Canham DLC vs Wisner Pocket Expedition : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I really doubt that I would be able to have the opportunity of playing with both of these cameras before making up my mind on which to get. I would really appreciate comments from people who have experienced using both cameras. I've privately e-mailed a few of you in this group, but most of them basically said it really depends on my personal preferences. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to find that out until I've tried one. So stupidly, I might just have to let the majority win.

-- Carlos Co (, January 18, 1999


As we discussed off group, both are fine cameras. What specifically are you looking for in a camera? What feature or features would sway you? Do you prefer a wood or a metal camera or does this make a difference? WE can't make up your mind. I can (and did) discuss why I bought the Canham over the Wisner, but my reasoning may have led me down a different path than the one you would prefer to travel on.

Find a dealer who deals in both in Wisner & Canham, buy one and if you aren't ha[ppy within a reasonable period time (say 10 days) make prior arrangements to trade it back for credit on the other.

-- Ellis (, January 18, 1999.

Ellis, please pardon all the stupid questions. I know I'm beginning to sound the like the guys in the 35mm asking whether Canon is better than Nikon, or perhaps even worse. So tell me if I am going out of bounds and I'll immediately stop bugging this group anymore, and my apologies.

I just talked to Ron over the phone, and he says that even with a 58 mm, the normal bellows on the Pocket Expedition should have no problems with movements! I found that a bit hard to believe, but he seems to be a very honest guy. Would you believe this? On the long side, I think the two cameras are about equal.

Something I may feel incorrectly inadequate about in not having are geared movements. I have worked on aligning lasers in the laboratory and geared adjustments are just awesome I think. If only the Sinar X was cheaper, lighter, and more compact. Geared movements tend to drive me towards the Wisner. On the other hand, no one seems to have any problems with the movements on the DLC. So perhaps geared movements are not that useful, or maybe that's because they have another camera for applications that require geared movements.

Wood or metal? I don't think I really care about this as long as they are both rigid and well made.

I have had a lot of input regarding the Canham DLC and it is essentially all positive. However, I have almost no input about the Pocket Expedition which seems to be a darn good camera. I wish the link in Tuan's page to the Pocket Expedition becomes reactivated soon.

-- Carlos Co (, January 19, 1999.

Here's a little feedback about the Canham.

Nobody wants to badmouth this camera. There is something electric about a *new* metal camera being introduced to the market at an affordable price.

I saw this camera at PhotoExpo East. I found it to be not entirely rigid and not of a quality like Sinar/Linhof/Horseman, etc. What it is, is light and cheap. Under 5 lbs, $2150 w/fresnel. Everything in life is a compromise and this shows in the camera. After locking everything down, using only my pinky finger I can push on the back and move the rear standard. I posted about this on and some others have observed this also. Most dismiss it saying that in the "real-world" you don't push on the rear standard. Well, I do everytime I put a film holder in.

It's a compromise. I bought one anyway and am awaiting arrival. If I like it, I'll keep it. If not, you'll see it advertised for sale in a couple of weeks.


-- Ben Diss (, January 19, 1999.

Well yes Ben, you can push on the rear standard and move it, the point is that the back comes back to the same position, unless you push hard enough to push it off the position you locked it down to, and knowing that you are a careful worker, I doubt that you are doing that when you insert holders. This isn't that big of deal for me as I primarily use a Fuji QuickLoad holder, a Polaroid 545i holder, and a Horseman roll film holder At least this is the case with mine.

There are things I don't like about the DLC,two things in particular: the flush position of the bullseye levels mounted in the top of the standards; and the graflock mechanism isn't as positive as the one on my Arca Swiss F-line and the one on my previous camera, a Sinar C.

-- Ellis Vener (, January 19, 1999.

Carlos, I just reread your second post. Asking questions is good: don't stop, Your questions are valid concerns and need to be addresed. I have an alternate solution for you if you really feel the need for geared movements: The Arca Swiss F-line Metric. Contact Rod Klukas at Photomark, Badger Graphics or the F-Stops Here for info & details. I am not sure if this camera is cheaper than the Sinar X, but it is lighter and smaller than the Sinar.

-- Ellis Vener (, January 19, 1999.

Ellis, let me ask you a more direct question. Are the reasons you mentioned previously (bullseye level and Graflock mechanism) the only reasons why you would still keep your F-line camera?

I was also interested in the Arca Swiss Metric too until I found that it does not have geared tilts. I would imagine that if any movement would be more useful geared, it would be TILT.

This is tough! It seems like the more I learn, the tougher this decision gets. Now, the F-line Field is beginning to look very interesting too considering how fast it can be setup, but my interest is muted somewhat by price, bellows limitations, and bigger packed size.

-- Carlos Co (, January 19, 1999.

Ellis, let me ask you a more direct question. Are the reasons you mentioned previously (bullseye level and Graflock mechanism) the only reasons why you would still keep your F-line camera?

No. I use the Arca now primarily for studio & architectural interiors photography where the yaw free aspect and the addition of rear rise really becomes a decisive factor.

I was also interested in the Arca Swiss Metric too until I found that it does not have geared tilts. I would imagine that if any movement would be more useful geared, it would be TILT.

In the studio, maybe yes, but i haven't found the lack of geared tilt to be an impediment at all. If I was shooting table top product photography on a daily or even weekly basis, than I would use either an Arca-Swiss Monolith or a Sinar P2.

This is tough! It seems like the more I learn, the tougher this decision gets. Now, the F-line Field is beginning to look very interesting too considering how fast it can be setup, but my interest is muted somewhat by price, bellows limitations, and bigger packed size.

So you are back to considering which features are most important to you. Which range of lenses are you going to use? What is your primary subject matter? if you are going to use the Nikkor telephotos, especially the longer ones, than the longer bellows of the DLC might be a factor. Geared tilt is nice, but it is not at all necessary for landscape work. If you want a very expandable modular system then the Arca is the right choice for you.

-- Ellis (, January 20, 1999.

I dearly love my Linhof Technikardan 45, but there are days when I long for the rigidity and full gearing of a Sinar X or P2. And a pack animal, of course!

I've heard from an previous owner of both that the Technikardan is considerably sturdier than the Canham DLC. If so, I wouldn't seriously consider the latter.

-- Sean Donnelly (, January 23, 1999.

Sean, and what does the previous owner of both own now?

-- Ellis (, January 26, 1999.

A friend of mine was recently going through the same dilemmas that your are. He solved it by purchasing a $175 round trip ticket to Atlanta.In advance of his arrival he called a dealer there who sold all of the camera brands he was considering (Quality Camera), asking that they all be set out on tripods for his checking upon his arrival, spent the day checking them out, bought one, and flew home with it that night. I don't know where you're located but airline tickets are pretty cheap these days and most major cities have at least one dealer that carries many of the various large format brands.The price of an airline ticket may seem expensive but in the long run it may not be so expensive. I bought my first large format camera (a Linhof Technikardan) in much the same way you're doing it (word of mouth, reading, checking specs, etc.). I didn't like the Technikardan, sold it at about a $300 loss, bought my second camera (a Tachihara), liked it a lot but became enamored of the great solidity (?) and engineering of a friend's Technika, sold the Tachihara at a $150 loss, and bought the Technika. So I'm out of pocket $450 not to mention the cost of the Linhof accessories I sold when I sold the Technikardan and now need to buy back for the Technika. It would have been a lot cheaper just to have bought an airline ticket. Think about it.

-- Brian Ellis (, January 29, 1999.

Just in case anyone reads my above post and thinks I do nothing but sit around figuring out ways to spend money on camera, I wanted to clarify that these three transactions occurred over the space of about four years.

-- Brian Ellis (, January 29, 1999.

Hasn't this gone a little astray ? I thought the guy asked about the difference between Canham DLC and the Wisner Pocket Expedition ? I'm the proud owner of one of Mr Wisner's new 8x10 Pocket Expeditions. All I can say is that it is beyond my wildest expectations.. a fantastic camera.. wonderful workmanship, as rigid as you could ever want and with so many movements.. geared front rise and tilts.. geared rear focus and rear geared tilts.. wonderful. I've seen and played with the baby 4x5 version in Casey's Camera in Las Vegas.. and its no different. Forget the Canham.. go for the Wisner.. you won't regret it for one moment. It may cost a bit more.. but quality counts at the end of the day.

-- Nigel Turner (, January 30, 1999.

I got my Wisner Pocket Expedition yesterday and played with it for hours until 4 am this morning. It is an absolutely wonderful camera that exceeded all my expectations. The complexity yet beauty of the camera is just amazing! If I let my guard down a bit, I might even wonder if it is worth buying purely as living room decor, just like a sculpture or painting. It is also a camera your wife will probably look at and say, "That is absolutely beautiful... Buy it!"

The camera is very complex and fussy and it took me at least three hours to figure out the movements and an efficient sequence of operations to open and CLOSE the camera. Good thing the camera is so beautiful, because thoughts of giving up and returning it passed my mind. The camera does not come with instructions, and I just couldn't wait till the next day to call up Ron Wisner for tips. But eventually once I figured it out, everything was easy. Note that I have small fingers. If you have big fingers, the small knobs may be harder to use.

The geared front rise/fall is extremely useful for wide angles. Based on the table top work I tried last night, I really liked the front geared tilts, too. Yes, it is fussy, but after a few hours of practice, I have to say that the front movements are WELL WORTH the extra complexity and cost. Note that the front rise/fall/tilts can also be adjusted manually without using the gears.

Fred and Dennis at Darkroom Innovations tells me that one half of the people who have bought the Wisner PE love it completely, while the other half absolutely hate it. If you try buying one from them, they will STRONGLY DISCOURAGE you from buying it, suggesting that the regular expedition and technical versions without the front gearing are better. I strong disagree with that - the front movements are wonderful, it just takes time to get used to them. The first time I tried setting up the camera, the front movements drove me nuts. Hours of practice later, I began to realize why Wisner bothered to spend the time and money to patent it.

If you go to a store to try out the cameras, I doubt you will end up buying the Wisner PE over the Canham DLC unless your wife wants it for the living room. The store would be closing and you would still not be comfortable with the PE movements. Even Fred at Darkroom Innovations says he has given up trying to close the Wisner PE and lets Dennis do it. A good analogy between the DLC and PE would be the UNIX and Macintosh operating systems. This is probably why unlike DLC owners, PE owners who eventually like the PE design don't strongly recommend it to others. Personally, after one whole night of struggling with the camera, I have a developed a very strong liking for it and I doubt that I would be satisfied with the DLC.

My recommendation is to buy the camera and play with it seriously for at least 12 hours (don't give up before 12 hours) - then decide whether you like it or not. Unlike DLC owners, I cannot confidently say that you will like the camera even though I absolutely love mine. I hated it for the first fours hours, but by the eight hour, I felt really good with the camera. Now, I also think that the extra cost of the PE over the DLC is definitely worth it.

-- Carlos Co (, February 20, 1999.


I agree with your comment about the camera being a show piece. Glad to hear you made the jump. Now, find a wide angle lens to play with. The "top rear focus" makes life very easy!

Good Luck!

-- Rob Adams (, February 21, 1999.

Rob or carlos, can you explain "top rear focus' for me? Is a way of saying on this base tilt camera that the rear tilt is gear driven at or near the top of the standard?

-- Ellis Vener (, February 22, 1999.

Rob, the widest lens I have is a 90 mm - not quite enough for the top rear-focus to be useful.

Ellis, the top rear focus does essentially the same thing as regular rear focus on most field cameras, i.e. move the rear standard forward. However, it does this without moving the bed forwards so in some rare? situations when you are using short lenses (e.g. 58 mm) this allows you to avoid taking a picture of the two focusing rails that stick forward when you move the bed forwards. Rob, is this really all there is to this? or do you simply find it more convenient to use the top rear focus rather than the regular rear focus for short lenses?

-- Carlos Co (, February 22, 1999.

Basically the "top rear focus" is Wisner's adaptation of Deardorff's rear forward focus.

-- Sean yates (, February 22, 1999.

Sean, Okay but what does that mean? Is this a geared top tilt mechanism (necessary because you have to tilt the bed of the camera to use wide angle lenses)? Or does it move the entire rear standard forward and back?

-- Ellis Vener (, February 22, 1999.

When I first looked at a picture of the Wisner Pocket Expedition, I couldn't figure out which knob did what. I hope the following labelled picture helps.

Introduction to the Pocket Expedition

-- Carlos Co (, February 22, 1999.

By the way, one big disadvantage of the Wisner (Ellis take note) is that when using short lenses front shift and swings would not be possible because the struts on the front standard interferes with the base of the rear standard. The situation is actually worse than what may see in the picture shown in the web page of The F-Stops Here

-- Carlos Co (, February 22, 1999.

A few more things before I go home and quit posting:

1. The wonderful Darkroom Innovations 4x5 focusing cloth is impossible to use with the Wisner PE because it seriously interferes with the movements. I'm discussing the problem with them, but I doubt there will be a solution. Guess what I did when I got the focusing cloth with the PE and having ZERO experience with LF photography: I strangled my thankfully small neck with the elastic side - go ahead and LAUGH.

2. When using short lenses and having the rear standard right on top of the rear focusing pinion axis, the rear focusing mechanism becomes somewhat rough because of the weight on it. The top-rear focus which has two small knobs on either side is much smoother in this situation. So what do you prefer: (a) two smooth but small knobs, vs. (b) one large, but rougher knob. Personally, I'd use the front focus if I can reach it - the front standard is light and the focusing mechanism is always smooth.

-- Carlos Co (, February 22, 1999.

Thanks Carlos! Great photo and excellent schematic. Now i understand: "Top rear focus" is another way of describing a focus drive riding directly on top of the camera bed. The DLC has a similar but simpler, nongeared mechanism as part of the front and rear standards. These allow you to place the rear standard all the at the front of the camera, or the front standard all the way at the rear of the camera, or both somewhere inbetween as desired or necessary. I cannot tell from your schematic if the focus movements of the beds for the W.P.E. are geared or not, but the twin side-by-side rails for the DLC are extended and retracted via locking gear drives. The nice thing is that the locking mechanism is that it is progressive so you can have them almost locked up stiff and beable to fine tune the focus before you go into the fully locked position.

A confession: A couple of times I have set up to make my shot only to discover that I had not locked the standard to the rail. This tends to make me feel very stupid for not being thorough enough in going down my mental checklist.

As far as limits to the full range of swing motion, any very short focus lens brings the standards close enough together to limit swings. This is true of just about any camera, especially ones that don't utilize recessed wide angle lensboards. Also I find that I rarely use large degrees of swing with wide angle lenses. Tilt is a different matter entirely.

-- Ellis Vener (, February 22, 1999.

Ellis, the top rear focus and regular focus movements of the PE are all geared. I'm not sure if it is only me, but I can't do ZERO front/rear swings and front shift with a 90 mm lens on the PE! This is how serious the problem is. I always thought 90 isn't that wide at all. However, front/rear tilts and rise/fall are all limited only by the bellows and lens. Rob, or other PE users want to confirm that it isn't just my stupidity ooozing out all over the internet again.

I want to get a shot of our new Chemical Engineering building which I anticipate will require a significant amount of shift and some tilt (I might have to rent a 72XL). I intend to rotate the camera to say 15 degrees from horizontal then crop the transparency. Good thing the camera is light, so my head (Bogen 3275 or 410) and Reis H600 with a rock bag on the other side can probably handle it. I am very concerned with how well the cork on the Bogen quick release will handle the rotational forces. Good thing that unlike heavy 35 mm rigs, LF cameras with typical 4x5 lenses are not front-end heavy. So rotation should just tighten the screw.

-- Carlos Co (, February 23, 1999.

I made a mistake in the previous post, of course I meant cannot do any swings and shifts.

-- Carlos Co (, February 23, 1999.

Carlos your posts are sounding more and more like advice against getting a Wisner P.E.! i am sure the guys at D.I. will take back your camera and set up with a DLC. I have never run into any of these troubles with mine and I have used lenses as short as a 47mm super angulon (on a recessed Technika board.)

Does Wisner make a recessed board and bag bellows for the P.E?

-- Ellis Vener (, February 23, 1999.

I might have to retract my previous post concerning the Wisner PE and wide angle lenses. Looking at the static pages for the Deardorff, I figured out that it is possible to use a combination of manual axis tilt and base tilt to move the lensboard back while keeping the front strut parallel to the rear strut on the Wisner PE. This should significantly increase the amount of front swing and shift possible with shorter lenses - I'll try this out tonight. But for the widest lenses with lots of coverage, e.g. 72XL, swinging the camera around on the tripod and cropping the film may still be necessary.

I do not intend to cause another argument on this issue, but these same struts that make it more difficult to apply swings and shifts on the Wisner PE with short lens also make it more rigid. The DLC does not have these struts, so it is less rigid that what some owners like Ben and B. Woods would like, even though the DLC may actually be adequately rigid as Ellis points out. Is the Wisner PE more rigid than the DLC? I don't know, because I've never touched the DLC. But the Wisner PE is very rigid when everything is locked down and I know what rigid means because I've played with a Sinar P.

Ellis, don't get me wrong on this. I've fallen in love with the Wisner PE - it is BEAUTIFUL and the geared movements are in my opinion indispensable for some of the things I do given my level of dexterity! There is just absolutely no way I would return it. The Wisner PE like any camera has its limitations and problems, and I would be doing a dis-service if I only say what's good about it.

Let me see if I can conclude this thread by answering the original question I posted in a direct way.

1. If you want a beautiful camera, need geared movements because you doubt your dexterity, and are patient enough to master the proper sequence of steps in operating the movements, then get the Wisner.

2. If you have big fingers or absolutely need to wear gloves when taking pictures, don't get the PE.

3. If you intend to use shifts and swings a lot with short lenses, don't get the PE - it is definitely possible, but it can be inconvenient.

If issues 2 and 3 don't really apply to you, and issue 1 fits your personality, then I can guarantee that you'd love the camera as much as I do. Otherwise, consider the DLC and Arca F-line Field, both of which I looked at before coming to the decision of buying the Wisner PE.

-- Carlos Co (, February 23, 1999.

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