6x9 View/Field Cameras
Little Cameras, Big Results

Here front tilt was used to place the zone of sharp focus so it coincided with the skeletal bush and the top of the tufa tower. I could probably have merely stopped down far enough to accomplish this but it was windy and I didn't want to lengthen the exposure time any more than necessary.
Photos © 2003, Joseph A. Dickerson, All Rights Reserved

Many years ago, still fresh out of college, I worked with a 21/4x31/4" Century Graphic. I bought it used with three lenses and it was so cool. Pebble-grained gray leather covering, bright red bellows, and a coupled rangefinder. Wow, I naively thought, it would do anything. Weddings, portraits, scenics, products, you name it. Anything a client wanted got shot with that spiffy little Graphic.

It certainly wasn't the most sophisticated camera, but back then that little Graphic with its three lenses blew my equipment budget for a whole year. Sadly, my little gray and red Graphic is long gone, but it instilled in me a love for small, lightweight, versatile cameras that use medium format film. Fast forward nearly 40 years and you'll find that that passion has not diminished one bit.

This was tricky as the buildings are actually leaning toward one another a bit. Having bubble levels on a view camera can be very handy in this kind of shot. Bodie State Historical Park, California.

One thing that has changed is that I am now a multi-format photographer, which is definitely a mixed blessing. When my wife and I travel the country in our converted van I love to shoot the historic missions, bridges, rustic barns, Victorian homes, and lighthouses we find along the way. My favorite camera for these subjects, as well as the grand landscape, is a 4x5 view camera. However, as Ann and I approach retirement age, and prepare to do a lot more traveling, I'm starting to be concerned about the volume of camera gear I carry. So, I have been thinking about ways to shave some of the weight, and bulk, off the view camera outfit without simply leaving it behind.

I gave some thought to swapping my current monorail system for a field camera. But, switching to a field camera only reduces the size of the camera itself. Everything else--lenses, film holders, etc.--remains essentially the same. If, on the other hand, I were to travel with a 6x9 view camera the whole system would shrink, at least to some degree. This is now viable because roll films have improved so much in the last few years. This makes it possible to do a lot of my shooting with a smaller, lighter camera utilizing a more economical film stock with very little loss of quality.

I did own a Gowland 6x9 for a bit so I was already familiar with Peter's lightweight, reasonably priced, and very compact cameras, but I wanted to see what else might be of interest.

No concern about parallelism here, but front rise allowed the horizon to be placed low in the frame without having to tilt the camera. Sunrise, Santa Ynez Valley, California.

Size And Weight Considerations
Size and weight are the issues that initiated this exercise in the first place so I felt they should be the first things considered. My current monorail camera, without lens, weighs a tad over 7 lbs. The 6x9 Gowland weighed in at about 21/2 lbs, so anything in the 3-4 lb range would be really great and I, rather arbitrarily, decided that 5 lbs would still be acceptable. However, I found some 6x9 monorail cameras actually weighed considerably more than my 4x5. (By the way, many of today's 4x5 field cameras fall into that 3-5 lb range so they may constitute a viable option even if you plan to shoot mostly roll film.)

Check The Movements
The next feature we should consider is movements. There are two distinct and separate movements on a view camera: tilt/swing and rise/fall. Some cameras may also be equipped with a third movement, lateral shift. Let's review each of these briefly to see what we really require.

A very basic architectural shot, front rise applied to maintain verticals and the lens stopped down for adequate depth of field. Point No Point lighthouse, the first lighthouse on Puget Sound, Washington state.

Tilt is a tilting, around a horizontal axis, of the front or rear standard of the camera. Swing is like a tilt but the standard rotates around a vertical axis. Applied to the camera's front standard, tilt or swing affects the plane of focus. It is often stated, wrongly so, that this increases depth of field. It doesn't. It merely changes the plane of focus so that it more closely matches the plane of the subject. Applied to the camera's rear standard, tilt or swing will affect the shape of the subject or perspective. A complete tutor on the use of camera movements is beyond the scope of this article--check the sidebar for some books on this subject if you need to review. While front swings and tilts are important, they are less so for the camera back. In fact, my Gowland's rear standard had only tilts and I never really missed the other movements at all.

With the camera tilted up the verticals are no longer parallel which makes the church look like it's about to go over backward. Saint Mark's In The Valley Episcopal Church, Los Olivos, California.

Rise and fall is pretty much self-explanatory. You raise or lower the standard, which in turn moves the image on the ground glass. Again, many field cameras dispense with rise/fall on the camera's rear standard, as front rise/fall is more likely to be employed. Lateral shift, or slide, is rare on field cameras, as the same thing can be accomplished, albeit less conveniently, by moving the tripod. I wouldn't take a camera off my short list solely because it didn't have shift, but it can be a convenient feature.

Bellows Exchange
Another feature that can be useful in the field is an interchangeable bellows. A standard pleated bellows is very inflexible when it's collapsed on itself, as it will be with wide angle lenses. Changing to a bag bellows allows for unrestricted movements with these shorter focal lengths. So, if you do a lot of wide angle work, look for an interchangeable bellows. Also, make sure that the standard bellows allows focusing with the longest lens you hope to use.

By using front rise rather than tilting the camera the vertical lines are corrected and the architect, not to mention the parishioners, will be much happier.

Telephoto lenses can be used as a work-around for cameras with a short bellows, but they tend to be pricey. Another nice feature is a standard size lensboard. Many cameras use proprietary lensboards, so if you want to use the lenses between two cameras you'll need to remount the lenses every time you switch cameras. With a more common lensboard, such as the Linhof Technika, the boards are often interchangeable between camera brands or there may be adapters to allow compatibility.

I've composed a chart that compares some 6x9 cameras that look like good candidates for field photography. But remember, camera selection is a very personal process and there are things to be considered other than just features and price. I once bought a technical camera that really looked like the logical replacement for my beloved Graphic. But the first time I used it in the field I discovered that the control knobs were so tiny and ill-placed I couldn't operate the camera with my bare hands, much less with gloves on. My point? Try before you buy.

No amount of view camera magic will make this subject look parallel but at least we can prevent it from looking any worse. Bodie State National Historical Park, California.

Oh yeah, don't forget, there is no universal camera...trust me!

Suggested Reading
An Ansel Adams Guide: Basic Techniques of Photography, Book 1; John P. Schaefer; Little Brown and Co., 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020; ISBN 0-8212-1882-4; soft cover (also hard cover); 432 pages; $35.

Kodak Book of Large Format Photography; Roger Vail; Silver Pixel Press, 21 Jet View Dr., Rochester, NY 14624; ISBN 0-87985-771-4; soft cover; 112 pages; $19.95.

Large Format Nature Photography; Jack Dykinga; Amphoto Books, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003; ISBN 0-8174-4157-3; soft cover; 144 pages; $29.95.

Photographing the Landscape; John Fielder; Westcliffe Publishers, Inc., PO Box 1261, Englewood, CO 80150; ISBN 1-56579-150-9; hard cover; 191 pages; $50.

Front tilt was used to include the top of the campanario while a slight front swing brought the front of the mission wall into focus. Mission La Purísima Concepción, Lompoc, California.

View Camera Technique, 7th Edition; Leslie Stroebel; Focal Press, 200 Wheeler Rd., 6th Floor, Burlington, MA 01803; ISBN 0-240-80345-0; hard cover; 376 pages; $64.95.

Arca-Swiss Inc.
(773) 248-2513
fax: (773) 248-2774

Badger Graphic Sales, Inc. (Ebony cameras)
(920) 766-9332
fax: (920) 766-3081

With the ceiling included in the shot I couldn't use front tilt to help with focus. However, as view camera lenses usually have smaller apertures than similar focal lengths for other camera types, I could stop down to maintain adequate depth of field. Mission San Luis Obispo De Tolosa, San Luis Obispo, California.

Gowland Productions
(310) 454-7867
fax: (310) 454-6779

HP Marketing Corp. (Linhof cameras)
(800) 735-4373
fax: (800) 282-9010

Schneider Optics, Inc. (Horseman USA)
(631) 761-5000; fax: (631) 761-5090