New To Large Format -- Help Me Choose a Camera

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by dean_stevens, Sep 11, 2011.

  1. I have been doing digital photography for a while now. In the past 2 years I have messed with film a little with holgas and old 35mm cameras, but nothing large format. My main goal is that amazingly crisp, pure image everyone raves 4X5 and 8X10 cameras produce. I will be shooting in a studio setting (shooting stills and portraits), so I have no concern for portability, just for accuracy and reliability. I have about $750 to spend on the body, lens, light meter, and film. So far, here are the cameras I've been looking at... Let me know what you think.

    Burke & James 8x10 View field camera, gray wood, red bellows, extension rail, Ex/Ex+ $395. (from

    maybe this, but id rather sharpness than portability:

    and maybe this for fun:

    Let me know what you guys think.

    P.S. I'd like to jump right in... I don't have much interest in the soft focus of pinholes. Also, I will not be developing any of the film on my own. I will going to a studio for prints and contact prints.
    P.P.S. The one I keep going back to is the Cambo Legend... Would the legend with this ( be a good setup?
  2. Fundamentally the Burke & James is a wooden field camera (and not the best of its type). As you will be working in the studio, the obvious choice is a monorail - one plus with this is that you could start with a 4x5 outfit and then get a format changing kit (extra rear standard and bellows) to do 8x 10 as well. Furthermore the ideal lens for 8x10 studio work would be 14 to 18 inches (360 to 450 mm), some of these are very heavy for wooden cameras.
    I am an experienced professional studio LF shooter - I haven't actually used a Cambo, I believe the Legend is their top of the range model, I am sure it would be fine. I personally own Sinar Normas (4x5 and 8x10), these are now quite old so not too expensive but fantastically well engineered and with enormous availability of lens boards and other accessories. A quite cheap but worthwhile monorail is the Graphic View (IIRC this doesn't have interchangeable bellows but would be great with longer lenses - only disadvantage is the lens boards are smaller than modern cameras - some big lenses won't fit).
    Speed and Crown Graphic press cameras can deliver sharpness as good as any other 4x5 camera - they are very light and great for carrying around. They offer limited movements, which is not a problem for landscape work but quite a drawback in the studio. Would not advise these. Any more questions? Get back to me!
    PS: The Seneca camera would take quite a bit of revival (new bellows) - it is also a low-spec model with apparently only 1 shutter speed (INST plus T and B). It is essentially a 1900 point-and-shoot camera - if you want this functionality, get a Crown Graphic!
  3. PS - Digisix meter is great and works well - you might find it a little difficult to handle because it is so small - worth considering is the Digiflash, same size, $60 or so more but also measures flash as well as ambient daylight. I have one of these, also a Sekonic L-308 and L-358 - the 308 is probably my favorite, it has everything I need and is still small enough to fit in a pocket.
    The Sinar you linked is an F1 (IIRC) - works well, not their most robust model.
  4. Start with 4x5 and learn everything you can about using the movements. The Cambo Legend with lens would have been a good choice. The Sinar is an excellent camera system, and the one you link to will probably end at higher price, and is without lens. David B. says the model shown is not the most robust. Whilst this may appear so, and indeed be the case, the Sinar f1/f2 is designed for portability. One of these I have worked with, with a colleague in Norway who used it as his primary outfit in his industrial photography business for many years. He had only praise for it and never had a camera failure issue, ever. He used it on outdoor assignments as well as a whole host of indoor industrial environments.
    The two main categories of large format are:
    1. the monorail type as are the Cambo and Sinar examples.
    2. The more compact, fold away type "drop bed" cameras such as the Linhof Technika and all the others whose designs have shadowed the original Linhof innovation. Arguably one of the best of these offshoots is the Toyo Field, utilising light weight carbon fibre to make it one of the most favoured of the non-Linhof, drop bed cameras available.

    But for YOU Mr Dean Stevens, I would start with a basic 4x5 monorail camera, which are plentiful and inexpensive, and a good book on large format technique. I started with Ansel Adams The Camera. With this book and the other two in the series, I would take to cafes, when travelling by train, a break from work, anywhere and everywhere, and read everything. Really study the functions of the camera movements and put yourself through the paces. The Monorail is better to learn this on, because the all camera adjustments are directly achievable without having to invert the camera, which is the case with drop beds. There are several books out there. I also have this, the Kodak publication Photography With Large.Format Cameras.

    Concluding my advice: Monorail for no more than $500 USD, including 150mm lens, and a good book.

    Once you have these, log off and kill the television. When you are familiar with the camera, as though it were a car you had been driving for ages, get some film and put your studies to the test. You can see everything on the ground glass whilst you learn and read about each adjustment. This is what I have done, and what my students have done, and all have progressed with confidence.

    PS: When I acquired the Technika III, I really needed the Linhof instruction booklet, to learn how all those easy monorail adjustments could be achieved on the Technika. .. a bit further up the learning curve.
  5. Awesome, awesome advice Kevin. Thank you very much. I should be able to contact the ebay member and get the cambo with the lens.
    I will keep looking at reviews on light meters... Any sites that have good info on them?
  6. AJG


    I would concur with the advice to get a monorail for studio work--they will be sturdier and have more movements available, which will become more important to you as you learn. I have used Toyo 4x5 cameras for almost 30 years with great success. They are very inexpensive used now and the cost of accessories is less than the Sinar equivalents. The Sinar is probably sturdier to begin with, but it sounds like you aren't going to use this professionally so initial cost may be more important to you. The Cambo you reference above is also an excellent camera, but 150 wouldn't be my first choice for portrait and still life on 4x5 film--it would be close to a 40 mm lens on 35 mm film in terms of angle of view. One other thing you might think about as you get started is a roll film back for 120/220 film like the Calumet. This would allow you to get started with roll film (10 6x7 exposures on 120 film) so that you can get used to the camera, movements, etc., without the expense of individual sheets. A Polaroid 405 back that takes Fuji pack film in 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 size would provide quick feedback too when you are learning.
    Finally--you will need a sturdy tripod and head to hold a heavy camera like this . Good luck!
  7. 150mm lenses are included with most 4x5 starter kits for a very good reason: even though not 'ideal', as with a 'standard' lens on anything else, they can be used for everything. When you have pushed the inexpensive 150 to it's limits, and made 50 stunning images, and have a feel for where you are going, then make an informed choice about what other lenses you really want. Produced in such volumes, the 150mm lenses are also the least expensive.
    To keep within your budget I would also hold back on roll film and Polaroid backs too. In stead use a few bucks to get a developing tank, such as the HP Combi-Plan 4x5 Film Developing Tank, that is if you plan to shoot and develop B&W. Great little unit. (Slots for 6 sheets, but I use for 4 to be safe.) And you may be lucky to get a camera outfit including film holders, otherwise you really need at least 3, .. 5 is nice. Takes a bit to practice loading them. Easy peasy when used to it.
    With Andrew, I also concur with Kevin's advice on a monorail. Cripes it's a buyers market out there now.
    Back to the roll film back suggestion, yes they are usefull, and if you do, then the 150 becomes a perfect focal length for portrait. But no need to hurry. They are not going up in price. One thing you will notice about LF lenses, there is significantly less depth of field. At any given aperture, depth of field is about four stops less than the same on 35mm, thus requiring focus to be precise. So, within the budget, hey .. you need a lupe ;-)
  8. Thanks everyone. I'm currently looking at two options. The first is a cambo legend 4x5 with a APO-Symmar 150mm f5.6 in great condition for $470, the second is a Cambo NX 8×10 with no lens in good condition for $477. Thoughts?
  9. or a Horseman LXC 4x5 camera, 125/5.6 Fuji lens for $550. good-great condition
  10. For your budget of $750, go for the Cambo Legend - you'll have enough left to get some filmholders, film and a meter and for just a few $$ more a 210 mm lens, which is what you really need fror portraits and still-lives. The 8x10 is a good camera but there are no cheap options when it comes to 8x10 lenses (or filmholders). The Horseman would take a bigger bite out of your budget and the 125 mm lens is too short for your purposes.
  11. APO-Symmar 150mm f5.6 in great condition is probably worth close to $470, so you get the camera for free.
  12. Ditto the above: "Cambo legend 4x5 with a APO-Symmar 150mm f5.6 in great condition for $470"
    Hot foot it now, and don't come back without it. Ok ? ;-)
  13. Someone else bought it before I could... ugh
  14. Is this outfit really available for $337? Go for it! There's "dust" in the lens, which might need cleaning later, but as a way of seeing whether you like LF photography for little money - great!
  15. Awesome, I think I will. I will give them a call tomorrow and ask what the shipping will be.
  16. There are lots of other cameras out there as well. Linhof Kardan monorails, Wista monorail, Horseman monorails, Arca Monorails. And there are lots of folders as well, Wista wood or metal, Deardorff, Horseman, etc.
    If you are anywhere near a better camera store go in and have a look and get a feel in their used sections. There are stores all over the USA with used monorails in stock.
  17. Congratulations! Ilford HP5 Plus is a fine film, so is Ektar 100, although Portra 400 has a useful touch more speed. Rate at 200 for best results. You will of course have to have the film developed in any case - if you have a local shop that can handle 4x5 and give you a good scan as a TIFF file at 80 MB or better, good - don't accept a JPEG of 15 MB - this will work but you won't get the full benefit of 4x5. Wet printing and digital printing both have their advocates - most people would probably agree that digital color is pretty close to wet-process color, but while digital b+w is getting better all the time, it still can't quite touch a darkroom print, particularly on fiber-based paper and with selenium toning. But I am sure you will be keen to see some results quickly, and digital is much quicker! Ultimately a flat-bed scanner that can handle 4x5 is probably the answer, not too expensive these days, lots of threads on this.
  18. It might be good idea to rent a view camera for a weekend before you decide to buy one. Learn how to load film,
    focus, and get some film developed before you jump in too deep.
  19. Check in KEH for the price. I bought an excellent cambo from them for $250.
    If you are on a budget, use your digital camera for a light meter. It works perfectly for me as long as thre is not too little light. In that case, take a picture, use histogram to check exposure and of course don't forget to compensate for reciprocity failure on film.
    Use 4x5. Forget 8x10.
    My preferred films are TMAX 100, Velvia 100 and portra 100 for its ultra fine grain.
    Good luck.

Share This Page