first 4x5 camera : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am in the market to buy my first 4x5 camera. I want a wooden field camera without spending big bucks. No monorail or metal bodies. At first I was interested in the Tachihara because of the low cost. But I have read several testimonials complaining of the camera's stability and general construction problems. B & H even told me that they don't sell the Tachihara because it doesn't meet their standards. The other two cameras I have now started to think about are the Horseman Traditional Field and the Wisner Field DX. Both are still in my price range but I am concerned that I would be spending too much money when a cheaper camera would do just fine. I plan on using the camera for all sorts of shooting. But mostly indoor artsy-fartsy type shots.

I guess my question is this: Is the Tachihara a sound investment or is it merely a competent camera that would serve me well, but not age well? Although I could afford a better lens if I bought the Tachihara, would I be better off spending more bucks on the Horseman or Wisner? I want a camera that I can still use 30 years from now.

Any advice would be helpful and appreciated.

-- Steve Cooley (, October 22, 1998


Steve, What is difference of $1000 or $1500 spread over 10, 20 or 30 years? Yes I know it is still a lot of money today. But aggravation and frustration in the field and afterwards can easily outweigh that differential in the short term as well. Since you are looking for a camera for the long term, I suggest you look seriously at a Canham, or Wisner, and possibly a Phillips, all modern extremely well made wooden field cameras. In the end you do get what you pay for, and given the quality of the materials and construction of these machines you are paying for real quality and not just a fancy nameplate. My persoanl preference is for the Canham (I own one of the metal DLC cameras.) but that is because I like the way it feels in my hand. Your preference may be different.

-- Ellis (, October 22, 1998.

FWIW and IMHO--- If you plan to mainly shoot "indoor artsy-fartsy" pix and want your camera to last 30 years, the brilliant, easy to pack Arca-Swiss monorail (including the Discovery) would work very well for you. It would be a great camera for a lifetime, and you'll never regret it. Just as significant is Ellis's metal Canham DLC. (People generally like wood for lightness, aesthetics, tradition or economy.) As was pointed out, when you amortize a camera over years, the best value is the best long-term photographic solution.

-- Henry Stanley (, October 22, 1998.

In my original posting I made a mistake and listed the Wisner Field DX when it should have been the Wista Field DX.

To respond to Ellis, yes I have also been considering a Wisner Traditional Field. The Technical field is a little more than I can spend right now.

Does anyone have any pros or cons for the Wisner Traditional Field or the Wista Field DX or the Horseman Field?

These cameras all seem slightly similar and it's difficult to make a decision. Most of the testimonials I have been able to locate devote coverage to the higher end models.

-- Steve Cooley (, October 22, 1998.


A suggestion that I would make to any first time 4x5 buyer is to consider renting various view cameras before taking the plunge and making a purchase. While some camera designs may look good on paper, there are always some operational nuances (and annoyances) that can only be indentified through "hands-on" experience. You can then base your purchase decision upon finding the camera that best matches your individual working style and expense criteria. Be assured that you will have found a photographic tool that should meet your needs for many years to come.


-- Matt Long (, October 22, 1998.

Buy the Tachihara. Dont worry about whether or not it will last 30 years. Im pretty sure you wont want to keep it that long anyway. Although a flatbed type (field) camera will work for taking indoor artsy-fartsy type shots it would be much easier using a well designed monorail camera. Looking into my crystal ball I see you, in a year or two, getting completely fed up with LF or (better yet) buying a monorail.

-- Steve Pfaff (, October 22, 1998.

After forty years making a living with photography, I've probably used about everything there is, so I'll add my 2 cents. Tastes, feelings, needs, do change over time. Many of my switches within large-format [heck, in 35 too] have been based on just plain wanting a change - it's invigorating. I don't have one camera now, that I had 40 years ago. Can you see the difference in my work, probably not. Is it fun to change every now and then, you bet! So, what I'm rambling about is this, take the advice about renting to experience each possibility, and then don't expect that today's choice will actually be your choice for 30 years. Get super lenses. They will last a lifetime and be workable on nearly any 4x5 camera. My other little opinion [this is truly not Gospel!] is to buy used equipment. Other than two NEW Schneider lenses that I gifted myself on a birthday that I had particular trouble getting over, I've bought used equipment for more than half of my working life. The only other exception has been with strobes. I've always felt that there are two many possible hidden problems inside those power packs, whether they're Brons, Speedos or whatever, so strobes are something that I've always bought new. So, to stop rambling and to summerize: try rentals; realize it won't be a lifetime investment and buy used. Albest!

-- Dick Fish (, October 22, 1998.

I have been using a Tachihara for 3 years mainly in the feild. Sometimes I took it into tough condition such as snowing mountains. There's been no trouble at all if you use it carefully. The appearances is the matter of one's preferance. I think it's better than Wista or Horseman. The only negative factor is that you cannot make closed-up photographs because of its limitaion of bellows extension as much as you can make with Wisner.

-- Shigehiro Ishii (, October 23, 1998.

I'm just getting started in 4X5 for 3-4 months now but spent about 8 months reading up and researching what I would buy. I wanted to be knowledgeable enough to recognize what I wanted and a good price at the used camera shows. I decided that having never used a view camera, I could not possibly select the perfect camera for me. Some basics you need to be sure of like will the bellows draw cover the range of lenses you will use. For the movements it depends alot on what you are doing with it how much and what you need. Even the basic Tachihara has all the movements you will need, just things like shift are more difficult(has to be done with front and rear swings). Will you use shift every day? (not me) Another important point for me was weight, size and portability for field use. I got the Tachihara, it's $550 now at Adorama. It will take lenses from 75 to 270mm (325mm max bellows) it is a well made budget camera. It is tight when locked down and only marginal when the focus rail is fully extended. I'm sure the $1500 fields are more solid but you can get excellent results if you are careful. And yes, spend the extra on a good lens. (you can spend more for the lens than the camera!) Another option new for a monorail is the new Toyo for $550. You could also look at used if you want to get something a little better for $600 price range. Try camera shows for the best deals.

I would not try to get your first camera as the one you will use forever. Get something to get started. All these will hold value very well if you take care... should you later decide to upgrade. You mention not wanting metal or monorail type: The Tachihara is a nice looking camera too.

-- Gary Frost (, October 24, 1998.

You have gotten some good advice here. I would like to add to some of the things being said. The camera you choose is a personal choice based on many factors (price, type of shooting, camera functions,etc). You need to decide what is important to you and find the camera that fits your needs. This requires a lot of work on your part, but in the end it's worth it. My first jump into LF was a monorail Omega 45E, not a bad camera, but not very good either. The biggest problem was it was very limited in it's function (couldn't change the bellows or back). I changed my focus over the years from studio to outdoors. Several years ago I started looking and decided on a Wisner Technical. I can't say enough good things about the camera and the company. I wish I had started out with this camera. If money is a problem, I would look for a good used one. You can get the life time warranty extended to you by sending Wisner $100. Don't be in too big of a hurry. Shop around and you can find some good deals. But, first decide what it is that you want.

-- Michael Wellman (, October 24, 1998.

Thanks very much to all who offered advice to me about my first 4x5 camera. I'm still researching the pros and cons of different brands. I've decided to either go really cheap, such as a used Korona or new Tachihara or go to the other end of the spectrum and buy a new (or used if I can find one) Wisner Traditional or Technical. The middle of the road stuff (Wista or Horseman) seems like a mistake to me, unless other's opinions differ. If lenses are so important, I'll probably go for the Tachihara and splurge on a decent lens. My main interest is in shooting polaroids. Currently I use a 35mm Nikon FM2 with bellows for close-up photography (but not exclusively macro work) and then print my slides on a polaroid slide printer and then do transfers or cut the prints up for mounting in collages. 4x5 polaroids really appeal to me because of the size. And wooden field cameras really appeal to me for aesthetic reasons. So there's my real dilemma. A wooden 4x5 which will allow me to do general photography and still do macro work and one which accepts a polaroid back (though I assume they all do these days). I don't even know if I have a question for all of the experts out there. I'm really just looking for feedback to help me make a decision.

Thanks again for the advice received and any forthcoming.

-- Steve Cooley (, October 24, 1998.

A couple thoughts on your last post: If you will be using only polaroids, (no enlargement) you can ease up on requirements for a high quality lens, mainly make sure it has the coverage, resolution will not likely be an issue. For macro, check for maximum bellows draw you will need. 1:1 with a 150mm lens will need 300mm of bellows. From working with 35mm, you have some idea what focal length(s) you like to use most. Take your time and get what feels and looks comfortable to you. Any well thought out choice you make will be the right one.

-- Gary Frost (, October 24, 1998.

IMHO you can't go wrong with the Tachihara. I do strongly suggest a new one. I don't know when they added the nylon washers and the little tab that helps keep the front standard more secure, but also make sure you're buying relatively fresh stock. Those improvements were notable (you can, of course, add the washers easily).

For one thing, not everybody sticks with 4x5. The other thing is, photography you anticipate doing with 4x5 may not come to pass. I've obtained some excellent macro shots with 4x5 but it is hard work with a small aperture, very limited DOF and not the handiest camera for this purpose. This doesn't mean it can't be done.

The other thing is, you really dont' know what you need in a 4x5 until you've used it for some time. Why spend $2000 or more until you have an idea of your needs? There are lots of fine cameras but fortunately, also lots of time to decide once you're in there getting your feet wet.


-- Mike Long (, October 25, 1998.

I'll second some of the favorable comments about the Tachihara. I've been using mine for about two years now and I think it's an excellent camera. It is well constructed and quite solid. I've never had any stability problems. The finish is attractive, it's easy and quick to set up and take down, and best of all it's light. The weight savings with the camera, plus the ability to use a lighter tripod and head, really makes a difference when you're walking. The idea that B&H doesn't carry it because it doesn't meet their standards is, IMHO, BS. I like B&H and buy many things from them but I doubt that they test every product they carry. The only drawback to the camera is the relatively short bellows extension - 13 inches. I got around this by buying a 400mm Fuji telephoto lens which works fine but was somewhat epensive. If you want to do 1-1 macro work you can use the 150mm G Claron lens. It's a good lens but I agree with those who have said that using a 4x5 camera for macro work is perhaps not the best idea - I bought the G Claron for that purpose but found that the additional time and trouble involved aren't justified by any significant increase in quality as compared with medium format macro work (at least for me - others may disagree). I would recommend the Tachihara without reservation. Even if you later decide that you want a Wisner or other similar camera for some reason, you can always keep the Tachihara and use it for camping trips or long hikes. It weighs about half of what the Wisner Traditional and Technicals weigh. Finally, I agree with those who recommend buying it new. If you read "Shutterbug" you see that used prices are all over the place - Del's and I believe KEH recently were advertising used Tachiharas for a higher price than Adorama's new price advertised in the same issue!

-- Brian Ellis (, October 26, 1998.

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