Large Format on a budget : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I have been looking at getting into large format photography. I plan to use it for landscape photography primarily. I have been looking at the Speed, Crown, Graphics as a first camera. It seems to be had for a reasonable amount of $$ (less than $400.00) and I was told that if I wanted down the road I can get modern lenses for it. Is this true? What are the pitfalls that I should be looking for in evaulating one of these cameras? Is it expensive to get the shutter recalibrated? (i.e. slower speeds) I live in the Boston area, anyone know of any place to take a camera for a CLA?


Joe Widner

-- Joe Widner (, March 08, 2001



It is certainly true that a speed or crown graphic camera can be used for landscape photography. Many years ago I used one (crown) for just about every kind of photography. But, when people say they are "getting into" something in photography it is wise to consider that the "getting into" might turn out to be a "passion for", which invariably leads to wanting different equipment. IN the case of landscape photography, you will be quite limited with the crown or speed. the lenses are good, but if you want to use the rangefinders you need to have cams for each lens if I remember correctly. And they don't have real convienient movements, and their bellows are rather short if you want to use longer lenses or shoot close ups. I would highly suggest a good use B & J 4 x 5 with either a 180 or 210 lens as a begining outfit. Might be a bit more than $400 (you will need a decent tripod, film holders, case, dark cloth, and light meter as well. But you will have alot more flexibility with the B & J. Lastly, I would make sure that no matter where I bought the camera, and especially the lens, that you buy it on approval. If the seller is worth his salt he won't be trying to sell you junk. That means that he should stand behind his/her merchandise. That means that you should be able to take it out and try it to see if it is going to work for you. If it does, then keep it. If not, take it back and get your money back. don't be in a hurry. take your time to assemble your kit. don't overpay, but don't try and get everyting for free either. pay a fair price for fair goods and you will be happy. kevin

-- Kevin Kolosky (, March 08, 2001.

I think that an Omega 45E is a great choice for a starter. They can be found for $300-400 quite easily, they have plenty of movement, bellows length, cheap lens boards, still repaired by Toyo. The only down side is they are bigger and heavier than the fancy new Arca Swiss or something like that. I bought one several years ago and have yet to move on past it. If you buy one watch for cracked blocks on the rail mounts, this is a common problem caused by overtightening the clamps. This malady can be repaired by replaceing with new Toyo parts but that gets costly.

-- Dave Schneider (DSCHNEIDER@ARJAYNET.COM), March 08, 2001.

The beauty of large format is that you are never locked entirely into 1 system. The lenses are what really count, and these are easilly interchangeable.

A $400.00 Crown Graphic that needs shutter work and other maintenance can easilly become a $800.00 Crown Graphic. It's still a 40 year old camera, with limited movements and older optics.

For my money, I would buy new at Calumet. You can get decent new View Camera and lens right now for about $1000.00. I think this would prove nearly as cheap in the long run. This is just my opinion, and I hope you make the right decision for you. Large Format is great, and it really can add to your capabilities.

-- Joseph Wasko (, March 08, 2001.

The Calumet Cadet's are a good starting point. Another option is the Toyo CX. Street price is around $650. Although the Toyo has much plastic in it, and perhaps not as strong as you'd like, it is a system camera. It takes graflok backs, has interchangeable bellows, the mono-rail works with their other cameras.

If you can find a Toyo AR or A, these are decent little workhorses. I bought mine new in the mid 80's for $550. The current incarnation is $2000.

A nice thing about LF, if you take care of your camera, you can always resell it, and get a decent amount for it.

Another option, is the lower price wood field cameras. Some swear by them. Some swear at them. They are close to your price range, I think.

-- Charlie Strack (, March 08, 2001.

You should decide what is more important portability or movements. if you need portability a monorail (like omega,calumet,cambo) may present problems.if go for a graphic get a super speed its the only one that can shoot vertical and it has front for monorails i have cambo that i got for $250 its bulky but very flexible and easy to use (just hard to carry).i shoot in the city so i drive alot walk a little and the cambo works fine. if you hike or walk alot or take public trans you should get something smaller (super speed).peace out- J

-- josh (, March 08, 2001.

All of the above is good advice. The fact that a lens is old doesn't really doesn't mean that it will need a CLA, though it's a nice thought. A CLA will probably run $50-$80.

You probably can get into LF landscape for $400, have plenty of fun, and get some nice images. I started with a $250 Busch Pressman with a 127mm Ektar and have a couple of 16X20 prints from this camera that are very nice. I soon found myself with a set-up more in the $1000+ range. The press cameras have their quirks and limitations if you intend to use them much. I will offer some general advice. Research some of the other LF cameras in your price range including a monorail. The large format home page is a great resource and will help. I think you can almost get a camera and lens that will allow movements if you're willing to sacrifice some other conveniences. In my book, movements are one of the main reasons to use a LF camera.

If you buy an older camera, go through a reputed dealer such as Midwest Camera. I would ask about shutter speeds and bellows light leaks as some basic questions. EBay has been hit and miss for me regarding older cameras. I'm probably 50/50 in getting older cameras from eBay that have more problems than I expected. Even if you have an inspection option, some interesting problems may turn up later as you get familiar with format.

-- Roger Rouch (, March 08, 2001.

"A $400.00 Crown Graphic that needs shutter work and other maintenance can easilly become a $800.00 Crown Graphic. It's still a 40 year old camera, with limited movements and older optics. "

There is no shutter on a Crown Graphic. Don't get it confused with the Speed Graphic - (which has a built in focal plane shutter).

“..and older optics…”

As mentioned above, the beauty of LF is that you can make your lens decision independent of your camera selection (up to a point). Find a good lens, and it won't necessarily need a CLA.

-- sheldon hambrick (, March 08, 2001.


I totally agree with Kevin's post on this topic. If you are shooting lanscapes primarily, forget a monorail - it will be more trouble than it's worth. People who shoot studio/interiors primarily, will tell you that they are good for any type shooting. DON'T believe it. If you want to shoot landscapes and outdoor scenics, get an old field. For <$500 I'd suggest an old Ansco or Burke and James for starters (~$250 for one in good shape) and buy the best 210-240 you can afford (Schneider, Nikon, Ektar are fine). Get one in a good Copal shutter.

You won't need all the movements of a studio camera, and the ruggedness of the old wooden cameras is a real positive.

-- Matt O. (, March 09, 2001.

For the most frugal approach to LF buy an 8x10 film holder, some film, and make a cheap pinhole camera. This means no lens, no enlarger, and no camera, but it will give you a feel for loading film, shooting limited numbers of carefully chosen shots, and carrying equipment. You will also experience the delights of tray processing sheet film and using large amounts of developer!

If you decide that you really want to move up to LF, choices about cameras and lenses depend alot on what kind of photography you do. Your post says landscape, but will you apply LF to studio work etc.? The best thing to do is get out all your negatives and categorize what you shoot and, if possible, what type of 35mm/medium format lenses you have used in the past. If you find that wide-angle landscapes dominate your photos then get a wide angle lens and a wood or metal field camera.

Remember that there is no such thing as large format on a budget, at least a small budget! You can get a Crown Graphic with an Optar for about $250, but you will eventually need an 4x5 enlarger. New 4x5's run over $2,000 if you include a lens. Even a used enlarger will likely cost more than your initial outlay for the camera. Thus, if long term cost is an issue, you may lean towards a larger LF camera (8x10).


-- Dave Willison (, March 09, 2001.

Go with the Speed or Crown (or Super). Low priced, rugged, and capable. I love my SG. If you get a Speed, dont bother with the focal plane shutter. Just leave it open, and use the leaf shutter in your lens. And dont rule out older 'press' lenses for starters. They are usually sharp, just limited in coverage. This can be a very inexpensive setup, and you can then evaluate what you want. You can always buy better lenses, and use them with your SG. If you find that the Graphic cant meet your needs, you can sell it, maybe even at a profit! Long live the Speed Graphic!!

-- Ron Shaw (, March 09, 2001.

What does "CLA" mean? I see it in Roger's response above, and I can't figure out what it refers to. Thanks for the help - Bill

-- bill youmans (, March 09, 2001.

If you haven't used a 4x5 before, try renting one first and play with it for a couple of weeks. Shoot a box if you can, and get the stuff developed if you don't do it yourself. When your done you will either be hooked and will want a better camera, or will be annoyed at the process and cost and will look into something in a smaller format like 6x7 or 6x9 with a rollfilm back. For landsape shooting with backpacking I've gone the 6x9 route. Lighter, less expensive with film, and developing. Big enough image and no film holders.

-- Wayne Crider (, March 09, 2001.

The various press cameras (Crown, Speed, and Super Graphics, B&J Press, Meridian, et al) are all capable of fine photographs in the right hands. Nonetheless, these cameras do have limitations that you need to be aware of.

Press cameras in general, and the Crown and Speed in particular are severely limited in movements. While many landscape photographers rarely use movements, many (perhaps most) frequently use them.

Another major limitation of these cameras is their small lens boards. While Graphics can certainly be fitted with some great glass, you'll be somewhat limited in your selection.

Bellows extension is another limiting factor. A 90mm lens is about the shortest you can expect to work on a press camera, While a 300mm won't focus closer than infinity.

These are fine cameras, and if you can live with the limitations, they will serve you well. If you feel the need for more movements, etc.(and you don't mind the extra weight and bulk of a monorail), I would suggest that you look at the Graphic View or the Calumet C400/Kodak Master View.

Finally, if you are certain a Crown or Speed Graphic is for you, don't pay extra for a graphlock back unless you are planning to use graphlock style roll film holders. For more info, check out

-- Dave Brown (, March 09, 2001.

Thank you for all the responses! One more question what is the difference between the current crop of "field cameras" i.e Horseman, Linhof and Toyo and the Graphics? Specifically the Super Graphic?


-- Joe Widner (, March 10, 2001.

I gave my Crown to a friend a few years ago and have been shooting mostly 8x10 and roll film. Then a couple months ago I found a really nice Crown at Glazer's in Seattle for just a hundred bucks, and bought it. I used it quite a bit on a recent trip and couldn't believe what a joy it was. The camera has an inch of rise and all the downward tilt you will ever need if you reverse the front standard. You can focus a 75 mm lens on it okay and a 210 will work well also. This means you have pretty wide through sort-of-long focal lengths to work with unless you get one of those fabulous f5.6 Wollensak teles (15 inch focal length). You can shoot verticals but lose tilt if you do, and most of your rise. Tilt and rise are about the only movements I use in landscape photography (though I use both of them on nearly every shot) so the Crown suits me very well. It is light, sturdy, cheap, small, readily available, and takes the lenses I tend to use. I don't like 4x5 format as much as others, but there are times it is ideal and the Crown sure works for me. You can take the $1,400 you save and spend it on film, gas, and photographic expeditions!

-- Erik Ryberg (, March 10, 2001.

Joe, When I got into LF, I too thought of the budget option and started looking at cheap entry (used) kits. Unfortunately the nature of the LF beast is such that you WILL get bitten by the bug and then find yourself looking to improve or upgrade your equipment. The budget option is not always the best financial sense! If you are not sure, I would find somewhere to hire an outfit from and use a stack of polaroid just getting a feel. This will cost, but the savings long term will probably offset this outlay. LF has a steep learning curve!! So don't be disheartened if you don't get the hang of it straightaway, simply enjoy the learning experience!! Get a good outfit (spend some cash!!) and pick the brains of posters on this site, they have helped many of us "newbies" more than I can say!! Best of luck Paul

-- paul owen (, March 11, 2001.

I think that the oder Arca Swiss cameras provide an excellent value in an LF camera. They don't have the international Graphloc backs, so 6x9 is possible only if one purchases the Calumet 6x9 backs. But, for 4x5, they're a good camera. They can often be found in the $400 range. Some of the equipment that one would purchase for this camera is usable on current models. (e.g. lensboards, rails, lenshoods.)

-- Neil Poulsen (, March 11, 2001.

On the other hand, if you spend a couple hundred bucks on a Crown Graphic at or ebay or wherever, and decide it isn't for you, you can sell it again for more or less what you paid. (Probably less, but probably not a whole lot less.) God knows I've made use of this phenomena often enough.

-- Erik Ryberg (, March 11, 2001.

CLA = clean, lubricate, adjust

Re: mono-rails vs flat-bed fields: I got my mono-rail after my flat- bed precisely because of problems with field work and the flat-bed. With my Toyo, racking out the focus in cold weather was a slow, painful process (arthritis); I got the mono-rail so I could fast focus, then fine adjust.(I'm keeping both, so I have advantages of both.)

While a flat-bed is best if you're backpacking, or working away from your transportation, a mono-rail can certainly be used, too. They each have their advantages and dis-advantages. Best advise: try before you buy.

-- Charlie Strack (, March 11, 2001.

I bought a Crown Graphic with the Kodak Ektar 152 lens at a photo show here in Baltimore for $200 last year. The range finder didn't work but I got a few wood film holders and have been having fun ever since. Certainly not the point & shoot of my Nikon N70 - auto everything but oooh those 4x5 negatives! I use a local group darkroom for $11.00/hr and it has the Saunders 4x5 enlargers.

What can I say, works for me (and was about 1/4 what I paid for my 35mm setup which is collecting dust these days).


-- John Welton (, March 12, 2001.

If you want a press camera the PACEMAKER SERIES WAS THE BEST BUILT. I use a Graflex View Monorail and like it a lot..Got it at a good price and spent most of the money on a great lens . Rodenstock Sironar N 150MM 5.6-64..Great for landsscapes..Paint the case white and you will notice a big difference in summer temp. on the inside... You also might like grafmatic holders..I like them a lot. Better than quick loads..Just my opinion. Best of luck... GARY (-:

-- Gary Ross (, March 16, 2001.

A little late in reply, but I thought I'd chime in. I started out with the Bender kit and, while it was sufficient for about the first year, I soon got addicted and moved up to a used Linhof Kardan Bi (the most wonderful 4x5 I've gotten to use thus far). It set me back about $1300, but I definitely think it was worth the price. Point being this- start out cheap if you like, but as others have said, there's a good chance you'll get hooked and find yourself stepping in neck deep when you only intended on getting your feet wet. Not that this is a bad thing.....

As far as the flatbed vs. monorail issue is concerned, I think this is a matter of personal taste. My current view cameras are the 4x5 monorail I mentioned before and an 8x10 flatbed. I do almost nothing but landscapes with both, and while the difference in format may make a small difference in comparison, there are my observations concerning the two designs.

Movements: The monorail definitely wins out here. My flatbed is limited to swing and tilt in the rear and swing, tilt, and rise/fall in the front, whereas my monorail has full (e.g. rise, fall, shift, tilt, swing) movements both front and back. Depending on your habits and specific application, there's a good chance that you wouldn't need the extra movements of a monorail, but if you need them, fudging it falls far short of having the movement that you need.

Rigidity: Again, the monorail comes out on top here. I've tested other flatbeds and monorails, and while some monorails are less rigid and some flatbeds are more rigid, the trend seems (to me) to be that monorails are going to be the more rigid type. Possibly due to differences in materials, design, and construction tolerances, there's just more play in the moving parts on a flatbed, from what I've observed.

Weight: Flatbed wins here, though as always there are exceptions. My 4x5 and 8x10 weigh about the same, and a friend's 4x5 flatbed is delightfully spare in terms of weight- about half the weight of my Linhof. This definitely is a plus if you'll be doing a lot of field work, as I expect you will be doing since you'd be doing landscape with it. This can work against you at times (like in the wind), but the vast majority of the time, a lighter camera is preferred for field work.

Transport size: Flatabed again. Monorails are big and bulky, in general, though (yet another exception) some are capable of packing in relatively little space. Flatbeds are nice in that they are designed to fold up into a self contained package, whereas if you want to decrease the size of your monorail for transportation, you generally have to do something like detach the bellows and swing the standards parallel to the rail, detatch the rail, etc. This can take longer and be more of a hassle than folding up a flatbed.

So there's my two cents. If anybody wants to add to or disagree with anything I've said, be my guest- that's what this whole forum thing is about. And, Joe, whatever you decide in terms of equipment, good luck with large format.

-- David Munson (, March 18, 2001.

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