advice on monorail setup for architectural work : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello all,

I am seriously contemplating the purchase of a monorail 4x5 for architectural work. I need a quality tool with the minimun of essential accessories for a starter set. A Sinar Norma has been suggested to me by a pro in the field, and I would love feedback on this or other Sinar models. I would also love to hear thought on which 1 oe 2 lenses would be best to start with. Thanks.

Gene Johnson

-- Gene Johnson (, April 04, 2002


A Sinar Norma will be just fine. You'll need a bag bellows. Among newer cameras, a Sinar-F (any variation)will also be excellent. A 90mm lens is the "normal" for architecture. Brand and f/stop to your taste. The faster lenses from the major makers have bigger image circles. I use a 90/8 Nikkor-W and have not yet run out of coverage.

-- Mark Sampson (, April 04, 2002.

A sinar Norma is a very well made camera.

A Sinar P or P2 is much easier to work with because of assymmetric swings and tilts. This camera more than any other viewcamera I have ever owned allows you to concentrate on the creative part - of visualizing and analyzing the image. Swings and tilts, depth of fild, and focus become childs play. At the moment I use a bastardized Sinar 5X7 with a Norma back and Sinar F2 front. I am trying to get my hands on a P2 rear standard, but no luck yet. In the past I have owned Sinar P's both 4X5 and 8X10...(plus a slew of other view cameras: 8X10 Deardorff, 4X5 Linhof Kardan B, Wisner Expedition 5X7, Speed Graphic 4X5, Cambo Legend etc...)

For ease of operation, precision and fast set up I have not found a better camera than the Sinar P system. - weighs a bit, BUT if you add up all the other stuff needed, the weight of the actual camera becomes a smaller percentage of the total...

-- Per Volquartz (, April 04, 2002.


I suggest that you also consider an Arca Swiss Discovery when you are looking at cameras. There are many threads in this forum that discuss this camera. It was my first choice, but I found a good deal on a used 45 Calumet 45NX, and I could not pass it up. If you want to save money on the camera, and put it into lenses, you might consider a used 45NX. You can find them in good shape now for $400 and even less! You give up some conveniences, but it is a good, solid camera.

For a first lens, I suggest a 90mm. This is the most frequently suggested first lens for architecture. Not to wide, not too long. It is like a 28mm lens for a 35mm kit. Not all 90mm lenses are created equally. Manufacturers usually offer 2 versions. One with a large max lens opening (much bigger front element requiring a bigger filter), and one with a smaller max lens opening (less expensive, smaller and lighter). Typically the large lens openings are f/4.5 (Rodenstock, Caltar, Nikon) or f/5.6 (Schneider, Fujinon), and the smaller openings are either f/6.8 (Rodenstock, Caltar) or f/8 (Nikon, Schneider). By the way, Caltar II Wide lenses are identical to the Rodenstock Grandagon-N offerings. They are manufactured for Calumet by Rodenstock. They are usually less expensive than Rodenstock lenses.

Typically, the more expensive larger lenses offer a larger image circle, which is important for architecture. The Nikon 90mm f/8 is the exception. It's image circle is equal to the more expensive version. The Schneider XL series lens offers the largest image circle (and a really big price tag). The lenses with larger max apertures are often considered critical for architectural work, because they make it easier to focus the camera.

I have a Rodenstock Grandagon-N 90mm f/4.5, which I bought used. I think it is an excellent lens, and have been very happy with it. I really appreciate the larger max lens opening for focusing. I have never felt the need for the extreme movements of the Schneider 90mm Super Angulon XL. The fact of the matter is that all of the manufacturers make excellent lenses. If you choose to go with one of the smaller lenses, the Nikon lens may jump to the front of the line, because of its large image circle.

For a second lens, it depends on what you photograph. I went with a used 75mm f/4.5 Rodenstock Grandagon-N. This lens is akin to a 24mm in the 35mm world. Again, I am very happy with it. Another alternative is to go a bit longer. Lenses are available in the 110mm to 125mm range from all of these manufacturers. There is more variability in this group. Essentially, these are in the same classification as a 35mm lens for a 35mm camera. These lenses can be very big, like the 115mm f/6.8 Grandagon-N. The Schneider 110mm XL is very highly regarded. It is also expensive. My lens in this range is a used Fujinon W 125mm f/5.6. This lens is very small and light. It has been replaced in the Fujinon lineup by a 125mm CM-W f/5.6, which has a larger image circle than my version. Even so, it offers less movements than the larger lenses like the Fujinon 125mm f/8, the 115mm Grandagon, or the Super Angulon 120mm (I think) f/8. Other photographers jump past this group of lenses to a standard 135mm or 150mm lens.

Well, that was pretty long-winded. I hope you find it useful. It is just some information I would like to have had when making my first decisions on lenses.

-- Dave Karp (, April 04, 2002.

The Sinar Norma, Sinar C, P or X cameras are all terrific. So are the Arca-Swiss F-line & Discovery and Linhof TK45s cameras. The Sinar F series of cameras are not precise or stable enough for me and because of their compromised design are clumsy to handle and transport.

My advice would be to start with a fast 90mm (f/4.5 or f/5.6) lens and a 150mm or 180mm lens.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, April 04, 2002.

The Sinar Norma, Sinar C, P or X cameras are all terrific. So are the Arca-Swiss F-line & Discovery and Linhof TK45s cameras. The Sinar F series of cameras are not precise or stable enough for me and because of their compromised design are clumsy to handle and transport.

My advice would be to start with a fast 90mm (f/4.5 or f/5.6) lens and a 150mm or 180mm lens.

I suggest you start with a copy of Photographing Buildings Inside and Out, 2nd editionby Norman McGrath.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, April 04, 2002.


Ellis made a great suggestion. The McGrath book is fantastic. Two other good books by Michael Harris: Professional Architectural Photography and Professional Interior Photography. There is some overlap, but overall both are useful. There is another book by Gerry Kopolow, but I do not recall the title. I think that one was written more for the architect who wanted to photograph his or her own projects. All are available at

-- Dave Karp (, April 04, 2002.

A reasonably priced alternative is the Linhof Kardan Bi. Built like a Sherman tank with all the bells and whistles. Save your money for the center filters that you will need for those high end wide angle lenses. Good Luck.

-- Michael Kadillak (, April 04, 2002.


I'm using Horseman LE for architecture. I think it's better than sinar becauce it can be easily transported (after dismounting bellows you can turn each standard by 90 and your camera is perfectly flat. It takes not as much place for transport as sinar does). Horseman system is also very flexible. LE is very precise camera with smooth movements. When I'm going to shoot architecture, I pack lenses, holders, bellows into small lowepro bacpack, and Horseman LE into a flat case. It is very convenient to carry in a city. Lenses. I'm using Schneider Super Angulon 58mm XL for ultrawide work, Schneider Apo-Symmar 120mm, and Rodenstock Siranor-N 210mm.

-- Lukasz Zandecki (, April 05, 2002.

I used to carry a Sinar C in a small Zero-Halliburton case. The ArcaSwiss Can also be flattened and packed in the same manner as is described for the Horseman.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, April 07, 2002.

I came across this thread while searching for Sinar 5x7 parts, and would just like to through my two cents in. Last year I was one of the photographers on the book 1000 New York Buildings, (due out next month) and I personally photographed 220 of the buildings included in the book. The camera that was used for every shot was a Sinar F2 4x5. This camera is the perfect tool for building photography for several reasons.

#1: The ability to use all lenses (except 47mm and below) on a flat board. This may not seem like a big deal, until you have the camera 8 feet up in the air, and are only able to view the F stop scale from below the camera, if you are using a recessed board, you are out of luck. Also getting at the shutter and f stop controls of a large front element lens (such as a Schneider 72mm XL) is next to impossible with a recessed board. The U-Bracket design of the Norma, Toyo 45 series, Linof Kardan, and Cambo are downright scary with wide angle lenses.

#2: The ability to rent accesories: Try to rent any lens on a Linhof Kardan Board, or an Arca board, you will be surprised at how impossible it is. Try to rent a reflex viewer, extension rails, bellows, 8x10 format change kit or just about anything for something that is not Sinar or Toyo. Altough most building work (at least in the larger cities) is done with lenses in the 65mm-180mm range, I personally have used lenses as long as 1200mm to get the perspective I wanted. You are not going to find an extension kit for a Linhof Bi, or an Arca in any rental house, and purchasing them is out of the question for most of us.

#3: The light weight: A Sinar F2 4x5 weighs 7 pounds, and will take abuse and will never fail. The only thing that broke on the book project was a ground glass, and that was my fault. Again, if something does break, you can get it fixed fast and can rent one until you get your repair back. For comparison a Sinar P2 4x5 weighs 16 pounds!!!

#4: Buying into a system that has been around since 1948. Just like Nikon, all Sinar items are backwards compatible. You can use lensboards, bellows, ground glass backs, rails, rail clamps, standards, and just about any bizarre Sinar accesory ever made (there are lots of them!!!) on your 1971 Sinar P, 1986 Sinar P2, 1977 Sinar C, 2002 Sinar F2. Plus, if you also shoot in the studio and own a P series camera, your F series camera standards become intermediate standards, and your bellows becomes an extension bellows, and your wide angle bellows becomes a lens shade.

I would say that the lenses most used on the book project were a 90mm, 120mm and 180mm, with the latter two being used more often than most would think. Since, I had no clue what I would be going into most days, my location kit consisted of the following: 72mm, 90mm, 120mm, 180mm, 240mm, and 360mm. Also used but not carried all the time were, a 58mm and a 600mm. The 240mm is a wonderful lens for detail shots, and the 360mm is used to flatten subjects for a more dramatic look. The 120mm lens was used for about 45% of the shots I took, with the 90mm and the 180mm being used for about a combined 40%. The other lenses while not used as often were worth their weight in platinum when they job called for them. They other indispensible accesories used were the old style swing away Sinar filter holder (I used #8, #11, #15, and #25 filters for almost everything) and the truly awesome Sinar Pan Tilt Tripod head, on a Gitzo 500 series tripod. Film used was Agfapan APX 100, and Kodak E100 VS, along with Polaroid type 54 for proofing purposes.

For those of you who think I hate anything that is not sinar, I also own and use a Plaubel Peco 8x10 camera, which is an old heavy Germanic piece of metal that is also somethimes used as a camera!!! For those who want a challange, try finding lens boards for a Plaubel!!!

If anyone who has sat through this long winded thread has any questions or a sinar 5x7 to 4x5 reducing back, feel free to email me

-- james driscoll (, May 15, 2002.

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