Amateur landscape photographer wanting to try large format : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello, I hope people will tolerate and help with this beginner's question:

I am a reasonably experienced amateur photographer concentrating solely on outdoor/landscape photography. I seek to produce large (large to me is 18 x 12 inches upwards, max probably 30 x 20) fine prints in colour, usually using Velvia/Provia and cibachrome (though have looked at light jet scans etc).

I currently use a Fuji GW690III rangefinder, which is excellent though limiting in terms of no movements to control depth of field etc, and of course it only has the one lens.

I also want to rise to the technical challenge of setting up a LF photograph, and think that the additional involvement in the process will encourage me to concentrate fully on a few subjects, and allow me to immerse myself in the picture making process. I am not, and have no wish to be, a pro so have no one to please but me when it comes to the images produced.

In short, I think I will enjoy the technical side, and want to give it a try.

I want therefore to be able to make 4x5 transparencies in the field, and wonder what to start with. Ideally I’d like a 4x5 folding field camera, but cannot afford one new, as I want something solid, and have about £1000 to spend everything included (i.e. lens, film holders etc).

Do you think I should start with a second hand monorail (Toyo, Horseman, Sinar etc), as these seem much cheaper, although bulkier and heavier? It would have to fit in my 65 litre rucksack…Do you think I should try and go for a cheaper second hand field camera (Toyo 45A/45AII, old Technika, Horseman)?

I’ve already got a good meter, full set of filters, heavy Gitzo tripod etc.

One final point, I am in the UK so it needs to be something available over here.

Thank you,

-- David Bickerdike (, January 16, 2002


David, in the UK there are two of the most valuable source of LF material in the WORLD, Robert White and Teamwork . They offer second hand equipment as well. As a photographer, my profile is very similar to yours, with the exception that I have been working with LF for 1 year now. Working with LF is tedious , full of technical details that tend to distract you from the artistic part BUT the results are very rewarding. To me the biggest advantage of LF is movements, you can take photos otherwise impossible to take with rigid cameras. I advise you to go for a folding technical camera, for portability reasons. My equipment: Wista 45 D field metal camera (800 euro used) Nikkor 150/5.6 W (500 euro) Schneider SA 90/8 (500 euro) Cut film holders (100 euro)

As you can see , if you remove the 90 , I have been below your budget. Happy shooting

-- Roberto (, January 16, 2002.


Not sure about availability in the UK, but here in the States, you can get a new Shen Hao HZX-45AII for $625 and a new 135mm or 150mm Caltar II-N for $450 - $470. That puts you about $75 - $100 over your $1000 budget, and we haven't even gotten to film holders yet. Still, that's for new gear. Obviously you can save some money buying second hand.

In the UK, you are blessed with a WONDERFUL dealer named Robert White in Poole. He sells a large variety of LF gear. Many brands priced lower than we can get them for here in the States. For example, a brand new Schneider 135mm or 150mm APO Symmar from Robert White will run you 315 GBP (about 450 USD at current exchange rates). He also has lower prices on Toyo cameras and Gitzo tripods and heads than we can get here in the states. Again, we are talking new equipment. Robert White also has a second hand department for used items. If at all possible, I suggest you pay them a visit.

WRT used, most US mail order dealers will ship internationally - as will many eBay sellers. eBay can be a great source of bargains - but it can also be a painful source of overpriced rip-offs. You really have to know what you're buying and purchase it from someone with an overwhelmingly positive feedback rating. Let the buyer beware is the eBay credo.

In used lenses, you should be able to get a fairly recent used multicoated 135mm - 150mm f5.6 plasmat type lens in a properly functioning shutter for about $300. If you can't find a used sample of the current models (APO Symmar, APO Sironar-N, Fujinon CM-W or Nikkor W) at that price, look for previous generation, but still multicoated samples (Symmar-S MC or Sironar-N MC). These are still outstanding lenses that can often be found at attractive prices.

I keep suggesting 135mm - 150mm lenses, because these focal lengths will are roughly the equalivalent to 90mm you have on your 6x9 Fuji. They are also generally the least expensive in terms of high quality new and used lenses. And, they are easy to use (important for someone starting in LF). Any 4x5 camera can handle lenses in this range with ease and no additional accessories. Shorter and longer lenses can present problems for some cameras, and may require additional accessories (depends on the particular lens/camera combo, but with a wide angle you may need a bag bellows and/or recessed board). Also, affordable wide angles are usually substantially dimmer on the ground glass. Which makes composing and focusing more difficult. A high quality modern 135mm - 150mm f5.6 plasmat will give you a relatively bright (by LF standards) image on the ground glass, will be compact and lightweight for carrying in the field, and should have a large enough image circle for the movements typically required for landscape photography.

The Shen Hao camera I mentioned above is a great bargain for a new field camera. It is not perfect (no camera is), but you'd be hard pressed to get a better, more capable new field camera for less than twice the price. The Tachihara is also reasonably priced and much more common on the used market, but the Shen Hao has more movements and potentially benefecial features like a Graflok back and interchangeable bellows.

WRT holders a few conventional double darks is the cheapest way to go, but if you're only planning to shoot Velvia and Provia, you might consider the Fuji Quickload holder. It runs about $100 - $110 here in the states - but you only need one (unlike conventional holders where you'll need at least a modest quantity). It uses film in packtets - which is both a curse and a blessing. The curse is the cost per sheet. Here in the US, Velvia in Quickload packets runs about $2.85 per sheet - compared to about $1.68 per sheet for loose film. That's the bad news. So what do you get for that extra $1.17 per sheet - enough to make it worth it for some people (like me). First you can carry more ready to shoot film in less space for less weight than with convention holders. You also eliminate the time and hassle of cleaning and reloading holders, and the associated problems with dust. Also, one less thing for a beginner to learn. Loading conventional holders is not rocket science, but it takes a little practice to perfect it (and even then you can have an occasional dust problem - especially when reloading in the field).

Since you already have a meter and tripod, that should get you started. You may want a loupe and a darkcloth, but if you don't have those, you can improvise (a jacket or vest can double as a darkcloth).

Good luck, Kerry

-- Kerry Thalmann (, January 16, 2002.

Oops, in my US centric view, I read your budget as $1000, not £1000. In that case, you can afford a new Shen Hao HZX-45AII, a new 135mm (or 150mm) APO Symmar, you choice of a handful of conventional holders or a Fuji Quickload holder - and still have quite a bit of money left over for some film and processing (or towards a second lens).

WRT to monorail vs. filed camera... it really depends on your intended application and the particular monorail. Obiously, some monorails like the Arca Swiss F Line and Discovery, the Linhof Technikardan and the Toho FC-45X are well suited to use in the field. However, these are pretty much beyond your stated budget. Most other monorails will be quite heavy and bulky to transport in the field. That doens't mean it can't be done, it just takes more effort. It also depends on your definition of "field". If that just means shooting within 1/4 mile of the car at nature preserves and public parks, just about any monorail can be used. However, if you plan multi-mile or especially multiday hiking expeditions, a folding field camera of some sort will definitely make your life easier.


-- Kerry Thalmann (, January 16, 2002.

At last!! Another (potential) UK LF user!! Take a look at Robert White's web site ( and search through both the LF section and the second hand. I've used the Fuji and although an excellent camera, it has its limitations. We are restricted here in the UK when it comes to used LF gear. Robert White has a stock, but if you take a look at what is available in the States - well. lets just say that they are blessed over there!! BUT don't fall into the trap of buying "cheap" gear that you may a)outgrow quickly b)not be "suitable" for your needs. Just because you are starting out, doesn't mean you should think "cheap" or necessarily "used". Sure, you will pay more for new gear, but then you will bet exactly what you want. If you like, feel free to email me and have a chat!! Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, January 16, 2002.


I'm just starting in large format (I've been photographing for about a week), but already I'm noticing parts of the process and equipment that are important to me. Your questions sound just like the ones I had a week ago. Here are some of my observations.

I've been using a borrowed Linhof Kardan Bi-System monorail, which some people believe to be one of the best 4x5 cameras ever made. The combined weight of the camera and tripod is about nine kilograms (20 pounds). I've been lugging everything here and there, often walking only a block or so to reach my my subjects. At the beginning of the week I was thrilled with the stability and I thought that I would buy a camera just like it. Now I'm considering a Toyo 45AII, which weighs about three kilograms, or a Horseman field camera, which is even lighter. Some people do use heavy equipment, though.

Originally, I thought that I wanted all the movements that an expensive monorail could provide (geared everything, an infinity of every movement), but I'm finding that I probably wouldn't use those very much. The most tilt that I've used has been about eight or ten degrees, and more often I use about six degrees.

One of the items that I've found to be very useful is a loupe. I already had a Schneider 8x, so I've been using that to focus. I think that if you're going to invest in a camera and lenses it would be wise to buy a loupe. It doesn't need to be very expensive, but it will make a big difference in the sharpness of your images. More importantly, it may make you feel more confident.

I read that one person was using a black sweatshirt as a focusing cloth. I tried it and it fits my needs perfectly. I put the neckband over my head and let the rest of the shirt bunch up around my neck. When I'm ready to focus I pull the shirt about the back of the camera. I may cut the sleeves off and sew the holes closed.

I'm learning more from photographing than I am from reading camera specs. I'd suggest that you rent or borrow a 4x5 camera and play with it. If that's not practical, you may be able to examine one in a shop or a studio. Using one - even for 10 minutes - will help answer a lot of questions.

-- Matthew Runde (, January 16, 2002.

RENT FIRST! Large format ain't for everyone.

-- (, January 16, 2002.

I can attest to the usefullness of a Toyo 45A-II. I've had mine for about 6 months now, and I love it. It's a bit heavier than some of the wood field cameras, but it's extremely stable and rigid.

My only regret is that it only has about 315mm of draw, which precludes using any really long lenses without resorting to telephotos. Even with a T lens, I think the longest focal length avaiable would be 400mm, using the Schneider Xenar 400mm. (hopefully I got those names right :-) ).

Longest lens I currently have is a 305mm G-Claron, which is a *great* lens. Tons of coverage for 4x5....

I purchased all my equipment (except for the lenses) on eBay - if you do purchase stuff from eBay, only buy from people who have sold tons of stuff, and have very little (prefereably none, but that's unlikely) negative feedback.

Welcome to LF! It's a slipperly slope, let me tell you.

And a darn fun one at that!


-- Ken Miller (, January 16, 2002.

I'll second the "rent first." Upside down and backwards screen images on dim focusing screens because of slow lenses isn't for everyone. With a little rental use and a few questions here you'll be able to ascertain exactly "what you will like" from experience, not conjecture. Believe me this is important. There's alot of used stuff around; Take your time and research carefully and meanwhile practice on a rental.... BTW, the Wista is a popular model.... Make sure you get the movements you want or need, as well as the bellows length. Check Kerry's great site with lots of useful info on lenses.

-- Wayne Crider (, January 16, 2002.

robert white UK web currently lists as second hand for sale a 5 X 4 WISNER FOR 700 British pounds, and a TECHNIKA IV for 600. Since you can only afford one lens at this time, most likely you will be considering beginning with something between 135 and 210 mm focal length. Lenses in these focal lengths are probably the most often used for 5 x 4 landscape photography, and include some of the sharpest, least expensive, smallest filter requirements, most easily resold lenses. Check to see whether the weight of either camera is unacceptable to you. If you go to a much lighter camera (< 2 kg), you probably will end up with a camera that offers less available maximal bellows extension. Consider what maximal bellows extension you will need. The Wisner can give you 1:1 magnification with a 210 mm focal length lens (bellows has to be extended to 420 mm). You can use a 450 mm standard focal length lens with the Wisner, or even a longer telescopic design lens, 600-720 mm. The Technika IV has lesser extension (360 mm I believe, plus anything added by extension tube). There are 500 mm focal length telescopic lenses suitable for the TK (with its tapered bellows) that require only 360 mm bellows extension for infinity focus. I do not know whether the Wisner is less stable than TK with long lenses, or more difficult to set up with wide angle lenses (90 mm focal length or less), although I have read something to that effect. You can make your own comparison. I would particularly compare the ease of adjustments and focusing, of the Wisner v Technika. Do you want center axis lens tilt or base tilt lens focusing? Each camera has its strengths and weaknesses.

-- DJACKSON (DJACKSON@333LAW.COM), January 16, 2002.

Mr. Cad is another vendor that you may want to investigate.


-- Wayne DeWitt (, January 16, 2002.

Hi David, As Matthew, I just rose to LF a few weeks ago, if you are on a budget,you must buy a used camera, since there is nothing on a LF camera that could be damaged and invisible, except holes in the bellow. In UK, you have two manufacturers of great craftmanships cameras, WALKER and GANDOLFI ( and ) they also have some used equipment, just have a look on their website. Beside the camera, you need a lot of things and it's going to increase your budget a lot! First of all, if you want to trek in the wilderness, you will need a rucksack, for large lormat, they are very expensive!!! I have customized one by myself, I bought a rucksack for a portable computer, strong and cheap ( Jansport, about 45 englishpounds), cut the computer pocket and sewed some strengthenings (foams and clothes), now my equipment fits in it as if it was made for! Second, it's seems to me your Gitzo will be too heavy for backpacking a long time, the better is a carbon one, but it's also very expensive!!! Third, you may need a good scan or a new enlarger for B&W, as the size rise up! Anyway, at the end, it's worth the money because the pleasure increases too! Good luck! Regards

-- Daniel Luu Van Lang (, January 17, 2002.

David Two years ago I made the jump into large format on quality grounds (from 35mm) for landscape and some still-life. I'd decided on a monorail and started out with a Cambo C2 (GBP 275 from Teamwork; + Schneider 90mm f6.8 - GBP 75 from Jessops; + Kodak Ektar 203mm f7.7 - GBP 110 from Mr Cad). I learned alot from using it but I wouldn't recommend it for landscape. The weight wasn't a particular issue for me, but the bulk was. It was a pain carrying it on trips and in the end this put me off taking it out even though it was fun (and very easy) to use. At the time, I couldn't find a reasonably priced, less bulky, alternative monorail. The one alternative in my price bracket was the Cambo Cadet stocked by Teamwork and KJP Photo in London, but I didn't particularly like it.

If I were doing it again and were spending up to GBP 500 on the camera, I'd buy a second-hand/ex-demo field camera - they have most of the movements I generally use and are, I find, so much easier to carry around (but others say exactly the same of monorails). In fact, I've since sold the Cambo (to Jessops who gave me GBP 175 - so I lost very little on it over the 18 months I had it) and bought an Ebony (well, what's money for..!). It's so much more portable and as a result I go out taking photos pretty much every weekend. In terms of the different cameras available in the UK, the selection second hand at this price point is not huge - probably the easiest way to decide is to look at what focal length lenses you'll be using, play with the various cameras whose bellows will accommodate these and just see what you like (whether monorail or field camera). In relation to LF shops in the UK - Robert White is IMHO the best - they were very helpful to me. If you don't live near Poole, find an excuse to go down there. Teamwork are good too and do usually have in a selection of various second hand cameras and lenses. Jessops on Oxford St in London seems to get in a steady flow of bits and pieces at reasonable prices. Mr Cad has an everchanging selection.

Finally, if you haven't already got it, buy Steve Simmons' book 'Using the View Camera' - a really good introduction to what LF is all about. (I bought it off Amazon).

Good luck!


-- Stephen Fletcher (, January 17, 2002.

Hey,just to get in my two cents,ebay has been very good to me. With a little patience you can find almost anything at a good price.Good luck!

-- Dennis Gazso (, January 17, 2002.

There are a few nice complete outfits on eBay UK at the moment, mostly monorails but there is a Toyo outfit with 90mm and bag bellows, case, holders etc. Maybe worth a look.

-- paul owen (, January 18, 2002.

I have been away for a few days and missed the early days of this thread.

I too started in LF about 9 months ago with a s/h cambo from ebay, have now been upgraded (xmas present) to an Ebony RSW from Robert White. The cambo got me hooked but also taught me a lot of lessons about lenses, image circles etc. I recommend buying something cheap that you can sell on when (if) you get hooked. The items on ebay in the UK at the moment (sorry Paul) arent really cheap enough as "suck it and see" buys IMO.

Dont overlook the darkroom expense if you want to do traditional B&W or the extra space that a 5X4 enlarger takes up. Even if you go digital from 5X4 negs you have to add on the cost of a scanner capable of dealing with 5X4. Ironically my darkroom upgrade actually made a profit because I was able to sell my MF enlarger for more than I paid for my 5X4 enlarger !!

I echo the dealers mentioned in the UK but would add MXV ( who seem to sell their s/h large format lenses at a really low price. I have bought a 65mm F4 Nikkor (as new for £499) and an as new boxed 150 mm APO symmar (£199) from them recently at really good prices compared to the other dealers mentioned.

I did order a Kodak film holder from Badger in the US, as they are not available in the UK and including p&p, tax etc it cost about 1/2 what it would have cost here - had I been able to get it. TMax 100 is readily available in packets. Message is dont overlook the US stores as it can save you money.

Lastly - I do have my old Cambo monorail with a convertible 135 F5.6 Symmar available to a good home if you wanted to drop me a line.

As per Paul's offer - if you are localish to Southampton then we could arrange to meet and you could see/touch/feel the LF gear that I have and see the sorts of results I have from 9 mths experience.

Best regards


-- David Tolcher (, January 18, 2002.

Sorry, that shoud have been - They have just moved web-site.

-- David Tolcher (, January 18, 2002.

I'm another UK based LF'er ; Surrey.

-- fw (, January 18, 2002.

Thank you for all the truly helpful remarks made by so many contributors - I am overwhelmed and delighted with the response. If I've learnt one thing here, then it is try things out first. I really appreciate the kind offers to look at other people's LF gear. I am now a resident of Northumberland, these last ten years (though lived in the south for much of my life), so am 300 miles+ from you all. With very young children to consider, I'll not be able to get down - though thanks again for the offer, gentlemen. At least I live in the middle of one of the most photogenic counties in the country! I think I'll monitor the sources mentioned, and see what crops up. Thanks yet again,

-- David Bickerdike (, January 18, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ