BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: Best Photographic Equipment to Buy : Film-Based Camera Equipment : Large Format Camera

Photography Question 
David Wilkinson

Large Format Cameras

I am considering getting a large format camera. I have no idea what to look for. Any advice would be most welcome. Best wishes, Dave

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7/9/2004 12:28:46 PM

Terry L. Long   What are you going to use the camera for (it makes a difference)? What size are you looking at? Do you want a "field camera" or a "view camera"? New or used?

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7/9/2004 5:31:01 PM

David Wilkinson   Hi. OK, I want to use it for landscapes - both rural and urban. I don't really understand the difference between view and field. Used, I think - trying to keep the cost down. Regards, Dave

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7/9/2004 11:45:24 PM

Terry L. Long   David, LF cameras come in a myriad of sizes, but the most popular sizes are 4x5 and 8x10.

A "view" camera is more bulky, heavier, and harder to get around with than a "field" camera. The "view" camera usually has more movements than a "field" camera and is easier to operate those movements. Also, the "view" camera is commonly called a "monorail" camera because of its construction configuration. Because of the movements, the "view" camera is better suited for photographing buildings and other structures where limited space is available.

"Field" cameras are smaller and more compact than "view" cameras. They can be folded up to a small size and easily placed in a properly padded backpack for transport. Because of their compact size, most backpackers who shoot LF photography use the "field" camera. However, because of their size they have limited movements (compared to "view" cameras). If you think about it, though, most landscapes don't require a large set of movements, so the "field" camera works just fine.

Most "field" cameras are made out of wood, brass, and leather parts. They're really a work of art when looked at. Some "field" camera manufacturers have made their cameras out of polycarbonates that alleviate the problem of rigidity that some wood cameras have (especially when they get older). The polycarbonate cameras are just as light as the wood cameras but the less-expensive ones have even fewer movements.

A good used wooden "field" camera would sell for somewhere around $400.00 on up. A good used "view" camera would sell for somewhere around $250.00 on up. Those prices are without lens boards, lenses, and probably film holders. You could use the light meter in your 35mm camera but that means extra bulk to carry around. Therefore, to cut the weight down a bit, you'd need to get a handheld light meter. A good handheld meter, with spot capabilities, will cost somewhere around $250.00 (used but in excellent condition). Good luck.

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7/10/2004 8:52:37 AM


BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/28/2003
  Maybe rent some equipment first, if possible, to see if this is something you want to invest in.

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7/12/2004 3:01:06 AM

Sonya Williams   Hi David,
I agree with a lot of what Terry told you. One thing to remember is that the market is heading toward the digital format. I know a lot of photographers that are giving up film and therefore are also giving up their film cameras. The number of large formats out there for sale is astounding, which means that yes, the prices are more negotiable. It's been my experience over the last few weeks in purchasing one that depending on the age, shape, and brand of the camera they range from $250.00-$800.00 used. I recently checked into a few cameras that were made in the 40's (Graflex is one of the older name brands), but I decided on something more up to date that could maybe used later with a digital back. The Sinar F1 and F2's are a bit more expensive but they are a top notch camera...Swiss made, and more light weight than the typical monorail view camera. They have all of the abilities for the tilts, swings, and other movements that Terry was referring to, without so much of the heaviness that a lot of view cameras have. They're worth checking into, I got mine used (it's fifteen years old) and I've seen others out there too. Ebay had a nice one on last weekend, you may want to take a look at it. Make sure also that you get a nice sturdy (heaviness helps) tripod and a good bag or case to use with it. If you've seen images taken with a large format camera you know that the quality and clarity is absolutely amazing. Anyway, I just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents on the subject. Good luck and happy shooting.

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7/14/2004 6:13:24 PM

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