Wista vs Ebony for Architecture

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I'm thinking of moving into 5x4 photography.

I'm particularly interested in using it for Architecture and Landscape.

I've found two options which seem to meet my needs for portability and flexibility. However the camera dealers and what I am reading vary in their opinion of what is acceptable for Architectural photography.

To summarise

a) Steve Simmons textbook "Using the view camera" suggests that field cameras dont have sufficient movements for Architectural photography.

b) The Wista is the cheaper alternative, recommended by a local dealer who says they are fine for architecture.

c) Another dealer says that Wista wood cameras flex too much for very wide angle lenses such as 65-75 mm lenses. He recommends the Ebony. He sells an Ebony with reduced movements (front rise/fall, axis tilt) which they claim is ideal for architecture.

My gut feel is to buy a camera with comprehensive movements, if for no other reason that I will probably only afford one such purchase and I might as well get everything I need in one shot.

My main problem is that every authority I consult has a different point of view. Overall, if I could afford it, I think that an Ebony with full movements might be the best approach but its the more expensive option.

Anyone got any views on this?

Cheers in advance

Paul Freeman

-- Paul Freeman (architekmd@hotmail.com), August 06, 2001


Why dont you try the Gandolfi Variant, it is a field camera but with many movements of the rail cameras.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm@worldnet.att.net), August 06, 2001.

I use a Sinar F-1 for professional architectural photography. Recently I bought a Wista SP metal field style camera as a more portable alternative to the Sinar, mainly for personal work. I have been using the Wista more and more (even for architectural work) because of the convenience of transport and set up. The only limitation I see with the Wista is that it lacks the very useful Sinar DOF calculactor, which is very important for interior work. It is also easier to see the levels on the Sinar, and it is a little better with very wide angle lenses. There is a lot to be said for the compact design of the Wista, however. I think if I had bought it first, I would not have felt the need for the Sinar for quite a while.

PS: I am referring here to the Wista SP, which takes a bag bellows. You should not consider a camera that doesn't for architectural work.

-- David Rose (DERose1@msn.com), August 06, 2001.

Would you like brochures on the Wista cameras or the Linhof TK 45S or the Master Technika? Or on lenses?

We can mail them to anyone in the U.S.

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), August 06, 2001.

Paul, I think you need to ask yourself what movements you think you'll need for the subjects you intend shooting. I shoot landscape and architecture and can honestly say that I have yet to come across a situation that my outfit was not able to handle. In fact, I have yet to use most of the movements available. I find that I tend to use a small degree of front axis tilt and rise or fall on the front standard. That's it!!. Never yet needed lateral shift or swing or any back movements!! The great thing about landscape/architecture is that only the very basic movements are needed. I use an Ebony and am thrilled with it - it was my first LF camera and I won't ever need to change it!! So although expensive it was a real investment. I was recently told that a lot of people fail to understand that the more movements you have on a camera, the less stable it is. When shooting with wide angle lenses as the majority of landscape/architecture requires, you need a camera that is ROCK steady and well aligned. Ebony cameras are as stable a field camera as you can get-hence their suitability for the sort of work you describe. Yes a Wista will do the job - but no where near as well as an Ebony. The Ebony you describe sounds like the RSW45. It has been stripped of all unecessary movements and is a real gem of a camera. The beauty of an Ebony is in the fact that they are an investment, you rarely see used ones for sale! If you feel you need more movements than the RSW, then the camera you need to look at is the SW45. Feel free to email me and I'll give you a (comprehensive)rundown on it!! For what its worth, when starting out I thought I needed a camera with every movement imaginable (MORE IS BETTER??) I'm glad I listened to the advice I was given!! Regards Paul

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), August 06, 2001.

Take a look at the Calumet wide 4x5 cameras. They are designed with a bag bellows & are made for wide angle lenses. Much less costly than even the brochures from Ebony.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), August 06, 2001.

Almost all view cameras have enough movements. For architecture the only movement which you might reach the limit of is front rise. If so, you can gain more front rise by tipping the camera upwards and tilting the front and rear standards back to plumb. The most common movements are front rise (perhaps large) and modest amounts of front or back tilt.

A more important issue for architecture photography is the convenience of using wide-angle lenses. What is the shortest lens that the camera will focus? What is the shortest lens that can be focused with a plain lensboard rather than a recessed lensboard? A recessed lensboard can make it hard to reach the controls but may be acceptable to you. To focus a short lens, some wooden cameras require that the front standard be tilted back and then the lens panel be tilted the other way. This too is inconvenient but may be acceptable to you. View cameras without interchangable bellows might focus a lens close, but greatly restrict the movements because the bellows are too constricted. This can be a real problem. For wide angle lenses you will probably want a camera that has a bag bellows as an option (some will suggest that the Canham DLC works fine without a bag bellows but my experience is otherwise).

There are field cameras that will handle architecture photography.

If you want to see how well the camera handles wide-angle lenses, ask the dealer to mount a 72 or 75 mm lens, or at least to position the lensboard about 70 mm from the ground glass. Then see if a front rise of 48 mm (about 2 inches) can be easily applied. The 48 mm is the capability of the 72 mm Super-Angulon XL, one of the lenses that will most push the capabilities of a camera. How convenient was this operation? Do the front and rear standards remain parallel?

-- Michael Briggs (MichaelBriggs@EarthLink.net), August 06, 2001.

It depends on your intent: If by "architectural photography" you simply mean you want to take photoraphs of buildings for your own enjoyment and aesthetic pursuits, a field camera will probably be sufficient for your needs.

If on the other hand you mean by "architectural photography" of buildings, interiors and exteriors, for professional purposes (i.e. for clients) than a monorail view camera is the tool you need, regardless of brand. Then you will need and use all of the movements, especially the rear movements, afforded by a monorail design.

I'm not a camera salesman, I'm not a dealer, I'm not a camera manufacturer's sales or tech representative, I'm not an amateur photographer either. I am a working professional photographer who shoots architecture, interior design, and architectural installations for at least of a third of his living. I use an Arca-Swiss F-Line 4x5. Previously I used to use a Sinar C (for ten years). I have also used a top of the line Horseman, and Toyo monorail, and briefly used a Sinar F1, and Canham DLC. I have good friends who use the Linhof TK45s Technikardan and Cambo/Calumet cameras. All of these are fine cameras. The Canahm DLC was the least suited for professional architectural photography (but it is a very fine all around field/ location camera, which is what it was designed for!). What I look for in a camera is precision and ease of use, and then what feels right in my hands. If professional architectural photography is what you want to do, then a monorail is what you need as that is the right tool for the job.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), August 09, 2001.


Ellis is right on IMO. A monorail is the way to go if you want to shoot architecture. Like Ellis, I do this for a living as well. I use a Sinar F. I usually use only half of the full standard monorail. You can easily mount a 58mm lens on a flat board if you put the rail clamp behind the rear standard instead of inbetween the two standards.

The most important camera movements for this kind of photography in my opinion is sufficient rise for the front standard and rear shift as well. I'd say that about 90% of the pictures I frame merely need these two movements, keeping the back fully parallel to the building. Often, you wouldn't have the time to use tilts though it can be useful at times to get enough DOF.

IMHO, the Sinar F1/F2 is a good camera for this. It's really fairly lightweight. The Arca Swiss is a whole lot more refined and more rigid, and is fully geared. A good choice if you have the budget.

-- K H Tan (kahheng@pacific.net.sg), August 10, 2001.


I cannot comment on a Wista since I've never used one. I recently purchased an Ebony 45SU, which has a longer bellows extension than the 45S and a "universal" bellows that can be used with wide-angle lenses. It has full movements front and back (asymmetrical rear tilt and swing movements), superb engineering and workmanship, a really well-designed reduction back for 6x9 film holders, and for me a hefty price-tag. I think it would be hard to find a wooden field camera that could match it for architectural photography. I think your feeling about full movements is on the mark. I've also used an Arca Swiss F-line camera, which is quite different than the Ebony (more like a scientific instrument, with geared movements) and certainly the Ebony's equal. In the field I think the Ebony is easier to carry around and use, but either camera would work terrifically well. Good luck. Michael Alpert.

-- Michael Alpert (alpert@umit.maine.edu), August 14, 2001.

Heck, for what you pay for an Ebony you can buy a Linhof TK45S and a lens to boot!

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm@worldnet.att.net), August 14, 2001.


Here's my one cent. I'm not a professional Architectural photographer, but I shoot New York city's skyscrapers for fun, part of my "landscape" interest. I use a Gandolfi Variant Level 3 camera with a bag bellows. It's a field camera, but has many monorail camera features. See its spec below. It's built like a tank, which in part explains why Gandolfi is still in business after 120+ years. If you ever decided to switch to 5x7 or even 8x10 format, you can simply buy their format conversion kits. It's a modular system. For the money of an Ebony, you can get a Gandolfi, a couple of wide angle lenses, and tons of film! Here's its spec:


SPECIFICATIONS (mm) 4 x 5 LEVEL 3. LENS STANDARD. Vertical shift Rise 26. Vertical Shift Fall 44. Horizontal Shift L/R 25/25. Swing L/R 25/25. Tilt Forward 90. Tilt Backward 32. Lens Panel Standard Technica. Rack focus Travel 174.


CAMERA BACK Vertical Shift 35. Horizontal shift L/R 24/24. Swing L/R 11.5/11.5deg. Tilt - Forward/Back 45/35 deg. Rack focusing travel 118. International Back REVOLVING BELLOWS . Bag Bellows lens usage 47/120. Minimum extension 80. Maximum extension 485. TRIPOD SOCKETS "1x1/4" 1x3/8". DIMENSIONS L x W x D 244 x 250 x 150. WEIGHT KG 4.

Would these movements be enough for your requirements?

To summarise: a) Steve will say that "field cameras dont have sufficient movements for Architectural photography, except Gandolfi Variant Level 3" in his next edition. b) Your local camera dealer shoots Minox. c) Field cameras with standard bellows could be a pain in the b... when working with wide angle lenses. Cameras with bag bellows can make your life much simpler.

Good luck! Cheers,

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), August 14, 2001.

These question-and-answer forums include contributors who also are representatives of manufacturers, importers, or distributors. I wish that these contributors would identify their commerical interests whenever they offer suggestions. By identifying themselves accurately, they would not discredit themselves at all. It would be a courtesy that the rest of us would appreciate.

-- Michael Alpert (alpert@umit.maine.edu), August 15, 2001.

"Would you like brochures on the Wista cameras or the Linhof TK 45S or the Master Technika? Or on lenses?

We can mail them to anyone in the U.S. -- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), August 06, 2001. "

this would usually indicate that we market these items to most people.

Is that what you mean?

If not suggest a way to automatically include a sig using a Mac and IE that requires no extra key strokes.

-- Bob Salomon (bob@hpmarketingcorp.com), August 15, 2001.


Yes. Thank you. The wording of your previous note is exactly what I mean. But you're surely not the only representative who contributes to this forum. Since people dip in and out of these discussions, I think it would be helpful for you and others to consistently identify any commerical interests. Often people promote a specific product because they are enthusiastic customers (and all of us are fortunate to have such a wide range of fine photographic equipment available). But sometimes the motivation behind a contribution is not so simple. The original question in this thread involved a rather complex decision, with different qualities and functions being evaluated against each other (Paul Freeman, I am interested in reading about your choice). Anyway, you obviously understand what I'm saying. Again, thank you.

-- Michael Alpert (alpert@umit.maine.edu), August 16, 2001.


Suppliers send out literature to interested parties. I am talikng about mail.

Users rarely mail literature on an open basis to all that are interested.

-- Bob Salomon (bob@hpmarketingcorp.com), August 16, 2001.

I hope Paul Freeman will let us know what he has decided. Bob, as long as you use hpmarketingcorp.com in the email address to identify yourself, you will (in my opinion) be contributing to this forum responsibly. Please also use the hpmarketingcorp email address whenever you contribute information to Medium Format Digest and other forums.

-- Michael Alpert (alpert@umit.maine.edu), August 17, 2001.

Any other suspects Mr. Michael Alpert?

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), August 17, 2001.


I appreciate the contributions of people who have expertise in the matters under discussion in these forums. I think my request is very straight-forward. I think that contributors who also have an interest in selling equipment identify their commerical interest. It seems to me that my suggestion is modest and will lead to a more open discussion. It's up to contributors to identfy themselves. People can play obvious games with multiple email identifications, etc., but I don't think we should worry about that sort of thing. These forums are of tremendous help to everyone, enhanced by a great variety of viewpoints. Ellis, I (and I am sure many others) have noticed your contributions. Thank you. You have consistently been informative and have articulated your point of view very well.

-- Michael Alpert (alpert@umit.maine.edu), August 20, 2001.

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