How important is gerared focusing? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread


I'm thinking about making the leap to LF, and I was wondering, how important is geared focusing? Most lower-end used monorails only have friction focusing, and to me, having never used LF equipment, it just doesn't seem like it would be too easy or accurate. Am I wrong? Should I look for something with geared focusing?


-- Curtis Nelson (, May 17, 2002



I have a Calumet 45NX. All movements on that camera are friction. It has never been a problem for me. The focusing is smooth and easy. All you have to do is turn the focusing knob. If you want to make very small adjustments, just keep the focusing lock a little tight, so that it slightly restricts movement. In some cases, when you want to make a gross adjustment of one of the standards, friction movements make it quick and easy to adjust. Just loosen the lock and move it. You don't have to turn the knob to make the standard move.

My experience is that the friction focusing on my camera is quick, easy, and very accurate. I think that you should try the cameras that you are considering out, if possible, and see what you think.

-- Dave Karp (, May 17, 2002.

I took the photo below using the Bender 4x5 kit. I think its pretty sharp. Focusing was by sliding a block of wood on a square aluminum hollow tube (No gears). What is probably more important is to use a tripod, cable release, AND loupe. Also stop down as much as you can.

-- (, May 17, 2002.

For focusing only, geared focus is not really needed, but it does make things a bit easier and faster.

Geared swings and tilts on the otherhand, especialy for architectural and interiors work I find almost essential.

-- Tony Novak-Clifford (, May 17, 2002.

I guess I'm showing my ignorance by my original question. I assumed that there were only two types of focusing methods for LF - geared and friction. By friction, I assumed (again) that it simply meant loosening a knob and manually sliding the standard forward or back (ala Bender). Now it seems like friction focusing is actually is performed by turning a know, which results in the standard moving? Is that correct?


-- Curtis Nelson (, May 17, 2002.


That is how my 45NX works. The focusing is by turning a knob. Simpler cameras like the Bender may work differently.

I also disagree with the idea that geared tilts, swings, or shifts are required for architectural photography. Although convenient in some respects, they are not required. Calibrated swings and tilts are also helpful, but not essential.

Lenses are the most important thing. More advanced cameras can be more convenient in some respects, but the images taken with a stable low end monorail and a high quality lens look just the same as the ones taken with a high end Arca-Swiss or Sinar.

-- Dave Karp (, May 17, 2002.

Maybe you should look at the Arca Swiss Discovery. It has a slider on the front and gears on the rear standard if I'm not mistaken. Thats kind of like having both focusing mechanism.

I've not seen the Discovery in these parts but I've played with the Monolith. After playing with the geared rise, tilts and focus, I'm convinced that Arca has some kind of nicotine coating applied to knobs. My cravings for their cameras lasted for weeks.

-- (, May 17, 2002.


Try a Sinar P2 some time!

The knobs on this camera are coated with stronger stuff than nicotene...the feeling lasts for years!!!

-- Per Volquartz (, May 17, 2002.

Curtis, I think that you have confused geared focusing with geared rise, fall, shift, and tilt capability. A focusing knob is absolutely essential for FINE focusing. Whether it works by friction, or gears is up to the camera designer. Geared movements on the front and rear standards are nice to have, but they are optional. I don't know of a camera that uses a sliding arrangement for FINE focusing.

-- Eugene (, May 17, 2002.

One thing you should note with geared focusing is how the gear mechanism is done the camera. I think most of the cameras have a rack and pinion system.

Depending on how fine the gears are manufactured, you may find that the focusing may "jump" when the gear teeth do not fall into the ridges of the rack. Furthermore, you may also notice a lag when you turn the knob if there is a minute gap in the gears. The best way to know is to try out the cameras. I handled the Arca-Swiss Monolith and it felt creamy smooth.

All this is during very fine focusing of course. My experence with the Bender is that it is extremely easy to make minute adjustments in the rear/front standard using your fingers because the tube and my monorail riders are smooth. The harder part is to know when the focus is snap on. More so at temperatures of 80F under the dark cloth. There are so many other variables for "sharpidity" such as film flatness, camera shake, ground glass distance to film, my so so optician etc. I dont take precision pics so I can live with the Bender friction focusing and I dont think friction focusing is difficult at all. (Bender has no focusing knobs. You use you fingers to nudge the standards.)

-- (, May 17, 2002.

One other factor you notice in vintage cameras. After time, certain focus ranges/points (the ones commonly used) tend to become loose or bumpy because of wear. I expect the best modern cameras (Sinar, Arca, etc.) have tracks and gears that wear only slightly with time and, hopefully, are replaceable. With our vintage cameras, we do "transplants" from donor materials. I can only say that something as ancient as a 4x5 Korona view camera can have excellent front and rear focus, allowing discrete movements and precise-to my eye-focusing. GO

-- David Stein (, May 17, 2002.


For my own work, I find geared focusing helpful. I could probably live without it, though.

I'm borrowing a top-of-the-line Linhof Kardan Bi monorail, which has geared fine-focus that is silky smooth. I like having this because I think that it makes life easier, although I've never used friction focus. After using the geared focus I decided that any camera I bought in the future would need to have it.

I think that if your budget allows, you would be happy with geared focus, but if the budget is tight I wouldn't worry about using friction focus.

-- Matthew Runde (, May 17, 2002.

Geared or friction doesn't matter as long as you have a knob that is smooth and precise. My cameras have geared, but I have a Durst 138 enlarger that has both focus and head adjustments using friction. They are smooth and precise. I don't think anyone will suspect Durst was compromising quality in this design.

-- Gary Frost (, May 18, 2002.

Yes Per, the Sinar p(2)s are a delight to use, with geared everything. I also have a Manfrotto tripod with geared everything... but 4,500 for the bellow unit is a great deal of money.

-- Dick Roadnight (, May 18, 2002.


Bought all my Sinar stuff on ebay. I will never purchase new camera gear retail again. If you are careful and know what you are after you can get a fantastic system for half (or less) of retail.

-- Per Volquartz (, May 20, 2002.

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