Another beginner camera selection question. : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Thanks in advance for your help and indulgence. I have spent a bunch of time reading books and threads in this and other forums and am trying to settle in on an initial view camera purchase. Heres the background on what Im thinking.

- I have been doing photography as a hobbyist off and on for 20+ years. My experience is purely 35mm, and mostly black and white negative film. I shoot primarily scenic/landscape but want to do somewhat more architectural.

- I also do, at a relatively basic level, my own darkroom work. I would like to continue and expand this with the larger format, but may not do so immediately given the need to buy a new enlarger.

- I see a view camera as a complement to my 35mm equipment. I like the process of taking pictures, and with the 35mm I sometimes feel Im using a machine gun. I would rather (when I have the option) take my time getting one good picture than blazing through a 36 exposure roll. I also anticipate enjoying the added control movements provide. While the larger negative is appealing, the process and image control are the factors driving my desire.

- I want to start off inexpensive, like <$1,000. Later, when I have some experience and know better what I want long term, I will either upgrade or build a new one (Im a competent hobbyist woodworker as well).

Now my questions.

1. 4x5 or roll-film? No larger for me, at least for now. Im a little spooked by sheet film, particularly on the developing front. Should I be? Ive read about quickloads, but I wonder if a roll-film back would be a good idea. However, these seem to cost $400-$500, which will mess up my initial target price, and Ive also read that the smaller size is harder to focus.

2. One option is the Calumet Cadet. My main concern is the question of portability (not so much the weight as the shape), as there are times Ill hike moderate distances with my gear. The lens focal length restrictions are not an immediate issue as the 50mm lens is my favorite for 35mm.

3. Another option is a used field camera. My concerns here are my ability to select a decent one and will the movements be enough.

Comments on anything Ive missed are more than welcome as well. Thanks again.

-- Chris Werner (, June 09, 2000


The Cadet has good bank for the buck, but I think the wimpy tripod mounting may make it unsuitable for even slight breezes. How about a nice cheap rugged Speed or Crown Graphic with a 135-180mm lens?

-- Ron Shaw (, June 09, 2000.

speaking from my own experience, you will not have any problems as long as you keep things simple, so if you do notalready have a processor for , or that will take sheet film, consider getting a paterson orbital tank. I know that they are intended for colour print developing and only take four sheets at a time, but it is the closest thing to tray processing quality if you do not have a darkroom, or are not comfortable spending ages in complete darkness. As for the camera, consider the British-made MPP, based originally around pre-war linhof designs, and in my opinion, far superior to a linhof as it is far cheaper, replacment bellows are just a snip at #45 excluding shipping. although there is some movement avaliable, note that there is no rear shift/rise unlike some designs, but all in all it is a well constructed camera. An excellent foray into LF photography, though this is not to say that you would not like a speed graphic, as they are good cameras too, though laking in some movement too.

-- David Kirk (, June 09, 2000.

One more thing, the C2 or the C2N slip in roll film holders are quite good, although I have heard that there are (were?)problems with the 6x12 model, oh yeah, the approx cost of a 6x7 one is #95. As for lenses, if you have a few grand to spare go for schneiders' 110mm, but failing that or following your preference for something close to the 35mms' 50mm lens get a symmar 150mm or other such lens as they have greater coverage than the xenar so you can use more movement.

-- David Kirk (, June 09, 2000.

I'd second the suggestions for an old press camera to start off.

I highly recommend a used Burke & James Watson press camera. The nice things about this one is:

1. Cheap - because it has a lesser pedigree than the Graphics. Often found for $80 - 150 with lens.

2. It has a revolving back! (the Speed and Crown Graphics don't) Don't underestimate the usefulness of this feature.

3. Small - its more compact than a Speedgraphic since the shell is thinner (aluminium).

4. Uses square edged 4x4 boards that you can easily fashion yourself. Save money on specialty boards?

I had one that I just sold.

-- K H Tan (, June 09, 2000.

First, you'll find that you don't need a camera that can be tied in a knot. You'll find that most of the moves you'll be using are quite tame. If architectural is a definite you'll need to find a camera that can use very wide lenses but even then the moves won't be too drastic. I don't think you'd like a cadet for hiking.

Definitely learn to use cfh's and sheet film first. Don't let it spook you,,, if a dullard like me can do it you'll have no probs. Processing sheets isn't only easy it's fun.

Buy "Using the View Camera" by Steve Simmons and learn it... it's very easy to understand. It has great charts and tables then you can read Stroebel's Techniques or else but the fastest way to learn this stuff is to get a camera and start composing shots on the ground glass.

You'll be able to get started quite cheaply but remember do some reading and research first on each and every item and spend the majority of your money on good glass. That's about it unless you have some more specific questions. This forum will help you a great deal with choosing equipment, maximizing techniques and preventing headaches. Good luck Chris and welcome to our world.

-- Trib (, June 09, 2000.

Based on what your planned use of the LF camera is going to be I would probably suggest that you get a field camera rather than a monorail. The FC are mush easier to transport and use in the field (duh, :-))

Although lots of people seem to like the Graflex type cameras I think that you'd end up frustrated by their lack of movements and bellows extension. The Graflex lenses (135 mm Optars, for example) are designed to be used for press and have very limited image circles.

A used wood field camera would be light, affordable and transportable. There are many different models and features (as you well know) and quite frankly you'll buy what you find. But spend as much money as you can on the lens. A modern 150 or 210 (and modern means made in the last 25 years) preferably multi-coated, will give you a good sized image circle and excellent optical performance. These lenses last pretty much forever so if you decide that LF is for you, then you can purchase a better camera while bringing the len along with you.

Be prepared for the associated costs with LF as well. Dark Cloth, loupe, film holders and so on. These necessessary items will fluff up the cost of getting into LF and you should be aware of them. If you can buy a camera from someone who is getting out of LF then you may score a great deal as usually these "bits" are included.

Now something from left field. You (and I) are talking about 4X5. You might want to give 8x10 some consideration. If right now you don't have a 4X5 enlarger then this will be an additional and rarely inexpensive purchase. 8X10 enlargers are prohibitively expensive and usually require an a adjustment of your current ceiling height since they are so tall.

So what am I talking about. Well, if you have any type of darkroom now, you can make 8X10 contact prints. 4X5 contact prints are really too small to be anything but tests, but 8X10 contacts can be final products.

I have a Burke and James 8X10 and I know that I can't make any prints bigger than 8X10. I also know that I won't be getting and an 8x10 enlarger either. But there is a reasonable chance that the next flatbed scanner I buy is going to be 1200 dpi and have a transparency drawer ($600US? right now, and much cheaper in a year or so). So I'll scan my 8X10 neg, "print" it in Photoshop, burn a CD-ROM and take it into a service bureau to have 20X24 prints made.

Will it cost more to get into 8X10. Perhaps, but not as much as you'd think. I paid under $400 (Canadian) for the B&J and it came with some film holders. A year ago I bought a Nikkor 300 f9 M lens so I had a little more reach with my 4X5, but this lens covers 8x10 with ease. I bought it used for $700 Canadian, but it is priced at under $700 US new. Add two used but new like film holders for $100 and I managed to get into 8X10 for $1200 Canadian, which would be under your $1000 budget.

-- David Grandy (, June 09, 2000.

You might want to try a small Graphic/Bush pressman or do as I did buy a Horseman 900 series or more preferably VH/VHR (revolving back). Full movements, good lens choices. If you get enamoured with the concept, bump up to a 4x5. George Nedleman

-- George Nedleman (, June 09, 2000.

Sheet film isn't so tough to develop so I'd go with the sheet film and not be scared.

I have a Little odd View Camera called a Brand 17 (I believe Equinox has one) It is weird but it was cheep and it has all the movements. I mention this because I later got a Crown Graphics and I love it, but it isn't a view camera. For #1 first, I'd go with something that is a real view camera and I'm glad I did.


-- Dean Lastoria (, June 09, 2000.

I shall add my opinion as someone who has been at LF for about two years and though not an expert, I've had experience with many of the options suggested. I've owned a Busch Pressman, then a Super Graphic, and currently a Tachihara.

If you plan to do much field work at all, I'd recommend serious weight considerations. My current pack when loaded with Tachihara, 3 lenses, tripod, film packs, etc. is over 25 pounds. If your not careful with each of your equipment choices you could easily add another ten pounds to this. If your back is like mine, you'll appreciate attention to weight.

A significant advantage to large format is the movements the cameras offer. If you'd don't intend on taking advantage of these movements, it could be that a MF system like the Pentax 67 or a press camera will be easier and/or cheaper to use. It's my experience that this is a great thing to have. Any press camera, even though it mave have some front standard movements, will still not be as easy to focus and use - especially for a beginner. I "got by" with my Super Graphic, but things really started to click when I went to a traditional field camera. And the price difference between a Super Graphic and a used wooden field is not great. Also some of the older press cameras have seen many years and miles. There may be some manfunction surprizes.

My thoughts on roll film backs are that while they are less expensive from a film standpoint, it takes a fair amount of time to set up a photo using a LF camera. I figure that all of that set up time justifies the larger 4x5 negative. I take so many fewer photos with the 4x5 that the savings using a roll film back just aren't that huge. The small image size also is more difficult for me to focus. I'd suggest not starting with a roll film back, but considering it as an option for later. I do sometimes still wonder about getting a 6x9 system, but at least for a beginner I think a 4x5 and a roll film back are somewhat getting your cake and eating it too.

All of that said, I suppose there are still many camera systems you might consider. Regardless of what you pick, your limitations on movements will be determined as much by getting a good lens as it will the camera. A used wooden field (or even a new Tachihara) plus a lens or possibly two will pretty much use up your $1000 pretty quickly. If this isn't suitable, there are other options along with their trade offs. A least for you budget and probably for most any reasonable budget, there will be neccessary trade offs and few perfect solutions. If you can get a good idea of the type of photography you'll be doing before you buy, it will be your selection easier.

-- Roger Rouch (, June 09, 2000.

I'm also fairly new at large format but have developed some definite preferences.

I second the recommendation for starting with sheet film, because then you can control the development of every sheet, and also of looking into 8x10" if you don't already have a 4x5" enlarger. I experimented briefly with a friend's 4x5 but went for 8x10" when I purchased my own camera, so that I could contact print, and I absolutely feel I made the right decision. If you're contact printing, you also don't need to worry as much about getting the newest, fanciest lenses, and much fine classic glass can be had at a reasonable price.

-- David Goldfarb (, June 09, 2000.

Chris - Here's one from left field. You mention building a view camera someday because you're a competant woodworker. Why wait? Consider building a Bender view camera. I think they currently run about $249 for their 4x5 kit, which leaves you plenty for a decent lens and all the accessories. My first LF camera was a Bender and it still works great after approx. 8 years. Lightweight with lots of bellows extension and lots of movements (plus there's the fun and pride in making it yourself). There are reviews on this site and of course Bender's site has lots of info.

Just an idea...

-- Mark Parsons (, June 10, 2000.

I vote for 4x5 for a beginner because the format "is" that much bigger. Loading film, unloading film, processing film, and printing the film. A 4x5 enlarger isn't a costly item at all. I see them as low as $100US and lenses are even cheaper. 8x10 is nice and I use it often but I will never be able to afford an 8x10 enlarger so 8x10 contact prints is the largest print I will be able to get out of all my wonderful negs. Large prints are an inevitability so might as well shoot for something you can print at the larger sizes later on when your wife will let you get a cheap enlarger and a place to put it. And I vote for a field camera. A cheap one at first because later when you can afford one or want one, you can get at least what you paid for it to put toward a higher priced camera though not necessarily a better one. And put the money into your lenses. Both taking and enlarging. And use sheet film. Get to know what a LF system is all about. Perspective control and tonal control. You should be able to put together a decent camera system for under $500 to start that includes camera, lens, holders, tripod, darkcloth, cable release, a couple filters and a loupe. $200 for a decent 4x5 enlarger with a halfway decent lens, easle, trays, thermometer. Remember that you are just starting so you don't need a lot of great equipment. You just need something to wet your appetite and drive you nuts until such time as your wife finally acceeds to you whining and buys you some good equipment. I have a blast with my old Speed Graphic and a couple of holders. And 4x5 contact prints are plenty big to get the hang of printing and processing. Go ahead and jump. It doesn't hurt too much. james

-- james (, June 10, 2000.

Thanks to everyone for their help. I particularly feel much better about jumping into sheet film. As regards the camera, given my inability to find any (well actually only one) used cameras in a two hour radius of here, my reluctance to make my first used purchase sight unseen, and my eagerness to get started, I've decided to order a Bender 4x5 kit. Assembling this will also be helpful experience if I decide to build a second one from scratch.

It's nice to have so many helpful people here. I'm sure I'll be back soon with more questions. (I can feel one about film holders coming on.) Thanks again.

-- Chris Werner (, June 13, 2000.

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