What features do you look for when buying a new LF Camera?

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Hello All,

I am working on a little project and would like some of your constructive input on cameras. When it comes time for purchasing a new LF camera 4x5, 8x10 etc. what are you looking for in that camera? I would like to stick to folding field type cameras for comparisons.

Do you go to the used market or new and why? Are there brands that you consider to be the best and why, is it because of price, movements, manufacturer? What movements are critical for you? How much bellows extension do find most useful 12”, 24” and/or interchangeable bag bellows? Do you feel there is a need for a moderately priced folding field camera made in the US? Is there a consideration in lens board design and what is the most universal lens board? Why is a price tag of approx. $2500 the norm for 8x10 field cameras and do you feel this is acceptable? Maybe from a retailers perspective, what is the normal markup on LF equipment?

And, to boil it all down I guess what I am trying to figure out is if you could buy a US made 4x5, 8x10 or larger view camera for a little more than the prices of what you pay for a tachihara or shen hao, what features would it have to have to sway your decisions to stray to something new?

I know there is a lot of questions here, so don’t feel the need to answer them all unless you want to, just looking for a nice well rounded view from everyone.

Thank you for your time and help. James

-- James Christian (jcc928@aol.com), February 18, 2002


If you are looking for a field cammera, it should be fairly light in weight. The movements I would look for are front tilt and front rise/fall and front swing. It should also have rear tilts and swings. I find I use tilt and rise more than swing. A revolving back is nice, but not necessary. Many cameras have a removable back which gives the same results (vertical and horizontal format). I went to the used market for one simple reason.... cost. For the rst of the questions I will defer to the experts, but other than each person's loyalty to a particular brand, they are all very good cameras, no matter if they are Wisner, Gandolfi, Wista, Deardorff, Tachihara etc. They will all last a lifetime.

-- SteveGangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), February 18, 2002.

technical matters: bellows for lenses from 72mm to 450, So a camera with interchangeable bellows, since very few single bellows are pliable enough to handle this array of lenses with movement. Levels, fora and aft easily viewed. Rise/fall front, rear optional. Shift front, rear optional. Tilt/swing front and rear. Better yet, axis tilt front/rear geared. ( Note: Presently I own Wisners.) Ease of operation. The Wisner Pocket Expedition, which I own, has been described as a Chinese puzzle in opening/closing. While not nearly that bad( I was never good with Rubik's cubes either) it is certainly more complex than my Technical field camera to open/close.But hey, I am considering a Technikardan also, and it requires some skill in opening/closing also. From my viewpoint opening/closing should resemble putting a cd into your car cd player. You should be able to do it without hardly watching what you are doing. All gears, tracks, knobs, etc. should turn easily, no hesitation, lock firmly, and be usable with gloves on. Weight: I don't care. I use an old Ansco 8x10 occasionally which is way too heavy. But cameras in the 4-7 pound range seem ok. Reliable mfgs. Wisner, Canham, Linhof, Ebony--the lsit goes on and on. An mfg, distributor, dealer with whom you can actually speak and get real world responses and advice is a must. Bulk. The entire system must fir into a Tenba PBL or an F64 case, the former for air travel, the latter for everything else. So large rail cameras are out. Price; Well the cost of the cameras I own indicate what I am willing to pay. Anything outside the Linhof 45S is too much. The cameras in those ranges are clearly outstanding. But I am have to consider the cost as does anyone else. Also, I use my cameras in the four seasons, in dusty grain elevators, in rain, in lakes, etc. So I want the thing to last. if it gets scarred a bit who cares. But if its beauty means it won't last or requires extraordinary care, then I would pass on it. Ultimately it isn expensive tool, a $2000 hammer. I use it to make images that please me, that i can exhibit, sell and teach with. Bob Esthetics; Well made, designed so your hands can find the controls while under a dark cloth in a darkened room.

-- Bob Moulton (bobmargaretm@home.com), February 18, 2002.

1. ease of use is surely the most critical thing in my book. especially in folding cameras, the knobs need to be large and easy to access and control, and the uprights need to be large enough and sturdy enough to be secure, smooth and accurate. rise and fall are by far the most important movements. focusing system needs to be easy to access and secure in locking. 2. i also look for the absolute minimum number of things that can be broken or get out adjustment. i want simplicity and rugged manual controls - nothing fancy that relies on small, intricate, or difficult to find parts.' 3. the ability to handle wide angle lenses easily, super fast setup and take-down. 4. price is generally not an object. high-quality construction is. fancy, ornate, and complex are not appealing - something that looks like it will last forever is appealing. 5. something that offers a variety of accessories, like reflex finders, at reasonable prices.

-- jnorman (jnorman34@attbi.com), February 18, 2002.

Whether or not it is engraved, "EBONY".

-- paul owen (paulowen_2000@yahoo.com), February 18, 2002.

First, whether or not it says Deardorff on it. Then, whether or not it is the Deardorff later model with front swings. Then, if it is not a Deardorff, whether or not it is less than $10 or so.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), February 18, 2002.

I'm with Dan on this one. Deardorff 8x10 with front swings, light- tight bellows and tripod mounting plate. I use my 5x7 back a lot, but I sold the 4x5 back. I figure if I'm going to lug around an 8x10, there's no way I'm going to waste my time with 4x5 negs.

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), February 18, 2002.

I agree! For an 8x10, a good used Deardorff is one heck of a camera-- -easy to use and built like a locomotive and when folded its as light and as compact as one could expect from an 8x10. Some day soon, a used 'dorff will probably approach the price for a new Wisner, Canham, Phillips,etc...making buying a brand new camera probably a better deal. My experience with 4x5 is very limited, but with the 'dorff you have a trade-off that could go either way. Nearly all 4x5 'dorffs are really 5x7s, so if you get an extra back(5x7 for a 4x5 or vice-versa) you end up with essentially two formats. Modern designs like the Wisner and Zone V1 4x5s are much smaller and lighter. While a 5x7 back may be available for these as well I can't say, but if I were only interested in 4x5 I might be better served by a newer camera---then again if I were more in tune with 5x7 I'd opt for the larger Deardorff which would be better suited for mounting a wider variety(bigger and heavier) lenses. All that said, I think you'd be better off getting a camera YOU enjoy using. IMHO, nearly any camera thats light tight has adequate bellows extension, and locks down good and solid will serve you well enough. Creativity will show even with the most basic equiptment if you use your camera as a tool rather than a crutch. Good Luck and Good Light!

-- John Kasaian (www.kasai9@aol.com), February 18, 2002.

1. Ease of use. To wit, large well-place knobs with smooth action and good lock down; a bright, ruled ground glass that doesn't need to be replaced with something better; 2. My needs for movements are few as, like many, I do primarily landscape work. I find that about all I need are front rise/fall and front tilt. 3. I don't require much bellows draw (maybe enough for a 210mm - 240mm lens)but having the camera be very wide angle friendly is a must! 4. Not having to replace a pleated belows with a bag bellows every time I want to use a wide-angle lens. 5. Inexpensive but good quality lensboards. 6. At least two easy-to-read bubble levels on the rear standard. A couple on the front standard would be nice too. 7. Light weight (about 1.5 kg) yet rigid (i.e. relatively impervious to wind stress and changes in temperature/humidity).

That's just off the top of my head.

-- Matthew Cordery (foraker@hotmail.com), February 18, 2002.

support from the manufacturer.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), February 18, 2002.

I also vote for something exactly resembling a Deardorff 8x10 WFS. After using mine for about 2 years now, about the only things I wish were different were that it had separate locks for front rise/tilt (though this is partially solved by the sliding lensboard), and that some of the knobs were a little more finger- friendly. My 'Dorff weighs less than my 4x5 monorail, and cost about half as much. True, Deardorffs continue to go up in price, and if prices were the same, I'd be likely to go for a Lotus, Canham, or Ebony if for no other reason than starting out with a new camera, but for now you can still find 'em relatively cheap if you know where to look.

The Deardorff 8x10 has about 36" of extension, and can focus down to at least a 90mm on a flat board, albeit with almost nonexistant movements (at least with my ancient bellows). The longest lens I've put on it was an 24" and it wasn't a bad setup. I really couldn't see needing any more extension than 36" on an 8x10. Less might be limiting when using long lenses. The 'Dorff doesn't have interchangeable bellows, but then I can't really imagine a situation where you would need there to be.

I've found the 6x6" round-cornered boards to be plenty big enough for some of those huge old barrel lenses, but not so big that they're objectionably so. Being as thick as they are, it can be a bit of a challenge to attach lenses in modern shutters, but that's only a minor challenge.

Oh, and perhaps the most important feature on a field camera: a Ries tripod underneath.....

-- David Munson (apollo@luxfragilis.com), February 18, 2002.

I've been using LF gear for about a month. The gear has been a 10- lb. Linhof with a 10-lb. tripod. A few nights ago I took out my Nikon N90s and a 28mm lens. The combination weighs about two lbs. It was so light and easy to use that it felt like a toy. These features allowed me to play, rather than work. I want to have the same feeling when I'm using LF equipment.

-- Matthew Runde (actorm@hotmail.com), February 19, 2002.

Figure out if you are a long lens guy or a short lens guy or both, then make sure the camera accommodates the lenses you will use. For me that means finding a camera that easily accommodates very wide- angle lenses. If you want both, you may end up needing to change bellows, so make sure that is possible and easy.

And get front rise and tilt (up *and* down).


-- Christopher Condit (cxc@pacbell.net), February 19, 2002.

James: no,no these guys have it all wrong. You should seek Pete Andrew's on where to look for gear.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), February 19, 2002.

Q. Do you go to the used market or new and why? A. The U.S. mint condition cameras by definition would be virtually good as new, but the cost savings compared to a gray market new camera without U.S. warranty is slight. Q.Are there brands that you consider to be the best and why, is it because of price, movements, manufacturer? A. For landscape cameras, where you place a premium upon durability and precision, rather than weight, the metal cameras, such as Arca-Swiss, Linhof Technika/TK45S, Horseman, and Toya, seemly have the best reputations. Q. What movements are critical for you? A. Landscape photography requires minmal movements, compared to product photography. The most important movement is lens tilt, which can be offered either as base tilt, central axis tilt, or asymmetrical tilt, and achieved in conjunction with or independently of lens shift/rise, and with or without geared adjustments. You need to decide which you prefer. Q. How much bellows extension do find most useful 12”, 24” and/or interchangeable bag bellows? A. The rational choice of bellows length is largely dependent upon the range in the focal length of your lenses. Do you want to shoot both 47 mm and 450 mm? The Technikardan 45S with bag bellows allows you to use both. Do you want to shoot both 35 mm and 500 mm telephoto without having to employ a bag bellows? The Master Technika 2000 will do the trick. Q. Is there a consideration in lens board design and what is the most universal lens board? A. The 96 x 99 mm Linhof lens board eases placement in a pocket of a camera bag. The larger lens boards, 160 x 160 mm, and corresponding larger cross-section bellows, perhaps reduces lens flare or eases use of lens with larger rear elements.

-- dean (djackson@333law.com), February 20, 2002.

I'll touch on just a couple of points.

If you are going for landscape, go for a camera that either has a smaller type lensboard, or for which adaptor lensboards are available. Nothing is more annoying than trying to fit large lensboards into a backpack. My camera came with a homemade affair that I can use with Speed Graphics pacemaker boards, and this is a lot more convenient.

I had a Deardorff, and liked it a lot in many respects. The wood is gorgeous, for example, and setup is easy. But, it just didn't have the flexibility of movements that I like, especially for smaller focal length lenses. (e.g. even a 90mm.) I now have an Arca-Swiss. It's a little on the heavy side for field photography, but I wouldn't trade it for any other camera. (It's not that much heavier than the Deardorff, though. For an "all-round-camera", which is what "ARCa" stands for, it's the best of which I'm aware. Very sturdy, etc.

Portability is also a consideration. How well does the camera fit in a backpack? Arca's do well in this respect.

I don't think my comments regarding the Deardorff would apply to 8x10. I'm sure a Deardorff makes an excellent 8x10 camera.

Another consideration is whether or not you would like to be able to shoot 6x9 or 6x7 with your 4x5. Some cameras simply won't permit this.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), February 23, 2002.

Well, more than a couple -- plus one.

I insist on a camera with a little extra room between the bellows and the 4x5 format, to help limit off-the-bellows flare. I HATE flare. It is the killer of good contrast and can ruin photos. I had a camera one time where the bellows came right to the edge of the format, and flare was a real problem.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), February 23, 2002.

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