Part of a series of product comparisons of large format 4x5 inch view cameras of Sinar, Arca-Swiss, Linhof, and Wisner for studio photography and on location.


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Information about Wisner 4x5 inch view cameras, a good portable large-format field camera.

I first ended up selecting the Linhof Technikardan in 1994 and used that for 18 intensive and productive months in Mexico, producing stunning photographs with Schneider and Rodenstock lenses. I wish I had their newer model which does not flex as much.

My entry into the large format world of photography came about when a Japanese publisher said they would award me a prestigious contract if I would produce images in 4x5 format. I had an old Linhof Kardan model at the time, which I had not really ever used because Ian Graham (Harvard University, Peabody Museum) indicated two decades earlier that a medium format camera was better for working out in the jungle. He said that 4x5 film did not stay flat in the high heat and humidity of the tropics.

Now that I have experienced large format photography for several years, I can only say that I wish I had immersed myself in 4x5 photography decades ago. I have used 4x5 film in extreme heat throughout tropical Central America and never noticed any problems with film flatness. When I shot 8x10 I simply used Sinar adhesive film backs. For 4x5 film Sinar also makes special vacuum backs as does Schneider.

When it came time to upgrade my equipment for the Japanese project, I reviewed Sinar, Wisner, Linhof, and Arca-Swiss. Sinar was over my budget and not intended to be portable. Arca-Swiss was tempting, but their product line was limited and in those years very difficult to find a representative in America. I did, though, get two of their monoball tripod heads; Arca-Swiss makes the best tripod ball heads in the world.

jpeg of 4X5 camera in wooden housing

4x5 Wisner Camera in the Classical Wooden Housing

Next I reviewed the Wisner product line. I was quite tempted, but again, I am a gadget freak, and thus am always dreaming about all the great accessories of Sinar. But lack of adequate financing (and space in my expedition truck) precluded Sinar at every turn. I did though, speak with Ron Wisner by phone, and noted that he was an enthusiastic spokesperson for large format photography, especially for portable field cameras.

It turns out that a major goal of the Wisner concept is to produce portable field cameras, both for backpacking necessities as well as for any class of scientific pursuit that requires moving the camera. Since FLAAR has worked for decades on behalf of the implementation of medium format quality in archaeology and anthropology, it was a perfect match now that I was upgrading from 2 1/4 format to 4x5 inch format and beyond.

Soon we learned that L-shaped supports for 4x5 cameras are poor choice for supporting the heavy digital insert. Thus FLAAR is now testing the Sinar X and Cambo Ultima 4x5 studio cameras camera in its test program. If an artifact is important enough that we launch entire expeditions to dig it up and preserve it, then these artifacts deserve to be photographed with a format more professional than mere 35mm. Second, it is crucial to illustrate how easy 4x5 cameras are to use, even in the rigors of a field camp in a remote area.

We hope to initiate training programs on the use of 4x5 systems and digital technology at the Maya sites. I have been organizing photo-oriented tours to Maya ruins in Central America for years, so a photo seminar is a natural progression.

Other sizes and shapes of Wisner large format cameras, 11x14, 8x20, 12x20, and 20x24 inches.

I am an ideal apostle of 4x5 implementation, since I never studied photography and know nothing about tilts or swings. I just realize that I need perspective control and that the art, artifacts, and architecture deserve to be recorded for posterity in as large a format as is reasonably possible.

During Photokina '98 in Cologne, Germany, it was possible to inspect lots of 4x5 cameras. Lots have changed in the large format field in the last several years. Arca-Swiss and Sinar continue to make their great studio cameras even better. Sinar finally got a web site but Arca-Swiss still does things the Swiss way. It is still difficult to find Arca-Swiss itself on the internet and impossible to get information on their full product line from the Internet. Toyo has new models but they are not as streamlined as Sinar or Arca-Swiss. Most other brands are too wobbly to hold the weight of a large format digital insert, or, being L-shaped, sag from the weight. Other models have sliding movements with turn-screws, not ideal in a studio camera (bearable in a portable camera as a trade off for weight and bulk). Calumet recently sent FLAAR a Cambo Ultima which we begin testing shortly.

Wisner Classic Manufacturing Co. Inc has its own Home Page . Or call (508) 748 0975. P.O. Box 21, Marion, Mass 02738.

If you wish additional information on the equipment described on this page, you might wish to contact scott.price@calumetphoto.com, tel 312 944 2777 ext 2202, fax 312 944 4035

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