Recommended First LF Field Camera

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by bryan_simpson, Jan 31, 2003.

  1. hello,

    I was wondering if there are any decent large format bodies out there for less
    than $1000. I'm looking to get into large format, but I don't want to spend a
    fortune right away. And I'd also prefer to buy new rather than used equipment.
    Preferably, I'd like to get a field camera so that I can use it outdoors. I've
    considered the Toyo CF45, but have heard some bad reviews of it. Any info is
    greatly appreciated. thanks in advance.

  2. Bryan,

  3. I don't think you could possibly go wrong with a Shen Hao HZX 45II. They cost about $650.00. I would recommend as they also have starter kits for $1200.00 that set you up with everything you need to get going.
  4. I don't have enough experience to tell you which camera although I found that the Toyo field cameras do most of what the Linhofs do for less than half the price. I also believe you are hurting yourself by not going with a used camera. I got all my stuff used and because I did my research I found a buyer moving out of LF into all digital and got mint equipment for half of retail. You can find ANYTHING on ebay if you are willing to do your homework and research your seller. I always trade a bunch of e-mails back and forth with any one I buy from on e-bay and even start up phone communications. So far so good.
  5. Bryan,<br><br>
    I just asked about the Toyo CF45 in the forums & it sounds like it's something to stay away from. If you don't mind used equipment you can probably buy a used Toyo 45AX for under a $1000. I don't have a big budget of LF so I'm looking into a Super Graphic. It has most of the movements I want plus I can probably get a decent one at Ebay for around $250.00. I wish I had done more research on the different Gralfex models a few years ago or I wouldn't have purchased the Crown Graphic model. But I'm not complaining because it has served me well over the years - these things are made to last forever. I don't have any experience on the other brands but I'm sure you'll get several more recommendations from other users.
  6. I've been doing 4x5 with used equipment and recommend used over new, at least until you have experience in what you prefer to use, and then maybe later on buy something new if budget allows.
    The advice I've seen and endorse, is it's better to buy a used inexpensive camera and spend the saved money on a good lens instead. If you later decide to buy a new camera, you still have a good lens.
  7. Let me add to Wally's comment. With a good buy of used equipment you can get your money back on ebay. You might even make a profit with a little marketing skill. ebay: The photographer's rental outlet.
  8. How about a used Calumet monorail. There are many available used. They go for $125-$225. I got one for $200 is great condition and am happy with it.
  9. Bryan, look at the Midwest Photo Exchange website ( They handle the Tachihara line of cameras. You can easily package up a 4X5 Tachi ($599, new, including a lensboard) and a good (used, or new)Fujinon 135, or 150 lens. You can also buy a couple of film holders, a darkcloth, and a few other accessories, and still be pretty close to your $1000 limit. You will then have a brand new, good quality, inexpensive wooden field camera. Call Jim (and,only Jim) at the phone number on the website. Tell him that you saw this recommendation on the LF forum. He will quote a package price for the entire outfit, He is knowledgeable and you can trust his judgement. Credit card purchases are easy over the phone, and you get a no hassel money back guarantee from a reputable dealer. I cannot say that about a purchase on E-Bay.
  10. Buy a nice used camera. That way you will have more money left over for a good lens and some film. Just make sure the bellows are good.
  11. I agree with Eugene, Tachihara 4x5 field camera is the way to go, I own and use the Tachihara 5x7 and 8x10 field cameras, they are very moderatly priced, very stable and beautifully finished.
  12. hi bryan -

    i don't know if you have considered a speed graphic or not. they are built like
    a tank, can take lf lenses from a 65mm wide angle ( i've used a 58mm with no
    problems) to a 15" tele-optar. it has a focalplane shutter, so if you want to use
    barrel lenses, enlarger lenses or do a little "brass lens photography" you won't
    have to use a single-speed packard shutter ..

    you can pick a speed graphic up for not too much money on e*ay, or
    elsewhere, and it will last another 50-60 years. all you need to know anything
    about the camera is at

    best of all you can save all the $ you saved, to buy nice lenses and lots of film
    & holders ( as was said already) !

    good luck and have fun with you soon to be new camera
  13. If anything, all the extras you'll need can cost as much as a used
    camera and sometimes as much as a cheaper new one. I'd
    make a list, shop prices and see where you land. In the end you
    might just need to buy a used camera to keep your total
    expenditure under your price limit.

    Items that you'll need are the following: 1) Darkcloth; You should
    make one or use a dark T-shirt for awhile. 2) Meter; You can
    carry an SLR for it's meter but you really should have a handheld
    one, and a spot meter if you can afford it. If you carry the SLR you
    might be too inclined to use it instead. 3) Film holders. Watch for
    good used ones or don't take a chance and buy new, but their
    pricey. 4) A good backpack for walking around; Much better than
    a shoulder bag which will work if you just drive 5) The inevitable
    loupe. Toyo makes a nice one. 6) Lenses of course. Start with a
    good 135, 150 or 210 and remember to fill the frame unless your
    doing b&w and have a 4x5 enlarger. Custom B&W printing over
    certain sizes can get expensive thru a good lab. 7) Lens board;
    Make sure you get one with the hole size for the lens. 8) Release
    cable; Don't get one with the stupid collar button for lockiing the
    lens open. They'll turn on accident and most likely keep your
    shutter open on the perfect shot. Get the T handle release
    instead. 9) Filters; Figure out the size when you buy the lens. Get
    at least a yellow for B&W to get started. From there you ought to
    know what you need. 10) Lens wraps or pouches. 11) A lens
    cloth. 12) A lens brush. 13) Lots of freaking patience.
  14. You can get yourself off to a good start with a used Crown Graphic. They are a tiny bit smaller and lighter than the 'Speed' because they don't include the focal plane shutter. I think the FP shutter is not such a good thing to be using when it's 50 years old, anyway. Exposure can be uneven. I would not trust one.

    I use my Crown with a 135mm Symmar-S. I adjusted the infinity stops and top mounted rangefinder to be able to use the rangefinder/viewfinder combo and hand hold if I feel the urge. You don't have to. Use the perfectly fine ground glass as you get started. These two items can be found on eBay for modest money, probably about $500 for the two.

    The Graphic is excellent to learn with and the lowest risk if you decide you hate shooting large format. You will lose very little money when you sell it. It is easy to tune one of these up yourself with some tiny screwdrivers, steel wool for oxidation, lighter fluid to dissolve old grease, and some new lubricant.

    The Symmar (or similar lens) if bought used will be easy to sell if you don't like it or will be valuable for shooting if you graduate to a more sophisticated camera.

    A dark cloth is something you get at a fabric store for $10. A medium weight tripod like a Bogen 3221 is decent for a start - $150. An old LunaPro on eBay is real cheap and these things work great. You'll need to get a battery adapter (also cheap) because the old mercury batteries are now illegal. Get a cable release for $5. An inexpensive loupe will suffice for starters.

    Get half a dozen used film holders and you are ready to go. I sometimes use a cooler with a shoulder strap I bought at a convenience store for $20 as a case for the kit described above. A student's backpack also holds this whole setup and is cheap.

    Look at the above and see that I have left you about $200 for film!!!! The most important thing is to get out and take pictures. Then you'll figure out what else you may or may not need.
  15. Tachihara or Shen Hao. The Shen Hao has more movements than the Tachihara but is about two pounds heavier. So you decide which is more important, the extra movements or the extra weight. The Tachihara's movements are front swing, tilt, rise, and fall, rear swing and tilt. I never needed more movements than the Tachihara offered but you might. I appreciated the light weight a lot.
  16. Bryan, LF is challenging but the results are worth it. You did not mention what type of photography you are going to do and that is important to know in recommending a camera. For example if you are going to shoot structures you would most likely need a camera that handles wide angle lenses like a 90mm or wider and it would be important that the camera have good shift movements and bag bellows capability. If you are shooting nature and like telephoto effects for isolation, you most likely need a camera with bellows that extend farther than 12 inches. So you might want to let the forum know what type of shooting you will be doing.

    One thing that I agree with is that if you are just getting into large format a good used camera makes a lot of sense for at least two reasons. First and foremost, is that you might find that you don't like the pace or mechanics of large format, so if you buy used the right way, you will most likely get your money back out of the equipment (not likely with a new camera). Second, is that even if you stay with it, a used system will give you feedback on what you like and don't like in features and functions (base tilt VS axis tilt -- swing and tilt on the rear standard VS swing, tilt, rise and shift on the back standard -- wood VS metal --- weight -- set-up time -- etc..) You might consider renting a couple of times before buying.

    One last coment: Buy or rent a Polaroid 545i holder and 100 speed Polaroid B&W film to test your exposures and composition before shooting that final exposure. And I would suggest when getting started that you strongly consider using Ready-Loads or Quick-Loads rather than handling and loading film holders.

    Hope this helps!

  17. I have to throw in my support for purchasing at Midwest Photo Exchange. I followed Eugene's advice one time and was more than happy with Jim. You don't have to buy from him, but he will make you comfortable with your decission plus you get 15-day return policy. My Nikkor was as new as they come, so he said - so it was.
  18. Hi Bryan, I like your strategy, get in cheap, and *then* spend a fortune. =) Anyway, lots of great advice here as usual which I hope you'll follow.<p>

    To the rest of you, I'm always amazed at how many people respond to these "which first lf" posts. Maybe it's time we agree on a standard response which should probably just be a short list of URLs to existing treatises on the subject such as:<p><br><br><br>,Format/PLS_3106crx.aspx<br><p>

    If other people want to add more we can compile a list so that the next time we get a question like this (my guess would be sometime tomorrow), we can just copy and paste the list and do ourselves all a favor. What do you say?<p>

    By the way, Bryan, please don't take this as a snub. You've come to the right place for help. I'm just trying to make the forum more valuable and efficient for all involved. Good luck on your purchase and large format adventures.
  19. Bryan, as a brand new 4x5 user you would be best served by a camera and outfit which is reliable and easy to use. My first 4x5 camera was a Zone VI (actually a Wista DX II marketed by Zone VI). I bought the one lens outfit. The cost in 1981 was $1400 for the outfit, which included camera, 210 Symmar S, wooden tripod, shoulder bag and 6 fidelity elite holders. I have also used several other cameras since then, but the ZVI/DXII remains my first choice. A new one is above your price range, but a good used one would serve you like a trooper. It is the easiest 4x5 to use in my experience. In 1990 I added a Wisner Technical Field to my gear, with a Nikon M 300mm lens. (The Wista bellows extend 12", the Wisner 23") The Wisners are top drawer cameras, and would serve you very well. In your price range, a used Technical Field or Traditional would be an excellent choice. While the Wisner is a very fine camera, I think the Wista is easier for a beginner to use, and you will not outgrow it. I have a Crown Graphic. Don't get a Speed Graphic. The extra bulk of the ancient focal plane shutter is a constraint. The Crown Graphic is ok, but works best for horizontal shooting. Of the inexpensive metal press cameras, I think the Busch Pressman is the pick of the litter. I owned one for several years and liked it. It is more compact than the graphics, has a revolving back and front tilt. The only constraint is the very small lens board which means you must choose your lenses very carefully to fit. For field use, I much prefer the Wista. The Wista also works better with smaller tripods. Mine works well on my Tiltall tripod. The Wisner is more comfortable on a Ries head. I suggest you purchase six new Fidelity Elite holders. Six is plenty. Not having many holders will force you to compose more carefully. This is a very important part of learning photography. Why new? You don't want holder problems. 4x5 is difficult enough without equipment problems. Spring for new and don't worry about light leaks, etc. If you have a reasonable tripod, use it for a while. Lenses? Don't handcap yourself by starting out with too many lenses. One lens is best. Use it for a year or so before thinking about adding a second lens. Get to know it well. My first lens was a Symmar S 210. It's a great lens, and available reasonably priced used. Be picky about buying used. Plan on keeping your equipment for the rest of your photographic life. I added a Nikon M 200 lens about fourteen years ago. The coverage is less than the Symmar, but it is very compact, and can be carried inverted on the camera when the camera is folded. Either lens would serve you very well. (So would equavalent lenses by Nikon, Rodenstock or Fuji. Use your present light meter for a while, even if it is an internal 35mm slr. Do not skimp on the focusing cloth. My old Zone VI cloth has served me very well. I would also consider the Wisner cloth, I haven't used one, but Wisner sells only quality and Ron Wisner is also a photographer. It is large (which makes it very user friendly) and it doesn't slide off. Forget velcro, etc. The 210 lens is an excellent lens for training your vision. Forget things like filters for the first year. In summation, I would recommend a good used Wista DXII or it's Zone VI twin, a 200 or 210 lens, a first class focusing cloth, and six new film holders. (You don't need the sliding back or interchangable bellows of the other more expensive Wista models.) You can carry this outfit very easily in a bookpack. Wrap the camera in the focusing cloth. If you opt for the larger lens which won't ride in the folded camera, get a Domke wrap (small) to protect it. Keep your outfit simple, easy to use and dependable. Stay focused and work.
  20. hi again bryan -

    just thought that i would paint a different picture than others have painted for
    the olde speed graphic - i have had and used one for nearly 15 years and
    never had a problem with its weight, or the focal plane shutter. maybe some
    folks have had mixed results and reliability issues with theirs, i don't know - i
    have used mine on just about every job i have gone on since 1990 without
    any problems. i have been in urban areas and i have had to hike to remote
    places with armloads of gear - tripod, lenses, 30 film holders ... the speed
    graphic suited MY needs well ( i do assignment, habs/haer work and
    archaeological site documentation - so i am always on location. )

    yes, there are still people that work on and repair these cameras. those at might be able to help you do repairs yourself, or they will tell you
    about fred lustig in nevada - THE graflex repairman. he has new curtains,
    springs and pretty much everything needed to refurbish or replace the shutter,
    bellows, rails, graflock back &c, &c ... i have never sent my camera(s) to him,
    have heard others have been quite happy with the service he offers.

    before you discount the speed graphic altogether - or ANY other camera for
    that matter, you should decide what your needs are, and find something that
    will do what you need the camera to do,
    while i have never worried about camera weight, i know the flexibility of using
    flat field lenses ( enlarger lenses) for copy work, or barrel lenses (they are just
    about giving them away at or 19th century lenses for images with
    a different "feel" than modern lenses, the focal plane shutter is a pretty good
    option to have.

    if you don't already know about they have graphic and other lenses for
    4x5 that cost a fraction of $1,000.00 - $2,000.00 for brand new schneider or
    rodenstock lenses .. even though they have been around the block, they are
    pretty good lenses ( in shutters) and most of them will be able to fold up right
    into your field camera ...

    good luck
  21. Bryan, my 4x5 Wista has outlasted several cars. I don't think of a thousand dollar camera body as a disposable camera. If you are indeed serious about 4x5, I suggest you chose your camera more carefully than you would choose a car. Before purchasing my Wista, I attended a Zone VI workshop and had the opportunity to see many people using 4x5 cameras, including Fred Picker. You would be well served by attending a workshop with a master teacher/photographer such as John Sexton or Bruce Barnbaum. I can personally recommend both of them from past studies. Look at the work of present day master photographers. When you are moved by a photographer's work, look at the portion of the book where he discusses his technique and equipment. You will find masters using quite a variety of equipment. Put a lot of weight on the choices of those photographers who make images which move you. These people have found tools to express their vision. When considering advice from contributors to this forum, find out how long the contributor has actually been involved in 4x5 photography. How much work has he or she actually done? Look at the images they have made. Reading reviews is no substitute for extensive field experience. Do not be in a hurry to purchase a serious camera.
  22. Bryan, I agree with j. nanian that the graphic would be a good choice as a first 4x5. The other cameras mentioned are also probably excellent choices---I have no experience with Toyos---but rest assured you can certainly get a good 4x5 body for less than $1000! I would suggest you spend your money on the lens and holders to keep frustration down to a minimum. I am not knocking used here: nearly all my stuff is older than dirt, but I think you'll find it faster to learn and easier to work with a modern shutter--Caltars either late model or new seem like real good values--with accurate speeds that correspond to the ones on your light meter(you'll need one of those too--ouch!) And a couple or three new 4x5 holders shouldn't cost that much considering the possibilty of your first shots being fogged by light leaks from a gritty old holder bought on *-b*y which, with shipping and those infernal handling charges might run you what a box of Liscos from Igor or B&H would have gone for! You'll also need a tripod that'll probably be heavier duty than anything you've used with 35mm, though if you're coming from medium format you might be able to get away with your old tripod. Subtract these items from your k-note and see whats left over for the camera. If you've got the $600 for a new Tachihara, fine---but if you've only got a few hundred left, a well maintained Speed or Crown Graphic will serve you as well plus if you want to shoot handheld LF, you'll be able to. Not many other LF cameras will allow you to do that! Good Luck!
  23. John, I'm much handheld shooting do you do with a 4x5?
  24. Hand-held shooting with a speed graphic is one of the reasons for owning one. A large number of the universally recognized news images made before the mid-1960s are the product of Graphics. <p>
    Raising the flag on Iwo, explosion of the Hindenburg (I read he got 6 shots off!), Ruby shooting Oswald, WeeGee's street photos, Bernice Abbott's cityscapes... <p>
    It takes a little practice, but it can sure be fun for family candids.
  25. Ken, actually, I shoot more 8x10 handheld than 4x5 but it is mainly aerials that I shoot handheld. A handheld 4x5 is really a great deal of fun to shoot and thats one advantage that the Speeds and Crowns and Supers(and Linhofs) have over more traditional field cameras, albeit at the expense of greater movements which may or may not be of use, depending on the subject being photographed. Having a traditional wood or monorail for a first LF camera is great, but you miss out on the handheld thing. If your first camera is a Crown Graphic, your really limited with movements but you get to play Weegee (if you want.) Both are useful to experience of course, but you can usually get into a Speed or Crown much cheaper than a used, quality field(usually---nothing written in stone here!) If a photographer was limited with funds, there is no reason to be a wallflower at the LF dance---grab a Speed or Crown and go for it!
  26. I agree that hand shooting with a 4x5 is enjoyable. I did some with my Busch Pressman a number of years ago and more recently with the Crown Graphic. Switching from bulbs to electronic flash did wonders for the image sharpness. (a Vivitar 283 atop a press camera looks a little strange, but works very well) The Busch worked very well as a view camera. It was limited compared to a regular view camera, but, used well, was a fine performer in the field and very compact and lightweight. In my recent posting about photographing the cemetary in snow, my Crown would have done the job as well as either wooden camera. The wooden cameras are strictly tripod cameras. In that function, I find them easier to handle and more versatile. If I had only a Crown or Speed for the rest of my photographic life, I would be quite content and productive, as long as I had my favorite 200M Nikon lens with the camera. I would not miss the LF dance.

    A Zone VI camera sold on ebay last night for just over $500. That isn't much more than what a good Crown would cost. Incidentally, I would opt for the Crown over the Speed because it doesn't have the bulk and weight of a focal plane shutter. As a view camera, I think the Busch Pressman is the pick of the press litter. Its small lensboard limits the choice of lenses somewhat, but my 200m, 135w and 105 FujinonW fit fine. I certainly respect the opinions and well reasoned arguments in favor of press cameras. I'll stick with my original recommendation of a Wista or Wisner as the easiest tool for learning the classic view portion of large format work. Part of the discipline of large format work is learning to work deliberately and intensely. This can be done handheld, but a tripod definitely facilitates the process. I find not having to hold the camera allows me to more carefully scrutinize the corners and edges of the groundglass. I have found this careful composing to the corners has benefitted my handheld 35mm work also.

    I will note the name of the repairman John mentioned. The Graphics ae often compared with tanks, but even tanks need repair from time to time.
  27. Bryan, Cancel what I wrote about new film holders! I just found out how much the new ones are going for:$40/2!!! Buy used from a reputable dealer, test them out with 4x5 paper and send any leakers back for replacements. Good Luck!

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