First time buying a 4x5...begging for assistance. : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Well, the subject is a tiny bit misleading, though I am looking to buy a 4x5 for the first time. My girlfriend is graduating from a pretty bigtime photo school, and I was considering purchasing for her a 4x5 camera for Christmas/Birthday/Any_other_gift_giving_occasion_for_quite_some_time. She's getting ready to enter the world of the professional photographer, and is realizing that she will soon be without the luxury of going to the Photo building on campus and checking out cameras/lights/etc. Her big love (and talent in my opinion) is doing studio work, still life, food photo and shes made several refrences to absolutely dreaming of getting her own large format camera. I am a computer guy, so a lot of this stuff is like latin to me, but I sat down with her and got her to talk about the kind of things that were important, brands, bellows, lenses, lensboards and on and on. Anyways, to cut to the chase and ask an actual question: I would be much indebted to anyone who could point me in the direction of any good reading material on selecting the right camera, and any other information that might lead me to knock her proverbial socks off. I'm very interested in the prospects of purchasing a used camera, but I'm quite fearful of being ripped off. If people know of nice, reputable places (other than Ebay, as that would give me a coronary) to look for used gear, as well as what I should be looking for in a "complete" package that wouldn't require lots of other "accessory" purchases on her behalf. I know shes looking for a "lens", in the 150 range, but aside from that all I know to look for is "camera and lens". Brand suggestions on good quality 4x5 cameras for an aspiring professional are also appreciated. I apologize for the length, but I've got a million questions and you good people seem to be very generous in your answers. Thank you very much for your consideration.

-Andrew Mead

-- Andrew Mead (, December 05, 2001


Thee a couple of very nice Sinar P2 packages on eBay right now (save the nitroglycerin, using eBay won't give you a heart attack i've buying over eBay for a couple of years now and haven't had a single problem. The Sinar P2 is the best instrument for studio photography made, shw'll be able to use it for her entire career. Other than that I'd recommend an Arca-Swiss F-line camera. this camera is very close to the ideal balance of ease of use/quality/ and price as you'll find. There are many other cameras that will fit her needs but look for a camera that is a yaw free design.despite what Bob Salomon from Linhof's USA marketing company is gonna say about "yaw free" design being over rateed, all i can say is in this one regard, he is wrong.A "yaw free design will make her life in the studio much easier.

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

Another really good place to look for used gear is Midwest Photo Exchange in Columbus, OH. I've always found them to be very helpful, and they are especially eager to help younger/student photographers (at least that's the impression I get).

-- David Munson (, December 05, 2001.

Andrew... Forget about the surprise! Make sure she is by your side when you buy her the camera. She is the only one that knows what she wants!!!! Good Luck, Harry

-- Harry Martin (, December 05, 2001.

If you are looking for a large format studio camera, check out the special deals that Robert White has on the Sinar f1 and f2. His site is at He is a great dealer to work with and you can get items shipped in about 3 days via UPS express.

-- Randy Redford (, December 05, 2001.

I disagree, go ahead and surprise her. (I'm female, if that makes any difference.) If she has been dependent on the school's cameras she probably doesn't have a really fixed idea of what she wants/needs. You have come to the right place for advice so she won't be disappointed. Listen to Ellis, he knows. I have an Arca Swiss camera (for architecture) and it is sublime. But you probably won't find a used one. (I'm keeping mine forever.) Just make sure to buy something of quality so if someday she does want to sell it, she can.

You are a swell boyfriend.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, December 05, 2001.

Wow, its been like an hour and already so many helpful responses. You guys truly are amazing ;) keep em coming. -akm

-- Andrew Mead (, December 05, 2001.

If she is like my wife, then go ahead and surprise her, BUT you might also try to get a 'line' on what she wants. Ask her to take you to a couple of dealers to show YOU how the various equipment works. She might just lead you to what she wants.

Your thing is going to be getting the best deal you can get on whatever you pick. Take some time looking at some websites, Robert White in the UK, Photomark here in the US, The F-Stops Here, and that's from a guy fairly new if LF.

After you get prices and specs, might as well come on back here, and run it by these folks. If it's one thing you'll be sure of, running it by these folks will give you feedback that is specific and well though out.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 05, 2001.

Andrew, Are you on a Cadillac budget? Used Cadillac budget? Ford budget? You get my drift. The good folks here always recommend Cadillacs. You can't go wrong with that. But there's lots of less impressive names that will still get you to town and back. Just afraid perhaps you'll price Sinars and Arca's and ditch the whole project which I'd hate to see you do.

-- Jim Galli (, December 05, 2001.

Ahh, budget. Thats a tough question to answer, except "I'll know it when I see it" :) I've done some looking and it seems that one could potentially find something like an Arca Swiss Discovery Kit for like 1200ish. I suspect, though, that actually putting a lens on said camera is another subject entirely. Heck, it seems like some lenses cost more than the dang camera hehe. I guess its because the shutter is built into these lenses. Lets just say, price is obviously a big concern :)


-- Andrew Mead (, December 05, 2001.

First Option: Have here be there when you pick it out. Cameras are a bit like clothing. What suits one doesn't suit another.

Second Option: If you absolutely have to buy it without here direct involvement: buy it from a store that will let her return it, preferably for cash back, if she is not satisfied. My local pro-store will do this, even if it is used.

-- Charlie Strack (, December 05, 2001.

OK, we can get you over the lens hump without making anybody mad. Caltar 150 either the Caltar SII which was a Schneider product (my personal favorite) or Caltar IIN which is a Rodenstock product and every bit as good (some would say better) will only set you back $250-$275. These are modern premium quality lenses with no compromise in quality. Sounds like from what you describe she actually might enjoy a 210MM even more, but most folks do begin with the 150. Don't buy anything to begin with that does not say COPAL on the shutter. You mention Ebay is a concern but if someone has lots of good feedbacks and NO negative, and they will give you a trial period with a $ back guarantee, well I've had 0 problems but I do understand other folks with certain personalities just can't stomach the thought. And for that matter I also notice some of the best used dealers with prices very near what Ebay will fetch.

-- Jim Galli (, December 05, 2001.

Don't let anybody talk you into buying anything on the spot, especially from a salesperson who looks like they haven't eaten in couple of weeks, and works on commission.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 05, 2001.

Your heart's in the right place, but what you want to do screams _gift certificate_ (or something of that sort) rather than you making a purchase.

Imagine your girlfriend knows _nothing_ about computers, wants to buy you a computer, and asks around what to buy. She'll get an answer or two or three, but what do you think the chances are that she'll buy you exactly what you want? Just think; she could get a screaming deal on a nice, used computer...say, a 286.

So..if you have a _good_ local dealer, perhaps you could buy what amounts to a gift certificate or open an account for her, something of that sort. You need a _professional photo equipment dealer_, not the local Ritz or whatever. Where are you?

If that won't work out, call up the guys at Calumet Photographic 1-800-CALUMET and explain what you have in mind. Calumet is a long-time good, reliable dealer who won't push something far beyond what's appropriate and won't take you to the cleaners. There are of course plenty of other good dealers, (Robert White in the UK, Darkroom Innovations / The View Camera Store, Badger Graphics etc) some with higher or lower prices than Calumet, but there's more of a need to know what you want.

Another thing; Mamiya America Corp (Toyo view cameras) and some other distributors run special deals for bona-fide students and teachers. In the case of MAC (if it hasn't changed in past year or so) you can buy items for very significantly lower prices, in many cases below common used prices. Perhaps Linhof, Sinar, Arca-Swiss offer the same sort of programs.

-- John Hicks (, December 05, 2001.

Forget what I said before, John's idea is better.

You'll still be a swell boyfriend.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, December 05, 2001.

Dear Andrew

To go over a bit of ground other have discussed, Ebay can be a terrific avenue to get good quality cameras at reasonable prices. Your disadvantage is that you have not tracked prices, so you might be a bit more vulnerable than people who have been pricing cameras on the new and used market.

Going to a dealer like Calumet or looking at their web sites or those sites of other good dealers like B&H or Helix Photo or Samy's will help your learning curve and perhaps help in the end decision. Look at a magazine called View Camera and they have many advertisers who are selling new and used equipment.

I happen to shoot Sinar. As Ellis has pointed out, there are several interesting Sinar cameras available on Ebay. An advantage of buying their products (and I am certain other users of other cameras may have the same thoughts) is that they are selling a "system" which means all the cameras can be upgraded and interchange with parts and accessories. You and your girlfriend over the years can start with an older P and upgrade it to become a P2 or maybe you start with their F camera and that too can be upgraded as need and available fund allow. That also means that new items are designed so they are usable by older and well as the newest of cameras in their line. I find that buying good equipment (even if it costs a bit more at the beginning) over the years is an investment which pays off.

I wish you the best in your search. You will find the contributors here on this forum are an excellent repository of aid, assistance and ideas.



-- John Bailey (, December 05, 2001.


I still think suprising her would be awesome! It is true that you may not get what she wants but if you buy it new from a honest large dealer like Bager graphics, you can get it exchanged (or refunded) at the cost of shipping.

After your girlfriend receives her present, you can tell her (besides other sweet things) that you wanted to suprise her even though you were concerned that it may not be what she would buy for herself. Then tell her that you are perfectly comfortable with her choosing something else if she would like.

Frankly, though, if you get her an Arca-swiss F and an 150mm Rodenstock S lens, the chances are good that she will keep it. Badger (talk to Jeff) has good prices and is very honest. Just let him know your situation.

I know you girlfriend will think very highly of your gift (whether or not she keeps it!)

Merry Christmas! -Nick and it is OK with you if she

-- Nicholas Fiduccia (, December 05, 2001.


One last thing. Realize that just getting her the camera would be enough. You can let her pick up the lens and accessories. The great thing about LF equipment is that it is totally mix and match as you may have found out in your research. Best of luck!


-- Nicholas Fiduccia (, December 05, 2001.

I agree with the Sinar's and another good one is the Cambo line found at A Cambo SCX was my first studio camera and I love it. SC's are nice too and can be gotten at Ebay for pretty short money. As you have found out, there is alot of good people around here with alot of good info but everyone is going to have a different preference. For studio stuff though, I would recommend more in the 210mm range. It will give you a better perspective in my opinion. You might think of a good light meter (strobe capabable) like a Sekonic 408, Minolta V or there abouts, a Polaroid holder, film holders (you can never have enough!!!), a good loupe will be a good stocking stuffer and is very much needed, a very good tripod is also needed (Bogen & Gitzo's are good). Hope this helps a little. Cheers

-- Scott Walton (, December 06, 2001.

I have and like the Arca-Swiss a lot for a higher end camera. Plus, it's convenient in the field, unlike cameras like the Sinar-P. As a less expensive alternative, the Cambo N series provides a lot of flexibility, all the accessories one's likely to need, etc. Not so good in the field, however.

What are your misgivings regarding EBay? Perhaps you're not into the thrill of those last second bids, getting them in just under the wire before anyone else realizes that they've been outbid. In this case, the Buy-It-Now option is the one for you. Good values can be had using this option.

Or, if it's the stress of not knowing if you'll receive the goods you've just paid $100's of dollars for, then make sure that, whomever you select from which to purchase, they have lots of good feedback AS SELLERS with minimal or no negative responses. The only bad deal I've had on EBay was one that, from the minimal feedback they had received, was questionable.

Good luck.

-- neil poulsen (, December 06, 2001.

Lots of good posts re: the camera and lens decision. I agree on leaving the more esoteric accessories to her, but since you're new to view cameras, here is a short list of the things that you need to make one of these work:

The Camera The Lens A Lensboard A Tripod (with head) Film Holders Film

There are a ton of other things that are helpful (almost necessary), but you can take a photo with these things alone, and you cannot without all of them (except arugably the tripod).

If you buy a kit, there's a good chance you'll get everything but the film and the tripod, but if you buy separately, and want to get her a "complete" photo making machine, make sure you have each of these.

As for stores, I've been extremely happy with Midwest Photo Exchange (mentioned earlier). Their staff is super helpful and guided me to several of my first purchases. Their used selection is pretty extensive too.

For new stuff (film especially), I really like B&H, very professional and good prices. It's a much bigger operation than Midwest though, and you might not get the same personal attention. B&H does have a used department that is pretty good also.

I'm sure there are a bunch of other great stores that deal over telephone/internet, but my experiences have been mostly with B&H and Midwest. KEH is good too, but I've only dealt with their 35mm and medium format gear, so don't know too much about their large format.

Now, for accessories that are not absolutely necessary, but pretty much everyone uses:

Darkcloth Focusing Loupe Meter Polaroid Back

The Darkcloth is the subject of great debate, but can be improvised until she figures out what she wants. The Focusing Loupes can be very expensive, but you can at least start with a simple <$10 one that Ritz camera carries for looking at 35mm negatives on the light table. The meter is going to be something she should probably pick out herself based on what she's doing with the camera.

Finally, the Polaroid back. While arguably the least necessary of the previously mentioned items, from a gift excitement point of view, could be pretty cool. With the Polaroid back, she could pull the camera out of the wrapping, go outside and make a photo immediately. I'd bet that almost all of us shooting 4x5 have the 545 or 545i holder in our bags, and she'd probably want to get one pretty shortly after getting the camera anyway. They make a number of different films for this holder (color print, black and white print, positive negative [my personal fav.]).

Without the polaroid, she'd have to load film holders and process film before getting a result, i.e. it could be some time before she's able to "use" the camera.

Again, it depends on your budget, etc. The Polaroid holder runs about $100 used and a box of film runs about $50-$60 I think.

-- Andrew Cole (, December 06, 2001.

I haven't read the above answers, so if I'm repeating one, oops...

Given her interest in studio work, make sure you get a monorail view camera. A wooden field camera looks beautiful but is really inferior to a monorail except in the portability department (and more expensive, on the low end at least). I have a wooden camera, but then my interest is hiking and taking nature photos. Calumet sells an inexpensive monorail (the Cadet) that is well regarded from what I've read. Whatever you get, I'd buy from a reputable dealer and take delivery shortly before you're going to give it. That way it can be exchanged easily if she would really prefer something else. Be willing to spend more on the lens than on the camera. After all, the lens creates the image, the camera just holds the lens and film in place... New Nikon, Schneider, Rodenstock, and Fuji lenses are all good. Again, since it's studio usage, look for larger image circles. There is a great lens comparison table (and tons of other great info, much of it for the first time buyer/user) at

While this violates the "Don't give women anything useful" rule (sticking to aesthetic gifts like jewelry, flowers, etc.) I have to think this gift is going to be a winner.

-- Noshir Patel (, December 06, 2001.

Thanks for all of your help guys and gals, this is invaluable.

In speaking with a dealer, a Horseman system was suggested. Here are the specs...

Horseman LE Camera, Schneider 150mm Apo Symmar lens and panel.

Anyone have experience with this camera? Pros/cons? This appears to be in the neighborhood of my price points (ha). Any feedback as always is appreciated :)


-- Andrew Mead (, December 06, 2001.

The Horseman LE is a fine camera, and many studio photographers use this type of camera.

I think 150mm is a bit too short for the type of photography you've described. For studio work, you generally want to get farther back from the subject to get better "drawing". I'd try a 210mm, maybe even longer.

-- Charlie Strack (, December 06, 2001.

Don't ask a dealer. Ask her or if not her, then her teacher. A dealer wants to sell you what they have. I agree about a 210mm sounding right. BUt ask her instructor.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, December 06, 2001.

I use a Horseman LX-C, heavier and with some more movements than the LE, but I would recommend you strongly conside the LE if you can afford it. As others have said, 150mm may be a bit short for an only lens, but I made out fine with a 180mm for a while before I got a more rounded out group of lenses (over a period of years). 210mm would be even better.

-- Don Welch (, December 06, 2001.

Call B&H and get their Professional Photo SourceBook. It is $9.95 and lists everything, with prices and pictures. TALK TO HER PROFESSORS,they probably know exactly what she wants.

If you really want to knock her socks off, get her a Wisner, but you might have to sell your car and start riding a bicycle.

I have made Christmas present purchases for my wife from B&H before and they agreed to extend their aproval period 15 days from Dec 25, not the purchase date. They also offer a extra cost warranty for used cameras. However, everyone else that has been mentioned I have had good luck with or heard good things about.

The only thing I purchased from Midwest turned out to be defective and I had no problems at all returning it a getting a refund. That is the real test of a retailer...when things go wrong.

Beware leaking bellows on used equipment, especially Linhof. I purchased a used Technica and stuck a flashlight inside the bellows and the pinholes looked like the sky on a clear night. Replacement bellows can be very expensive.

I have found that if you have time and watch Ebay and know what you want, you can save about half. However, the other night I tried to buy this year's christmas present for my wife and it went for about 75% of list and about $30 OVER what I could buy it brand new out of NY for.

-- Neal Shields (, December 07, 2001.

Andrew: Please read Using the View Camera Author: Steve Simmons Binding: Hardcover, 144 pages Publisher: Watson-Guptill Publications, Incorporated Published Date: 10/01/1992. I think it is the ideal book for your purposes. Best of luc

-- David (, December 07, 2001.

Listen to Charlie and Don, a 150mm lens is too short and very annoying to attempt to use for her needs that you describe. A 210mm is minimum and the lens that will fit over 50% of her needs. A 300mm is a class act. Look to the Schnieders and Rodenstocks, they do things the others don't. Some of the best lenses are no longer made but they remain the standards of the realm. Those are the Ektars, made by Kodak. The 10 inch Wide Field Ektar, the 12 inch Commercial Ektar and the series of Voightlander Apo-Lanthars are the true Jewels of the still life world. She will love you forever, and never part with one. They are not hard to find or too expensive.

Still life and studio photography is not about ease, in is about craft and skill. Do not listen to that stuff about no yaw and other nonesense. It is marketing and has no effect on sensitivity and true feel for the craft. As a Sinar user, I can tell you there are aspects of the over attention to engineering that can be annoying and non intuitive. A good Horseman or even a Cambo can be less intrusuive, but there is no arguing that as machines the Sinar and the Arca Swiss are two of the finest there is. In Practice at times a 60 year old floppy deardorf is the tool that works best, even with all of its limitations. The 4x5 and 8x10 Granview cameras are amazing field cameras and there is nothing in the world like them. For a starter camera with the most flexability and ruggedness I would look first to the Horseman. Make sure you do not fall into the trap of buying a basic Sinar only to find it too short for use in the studio with a 210mm lens. That is the most annoying thing possible and many basic cameras are too short for still life use.

-- Fred De Van (, December 07, 2001.

I checked my B&H catalogue which may not be quite current but will give you an idea of new 4x5 view camera prices:

Arca Swiss Discovery $1344. Horseman LE $1345. Linhof Kardan E $1999.00 Sinar F1 $1850

Most of these cameras can serve as platforms that she can add on to vertually forever.

Schneider G Claron 210mm F9 $711. Nikon M 200mm F8 $609. Rodenstock APO Sironar F5.6 $989 All are in Copal shutters.

Wisner 4X5 Traditional field $1495 (probably not what she needs but I just like pretty wood.)

-- Neal Shields (, December 07, 2001.

I read Fred's post after mine. The sinar comes with a 18" bellows but only a 12" rail. The 6" extension rail is $159. The Linhof has 20" standard, the horseman 15",the Arca Swiss 15" with a 11.8" rail?

-- Neal Shields (, December 07, 2001.

I just cannot resist this. It is a GUY thing buying gifts to woo a woman's heart. So it has gone beyond sweets and flowers...

Think about it as a system that you're starting her on. It is not a one-time purchase but the beginning of a system that she can AFFORD to add to as she progresses. Getting her a Sinar or Arca-Swiss is great advice but can she afford to maintain them and add pieces to them when she needs to? I am not sure what the situation is whe it comes to renting accessories for the Sinar or Arca-Swiss.

That said, know that Sinar-Bron offers the 4X5 Sinar X for about $2995 once a year at about this time of the year. Check it out with Sinar-Bron. I'd recommend a Rodenstock APO Sironar-S lens. As to the focal length, only your girlfriend knows what she wants. If she indicates a 150mm, get her a 150mm.

-- Erik X (, December 08, 2001.

I have almost never used the standard rail with my horseman. It is too short. If she shoots food and things like that she will definately need lenses like the 300mm just to make things look normal. Short lenses distort the objects in the shot. Egg shaped dishes 3D forks, cherries bigger than oranges. I often use a 480 Rodenstock Apo Ronar, or a 14" Ektar for food. You need a very long camera rail and bellows. My Sinar and my Szabad are both 8x10 models so long bases and bellows are not an issue on 4x5. I have 3 Horseman rails. The long one I think is 24". My Cambo is a 22, I think. I rarely use any 12-15 inch rails because the 135-180mm lenses are useless in the studio for anything other than full length people because of the distortion and you have to be so close that the camera interfears with lighting and access. But the distortion is horrible. I use short rails for Wide angle lenses, such as my Beloved 53mm Biogon.(Useless in studio, it really lives most of the time on a Granview). A too short camera (rail and bellows) will be a source of instant frustration, since the one thing she cannot do is the very thing she loves to do. It will do great landscapes with almost any lens, but do nothing at all in the studio.

If you do get her a 4x5 for Still Life/Food, you will need a real tripod. Look at the Davis And Sanford studio air support tripod, and the big Gitzo. The D&S costs no more than a manfretto, but is so much more a device a studio photog would love. Perfect in every way. definately not a overgrown toy.

-- Fred De Van (, December 08, 2001.

Hi Andrew

I would do it like so: Oh my girl yesterday there was a discussion about LF cameras between to photographers in the restaurant, the first voted for Arca and Linhof and the second for Sinar and Horseman or something like thad but they came not to a conclution, what do you think is the best LF camera around? And then she gets big eyes and red ears and she will tell you wich is here favorit,and then buy here the favorit! And then you are the best and she gets the biggest eyes when she opens the present! The camera wich is best for me is maybe the worst for here. So with a bit of communication you get the right staff for here. And you get a big kiss, good luck!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, December 09, 2001.

I can't resist:

Fred wrote: "Still life and studio photography is not about ease, in is about craft and skill. Do not listen to that stuff about no yaw and other nonesense." Fred is either not a professional or is a professional masochist. yaw free makesa great deal of difference in studio shooting. I write this based on three years of assisting a top level studio photographer and seventeen years of some pretty high level shooting on my own. The reason it makes a difference is that by makingthe process of setting up the camera you increase your productivity and your ability to concentrate on the image, which in the end is the only thing that matters. With a camera that induces yaw (combination of swing and tilt movements) you go through tw oor more rounds of correcting your corrections, never a good thing.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, December 10, 2001.

Neither can I


You sound like any one of five assistants I fired over the past 40 years of my effortlessly switching from a Deardorff to a Sinar to a Horseman to a Cambo. I would tell you the reason I fired them but like them you will (have) missed the point.

-- Fred De Van (, December 10, 2001.

Here are my two cents: If you are puchasing a camera for her or even just a gift certificate, you might be depriving her from half the pleasure of getting what she wants, where she wants. Over the years in photography school and talking with her fellow students, she might have now a pretty good idea of what she'd like and where to get it. Some places have much higher prices and she could well fit another lens or useful accessory in the package depending on where she buys. So why not respect her own ability to make decisions and offer her a gift box containing some pictures or drawings of cameras and the bucks for it? Just a thought.

-- Paul Schilliger (, December 11, 2001.

I'm with Paul on this as well....the right camera is really a personal choice, and it might even take her one or two tries to find the right one for her tastes & style...why not just let her make the decision?

-- DK Thompson (, December 11, 2001.

fred: As a commercial photographer running my own studio for seventeen years, I get the point:: they didn't want to do things your way. that's fine, in your studio, you are the boss.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, December 11, 2001.

Not getting into the question about why Fred fired the 5 assistants, I have to say that the yaw-free aspect of my Horseman is not just marketing. If I use it for a while and switch back to my old Cambo, I feel the difference in the efficiency of setup time. "Sensitivity and true feel for the craft" can't be quantified objectively. (The person that brings it up first can claim to have it, and that the other person wouldn't recognize it if it bit them.) But I can quantify and qualify efficiency of setup time, and I don't think that lessens my craft or skill in using the camera. If I wanted an easy life, I wouldn't be using a LF camera.

-- Don Welch (, December 11, 2001.

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