Choice of Monorail for New LF Photographer : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread


I am going to be joining the ranks of large format photographers here in the next few months. I have done my homework (e.g., reading "The Camera" and postings on this forum) and have one remaining issue regarding the choice of a camera.

A bit of background. Based on my interests, I will primarily photograph landscapes and architecture (maybe a portrait here and there). For a variety of reasons, I want to start with a monorail camera. I intend to spend no more than $2,000 on camera, lens, tripod, film holders, etc. I would like to keep the camera purchase around $700 or 800.

My question relates to the Sinar F1 versus other "beginner" monorails. I found a brand new F1 at Robert White for $700. As you know, this is about the same price of a new Cambo N or NX or Toyo CX. Can anyone speak to the benefits/costs associated with these three cameras? Also, are there any other suggestions for similar camearas (used or new) that I may be missing? For example, a used Horseman LE or Acra-Swiss Discovery seem like reasonable alterantives but I haven't seen any in the $800 price range.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, David Sprott

-- David Sprott (, April 22, 2002


Hi David,

Well than David, welcome to the club! :-)

About a year ago I was in the same position: entry into LF, rather a monorail than a field, landscape. I didn't want to put too much money into it and in the case of selling it off I didn't want to loose too much money on it either.

Here in the Netherlands a Cambo SC2 (AKA Calument NX) is a popular system. So I bought a USED SC2, 6 weeks ago I sold it without losing a dime.

Now that I'm shure and know what kind of camera I like and needed, I bought a different camera new.

My advice is: 1) buy a used camera to start with and get some experience 2) buy a popular camera that you can sell any time with losing serious money on it, which depends on local market. 3) after having gotten some experience and (re)assurance that you like LF, sell it and buy a camera that really suits you and your needs. You'll than have no problem choosen the type of camera you like/need.

Would bother not all too much about the specifics of a Sinar F1/F2, Arca-Swiss Discovery, Cambo/Calumet SC2/NX, Horseman LE, etc etc are all fine camera's for a beginner, just get one and get started.

-- Huib Smeets (, April 22, 2002.


I don't know about used Horseman LE prices, but I think it will be tough to find a Discovery. They come up rarely on E-Bay. I talked to a couple of Arca-Swiss dealers, and they stated what I found when I was looking: The Discovery doesn't show up on the used market very often.

Since you are thinking about a used Sinar, why not just buy a used camera? You can probably find a Cambo 45NX in the $300-$400 range. Similar prices might be available for other cameras. This would really free you up to spend money on lenses. I bought a used 45NX in good shape, when they were going for more $ used than they are now. Other used items purchased from a variety of sources: a bag bellows, a wide angle monorail, and two flat lensboards, and two recessed lensboards. Then I purchased a new Caltar II-E 210mm f/6.8 Caltar II- E lens (purchased on sale). The total cost was approximately the same as the price of a new Discovery alone. Over time, I added several lenses, all used. Most of my "new" equipment is used, but it looks like new.

Your goal of assembling a good system for $2,000 is very do-able. Best of luck.

-- Dave Karp (, April 22, 2002.

I agree with the general comments about buying used equipment.

As long as you are looking at monorails, think in terms of modular design. It gives you the ability, as was mentioned, to upgrade over time. However, this means that knowing the compatibility within a camera brand is important. Most Sinar accessories going back to the orginal Sinar Norma design will work with an F1. (I use a 5X7 Norma back and bellows with my F2, for example.) I'm not sure that's true of all modular cameras like the Cambo, Arca and Horseman. Designs may have changed over the years making older accessories incompatible with newer cameras.

(Absolutely nothing against those cameras, I just don't have the experience with them).

-- Jerry Flynn (, April 22, 2002.

For a variety of reasons, I want to start with a monorail camera. I intend to spend no more than $2,000 on camera, lens, tripod, film holders, etc. I would like to keep the camera purchase around $700 or 800. if you are buying a new camera then you should look at the Calumet Cadet cameras. If buying used, probably the best buy will be a Sinar Norma instead of a Sinar F camera of any vintage. Wonderfully built and an elegant design and musch better madethan the Sinar F. On the other hand a Sinar F with the built in tilt /swing angle calculator and depth of field calculator angle device is very, very useful, even for seasoned professionals. this feature (in a better form) is also found on the Sinar C, P & X cameras.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, April 22, 2002.

I agree with Ellis... also in used LF market, look for the Sinar A1/ Alpina.. folded flat in a hard shell case (similar to a business attaché case)... will run around US$500.00...also "buy used and save $ for better lenses"....

-- dan n. (, April 22, 2002.

I got a used Calumet monorail for $150. It is in great condition and and all I need for 4x5. They come up all the time on ebay.

-- William Marderness (, April 22, 2002.

If you are a student the Linhof Kardan M on the school program will be within your price range. It is also available with a choice of lens packages at considerable savings. The School Program brochure has all of the student prices on linhof, Rodenstock, Heliopn, kaiser, gepe Pro, etc. If your school does not have a brochure and application we can mail you one as long as you are in a 4 year school in the U.S.

-- Bob Salomon (, April 22, 2002.

Hi Everyone,

Thanks very much for your timely and thoughtful responses. You have given me a lot to think about.

Thanks again! David

-- David Sprott (, April 23, 2002.

Pay just as much attention to the cost and availability of the systems accessories as to the reviews of the camera. Sooner or later as your taste changes, and if you stick with the camera, you'll probabably want someting extra such as lensboards, bellows, extension rails, a new groundglass cause you broke yours, etc. The price you got on the F1 is, from what I have priced, very good, and makes me wonder what's up with it? Are you sure your not misreading dollars for English pounds? 700 Pounds would be more like it. As far as the reviews of the camera are concerned, some like it and as usual some don't. I think the biggest problem was the build, as it was apparently not as strong as some liked. I guess it depends on how much abuse you give your equipment. As compared, the NX seems to get mostly good reviews. From what I can remember, I think there is a sale on at B&H on a CX camera with lens for under a $1000. It might be a good place to start, since if it doesn't work out for you, you'll have a new camera to sell.

-- Wayne Crider (, April 24, 2002.

>but I think it will be tough to find a Discovery. > I've seen 2 on ebay in the last couple of weeks. So it's not imposable. But I'm not sure how much they went for.

-- Ed Candland (, April 29, 2002.

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