Since we already have two Linhof cameras and a Wisner, why do we recommend the Arca-Swiss, Cambo Ultima, and Sinar 4x5 camera systems?

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The reasons a Cambo Ultima, Sinar X or Arca-Swiss 4x5 camera are recommended over any L-shaped or portable 4x5.

Because when you use a digital scan back such as PhaseOne, JOBO, or BetterLight the weight of those scan backs requires extra support. The Arca-Swiss, Cambo Ultima, and Sinar X and P 4x5 cameras are strong enough to hold the weight of a scan back.

I am a stickler for camera stability. I prefer a camera that is solid, and does not wobble. Unfortunately, I have the early model Linhof Technikardan. The new model eliminates some of the wobble but is still based on an L-shaped support system. A heavy digital back in an L-shape is going to sag, since it is held up only on one side. The Linhof has been nicely portable, has survived years of use in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. But the new digital cameras of the 21st century require more solid support. Ries tripod, Manfrotto head, Better Light adaptation of Dicomed Field Pro.

To take a wide-angle panorama, it helps to have a bag-bellows. For digital photography the bellows must shield the system from infrared. The Wisner 4x5 is the camera I usually use, but it had an infrared-proof bellows only for normal lenses.
Cambo Ulti ma cameras system
Thus here I am using the Linhof since its bellows is infrared-proof. This is a typical photography situation in Central America. Here we are at the Maya ruins of Copan, Honduras. The macaw is not stuffed, it is very much alive, and bit me so hard that my finger bled.

Not only does the heavy digital insert require a solid support, but the even heavier SCSI cable exerts even more pull. I feel that the Arca-Swiss, Cambo Ultima, and a Sinar X or P camera will do a better job than any L-shaped system. Andrea and I spent an entire week at Photokina, and had an opportunity to inspect about every 4x5 camera in the world. Our mutual choice was the Arca-Swiss and naturally the rock-solid Sinar.

Although we use a Dicomed digital back, the two Swiss-made 4x5 cameras are equally appropriate for the new models of Better Light, Phase One, and other studio quality 4x5 digital inserts.

Another mistake (in addition to an L-shaped frame) is to attempt to use a 4x5 camera whose movements are controlled by sliding guides with a turn-screw to lock the position. This is the age-old kind of movements based on portable large format cameras made since the 1890's. Such cameras are great for field work as long as you are not doing close-ups and as long as you are not using a digital insert. This is because for close-up work with a scanning back your depth of field is minuscule. You need zero dents, geared movements, and automatic stops. If you have to turn a knob to tighten your movement the very act of turning the knob or flipping the switch will move the camera out of the selected plane of focus (you can see this clearly on the computer monitor as you focus electronically).

The other problem with most portable 4x5 cameras is that the "zero position" is not always precisely defined, and zero on one side of the tilt may be a few millimeters off from the zero position on the other side of the camera. The Sinar camera is flawlessly aligned top, bottom, front, and back. You will get better digital photographs with a precision 4x5 camera. You will lose too many pictures if you try to squeak by with a cheap 4x5 camera.

Summary: if you are serious about 4x5 photography, get a serious 4x5 camera that really works well in the studio and on location: we recommend Arca-Swiss, Sinar X, and Cambo Ultima as the three most-solidly-constructed 4x5 cameras on the market today.
Report from Photokina, the world's largest photography trade show.
Large Format Cameras
Arca Swiss

Cambo Ultima
Color crisp
Dicomed field pro
Recommended cameras
Recommended Best Buy
Trade shows
Posted April 6, 1999; updated Oct. 4, 1999; links organized April 2000; last updated July 28, 2001; links added Mar. 2002
Redesigned January 2004
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