Newbie for the 1st LF: I have been fed up, how about you! : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

It appears to be that the more I read/studied and the more I tend to get confused on what I should get to start with. DO you think, more than one month busy reading would be too short to become a little knowledgable to LF? How did your guys get out of a fog eventually (I presume someone used to be like me are here too). Is there an itemised guide like those for MF and 35mm with price ranging plus gears that fit? Or I ask a stupid Q, since the LF is nothing comparable to MF or 35mm at all. Thanks!


-- Dongyun Hao (, November 16, 1999


I believe the frustration you're experiencing stems from the difference in the way large and small format equipment is marketed. There doesn't seem to be any end to number of features manufacturers incorporate in 35mm and MF equipment. They are all competing for the consumers business (of which, I have to believe, is many times larger than in the world of LF). To make an informed decision on what LF camera to acquire, one must first gain a little understanding of LF technique and then secondly, determine what kind of image making you want to do. All LF cameras are pretty basic in their design, but differ in ways that make one more appropriate than another for particular types of work. For example, if you do landscape photography, you probably won't need the type of camera used by someone doing product photography on the tabletop. What I would suggest is getting some books on LF technique, see what the authors use for their type of work and then consider what you will be doing so you can narrow down the field to those cameras that make sense. One more thing to think about: If you decide, for example that you're going to do landscape work out of a backpack, it won't make nearly as much difference in the final photograph if you select an old used Deardorf or a new Wisner, as will the proficiency you gain in using either. Photographers make photographs, not cameras. It's just a tool.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, November 16, 1999.

This is the LF page that helped me a lot when I went through the same frustrations last year: I read and studied anything I could find, and finally made the decision to get a camera and some gear largely based upon what I learned from this site. Good luck!

-- Ray Dunn (, November 16, 1999.

A good guide for features to look out for is "View Camera Technique" by Leslie Stroebel.

The best way to acquire knowledge is through practise. You can keep reading until you are blue in the face, but it's not until you start doing it that you will discover what it is really about.

If you can find a second-hand dealer near you, perhaps now is the time to take a risk and buy something. You will never know what you really want until you buy something different.

LF is not like 35mm or MF: you are not buying into a system. So you can buy a second-hand camera and lens secure in the knowledge that if you subsequently don't like the camera, you can probably use the lens on a different one, from a different manufacturer.

-- Alan Gibson (, November 16, 1999.

It seems that you are interested in LF, but dont have a real need for it. (Thats OK!) In that case, I would recommend starting with something used and low cost. My favorite camera to recommend to beginners is the Speed or Crown Graphic. These make great landscape/nature photos, and give you a very capable platform to get used to LF without spending too much. A couple hundred for the camera, and another 100 or so for a nice 'press' lens (like an Optar or Raptor) will spoil you for sure. Get used to using this setup for a year, and you will then know what you need if you wish to continue in LF photography.

-- Ron Shaw (, November 16, 1999.

if you will give us some idea of what kind of photography you want to pursue (architecture, landscape, portrait, etc), those of us who do that sort of thing can give you information on exactly what we use. unlike 35mm, which can be easily toted around and used for almost any kind of application, most LF users tend to specialize in a certain aspect, and tailor their gear accordingly. the rewards of LF work are well worth the effort.

-- jnorman (, November 16, 1999.


I second Ron's comments above. Trying to figure out what you need from a book will take you a little ways, but as Alan said, it's practice with the gear that lets you figure out what you need and want in a camera. But the good thing is that if you buy your gear used you can turn around a year later and sell it without much loss. The Speed and Crown Graphics are fabulous cameras, they're terrifically cheap, and you can get wonderful lenses for them. Get one in nice but used condition, get one or two or possibly three press lenses, (depending on the type of photography you do) throw caution to the wind and go shoot some pictures. In no time you will be able to look at the other gear and realize if it's for you, and if it is, you can sell the Graphic at a loss of, oh, twenty or fifty bucks or so, and go forward.

-- Erik Ryberg (, November 16, 1999.

I found that there was a ton of introductory material on LF on the web and in print. ("View Camera Photography for Dummies" would not surprise me.) I used View Camera Technique and the aforementioned LF home page, mostly, and I did fine.

I did fine because I didn't buy into a system. If I hate the way my Leica M6 or Hasselblad loads after I buy it, tough. If I hate film holders, however, in LF I have options: rollfilm, quickloads, readyloads, Polaroid. Practically any interface item can be exchanged with one that suits you better: ground glasses, knobs, etc. It's hard to really screw up buying LF equipment because of this -- my rail has issues, but my lens is good. Used? Test the shutter, examine the lens, know the lens's reputation, examine the camera for light leaks... New stuff is easy: it's all listed in View Camera Technique in excruciating detail.

A month's reading might be enough to know the ropes of most of the stuff you'll encounter when buying your gear, but loading your film holders and physically taking the first photograph will teach you more.

-- John O'Connell (, November 16, 1999.

I completely agree with Alan. I was like you one and half years ago. It's probably the best to have some camera to practice with while reading a technique book and using polaroid to check if you are doing right. I recommend you to start with a low cost camera but again you need to let us know what kind of photography you want to do with LF to select the right camera (yes, you still have some selections for less than $500-$700). If you are looking for the itemised guide, there was a special issue for gears in shutterbug recently. Also check out the appendix of View Camera Technique. But we're here to help you!

-- Masayoshi Hayashi (, November 16, 1999.

Large format is not nearly as intimidating as it might seem on the pages of a book such as Stroebel. The best thing you can do is get some Polaroid film and a camera and play with it. Movements can be easily understood after playing with a camera. You are never going to know until you try.

You will find the interface far more intuitive (at least I did) and simpler than any other camera that you have used when it comes to precisely composing images. I find that composing on a ground glass can make squinting through a viewfinder on other types of cameras seem a bit primitive and unnatural.

-- V. Nair (, November 16, 1999.

Wow, I did not know before there are so many helpful LF men here. Thank you very much for your all invaluable guidance. I knew this forum before but did not ask (or unable to ask) anything before reading through it. Ok, let me tell you why I want to get into LF and what I am going to do with it.

I have used 35mm to MF up to 6X7 for many years, the increase in film size has really attract me to go bigger. I have been think for long to get a 6X9 RF such as FUJI 690. It was recent that I occationally poped into the LF forum and realised that the LF is just what I have been looking for. It can overtake the FUJI with a lots more pluses so far as what I routinely shoot is concerned. Why?

The perspective control( bellow movements) is really the No1. attraction to me to go LF, this maybe the main (if not the only) reason that the LF has existed until now. I think I am a traditionalist and really love the cosmetics and indeed the way of LF, the ultimate way of photography. I am not the kinda speedy shooter but like to compose very carfully before pressing the shutter. I have/had owned more than 15 different types of cameras from 35mm through 67, but none of them is an AF SLR, most of the time I go out and shoot them on a tripod with cable release. After reading Q.T.Luong's PAGE (really informative for getting into LF), I got to know that LF has rollfilm capability. This has solidified my thought of going to LF,. DO your guys think these sound rational to you or not? BTW, I have ordered the Strolel's book from Amazon but will take some time to reach me.

What I am shooting? I shoot landscape and often use standard and moderate long lens over wide angle lens. I also shoot indoor potraiture and still-life. I have a home-made simple studio. I will take your guys advise on going for a used one to start with. I also take a lot others advise and not going to invest much on a body but lens(s) which can be used on other LF when one day I upgrade. Someone suggest to get a Speed/Graphic press camera, but I have seen at eBay for a similar investment one can get a 4X5, even old Linhof Kardan...

Anyway, let me narrow down the selection a bit:

(1) budget arround $500 for an used body excluding lens/shutter; (2) 4X5 flied (biggest possible movements) or monotail; (3) moderate light weight allowing me to bring it out (with car); (4) Rollfilm back available (67, 69,612)

I would appreaciate very much for your suggestion of some candidates and I will start to look arround.

Best regards


-- Dongyun Hao (, November 16, 1999.

I have to second (third) the comments about a Speed Graphic as a good entry point into large format photography. If you think you will need more extensive camera movements that the Speed Graphics provide (limited) I would suggest taking a good look at calumet's Cadet monorail camera. It is very close to what you would pay for a Speed Graphic.

The nice thing about the large format cameras is that they are not "systems." Instead you can put just about any lens on just about any body and come up with what you need. You can start with a good lens and an inexpensive body and spend more as you determine where you want to go.

Good Luck.

-- Tony Brent (, November 17, 1999.

Hi Dongyun:

If you are very serious about still-life you will be quite glad if you bought a monorail. The added benefit is learning the full set of movements and using them. I would consider an older Sinar which can be had for 700 to 1000. A bit bulky in the field but you can manage for a while. If you don't like it you can sell it for pretty much the same buying price.

When you are truly ready to upgrade and find that you like monorails, you should probably go for any of the Arca-Swiss cameras which are portable for outdoor use and have great ergonomics.

-- V. Nair (, November 17, 1999.

By the way, the Speed and Crowns are 4x5, and can also take roll film backs. For nature, outdoors use, I would recommend a field type of camera over a monorail (much easier to use in the field, in my opinion). For indoors (studio) work, I would recommend a monorail, where the increased movements are a benefit, and you are not setting up and breaking down a lot like you are in the field. AAhhh...choices!

-- Ron Shaw (, November 17, 1999.

Just get with some one who shoots large format on a regular basis. There is no substitute for seeing and doing.

-- Pat Raymore (, November 17, 1999.

Earlier I told you to get a Speed Graphic but now I think you should get a monorail. It will be much better for indoor still lifes and in some ways for portraiture, too, and if you aren't going too far from the car, you can haul around a monorail just fine. I did it for years. (One trip for the camera, one for the tripod . . .)

There are plenty of good inexpensive monorails. I still have my Graphic view monorail camera because I can't bear to part with it for the price they bring (200$ in good shape). What a great camera for 200$!! All the movements and plenty of bellows, and sturdy. If you are going to insist on the roll film back, be sure you get a "Grafloc" style back or a roll film holder like the Calumet that can fit into a spring back. You might consider getting a Readyload back and forego the roll film back altogether, too.

-- Erik Ryberg (, November 17, 1999.

Well, thanks a lot for you all! I have studied all your responses carefully. But it appears that you all do not like recommend some specific piece(s) to me. I know this may be due to my unclear purpose for an LF to you. To be frank, it is not clear to myself either before realistically playing with one, as some of you said. I know, the ideal camera might be the new Toyo VX125, but it is not affordable to me. Ok, I locate a couple of models here, see if my understanding to your advise gets the correct way. This would be the last Q, since I am going for shopping arround this weekend, see if I can get something back. I will let you know.

For monorail: Linhof Kardan Color 45s or Arca Swiss 45 model-II or III

For field type: Toyo 45A or Tachihara

These are all old medels and price fit within my budget. What I want know are (1) general comment(s) from; (2) weight and size of them; (3) availibity of accessories or compatability to their later models.

Thank you very much!


-- Dongyun Hao (, November 18, 1999.


For an entry level monorail you should consider the Toyo 45cx. Its very capable with full movements and part of a system which can be heavily expanded. Base price is around $550. In my opinion it provides more room to grow than other systems in the same price range.

Good luck.

PS-don't forget the processes that follow taking the picture, such as printing.

-- Kevin (, November 18, 1999.

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