A Challenge to the Forum

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

Hi Everyone,

A few posts back there was a guy announced he had just bought his first LF package and as near as I can figure this outfit cost close to $4K. When I read this it struck me that it was a lot of money to enter a format that someone may not have had any experience and that it gave the impression that LF photography is one for the well off.

It also struck me that at a time when products for large format photography are being discontinued by major manufacturers we as a group have an obligation to encourage people to at least try the field. If the impression is that it costs thousands of dollars to enter LF than we can only expect the number of LF photographers to either diminish or remain relatively the same. In other words we as a buying group will become weaker and the range of products available to us will continue shrink as manufacturers find more profitable markets.

So my challenge to the forum is this:

Propose a beginners complete LF package that can be purchased for under $900.

Why $900, for the same reason things cost $19.99. Psychologically it means a lot to be under $1000. If we get a good set of responses maybe it can be made part of the site as a buying guide.

Good Luck and Thanks

-- Kevin Kemner (kkemner@tatesnyderkimsey.com), November 28, 2001


If you call Calumet you can get a nice 4x5 camera with lens, holders & dark cloth for well under your price limit.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), November 28, 2001.


Challenge taken.

I just bought a lightly used Graflex Super Speed Graphic with a very good coated German lens for $750 Cdn, including case and film holders. A very good used Manfrotto tripod can easily be had for less than 150 US so there is a first rate 4x5 outfit for less than 600 US.

With all due respect, a new Ebony, Sinar or Gandolfi is a waste for a newcomer. Learning how to load film, focus, then learn the movements can all be done on a used good camera. Also, a selection of lenses other than a single 135 mm or 210 mm or so is a needless distraction.

Spend a few hundred bucks on some outdated film, a daylight processing box and a light meter and then "Watch out Minor White/ John Sexton/ Richard Avedon/or even Robert Mapplethorpe".

If I were offering it for sale, I have a fully functional Iston wood field camera with a Wollensak barely coated lens and I would offer it for $300 US, with 2 holders. It works just fine. But of cours, I would not offer anything for sale on this site.


-- RICHARD ILOMAKI (richardjx@hotmail.com), November 28, 2001.

Heaps and heaps of ways to do it. One way - a decent condition Graphic 4x5 can be had for $300 or so (a used Meridian for about $500, maybe even a used Tech III). A used Fuji 150 mm can be had for aboput $200 - 300. A 100mm wide field Ektar for about $200. A set of 6 film holders (in 4x5, not too expensive even new). A Toyo loupe about $40. A cheap light meter like a Weston or even a used Gossen, less than $100. A tripod (pick up a wooden Bromwell for about $150 or troll eBay for cheaper and older wood tripods).

Even 8x10 can be managed on this kind of budget. I started with a Kodak 2D (paid about $300), a triple convertible Gundlach rectigraphic (about $150), six used film holders (about $100). You can even cough up for more recent glass like a Protar series or a Symmar convertible.

It can be done and with less quality impacts than in some other formats. My Gundlach rectigraphic gave me pictures that look as sharp in contact prints as more modern glass. Cheers, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (dhananjay-nayakankuppam@uiowa.edu), November 28, 2001.

Kevin, at that price you're looking at used equipment, and there are steady offerings on both e-bay and the photo.net classifieds. I'm sure there are quality used kits available at some of the dealers as well. As to specifics, others have mentioned some popular timeless offerings that would serve a beginner as well as a higher priced kit. I'm currently looking for a lower priced kit myself ( wooden field, 90-135 lens ) so I'll let you know how I make out. Regards, Mike

-- Michael Mahoney (mmahoney@nfld.com), November 28, 2001.

I couldn't agree with you more here, Kevin....as a pro who uses LF gear, I'm always dumbfounded at some of the setups people write about getting started with....if they could see the kind of equipment and age of it that we use in our studio, and even at other places I've worked in as an assistant.....I recently upgraded my 4x5 stuff at home, when Calumet started discounting the 45NX....you can get one new for $750 now....or the cheaper model for a hundred or so less. Or any number of older Toyos and Omegas on the market used.....that's what we use here, a newer Toyo GII model, and an absolutely ancient Omega D that just refuses to die!

My bid on a new setup would be a beginner Cambo/Calumet kit or the Toyo entry level monorail. Any decent used monorail as well, but try to price accesories like lensboards, bag bellows etc. before taking the plunge into the more expensive brands....all the little things can really add up after awhile. Probably the best place to start would be in learning to load a holder first, then think about buying a camera.....

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 28, 2001.

Dear Kevin;

You raise some interesting thoughts. As for my own experience, I have had a view camera for about 10 years, but it was resting comfortably on a shelf in my basement. When I originally got the camera, I had gone out and added all those accessories I could buy new and some I found in the camera store in their used area. I found it difficult to build my system. I shot some images, but never delved deeply into LF at that time. Most of my work was medium format or 6x17 panoramic (I guess that is 'kinda' shooting large forat).

Last year, a friend induced me to look at Ebay and start tracking all of the camera products being offered. I ended up buying a high end 35mm digital which re-awakened a passion for photography. Not just digital, but also causing me to shoot more film in my medium, panoramic, but especially large format cameras. Then I put two and two together and looked at the large format listings. All of a sudden, I am bidding on and winning auctions to buy those bits and pieces of equipment for my large format camera that I previously could not afford or maybe couldn't find. I have even bought stereo cameras via Ebay-when was the last time you thought about taking those kind of images. In a way, I think Ebay may be a tremendous asset to LF. Think of all those people who have had cameras they wanted to sell, but the prices offered when they went to re-sellers was not enough so they decided to just keep them in the box. Ebay gives them an outlet and the market determines the price which advantages both buyer and seller. I think it is easier and more convenient than scouring the used departments or waiting for ads in magazines that maybe were placed months ago. Put on top of this, forums like we are in where people from all over the country are giving advice, asking questions and mutually assisting each other. I felt like I was alone a decade ago and did not now where to turn for answers other than my local camera store-now I find friends and others who genuinely want to help me no matter how simple my needs.

Perhaps LF is being eclipsed in the commercial market-that can be a whole discussion by itself. Digital is certainly digging into the sales of film products and that trend is continuing. However, for people with a passion for taking pictures and for those enjoying the mystery and art of photography, there may be benefits in this revolution of technology. True, products and companies are disappearing at an unfortunately too quick rate, but the ranks may be strong as ever.

Thank you for helping me to think about these issues.



-- John Bailey (mdwphoto@aol.com), November 28, 2001.

Kevin, As you have probably gathered by now prices of LF or any photographic gear for that matter is not a reliable indicator. It all depends on what the buyer is prepared to pay, what type of gear they are prepared to consider (some people have strange and strong preconceptions) and whether they know where to look. I picked up a good Horseman LS at a liquidation sale for just over $100, a Schneider 150mm / 265mm lens on eBay for $150 and a set of five film backs for less than $30 from the same auction site. I am sure that others have also bucked the shop prices and acquired decent LF gear at knock down prices.


-- Clive Kenyon (clivekenyon@hotmail.com), November 28, 2001.

DK, I agree. LF equipment just doesn't wear out too often. I have been using a mix of old and new equipment for nearly 40 years. It's just tools and I use whatever I have or can afford.

Don't knock those who buy new and get up. They are the suppliers of the good, barely used, equipment that ebay is filled with. Those of us who actually use the stuff need these people to take the edge off of the new prices for us.

But to the point of the thread, I always recommend that beginers get a Graphic or Busch press camera and use it for awhile before going to a view camera. You can get this outfit: camera with 135mm lens, 90mm angulon, some used holders, and a meter = $500 or less which is about the price of that new digital snapshot camera that will be obsolete in three years. When they do get ready for the view camera, I recommend a Graphic view to start. It's cheap, sturdy, and small and they can use their existing lenses. When it is time to step up to the "big time" cameras you can get every penny back from your investment in these old cameras. Try getting a 100% return from that $4K wizzband deluxe outfit! Meanwhile, you have just given yourself thousands of dollars of education. wf

-- Wayne Firth (wfirth@silverlight.net), November 28, 2001.

>> Don't knock those who buy new and get up. <<

Sorry, I meant to say: Don't knock those who buy new and then get out of LF.


-- Wayne Firth (wfirth@silverlight.net), November 28, 2001.

It could have been me you were referring to, since I mentioned the cash outlay involved in my move up to LF, in comparing the relative start-up costs between 35/MF, LF, and Digital gear. It was closer to 5 grand, and while I would be the first one to agree that that is a lot of money, it's nowhere near top of the scale for LF. I certaily agree that you can get into LF for a lot less, but my situation was and is different. I'm new to LF, but don't consider myself a biginner.

Even if you were not referring to me I still think you have to take this on an individual basis. I totally agree that folks should know that you can get into LF for a lot less than I did. It would not be a good idea to spend 5 grand on a 'tryout', but in my case I was past that.

I've done this most of my adult life, fell in love w/the idea of doing the alternative processes, and contact printing w/POP paper. After thirty years of Portrait/People/Street scene work, this is a logical growth step for me and I can use my LF gear for my business and personal work.

I audited this forum for a year and researched the LF equipment I wanted and where I could get it at the lowest price. I could have easily ended up getting a LF outfit for a lot less than I did.

I had always wanted a Toyo 810MII, and one hit the market brand new, for about $1500.00 less than what the dealers were willing to sell it to me for at the exact same time I had decided to make the move. The camera was for sale for about the same price as a used one and it was get it now or pass. One of my better decisions 'cause I love this camera. This camera will be with me for life.

I didn't start out with the mind set, 'I think I'll blow 5 grand on a LF outfit'. The camera was $3300, I got a Docter Optics 360mm F6.7 Tessar for $737.00 from Mr Cad, and a Wollensak Velostigmat 300mm F4.5 SF for $285.00. I didn't 'splurge' moneywise and everything was 'cut to the bone', and after getting some invaluable feedback about the Toyo 810MII from Dave Anton, I got the camera while the 'getting was good'.

You can easily get into LF for less than $1000.00 if you're willing to wait, and pick your spots, and I mentioned my LF budget in the context of its comparison to digital gear.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 28, 2001.

Although I get where you're coming from I have to disagree somewhat. My first and current LF outfit is an Ebony with a few (new) schneider lenses and 10 new Toyo film holders. This outfit cost me a small fortune!! BUT I knew that I wanted a set up that I could use and never have to change/upgrade. I appreciate that there are many fine photographers using much cheaper equipment and still turning out fabulous work. But I could not afford to buy an outfit only to find that I needed/wanted to upgrade it after a short time. Trade-in values here in the UK are laughable!! (And not just for LF kit). I spent a great deal of time and effort researching my options (and without the benefit of the vast pool of knowledge on this forum!!) before I bought my camera. But I agree that a first timer to photography would be better off trying a different format than LF at any price! However, the step to LF is a daunting enough prospect for even the most seasoned photographer and I wonder how many of this type of user would spend a few grand on an outfit if they were not real sure that it was the format for them. As for LF being a format for the well-off, well it is!! You either have to be wealthy or prepared to divert as much of your hard earned cash as you can manage to pursue your passion. Have you seen the price of gear? Film? Especially if you want to buy new! As for encouraging potential LF users. IMHO anyone considering moving to LF would probably be au fait with smaller formats and would be aware of the disciplined and expensive nature of LF photography. Its not like someone who is new to 35mm, starting out with a basic camera to see if he/she gets on with the hobby. Here in the UK you would be hard pushed to find a good condition used outfit for less than 600 (not sure what $1000 converts into!!). Such an outfit would be described at best as a "user". I personally would consider it a waste of money following this route. When I moved to LF I KNEW that it was the format for me! At first I struggled with tilts etc, but the fact that I had so much money tied up in my gear, IT WAS GOING TO WORK!! Finally, my advice to potential users of LF would be this: If you are serious then buy the best you can afford, but be aware that as a format it will be mighty expensive in all departments!! But despite these negative vibes, LF is still the most addictive and pleasurable type of photography!! Regards Paul

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), November 28, 2001.

Kevin ... I'm impressed with the awesome amount of money that some posters on this forum have to spend on LF photo gear. I take my hat off to them. As a working-class stiff with a family to feed, I have to scrimp and save to buy, say, one lens. It's possible to get workable gear at bargain prices. About two years ago, I purchased a used Calumet 8x10 C1 and an old 300mm lens, both for under $800.

-- Ben Calwell (bcalwell@aol.com), November 28, 2001.

For any newcomer there is a balancing act when it comes to starting out in large format. Cost vs reliability. By reliability I am refering to a used outfit being in good enough shape to eliminate frustrating variables. Is the bellows light proof, is there excessive play in the standards on the rail, does it lock down the standards properly, what condition is the lens, the shutter, the film back etc. New you have the added expense but at least you know everything is new and works properly and is (supposedly) in alignment and calibrated. As someone who started out with used cameras (calumet 400c and Speed Graphic) I would have saved myself a lot of time buying new. I agree with Dan Smith about the the Calumet pkg. its new relatively robust for the price and the Caltar 150mm or 200mm lens are an excellent lens for the price with Calumet support and accesories available.

-- James Chinn (jchinn2@dellepro.com), November 28, 2001.

I agree with Paul, but I also think one has to balance the available budget with the available equipment. As an adult who has no children I was able to buy the best I could possibly afford, and I think this was a matter of choice, like someone said "there is nothing like the right tool for the job". IMO I always try to buy the best that I can afford, on the long run I end up saving more than if I bought a cheaper article which I would have to replace, trade in later for something better. There is nothing wrong with spending $4000 in an outfit that will last a life time, over the years the price will seem negligible. On the other hand if I can get an 8x10 Deardoff in mint condition for $500 I am sure as hell not going to pass on the opportunity. My initial LF purchase was of the expensive kind, Linhof TK 45, but as I mentioned before, this camera still looks and works like it was new...minus some fading numbers from use. :-)) I certainly think that averaged over the 12 years I have owed this camera, the price was worth it. Having said that, I could not pass the offer of a speed graphic in mint condition with case and bulb flash :-)) for 350 dollars...I had great fun with this camera, even taking hand held fotos on 4x5...what a great experience! But in the end, getting the series VI filters, etc became a hassle and decided to sell it to a beguinner for the same price who has had a lot of fun and learning experiences with the camera. in the end it all comes to a matter of available funds and commitment to the format, and yes....some status recognition..:-)))

OTH I have to say that when I chose an 8x10 camera, I could not see myself paying $6000 to $9000 for an Ebony, heck for that I can buy a Canham 12x20 and a couple of lenses with film holders. So I went with the Gandolfi, I do beleive that there comes a time when the "best" is not necesarily the best at those prices.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm58@prodigy.net.mx), November 28, 2001.

I did exactly what Paul Owen did, for the same reasons. I bought an Ebony, two new lenses (1 R, 1 S), and a QuickLoad holder. I knew that I wanted to commit to LF, and didn't want to go through "upgrade" cycles (which would cost more, in the long run). I researched to choose equipment that I would buy once and never find "lacking". Cost was not my primary issue - I waited to save the money I needed.

If you are unsure of your commitment, or can't afford to buy your "final" gear, then finding bargains is a worthy idea.

If you really don't know if LF is suitable, rent the gear.

-- Michael Chmilar (chmilar@acm.org), November 28, 2001.

Don't get me wrong with my comment...I wasn't aiming it at anyone or anything.....it's just that to me, anyways, a view camera is a pretty simple machine....when you're starting out there is simply no need for the kind of controls and features that you get on some of the high-end cameras.....it reminds me of an assistant we had once who couldn't do scheimpflug on our toyo....he insisted that we had to have a Sinar....if you can't do it visually, then having a scheimpflug scale & indicator is no big help either....I guess my point is this: get the best deal you can, but beware of really old beaters if you want to learn & enjoy it. There's nothing more frustrating than a camera that won't lock down, or chasing mysterious pinholes in a worn-out bellows....I agree that moving into LF can be a real mystery, especially if there's nobody around you to help....it just seems like a disservice (sp??) to say you have to have a $$$$$ camera or else you can't do large format....same goes for lighting too...I don't know how many threads there've been here and on other forums as well, that all say you need to use broncolors or elinchroms, kinflos and hosemasters.....I dunno, could just be me....I work in a place with zero in the way of equipment budgets....we use old cameras & when they break down, keep using them....and yet they work just fine, I see our stuff printed in 4 color, murals made, going on PR releases....shot on what some people call budget cameras and pieces of junk.....

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 28, 2001.

Regardless of format, Photography for those who are serious about it, is not cheap. I think we're mixing up issues, you get what you get, with what you got, but if you're well off and buying toys that you use for a while and then get rid of at a considerable loss when you become bored, that is something else.

I buy cameras and camera gear for life. The bottom line regarding my selection of gear is will it give me trouble free operation after going off warranty. I try to get things where the initial outlay is the only 'big ticket' payment I have to make outside of regular maintenence and since I take care of my stuff, I rarely have to take my stuff to the shop.

The only equipment I've ever gotten rid of were my Rolleis 'cause they were in the shop too much. I made the switch to Mamiya and stopped the financial drain. There is not much to go wrong with LF, and I have some definite goals to attain w/LF(contact printing), so LF is a cinch for me.

Regardless of format, the cost is going to add up if you're serious about Photography even if you're not doing it as a business. There's no getting around the fact that it is expensive even as a serious hobby.

I think Leica is dynamite, but I wouldn't buy a leica 'cause I don't think there'll be a $1000.00 difference in the shot I take with a Leica versus the shot I take with the 35mm cameras I've got. I read up on Sinar cameras, they seem to be arguably the ultimate to some folks, I'm not about to pay $10,000 for one, even if I had the money.

I'll be the first one to suggest Robert White, Mr. Cad, and e-bay as a way to save money, even if you have it, because that's the way to be. We all know that Photography involves a lot of impulse buying only the rich folks can afford to be silly.

There are several issues at work here. Nobody is going to do any serious work with a 'point and shoot', so there is a bottom line and dollar amount that must be spent to do good work, but the stands and strobes and filters and so forth in addition to the camera system are going to add up.

No matter what you plan on spending on Photography, you're going to probably end up spending a lot more. That's an entirely different proposition than being a 'gearhead', which I define as being someone who buys more gear than they really need, essentially because they love to buy gear.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 28, 2001.

1x standard house brick $0.02

1x hacksaw ~ $5.00

1x visit to camera shop at 2:30AM - free

Spend the remaining $894.98 on film.

(only kidding)

More practically, if you live in or near a large city the $900 could be spent over a long period by renting a decent LF outfit only for those weekends when you're going to actually go out and use it. You can usually rent gear from Friday lunchtime through to monday morning for the price of a single day's hire. Has the added advantage that if you ever get enough to buy your own rig, you'll be a lot more familiar with the equipment and know what you want.

-- Stuart Whatling (swhatling@hotmail.com), November 28, 2001.

This is a good discussion but it has evolved into two parts.

If you can afford the "good stuff" by all means do it. I shoot 4x10 a lot. I use a homemade camera exclusively for 4x10 even though I have a 4 x10 Canham in the closet. I use what I'm comfortable with. I just do not like to use the Canham although I know it is a fine camera --- for someone :)

But the original challenge was to put together a good outfit for little money. I think this is a really good exercise to put things into perspective. Good photography is the desired result and that can be accomplished just as well with an economy outfit as with a luxury outfit. wf

-- Wayne Firth (wfirth@silverlight.net), November 28, 2001.


I am African and we have a saying in Swahili that goes like "He/She who chooses a hoe he is not a farmer" the same applies for first timers like me in LF. A year ago I bought a miniature (2X3)Speed Graphic for $250 + D.C tax at a flea market that comprised of a 105mm Schneider Xenar, a 101mm Ektar and a 65mm Wollesak Raptar all in mint condition. The seller even threw in 6 or 8 holders and a nice case. I have since been learning the craft, I feel I can pretty much use a LF camera in the most effective and efficient manner relative to the $$ I will commit. Let's not forget that, it is the eye and not the equipment that makes a good photographer although I will admit that a good equipment helps too.


-- Adrian Ng'asi (adrianngasi@yahoo.com), November 28, 2001.

Probably something else that I'd add...without going off on a tangent like I did before (sorry, must be in a bad mood today...)...is to you know, get a usable camera, but if you want to spend money (and can), get the best lens you can find.....that's all a view camera is, a box that you can put a lens on and stick a holder in.....

I'd also add, in regards to getting a good used high-end LF camera, hey---that's great for some people--but price out all the accesories you think you'll ever want before you buy the camera....lensboards, extension rails, short rails, bag bellows, extension bellows, fresnel gg attachments, viewing hoods, right angle finders, uh....let's see? compendium shades, roll film holders, etc. The cost & availability of some of that stuff can be surprising and depends alot on your location as well. Like I was saying...it's often the little things that add up the most.....I just went the opposite way, having worked with and around bare bones stuff my whole working life, I went with a basic camera and a couple of decent lenses. I figured all the fancy stuff would just be lost on me anyways....

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 28, 2001.

HEY STUART... I am a bricklayer by trade, and I would like to know where you are getting your standard house bricks for 2 cents. The last bricks I ordered were 38 cents each plus sales tax!!! ;0D

-- Dave Richhart (pritprat@erinet.com), November 28, 2001.


Although I agree with some of the content in this discussion I cannot fully agree that a quality LF camera is not the way to go for a relative beginner. As for myself I was able to start on a Calumet C400 but quickly matured to a nice Ebony SV45U. Does my photographic skills warrant such an expensive camera? Would I not be able to make good photographs with a less expensive model? Of course the answers are I do not NEED an Ebony and yes I could probably accomplish the same results I presently get with a Crown Graphic. So why buy an Ebony?

Well just as when many folks invest in a new vehicle. You know what you are buying and what the car is capble of. You could have bought used but you might of had to settle for a different smaller or perhaps large car. You were not able to buy the exact model used that you wanted at the time you desired and wished to make the purchase.

More importantly you now have an investment in a new LF camera that has a specific dollar value. As long as you take care of your investment you can probably sell your expensive new camera and obtain a good portion of your money back. So this is really not such a big risk of "cash outlay" as some may think, especially if you are a relative beginner. You now have a known product and if you did your homework it will have a very good resale value. (should you change your mind about LF photography)

My vote goes for buying what best suits you budget and meets all your perceived needs. This will be different for each person, but I have learned my lesson through woodworking, "Always buy the best tools you can afford and only feel the pain once in your pocketbook. You will then always enjoy using these tools well into the future, making the job easier and more pleasurable."


-- GreyWolf (grey_wolf@telusplanet.net), November 28, 2001.

Well stated, Adrian. We have a saying in the US: "That's it in a nutshell!"

>>>>Adrian said: Let's not forget that, it is the eye and not the equipment that makes a good photographer although I will admit that a good equipment helps too.<<<<

-- Wayne Firth (wfirth@silverlight.net), November 28, 2001.

I think more can be done for the format if the more experienced shooters take interested parties under their wing and instruct them. Show them the ropes and let them take a picture on your equipment. I also believe that practicing LF photography as an inexperienced shooter is always more interesting when sharing the experience with others. Granted as time goes on you'll want to strike out on your own, but a LF companion has it rewards. When people see me shooting my camera it always brings interesting comments. From now on I'm going to let them take a look thru the GG, and if their a shooter let them take a B&W. I always carry more than enough. If the experience pips their interest I'll help them with buying a camera.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), November 28, 2001.

DK....I think you and everybody else is right talking from their individual perspective, and I understand that the choice I made might not work for others and I would just add this.

I am a woodworker just like Grey, I bought the best tools I could afford, which helped to keep the fingers that I need dearly to operate my cameras.

Woodworking teaches you some of the same things as LF(all photography for that matter), discipline, patience, and using brutal honesty in working out a budget for a project. That's why I KNEW I LF was going to work for me.

When I started auditing this forum, I was open to everything, any deal, any camera, and so for quite a long time I watched, listened, and waited. Finding out about Robert White(thanks to Dave Anton), Mr Cad, and dealing w/extreme caution on e-bay, helped me save a BIG CHUNK on the LF gear I finally decided on.

Stating what I spent on LF in this post doesn't give you the sense of the time that I took to research this. Quite a bit of time was spread out between my purchase of the camera, each lens, the tripod, the head and so forth. The whole process has taken close to a couple of years I believe.

Quite a bit of time was taken inquiring, negotiating, e-mailing, talking to folks about several cameras. I was close to getting an 810M from a dealer you all know for $1295, and that camera was sold before I could close the deal. I had several promising deals fall through. I'm the last guy in the world to 'blow a wad' on a 'name brand' to 'show off' w/either the cars I drive, my woodworking tools, or the camera I was finally lucky to get.

Bottom line is that I happy with what I've got for the amount of money I paid for it, and the two year process it took is over. There's no bad taste in my mouth. This cost more than what I thought it would at the beginning, but there is not one single regret, since this is for a lifetime and it's over.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 28, 2001.

My LF setup cost a little bit more than the $900 goal, but it was put together in a manner that worked well for me. I think my #1 purchase is something LF beginners should seriously consider.

1. LF class at community college $142

The class included access to B&W and color darkrooms, free chemistry, and use of 4x5 monorails (Linhof, Sinar, Calumet) and field cameras (Tachihara). This was one of the better investments I made. I learned how to load and develop sheet film, how to use the movements on both monorails and field cameras, and quite a few other things. If I decided LF wasn't for me, I would have learned that up front. However, after taking the class, I decided LF really fit my personality and that I would be better off with a field camera than a monorail. I looked at Speed Graphics, but had a good opportunity to get a Shen Hao direct from Shanghai.

2. Shen Hao 4x5 from Shanghai (brought over by a colleague) $525 3. Calumet Caltar II-S 150/5.6 on eBay $200 4. Minolta Autometer IVf from KEH $150 5. Six used film holders from local shop $ 50 6. Used Tiltall tripod (had already) $ 50 7. Cable release $ 5 8. Homemade darkcloth $ 2

Total with class: $1124. Total without class: $982

If I absolutely had to get under the $900 mark, I could have used my 35mm to meter, bought a less expensive meter, and/or bought a less expensive lens, such as a 203/7.7 Ektar.


-- Dave Willis (willisd@medicine.wustl.edu), November 28, 2001.

Hey, I understand...I use Leica rangefinders, and I used to have a pretty nice little Hasselblad setup.....look, I know it all adds up, I have what amounts to a nice little setup of studio gear myself, and pretty decent darkroom of my own....where I work, we have probably about $50K worth of equipment, and we're _nothing_ compared to a commercial studio...this is a non-profit agency. I appreciate fine tools, well machined cameras & lenses just as much as you do too probably....I looked at Linhofs, a Horseman, and a couple of Sinars, all I could afford....but went with the Cambo because it too, is a fine camera, and can do everything I need....and the accesories won't put me in the poor house when I need them....before that, I was using a Graphic View II and a couple of Schneider lenses....and doing freelance work of my own...my clients didn't know the shots were done on this old equipment, they just knew the chromes looked how they wanted to....what drove me crazy was that I was "spoiled" at work using our Japanese cameras.....

Believe me, the temptation was strong to buy a nice, exquisite camera that was a work of art unto itself.....but I've done that before with the Hasselblads and found myself making money with the Graphics and the beat up Nikons. Someone could spend a couple of hundred bucks on a camera, get a polaroid back, a few cases of film, about 350 film holders, a case or two Fujichrome, and maybe a used Wing Lynch and run their own E6 for the price of some of those cameras.....

In the end it really _doesn't_ matter what you use, as long as it works for you.

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 28, 2001.

Oh yeah, seeing Dave's post up there reminds...my introduction to LF came in the way of messing around with press cameras in high school, getting crap jobs as an assistant (loading holders for hours on end), and then going to a 2 yr. technical school in photography and using old Calumet cameras and then Sinar Alpinas....then hurled out into the world of commercial studios only to find myself once again, loading holders all day long and sweeping studio floors....

His advice is the best, try to find a decent community college course.... Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 28, 2001.

Great post, Kevin. I'm a person who appreciates finely engineered cameras, watches, and motorcycles but can afford none of them. I'm a student on a budget and have to make do with what I can afford. When I sold my medium format system to get into LF, I debated whether to buy one of several high-end cameras that were beautifully made but opted to go the budget route. After much thought over a Tachihara for field use, I decided to go the route that it seems very few people go: build a Bender 4x5.

The camera is no Linhof, but it has reminded me that photography is more about my vision than my equipment. As much as I wish the camera was as silky smooth as a Linhof (can you tell I like Linhofs?), I enjoy the experience of using a camera that people consider a piece of garbage compared to most LF cameras. If I were to make my income from photography or did digital macro work, the Bender would not have been my first choice, but I realistically cannot see myself actually NEEDING another camera. It does everything I need it to do in the field or in my apartment.

I already had a Sekonic light meter and tripod, so figure a bit more money if you don't have either one, but this is how much it cost me:

Bender kit: $280 misc. parts: $20 Caltar II-N 150/5.6: $250 bag bellows: $30 dark cloth: $30 long monorail for macro work: $30 Fuji Quickload holder: $100 TOTAL: $740

Not bad. I can't tell the difference between the images I've made with this camera and a Calumet NX that I recently acquired (a great camera for studio work or field work if you have a car).

Again, great post, Kevin.

-- Tony Karnezis (karnezis@aecom.yu.edu), November 29, 2001.

Well, i generally agree with the other posters in this topic.

I just started in LF, after tying 35mm (tiny slides) by getting a Crown Graphic, 90mm angulon 6.8 and 6x9 back(for about $380). I (think I) broke it amlost immediately. The ball bearings (can't figure out what those are for though) are falling out of the box. Still workable though.

Bottom line, get the cheap camera, and it doesn't matter if you break it. you can always get the $4k ++ new lenses and ebony, Linhof etc when you grow up with the camera. Doesn't make sense to spend that kind of cash just to start.

In the meantime, I'll just amble along with my (seriously crippled with reference to movements) Crown Graphic until I am familiar enough then get a calumet or linhof...

P.S.: Any help with the Crown Graphic would be greatly appreciated

-- jianghai (jianghai_ho@hotmail.com), November 29, 2001.

Let me give you all two more real life examples, and then maybe you'll understand a little of my attitude on this.....years ago I worked in the stockroom of a camera store. I didn't do too well out on the floor because I didn't have quite the "right" atttitude that the owner wanted.....one day this student pulled up in front of the store in a nice little sportscar and came in and said something like: "I'm taking a photo course next year and need a camera, I want the best that money can buy"....we were a Leica dealer, so the owner took her over to the case and by the time she left the store he had set her up with a nice Leica slr and a couple of lenses, PLUS a little darkroom outfit....after she left, I said something to him like "she would have been okay with a K1000 or an FE2..." and he replied "but she said she wanted the BEST money could buy"....ahh, the finer points....yes, a Leica is much better than an FE2, but will it help you take better photos? Hmmm....

My second example comes from some years later, working a short stint as an assistant in a large home furnishings/furniture studio....the guys I worked for were using 50+ yr. old deardorrfs, Wollensak and Ektar lenses, and shooting 4x5 through 8x10 chromes of very large sets. The sets were built on key walls that looked like a TV studio almost and lit with 25-30+ Mole Richardson hotlights...solarspots, nooklites, mickey-moles etc. They didn't use shutters, but instead just hung little cardboard film boxes off the front of the lenses and used stopwatches instead because the exposures were all like 15 minutes long....they also didn't use light meters--at all---everything was lit & judged by an experienced eye, and a polaroid or two. In some cases, they'd burn a sheet of b&w as a test & run that before a sheet of CT....for the actual shot, they'd often just shoot one sheet only & run that. The final product was done on longroll contact printers and the prints were all color balanced against the furniture in their lab.....and then bound into massive volumes for the showrooms....you could see a hair lying on a tabletop, the images were so tacksharp...all on this old, beat up equipment....there are probably a hundred or more studios in High Point NC area that operate this way today, including the largest photo studio in the world....

so, forgive me if I come off sounding like a jerk, but also kind of understand, that my background in LF has taught something a little different than fine, exquisite tools and high-tech lighting systems, spot meters etc. as being the "basic" equipment needed....

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 29, 2001.

With all the digital hype, people are sometimes willing to let go off their LF stuff for throwaway prices to get into digital.

I got back into LF earlier this year when I was offered a deal I couldn't resist: Cambo Legend 4x5 with Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N 240mm, 9 Fidelity holders, Polaroid 545i holder and Bogen 3051 tripod with 3039 head, all in 100% mint condition, for a bit over $900..

-- Stefan Geysen (stefan_geysen@hotmail.com), November 29, 2001.

DK....what the owner did wasn't dishonest, but it wasn't totally 'upfront either'. You put together a stack of reasonably well done images, and tell someone to pick out which one was done by the Leica, the Nikon, the Contax, the Canon and so forth, nobody would be able to do it on a consistent basis.

The same thing applies to LF whether the image was done by gear that is 1 or 50 yrs old. I'm older than that Deardorff that you mentioned and am at a point in life where there are certain things I don't want to mess with.

There is one headache I don't need, and that is buying other peoples headaches. Throughout my 35mm/MF/and now LF buying history, I've run into three kinds of equipment. The top used gear is used/mint/demo/just sat there and gathered dust, and sold by folks who are willing to give you a good deal.

Then there is stuff that has been used and used a lot with a lot of miles on it, but maintained and it may or may not last another 20yr w/out a major overhaul and it may or may not have something wrong with it, like a lens I almost bought a while ago that in fact need a major overhaul of the shutter. Folks sell this stuff for what it's worth SOMETIMES.

Then there is stuff that is shot, busted, broke, with stuff missing, or just recently repaired and butchered by the guy who did the repair, and being sold by a con man who will disappear the moment he takes your money.

I've been involved in all three situations, and what basically saved my butt many times from being taken was my experience. It makes sense to buy basic if you are starting out and not sure if you want to do this for a lifetime. A young kid starting out doesn't necessarily need what I may get. I'm not going to spend any more time defending what I got, I'm happy with it and that's it, but I would emphasize that going the other route isn't always that easy and simple either.

As per your example of your studio, there are folks who can work magic w/the most basic equipment, BUT it takes a lot of time, energy, patience, luck, and a hard head to protect yourself from some of the folks out there selling used gear, and 'duck and dodge' and still come up with decent gear. It isn't as simple as it's been thrown out in this forum.

A young student who may not necessarily know what to look for, what to ask, how to protect himself, might not want to be thrown 'out there' without the help of somebody else who's experienced in this.

I agree w/getting gear on a small budget, but it wouldn't do the beginner any good to get burned w/useless gear and no money. Having said that, send these folks out for these 'deals' but give them help if they ask for it.

You're not coming off like a jerk, you're expressing your rightful opinion w/style and insight.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 29, 2001.

I have recently taken up LF (<6 months) and it wouldnt have happened if I had to spend $1000 to 'have a play'. eBay has been a real source of old but usable equipment that has helped with the investment. I bought a Super Cambo monorail, 10 DDS, 135 Symmar lens and lens panel for about $500. Since being hooked I have added an Omega D5X enlarger ($300) and a SA 65mm F8 ($350). All the equipment is built like a tank and feels as if it could outlast me ! I will probably change to an ebony RSW from Robert White - mainly for portability but I dont need to, to get great pleasure and an escape from the fast pace of life.

-- David Tolcher (davidjt@btinternet.com), November 29, 2001.

I've had a ton of fun reading through these. Everybody seems to end up with a Caltar 150 IIN which is a great choice. Bottom line is it is do-able in the price range Kevin suggested, and with no quality lost in the end result. And there's no wrong answer. I would recommend the used Cambo outfits common on EBAY over the Speeds and Crowns, but that's just me. They're nearly indestructable and you can wind the bellows into a knot with movements that you don't need!

I'll date myself but when my best friend and I were high school kids and getting our first car, his was a '58 Corvette, (what he could afford) and mine was a '56 Volkswagen with a broken crankshaft to fix, (what I could afford). Ultimately we both got to the same destinations many times over, but God that Corvette was pretty! Dark blue with the white insert. Yeah, we both got there but there's no denying he got there in STYLE.

The guy that spent the big bucks on the Ebony and Fuji's did just fine. People get so wierd on Ebay for high end stuff he'd probably re-sell it and MAKE money. Meanwhile, just like the Corvette, it's fun to dream about but I'll have to keep getting to my photographic destinations with the old tried and true.

Let's see, Folmer & Schwing 11X14 on EBAY $362.00 (about the same shape as the Volkswagen! I never learn) Schneider 305mm G-Claron in barrel $161.00 (Ebay again) Polaroid Copal shutter for the claron $55. 2 more 1114 holders $285.00 New bellows for the 1114 $185 OOPS I'm $50 over budget. Contact prints: incredible.

Does anyone know where I can get a good used forklift to hold the damn thing up?

And DK, (can't resist, don't worry, you're preaching to the choir) somebody had to pay the new price for those old Deardorffs, and probably in 1930's depression dollars that if you compared to even the Ebony now would astound you. 50++ years later they're still slugging it out. Pays to buy the best you can afford.

Thanks for a good read to all! Jim Galli

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), November 29, 2001.

Adrian: Your post is going up on my darkroom wall. Thank you very much. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), November 29, 2001.

Well Jonathan, I wasn't saying the store owner was dishonest in that transaction...you know that's the way the camera store business works....we were one of the few Leica & Hasselblad dealers in our area, you gotta move that stuff....I could tell you some more depressing stories from that side of the business, but that's not the point of this thread and frankly, not all camera stores operate that way....like I was saying, my attitude was just a little more---shall I say--"pedestrian" in what a beginner needs who has never touched a 35mm camera before in their lives....but then that's why I was stocking shelves and always getting yelled at when I worked the counters....

This other stuff is just the way I've encountered the commercial business as being as an assistant....see, I'm not some huge big-time shooter....I just have managed to earn a decent living doing something I enjoy....I don't take myself too seriously, I don't claim to be some hotshot studio shooter, or a fine artist. But I do know how to load a holder, and do scheimpflug, how not to blow up a strobe pack, and all the other little tricks of the trade.

What you're missing from my posts is that when I said I upgraded to a Cambo, I meant it. To me, that is not some cheapo camera that is going to break down and leave me in the lurch on a job....the way I understand some of this is that somehow a camera that costs less than X amount, is inferior and doomed....see, I could have bought a used Sinar or a Horseman, a Linhof or any number of fine cameras for LESS than the Cambo. But, then they'd be used....have you ever priced a replacement stock bellows for even a Toyo? We've replaced 3 bellows here over the past decade, and even Toyo parts are very expensive. Don't even get into rails, recessed lensboards, bag bellows, hoods etc. What I'm saying is that I make money with LF gear, I don't particularly enjoy using them, I never have. But, it's something I know how to do, and I used that experience to look at what I needed to get things done. You are simply not going to find commercial studios, or people in business in any field (or for long) who are using the most expensive, exquisite materials there are....it just does not happen in the world of photography, or at least not in the studios I've ever been in.

Oh yeah, Deardorrfs are all over the place in the furniture studios, as are Moles and Colortran lights etc. It's what they use, that's all there is to it. You think these are little, low-end businesses? Think again...this is and always has been a huge industry. Some of these places were shooting up to 16x20, even back into the 90's. Take a tour sometime if they still offer them at the big studios...they're using those cameras and all that other gear because it's all paid for. Those studios have been in business across many generations....and they really churn out the shots. It's a huge production over there during furniture market, and there are literally hundreds of photographers working in that area. But in my experience, that's the way it is in business....you make your purchase and just use the thing until it absolutely ceases to function....everyone else may be using the latest whiz-bang camera, but you could still be chugging along with your "yashica-blad"....it doesn't matter as long as you keep getting paid, and what I'm trying to tell you is that my experience with the less fancy cameras is that they will do this rather well.

So, yeah...I sometimes wish we used better gear, but I'm sitting here on the edge of a "working" studio...using at least one camera that's 20+ yrs. old, was here when I started and will be when I leave....it's not some piece of junk, it's certainly not fancy, but I think it's a pretty good return on our money.....

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 30, 2001.

Let me add one more thing....then it's back to the gloomy recesses of the lab for me....you talk about making a wise purchase for life. Okay, good point. I have bailed some folks out who've made some mistakes buying used processors and lab equipment over the past few years.....if you're thinking of getting an Ilford 2150 dirt cheap, talk to me first....same with a Royalprint, etc. You think LF is mysterious, wait 'til you get into photofinishing gear! There's a ton of great stuff flooded onto the market now, what with labs going digital....but alot of folks have never experienced the hassle of dealing with this stuff daily.....

The purchase for life? Well, I'm 35....I started assisting when I was 17. I have 2 years of newspaper stringing experience prior to that. I've been in the NPPA since high school. I practically grew up hanging out in newspaper darkrooms and sweeping the floors of photo studios...I've had crappy, minimum wage lab jobs, assisting jobs etc....but I always learned something from those jobs. I had to "sell" myself on getting a new camera....I didn't buy that one before long, serious consideration and planning the future for my little career....so, yeah, 50 years from now (if they still make film), I hope to be using my Cambo. I made that purchase using what I thought was the same logic some of you all are saying......I dunno, maybe I have an identity problem or something (haha)....?

That's it for me....

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 30, 2001.

I hope this'll make you laugh, but when you were around five, all this stuff was way less!

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 30, 2001.

There were alot more sheet films on the market too....when I was five. Actually, I'm a real pack rat when it comes to cameras and still have one of my firsts...a 126 Mick-o-matic.....which I probably could unload on eBay as a collectors item for alot more than my folks paid for it back then....

This whole thread reminds me of a camera we took in last year as an artifact here....it came out of an old portrait studio and had been in use from the late 30's all the way through the mid 80's. It was a Century Studio camera ...that had a split 5x7 back, and a dallyemyer lens with waterhouse stops and a packard shutter. The same person used it that entire time, and they'd set up a system to just knock out these studio portraits using this thing...we got something like 25-30,000 negs or so with it as well.... The back was so used, that it had grooves worn it where the holders were being slid in & out...I've never seen anything like it. And yet here was this mom & pop studio, working in one little town, shooting practically every headshot for over 50 yrs on the same piece of equipment....you know 1980-85? Shooting portraits & bridals with that beast?? Like I said, it was paid for....

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 30, 2001.

Don't you know it! A camera that has touched a lot of lives. Maybe digital will perform a kind of 'left handed function' of pushing photo gear prices back to where they belong, lowering the cost of having fun.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 30, 2001.

One of the first images that got me interested in Photography was a 'TV' series with Charles Bronson I think, called something like 'I am a Camera' or something along those lines or something similar I can't remember exactly. The show started out with I think a 'press' camera raised into view with the strobe firing off.

I've had that image in the back of my mind to this day.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 30, 2001.

Well...now we need to start a new thread...no, I'm afraid that digital will eventually kill off the availablity of sheet film...or at least in a way that it's still affordable. I'm not one to moan & groan about the major manufacturers, but the writing is on the wall I'm afraid....you know, in the preservation community there were certain lab films that were unequalled for mundane things like copywork. The commercial labs quit using them, so now they're gone....there's still a need for them, there are no substitutes on the market, so what are you gonna do? No, there will still be some films left, and smaller companies may take over....but, back to when I was 5, well....super speed graphics were in use professionally, and films? Pack films were being phased out, but look at all the sheet sizes & stocks.....those were the days to get into LF. Not so much now.... it won't be the cameras that are expensive...it will be the film. Film is always the cheapest thing, but not when it becomes near obsolete.....

wow, you all really picked me up today....gee thanks.

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency.

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), November 30, 2001.

There were some things back then that were great. You could go to the movies for a dime! A big juicy hamburger that would put anything today to shame was about 50 cents. I drove my brothers VW in high school and it was $3.00 to fill up! The guy who started inflation should've be shot!

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), November 30, 2001.

Talking about cost reminds me of a story. When I was in photography school in the 60's the owner of the school was a very "old school" portrait photographer. We could only shoot 4x5 and 5x7. We were forbidden even to bring a 35mm into the building. The owner said many times: "You young fellows will learn to compose in the camera because when you spend 13 cents for a sheet of film you will think twice before you trip the shutter." Let's see --- that was about $13.00 for a 100 sheet box of Royal Pan. Hmmm.

-- Wayne Firth (wfirth@silverlight.net), November 30, 2001.

Did I say film is always the cheapest??....I guess we'll have to adjust that .13/sheet to 2001 prices.....but, this old portrait studio I was talking about was shooting jobs at 2-up on a single 5x7 sheet.....and the other places were doing one sheet only alot of times....maybe you all should figure in a walk-in freezer and a lifetime's supply of your favorite sheet film stock with the cost of a "basic" kit as well....heaven forbid you get into chrome films or polaroid...

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), December 03, 2001.

There is a nice Osaka 4x5 cherrywood in mint condotion with lens and darkcloth, a couple holders, cable release for $750US at Nelson's Cameras in San Diego, California, USA. Email me and I will provide you with a contact. There are many good values from people on this site. james

-- bigmac (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), December 03, 2001.

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