The Wisner technical field

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


Review by Paul Butzi

Like lots of the other posters, I have a 4x5 Technical field. It's a great camera. Like some of the other folks, I've used both a Zone VI and my Wisner, and in my opinion, the Wisner wins hands down. There's just no comparison.

Now, I'd like to tell you the shortcomings of the camera. I think it's important to share these, but I want to make it clear that I don't think that they're large issues, unless you think that they'd severely impact *you*. Most importantly, I don't want folks getting the impression that I don't like my Wisner (I love it!)- it just (like any other camera) has shortcomings that you should consider before buying one.

First, and I think most seriously, the TF is not a great camera for short lens work. Running the front standard back and the back standard all the way forward, I'd estimate that you can get the flange to film plane distance to about 10 cm. So, for lenses shorter than 100mm, you're going to need to use front base tilt *backwards* to move the lens closer to the film plane, and then a bit of front rise and front axis tilt to re-align the lens and film planes. This isn't a major hassle, but it slows things down. I have a 135mm lens, and I'd say that's absolutely the shortest lens you can use without the bag bellows.

second, I think that when extended for long lens work, the camera is a bit on the floppy side. I want to qualify this by saying that several others disagree on this point, and they're people whose opinions I've come to hold in very high regard. My on again, off again thought is to replace or augment my Wisner with a Linhof TK, and some folks have suggested that it won't offer improved rigidity. I've examined the Linhof closely on this point, and I'm pretty clear that it's more rigid at 18" of bellows than my Wisner. This might mean that it's just *my* wisner that's floppy, or it could mean that it's an issue where reasonable people disagree. In any case, a camera with the bellows out 18-20" is like a sail, so working in wind is problematic, so this may be a minor point.

On the up side, the Wisner is an excellent choice for several reasons, most of which have been pointed out already:

If you're interested in *wooden* field cameras, I think that just about the only other camera that I've seen that is as nice as the Wisner is the Canham. Both are things of beauty. The Canham costs more, of course.

In my view, if you don't expect to do lots of short focal length work, and you know that you'd exceed the 12" of bellows on the current crop of single extension cameras (Wista, etc.) then I think the Wisner is an altogether excellent choice. Given the price, it's hard to beat in terms of price/performance. Before you buy, I'd consider carefully whether you want a Traditional or a Technical Field, or perhaps the Expedition. If in doubt, call Ron Wisner and discuss it with *him*. He's perfectly willing to talk, and if he doesn't know the answers, no one does!

Review by Kerry Thalmann

This was my personal camera of choice for about 2 1/2 years until I sold it a couple months ago. It was a beautiful camera to look at, very well made and very capable. I do have a few negative comments (I have not yet found a perfect camera, sorry Ron), but overall, I was very pleased with this camera and am beginning to regret selling it. Hopefully, this regret will vanish as soon as I find a suitable replacement.

My biggest complaint was that this camera was not very wide angle friendly. I did have the bag bellows which allowed generous movements with wide angle lenses. The real problem was getting the front and rear standards close enough together to focus a lens of 90mm or shorter at infinity. To do so required a combination of base and axis tilts. Of course, this then messed up the front rise movement (rise caused the focus to shift). With wider lenses, the problem gets even worse. Simulating a drop bed by tilting the camera base forward and then re-aligning everything with a combination of front and rear tilts has a negative impact on useability. Specifically, focusing the camera now causes the composition to change slightly. In other words, the front standard rises and falls realtive to the film position as you attempt to focus. Not a big deal, but inconvenient. I have heard that it is possible to focus a 90mm lens at infinity with both standards in their upright positions on newer Wisner Technicals. Can anyone confirm this? If so, the problem still persists for wider lenses.

Second complaint. This is a very bulky camera. Too bulky to fit in my pack for overnight backpack trips. Of course, it would be hard to build such a feature rich camera with 23" of bellows and not make it bulky. One of the added features I found of absolutely no use. That is the rear rise movement. I played around with it here at home (just to see how it worked - not all that well by the way - four knobs to tighten and loosen and it comprised the rigidity of the camera when the back was fully raised), but in 2 1/2 years, I never once used this feature in the field. I did, however use the geared rear "axis" tilt quite a lot and despite its limitations (it is not truly an axis tilt, the back moves up and down slightly as you tilt), I really liked this feature over the standard non-geared back base tilt found on most field cameras. Ideally, I'd like to see a thinner version of this camera without the rear rise (yeah, I know it's patented, but what good is a patented feature if you don't actually benefit from its use?), perhaps slightly shorter bellows (if necessary to make it thinner), BUT with a true geared rear axis tilt (so that rules out the Traditional). In spite of these nits I have picked, this is still a very fine camera and I would not hesitate to recommend it.

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