Field or Monorail for beginner? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I have been active (and occasionally inactive) in photography for more than four decades. Photography is currently a semi-profitable avocation,occasional jobs (= cash received) for "industrials" or weddings, portraits, etc. I'm seriously considering move to add LF to my repetoire, but still have questions, even though I've been reading this forum for quite some time.

Factors: 1) Last time I used large format (Graflex) was when Ike was president and I was in high school. 2) Contemplative nature of LF appeals to me (a real change from day-to-day rat race). I find myself using a similar approach in MF work. 3) Portability and flexibility (max movements for buck/weight) are important in my decision. 4) Primary LF interests are architecture and landscape. I can envision some close-up projects in the future, after I feel comfortable with LF.

I have found what seem to be good deals on both Calumet Cadet and Toyo 45CX. Both include equivalent lenses (Rodenstock/Caltar II 150/6.3. I'm inclined to ask dealer(s) for upgrade on lens. A field LF such as a Toyo A/AII/AX also seems interesting. Yes, I have seen many posts suggesting a Graflex, but really don't want to go that route. Best idea, of course, is to find a well-stocked shop, and get my hands on a couple of cameras, and decide which is best. I've only found one shop in the area with a camera to feel/touch/try. Does anyone know of any shops within a reasonable driving distance of Annapolis, MD which might have more in stock than 1 Toyo 45CX and one Toyo 45Ax?

Questions: 1) Light monorail or field - Opinions, please. (Given that I am no longer a spring chicken, hikes over 10 Km carrying 20Kg+ no longer appeal). 2) First lens - 135mm, 150mm, or longer? 3) At what point (considering the architecture interest) should I start thinking about WA lenses (<135mm) and Center Filters?

Thanks for assistance/answers/suggestions.


-- Bob Alcorn (, August 25, 2000


I was very impressed with the Cadet. It locked up nice and solid, but was a pretty lightweight package on top of one of the Berlebach tripods. I would slide the standards off the rail, and they would "nest" down to about 6" x 6" x 3" high or so. I stuck the 16" rail through the tripod straps on the outside of my bag. I spent the few extra bucks for Graflok sliding lugs (comes as a kit) and a folding hood, more to protect the ground glass than anything else, but it did work in room light.

There is a bit of shifting around the axis of the rail when the locks are tightened, but I got around it by nudging the standards in that direction and taking a final look before I locked it. I think a couple of washers in the right place would cure most of it.

On the other hand, I do all of my paying LF work with a Speed Graphic, so there you go.

-- Tony Brent (, August 25, 2000.

Bob, Not only is personal preference a big issue here, but also what you plan on using the camera for. If you plan on being in the field, shooting landscapes, etc. of fairly distant subjects and carrying the camera a lot, then the folding field is the way to go. It will be more compact, lighter and have all the movements you need for that application. On the other hand, if you working primarily in the studio or are doing lots of close-up work in the field, a monorail camera may be more suitable since they are usually more flexible for such uses.

Of course, there are lots of field cameras with monorail features (front and back standard focusing, axis and base tilts, extensive bellows draw, etc.) which make them a little more difficult to pack around, but try to find a comprimise between the two types and make it easier to do close-ups and use extrememly long lenses in the field.

The opposite is also true, since some rail cameras have limited features (shorter bellows, no back rise, etc.). It is really helpful to know what the primary use of the camera will be before choosing one.

I currently own two cameras, one wooden folder for use in the field and a rather large, but full-featured monorail for in studio and close-up work. The macro photography is significantly easier with the bigger camera for lots of reasons, so it does make a difference. However, I wouldn't enjoy carrying the monster on a long hike or mountain climb! I hope this helps. Sorry for being so long winded,

Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (, August 26, 2000.

First, congratulations on saying what you plan to use the camera for (landscape and architecture) and what is important to you (portability and flexibility). So many of these kinds of questions don't give that information and just want to know "what's the best camera?"

Given your desire for portability, I would rule out a monorail camera. Yes, I know they can be transported but outdoor location work of the type you plan to do generally isn't what they are made for so why try to fit a square peg into a round hole?

Given your desire for maximum movements, I wouldn't go with a Graflex simply because it has relatively little in the way of movements.

The only thing left out of your question was budget. If you have the funds, the Linhof Technikardan might be a good choice. It has extensive movements, a long bellows (important if you ever get into the closups you mention), isn't too heavy (around 6 pounds), and is pretty portable. I owned one for a while and liked it a lot except for the method of folding and unfolding it, which some people find to be a problem as I did and others do not. They can be purchased used for around $2,000, which may be more than you want to spend.

Another possibility would be one of the wooden light weight cameras such as the Wisner Expedition or the Zone VI light weight. They also have extensive movements, long bellows, and relatively light weight (in the 4 pound vicinity). They too, however, may be more than you're looking to spend, particularly in view of the fact that they don't turn up on the used market very often. The "standard" versions of both cameras, however(the Zone VI without the "lightweight" designation or the Wisner Technical or Traditional) are often seen used in the $1,000 range.

If that's still too much, there are cameras like the Tachihara and Wista, and probably a host of others that I'm forgetting. These have plenty of movements for landscape, probably enough for a lot of architectural work, are light weight (in the 4 pound range), and cost in the vicinity of $500 - $1,000. Their principal drawback is a relatively short bellows (not a major problem for landscape and architecture but a possible problem if you get into close up work). I owned a Tachihara for several years and liked it a lot, doing much of the same kind of work you're talking about (though only for pleasure in my case).

If you can obtain a copy of Leslie Stroebel's book "View Camera Technique" look in the back. It has several pages of tables that give very detailed specs for all view cameras made at the time the book was published. It isn't a substitute for holding the various cameras and playing around with them but as you know there aren't all that many places around that have an extensive large format inventory (though being so close to Washington, D.C. I would think there must be more stock available than just the two cameras you mention).

Finally, with respect to camera weight, I've always thought that concern with relatively small differences in weight among different cameras was sometimes misplaced. When you get into large format, you're probably going to be carrying around a large backpack, several lenses, a bunch of film holders, a meter, a loupe, a dark cloth, a tripod, and various other accessories. With that much stuff apart from the camera, the difference in percentage terms between a camera that weighs four pounds or so and one that weighs six pounds or so often isn't a whole lot.

Sorry for the length of this. Good luck in whatever you choose.

-- Brian Ellis (, August 26, 2000.


If you read the camera reviews on this site it might help develop a feel for the cameras that might be most interesting to you. From what everyone has said here you might want to pay attention to Kerry Thalmann's (sorry if I spelled it wrong) review of the Toho 45 FC.

Good Hunting

-- Kevin (, August 26, 2000.


Allow me to add to your confusion.

First, the goals of architecture and portability are somewhat at odds with each other, particularly with the two Toyo cameras you have mentioned. Let me first address these cameras specifically, then mention some other possibilities.

1. The 45CX is excellent for architecture and abysmal for portability. It is inexpensive. Unless you plan to work within a block of your car, I think it would annoy you quickly. That said, if you were only doing architecture within a block of your car, it would be a good choice.

2. The 45AX. I have owned and used Toyo 45A field cameras for 2 decades. They are wonderful tanks, reliable and versatile. They are very portable and perfect for landscape work. They are not ideal for architecture, but will work with limitations. Front shift and swing are very limited and awkwardly combined. Rear swing, and both tilts are fine, and of course there is no rear shift. Rise is limited, but if you don't use lenses longer than about 210mm, you can do very adequate indirect rise using front and rear tilt combined. Lack of levels on the camera are also limiting in architecture, although you could add these.

There are cameras that combine portability and flexibility, but they aren't inexpensive. The Linhof Technikardan (mentioned above), Canham DLC, and the Arca-Swiss F line and F-Metric line are both wonderfully compact for portability, and wonderfully versatile. I now use an Arca- Swiss for all of my backpacking and love the combination of monorail elegance and versatility and portability. The downside is that all of these cameras run over $2000, even used.

One solution you might look into is the Arca-Swiss Discovery. It combines most of the features of the Arca-Swiss F line with a much lower cost. The newest versions have improved some of the initial shortcomings of the camera, including the awful "rail block".

The other approach would be to look at some of the lighter weight Calumet rail cameras. They are much less elegant, but much less expensive.

Good luck.


-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, August 26, 2000.

If expense is a consideration, I've wondered about the older style Arca Swiss. There've been recent posts in this forum that these are good cameras, and that they're relatively light. (6-7lbs.) As far as upward compatility to the newer cameras, I know that the flat and recessed lens boards will work. I don't think that the modern recessed board will work on the older cameras. For more info on compatibility, you might contact Badger Graphics or Photomark. (The latter is in Phoenex.) There've been recent offerings of this camera on EBay, and they typically sell in the $400-$600 range.

-- neil poulsen (, August 27, 2000.

More grist for the thought mill. If you expect to hike or walk around a lot with your LF equipment I would recommend a Canham DLC, a Wisner Tech. Field or Pocket Tech. Field, or a Linho TK 45. There are some excellent reviews of the Linhof found elsewhere on this site, as well as of the other cameras. Bang/buckwise, I imagine the DLC outshines the other cameras suggested above. Incidentally I own two Wisners, a Tech Field and a Pocket Tech field, so I'm not trying to convert you. From what I have read and heard, however, the DLC provides a lot of features for the money. If you anticipate having to do a lot of architectural work Canham allegedly has available a bag bellows. Some users report that the DLC cold have a more stable rear standard.The Pocket Expedition, IMHO, with its neat geared tilts and rise, makes life simpler than the Canham, and costs little more. The Pocket Expedition takes a little time to learn to set up and collapse correctly, but it isn't as difficult as some others already recommended to you. The TK45 is probably the better built, but some have problems with its set up, and more than one person has commented on the cost of buying anything with the Linhof "franchise" name on it.

The Wisners and the Linhofs appear in used dept.s, but the DLC is too new and/or its owners too sold on it to give it up. None is perfect; all will do what you want them to do. Bob

-- Bob Moulton (, August 27, 2000.

Bob, I haven't read all of the replies in detail but have some thoughts to add to your confusion. First, the Cadet and the Toyo 45 CX should be forgotten. I just sold a Cadet which I had picked up cheap because it doesn't lock down securely and it is all but impossible to utilize movements with anything shorter than 135 - 150. The CX is all plastic and I don't believe willstand up with constant use. Field cameras are the only way to go if one is going to walk even a few hundred yards. The Wisner is beautiful and well made, but expensive. I read into your information that you need to get into this world on a reasonably modest budget. Take a look at the Tachihara. It is a well made JApanes field camera, weighs less than 5 lbs. and will accept lenses from 75 - 300 mm. It is well made and has been on themarket for a good number of years. The last time I looked Adorama had them for about $650 new. This will leave you more money for lenses, etc. AS for lens length it really is a personal thing. Think of the lens length you use most with your 35, and multiply that by three (3). That wil give you an equivalent lens length for 4X5. Don't make the mistake of buying by focal length alone, image circle is very important. Most likely a good beginning length is 150 - 210. When you move to architecture, get a good 75 - 90. Thinking well ahead a set of three lenses each twice as long as the next shortest works well - 75, 150, 300. If you can gather the bucks at one time the Wisner Plasmat set gives you a great variety of focal lengths, (eight as I remember), a single shutter, all in a neat small box and in the end you will save as much as it costs you over the price of individual lenses. Good luck, Jim

-- Jim Noel (, August 29, 2000.

For a first choice lens, the 135, 150, or 210 mm would be excellent choices. I highly recommend that you look at the web site of Craig Wells ( Wells uses exclusively the Schneider 210mm f/5.6 Apo-Symmar Lens and Nikkor-W 135mm f/5.6 Lens. As an alternative you may want to consider the Schneider 210mm f/9 G-Claron and Rodenstock 135 mm Apo-Sironar-S, which both take 49 mm filters. The Rodenstock weighs 240 grams (approximately a half pound), about 10% more than the Nikkor lens chosen by Wells, but with significantly more coverage permitting almost 1 cm additional lens shifting. The Nikkor accepts 52 mm filters. The Schneider Apo-Symmar 135 and 150 mm lenses and the Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 135 and 150 mm lenses might well be the sharpest lenses available. There are a lot of favorable reviews of the G-Claron 210 mm lens posted at this web site. It is much more compact and lighter than the Schneider f/5.6 210 mm Apo-Symmar lens preferred by Craig Wells and is excellent as a closeup lens for 1:1 reproduction provided that your camera permits 420 mm bellows extension. You likely will find that the f9 lens is bright enough for focussing accurately at ambient light levels of EV7 or more, and perhaps at lower EV levels if age has not taken its toll and diminished your ability to see well in low light. However, a fair percentage of photographers prefer the brighter f/5.6 lens and find it ea

-- David Caldwell (, August 31, 2000.

I use the Calumet 45N. Not only is this a modestly priced camera, it does exactly the same thing with front and rear standards. It weighs 8 lbs., and if you don't mind tearing it down, and putting it together, which is no big deal at all, you could transport it broken down, so measurements would be 16"x13"x2", approximately . Its "on axis" tilts which is a plus, too.

-- Raven (, September 04, 2000.

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