4x5 Cameras : a round-up

By Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page

Summary: an extensive survey of 4x5 large format cameras arranged by increasing price within categories, with links to user reviews. This list is biaised towards cameras which are usable in the field.

You won't find many of the heavy top-of-the-line monorail studio cameras here. The prices listed are for new camera unless stated otherwise.

Flatbed cameras (sometimes called "field" cameras)

All these very different cameras share the fact that they can be folded into a box, which helps their transport on field since the package is compact and the belows self-protected.

Classic wooden cameras

Lightweight/basic modern wooden cameras

weight less than 4 lbs, have double extension, fixed bellows generally between 11 inches and 14 inches. Typical movements are full swings and base tilts, and front rise/fall. These cameras are often made in Asia with cherrywood and look beautiful.

Bigger/premium modern wooden and composite cameras

most weight about 6lbs (although the most recent offerings are lighter, as indicated). For the added weight, you get more rigid construction, triple extension, interchangeable bellows, generally up to 18 inches or more of extension. You have a couple of more movements (shifts, lens axis tilts) and additional features. Of all the flatbed cameras, this familly offer the maximum versatility. These cameras are typically made in the US or Europe with walnut or mahogany, however some new designs use composite good quality materials.

Metal field cameras

They have a more solid feeling than they wooden counterparts, and are indeed very rigid and sturdy, with greater accessory systems like reflex hoods, etc... If your tripod is knocked over by the wind, a metal camera is quite likely to remain functional with a few scratches, whereas a wooden camera could be totally destroyed. For these reasons they might be better for heavy use.

Press and Technical cameras

they are cameras with rangefinders, viewfinding devices, and could also be handheld, or at least used without ground-glass viewing, which makes it possible to do photojournalistic photography. Excellent construction, quite heavy (6lbs+).

Monorail cameras (sometimes called "view" cameras)

These cameras, although they are monorail, are usable in the field because they are not too heavy or bulky. They are generally more precise than the flat bed cameras, the adjustments are easier. They are also more suitable for photography with very wide lenses.

More information

A comprehensive table of specs can be found in Strobel's book "View camera technique", which has been updated for the 7th edition in 1999. However some pretty good stuff (Tachi, Canham, etc..) is still missing from Strobel's list. The recent years have seen many new great lightweight designs, as manufacturers seem to realize that it's not because you are a large format enthusiast that you don't venture away from your car. More current, look in the Nov 98 issue of Popular Photography (yes !) which compares 18 cameras less than $1850. The magazine View Camera is a good source of descriptions and specs (more like press releases than user's evaluations), but you'll have to wade through numerous back issues.

Some of the prices in this page might be outdated. See listings in distributors pages.

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