Looking for a good Viewfinder

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I am looking to get a good viewfinder for my Toyo 45AX.

The Linhof Zoom Viewfinder seems to be perfect. But it is so darn expensive at $1195! That is the B&H "Sale" price. My Toyo camera cost about that!

So what is a good and cheaper alternative?


-- Sol Campbell (solcam31@hotmail.com), November 10, 2000


Sol, I can't give you an answer and save you money, however, I tell you why I like the Linhof VF -which I use with my Linhof, and this may help you in your search for a cheaper alternative. I use the Linhof VF all the time to asess prospective subjects - landscapes, and to determine the ideal focal length I need, rather than for positioning the camera on the subject, which I could do also if I wished. The Linhof VF gives you a fairly good idea of the perspective that you will get with various focal lengths, unlike dumb frames, which do not. To me this is a very useful feature. For use I place the finder on a shoe -as used for flash units, and screw a tool handle -as used on some drills, onto the shoe. This converts the VF to a hand-holdable device which you can carry from a string around your neck. Alone it is unwieldy to hand-hold, and yes, too expensive to drop. I have a Linhof but see no reason why you could not use it with your Toyo although you may have to make allowances for parallax if the Toyo has different dimensions than the Linhof. The viewfinder has a range of 75mm to 360mm lenses and comes with a mask for 6X7.

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@ora.auracom.com), November 11, 2000.

Thanks Julio for your post. One question about the Linhof VF. What if you rotate your back 90 degrees for portrait format. Can you rotate the viewfinder as well? Thanks!

-- Sol Campbell (solcam31@hotmail.com), November 11, 2000.

Sol you may also wish to consider the zoom viewfinder from Horseman with format masks either in 6x9cm or 4x5. In 4x5 lenses indicated are from 90 to 400 and in 6x9 lenses from 65 to 300. In reality I find these to be a little wider then indicated. The front format maskrotates for vertical compositions. And the viewed image is actually brighter then real life.

Along with my spotmeter I consider this an essential piece of kit.

It is still expensive but may be slightly cheaper then the Linhof.

-- Trevor Crone (tcrone@gm.dreamcast.com), November 11, 2000.

"What if you rotate your back 90 degrees for portrait format. Can you rotate the viewfinder as well?"

The mask rotates not the finder. Snap on masks are available for 6x6cm to 4x5" and the 45 mask is supplied with the finder.

The finder is available in 2 versions. One calibrated in feet and one in meters. It is set to zoom from 75 to 360mm. Custom masks for format/lens combinations shorter ten 75mm and for film sizes smaller then 4x5 are also possible.

The above applies to the current black zoom version that has been available for almost 30 years several earlier versions are also out there used.

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), November 11, 2000.

Sol: The normal view from the Linhof VF finder even without masks is not round but rectangular therefore you do not neeed a mask to make it rectangular. The masks are available in 90X120mm for European format, 6X7 and 6X9. When you are using 4X5 you need no masks. A ring allows you to turn the rectangular view to portrait or landscape view as you wish, with or without masks.

Because I use the VF only to 'read' the subject while hand-held, I do not bother with turning the finder ring around; I just hold it and turn my hand around, instead of the ring, which would be slower.

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@ora.auracom.com), November 11, 2000.

Sol, I've just seen two viewfinders advertised on the large format section of e-Bay (U.K). Both adverts have photos of the item. Just thought you may be interested as both sellers are letting them go at excellent prices. Regards Paul

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), November 11, 2000.

Sol, I recently purchased the Horseman finder,and find the accuracy a bit dubious as it is very sensitive to eye relief. I often use it with a 612 back,which aggravates the problem. By comparing that image to the one on the ground glass,I`ve learned where to dial it in for each of my lenses. I just spent a week in the mountains with it and it made things much,much better in poor weather shooting.

-- Steve Clark (Poophappens@aol.com), November 11, 2000.

I have a question. Why would anybody pay that huge amount of money for a viewfinder? With this kind of money you could get a very decent PS or digital camera with a similar zoom range. Frame your shot, and then divide the focal lenght with 4. That would be roughly 4x5 equivalent. And you actually have a camera you can use just slightly larger then the viewfinder. So, what do I miss?

-- Sorin Varzaru (svarzaru@bigfoot.com), November 12, 2000.

Thanks to all with the many replies. It seems that my choice is either the Linhof or the Horseman. The Horseman is slightly cheaper but they are both VERY expensive. So which would be better the Linhof or Horseman?

I saw E-Bay and the Linhof viewfinders there seem to be quite different from the one I see for $1195 at B&H. They are also much cheaper. So what is the difference?

Thanks again for all your help!

-- Sol Campbell (solcam31@hotmail.com), November 12, 2000.

I imagine that the e-bay adverts are older versions. But I can't be sure as I don't use a seperate viewfinder. I can see why they may be handy in choosing the correct focal length but IMHO they do not replace composing on the GG.

ARE THEY REALLY THAT USEFUL?? I would rather spend the money on another lens!! Regards Paul

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), November 12, 2000.

Paul you are of course correct they do not replace the final composition on the gg. I carry my zoom finder in a small pouce attached to my backpack harness and therefore is readily available when confronted with a picture situation, it becomes a very quick and compact aid to composition. For me it saves a lot of wasted time and energy getting out the camera, setting up and then realising there isn't a picture after all. Regards,

-- Trevor Crone (tcrone@gm.dreamcast.com), November 12, 2000.

Take a piece of cardboard about 6x7 inches. Cut a rectangular hole in the middle that's 4x5 inches. Hold the cardboard away from your eye at the distance that the focal length of the lens you want to use. This also works if you cut the cardboard smaller and make a proportionally smaller hole. Then just hold the board at a proportionally closer distance. This method will not be as cool as having something like a $1000 view finder but you can drop it, step on it, run it over with a truck. You can even give them away. Try that with anything that says Linhof. Although, you could write Linhof on the cardboard with a pen; then you have the best of both worlds!

-- N. P. Rantile (snackman@hotmail.com), November 12, 2000.

Even cheaper than a piece of card........hold the thumb and forefinger of the left hand so that they form an angle of 90 degrees. Now do the same with the right hand. Next twist right hand above left hand so that the tip of each finger touches the tip of the thumb of the opposite hand..... to make a frame, looks cooler than a card window too!!!!! Seriously though!!! I found composing with a LF camera a liberating experience when compared to smaller formats. Using a seperate viewfinder would , for me anyway, take some of the "magic" away from seeing that image on the GG. With a little practice is it not fairly easy to determine what sort of field of view you get with a particular lens without resorting to a viewfinder? Seems that you might as well stick to 35mm and a zoom!!!!! I cannot imagine it being a real problem to find that you need to select a different lens once you have set up if it means that you maintain the enjoyment of the BIG GG!! (Prepare for flack!!!!)...Are viewfinders simply a fashion accessory??!!!!!!! Regards (hiding behind the sandbags!!) Paul

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), November 12, 2000.

Some of us actualy use our LF cameras for work and not just for fun. Shooting architecture or interiors or artic diamond mines on location, working out whether tight, wide angle, 127mm, 135mm, 150mm 0r 210mm might work best on this particular view, bearing in mind that I'm shooting through a doorway, trying to avoid my refletion in that mirror over there, and then that bookself comes half into view on the other side etc etc etc. Using a viewfinder makes it a hell of a lot easier - I'm not changing lenses, shifting the bellows back and forth, moving the tripod, till I find a view and lens that works well. And when i's -15c I'm not freezing to death becasue of all that as well.

My Linhof finder saves a hell of a lot of time and also prevents clients getting pissed off. (though it's a pain to use with glasses - but I'm working on a solution...). As far as i can tell, there is the old verion #1, #2 & 2a. I have the #1 - cost me $99 on ebay and works fine.

Works great for my LF street work too - just figuring a way to mount it on my Super Graphic for that.

Tim A

-- tim atherton (tim@KairosPhoto.com), November 12, 2000.

I use a cardboard viewfinder at times, and find it useful. However, there are times where something like the Linhof viewfinder would be nice. Last week I was planning an interior shot with an architect. The cardboard frame was better than nothing as a tool to help our communication regarding a potential shot. I could image an optical viewfinder would even work better.

-- Larry Huppert (Larry.Huppert@mail.com), November 12, 2000.

OUCH! Paul how could you, "fashion accessory". That would indeed be a futile reason for choosing any piece of equipment. Why do people choose to have fuel injection or turbo fitted to their cars? For me its simply a means to an end. I've tried the card, fingers but in the words of Bret Weston "there is no compromise". Yours extravagantly,

-- Trevor Crone (tcrone@gm.dreamcast.com), November 13, 2000.

"The main functional difference between the $1300 NEW Linhof finders and the $200 USED Linhof finders one sees on eBay, is that the edges of the frame are perfectly sharp focused on the new ones,"

Not true.

Current finders are zoom optics and at 360mm the image is very large and easy to see.

Older ones crop the image and when you get to the longest setting the image is about the visual size of your small fingernail.

Also current format masks won't fit and the current finder goes from 75mm to 360 while most, if not all, older ones go from 90mm to 360.

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), November 13, 2000.

If you're looking for more economical alternatives, do not overlook viewfinders for 35mm and medium format cameras. You'll have to convert the equivalent focal lengths for 4x5, though.

You can look at viewfinders for 35mm rangefinder cameras, old and current. Most use a standard accessory shoe as that on your Toyo. See Stephen Gandy's CameraQuest Page for information on old one you might find used at a classics dealer or on eBay. You may also want to check out the new Voigtlaender and Mamiyas.

-- John H. Henderson (jhende03@harris.com), November 13, 2000.

OOPS!! Appears that i may have offended the "professionals" out there!! Maybe I should have rephrased my post and said "are viewfinders worth considering if you only use your LF for fun?" I personally feel that they are a waste of money, UNLESS your "life" (photographically that is!!) depends on using one!! I am still not convinced as to their usefullness. I am not a "professional" but if I was there is no way I would have a "client" interfering with my work to the extent that I hand over a viewfinder and offer them a look at the intended view!! If this is how you work then GET A POLAROID BACK ( then they can have a little snap to view instead!!). But maybe its not as cool as having a viewfinder strung around your neck!!

As for "fashion accessories" sorry Trevor but I beg to differ!! EVERY one of us MUST know of someone, with more money than sense, who has bought a camera as the latest "toy". I personally know someone who approached me after a lecture I had given at a photographic club last year, who "boasted" that he had exchanged a 4 month old Wisner (at a substantial loss)for an Ebony as he "heard" that the Ebony was better!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I returned to the same club last week to judge their competition and was approached by the same photographer who had just part exchanged his LF kit for the "new" Contax 645!!!!!!!!!!! The lenses are better he claimed!! He is not the exception, many are swayed by consumerism. As I said I am not a professional, but consider myself an experienced amateur...I simply enjoy photography with a passion. Yet despite this I am able to judge which lens to use prior to setting up the shot without resorting to a viewfinder. "Visualisation" I believe some guy Adams called it!! There!! I'm now off my soap box and back to having "fun" with LF. Regards Paul

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), November 13, 2000.

I see what you mean Paul although to me this does seem rather extreme. Amateur or pro. we should enjoy our work however we achieve it. After all its the end result that counts. Regards,

-- Trevor Crone (tcrone@gm.dreamcast.com), November 13, 2000.


re: "...there is no way I would have a "client" interfering with my work to the extent that I hand over a viewfinder and offer them a look at the intended view!! If this is how you work then GET A POLAROID BACK ( then they can have a little snap to view instead!!). But maybe its not as cool as having a viewfinder strung around your neck!!"

I don't think you understand the process. Of course I use a Polaroid when shooting. If the client is present, they look at and approve the shot from the Polaroid. The thing I was referring to was a preliminary planning meeting with the architect at the site prior to the shoot. At such a meeting, I'll try to figure out the intended "shot". The day of the shoot I'd much rather be concentrating on fine tuning the shot and execution rather than trying to figure out the shot. Ocassionaly I'll use a 35mm camera just to record the space to keep my memory fresh, but I've never brought my 4x5 to such a preliminary meeting (good use for a digital camera). I've found architects wanting to be very involved in the process. They often have strong opinions, but also want to hear how you'd approach the shot. I don't have a viewfinder, but still think it would be useful for these communications. A cardboard viewfinder can still do the job, and has the advantage of being able to simulate the effects of shift and rise/fall which a viewfinder can't.

-- Larry Huppert (Larry.Huppert@mail.com), November 15, 2000.

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