Field Camera & Monorail Camera Differences

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by curtis_lowe, Aug 6, 2009.

  1. Can someone tell me the main differences bewtween Field and Monorail Large Format cameras?
  2. The big difference is a field camera folds up for easier transport and a "rail" does not.
  3. Another difference is that more movements, or a greater range of movements are available in monorails. Many monorail "system" cameras, like Sinar, allow a wide range of accessories and the ability to change bellows, add bellows sections, etc. Also the base on field cameras can get in the way of some filter systems and lens shades. With very wide angle lenses, some folding field cameras bed gets in the way, or doesn't quite drop enough.
    Your intended use should tell you which is better for you. If you'll be in the field hiking and carrying gear, the field camera is what you whant. If you'll be in the studio, the monorail is the way to go.
  4. Good answers above. You should probably check out a copy of "Using the View Camera" by Steve Simmons as well, as it covers a great deal of this information in pretty good detail and should be easily understood by most anyone.
    My own experiences with both of these designs led me to stick with a field camera. I hike quite a bit and a 4x5 monorail was just too heavy to lug 8-10 miles. In addition, I found the need to swap out rails for macro work and normal/wide angle work was too much of a burden when working in the field. Monorails use a monorail (hence the name) for mounting the standards (the front and rear parts of the camera), so when you have the standards close together you may have to change to a short rail in order to keep it from either poking you in the throat or intruding on the image area. And, when doing macro work you may need to mount a longer rail to allow for the needed bellows extension. Field cameras collapse and expanding without the need for this, but this also means that you may not be able to get the same range of bellows extension/compression, depending on the model of your camera. Again, check out "Using the View Camera".
    When you are considering what to get, keep in mind that just because a camera can become a pretzel doesn't necessarily mean that a) you will use all those movements, and b) that you will be able to afford lenses that will still cover if you do use them. In my own work I found that I had no need for rear rise and fall, and since my field camera weighs less than half what my monorail weighs, but has all the same movements except for rear rise/fall, I stowed the monorail. Consider what you want out of the tool, then find the tool that meets those needs. The camera is, after all, just a dark box...
    - Randy
  5. Overall, it comes down to a question of how you use the camera. Randall hikes with his camera doing a lot of landscape shooting far from his car, so the field camera suits him fine. On the otherhand, I do mostly architectural work with my camera, rarely go far from my car for a setup, and often use extreme movements, making my monorail camera more suitable for me. Of course, like Randall, I also have a field'll probably end up with both, too, so for your first one, base the choice on your present intended use.
  6. It's an interesting question. There aren't any definitive answers. And there are cameras that blur the distinctions like the field monorail that I use from Toho. This is the lightest LF field camera that I've found at 1.25 Kg (about 2.75 lbs). But monorails are supposed to be heavy! The difference it the lack of geared movements. Studio monorails are built for studio work which typically demands much more precision and thus they tend to have lots of geared movements. The extra equipment of course increases weight. But studio camera typically live on a studio stand and seldom get carried anywhere so the added weight isn't much of a concern.
    Perhaps the biggest identifier for field cameras is that they fold up or in some other way (dissasemble) reduce their volume from working size -- to make it easier to carry around. Wood field cameras are well known for this. The second biggest identifier is probably an effort to keep the weight down and thus increase portability.
    Perhaps the biggest identifier for monorail cameras is precision and control of movements. The biggest secondary identifier is perhaps that many of these cameras are designed for maximum flexibility -- they are part of a "system" of interchangeable parts that allow the photographer to "build" a camera to do just what is wanted at the time, from studio portraits to table-top macro photography to...?
    But there are certainly camera in the gray area in between field cameras and monorail cameras. Like my Toho.
  7. I started with a monorail and was shooting mostly landscape. I hated it, it just seemed like a job to use. I bought a field camera, with interchangeable bellows, and now have two of them.
    When I turned pro, I continued to use my field camera for studio work and for architectural work because I absolutely loved it. It felt like an extension of me, it was so wonderful to use. It had all the movements I needed and I never had to use a recessed lensboard even for my 75mm lens. For the studio work, there were times that I wish I had had a rise/fall on the back standard, but that was rare and generally easy to adjust for.
    To me the biggest difference mechanically is that the field camera is going to have a fixed bellow extension. That is, most monorail systems have the ability to add longer rails or rail extensions whereas the field camera will never extend beyond how it comes. So this requires a good idea of what you want to shoot, lens wise, as there are field cameras that would be hard pressed to use a 300mm lens at anything but infinity. Since the bellow is your focussing mechanism, you may also find the ability to do close up work with something like a 210mm restricted with some cameras as well. I went with a camera that had the interchangeable bellows, so I could add a bag bellows for wide angle work, and a maximum extension of either 19 or 22 inches--don't remember exactly. In any case, I have rarely used the full extension, but have used most of it and the extra bellows allows for additional movements without straining it. The movement differences can be a factor, but a good field camera will have about all you will use from a practical standpoint. But it is also true that you can get more features for less money with a monorail.
  8. I should clarify that I was referring to 4x5 cameras above.
  9. An exception would be the Linhof TechniKardan which is a folding rail camera. When fully opened it has 20" of bellows and rail and when closed is about the size of a hard back book. Since it is a monorail it has all on axis movements front and back as well as front and back shifts and rise/fall (front) and rise only in the back.
  10. Bob,
    Monorails aren't restricted to on-axis movements. My Toho monorail uses base tilt on both standards. Having used base and axis tilts I find base tilts more intuitive. This too is probably a religious argument however. In any case, full movements on both standards are what I would expect from a monorail.
  11. As you can see from the previous responses, the line between field and monorail designs has become blurred. As noted, certain brands/models share characteristics common to both designs. But to put it as simply as possible, monorail designs move their front and rear standards
    along a single rail or beam, hence the term "mono". Field camera designs usually employ a wide, flat bed, and the front and rear standards
    move along tracks attached to the bed of the camera. Field cameras are often called "flatbeds". Apart from the differences in the capabilities,
    range and types of movements found in either design, Field cameras are usually based upon some type of clam-shell design, allowing them to
    fold up into compact packages, Monorails generally don't fold up.
  12. When you take a field camera into the field, they say "hey, neat camera!" When you hoof a monorail camera into the field they way "whoa! is that a camera?".
  13. pvp


    Much is always said about the fact that field cameras (as a group) have somewhat less movement capability than monorails. It's worth mentioning, IMO, that field cameras will have all the movements you need 99.99% of the time. The exceptions to that rule are seldom found in the field.
    My monorail weighs about 11 pounds. My field camera, 4 pounds.
  14. " IMO, that field cameras will have all the movements you need 99.99% of the time"
    That depends on how you work and usually you make your work fit within whatever limitations in movements your camera has.
    For instance, in the field, seems to imply that you are using the camera on location. Many folding cameras have to many limitations in movements for architectural photography compared to the movements on a full movement camera.
    The exception is what you want to do and how you want to do it. Perhaps you are shooting by a stream and would like to take a shot that appears to have been taken in the stream. With a full movement camera you can set up your tripod next to the stream, shift the lens towards the stream, shift your back away from the stream and then shoot. With most folding cameras you set your tripod up in the stream.
    And a full movement TK 45 weighs 6 pounds and eliminates most of the need to have two different types of camera, one weighing 4 pounds and one weighing 11 pounds.
  15. Sorry forgot to ad that if you set up a camera without full movements you can use indirect displacements to look like you were in the stream. Swing your lens towards the stream and your back away from the stream. Add whatever tilts you need for plane of focus. Rotate the camera around the axis to correct the yaw as best as possible.
  16. I have both the view camera 4X5 two of them and just few days received my Field camera from B&H, I can see the difference between them.
    The field camera is much smaller and lighter and boxed up in a way to be handle out door but with so many limitations comparing it to the viev camera, where more control of the angels and DOF could be acheived.
    I am also lucky thay for both of them I have 2X 6X9 roll films holders and backs from Mamiya, now I have removed these backs from my view cameras and I can use them on my field camera, I have also just order another back and holder Horsman also from B&H which suposed to be shipped by today, with these 3 backs I can have 24 shots while working out door wiout the problem of loading films.
    The only things I like to know at the moment is, my 150MM and 210MM and 240MM are equivlent to what in 35MM system of in my miduam format system, this nice to know before I order another lens for my field and view cameras.
    Thank you and wishing you all of the best.
  17. Your 150mm lens is considered a "normal" lens on 4x5, about equivalent to a 50mm on a 35mm camera; I use a rough estimate of 1/3 when dealing with the 35mm equivalents, thus would estimate the 210mm to be about equivalent to a 70mm and the 240mm to be about equivalent to an 80mm lens on 35mm. No doubt somebody will give you the address for a full equivalency table, but the rough estimates will get you started.
    To complicate matters, you said that you also use roll film backs...the whole equivalency thing then has to be considered in view of the 6x7 or 6x9 formats.
    Ain't LF fun??? :)
  18. Horizontal angles of coverage of lenses in degrees
    150mm lens 0n 35mm = about 16°, on 6x9cm = 37°, on 4x5" = 44°
    210mm lens on 35mm = about 11°, on 6x9cm = about 30°, on 4x5 = 32°
    240mm lens on 35mm = about 10°, on 6x9cm = about 20° on 4x5 = 28°
    However the proportions are very different between 6x9 and 35mm and 4x5". The 4x5" proportion is more similar to 6x7cm.
  19. I think everyone here has touched on what the differences are. Pretty much both are excellent cameras to own. The monorail one is more geared for a studio in my opinion with all the movements, while not to say you don't use them out in the field just more common with portraits of some kind. The field camera is much lighter, able to be carried easier and further and you don't always need so much movement when doing landscape. I guess this was the camera of choice too in early 20th century for journalism... before roll film came along. But your question is only the start in getting into LF world. Lenses are another major one but I hope that all the info provided from everyone was helpful.
  20. Movement and in some cases, weight.
  21. " I guess this was the camera of choice too in early 20th century for journalism... before roll film came along"
    No a press camera was.
    And in the early days of sports photography (outdoors) big berthas were also used. 45 or 57 reflex cameras with huge, lever focusing lenses.
  22. Thanks to everyone for all the information. Plenty to think about now.
  23. When you decide, check these guys out. They have some field cameras in stock. I am probably going to buy one of them but they also told me they have a P2 on the way in to their inventory. BTW, their prices are totally negotiable. They said they would sell me the Tech IV for $950 and the Master for $2500 even though they are listed higher.

Share This Page