How to choose the right LF : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am a 35mm user and I want to expand my range as a photographer. While I do a great deal of work that my 35mm gear is well suited for, the work I enjoy the most is black and white landscape photography. As much as I hate the generic 'what is the best camera for me' question, that is what I am asking. I want to shoot large format (probably 4x5) black and white landscapes - I'll likely use only a 'normal' lens (150-165, I think). Bulk and weight are concerns as I do a fair amount of hiking around for my photographs. I want to be able to make big (20x30ish) sharp prints. I know next to nothing about LF photography, but I am willing to learn, and have found forums such as these very helpful. I am prepared to buy new - I would rather grow into my gear than grow out of it and have to upgrade later. Does anyone have suggestions about what I should be looking for given my area of interest?

-- Derrick Morin (, December 24, 2001


Derrick...The best place to start might be researching the archive of this website. Try the "Beginner's questions" section first. I'm sure that will lead you to more specific questions, and many of those answers can be found in the archive also. Whenever I browse back through the old postings, I am awed by the amount of information stored here.

-- Dave Richhart (, December 24, 2001.

You can also browse the web site associated with this forum. There are a ton of camera reviews on this site and then the forums provide a lot of really good real-world experience. I just started this a year ago and after months of research on this board I bought an Arca-Swiss Discovery monorail because I have visions of doing studio work some day, but for landscapes I'd start by reading about folding field cameras and go from there.

-- Jennifer Waak (, December 24, 2001.

I would suggest that you order B&H Photo's "Professional Photo Source Book". It is about the size of a small phone book and will give you a good idea of what is out there(includeing priceing which may not be up to date). It also has some basic explainations at the start of each section. There are also a couple of good large format books out there. One of the "bibles" seems to be "View Camera Technique" by Leslie Stroebel. I have also found both Ansel Adams series very helpful. The one, Camera, negative, print by Adams and the other Basic Techniques of Photography,Book one and two by Schaefer.

Check out the Toyo web site as it gives a very good and simple discription of how and when to use movements.


I am getting a bit to lazy for hikeing so most of my lenses will anchor a small boat, however you may want to look for some of the smaller Schneider Angulons used as they are lighter than the new ones. However, you lose coverage. I had a 90mm 6.8 that I traded for a Super Angulon. The super has more coverage but weighs about twice as much.

-- Neal Shields (, December 24, 2001.

Get a really good tripod, use prime lenses, shoot on Technical Pan film, and buy the best enlarger lens you can afford. No need to shift from 35mm.

-- (, December 24, 2001.

I'll go way out on a limb and recommend the fairly common Tachihara folding wood field camera. Why?

Well, they're easy to find on the used market and aren't incredibly expensive new, they're decently-made, small and lightweight. You'll be able to get a nice camera and go work with it without getting a second mortgage. You'll quickly learn whether or not LF is for you; if it is you'll learn exactly what sort of camera you really want while if it isn't you'll be able to sell the little Tachi easily.

Any of the Rodenstock/Nikon/Schneider 150 lenses will do fine.

Avoid the common 35mm "system-think." Of course you can build a LF "system" but it's easy to end up with a lot of very heavy gear to lug around.

The Tachihara is sold as that brand and also was sold as the Calumet Woodfield.

-- John Hicks (, December 24, 2001.

This site will have some good information for you:

-- Steve Baggett (, December 24, 2001.

See if you can take a large format class at a nearby community college. That's how I started, and got hooked. It worked well for me because after using their equipment, I could decide what would work best for me. By taking a class I was able to more efficiently learn how to use the movements.


-- Dave Willis (, December 24, 2001.

While we as a group need to continue to encourage new large format users, I believe that this decision should be made with a clear understanding about exactly your objectives are. Otherwise, expectations are followed by disappointment and that is not the desired outcome.

As the previous poster clearly stated, if you are only interested in a large print, you may be better served by your current 35mm equipment with some modifications.

Make no mistake about it, large format is heavier, slower, more tedious and requires more working knowledge than 35mm. But the rewards are many. Individual exposure and development (Zone system) to extract your optimal vision from a scene. Camera adjustments that can adjust perspective and contol depth of field to the degree possible. And to that add a larger negative from which to extract the epitome of sharpness. Large format will test you resolve as a photographer - weight, cost and logistics to get to location. But if you can rise to the occasion, it can be well worth the effort.

I would recommend a light weight field camera such as a Linhof, Canham, Toyo, Wista (metal) or Wisner, Ebony (if you can afford one. Don't get to hung up on buying a new camera. Slightly used function as well as new. There are come great bargains out there from folks that decided to take the plunge in large format and later decided to pack it in for various reasons. The why is really not important. Find out who shoots large format in your area, contact them and get behind as many cameras you can. Lastly, take your time about selecting equipment because you want to make sure that you make the best decision for you. Take what others say with a grain of salt recognizing that everyone has different objectives and finds different equipment fits their pistol even when they say that they shoot B&W landscape. Good Luck

-- Michael Kadillak (, December 24, 2001.

Based on your specifications, I'd recommend a Graflex Press camera. The maximum rise is 1 inch, which isn't a lot. But, it's sufficient for landscape with a 150mm lens. With a Super Graflex, I believe you can obtain both horizontal and vertical orientations on the back. The Super-Graflex would cost you in the neighborhood of $400 to $600. A standard Century Graphlex would cost you about $250, but you have to turn the camera sideways to obtain a vertical orientation on the back, and this induces a limitation on rise.

Another possibility is a Zone VI. These can be had on EBay and elsewhere for about $700 to $900 if you have time to wait until a good deal appears. This camera is more expandable than the Graflex, but either can be easily sold if you decide you don't want care for LF, after all.

Other cameras are a Wista wood field for around $1000, or a Technika IV for whatever price you can find them for.

As for lenses, I recommend a Calumet 150mm Caltar-S II. The same as a Symmar-S, this lens has excellent optics and can be found for quite reasonable prices.

I've never purchased new in lenses, cameras, you name it, and I've rarely been disappointed.

-- neil poulsen (, December 25, 2001.

If you are serious about moving over to LF then try and rent an outfit for a weekend. This trial will confirm whether LF is "right" for you. Just get a feel for the camera and run through the movements and see the effect on the GG. I wouldn't even be tempted to shoot any film at this stage!! Just have a play with the set up. If this taster leaves you crying out for a LF camera then you could do worse than an Ebony. DON'T BE PUT OFF BY THE COST!! You will never grow out of it!! An Ebony is an investment. For landscape work look at the SW, RW or RSW. As far as a lens is concerned, simple, get the Schneider 110XL. You will get good advice on all sorts of different cameras and lenses on this forum. Draw up a short list and check them out if you can.

-- paul owen (, December 25, 2001.

One of the things missing in most "I want to get into LF" questions/answers are the very reasons most people want to get into it. Yeah the large neg is a wonder to look at and the perspective controls are so valuable, but the real difference between LF and 35mm is the ability to process for an optimal negative. In a 35mm neg and even a 6x4.5 is the interior contrast control and the detail in the smallest parts of the image. there is so much more information in the neg beyond mere sharpness. the ability to control the contrast of the entire image is what is the most important thing about the large neg. LF is not "just" aboput the large neg but is a whole set of things all related. just getting a lf camera is not the only step to it. James

-- bigmac (, December 25, 2001.

There's are a lot of personal considerations involved here but FWIW, if I were doing it again I'd opt for the Tachihara as someone else suggested. The Canhams, Wisners, Ebonys, Linhofs, et al are great cameras but new ones or used in excellent condition cost big bucks too and until you actually start using a large format camera you don't really know whether you'll like it and, even if you do, you don't know exactly what features are important and what aren't. I suggest the Tachihara because (1) it's relatively inexpensive - around $600 new, less used (but there have been various improvements made to the camera over the years so if you buy used try to make sure you get the latest model - at a minimum, make sure it has the brass looking metal finish rather than the nickellooking finish of the original versions), (2) it's light weight (3) it doesn't have front or rear shifts (which my present camera has but which I never use) but otherwise has all the movements you'll need (4) it's very pretty and well constructed (5) it has a flexible bellows that will allow you to use lenses at least as short as 65 mm without the expense and hassle of a bag bellows and as long as a 300 mm normal lens and a 400 mm telephoto (I used both on mine), (6) it's very quick and simple to set up and take down, and (6) it's a starter camera that you might very well end up keeping for a life time. My only argument with the common suggestion to buy a Graflex as a large format starter is that its movements are so limited you may very well want to sell it as soon as you decide you like large format landscape work, though this is obviously a highly personal opinion. You might want to sell the Tachihara too, but since it's really a full fledged large format field camera you might not. A Zone VI might also be a good choice but new they're about double the price of a Tachihara. You probably can find one used for about the price of a new Tachihara so that would be my second choice in your situation. However, to me the only real advantage of a Zone VI over a Tachihara is the longer bellows of the Zone VI, which isn't important unless you're into really long lenses which it doesn't sound like you are.

-- Brian Ellis (, December 26, 2001.

If your sole objective is good 20x30" prints you could as well use a medium format camera.

LF photography is a school of thought really, and for many photographers it is the ceremony of seeking their subjects, exposing, developing, printing and framing that makes LF worth their while. The loneliness of the large format photographer...

The sharpness, tonal gradation and plasticity of a hand made silver print are a joy and you can become addicted to them.

Before you decide what to buy, perhaps you can get in touch with someone in your area who is an LF user. Do you like his work? Are you willing to spend your time learning the zone system, camera movements, depth of field etc? Do you have the patience?

Then next step then might be to visit a LF workshop. If by the end of it you are stung by the bug you can start thinking about a camera. But do not rush it. Try to handle as many as you can before commiting yourself. Perhaps you can borrow a camera from a friend or lease one over the weekend.

Good luck.

-- Mako (, December 26, 2001.

I thoroughly encourage you to get into large format. That said, have you considered medium format (6x6 or 6x7 cm)? Medium format properly handled will give you great looking 16x20 prints that far exceed the "quality" of 35mm. Large format can produce more detailed prints, but you pay a huge premium in the weight of your setup and your working speed. Medium format is more or less a larger 35mm setup. The camera holds rolls of film and takes interchangeable lenses (most anyway). You compose through a viewfinder, click the shutter and advance the film. You can shoot with just a camera and lens, or you can pack a camera several lenses and a tripod. You're ready to shoot as soon as the camera is out of the bag. Large format, even handheld with a press camera requires the use of cut sheet film holders, dark slides, external meters, etc.

Large format requires a great deal of physical space in your pack, normally outweighs a medium format camera and lens by a pretty generous amount, and your working speed is slowed to a snail's pace compared with 35mm and medium format (which can be a good thing, but should be considered).

Lots of people hike with large format, and obviously, we all love the results we get from the larger negative (although many like the process as much as the final product), but make sure you explore medium format also before you make this jump. Look at some well printed medium format images to see if it fits what you're looking for.

Prices aren't as different as you would think between medium and large format. You can dabble in either for under $400.00 or spend thousands on each body and lens.

Anyway, not trying to dissuade you, just wanted to point out the alternatives.

-- Andrew Cole (, December 26, 2001.

A LF camera purchase is just the start of a medium that will lead to many other purchases, and require not only spendable time but space as well. I'm talking about your needed aspect of developing and printing here, whether wet or digital. Depending on your choice, and what other outside influences you have, such as a wife and children, church or friends etc, I would let these dictate to a degree what my purchase would be from a dollar value standpoint if under a budget of time or money. Of course you can get all your stuff developed and printed for you, but LF is really about the control "you" get over the process, instead of putting it in someone's else's hands. I find that it competes heavily with my 35mm photography since my time is limited. Right now, unless your willing to have your neg's scanned on a drum for superior output at your print size intended, and for digital control, your going to be looking at a rather large wet darkroom. Why not make a list of everything that will be required, including time, and see what that tell's you. After that, rent an outfit and go from there. Remember, that in a respect, many who do this type of landscape photography, will never recover their expense except from the satisfaction they get in the observance of it's dictates. Personally I find it a rewarding pain in the ass. BTW, don't even think you'll only want one lens. Figure on two.

-- Wayne Crider (, December 26, 2001.

I had more than a couple of episodes of 'buyers remorse' with my 35mm/MF gear, so I took my time getting my LF gear. It took a little longer than I expected(bet. 1&2 yrs), but looking back in retrospect, I'm glad.

I had always liked the Toyo before I got serious about jumping in to LF, but I would read this forum plus some reviews elsewhere and over time I leaned at one time or another toward several cameras.

I would say that what really helped me, and would probably help you, is that you can read the chronicles of folks on this forum, the cameras they picked, the ones they kept, the ones they got rid of, and why. So I would say the longer you wait the better, while you audit the 'vignettes, 'love affairs, and 'divorces', some folks have had with their cameras. The whole evolution over time between Photographer and camera.

I e-mailed the people I respected and they gave me any help I asked for, in spades. My suggestion, take your time.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, December 26, 2001.

There is a 4x5 expressly designed for the LF hiker. It is the Granview. The camera only weighs about 2.5 pounds and can survive intact, being rolled down a hill, is not effected by wind, and can be sealed against dirt.


-- Fred De Van (, December 29, 2001.


I have tinkered aroung with 35mm and medium format and have recently purchased a 4X5 monorail. I am a roadside photographer therefore I can get away with my very heavy outfit. If I were to pick a camera to meet your needs I would go with a Fuji 6X7 rangefinder with a 90mm lens. The only way that you will know that you have a camera at all is the tripod. This will give you very good results with a 50 iso film. If you are big on the zone system (or want to be) or want to work with movements and are in alot better shape than I am I would go with any of the modern field cameras and a Apo Sironar N 150mm f/5.6. My entire outfit cost less than half the price of the lens but I am very good at spending other peoples money. The price tag on my suggestions are $1300 for the fuji (new) and about $2500 to $3000 for the field camera and lens (new).

-- Edward Kimball (, January 16, 2002.

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