Monorail of Field - sharpness is the issue here : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Having used a medium format Pentax67 for a couple of years I want to upgrade to a 4x5. My photography demands no or little tilt or swing. I photograph outdoors, roadsides and the like, my focusing distance almost always between 20m and infinity, with a normal lens (150mm in 4X5). Sharpness, detail, is the issue here. I have asked my printer who knows my demands pretty well, he argues in favor of a monorail, in particular some Arca Swiss, with a shortened rail. I had been thinking of a Toyo45AX (I always shoot "horizontally", never vertical and need no revolving back), my printer has his doubts about the mechanics of the Toya45AX and the ramifications for the SHARPNESS FROM EDGE TO EDGE. I am reluctant towards a monorail, but if it gives better results there is no choice. Can anybody help me out here? I would appreciate it tremendously. Thanks. Oh, sure, the lens is of course part of the story, I am inclined to buy a Rodenstock Apo Sironar S 150mm.

-- Marcus Leonard (, August 04, 2001


If sharpness is the story, the lens is the whole story, the type of camera it sets on has nothing to do with the sharpness of the image, but field camera's are a lot more steady in the field than monorails. Why not get a 210mm that will allow for some movements and with 17 inches of bellows you can get 1:1 if you wish. Pat

-- pat krentz (, August 04, 2001.

As long as the camera is not moving about after you've focused, the lens and film holder would probably have more impact on sharpness than the camera body.

-- Michael Mahoney (, August 04, 2001.

4x5 Crown Graphic, Linhof Technika, or Busch Pressman.

-- Wilhelm (, August 04, 2001.

What size print do you typically have made? I use both the Pentax 67 and 4x5 with modern (APO Symmar, Super Angulon, G Claron, and Nikon M lenses). My prints with 4x5 negatives are usually indistinguishable from those made with 6x7 negatives, with 8x10 and 11x14 prints. If you don't anticipate using movements, and it sounds like you don't, and if you don't develop your own negatives, I'm not at all sure a move to 4x5 is going to do you much good unless your prints are typically 16x20 or larger. But, if you still want to go to 4x5, I agree with the person who said the type of camera (monorail vs. field) is of no significance at all in terms of sharpness and detail. Assuming a good tripod, a quality lens, and a good camera, both designs will produce equally sharp and detailed negatives.

-- Brian Ellis (, August 04, 2001.


I have been using the Toyo 45AX for almost 3 years now, and am quite pleased with the performance. I also use the Rodenstock Apo Sironar S 150mm as well as Toyo film holders exclusively. lack of Edge to edge sharpness has never presented it's self. As others have posted above, sharpness is not limited to particular brands or types of cameras. There are many factors that can affect overall sharpness.

-- Jim (, August 05, 2001.

Marcus: I have used both an Arca-Swiss 45FC and a Toyo 45AX extensively. The only situation in which the Arca-Swiss MIGHT produce a slightly sharper image is with a lens >300mm in focal length where the rigidity of the Arca is somewhat better. The Toyo mechanically excellent but somewhat more flexible at its maximum extension which is needed to focus a non-telephoto 300mm lens. For a 150-210mm lens, both cameras will produce equal results if used correctly. I would have to agree with Brian, that if you use no tilt or movements, you won't see any improvement in the image unless you enlarge to more than 16x20, and you will sacrifice some depth of field.

-- Glenn Kroeger (, August 05, 2001.

Going from one format to another isn't really an upgrade in the sense that I think you mean it. I cannot imagine that any 4x5 camera really is going to fit your needs. A modern roll film SLR is going to hold film flatter than any large format holder will and you'll have more precise alignment between groundglass and film plane location as well. if you are looking for a camera that will give you some basic movements like shift or rise fall as wel las tilt than you should consider the Fuji GX 680III instead.

Changing formats from a roll film SLR to a view camera is more like a change in photographic philosophy.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, August 05, 2001.

Marcus, if you do attempt 4x5 and are choosing between the field and monorail type...I can add only one thing.... I shoot with the Toyo 45AII and the Toyo VX125. The VX125 having a telescopic monorail makes the set up and break down process way way faster. If you shoot a lot, this sure is a nice feature...but you pay for it in camera size. I agree with the above posters...put your money in the sharpest lenses and the best film holders you can afford....

-- Bill Glickman (, August 05, 2001.

Marcus, I'd stick with your current set-up. As long as it does the job why change? Changing to LF is not about "upgrading". As previous postings have already mentioned, your medium format kit is "technologically" way ahead of most LF. Using a view camera involves a change in the whole process of making pictures. I'm not sure what medium you use (colour or black and white) but a move to LF demands some control over processing and printing. The Pentax has an excellent reputation, stick with it!! Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, August 05, 2001.

Hi Marcus

I agree with the most former posters but not with the idea thad you need a monorail if you start with 4x5 it will be the best a Linhof Technika or the Horseman FA for your use and demand! And for the lens the Rodenstock Apo Sironar N is a little bit sharper then the S version and it is also not so heavy! And for your little movements very okay. But if the sharpness is your goal you need the Schneider Vacuum Back too, so you get everything out of the lens! Good luck!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, August 05, 2001.

" And for the lens the Rodenstock Apo Sironar N is a little bit sharper then the S version"

Afraid you have your facts backwards

The S is the superior version

-- Bob Salomon (, August 05, 2001.

Hi Bob

I was quiet sure to get a response from you regarding my stating. I did a testing for my self 4-5 years ago S version against the N version, and the N version was the winner in sharpness, but only visible in really uge 30x times enlarments. So it was head on head with a very little pluspoint for the N! And I spoke to a men from germany, he came to the same results! But If I would need much shift and tilts I would take the S version without any doubts!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, August 05, 2001.

Sorry Armin but I question your testing.

How many of each lens?

What conditions? What image ranges?

The S will win 9+ times out of 10

-- Bob Salomon (, August 05, 2001.

Brian Ellis brought up one really important part of LF sharpness: The use of a good tripod. Get one twice as sturdy and heavy as you think you need. As for sharpness, any modern, well designed camera coupled with the Sironar lens will produce excellent sharpness. My preference for the shooting conditions you describe would be for a field or technical camera. You also need a good loupe. One other point... once you start using a LF camera, you may find that you will use the swings and tilts more than you think at this point. Good luck with your quest.


-- Doug Paramore (, August 05, 2001.

A Crown Graphic would be perfect for the work you describe. The main limitation of the Crown is a non-rotating back, but if you want only horizontal format images, it's perfect. It also has the advantage of being cheap, so you won't loose to much if you decide LF doesn't work for you, or if you want to try a different camera once you get a feel for things LF. Put your money into the lens.

-- David Rose (, August 05, 2001.

Armin, Just so you know, Schneider is no longer making Vacuum back. They had too many problems with the material it was made from with static electricity.

-- Jeff (, August 05, 2001.

I agree about the Crown Graphic. I also agree that you're not gonna notice any improvement from the 6x7 on a tripod until you get to 8x10 contact prints.

-- Wilhelm (, August 05, 2001.


If you live near a gallery that has Robert Glenn Ketchum's photographs, you could see some very sizable enlargements of images made with a Pentax 6x7. I haven't heard anyone complain about his technique.

One significant advantage the 6x7 as over the 4x5 is ease of setup. I know of at least one professional who moved up to 4x5 for landscape photography and then moved back when he saw how frequently he lost the light before he could trip the shutter.

Having said all of that, I moved from 35 directly to 4x5 and will stay where I am because I make extensive use of tilt and rise/fall. I think that once you move to 4x5, you may find your horizons expand if you explore the movements that are available.


-- Bruce M. Herman (, August 05, 2001.

Hi Bob

Just to answer your question. To be honestly I tested only one S against one N and thad N I still use and I don`t give it away! But what is with the german gentleman who got the similar results like me, without knowing about bevor? Of course it could be a lucky chance, but as far as I remember he tested more then only one. Mine I tested has been new, at the testing! But anyway it is easier to make a small diameter lens perfect then a larger one you agree on thad, Bob? But as mentioned in my first posting, if I would need the larger image circle from the S then I would take it!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, August 05, 2001.

Armin, The S has measurably and visably better performance, less distortion, better color, better range of optimal apertures, etc.

The problem is how did you test them?

I haven't seen your answer.

And it is possible that you found a truly superior N. But I still question the test first.

-- Bob Salomon (, August 05, 2001.

Hi Bob

I forgott the image range! The testing where 2 and 4 meters distance, my almost working distance in my little studio. But if I take it out for longer distances at infinity I`m always happy with the results, if it was a clear day! But the testing was only 2 and 4 meters without shift and tilt!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, August 05, 2001.

To everyone who wrote an answer to my question:

Thank you all very much, it is really wonderful to find so many responses, after just one day!

The reason for calling a 67 to 45 move an upgrade is that I really want to make large (color) prints, 30X40 (inches) or larger. With my 67 I shoot in a very slow way, always using a tripod, being economic with film. In fact, in that respect I seem to use my 67 as a mini 45. So the philosophy, also my attention for the image composition, seems to me not that different, I did consider this issue. The point about the lesser degree of film leveling in a LF is well taken. However, the tripling of the number of grains is the decisive factor, provided optics and mechanics will not negate this benefit. Film holding will to some degree, I worried about the mechanics and wondered about mono versus field. Your answers seem to tell me not to worry about that issue. Right?

-- Marcus Leonard (, August 05, 2001.

I've had no problem having 40"x40" prints made from 6cm x 6cm Hasselblad camera/Zeiss lenses) negatives and transparencies, or 24"x 30" prints made from 6x7cm film (Pentax 67 bodies and lenses. Detail is rendered with extraordinary crispness with architectural subjects. I am using mirror lockup w/ cable releases, a good tripod (gitzo 410) and Arca-Swiss B1 and B2 Monoball heads.

whether you decide to go with a monorail or a folding field camera design is sort of a personal preference. A high quality monorail camera -- Arca-Swiss F series, Linhof Technikardan TK45s, a Sinar P, C or X series --is every bit as stable and possibly quite possibly even more stable and as "solid" for field work as any field camera , and while they have thhey have the benefit of more extensive movements, they are also much bulkier (except in the case of the TK45s or the Arca FC cameras).

Bluntly: while right now you are insisting that you don't have any need for movements, but my guess is that as soon as you get a camera that has movements you'll start using them, especially vertical & horizontal shift, if for no other reason than the greater control you'll be able to exercise over your composition. Rear swing and tilt will offer you a great deal of perspective rendering control that a rigid bodied SLR cannot.

You should also consider where the nature of custom printing is technologically heading, and that is towards the universalization of some sort of digital intermediate step for large print making. Labs that can produce a better print directly from a piece of film than they can from a scanned piece of film (with the print generated either directly from the scan or (ala' Andreas Gursky) from a digitally generated internegative or interpositive will become increasingly hard to find over the next few years.

-- Ellis Vener (, August 05, 2001.

I once used the Pentax 6x7 before switching to 4x5 and then to 8x10. With 16x20 prints made from 400-speed color negative film, I could tell a difference between 6x7 and 4x5. As close distances (within 12 inches of the print), the prints from 6x7 negatives showed grain. The prints from 4x5 show no grain, even with a loupe. 8x10 contact prints show an improvement over 4x5, but enlargements from 8x10 do not.

If you want to make very large prints, the 4x5 may be right for you. I have both monorail and field cameras, and my field camera is more stable than the monorail, so the field camera should give sharper results in the field (if there is wind). The stability of the camera (not mono vs. field) can make a sharpness difference. I bet you will use some movements once you have them. For landscapses, front tilt allows you to get the land in focus from 1 inch to infinity, and front rise will allow you to look up at trees without having them lean backwards. I often use front tilt/rise outdoors.

-- William Marderness (, August 07, 2001.

I got into in order to use the big negative. I thought about the camera movements, and even talked about those movement possibilities; but the whole LF process was intimidating at best and I was certain that like a VCR I'd use about 10% of the camera's capabilities, and be happy with it. (Hinge rule? Sheesh!) And that big neg is nothing to sneer about - 35mm to medium format to LF - and that alone will improve the image.

But after I had the thing for awhile I started to play, and that front tilt got used. It affected sharpness as much as a good tripod. To tilt the front and get the same effective depth of field as a small aperture meant a faster shutterspeed instead of f32. I "swung" the front to create the same "sharpening" affect on a building. And sometimes I'd do both. Rise straightened not only buildings, but trees and I started using that.

My point is that after you have whatever camera you buy, you will use it in ways you haven't even thought about. So when you look at lenses, and cameras, try to buy MORE than you need right now, just so you don't get frustrated by small image circles (yielding limited movements) or short bellows, or cameras with lack of movements. You can always choose not to use them.

-- David Grandy (, August 07, 2001.


I have an enormous Pentax 67 kit and it is my most used camera. I use it professionally for documentary purposes. I also use a Crown Graphic and a Deardorff 8x10. I am very happy with the quality of the prints I get from my P67. I shoot only black and white and develop my own negatives and print my own prints.

But when I have time to compose a shot that I care about I will go for the Crown Graphic or Deardorff every time. I can recognize the difference from the 4x5 at an 11x14 print size. Perhaps I have a screwy Pentax body or poor skills or something but even with somewhat old lenses I get slightly better results from the 4x5 image size assuming I don't mess something up along the way (which is very easy to do). Even after some years of shooting I still botch a shot with some regularity due to a film holder problem, development problem, or other user error. The P67 on the other hand gets the shot every time and for most applications is sharper than necessary anyway.

But the real problem with using the P67 is lack of movements. I know you don't think you need them, but once you have them and learn to use them I bet you will wonder how you ever got along without them. For much landscape photography you will use a little bit of rise and a little bit of tilt. The Crown Graphic provides this. The Arca-Swiss provides it in spades. A high quality field camera will almost certainly give you all you need.

Lack of movements are the biggest limitation of the pentax in my opinion. Ease of use, outstanding image quality for a hand-held camera, and reliability are the reasons to keep using it. I would be prepared to notice a slight improvement in sharpness and grain, a huge increase in cost and botched shots (at least at first), a lot more difficulty in set-up, a lot more frustration, and a whole new world opened up for your work in terms of movements. The question about monorail v. field camera is mostly a question of style, portability, and desire for movements. I doubt you will need the movements a monorail will give you, but some do.

-- Erik Ryberg (, August 07, 2001.

Those using a medium format camera could adapt a bellows from close up photography that would give them tilt. Lee Mann, Washington State photographer, did this decades ago. It worked great.

I tend to use the back to get my depth, as I like the distortion.

I started with a graphic, moved to a wista and finally to a Linhof. You could do the same or learn from others' mistakes, and get a good 4x5 right off. But it won't be inexpensive.

The only thing I did right was buying good lenses, which I still use. Some of those lenses I probably could not afford to own now, like the Nikon Ts.

I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but hey, what the heck

-- Al Camp (, January 01, 2002.

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