4x5 inch large format camera is best for professional studio use
with a digital scanning back?
our experience in large format digital photography increases we
are always looking for ways to improve our equipment. At last we
have access to a 4x5 camera from Sinar and can now review our initial
impression of the Rolls Royce of professional studio cameras.
most of our photography is in distant locations we previously used
a Linhof Technikardan and Wisner. Both of these 4x5 cameras fold
up nicely. For architectural photography both are good since they
can be transported easily. The Linhof has survived years of tough
use all over Latin America. The Wisner has held up equally flawlessly
in photography throughout Guatemala.
for studio photography with a heavy scanning back the Linhof was
too weak to handle the weight. Perhaps the newer model of the Linhof
might have been better as even Linhof recognized the deficiencies
of the moderate imprecision of the earlier model when they came
out with a sturdier version. But we have only Linhof that was available
in 1995. It wobbles and sags as a result of its L-shaped design.
the wooden cameras are attractive looking but are made with movements
based on cameras of the 19th century. These are perfectly okay for
architecture, landscape, and even portraiture. But the sliding movements
with turning lockings suffer the following problems:
either no zero decent or a sloppily defined zero point There is
no dial, no register, not much to tell you when you are at the zero
point for that movement.
the back is impressively solid on the Wisner and actually holds
the weight of the scan back better than the Linhof and indeed better
than other costly 4x5 studio cameras. But the tilting movement of
portable cameras at the back has a poorly designed zero position
that is difficult to release and almost impossible to use for precise
movements. If you are trying to rock the back to focus on a beveled
angle the system fails to function in any systematic manner. You
waste considerable time attempting to get the back in the precise
angle that you want it.
the front of these portable cameras is the worst part of their century-old
design. The front cannot be kept precisely level since each side
moves independently of the other. When you tighten one side it may,
or may not, sag relative to the other side. If you are trying to
be parallel to your subject this system is totally inadequate.
tilting or moving the front section is easier to get started than
the back, but you never really know where you are relative to the
true vertical. Nothing is available to tell you what angle you are
the Wisner is well made and has its place in professional 4x5 photography,
namely on expedition, outside, for any subject that is far away.
But if you are doing studio photography and especially macro photography,
then be sure to actually try out this camera before you attempt
to use it. If you are doing scientific photography you need either
a Sinar X, Sinar P, Arca
Swiss or Cambo
of the Sinar X: the following comments are based on several
years experience with the Linhof, including a Linhof 8x10 studio
camera, as well as 2 years experience with the Wisner. I preferred
the Wisner over the Linhof when using a heavy digital scan back,
but used the Linhof with wide-angle panorama photography because
the particular Wisner camera I had lacked a wide angle infrared
bellows. You need an infrared proof bellows for a scan back.
format digital camera
Sinar X is much quicker to use than either the Linhof or Wisner
for the simple reason that all the common controls on the Sinar
are open all the time. You never have to unscrew anything to unlock
a movement. With most cameras when you untighten the movement that
part of the camera collapses with a thud, or at least sags. With
the Sinar everything is simultaneously fully tightened and yet fully
open to be moved anytime you need. The brakes are always on, yet
you can move, tilt, anything without releasing any brake pedal.
only movement on the Sinar that requires releasing a lever is the
main horizontal pole on which the camera rests. These levers are
as loose and imprecise as on any other camera. Turning the camera
on the axis of the main horizontal pole is the most imprecise of
all. Fortunately you almost never need to use any of the releases
along the main optical bench. The forward and backward movements
are easy and you have the other main precision movements in any
the main movements, the ones you will need the most, have a zero
point clearly marked. Although on the Sinar X there is no physical
zero dents this Swiss-made system is sufficiently precise that all
the zero points are easy to find even if there is no click-stop
at that point. The Sinar P has additional features but for our museum
photography we found the Sinar X was just fine. Unfortunately the
particular camera that we received for evaluation was a demo unit
that evidently had many years of use. This resulted in considerable
inner wear of the gears. When we did an evaluation of the Cambo
Ultima, they sent a brand new camera so it was in perfect condition.
I would guess that a brand new Sinar X would also be in good condition,
but the used and severely worn example was the only one I have held
in my hands, so that's what our review covers. Now that we have
opened a new photo studio at Bowling Green State University we are
considering giving Sinar another chance to have their handsome equipment
evaluated, but this time we prefer to start off with a factory-fresh
model, not a demo unit. If we progress to this point we will update
this review. In the meantime Calumet has sent us a second Cambo,
a Cambo Wide. It appears to be as well constructed as the Cambo
summary, once you have used a Sinar camera it is doubtful that anything
other than an Arca-Swiss or Cambo Ultima would be comfortable. Most
of the other 4x5 cameras have so many turn-screws and controls that
you can go crazy trying to move parts of the camera. If you are
under stress while photographing you need the most stress-free camera
available. I would label the Sinar the most stress-free large format
camera I have ever used.
you are paid by the hour you will earn much more if you have a camera
that is easy to use. With most other 4x5 cameras you waste too much
time lining things up and getting various camera parts parallel
or otherwise at the appropriate angle.
short, I found the Sinar X well worth its purchase price. After
all, the other lesser 4x5 cameras are not exactly free either. So,
rather than looking at the cost of a Sinar X, look at the cost of
mental wear and tear if you don't have a Sinar but are stuck using
some other cheaper 4x5 camera.
the last thirty years a small research institute, FLAAR, has developed
a remarkable photo archive of over 40,000 images of ancient Maya
art and architecture. In the process of doing all this photography,
FLAAR has also become a leader in working out what is the best equipment
for museum photography (art and artifacts) as well as for architectural
photography. The FLAAR Photo Archive also encompasses photography
of Maya temples and pyramids as well as nature photography of tropical
Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras.
you scan, how and where do you store all your digital images?
How has the Digital Imaging Technology Center solved this
dilemma? Perhaps our experience in digital image storage can
help you with an
easy way to store digitized slides and digital photographs.
storage comes in three convenient sizes to suit your needs.
to information about different
options in photo studio lighting