4x5 field - wood vs. metal

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Chuck_P

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I am looking for thoughts or points of consideration as it pertains to wood vs. metal field cameras. I used to own a Horseman LE rail that I used in the field, but had to sell, so I rather would like to not carry that bulk around again going forward with my return back to film and my darkroom. Thanks for any and all purchasing advice.
 

Ian Grant

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Depends on how you work and what movements you require. I've been using a Wista 45DX for around 35 years, however I had a need to shoot hand held, (tripods not permitted) and after using a Crown Graphic and finding the movements limiting eventually found a Super Graphic. This has enough movements for my landscape work and has worked out well. So now I have a choice.

Maybe list the Pros & Cons from your own point of view.

Ian
 
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Chuck_P

Chuck_P

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Good point. I realize that field 4x5s can't match the movements of the view cameras but do some field cameras offer greater range of movements over others or are they all the same? Also, any drawbacks in performance in very cold weather with metal? It can get very humid where I live, does this cause problems with wood field cameras? Things like this.......thank you..
 
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It really comes down to a question of weight vs robustness and precision vs less-precise.

Wood cameras are (usually) lighter, but not as solid or resistant to abuse. Metal field cameras often, but not always, have a bit more precision in the controls for the movements (really though, not always).

If weight is an issue, there is certainly a lighter-weight option in a wooden field camera that you can find. Metal cameras are just too heavy for the type of work I do; hiking, biking with the camera, working in rough terrain, etc.

Like Ian, I've been using Wista DXs for years. The camera weighs in right at three pounds. That, with a set of lightweight lenses, and I have a four-lens 4x5 kit that weighs less than a medium-format camera and a couple of lenses.

When I work in cities, I need a camera that has lots of movements, specifically lots of front rise, one way or the other, and flexible enough bellows for using lenses in the 75-90mm range. The Wista DX is not ideal for this; the bellows get tight and crimp with short lenses and lots of movements. One can work around all this with a recessed lensboard and care, and I've done a lot of that kind of work with my DXs.

However, a few years back I acquired a Wista SW; basically a DX with interchangeable bellows. It has become my go-to camera for architectural work. The wide-angle bellows are half pleated and half bag bellows, will take lenses up to 210mm (for longer, I have to change to the "standard" pleated bellows), and enable me to use quite extreme movements with short lenses. I can easily vignette my 90mm Nikkor SW. Wista SWs are pretty rare, though.

If I were to consider replacing my Wistas with cameras that are now currently available and economical, I'd be looking closely at the Chamonix cameras. They have "universal" bellows that work well with short lenses and more maximum bellows draw than the Wistas (and many other wooden folders of that ilk), which max out at 300mm (I manage to use a 300mm lens on my Wistas by using a top-hat lens board).

A word about movements and field cameras: although monorails almost always have a greater range of movements, the movements available on many field cameras are more than adequate for even demanding architectural work if you know a couple of tricks. One can get more effective rise or shift by using the point-and-swing technique. For example, if you need more rise, you can point the camera up and tilt both standards back to perpendicular with the ground and parallel to each other. This gives you rise without even using the rise movement, which you can then use for even more rise. Same with shifts 90° transposed. And, you can get more back tilt by tilting the front forward and then re-leveling the front standard using the tripod head. This gives you effective back tilt that you can increase by using the actual back tilt. FWIW, I've never had to do this in practice. Do get a camera with shift on one of the standards, though; I hate not having a bit of shift to fine-tune the framing with.

Hope this helps,

Doremus
 
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I started LF photography a couple of years ago and bought a new Chamonix 45H-1 4x5" field camera. It's made of wood, aluminum, and carbon fiber and weighs around 4 1/2 pounds without the lens, less than my Mamiya RB67 medium format setup. It has asynchronous tilts, shifts, rises and falls, etc.
Here are their selections. If you want one that folds look at their F2 series. Good luck with whatever you buy.
 

cliveh

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I only have about 5 years experience with wood and metal large format and I would go with metal every time. Less prone to humidity and temperature issues.
 

abruzzi

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I prefer metal, but I also prefer monorails, and there are very very few wood monorails (Bender is the only one I'm aware of.). Depending on your budget I'd at least consider a used Linhof Technikardan 45 or 45S. Its definitely heavier than most if not all wood cameras (3kg/6.6lbs), but it folds up as small as one (though a little differently shaped----think of a calculus textbook.) It has more extension than most wood or metal "box" style cameras (485mm), has axial tilt instead of base tilt, and my favorite "feature" is that it has a single control for each movement, except focus which has a focus knob and a lock lever. To me this makes adjustment much easier (though not as easy as geared) since one hand can loosen the movement and the other can adjust.
 

ic-racer

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In 4x5 I went with a small metal camera (Horseman FA) as it is more compact than many wood 4x5 cameras. In fact the FA is not much bigger than a medium format camera.

But in 8x10 I went with a wood camera, due to availability and cost because lightweight metal 8x10 are rare and expensive.
Horseman.jpg
 

Vaughn

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So far in the 45 years or so of using metal cameras and wood cameras in the deserts, in rainforests, high altitude, lowlands, 20F winters, 110F summers, and such, it has not made much difference. I've taken a metal 4x5 monorail to NZ and a 110 year old wood 5x7 to Chile. Good luck!
 
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Chuck_P

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Ok.......I'm beginning to realize that my concerns for how one handles cold and humidity versus the other may be unneccessary....save one response so far that advises to only get a metal body. And as far as movements, it should not be a concern either most of what I may do. I saw today, that if cost were not prohibitive, I would absolutely get the Arca-Swiss F-Field 4x5 monorail......sweet.
 

Alan9940

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Much good advice posted in this thread, but one consideration I don't remember seeing as I scanned through the replies is bellows extension. Of course, this only becomes an issue if one wants to use longer focal length lenses. The Wista 45DX, for example, has about 12.5" of bellows draw (Ian, please correct me if I'm wrong as I'm stating that from memory) which means you'll be limited to something in the 240mm range or 300mm focused on infinity only. There are wood field cameras that have longer bellows extension, if longer lenses is a focal range you'll ever consider.

Others have already mentioned camera precision or not so precise, but you may want to think about the aesthetics of the camera. I love wood cameras! I love the tactile feel of them. I enjoy the various woods that some are made of. I enjoy their compactness for hiking when folded in a pack. A wooden camera won't freeze your hands in cold weather, either. But I, also, enjoy the precision of my Arca-Swiss F 4x5. I occasionally use a 450mm lens and this camera easily handles that focal length. Yeah, the Arca punches in weight-wise a little more than a Wista, but I have the telescoping rail on mine which allows it to compact right down.

Lots to think about for sure. Good luck!
 
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I am looking for thoughts or points of consideration as it pertains to wood vs. metal field cameras. I used to own a Horseman LE rail that I used in the field, but had to sell, so I rather would like to not carry that bulk around again going forward with my return back to film and my darkroom. Thanks for any and all purchasing advice.

A metal camera can potentially be made lighter and more rigid than a wooden camera. It's also more robust against via mental influences, such as moisture and sunlight.
 

grat

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A metal camera can potentially be made lighter and more rigid than a wooden camera. It's also more robust against via mental influences, such as moisture and sunlight.

With modern manufacturing, I'm not sure it's that simple to draw conclusions. My Chamonix, for instance, is "wood", in that it's teak that's been aged, cured, and sealed. Not going to say it's impervious to moisture and sunlight, but I suspect it's not that much more "fragile" than a metal camera.

Add to that the base of the camera is made from a carbon-fiber composite, you're going to work hard to make a lighter camera out of metal-- which in general, has a higher thermal expansion coefficient than wood.

On the other hand, there are heavier wooden cameras, and you probably can make a lighter camera out of metal.
 

Two23

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Good point. I realize that field 4x5s can't match the movements of the view cameras but do some field cameras offer greater range of movements over others or are they all the same? Also, any drawbacks in performance in very cold weather with metal? It can get very humid where I live, does this cause problems with wood field cameras? Things like this.......thank you..

I've been using a Chamonix 4x5 for 16 years now. I just love the beauty of the wood, and the light weight metal base and carbon fiber parts make it very light. Really it comes down to personal preference. I've no trouble at all with the Chamonix in the cold. I live in South Dakota and my favorite season is winter. 😃


Kent in SD
 

jimgalli

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Kent beat me to it. How about a perfect marriage of wood and metal. Chamonix.
 

Ian Grant

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Much good advice posted in this thread, but one consideration I don't remember seeing as I scanned through the replies is bellows extension. Of course, this only becomes an issue if one wants to use longer focal length lenses. The Wista 45DX, for example, has about 12.5" of bellows draw (Ian, please correct me if I'm wrong as I'm stating that from memory) which means you'll be limited to something in the 240mm range or 300mm focused on infinity only. There are wood field cameras that have longer bellows extension, if longer lenses is a focal range you'll ever consider.

I'm not sure of the exact bellows extension, sounds about right, but there's little room to focus a normal 300mm lens with Wista 45DX, but I do use a 360mm Telephoto, back focus is around 180mm. I guess the DX means Double Extension, a term that goes back to the 1890s essentially it means a camera with bellows extensions twice the Focal Length of its Standard Lens, typically a 150mm on a Wista 45DX.

A few wooden field cameras are triple extension. For stability if you want to use longer normal lenses a metal camera is the way to go, the Linhof & MPP 5x4 Technical cameras have triple extension and are rigged work horses.

If I were to replace my Wista 45DX then I'd consider a Chamonix, but also a Shen Hao, I;ve handled a couple and they are nice cameras to use.

Ian
 

Bob Eskridge

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Do get a camera with shift on one of the standards, though; I hate not having a bit of shift to fine-tune the framing with.
At present I am using an original model 4 3/4 x 6 1/2 Toyo Field with 4x5 and 5x7 backs. It is all metal, compact and lightweight at 6 lbs. The one feature that it does not have is shift. And for architecture photography in particular Doremus is correct - shift is very useful. Even my Bush Pressman has shift.
 
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Chuck_P

Chuck_P

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At present I am using an original model 4 3/4 x 6 1/2 Toyo Field with 4x5 and 5x7 backs. It is all metal, compact and lightweight at 6 lbs. The one feature that it does not have is shift. And for architecture photography in particular Doremus is correct - shift is very useful. Even my Bush Pressman has shift.

That is one of the reasons that I am looking at this particular field camera, but have not heard anyone mention Toyo yet..............I'm not necessarily looking to purchase new.

 

xkaes

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Forget about "metal vs wood vs plastic". Figure out what features you want -- ex. size, weight, movements, bellows, back, accessories, price, new vs old vs used, brand name, etc. That will keep you busy enough. Do something like this:

http://www.subclub.org/toko/4x5table.htm
 

guangong

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As for robustness, many years ago a good friend saw his Deardorf camera tumble down the Palisades. Upon retrieving the camera, found that the only damage was a chip at one corner.
I have used a Wista DX for many decades. Very portable and serviceable, as others on this thread have noted. As with so much about choosing a camera, it’s a personal decision...there is no BEST. I did find the opinions voiced on this thread very illuminating. Good to know what others think.
 
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Chuck_P

Chuck_P

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I certainly appreciate all of your thoughts and suggestions. At this point right now I am leaning toward metal, smply because, in my mind, I feel like it will tolerate more of my occasional clumsiness that might cause, what I call, "stupid" dents and dings.

There's lots of good information here and I'm far from making a decision so I'll just keep listening. Thank you all.
 

xkaes

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At this point right now I am leaning toward metal, smply because, in my mind, I feel like it will tolerate more of my occasional clumsiness that might cause, what I call, "stupid" dents and dings.

The camera being metal, wood, plastic, or a mix will do nothing to protect the most delicate part of the camera -- the focusing screen. If you are that worried, consider getting one of those "GROUND GLASS PROTECTORS". I have no idea if they come in metal, wood, plastic, or a mix.
 
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BradS

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It really depends on what you want to do. Are you going to hike miles in the wilderness? or less than 100 yards from the car? Portraits, interiors, tall buildings, tall trees or rocks, flowers, ocean waves?
 
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Chuck_P

Chuck_P

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It really depends on what you want to do. Are you going to hike miles in the wilderness? or less than 100 yards from the car? Portraits, interiors, tall buildings, tall trees or rocks, flowers, ocean waves?

Mostly hiking for sure.
 
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