Is a 4x5 Press Camera right for me? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hi All-

I've only been lurking here for a couple of days, so I hope I'm not violating any standards of etiquette of this forum with this posting.

I'm going to make the move from 35mm to either roll film or 4x5 within the next year. I'm really attracted to the 4x5 negative size and like the idea of being able to make perspective adjustments as needed. My main concern revolves around whether a press camera in this format is feasible for my subjects (portraits, often candid, and some casual landscapes)and shooting style (don't spend more than a couple of minutes agonizing over a shot, often don't carry a tripod). I have no aspirations of becoming a pro or doing studio work.

I'm seriously considering the Master Technika and would like to hear some feedback from users, as well as other press camera fans out there. Is it really reasonable to expect to pop open the camera, get a rangefinder focused image, and fire a shot, as Linhof seems to suggest? Do any of you do this on a regular basis? I've already read Philip Greenspun's comments on this subject, looked through Quang-Tuan Long's site, and sifted through

I know that some of the most serious obstacles to "point and shoot" with a 4x5 press are the ancillary equipment that goes with large format photography, depth of field considerations (and the corollary of slow shutter speeds) and bellows compensation calculations. I'm not worried about the added weight compared to MF, either.

I'm already familiar with the piece of advice that goes "get yourself a cheap graphic and see if large format is for you...." However, I'm really more interestd in people's experiences with large format in a press camera shooting style.

Thanks in advance for your input!

-- Richard Koo (, January 30, 1999


Welcome to large format photography -- the way photogaphy was meant to be.

I carried a Speed Graphic for many years as my one and only camera. Like you, I very seldom used a tripod. I found it was just fine for almost anything I wanted to do. The exception was some architectural things, where I needed adjustments that were not available on the Graphic. Your Teknika will have them, however. If you find a good deal, take it.

I now use a Teknika, and yes, the rangefinder is right on. You have to make sure you have a cam for each of your lenses. (Linhof will make one for you, I understand, and there are other sources mentioned in this forum.) It is a bit lighter than the Speed Graphic.

Either camera with a decent lens will do you just fine for a long time, and get you used to the big film. It is entirely possible to hand hold at 1/125 or 1/60. In fact, I find it easier to brace the big camera than I do a 35mm. There are more places to hold on to.

Good luck.

-- Tony Brent (, January 30, 1999.

Partially true.

To use the rangefinder you must have 2 things and a 3rd is a convenience.

The Linhof camming package consists of the cam which is cut to the specific lens (by serial number) that you want to use on te V and the Master. It also must match the camera by serial number on the IV.

The package also includes the infinity stops which lets you pull the lens out to the proper spot for the rangefinder to work properly and the focusing scale for the specific lens by focal l

-- bob salomon (, January 30, 1999.

Given your shooting style, I don't see an advantage to using 4X5 and to me sounds more like a rangefinder roll film like a Mamiya or Fuji. The idea of using a 4X5 press camera as they were originally used is romantic but given the advances in film grain, speed, and quality, is not really practical. (ie. what do you need the large neg for?) Given you spend a few minutes at most for a photo, I can't see all the messing with 4X5 holders and all. If you do go with a press type, it would likely work better for you with a roll film back for those situations. But, hey, don't let practical considerations stop you! I recently got a Super Graphic, and can't wait to get the right cam & lens to be able to use it without the ground glass focus. Maybe start with an old Graphic to see if it will work for you.

-- Gary Frost (, January 30, 1999.

the thing i din't know when i took the same course which you are about to take, is that there is kind of a difference between a 'press' lens and a 'view camera' lens (if that's right). seems that a press lens has a smaller circle of illumination than a view lens. find out what you getting before you buy. this is in the event you one day decide to put the thing on a tripod and use some rise or shift. my old 127 mm Ektar works well with range finder shots, but i understand it will not enable a lot of movements. you might want a lens with some reserve circle. just a thought.

-- david clark (, January 31, 1999.

Richard, I was in your exact position a few weeks ago. I decided to go with a 4x5 press camera. The main thing that pushed me in that direction was the image control you get with large format. I got a B&J Press camera and I love it. It has an adjustable rangefinder, tilt, rise, fall (with the drop front), and shift. It also has a rotating back. The best part of all is I've seen them for as little as $10 US with lens on the internet and at used camera shows. I got mine for $65 with a Wollensak 135/f4.7 lens. I know it's not the best camera or lens, but I think it's a great way to try large format photography without investing a lot of money only to find out you don't have the patience for it.

The problem I ran into is the fact that I love it. With large format photography, the expence of the camera and lens is only the beginning. The film is more expensive (but you'll find you use less because you're forced to slow down) and you use more chemicals to develop the film. Where you may use 14oz. to develop 2 rolls of 35mm in a SS tank, you will use 55oz. to develop 12 sheets of 4x5 in a tank. The film holders are $10-$25 each. Don't forget the light meter, cable release, bigger tripod, larger camera bag, and changing bag to load and unload film holders on long trips.

And don't forget you'll want to enlarge these pictures! I told myself that I would be happy with contact prints for a few months until I could afford a new enlarger. That didn't last long! As soon as I saw the incredibly smooth tones and richness on the large negative, I knew I needed an enlarger as soon as possible. The problem it cost! Whereas you can find a good used 35mm enlarger in any newspaper classifieds dirt cheap (I bought a used Omega C-700 for $50 that had never been taken out of the box); A 4x5 enlarger in another story all together.

I don't mean to discourage you, I think it's well worth the added expence and time, but you should know what you're getting into.

-- Christopher H. Esser (, February 02, 1999.

With film having gotten as good as it is and given the fact that you want to be able to hand hold the camera, I would recommend looking at something like a Horseman VR or some of its predecessors like the 985 or the 970. These are medium format technical cameras that have coupled rangefinders and take 120 roll film backs. They acommodate multiple sets of infinity stops (which need to be carefully adjusted) and focusing cams (which need to match the lenses in question). The nice thing about these cameras is that when you feel like slowing down, you can use them very much as you would a folding field camera, albeit with a little less in the way of movements or bellows draw. This is how I got interested in large format and taught myself view camera technique. It let me mess around with movements and experiment with the zone system (I dedicated each of three magazines to N, N+1 and N-1 development)without having to replace my enlarger. The sharpness of my negatives was incredible and film handling was much easier than working with holders and sheet film processing. Of course eventually I did move up to 4x5 and had to grapple with those issues, but at least I didn't have to cope with them AND learn all about view camera technique all at the same time. It was a very pleasant transition. I even at times miss using the used 985 and wish I hadn't sold it. Some of the lenses that Horseman offered for that camera even had coverage enough for limited 4x5 work. Good luck with your search and feel free to e-mail me if you have questions.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, February 03, 1999.

From reading your post you are working at contradictory aims. On one hand you" the idea of being able to make perspective adjustments as needed." but you don't want to change your shooting style,"on't spend more than a couple of minutes agonizing over a shot, often don't carry a tripod."

Using perspective control movements will force you to use a tripod and to slow down. You can still do very candid, fast work with a tripod mounted big format camera (see Nicholas Nixon's very candid, intimate portraits, shot on 8x10 by the way) it will just take practice. Also, you will get the best quality images out of your LF equipment when you stop down to f/16>f/22, although a lot of good portraiture work is being done these days with lens used more wide open.

So, what to do?

My sugestion is you look at cameras that are half way in between the Master Technika and the old Graflex cameras. Look at a camera like the Horseman 45A, Horseman 45HD, or the Toyo 45AII. Also in this price range (but ultimately more versatile) is the Canham DLC. If you feel you must have a coupled rangefinder camera, then look for a used Linhof Technikardan IV or V. The ancillary equipment you'll need is a darkcloth (Darkroom Innovations makes the best one); A meter (guess what? you can use your 35mm SLR as a meter); a tripod (sounds like you have one); film holders:(including Polaroid: the absolute best teaching tool for LF photography), and if you can it to work for you, Kodak Readyload (I prefer the simplicity of the Fuji QuickLoad system but Fuji doesn't make B&W in the QL packaging and color negative QL won't be released till later this year.); a couple of lenses, lens shades & cable releases and you are good to go! This (except for the tripod) will all fit into a large daypack. Good luck!

-- Ellis Vener (, February 03, 1999.

Thanks to everyone for the thought provoking and insightful responses - I feel that at least a couple of things I didn't consider have been brought to my attention. Of course, I continue to welcome feedback!

Re-reading my original post, I see how it could in fact seem contradictory that I emphasize speed and convenience, while stating a desire for perspective and development control, etc. To clarify, it's not that I believe I can get LF benefits with no changes in technique, but rather that I really would like the benefits of the larger negative and image control, while reserving the abilty to whip off a relatively quick shot when the opportunity or desire arises.

I welcome the increased process involvement demanded by LF, I just want to confirm that the occasional (maybe frequent) rapid hand-held shot isn't a pipe dream!

Thanks again,


-- Richard Koo (, February 03, 1999.

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