Leveling Up with a Linhof Technika 4×5 Film Camera

Leveling Up with a Linhof Technika 4×5 Film Camera

1800 1013 Drew Chambers

The film photography community of the 2010s, defined by internet-based sharing and communication, entices us into leveling up. On forums, blogs, Instagram, and Reddit, we joke with each other about “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” and the more cynical of us love to sardonically fume, vis-á-vis memes, about the blind fandom that follows certain makes and models of camera. I myself fell prey to the level-up scheme spectacularly, resulting in my brief ownership of a Linhof Technika 4×5 field camera.

The level-up scheme exists in all hobby and professions. It says, “Now that you’ve done this, you’ve got to try this.” My first film camera was a Minolta X-700, an underdog darling of the analog community. Since then, I’ve owned approximately 30 35mm cameras. The level-up scheme tells you that while the Minolta X-700 was a great camera and experience, you’ve really got to try a serious camera like the Nikon F2 or a camera with next-level glass like a Contax. These are all things I’ve told myself. More and more, the most immediate next level is into another format. I got to a point where I felt like taking film photography seriously meant moving into large format (LF). 

Famed, fine-art photographers whose work I admire and own (in photobooks) like Richard Misrach and Joel Meyerowitz, in addition to professional landscape photographers I admire like Michael Strickland and Alex Burke, all shoot with large format cameras. The arguments for LF as a format are convincing but what ultimately pushed me was my identification of LF with professional work. It was also an unexplored frontier full of alien techniques. 

I set out to find a 4×5 camera with an affordable price tag — just to get my feet wet. With months of searching eBay and local ads, I found an auction for a Linhof Technika 4×5 camera that I ended up winning for a wicked good deal. Linhof is a high-quality camera manufacturer based in Munich and comparisons between Linhof and Leica are fair in regard to what each maker means for its format. Linhof began its life as a shutter design firm under the helm of Valentin Linhof, who produced the first in-lens shutter. The shutter endeavor ended early as Linhof sold that portion of the business to his partner, Fredrich Deckel, the man eventually responsible for Compur shutters. Linhof is now known for producing technical cameras, which are commonly considered to be cameras with a movable front or rear “standard” (as opposed to the vast majority of full frame and medium format cameras with fixed camera bodies). 

[Interested in getting started with large format photography? Check out our beginner’s guide here.]

A large format camera, at its most basic, is a rear standard to hold both your film and your ground glass for focusing, connected to bellows, connected to a front standard to hold your lens (which has an internal shutter). Focusing glass, bellows, taking glass. Technical cameras allow for movement of the standards for technical purposes, such as photographing architecture without distorting perspectives or altering depth of field for portraiture. Alex Bond has a helpful explanation of various types of movements and what results they produce. 

Linhof’s historical high point is in producing luxury field cameras. As opposed to monorail cameras, which are typically relegated to studio work, field cameras are meant for field photography. They fold up into neat packages for easy transport in, for instance, a backpack. With a monorail camera, the standards are placed together on a single rail, which facilitates extensive movements but also makes the camera unwieldy and heavy. A field camera is more portable at the cost of usually fewer movements, but typically still offers a fair degree of front-standard movements. 

The predominant Linhof line of field cameras are called Technikas — a portmanteau of the German technische kamera. They began with the Technika in 1936 and worked up to the Master Technika in 1972, with models II through V in between, and with some reissues afterward. Super Technika models (from the Technika III onward) incorporate a rangefinder. To make matters more confusing, the Technika III had five versions. In each case, Linhof emphasized their “Linhof Principle: Precision and Ruggedness.” Speaking of their commitment to the Principle, Linhof say in their 70th anniversary catalog: “The factory’s own tools-design and tools-production department guarantees, through the high precision of their products, utmost exactness in camera production with tolerances of less than 1/100 mm. Many of the necessary gauges, jigs, tools and measuring instruments are made in the work’s own toolmaker shop. They are thoroughly tested before they are used. The temperatures in the workshops of the plant have to be kept on a steady level in order to keep the measuring instruments in proper gauge. The measuring instruments in use are constantly checked as to their exactness.“ 

Linhof’s commitment to their craft is both endearing and inspiring. Many Linhof workers lived in residential communities on the Linhof campus, apprentices trained for 3 1/2 years (though with twice-a-year camping trip allowances — I’m not joking), and employees were all served by a professional kitchen daily. One thing is certain: the Linhof of the mid-century West Germany was a lifestyle. 

Linhof campus.

However, this article is neither intended to be a reproduction of the Linhof annals, nor a replete digest of large format cameras. This article is about why I wanted one, what happened when I got one, and why I no longer have one. 

As I mentioned, to me large format photography represented a logical step forward. My resolution for Casual Photophile’s 2020 New Year’s Resolution piece was to “stop, think, plan.” I told myself (and you all) in that resolution that my 4×5 camera would make me think more seriously about the shots I take because of how contemplative the format was compared to 135 or 120. 

Now, seven months into 2020 (albeit a long seven months) the Linhof is out of my life and I’m not sure when, if ever, large format will return. 

After getting the Linhof, I still needed several more pieces of gear to get shooting. The outfit I bought included the camera, a Super Technika III v. 5, and a standard 150mm lens, the Schneider Kreuznach Xenar which offers a field of view around what a 45mm lens does on 35mm film. What I was missing was film, film holders, something to use as a dark cloth, a loupe for focusing precisely, a long shutter release cable, and a sturdy enough tripod for a heavy camera with slow speeds. Luckily I already owned a dark bag for changing film, so I had that going for me. 

It took me months to acquire the rest of what I felt I needed to comfortably use the camera. I ended up being gifted a beautiful dark cloth made by Wanderer Photo Gear. I found some light tight film holders made by Riteway. I purchased a Soligor spot meter to help ensure that my exposures were spot on. Since then, the meter’s helped me become more adept at guessing EVs correctly.

The camera itself was intoxicating. Not quite mint (or “minty,” as everyone seems to say now), but almost there. Clean black leatherette panels separated by sharp silver lines. The bellows and ground glass hood were impeccable, which is more of an exception than the rule with these old cameras. In looking at the camera, you can tell that Linhof had a sort of pride about the look of their cameras beyond just their function. This is most clear to me in the Art Deco lines that run down either pillar of the front standard. 

I would open the camera and play around with it countless times before I ever shot with it. The learning curve of LF is not remarkably steep, but you can feel it. On top of trying to figure out the exact combination of pushing this button in while holding this lever down to engage a particular movement, the camera mechanics are not as fluid as a new Toyo or Chamonix. The mechanics are willing but the lubrication is weak, or however that saying goes. 

Linhof uses a characteristic red paint to fill in any engravings like the name on the lens and the lightning-arrow on the back that indicates how the back is locked in or released. Then, of course, there’s the somehow over-the-top but also perfect Linhof crest affixed to the lens board. The crest is essentially a reworked version of Bavaria’s coat of arms with “Linhof” in script at the top. 

But beyond the camera’s aesthetic beauty, it also packs a functional punch. The front standard has a respectable host of movements including rise/fall, shift, swing, and back tilt (though no front tilt). Unlike other field cameras, the Super Technika III v. 5 also has the capacity for rear movements by using struts on the back to facilitate off-axis swing and tilt. The camera definitely possesses the traits that many would argue make large format unique and viable. 

The lens, a modest one in the Linhof 4×5 lineup, was immaculately clean with spot-on shutter times. Focus was buttery smooth. Altogether, the thing was perfect. 

So I would take it out, admire it, and then put it on the shelf. This went on for months while I gathered what else I needed and also dealt with the stress of jumping off the film-format deep end. I agonized over how to proceed. For one, I only lucked into the camera and hadn’t really anticipated getting one when I did. But for some reason, once I had it, it took me ages to even get film holders. I could chock this up to being busy finishing my master’s and then experiencing the changes brought on by the pandemic, but I think it was mostly due to my own trepidation. 

I wondered what I would shoot or what I should shoot. If I had my druthers, I would shoot landscapes, but that meant scouting a location and preparing for an outdoor shoot. This led to dismay at the fact that I felt wholly uninspired by the drab New England March, a time and place in which all is grey and brown. I questioned the sturdiness of the very flimsy tripod I used only on occasion with a mirrorless camera. And I stressed about how I would load and unload film without developing the film myself. 

The last point was the driving force behind my and LF’s breakup. I know how to develop my own film and have the equipment to do it, but I had moved on from it because my place was super small and my Epson flatbed produced truly awful scans. The lab I use in Maine is phenomenal and offers amazing scans, but each sheet of 4×5 film costs $10 to develop and scan. This is a more than fair price, but $10 for a single image hurts me more than $10 for 16 6×4.5 images or 36 35mm images. I toyed with the idea of just biting the bullet and going back to developing black and white myself, but the idea didn’t excite me. On top of this (and this is going to seem stupid) I didn’t have a good way to send out just a few sheets of film at a time. I had a single box full of film and no empty box to move exposed film to for mailing to the lab. I checked eBay for some empty boxes but that itself turned up empty. 

These may sound like excuses. People in my position manage to shoot LF. I accept that, but my difficulty overcoming these hurdles only speaks to my underlying lack of commitment. However, all was not lost as I began to explore alternative ways to use my camera. 

Come April, I had finally assembled a good gear lineup with an old Gitzo tripod being the final piece of the puzzle. Feeling buying boxes of 4×5 sheets would be a poor investment, I investigated what other options I had. I settled on two less than ideal setups but ones that might allow me to have my cake and eat it too (or at least some of it). 

The first compromise was shooting 120 film with the Linhof.  There were a handful of roll film backs made for 4×5 cameras. Some, like the Super Rollex made by Linhof, require the photographer to remove the normal back (with the ground glass) and install the roll film back entirely. This essentially forces the photographer to focus using the rangefinder, unless the photographer wants to install and uninstall the ground glass with each shot. Some other adapters, however, function as inserts, very similar to the way a 4×5 sheet film holder does. For these adapters, the photographer simply slides the adapter in between the glass and camera (as the film holder would), removes the dark slide, and shoots. This way the photographer can focus using the ground glass, quickly insert the adapter to capture a frame, and then get back to focusing and composing using the glass. 

The version I purchased was called the Calumet C2. The C2 was designed for 220 film, but functions just fine with 120 film and only requires the photographer to roll past the “frames” missing from a 120 film roll. The best part is that the C2 produces 6×7 (in cm) frames. Though still approximately 25% of the size of a 4×5 sheet, I had no other camera that could produce that size (though, obviously, 6×6 is almost the same). Moreover, the ratios of a 6×7 frame and a 4×5 frame are extremely similar given the actual dimensions. 

So this was my first solution: shoot 120 film with my large format camera. Clearly counterintuitive, but it jumped many of the hurdles. For one, it was much cheaper. I could produce ten 6×7 frames for roughly the cost of one 4×5 frame. Second, it also solved my storage issue by allowing me to shoot a whole roll and then mailing it out as I would any other roll of 120. But most importantly, it allowed me to shoot with slightly less anxiety over the cost of each photo I was taking. It overcame these hurdles while preserving many of the upsides associated with LF, such as slower photography and unique camera movements. 

The other compromise I discovered shouldn’t really be thought of as a compromise. To make shooting LF faster and allow photographers to carry more film with them, Fujifilm introduced a technology called QuickLoad. The system is ingenious, but has sadly been discontinued. Essentially, rather than 10 or 20 sheets of film being loaded together in a classic, three part, light tight box, QuickLoad sheets came each packaged in their own light tight envelope. When ready to shoot, the envelope gets inserted into a proprietary QuickLoad holder at which point the film sheet is left to be exposed while the envelope hangs out outside the holder. After shooting, the envelope gets put back into the holder and is resealed with a crimped metal clamp. The advantages are that loading can be done in daylight and that a photographer needs only to carry a single holder and as many envelopes as they like, rather than multiple 4×5 holders loaded with film. 

I thought that the QuickLoad system would be a fair compromise in allowing me to shoot 4×5 sheets but also ensure that I could mail out a sheet or two at a time for processing. It turned out exactly as I had hoped and I was only disappointed by the fact that Fuji discontinued QuickLoad back in 2009, and that the state of the aftermarket stock was dire. Moreover, as it turned out, the film I had was poorly stored and so the colors were all sorts of shifty. 

Even so, with the advent of these more financially and logistically accessible methods, I finally felt ready to take the camera out — six months after buying it.  

I’m torn here in thinking about how to describe my own experience shooting with the camera. One instinct is to describe the experience romantically. To explain how ushering yourself under the dark cloth is like an escape from your environs to see them from some critical, artistic distance. To tell you about the magic of composing an image upside-down and mirrored on your ground glass and how using the loupe to focus on a tiny zone of your image is somehow transporting. To say that the process of opening your lens, composing, focusing, closing your lens, setting your aperture, and finally tripping the shutter is meditative in the best ways. To verify that yes, front-standard rise helped reproduce the image I’d had in my mind’s eye, an image that I could never create without those movements. 

My other instinct is to embarrassingly say that I just felt frustrated by those very things that make up the routine of shooting a technical view camera. Rather than being tinged with pixie dust, as maybe I had hoped, the routine was nothing more than rigmarole that stood in the way between me and making a photograph. I know that some of these feelings arose from my newness to the format and my relative lack of inspiration. 

Maybe a few months from that point and several outings with the Linhof later, and maybe me standing on some inspiring precipice or vista overlooking the landscape I imagined capturing with this thing, I’d be happier. I can’t know for sure. But I can say that nothing felt magic for me like the other times I’ve stumbled my way onto a new outcrop, like the first time I ever shot with a film camera or my first time shooting with a TLR. 

I sold the Linhof to a young photographer who in a few weeks has already produced better images with it than I ever did during my six months with the Linhof. I used the money to purchase my first Hasselblad, a 501c. Since then, I’ve finished multiple rolls with the Hasselblad and turned out some of my favorite images, including portraits of my best friend on his wedding day. 

The truth is that while I felt that taking photography seriously meant shooting large format, it didn’t mean that. Taking photography seriously, for me, means producing photographs with a camera that gets out of the way. For me, these cameras are 35mm and modern 120 machines, often ones with an accurate internal light meter and AEL. 

Various writers have written a few articles on this site about the idea that not everyone needs a Leica, and that we don’t need a giant collection of gear to be happy, and generally about GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), but my conflict with large format was not exactly a conflict of wanting new gear or feeling that a certain name-brand would validate me. It was, instead, the erroneous belief that the next step in my life as a photographer was a step into a new, more “professional” format. It’s almost a truism among photographers that the format or the gear doesn’t need to stand in the way of a great photograph. Richard Misrach shot the cover of the 18th issue of Musée Magazine with an iPhone. And many of Joel Meyerowitz’s most celebrated photographs were shot with a 35mm camera on the streets of New York City. 

Even writing this, there’s a part of me that’s bracing for backlash. For the comments that will urge me to give LF another a try, or the ones that will claim my not being enamored of LF are due to some inevitable failure of my own. I know it’s not exactly commonplace to talk negatively about medium or large format and it’s potentially even more damning to reveal my disposition toward at-home developing. 

At the end of the day though, what I want to do is feel like the camera is an extension of my own eyes. When I’m shooting with my Konica Hexar RF or my Pentax 645N, I feel like I’m gliding over water. With the Hasselblad, I’m swimming. But the Linhof felt like treading water and getting tired real fast. That’s not the feeling I want when I’m photographing. 

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Drew Chambers

Drew Chambers is a former high school teacher and current master's student at Harvard University. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts with his wife and their perfect dog. Outside of teaching, reading, and writing, Drew spends most of his time listening to indie rock. He is happy when photographing.

All stories by:Drew Chambers
  • Drew, I thoroughly enjoyed your article as there were some parallels with my own experiences with 5×4.

    My first 5×4 was a Toyo monorail as this gave all the movements I could ever need and was simplicity itself to use. I’m talking mid-1980’s and whilst I am unable to recall what a sheet of FP4 or Tri-X cost in those days I doubt that in relation to the price of film today, it seemed to be a burden. I did my own D&P too, so I was in full control of the complete process. To hold the camera I did need a heavy duty tripod, and opted for the Brtish made Benbo MkII, an extremely versatile unit but troublesome for the unitiated in adjusting it.

    Now to my point. I thought that I could benefit by acquiring a technical camera for its portability for out and about shots, something the Toyo was never used for. I sourced a very nice British technical camera, an MPP Mk.VIII with rangfinder. I suppose one would look upon this as an equivalent to Linhoff, although perhaps not made to the same exacting standards.This was a mistake in that unlike the monorail, for which there was a genuine need, the MPP was not purchased with a specific photographic intent in mind other than a generalisation the 5×4 could provide higher quality images than my TLR’s. I suspect that this was also your approach to 5×4. Without a specific need for 5×4, its user limitations for normal photography and its being unweildy and somewhat cumbersome in use would lead to the user experience you had.

    I’d like to end with one snippet for anyone contemplating a rangefinder equipped 5×4 technical camera, especially MPP’s and possibly Linhof, and that is to ensure that lens serial number matches that engraved on the rangefinder cam, as each cam is profiled for a specific lens and focal length.

  • I get it, man. I really do. I have two large format cameras (somehow) and while they don’t get much use I do enjoy it when they do. The developing thing is also a pain for me, and why I mostly shoot B&W (since I home dev B&W in multiple formats regularly). Sending 4×5 slide film off to get processed was a real punch in the wallet.

    Glad you found what works for you in the end 🙂 I am glad that most of this stuff is affordable enough by now that we can try things out and move on if it’s not to our taste.

  • The large format gods are fickle, but they are also forgiving. They will welcome you back whenever you’re ready.

  • Charlotte – 35mm July 24, 2020 at 4:50 am

    Drew – reading this felt like reading something I’d written myself! I purchased a beautiful Chroma 4×5 last year, and I’ve still not taken one shot with it. I’m missing a shutter, and I’m missing film, but I am also so concerned about developing the sheets, the price of each shot… it seems like such an obstacle to overcome, that I keep putting it off.

  • I had this very discussion with a friend a couple of day ago.

    Hello Drew.

    Sincere article about the complex feelings of a photographer. Why are we shooting? What makes us the kind of photographer that we are (or are not?) ?
    I am sure that a lot of us out there will relate to your experience and it feels really good when someone, that someone being you, manage to describe that with such accurate words.

    The thing with LF is that, unfortunately, a lot of people (even in photography schools) make you feel that there is a certain path to follow as a photographer.
    That the learning curve to become a “real” photographer, for what it means, has to go through some first steps with a 35mm slr, then when you are ready for it you will shoot medium format and then only a few of us, the serious ones, will surrender to the calling of LF.
    I went there as well. Only to come back to 35mm.
    Once again, what your article proves here, echoing in that many others written on Casual Photophile, is that the best camera in the world is the one that you can forget, the one that become an extension of your arm/eye and the one with which you are able to express your feelings and yourself.
    And to me, nowadays, if a LF is that camera for you, this should be the only reason for choosing one. The choice of a given camera should make sense not only with your photography philosophy (would be putting yourself through a lot of hassle to use a Linhof is you are a street photographer, right? But eh, if that is what works for you, why not?) but with your practice as well. I don’t see the point of shooting medium or large format is all of your photo production ends up on facebook or Instagram. But again, if a medium or large format makes you shoot differently than a 35mm (and it mostly surely will) and helps achieve the photography that reflects who you are as a photographer then it will be the right choice for you.

    This what I learn during my, still young, photographic journey so far. I’ve been lucky enough to get access to a lot of different cameras. Owner of a few Nikon, I feel like I was cheating on them when I got hands on a beautiful M6. It took me almost a year to get rid of my slr shooter habits to finally get over the hate/love relationship I had with the german machine. Of course, I surrender to the temptation of a larger format and got a RB67 after having tried both a Hassy and the Fuji beast GX680III. And then, yes, I had also an affair with a Linhof and a Toyo field.

    I loved all of these cameras, because I love Photography. When my mood is right for it and I need a different pace I go back to the Mamiya one in a while, but my best companion will always be a 35mm because that is just who I am. And I am done feeling half of a photographer because of that.

    Thank you for your article and making us pause a moment to think about who we are.

    • Stephan,
      Well thought out reply, I agree that, although cameras are tools to record an image. Having the right tool for you will result in a better result in the end. A particular camera can be your partner in the creative process. Doesn’t matter what format it is if it is the instrument that helps you best express your individual vision.
      BTW when I went to school the first camera we
      had to work with was 4×5 !

  • I guess the lesson here is that it is your money that you earned and therefore you can spend it as you see fit. Every photographer should have an identity whether that uses 35mm, 120 or large format is largely irrelevant.

    I guess your identity photography wise is most happy with the ‘blade. All aspects are comfortable for you so that you can concentrate on making photos.

    Great article, thanks very much.

  • BRAVO! I wish I had read this 3 years ago when I jumped down into a similar rabbit hole. After spending a year acquiring all sorts of old point & shots, range finders and SLR’s that mostly sit unused (thankfully many look great up on the shelf), I too thought “Ahhh 4×5!” At least some of the other Shelf Queens had a few rolls run through them, my 4×5 sits totally unused and up for sale. And don’t get me started on the black hole of classic lenses!

  • After shooting LF for a year and a half now I can say there’s one piece of advice I’d offer anyone contemplating it: Don’t bother with it if you’re not developing and scanning the film yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s bw, c41, or e6 the cost of developing 4×5 at a lab will stop you from shooting it consistently. That is unless you’re quite wealthy. There’s modern daylight tank and reel options from Steerman Press and 20th Century Cameras that work great. Find some cheaper fresh bw or maybe some cheaper expired color off eBay to start with. You’ll make mistakes at first and waste a few sheets so it’s better to start with some cheaper film. A Technica is also a pricey starter 4×5. If you’re starting in 35mm you’re probably not buying a Leica right off the bat. It’s the same thing with LF. Find a Graflex for around $300 and it will do 95 percent of what you need unless you plan using extensive movements. Which honestly aren’t necessary to experience the beauty and resolution of 4×5. Also try to not think about the higher cost while shooting. It will just be a mental block and keep you from making your best work. Try to think of it as any other camera you have, but one you just take less but possibly greater frames with. The most appealing thing about LF is the potential for greatness your images will have. Happy shooting!

  • I had a Linhof Tek IV for many years. Used it professionally and it did the job. It goes without saying it was a tank. What finally soured me on it was how difficult it was to use with WA lenses. Sure I could have moved up to a Tek V or a Master Tek but that’s serious money and the industry moved away from film. So I sold it and bought a Shen Hao. A wonderful wooden field camera what doesn’t get in the way of creating images. Fortunately I kept all my LF lenses on Linhof boards as the SH takes the same. I agree with you, if you don’t develop your own LF negs then there is no point in even contemplating shooting LF unless you have buckets of cash.

    Great article BTW, I really enjoyed it. I also shot a Blad. Love the camera!


  • Hi Drew,

    thank you for the lovely article. I really enjoyed it.

    I’m shooting both. Medium format and 4×5. I think everyone has a format that works best him. The most important thing if you want to get good at photographing LF is not to be dependent on the viewfinder. If you manage to get there you won’t ever have to have to look through a viewfinder to kno w if a picture has potential, a skill that is quite useful regardless which camera you use.

    What I have found a bit sad is that you were using that terrible old school lens for colour photography. The pictures are all stained. Next time buy a solid modern lens. Also if you want to get started with large format it makes a lot of sense to start of using black and white film and to develop the stuff yourself. That the cheapest way to get good results with such a beast.

    Kind regards from Germany


  • Hi Drew,
    Enjoyed your article. Most all film formats seem to have their own unique style. As people have different personalities. Despite the camera being a tool it is part of a creative partnership with an individual. Success comes with a harmonious relationship with the tool. Isn’t that part of what helps the creative process become realized ?

  • Drew

    LF has its virtues. It is a difficult format to master and like everything it needs practice and patience. It is not quick. It does not lend itself to action shots or moving subjects. What it does do spectacularly well is control depth of field, correct divergent images, macro, landscapes and especially static portraits. The lenses on a large format camera cannot be matched by any other format for clarity and the way the render an image. A 90mm lens will give you the field of view of a 35mm without the distortion because it is 90mm. It is a normal perspective on a wide-angle image. If you use it that way, then the benefits of LF start to make themselves apparent.

    I use my large formats as 6X12 cameras most of the time and 4X5 only some of the time. The cost of 4X5 film is prohibitive and I rarely find a subject that I actually want to use 4X5. I find that 6X12 is enough to get the benefits. IF you use it for 6X7 it seems hardly worth the effort as the excellent Mamiya 67 series cameras do that. The larger the format, the better the image as far as discerning half tones and enlarging. IF you look at Hollywood studio images, none have the distortion of today’s images and the image looks natural rather than manipulated.

    The secret to LF as indeed with all photography is lighting. Studios and LF go hand in hand. It’s not just about the camera it’s how you light the subject.
    I encourage you to use a rail camera over a technical camera. I found the Technika frustrating to use, . It was cool to look at and had lots of expensive accessories but it was an almighty pain of a camera to get the best out of its moments.

    Rail cameras allow the movements to be used without having the restrictions of the body of the Technika. I found them much easier. There is a great you tube video that opened the door for me on the use of the movements by Fred Newman. It is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1JIwW7UVJs

    Thank you for your article. I hope you try again as I think you may be missing out on a whole world of photography that only a few use. Just about anyone can pick up a Pentax 645 and get a decent result. LF is more about the art of photography and is my preferred tool when I want to create art rather than take an image. I only use it when I have some inspiration for art.

    Good luck with it

  • I am going to repeat what other comments said. If you are just getting into large format, start with B&W and develop the negatives yourself. You only need a dark space and some small trays. There are also acceptable low cost films out there, like Foma, that will make LF easy on the budget. I am just getting into 4×5 photography and I am having a ball – isn’t that what photography is all about. My story is different. I have had a 4×5 Beseler enlarger since my uncle found it at an estate sale in 1975 and gifted it too me. I have used it for 35 and 120 but never for LF. Until a few months ago, my darkroom in the basement sat unused for years. In my retirement my wife and I have been volunteering at our local community museum. The museum has boxes of 4×5 negatives from the local newspaper and the town’s professional photographers. Finally decided to clean out the darkroom and fire up the old Beseler to print some of the old negatives. I was blown away by the clarity of these 70 and 80 year old negatives. Everything from big celebrities of the 40s on War Bond drives to terrible accidents. The details in the photos were incredible. I realized that the sirens of LF were singing to me. A Linholf is what called me, especially one with a rangefinder. As a recovering camera collector I realized a Linholf would be out of my budget but a good alternative was a Busch Pressman Model D. It was a great American made alternative – all metal, rugged, fairly light and with a faint resemblance to a Technika, with many but not all its movements. Its 4 element Wollensak lens also has an excellent reputation. I was able to trade some extra “cult lenses” for a Pressman and have owned it now for a month and a half. I have made every mistake in the book, but I am having lots of fun and look forward to making every other mistake not in the book. The Busch Pressman can be used with ground glass or as a press camera. I can now pretend I am either Ansel Adams or run around doing street photography like WeeGee. At about a dollar a shot, I am not worrying about doing anything wrong – just enjoying myself!

  • Great article,
    thought I’d add my own experience with LF which only spans the last 4 months or so..

    I have shot on film all my life, never owned a digital camera, and up until a few years ago rarely stepped outside of 35mm. Then came a desire to test out that beautiful 67 neg, and the clarity that comes with it, and fell in love with the mechanical modular RZ67 – cheap as chips from Japan/eBay back in the day. Then come the Mamiya7 for travel. A near faultless camera with perhaps too-sharp a lenses..
    Have been happy sending most dev away to a good lab in UK and probably spending unnecessary costs on drumscans for what would average out as 6-10 keepers per roll of 36.

    It was during lockdown that I turned to LF. Stiffled by not being able to go anywhere, my attention turned back to the process, the slow meditative function that a modular system gives you. Idle hands and all. My mental health suffered quite a bit from working in a cramped flat staring at screens and suddenly the idea of going back to absolute mechanical basics and learning new skills seemed really appealing. The desire to take quick snaps with my M6 wasn’t there, and no real opportunities for street photography.

    So with open quiet spaces in mind, landscape photography with a new format and a huge neg was an exciting prospect and I put my money down on an Intrepid 4×5 (UK) and a couple of very well priced lenses off eBay.
    What you pay for the camera is negligible compared to what you spend on everything else. It soon adds up. But I have to admit, the process is what really attracts me to this format:
    Loading your film in your tent, sorting out your film holder tape/numbering system, using a loupe to focus on the ground glass, finding the right dark cloth, attaching a 6×17 film back for panoramic 120 shots, finally learning how to use a spot meter properly….everything is drawn out and protracted, slowing your mind down, concentrating on each step, thinking of your shots ahead of time, it’s become almost meditative, and a necessary calm during the last few months of complete chaos.

    My first 4 shots taken cost me nearly £130 to get back as scans. And only 3 had come out (light leak on 1st frame). None were great. Suddenly all that excitement evaporated and I started to regret my choices.
    Then I just scoured YouTube for all the simplified (Cinestill) Monobath b&w powder kit videos, and even C41 two-bath colour kits – I’ve only ever developed B&W 35mm before – and realised I would save a ton of money & learn a skill I’d been putting off for years.

    So hours of Youtube and one Stearman Press tank later, having dev’d both b&w and colour 4×5, I’m so glad I stuck with it. It’s completely changed my process and outlook – being the first person to see the negative and the image on it, it’s thrilling.
    No dark room needed, no special skills just common sense, basic safety and all you need is a light tight SP445 tank, a plastic tub, a basic sous-vide temp control stick, ‘Massive Dev’ timer app on your phone, and the chemicals are a nominal fee if you end up batch processing some 35mm/120 rolls with a handful of 4×5 sheets.
    For now, I can’t justify a scanner, but I’m happy to build up my collection of negs until I want to critically select a few to get drum scanned or get into the local darkroom for some prints. Just looking through the loupe on my lightbox at these glorious negs is rewarding enough.
    Sure I could save some money and a ton of time just buying a Pentax67 and 105mm lens, but it’s precisely the time spent taking pictures that I don’t want to shorten – and I’m so excited at the idea of blowing one of these up to 20×30 or more some day.

    I’ve since purchased a Technika Master Classic off eBay, and sending it off to Linhof for a CLA/bellows replacement. This is a considerable investment, although far cheaper than trying to buy one MINT from a retailer (B&H $12000 anyone?). The precision it affords, as well as the movements are more than I need, but I fell in love with this camera and the ethos behind it, and will never need another LF. One day I’ll fork out for the specific cams for my lenses, I doubt I’ll use it much off sticks, but being able to give one last focus check right before I take the shot is a game changer for me.

    Like most above have already said, it doesn’t matter what camera you choose, they are just tools. But finding a tool that forces you to be in the moment and you love using, has to be a bonus.

  • Arthur Gottschalk July 25, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    I also had a go-round with 4×5, but after QuickLoads, Readiloads and Polaroid P/N were discontinued I had had enough. Now I’m a happy camper with my Hasselblads.

  • Hey, interesting read…

    I went even further–I sold my XPan to jump into LF for exactly the same reasons but straight into the Horseman LX 4×5 monorail… And I quit for very similar reasons… the problem is that prices for XPans have risen expotentially since and I will probably never be able to buy one that is easily one of the best cameras ever made… easily the biggest mistake of my life… Now I am left with one 6×7 SLR which is okay but…

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Drew Chambers

Drew Chambers is a former high school teacher and current master's student at Harvard University. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts with his wife and their perfect dog. Outside of teaching, reading, and writing, Drew spends most of his time listening to indie rock. He is happy when photographing.

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