The Linhof Technikardan

Compiled by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page

Review by Brian Ellis

I purchased the Linhof Technikardan primarily because I was moving into large format for the first time and was not sure exactly what I would be doing with the 4 x 5 format (i.e. using it in the field, "table top" photography, architectural photography, etc.) and so I wanted the maximum possible flexibility in terms of bellows extension and number and extent of movements. After spending much time studying specifications and reading everything I could get my hands on, I opted for the Technikardan because of its movements (extensive front and rear swings, tilts, rises, falls, and shifts except no fall on the back standard), plus a long bellows and relatively low weight (about 6.5 pounds) or approximately the same as a Wisner or Zone VI but with the advantages of a metal vs. a wood camera). The camera can be purchased used for a few hundred dollars more than a new Wisner Tech Field and quite a bit more than the Zone VI but I had read and heard enough bad things about the Zone VI that I didn't seriously consider it. At the time of my purchase Canham hadn't made its metal field camera or else I would certainly have looked into that.

After using the camera for about a year I found it to have the following advantages and disadvantages. For me the disadvantages outweighed the advantages and so I sold it but other people might feel differently about it.

What I liked

(1) the bellows is about 20" as I recall and is more than adequate for any normal lens up to about 400mm with movements or even longer with a telephoto. This was important to me because I tend to use longer than normal lenses. (2) As would be expected from Linhof, the camera was beautifully made, everything fitted perfectly, when movements were locked they stayed locked without any play, all movements were smooth, and for anyone who appreciates precision-made machinery, the camera was a pleasure to hold and use. (3) There is an extensive (but extremely expensive) line of accessories available for almost any conceivable need - as far as I know, the accessories for the Technika line are all usable with the Technikardan. (4) Somewhat unusually for a "field" camera, the camera had bubble levels and all movements were marked in degrees or milimeters, making it easy to be sure that (for example) the front and rear standards were parallel if both were swung or tilted (assuming, of course, that you wanted them to be parallel) or that the camera was level. I did find that, for me, extensive movements were not as important as I thought they would be because I ended up using the camera mostly for landscape work. Nevertheless, they were nice to have on the few occasions when I needed them.

What I disliked

(1) For me, the single overwhelming disadvantage, and the one the ultimately led me to sell the camera, was the method of folding and unfolding it. The camera standards and bellows are fitted into a three-section telescoping monorail along which the standards slide. When the camera is closed for transporting in a bag or backpack, the monorail is telescoped into a single section and the front and back standards (with the bellows in between them of course) are rotated on the monorail so that they eventually become parallel with it, thus significantly reducing the overall bulk of the camera and making it relatively easy to fit into a bag or backpack. In order to open the camera for use, the standards slide from the back of the monorail to the front (a distance of perhaps eight inches or so) by turning a small knob on the right side of the camera approximately ten or twelve full turns. As the standards approach the front of the monorail they begin turning simultaneously and eventually they (and the bellows) end up at a 90 degree angle to the monorail with the help of your hands and the camera is in a position to be used. To close the camera, the reverse procedure is followed (i.e. the standards slide to the rear of the monorail by turning the small knob and they simultaneously turn back to a point that, with some assistance from your hands, they hopefully are again parallel with the monorail and the camera will then fit into your bag or backpack.

There are two problems with this system. The most significant is that, for me at least, it was extremely difficult to keep the two standards exactly parallel to each other throughout the closing procedure so that the camera could be closed without pinching the bellows (keep in mind that, when closed, the front and rear standards are no more than an inch or so apart and there is a 20" bellows folded up in between them so that the fit is very tight). Although I occasionally could close the camera without pinching the bellows, this was rare and most of the time the bellows was pinched and wrinkled to some degree. After doing this often enough, the bellows begins sagging and eventually (about six months after acquiring it and using it perhaps twenty times) the camera became unusable because the numerous wrinkles caused the bellows to sag so much that it interfered with the space between the lens and the film.

A new Linhof bellows costs over $500 so replacing it every six months or so is prohibitive (at least for me). I had a new bellows made (by a company called Flexible Products in Largo, Florida) at a cost of about $250. In order to make sure that the new bellows didn't suffer the fate of the original bellows, I began removing it from the camera when storing the camera and putting it back on each time I was photographing. This actually was not too bad a system because the bellows is easy to remove and install but it meant that when in the field I had to leave the camera on the tripod and carry the camera and tripod over my shoulder, which I didn't like if I was walking any distance.

The scond disadvantage of the above system is that it is very time-consuming and tedious to open and close the camera. I never put a stop watch on it but I would guess that it took something on the order of a minute or two because so much care has to be exercised in an effort to avoid wrinkling the bellows. I also learned the down-side of having so many movements - each movement must, of course, be zeroed before folding the camera, which meant checking something like eight or so different things to make sure that everything had been returned to zero before beginning to close the camera. This is obviously not a "fault" of the camera but it did add to the time necessary to close the camera.

Another, far less significant, disdvantage for me was the fact that swings of the front and rear standards, as well as fine focusing with the front standard, are controlled by four levers, two on each side of the camera, and each of the two sets of levers is very close together. On one side the two levers are unlocked (i.e. the function they controlled can be performed) if the appropriate lever is moved forward and on the other side the two levers are unlocked if the levers are moved backwards. Each of the four levers has identical plastic covers on the ends, so that you couldn't tell by feel alone which lever you were moving forwards or backwards, which sometimes meant that if, for example, you wanted to swing the front standard, you had to come out from underneath the dark cloth to see which lever needed to be moved and which direction it needed to be moved in. If the camera was used on a frequent basis this might have become second nature but using it once a week or less, as I did, made it quite aggravating. If I hadn't sold the camera, I would have tried to devise some system of distinguishing among the four levers by feel so that I could perform the desired functions while viewing the effect on the groundglass, without first having to come out from under the dark cloth to see which lever need to be moved and which direction it needed to be moved in.

Two other minor complaints - the ground glass that comes with the camera (or at least that came with my camera - I did purchase it used) is in my opinion useless. It doesn't even have a fresnel lens so that the scene as viewed in the ground glass consists of a "hot spot" in the center of the glass, that gradually tapers off into complete darkness near the edges of the ground glass. This problem was solved by the purchase of a Bosscreen (at a cost of another $150). The other minor problem is that, because the camera doesn't fold into a "clam shell" like most field cameras, it is somewhat unwieldy to pick up and handle (for example, when putting it on the tripod). I ended up usually just grabbing one of the "L" standards because that was about the only thing you could grab onto. Again, not a big deal by itself but another small aggravation.


In sum, Linhof advertises the camera as a field camera that is sufficiently flexible that it can also be used in the studio. For me it was more like a studio camera that could be transported in the field a little more easily than most studio monorail cameras. I do wish to emphasize that the difficulties I had with folding and unfolding the camera may have been more my problem than the camera's. However, the camera manual came with a special insert that described a somewhat different way of folding and unfolding the camera than was described in the manual itself, which leads me to think that Linhof itself had some questions about the best prcedure to use and that I wasn't the only one who had this problem. Also, I used the camera during a workshop with Phil Davis, who certainly has much more experience with large format cameras than I do, and Phil had the same problems I did in trying to fold and unfold it. Nevertheless, I do not mean to condemn the camera at all just because of the difficulties I had with it. Although I don't think I am a mechanical klutz, perhaps there is some easy way of folding and unfolding it without wrinkling the bellows that I never figured out. Setting aside the other problems discussed above, which really are relatively easy to deal with, the camera is outstanding. I would only suggest that if you are considering a purchase, you get it on approval or make some other arrangements so that you can use it for a few days before commiting to a purchase.

Review by Paul Butzi

The ‘TK’ is my current large format camera of preference. In achieving this status, it displaced by a fairly significant margin the previous large format camera of preference, a Wisner Technical Field 4x5.

The TK is a camera that seems to be either loved by people or else hated by them. Generally, the hatred centers around the procedure to fold the camera up, or else around the various locks to secure the movements, or else some combination of the two. My opinion of the camera falls well toward the love end of the spectrum.

Things I like about the TK45s:

Naturally, there are some things I dislike about the TK:

The ground glass on my TK has been replaced with a BosScreen, which I consider to be a real improvement on the fairly decent stock Linhof groundglass. When I replaced the groundglass, I evaluated other ‘bright’ screens, including the Linhof Super Screen and the Beattie. I thought the Beattie was awful, found that the Linhof Super Screen bowed in the Technika I saw one installed in, and bought the BosScreen based on the recommendation of John Sexton (and against the advice of several people). I’ve got to say that the BosScreen was more expensive but I’d never work without it now that I have it. It’s not particularly bright but it sure is easy to focus on, primarily because the ‘grain’ is so fine. If mine broke I’d replace it immediately, and if I start traveling with my large format gear extensively I’ll probably buy a spare just in case.

Since some people seem to have trouble folding the camera, I’ll outline my procedure:

  • When unfolding the camera, I stick the tips of my forefingers between the ends of the standards on the left side (as you face the front of the camera) and the 90 degree bends on the right side. Then, as I pivot the two standards to unfold the camera, I let my fingertips sort of buffer the space between the two standards. This has, so far, prevented any pinching of the bellows.
  • I timed myself unfolding the camera, and found it took me about 18 seconds, including mounting the camera in the Arca-Swiss style QR adaptor using the plate fitted to the camera, but not including mounting a lens. That 18 seconds includes zeroing the camera for all movements.

    Folding the camera takes me about the same time, including unlocking the movements that must be unlocked to fold the camera. When the camera is off the tripod, I leave those movements unlocked. This hasn’t seemed to increase the risk of damage, although if I were to subject the camera to lots of vibration, I’d probably lock it all up when folded.

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