545i back and lots of film, Buy a solid tripod and head combination. You will also need a good meter (or very professional secret here: the one in your SotA 35mm makes a excellent substitute) Take a good workshop from someone like John Sexton or the folks in Santa Fe. Get to know a good fine art/commercial photographer in your area if possible. buy one of their prints or hire them for a decent assignment. Play with your camera as well as your imagery. And you will probably have spent what you would have on the Linhof and matching lenses and cams. not to put Linhof down, they make excellent, durable, beautifully crafted machinery.

-- Ellis (, May 05, 1998.

Point #1 There is no best anything. What is the best car? If you want to hall bricks then a Farrari or a Rolls Royce is a poor choice although they are highly regarded cars.

Point #2 You get what you pay for and sometimes even less.

Point #3 There is no free lunch. There is a down side to every particular format, camera, film etc.

Point #4 All the previous points are the same, just said differently. Don't agonize over the decision too much, photography is suppose to be fun. Although our tools do change the way we work, it is what is in the minds and hearts that determines what our pictures say.

The "best" advice I can give is to inqiure what tools used by those whom you admire, and use them as starting points.

-- Pat Raymore (PATRICK.F.RAYMORE@KP.ORG), May 05, 1998.

Hi there Chris, This is a less flippant answer than my first. Since posting my first answer I have tried to put myself back in your shoes, i.e as some one who is just starting off and is confused; etc. the obvious benefits of LF photography are larger negative, and theseemingly greater control over the process. I think you might be better off starting with a monorail camera that is modular and very transportable. That camera for you might be an Arca-Swiss FC. here's why. >a.) it is transportable >b.) it is easy to use, and it's controls are logicallly laid out. Also, with the rise being located in the focal plane means you won't have to refocus if you recompose your image. >c.) it feels good to operate. >d.) it will retain value (as will almost every high quality 4x5, including the Linhofs and and the Canhams.) >e.) the accessories are first rate. >f.) While it is not cheap; it is no where near as expensive as the Linhofs >g.) you will enjoy using it.

-- Ellis Vener (, May 06, 1998.

Chris, No matter which camera you ultimately choose, the fun will be in the using of it. And the more you use it, the more comfortable you will feel with it, and the more rapidly you will train yourself in 4X5 techniques.

I personally started off with a Crown Graphic and took some fine pictures with it. In fact one of my favorite images was taken with that camera. However, I did become frustrated with its limited flexability and the lack of a rotating back. From 1992 thru 1996 I worked on a personal photographic project in Big Bend National Park using a Linholf Tech IV. I loved it and still do. I also have used a Linholf Tech III which does not have as quite a flexible or as easily used front standard as the Tech IV, but it is still very usable and a good choice. I guess the point I am making is that I liked the ruggedness of the metal flatbed cameras in the field in all weather. And Linholf models, including the older models which are cheaper, I found to be excellent. I could throw them in a pack wrapped in the focusing cloth and hike without worry. I could mount them on a tripod (mine is a Bogan 3035 which I like for its ease of set-up and its maximum height), sling the combination over my shoulder and hike about until I found the image I was looking for. I am not so sure that monorails are as rugged in the field. Nor do I think you need to buy the newest and latest model of Linholf. the images I made will be coming out in a book in October, and I do not believe that I would have made better images or made images more easily with any other camera. I might also add that while I carried 90 mm., 150 mm. and 210 mm lenses (Schneider lenses, 2 of the 3 which were purchased used), probably 80% to 90% of the images ultimately used for the book were taken with the used Schneider Tech 150 mm lens.

Whichever, camera you choose, if you like working methodically, and working with the subject to get just the image you like, you are going to thoroughly enjoy the large format camera. Have fun.

-- D. Gentry Steele (, May 10, 1998.

Well, like others have said, it's kind of hard to answer your wuestion as you have worded it. "Best" means different things in different situations.

However, here are a few thoughts:

First, to really explore large format photography, the view camera with both lens and back movements is the way to go. You get the best feel for the medium with that kind of camera, and you can, yes you can, photograph everything from a football game to a life size image of a piece of jewellery or sculpture, and everything in between.

The view camera is not the ideal choice for a hand held, "candid" type situation. If you intend to do a lot of this type of photography with a large format camera, the Speed Graphic type with a calibrated rangefinder and viewfinder would be a better choice. It was certainly the mainstay of the news photographer for many years.

Everything else being equal, if I had to stay with only one camera system for everything, the choice would be the view camera, no question. Doesnt really matter too much whether you go with a monorail type or the folding field type, there are excellent examples of both in all price ranges.

I would suggest that you put most of your money into a first class lens, and not worry too much about the body it is mounted on. You can always upgrade to a more expensive (better?) body later and keep the lens to put on the new camera.

An ideal way to learn what all those knobs and adjustments do is to invest in a Polaroid 545 film holder and some type 52 Polaroid black and white film for it. Maybe do a bit of reading and them go make photos. You see the results of what you attempted right away, on the spot, and can go from there to refine your technique.

Good luck, and enjoy, no matter which you choose. Tony

-- Tony Brent (, September 09, 1998.

Dear Chris Greetings from Down Under. I note your interest in the Linhof Master Technika. I bought one of these brand new in 1990. It was my first 4 x 5 camera. I've taken thousands of negatives with it in mostly outdoor situations: landscape, architectural, bush, building sites, etc., and it works as well as the day I bought it. It's a delight to use. It's very easy to carry and quick to set up. I find some of its features more useful than others; I guess you will too. The lens tilt is a bit fiddly, I prefer the better control of the tilting back for depth of field adjustments. I've never bothered with getting the lenses cammed and using the rangefinder-waste of money. I like getting under the cloth and focussing on the ground glass-why else would you get a view camera? Forget all that stuff the brochure says about the Master Technika being good for studio use as well. Load of crap. To do table top still life you need a monorail. However, the Master Technika does not represent good value for money. They are ridiculously over priced. They are built like a Sherman tank so you will find plenty of second hand ones in good nick at a better price. If I was starting from scratch today I would seriously consider a Toyo or a Canham or a Wisner. I don't know how these compare to the Linhof in price in the USA, but down here the Toyo is much cheaper. Also the Lotus might be worth a look. In the long run I don't think it matters much which one you get; they are all good and if you have a passion for image making and something to express you will make interesting photographs whichever camera you use. Best of luck. John

-- John Lascelles (, November 20, 1998.

The reason there are $7000 LF cameras is that a working pro can justify the price easily by the increased efficiency that such a camera can allow. If the camera is being used every day, day in and day out, the difference in the price is of little consequence. But for the purposes you describe (unless you just have money to throw away), such a camera is not practical. Since most of your work would be landscapes, I would recommend a good field camera, not a monorail.

I'll tell you what. Buy a $7000 status symbol and see if your pictures are any better than those taken with just about any view camera at any price. Even an old wooden beater from a pawn shop. Glass being equal, they won't be. With glass, you should look for the best you can afford.

The best LF landscape photographers I have known understand that the camera is only a tool. Almost without exception, whenever I run into a LF photographer that simply has to have the most expensive camera available, the price of that camera is only equalled by his or her lack of knowledge and skill in it's use. (I'm talking landscape photography, not studio work, where the cameras you discuss have a real purpose).

Stop worrying about having the "best." As others have pointed out here, you're supposed to enjoy your photography and have fun. If you get wrapped up in this "I got to have the most expensive" stuff, you are missing the whole point, and your photography will suffer.

It's the photograph that counts - not impressing people with your equipment.

-- Tom Johnston (, November 20, 1998.

Chris, I wonder if you bought one already; your question comes from May, it's November now and people keep on discussing about a question most people say is impossible to answer. If you did, I am curious to know whether your preliminary deliberations seem still relevant now. Mine did not, you see, I just love the results on 4*5. I recently bought a second-hand Linhof, not because of status (I am more inclined to spend money on lenses), but it seemed the most portable and I mean with that also that I do not need to be careful with it. You don't need a case or so. It is much more portable than my Hasselblad which I changed for it. My final choice was between ARCA SWISS or Linhof. I chose Linhof because of portability and it is easy to set-up. It's not lightweighted, but the compactness of it is important also. I would not buy a monorail in your case. I plan to do landscape most of the time also (and still-life and macro). The Arca Swiss seemed less a voyage-camera to me. Linhof's RF was an argument for me to buy it too, but I postponed it because of the money. I do not think I will buy it in the future, I would rather buy a nice old lens for that price. I recommend Schneider lenses because of their beautiful contrast. I do not think Linhof is expensive. Value for money is not important with camera's like Leica, Hasselblad or Linhof. You can easily sell them and get back the same or more than the price you paid for it. So when people say: start with a cheap one to get used to the format: buy a Linhof, you will always get rid of it if it doesn't suit you.

-- Lot Wouda (, November 22, 1998.

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