I started using a view camera in the fall of 1986. A few months later I purchased a 4x5 metal studio monorail view camera. The 4x5 was instrumental in teaching the fundamentals of the view camera. In the summer of 1990 I was able to buy a used 8x10 wooden Deardorff view camera. I dragged the Deardorff everywhere possible and shot hundreds of negatives with it. The Deardorff was a classic camera, yet I was looking to go larger. All my printing was done by placing the negative in direct contact with the paper. Hence the name contact print. The quality was amazing, yet I was looking for something a tad bit larger. In time I found a used 11x14 wooden folding view camera. Everything was falling into place when I started to drift toward the panoramic format. I now had a Wisner 8x10 camera that could be fitted with an 8x20 panoramic back. Time marched on as I shot more and more panoramic work. Then came an unexpected change. Kodak pulled the plug on Azo paper. This was a sad day as Azo was the definitive paper for producing contact prints. There were no other contact printing papers on the market. The only choice was to try some traditional enlarging paper. The enlarging paper was falling short of Azo. I tried several brands of paper, yet no worked as good as Azo. I knew that nothing would match Azo. The writing was clearly on the wall. Change was in the air.
That change came in the form of the platinum palladium process. In the spring of 2010 I plunged head first into learning the platinum palladium process. The learning curve was much steeper than expected. The irony was that I no longer needed the larger cameras to produce a contact print. The use of technology was taking a firm hold upon the traditional photographic world. The use of digital technology allowed a negative to be printed on an inkjet printer. I could now go back to using smaller cameras. I use the term smaller loosely here. My 8x20 was sold, then the 11x14. Letting go of the 11x14 was the single most difficult and painful choice that I ever made in terms of my cameras. I replaced both of those cameras with an Ebony brand 8x10 and 4x10 panoramic camera. I could now shoot smaller, have the negatives scanned and print out enlarged inkjet negatives. I ended up selling the Ebony 8x10 and purchased an Arca Swiss studio camera. The Ebony 4x10 will never be sold and I managed to snag one of the last made Ebony wide angle 4x5 view cameras. I did buy one more old school roll film camera for those fun shots. I now have no plans to make anymore major camera purchases.
Arca Swiss F Metric 8x10 View Camera
The Arca Swiss design is fundamentally different than any other studio view camera. The very nature of the studio camera allows for increased stability and longer bellow extension. Extending, or racking the bellows is required to get the camera closer to a subject. The longer the bellows are extended, the less stable the camera becomes. This is eliminated with the use of a monorail. The camera slides along the top of the rail to increase the overall stability. Arca Swiss took that one step further and modified the rail system. The entire camera is compressed and stored on a small rail. That rail slides onto what is called a bench. The bench has two telescoping rails that the camera rides on top of. The design is much like a monorail train. The movements and adjustments of the arca swiss are insanely smooth. I opted for the most expensive options that allow for the most efficient adjustments possible. The camera is just under a pound heavier than the wooden camera it replaced. One pound is nothing when comparing the functionality of the camera. All of this does come at a cost. The Arca Swiss name is synonymous with high quality and expense. This was by far the most expensive camera that I have ever owned. It is also the highest quality camera that I have ever owned.
Ebony 4x10 Panoramic View Camera
The Ebony company made the finest wooden camera on the planet. That is of course my opinion. The high price tag forced most to stay away from Ebony cameras. This model is one of a handful that do not fold up. This design allows increased stability and faster set up times. The downside of the non-folding camera is shorter bellows. This camera is more of a hybrid design that allows for both wide angle and longer lenses. The design is simply ingenious, yet not everyone likes a non-folding camera. The ability to adjust the camera to overcome leaning and merging lines is somewhat limited. This is not a camera that will ever be used for traditional architecture. The main function is hardcore wide angle with a straight on view. I use a 150mm lens, which is considered normal for the top to bottom and very wide angle for the side to side. From time to time I will also use a 121mm wide angle lens that pushes the ability of the lens to properly cover the film. Overall this is a camera that is easy to use and gets the shots.
Ebony Wide Angle 4x5
This was one of the very last cameras made by Ebony. I had pondered buying a smaller camera for many years. My initial pick was this same version in a 5x7 size. Time was not on my side as the deadline for the last orders from Ebony came far too soon. A few years passed, and this camera came up for sale. This camera was even made with the traditional Ebony wood. The nature of the wide-angle design does limit the corrective movements that can be made. I have yet to run out of movement with this camera. The size and weight of the camera make shooting so much easier. I have been planning for more shots on a smaller format and this is exactly what I wanted. The only real issue is the lack of longer bellows, yet I knew that before I pulled the trigger.
The smallest working camera that I own is a Fujifilm GF670 folding rangefinder. The best feature is the ability to shoot both rectangular and square negatives. The rangefinder was the first design of a compact camera. The GF670 shoots a negative that is either 6x6, or 6x7 centimeters. The rangefinder design has view directly to the side of the lens. Focusing is achieved as all cameras by rotating focus ring on the lens. The only difference here is that you are not looking through the lens. Rangefinder cameras have a cult following due to the ultra quite nature of the shutter. The folding design makes the Fuji my go to camera for shooting the odd, curious and generally wacky things I find on my road trips. The camera is also small and light enough to carry most every where that I go.