Which camera for a 4x5 landscape photographer?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am graduating from 35mm to LF. My primary interest is landscape photography (some micro if possible) so I need a light weight camera. So far I am steering toward a wood Wista DX or DX11. What is the difference? Would you recommend any other camera as an alternative? Price is not critical, I just want to do it right?

-- Tim Gearin (tim@gearin.com), August 01, 2001


If price is truly not critical, get a Linhof Technika, (like David Muench and many other major landscape photographers). It can be used hand-held if you want/need to so that a tripod is not an absolute necessity. It has tripple extension bellows for Macro work, and is incredibly rugged.

-- Wilhelm (bmitch@home.com), August 01, 2001.

I certainly agree with Wilhem. Dave Muench and I were classmates at the Art Center..in photography. Dave went 'Ansel Adams' and I went into advertising illustration. Love Linhof. When I am out shooting historical stuff or landscapes, my Linhof V is always ready. If the weather breaks and a beautiful rainbow appears, I've got it in two seconds. My buddies are still fumbling with their tripods. When a Colorado downslope winds hit and blow at 40 MPH, my Super Technika is rock steady and by buddies with wood cameras are frantically trying to stop the vibration, because their light-weight cameras are vibrating like a guitar string! Linhof,...the Leica of LF.

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), August 01, 2001.

the linhoff, though it's the best 4x5 field camera made, is outrageously overpriced. a Wista SP is 90% of the camera that the Linhoff is, at about half the price. i've been shooting with a Wista for 10 years and it's a fantastic camera. you can find one used for around $1800 i think.

~chris jordan


-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), August 01, 2001.

Paging Mr. Salomon, Mr. Bob Salomon; please report to the Large Format home page.


-- John (WhitmanDesign@aol.com), August 01, 2001.

I like the Toyo 45A-II. I've owned it's older version the 45-A since the mid 80's. A very rugged, stable little beast. Great for landscapes, but limited close-up capability. Choose a shorter lens for macro work.

To do it right, however, go to a camera shop & try each out. It's the only way to find out if the camera is right for you.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), August 01, 2001.

If you do end up choosing the Wista DX, I would recommend getting the DX II model without the rear shift. It is lighter, more rigid and has fewer levers to tighten when setting up. For the few times I have needed shift (doing landscape work) I could easily have used a little swing on both standards, or just taken a few steps to the right or left ;-).

-- Richard Ross (ross@hrl.com), August 01, 2001.

Consider the Canham DLC, especially if you like to work with shorter focal length lenses. You don't have to worry about dropping the bed, and the standard bellows will accommodate lenses from 450mm to 75mm.

-- Henry Friedman (friedlew@worldnet.att.net), August 01, 2001.

I agree with Richard. I have the Wista with rear shift, and it's never had the "precise" feel to it that I desire in a LF camera. It's a fine camera in many ways, but if money were no object, I would shop around.

-- Ben Calwell (bcalwell@aol.com), August 01, 2001.

I would go with a Tachihara instead of the Wista. I have tried both. The Tachihara was more stable and about half the price of the Wista. The Tachihara is available from Adorama.net.

-- William Marderness (wmarderness@hotmail.com), August 01, 2001.

I got into LF by taking a class. I knew the teacher and liked him and his teaching style. I've been bitten by the bug and am finally getting everything together for my camera.

I went with Shen Hao because I was able to get a co-worker to bring one back from Shanghai. A great deal at $550, and for me price is critical. I showed it to my friend who teaches LF (and other classes) and he thought it would be a good deal at $1000 (the import price). FWIW he currently uses a Horseman, but has experience with several LF cameras including Tachihara and Zone VI.

I have no idea how much experience you have in LF, but you may want to take a class if one is available. That might give you an idea of what you would like in a camera.


-- Dave Willis (willisd@medicine.wustl.edu), August 02, 2001.

Tim, the Ebony 45SW.

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), August 02, 2001.

A better question is "which lens?" I know of no one who can examine a large format photograph and determine which camera was used to take it. Adams once said, and I paraphrase, that a camera is no more than a place to hold a lens and a sheet of film. While a little extreme, he is correct. Get the camera you're comfortable with, both economically and practically, then concentrate on what really matters: your lens selection.

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), August 02, 2001.

Chad, I couln't have put it better myself!!! My Tech III works great for what I do and have never been at a loss with it. You can find them for $800+-

-- Scott Walton (f64sw@hotmail.com), August 02, 2001.

Tim: As you can see, there is no one "best" 4x5 for field use. Each of us has one or more favorites. One of my favorites for years has been the MPP, which was a British knock-off of the Linhoff III. My latest favorite is the Tachihara, which I bought this summer and is the first new LF I have bought in many years. I like both, along with my old Graphic View II. Some cameras just feel right and others don't. As much as I like the MPP, I once loaned it to a friend to use while his camera was in the shop. He absolutely hated it. It just didn't feel right to him. The point to all this rambling is that you need to heed the advice of others and try out several LF cameras. That may not be easy unless you live in a large city, although I would check with the local college photography department and any camera clubs to see if the members might have LF cameras you can handle.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), August 02, 2001.

If you need brochures on either Linhof or Wista we can mail them to anyone in the US.

If you have questions you can call either Dan Grey or me at 800 735 4373.

Dan is Product Manager for Wista and I am for Linhof.

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), August 02, 2001.

if you are serious about wanting to do macro work with a 4x5 field camera you definitely want to consider the Canham DLC has it has 550mm of extention and bellows built in and that eliminates needing expensive extention beds or rails or extra long bellows. As an earlier poster mentioned it will also handle short lens as well -- down to 58mm-- without needing the wide angle (AKA: "bag") bellows accesorry. it is also a very stable camera with a very bright and contrasty groundglass / fresnel combination. All of these built in features, as well as the 4.7lb weight and extensive shift, rise/fall and tilt movements make the camera a bargain. From my testing & research the only other camera in it's class are the Linhof Technika and the Ebony.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), August 02, 2001.

Tim, If you really need to go close as well as general landscape then any of the Ebony SV range is worth a look

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), August 03, 2001.


As Doug, and others have noted, there is no ideal camera for all users and all uses. So, I'll toss in my two cents and confuse matters even further.

You say you want a lightweight camera for landscape use. What you don't say is how light do you consider "lightweight". Compared to a Linhof Technikardan TK45S, a Canham DLC is lightweight. However, the Toho FC-45X I use for backpacking is over two pounds lighter than my Canham (that I recently sold). If you're looking for something for backpacking, the Toho IMHO can't be beat. It's the lightest 4x5 camera currently made. After minor modifications, mine weighs 2 lb. 12 oz. It has a longer bellows extension than the wooden Wistas you mention, is lighter and has full movements on the front and rear. I have yet to find a camera better suited to backpacking or longer dayhikes.

That said, it's not the perfect camera for all situations. If by landscape photography, you mean "road kills" and short dayhikes, something a bit heavier, but more versatile, like the Canham DLC or the Phillips (or most of the other cameras mentioned here and many more not mentioned) would do the job.

I have a complete review of the Toho online at:


If you want "ultralight", yet very capable, look at the Toho. If you just want reasonably light and full featured, look at the Canham DLC, the Phillips and the others mentioned hear.

Whatever you get, the important thing is to get some decent lenses and get out and do some shooting. You won't REALLY know if a camera suits your needs until you've used it for a while in the field - especially since this is your first LF camera. Don't worry too much about it. In LF, the camera is often the least important decision (since it is easier to switch brands than the smaller formats with dedicated lens mounts). After you've had a chance to use the camera for a while, you'll have a much better idea what you like about it and what you wish was different. You might get lucky and be perfectly happy with your initial purchase. If not, no big deal. Put it up on eBay and buy something else, that based on YOUR experience will be a better match for YOUR needs. You can keep your same lenses, meter, tripod, darkcloth, holders, etc. Worst case, you may have to buy some new lens boards (or a lens board adapter).

There are a LOT of different 4x5 field cameras on the market these days. They all have their good and bad points. What some may consider a useful feature, others may consider a fatal design flaw. Truth is, they are all compromises. The key is finding the best combination of compromises and design trade-offs to match YOUR needs. So, study the reviews, read the opionions (with a grain of salt - mine included - make that mine especially) fondle the cameras in a shop if you can, rent something, borrow something, buy something, but most of all get out and do some shooting to find out which features YOU need and don't need. I've been at this a while, and I have switched cameras several times. Now that I've finally given up on finding the "perfect camera" (see: Grail, Holy), I'm much more content (still, I do pour over the specs of every new model that hits the market just to see if it might be incrementally better FOR MY NEEDS than what I'm currently using - old habits die hard).


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), August 03, 2001.

In selecting a camera you may want to consider how readily you can get help from the camera manufacturer or distributor. Some contribute to this forum; others never make any contributio

-- David (caldw@aol.com), August 03, 2001.

To come full circle: When I was young, I packed an 8 x 10. The main weight wasn't the camera; it was the lenses. Now I haven't used all of the models listed above [and I am sure they are good]; but if someone was to ask me, I would recommend the Linhof Technika at the top of the list [cammed]. I am not aware of anything that competes with it.


-- Art (AKarr90975@aol.com), August 04, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ