Critiques on the Bender 4x5 Kit : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am new to LF and am considering the Bender 4x5. The price is right, since my budget is very tight, and it appears to provide all the features of the expensive models. Of course, I would love to own one of those high priced field cameras, but I don't think my wife will allow me to sell the car just yet! I agree with the concept of "putting my money into the lens", but I am concerned about the stability of a Bender in actual field use. Will it hold up with constant use? What's it going to "feel" like after a year or two? Is it a wise choice for all-season shooting (I like to shoot outdoors in the Rocky Mountain winters)? I would really appreciate some feedback from experienced users of the Bender. I plan to concentrate on landscape/scenics, macro, and even portraiture, primarily B&W.

-- Bruce E. Steffine (, October 28, 1998


bender isnt for someone who wants something cheap, your better off with the toyo cx. If you enjoy building and have patience you will like the bender, if you dont then its a real bad idea.

-- al (, October 28, 1998.

"(I like to shoot outdoors in the Rocky Mountain winters)" Seems like a bad idea with a Bender. Use it in the studio to become acquainted with LF. The critical point lies in the clamps that hold the body to the rail. These clamps are to be constructed from three separate parts with lime and screws, they do not come as a whole. It requires good craftmanship and perfect instruments to make it work stable. These instruments may add to the price if you have not got them already.

-- Lot Wouda (, October 28, 1998.

I completely agree with the previous response. When I got into large format several years ago, I was using an authors perception of my needs via what I had read or an effective sales pitch dictate what I felt I had to have in a camera. Thank God I did not have the financial resporces in hand because I would have ended up selling it pronto. It was only after I actually manipulated the adjustments and observed first hand the craftmanship (or lack thereof) did I realize what I really needed. Find a camera store with large format inventory and ask questions. I used to do this on business trips. I found a commercial photographer in my area and for the price of a few beers, learned a bundle. Whenever I hear a person talk about large format and costs, I have rather mixed feelings. While there are excellent deals out there in the secondary market, knowledge of what you are looking for and what is a good deal is very important. This information is easily obtained but since your requirements are unique, so is the decision. Maybe I am in the minority, but I do not look at a camera or a lens purchase as an expense. I look at it as an investment. Face it, large format by its very nature is inherently more expensive. However, buy something of reasonable quality and take care of it and not only will it serve you for as long as you will ask it to, but you should be able to find another person in the medium to buy it from you without taking a bath.

Having struggled with this decision myself a few years ago, my recommendation is to not compromise on the Bender. I have seen them and they do the job. But as the other contributor mentioned, are you a self made woodworker ? If you are not, you will spend far to much time and energy completing the work to your satisfaction. I saved for the better part of two years before I made the leap, but I got the camera that served my purpose perfectly. Purchase one lens of the best quality you can afford and learn to use it. After doing some research, you would be surprised at how reasonable you can aquire a perfectly functional 4 x 5 field camera.

Good Luck

-- Michael Kadillak (, October 28, 1998.

You don't have to hock the car to get into 4x5. There are many inexpensive ways to do it. It is a very forgiving format and will give you great results even though your camera and lens aren't the most modern. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, some of the older lenses are preferable to the modern ones, at least for b&w, as long as the shutters are working OK. If you don't need a lot of movements and bellows draw, a Graflex or an old portrait camera will do nicely. And if the bellows aren't light-tight, silicone bathtub caulk will fix that for under $5. If you plan on enlarging, put your money into a good 135mm or 150mm enlarging lens instead, such as a Componon-S, or at the very least a Nikkor. Haunt the used counter of all the camera stores in your area. You'll be surprised what might turn up. A local dealer in my town has a Speed Graphic and two lenses for sale for $220. Is that cheap enough?! And they usually throw in the holders for free.

-- Peter Hughes (, October 28, 1998.


You are in the same position I was in a few years ago. I didnt buy the Bender because I found a Graphic View II for less money. But I am going to buy the Bender 8x10 one of these days. My impression from reading a lot of reviews of the kit and speaking to a few people who built one is that if you are the sort of person who is in awe of the magic of photography you will probably love the thing, but if you are more the nerdy type who spends all his time reading equipment reviews and worries a lot about getting the very very sharpest image out of the most expensive lens etc. available, then you will certainly regret buying a Bender. (Though your pictures will likely be no different no matter what you spend, IMO.)

Rocky Mountain winters are going to pose a big problem. I found that my old shutters froze up pretty bad once it got colder than about 0 F. But I was usually pretty frozen myself after hauling all that crap through waist deep snow, scraping the ice off my lens, trying to keep the tripod stable on an icy hillside, trying to keep from breathing on the ground glass (more ice), trying to screw in a cable release with gloves on, trying to pry the metal lensboard off my flesh after removing my gloves to screw in the cable release, trying to figure out how to keep snow out of the film holders, trying to find and reach my old, heavy, small, light meter after dropping it in a snowdrift and so on. Ahh, the joys of large format photography.

If you want to spend some time building a beautiful camera and you are not particular about knowing to .000000001 inches that all your movements are at normal, get the Bender. But you can buy perfectly serviceable 4x5s for less. They wont look as nice and you wont have made them yourself, but they will work just as well. "Mikes Place," accessible from Equinox Photos homepage has a Graphic View for I think less than 200$, or did recently (thats a monorail camera - if you are going to insist on a field camera youll have to pay more). Or you can do what I finally did just a few months ago, and should have done years ago, which is buy a Speed Graphic with a working shutter curtain. Not much in the way of movements (some front tilt, not enough, and a little rise & a little less fall) but you can use cheap barrel lenses (up to around 9" if you dont need too much bellows draw) which will save you a huge pile of money. I just bought a lovely little Goerz Dagor for a hundred bucks. Also you can use the thing without a tripod (shutter speed to 1/1000) if you want, which just delights me. Shoot Tri-X, use the sportsfinder and distance scales and have some fun out in the street. As a wise person on the web once said to me, "The way I look at it, when you are shooting a negative that big you can skimp on everything else and still come out way ahead." He was right. Erik

-- Erik Ryberg (, October 29, 1998.

P.S. The above respondent's advice about enlarging lenses is right on the mark - that is one place not to skimp, it turns out.


-- Erik Ryberg (, October 29, 1998.

Lot Wouda ( said on October 28, 1998: > >The critical point lies in the clamps that hold the body to the >rail. These clamps are to be constructed from three separate parts >with lime and screws, they do not come as a whole. It requires good >craftmanship and perfect instruments to make it work stable. These >instruments may add to the price if you have not got them already.

While I'm certainly no expert, I am currently building a Bender 4x5, and have to disagree with this. Although I have basically no wordworking skills, the Bender is going together pretty well. The monorail riders require neither good craftsmanship nor perfect instruments to complete (functionally that is). Good craftmanship will certainly help the final appearance, but careful and thorough sanding will also go a long way. In fact the only instrument required for this step is a small section of monorail (included with the kit). I made some mistakes on the riders, including one big one - and although some flaws will be visible, they function perfectly (as well as the Toyo CX I played with at Wolf Camera. Reading about the Bender in this forum and, I came across opinions on both side of the fence. What clinched it for me, was that ALL of the negative posts were from people who had not built/used or even seen the Bender. All of the posts by Bender builder/owners were very positive. Just make sure that you are as exited about building the camera as you are using it.

Just my VERY humble opinion.

Jim Barbour

-- Jim Barbour (, October 31, 1998.

I have been through university studying photography and am now a camera technician. Back when I was a student money was very tight. I purchased a Linhof technica IV 4x5 field second hand for just under a thousand dollars and purchased a new lens. This outfit not only got me through uni but is also now earning me money shooting landscapes all over Australia. The bottom line is to spend as much money as you can on a very good quality lens as this will affect image quality. Second hand lenses are sharp too but before buying get a tech to test the shutter speeds as they get oily blades. It is cheap to fix it anyway. The actual camera body is just a light tight box with movements. If the movements are generous enough for the work you will be doing and the clamps secure enough the keep the outfit sturdy you can't go too far wrong. So if the idea of building your own camera does it for you, then go for it. However if it don't then just go secondhand. good luck.

-- Mark Humphries (, November 06, 1998.

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