Wood field camera vs metal technical camera

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I tried this question earlier but got very few comments from wood field camera users. Lets try again with a different subject line.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of wood field cameras like Wista, Zone IV and Wisner when compared to a Linhof Technika, Toyo, Horseman or Wista metal technical camera. I have used a Wista 45 DX a number of years ago and it it was a nice camera but lacked the precison movements of the metal technical cameras I'm seeing on the market. I do not have the budget for a new camera so I will be buying from the used market.

-- Ron (leica@interpath.com), July 25, 1999


Every camera design has some compromise or trade off - weight, price, movements, rigidity, durability, etc. etc. etc. There are enough factors involved in any camera design that I find evaluation a rather subjective thing.

When purchasing, the best thing to do is to insist on a trial period. If that's not possible then get out to the camera shows and haunt all the shops in your area that deal with this sort of thing and examine the models you are interested in. It takes time but self education is the best way to go. It is possible to make the investment once and do it "right" the first time, but it requires work on your part.

I have owned wooden and metal field cameras in 4X5, 5X7 and 8X10. I was happy with all of them when I had them, but now I give the nod to metal. However, had I had the capital at the time I got my second 8X10, I probably would have gone with a Wisner Traditional.

Metal will in general be more rigid and durable but it also weighs more. Wood is attractive and relatively light but when you drop one, odds are it'll break. Any halfway decent woodworker can repair a broken wooden camera. My second Wisner was repaired by a Tunisian furniture maker and I was quite satisfied with the job (especially considering the price). had the same thing happened to a metal camera, I'd have been S.O.L. A metal camera may require a trip to the manufacturer, or ordering parts from same, or a good relationship with a machinist or similarly capable individual with the appropriate equipment.

If precision geared movements with precise calibrations are your thing, then the decision should be fairly easy. On the other hand, do you really need that kind of thing for your work or is it more for peace of mind? Bear in mind many of this centurys greatest images were made with relatively primative equipment, and many of the centurys most accomplished and forgetable advertising illustrations were achieved with the greatest engineered image making machines a human could dream up.

Don't eliminate plastic (or carbon fiber) from your shopping list, you may want to examine the Walker and, if you can find one, the Carbon Infinity.

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), July 26, 1999.

Ron, I've owned and still own both a Wisner Traditional and a Horseman 45FA. I like both cameras, but for different reasons. The 45FA has the silky precision of a fine hand camera. If feels good using it. It lacks sufficient bellows draw and movements for anything but general landscape work. It's lighter than the Wisner and more durable. But, when I go to Death Valley, I take the Wisner. I can completely take the camera apart in my car to rid it of sand and dust. And I can do it with a small screwdriver and a miniature slip joint pliers. I used to repair motion picture cameras and so I have no fear of dismantling the 45FA, but it's a lot of trouble and far easier to keep clean. The Wisner has generous movements, very suitable for the architectural work I occassionally do. It can also accommodate longer lenses without resorting to telephoto formulas. What it lacks is that silky smooth feel. I've gotten used to it. It's a small price to pay for the ability to rack out the standards and dust the racks and pinions. Another problem with many larger wooden cameras is that they tend to vibrate a bit in windy conditions. But, you can't have lots of bellows draw and movement and not create more of a target for the wind! One last issue is the precision of ground glass alignment. While it is possible to machine seasoned hardwood with a good deal of precision, Aluminum is less likely to change dimension with age. It can also be machined more accurately. I've done a lot of testing of ground glass alignment and I don't feel there is justification to rule out wooden cameras. I just run some routine tests from time to time and inspect things carefully to make certain damage or wear hasn't taken place. If I were doing a lot of tabletop or product photography, I would probably opt for a high quality metal camera, where precise adjustment would no doubt increase speed and ease of operation. Whatever you buy on the used market, I strongly urge you to test the ground glass alignment. You might read my article on the subject in the Nov./Dec 1996 issue of ViewCamera magazine.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (razeichner@ameritech.net), July 28, 1999.

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