The Wista RF 5x4 large format field camera

By Jolyon Barrow © 2004 for

Picture of Wista RF
I currently own both a Wista RF and a Wista SP. I started out with the RF (the rangefinder model shown above) and liked it, so I bought the SP version when the opportunity arose. They have proved to be excellent cameras, exceeding my expectations in many ways. For a field camera they are very versatile having a full range of movements. They are based on the linhof technica concept but in my opinion offer a few big advantages. The biggest one for me is that, due to the shorter baseboard, wider lenses can be used without having to drop the baseboard to avoid getting it in the shot. The downside to this is that the normal rail extension is not as long, so if you like using long lenses (300mm plus) this may not be the camera for you - but for wide angle its a pure bonus since lenses down to 65mm can be focused with the standard rail and bellows without dropping the baseboard.

Both are really well thought out and practically useful cameras especially for work in the field. One of the big advantages of a metal field camera like the wista RF is they are rigid and robust. You can fold them up with the lens in place if you have a smallish lens on (55mm filter size or less and smallish e.g 150 Sironar S, 180 Fujinon A, 200 Nikkor M). With the lens in place, once you get to your location you just put the camera on the tripod, loosen the backswing adjustment knobs, swing the the back up to the vertical detente, slide the lens onto the rail until it hits the pre-selected infinity stops and your ready to go. Using the pop up viewing hood on the back with the special wista fresnel screen it is possible to compose and often even accurately focus without using a dark cloth ! (see my section on the screen in links below)

Focusing is also aided by the back swing having a 50mm offset fulcrum, this means you can just focus the bottom edge of the screen on a distant object then swing the back until the near objects at the top of the screen are in focus and the whole image is in focus ! For a good explanation of view camera focusing with moving diagrams check Harold M. Merklinger's notes on View camera focusing


Picture of wista showing front shift

The Wista RF has a good range of movements, which are mostly easy to adjust, the only exception being front fall which is acheived by dropping the the bed. A useful feature is having a focus adjusting knob on both the left and right, I have found this enables you to adjust the front swing with one hand and the extension with the other to quickly get the plane of focus right, by making alternate small adjustments to each. Also the front rise and tilt have separate locks so you can adjust one without the other being affected. The following list gives a rundown of range of the movements :-

For photos and more info on the movements see the Wista home page,but note on the RF rear swing is operated by pressing a button that allows the back to move, unlike on the SP version where rear swing is controlled by turning knobs on the side of the back.
Picture of wista showing rear swing
rear swing on the Wista RF

Rangefinder System

Picture of camera showing labelled parts

The rangefinder system uses a colour coding system for the different lenses. You flick up the the infinity stops for the lens you are using and turn the dial on the top of the camera to the matching setting . When viewing through the rangefinder viewing lens you can then see two images which overlap when focussed. The viewfinder is bright and clear and gives a view of 90mm with inset boxes for 120, 135, 150 and 180mm lenses, which is useful for initial composition. The rangefinder system will focus 135, 150 and 180mm lenses.

The rangefider system allows the camera to be used for portrait photography and also in any situation where a more spontaneous style of photography is desired.

Fresnel Screen

The Wista RF uses a combination Fresnel / diffusion layer, which is equivalent to a ground glass plus fresnel but a little brighter . Many people have complained that the fresnel gives a bright image but is difficult to see if if you don't view from the correct angle. This happens if the lens is too wide or long for the screen. The key to getting a good image with fresnel lenses is to use the correct fresnel for the lens. The standard wista fresnel is for normal lenses. Since I use wide angle lenses the solution for me was to fit an inexpensive wide angle fresnel adaptor (made by Beattie). I now get a very bright image across the whole frame with excellent sharpness (this is brighter and sharper than the Boss screen in my experience). The image is so bright I often don't need a dark cloth and just use the pop up lens shade (which also serves to protect the screen).

There is also a version of the screen available for long lenses.

More info

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