My first LF camera: Meridian vs Crown Graflex vs Calumet Cadet

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Id like to buy my first LF camera. I live in Italy and here the used market is quite limited, but after some researches Ive found a Meridian in good conditions with Kodak Anastigmat 135mm lens for about 500$, and a Graflex Crown Graphic in good conditions for exatcly the same price. I was also considering a new Cambo Explorer 150mm. kit, equivalent to the US Calumet Cadet 150 mm. kit, but which is sold in Italy for about 1000$ maybe because it has some more options (Explorer camera, lens panel, Rodenstock 150mm Geronar lens, cable release, soft carry case, fresnel screen, spirit level, magnifying lupe, 2 x Fidelity 4 x 5 double film holders and Polaroid 405 back). I shoot landscapes and I usually hike for few miles: if I consider the portability Id go for the Graflex or the Meridian but, how about the movements? Are they enough for landscape photography? And the lens quality? On the other hand Im very attracted by the Cambo Explorer kit but I was wondering if a monorail camera is portable and light enough for field work. If you had to choose among these three cameras, and you had my need (lanscape and hiking), which one you should buy and, most important, why (portability, lens quality, movements, weight, rigidity etc. etc.)? Any help will be greatly appreciated. Ciao Marco

-- Marco Frigerio (uburoix@tiscalinet.it), February 05, 2002

Answers

Hi Marco,

I was *extremely* poor when I purchased my LF camera with my credit card. I bought a new Tachihara with a used Schneider 150mm. The whole thing, not including film holders, etc., came to about $700. What do I think about the camera? I think it is terrific. Very light and small (stuffs very easily into my backpack). Its rigid enough for everything I've used it for. It also looks nice. The only drawback so far is that the bellows extension is not that great, but I think that you can get some kind of upgrade for that. I bought my camera from www.adorama.com

Chris www.jordanphoto.com

-- Chris Jordan (postmaster@jordanphoto.com), February 05, 2002.


Hello Marco,

As from beginner to beginner: A year ago I was at the same point as you are now. I had to decide between Field or View camera. As I was afraid that I did not have enought movements I choose a view camera as it looked much more flexible than a fieldcamera with limited movements and often with fixed bellows. There was another reason I bought a monorail: there is a tiny used marked here in the Netherlands and the only camera that is put up for sale every now and then is a Cambo SC2.

Last year I learned the following:

1) the monorail is a dog for hiking, it's heavy and bulky, I know understand the phrase: "anything further away then 300 feet from the car is not scenic". I hiked (better: long walk) several times with the camera on my shoulder for a few miles, it was a great workout :-)

2) When shooting landscapes i don't need as much movements as I thought I need.

But nevertheless I like LF and have no regrets buying a used monorail camera to learn using and appreciating this type of sports. Actually I'm now that confident that I plan to put some more money into this hobby and buy a field camera.

My advice: If 90% of your shooting is outdoors and you like to hike: get a field camera that is easy to take with you, you rarely will need extreme shifts, tilts etc.

-- Huib Smeets (hsmeets@plex.nl), February 05, 2002.


Marco,

Regarding monorail vs. field camera, I would agree with Huib. If you enjoy hiking and don't want your equipment to limit your "movements", a compact, lightweight field camera is the way to go. For landscape, you won't need camera movements as much as you'll need the flexibility to get yourself and your equipment to the right location (without becoming exhausted in the process).

I too started out with a monorail (a nice little Calumet which I still find wonderful to work with) but ended up purchasing a Toyo Field 45AX. The Toyo takes me less than 30 seconds from backpack to fully set up (including lens). The Calumet wouldn't even fit in my backpack without MAJOR disassembly. I prefer not to carry my camera outside my pack when looking for new locations, so set up and tear down times are important for me.

In a nutshell, if you like to wander in the great outdoors, get equipment that won't slow you down. And enjoy!

-- Scott Soper (scottsoper@earthlink.net), February 05, 2002.


Hi Marco, Beginning in large format is a great task. Congratulations. I started with a heavy Cambo monorail and I'm glad I did. There are so many variables in large format that can degrade your pictures that when starting out you will be wise to eliminate as MANY as possible. The Cambo while not the ideal perfect camera for what you want to undertake will eliminate a whole bunch of pitfalls. I think everyone should begin with a modern sharp lens in a modern Copal shutter. That way if the pictures aren't what you expected, (and if you're like the rest of us they won't be) you can eliminate a muddy 1950's lens and an old shutter that's timing at who knows what. With 2 good holders you can figure the light leak was something you screwed up, not some old piece of junk holder that should be in the trash. With a Polaroid back you can see immediately what you're doing right, or wrong. And when you're film is fogged you know it wasn't the bellows on a new camera. When folks start out with old tired stuff they get discouraged because something is broke, but what. Later on you can move up to the Gandolfi and the lowly Cambo will still be worth about what you paid and there's always a market.

Investigate ways to pay American and British sellers on Ebay. Pay-Pal, Billpoint, BidPay etc. There's a wealth of good used equipment and many folks will ship worldwide. Also compare prices you've gotten locally with Robert White in London.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), February 05, 2002.


Hi Marco, I think you could be unecessarily limiting yourself to these 3 chocies, cameras which you may find unfriendly to use for what you want to do. I don't know the import taxes where you are at though. First, (and important!) get yourself a cheap-as-you-can modern lens 135mm to 180mm in a "Copal" shutter that is in good condition. This is important for a beginner, anything else and you could find yourself with a old piece of gear with speeds that are off in which case you have a repair bill before you can shoot. Second find a used view camera/ field camera that has twice the extension of the focal length of your lens. So if you have a 150mm Lens, get a field camera with at least 300mm of bellows. If dealing with a reliable used camera dealer, tell them you want something that is riggid and hope they know what you mean. You won't need a lot of movements for what you are doing, but you will want some tilt on the front and back and perhaps some swing on front at least. Then make sure you ask the dealer that the lens has enough of a circle to cover at least minor movements. England has Robert White for U.S. try Midwest Photo Exchange in Ohio; well there are probably a lot of places in the U.S. where you can find a used field camera and people on this site will be able to recommend someone. I understand there are flea markets in Italy where a person can find good cameras cheap? The cameras you mentioned, I think you might be restricting yourself unecessarily in the choice to something that in the end will end up costing you more and not serving you for what you want to do. Good luck, David

-- david clark (doclark@yorku.ca), February 05, 2002.


I have a Meridian B with the square lens board. It is a little cruder than a Graphlex, but it has a rotating spring back mounted on movable pins(that extend out upto 1 3/8") to give you some rear swing and tilt. T he front has has some front/rear tilt and shift movementss. The max bellows extension is about 12 1/2", and 14" if you extend out the back. If you need aditional lens boards, you can make them out of model airplane plywood (or buy one for a Calumet C400). It also has a secondary focusing track inside the body so you can use a 65mm, but mine atlease, had no locking mech. on the secondary rail. The down side is finding replacement parts and a noninterchangable bellows. Also the threads on the screws I've lossed and replaced had American threads (ie not metric). I'm not sure what it weighs.

I do wish it had a graphlock back so I could use grachmatic film holders and 120 film backs; also wish it had the same wideangle focusing system as the Graphic.

Hope it helps..

-- Beau (ejschwarzjr@hotmail.com), February 05, 2002.


I wrote up a review of the Meridian for the LF page. It is located at http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~qtluong/photography/lf/meridian/meridian.h tml

OK, I'm biased but I really do think this is a wonderful camera. Beau, you might find it useful to look at the kludge I engineered to be able to use grafmatics with the non-graflok back.

Cheers, DJ

-- N Dhananjay (dhananjay-nayakankuppam@uiowa.edu), February 05, 2002.


Fred Picker used to say that any flat bed field camera (not talking press cameras, like the Graflex) had more movement than anyone would ever need. I think he was right.

I prefer a field camera outdoors, and a monorail indoors.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), February 06, 2002.


Hi Marco. I am italian as you and have been into LF for 1 year now. I do the same kind of photography you are planning to make. While I cannot advise you about the cameras you are evaluating due to my lack of experience I might give my 2$ about the field Vs view topic: go for a wooden field camera as is the only one you can hike with for a long time. Every piece of equipment has to be assessed for the minimum weight. If you need help about LF I can help you for what I know, feel free to contact me. BTW Have you tried with SMAF ? They are the only ones who deal with LF.

Ciao Roberto Ferrara

-- Roberto Manderioli (rmander@libero.it), February 07, 2002.


Hi Marco,

I just started out in LF as well. After doing some research I found that most of the material on the web is very US-centric: Hardly anyone ever mentiones MPP cameras. MPP was an English company and only a few ever made it to the US. England's not far from Italy however (nor from Amsterdam, which is where I am).

I ordered an MPP Mk VII from http://www.andrewscameras.co.uk. I was a bit nervour buying it over the phone, but all has turned out well. It came with a 150mm Xenar. And old lens, but I've been making some very nice pictures with it. I paid 300 UKP for the whole thing, including four film cassetes. I know, 4 isn't nearly enough, but it'll get you started.

As I ordered it I was also worried that it wouldn't have enough movements, but it turns out to have plenty! You can read more about it at http://www.mppusers.freeuk.com/microtec.htm Scroll down for the Mk VII and VIII.

Cheers,

Alex

-- Alex Le Heux (alexlh@funk.org), February 08, 2002.



Marco,

Check out a Super Speed Graphic or Super Graphic camera. They can usually be found on eBay for less than $500 with a lens and they have quite liberal FRONT movements, and a revolving back.

Also, it has a built-in rangefinder that works well for handheld subjects.

-- David Haynes (studioblsp@mindspring.com), February 08, 2002.


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