Compiled by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page
By John Sparks
In deciding which camera to get, the tradeoffs are cost/weight vs ability to use longer and shorter lens, and more rigidity. I think, for example, the Tachihara is about 3 lbs vs 6 for the Wisner/Zone VI. With the Tachihara you can't really use lenses shorter than 90mm (and 90mm might be tough) because of no bag bellows. On the other end, you are limited to long lenses of about 210mm or a 360mm telephoto where the Wisner/Zone VI easily takes a 360mm normal lens or a 500mm telephoto (the Wisner Technical camera for even more money will take a 450mm normal lens). You can use a 210mm lens at 1:1 on the Wisner/Zone VI, but the longest lens you can use at 1:1 is a 150mm.
The Wisner/Zone VI camera are very rigid for field cameras, the smaller, lighter camera have a good bit of movement in the standards even with everything locked down tight. This will affect the amount of wind you can tolerate. Even with a 210mm with a good extension, the smaller cameras will be pretty unstable with all that bellows exposed. Also the double extension of the small cameras means that the lens is extended way out in front of the tripod mount and the camera is kind of front heavy, while the triple extension of the Wisner allows the lens and film plane to be extended equally from the center section with tripod mount for a more balanced camera.
Think about the range of lenses you own and/or plan to purchase. If you will be happy with a range from 120mm to 210mm (with possibly a 90mm with limited movements and a 360mm telephoto) then the smaller cameras may be acceptable. If you use longer lenses you will probably want a Wisner. If you use mostly really short lenses (58mm to 75mm), you probably really want to stick to a monorail, but otherwise you really need at least a bag bellows so the smaller field cameras are not an option.
By John Sparks
I have a Wisner Technical and used to own a Zone VI (I've also compared the Zone VI to a Wisner Traditional that a friend bought). The Wisner Traditional and Zone VI cameras are almost identical cameras, but the Wisner is put together better. In the case of the Wisner Traditional vs the Zone VI, almost the only difference is the build quality (the leather bellows on the Wisner is somewhat more flexable allowing more movements with short lenses without the bag). Not too many things that can be described, but in a direct comparison of the two cameras, the better quality of the Wisner does come across fairly clearly.
There are a few subtle differences. The Wisner has slightly more extension (maybe 3/4"). The opening in the front standard is bigger on the Wisner. You can mount a Nikkor 120mm SW lens on the Wisner, but it won't fit through the opening in the front of the bellows of the Zone VI (I think this is the only lens that can be used on this camera where this is a problem, a f/5.6 360mm standard lens might have the same problem, but it's not likely to be a lens used on this camera). The ground glass frame on the Zone VI has 1/8" to 1/4" of play from side to side and up and down (this doesn't effect the position of the film plane, but does make precise framing of the image impossible. The position of the ground glass in my Zone VI differed from the film location by almost 1mm! This was enough that my negatives from the Wisner were noticably sharper! I don't know how common that problem is with the Zone VI. I didn't discover this until I tried a different camera and had some transpariencies of the same subject with both cameras and the ones from the Zone VI were noticably less sharp with the naked eye than the other transparencies. These transparencies were some copywork of flat subjects at relatively large aperatures for large format, I can't say that I ever really saw it in more typical subjects though there were a couple of negatives that I thought I'd just screwed up focus but may have been the camera. I don't know if this is a common problem with Zone VI cameras (I don't really think so) and could have been fixed with either shimming or sanding the ground glass frame (I can't remember which direction the focus was off). I did remember getting a Picker newsletter where he talks about focus/film inaccuracies in cameras like SLR's and said it couldn't be a problem with a view camera because there is no mirror. Whether Picker just didn't know better or didn't want people testing their Zone VI cameras, I have no idea, but neither one is a good recommendation on the accuracy of the ground glass poisition in his cameras. The ground glass position on the Wisner is very accurate. The Zone VI has a bail on the ground glass that makes inserting holders easier without moving the camera (mine was before they added this, but new Zone VI's have this). The finish on the camera and brass seems to be more durable on the Wisner. The fit of all the parts is much more precise on the Wisners. Since the Wisner Traditional and Zone VI cameras are basicly the same price new, I don't think there is any reason to buy a new Zone VI camera. There are many more Zone VI cameras available used and sell for lower prices than Wisners. As a used camera in the $600-$800 range, a Zone VI is a good deal, but make sure you check the focus position.
The Wisner Traditional is bulkier (when closed, it's probably 1" thicker than the others) and heavier (about 1/2 lb) than the other two. The bellows extension is about 3" longer than the others. This allows a 450mm lens to be easily used (I think a 450mm could be used on the Traditional, but only near infinity). I find the rear rise to be margionally useful and would prefer not to have it (I think the back is not as rigid with it as it would be without it). All three of the cameras are rigid enough that this is really an issue. The geared rear tilt makes focusing quite a bit quicker and easier, but doesn't offer any benifits besides speed (you can get the back of the Traditional in exactly the same position relative to the lens as on the Technical, it just takes slightly longer).
These cameras are excellent for use with 120mm through 360mm on the Traditional/Zone VI and 120mm through 450mm on the Technical. You can use shorter lenses, but you have to move the lens closer to the film than you can get with both standards vertical (you use the front base tilt to move the lens back and the front axis tilt to straighten the lens). The consequence of this is front rise/fall requires refocusing. I believe you can focus even a 58mm or 47mm lens using this technique with a bag bellows. Since 120mm is the shortest lens I own, I haven't cared very much (I'm mostly in to long lenses and mostly use 210mm to 450mm lenses on 4x5).
If you are a great user of extreme wide angle lenses, you might prefer the Canham camera. It's really a 5x7 camera with a reducing back so it's larger than the others (though about the same thickness as the Wisner Technical; it weighs the same as well). The rear standard slides forward on metal rails so it can focus a 58mm with both standards vertical. It doesn't have very much front rise, so this somewhat negates this advantage at least for architectual photography (you can get more rise by pointing the whole camera up and returning both standards to vertical). I don't think it's quite as rigid at full extension as a Wisner Technical, but it does have 3" more extension (enough for a 600mm for very distant subjects). The focus track on the Canham is aluminum instead of the brass on the others and the focus is not as smooth. I find the lever locks of the Canham awkward in comparison to the Wisner and sometimes pinch my fingers with them (I have an 8x10 Canham). The Canham is quite a bit more expensive than the others, but in line with the Wisner 5x7 cameras. You can also always get a 5x7 back (or 4x10) if you want a bigger negative in the future. The 4x5 Wisners can be changed to a 5x7 or 4x10 back as well, but I think the 5x7 is horizontal only and the Wisner 4x10 uses only Mido 4x10 holders that lots of people seem to have trouble with.
By Leigh L Klotz Jr
By Alan Heldman
I placed my Linhof Technika IV, and my Speed Graphic (side-mount Kalart; I don't obsess on model names, not metalbodied) consecutively on a granite surface plate and employed a high quality dial test indicator readable to about one-fifth of one thousandth of an inch, and performed three tests.
Test #1: flex, in thousanths of an inch ("thou") , between the camera bed pressed down onto the granite plate, and the top front edge of the camera body, (a) with forward pressure from my finger, at the top rear of the camera body, in one direction, approximating one pound of force. (b) with back tension, at the same point, measured with a spring scale, of eight pounds
Test #2: forward flex, in thous, of the front standard or lens board, measured at its upper edge, when racked out to the proper point for a 150mm lens at infinity, with pressure from my finger, at the top center of the lens board, in one direction, approximating one pound of force.
By Meefter Pahnowt
If you go wider than 72mm, the Technika bed drops away more easily and the 55/58/65 can be shoved into the box for an acceptable infinity. Yes, the back movements are better, but other than rear tilt which is available on both, who among us use sophisticated back movements in the field? Toyo's larger 158mm standard makes for MUCH easier use of WA recessed boards, and allow you to use a 72/75 along the geared rail for finer control of focus.
Why a Toyo 45A-II over a Technika IV? Sturdier bellows, bigger easier to handle knobs (a must for shooting in low light or weather), interchangeable bellows, an accordion style WA bellows, deeper (38mm) and bigger (158mm sq.) recessed lensboards (ever tried threading a cable into a #1 shutter in a technika recessed board?), binocular reflex hood (ease of use in viewing perspective effects and depth during coarse composition plus the obviation of need for a darkcloth and the setup involved), plus the fact that it's current, so all accessories are available and repairs are easy to access. Summary: Faster, tighter, versatile enough and it's current.
On the Tech IV side, it's way cheaper, and has longer extension which is better for using a 360mm telephoto with some amount of image control. And I use the Linhof Multifocus finder more than I'd expetced I would, but on my Toyo.
By John Sparks
I find the toyo field cameras extremely limiting because of their short bellows. The 4x5 won't handle the 450mm that I regularly use and have difficulty with even a 300mm (my most used lens on 4x5). The 8x10 won't handle the 600mm that is my second most commonly used lens. They are very sturdy cameras, but in my opinion, too heavy for their extremely limited bellows extension. Technicas have a very useful 4" more extension (plenty for a 300mm though still not enough for a 450mm without mounting the lens on a 2" extended lensboard).
Before the Toyo experience I had played around with a Wisner Technical. It's a nicely made piece of work but too delicate IMO. Rigidity was something I was looking for and comparing the two I thought the Toyo might fit my needs. After the first day using the Toyo I thought this might be the camera I would invest in. On the second day of the rental my wife and I were at Shore Acres on the Oregon Coast and ran into a guy using a Linhof Master Technika. He was very gracious and helpful and let me play around with it for awhile. After a few minutes I realized that the Toyo wasn't nearly as rigid as I thought. The extra movements, bellows legnth, rigidity and quality of the Linhof blows the Toyo away. It's an amzing piece of work. Needless to say the Linhof was my choice. Yes, I know the prices for the Linhofs can be astronomical. For what I paid for a used one I could have purchased a new Toyo body and maybe a lens or two. I'm not a rich man, I'm a teacher with two kids in school, but I know quality and a good investment when I see it.
by Ellis Vener
I have owned an Arca Swiss F camera for nearly six years and recently considered switching it out for a Sinar F camera system that I was offered a great deal on. Previous to acquiring the Arca my view camera was a Sinar C.