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Technika V
(two knobs on top and one on each side allow movements on techinical back)


Meridian 45B
(with Technika-style back extended)

Wista SP
(with front and rear swing set)


Horseman VH-R
(6 x 9 w/rangefinder-viewfinder, full front movements and technical back)

Toyo 45AII


Busch Model D, a press camera, with drop bed adjusted for rear back tilt

The term "view camera" has been used to describe any of several camera types--often monorail designs--and is currently used as the title of the leading large format journal--View Camera--but it is too inclusive to be of much help in choosing a camera type. From a marketing perspective, standards movements are the defining capabilities pitched for "view" and "technical" cameras and these often are the features that photographers seek in these camera types.

Historically traditional "press" cameras and even some rollfilm and folders have provided some movements. On first glance a technical camera may seem little more impressive than a press camera. Their general design is similar--a squarish case with a hinged front bed connected with pleated bellows. They became different from press cameras incrementally. Linhof began making metal cameras in the last decade of the19th cy, but the Technika of 1936, which introduced compact rear movements created the defining class, "technical camera." Though these looked much like the contemporary Speed Graphics, the Technikas were more precisely built and provided more of the features that were typically found on monorail and flatbed cameras.

Standards movements are significant to image composition because they allow using a greater part of lens coverage to adjust perspective and provide a greater ability to be selective in choosing the plane of focus . These adjustments had been used for decades by professional photographers, but as more compact "hand" cameras were developed, the mechanisms to support movements were often jettisoned to save weight, cost and complexity with a public that was often most interested in the easiest way to preserve a moment.

A design shared by press and technical cameras is that they both have self-enclosing cases. A common understanding of the difference between a press camera and a technical camera is that the latter has a "technical" back--one that allows rear movements for at least swing and tilt. The self-enclosing case makes these designs quick to set up--attach the camera to the tripod, drop the front, draw the front lens standard out on the bed to preset stops, open the shutter and view the image on groundglass. Adding to this convenience, many short and medium length lenses can be stored on the camera and are protected when the bed is closed.

Both press and technical designs can cause problems with short focus lenses, since focusing is done from back to front. Short focus lenses require little extension and the wider the angle of view, the more likely that the bed will fall within that field of view. Virtually all press and technical cameras have a drop bed mechanism that angles the front of the bed downward. This requires using some front rise and front backward tilt to return it to level. In cases where you might want to use front rise to control perspective distortion or front tilt to control focus, you may find you have little left in the ranges of those movements.

In press designs, the back of the case has a film gate and groundglass viewing panel that are in a fixed position. They do not support movements, or at most back tilt, and cannot be rotated or reversed to switch between portrait and landscape orientations. In early designs, the viewing panel was not even removeable, but was only sprung to allow a film or plate holder to be slipped in, hence the name, "spring" backs. This kind of back continues in some woodfield designs. The Technika-type back was a major innovation--it rotated and could be extended out from the back of the case, allowing it to move independently, providing limited swing and tilt relative to the rear plane of the case. Some of the Japanese technical designs use a different type of back structure that provides rear swing by allowing the entire case to pivot. The Wista SP, of the latter type shown to the left, is adjusted for both front and rear swing, while the Meridian above it is shown with its Technika-style back extended.

While technical cameras have at least rear swing and direct tilt, they rarely if ever have direct rear rise and fall. Direct movements are those in which the front lens mounting or rear film gate/viewing screen structure move independently from the plane used for focusing--for example, the rail used in most monorail designs. In press and technical cameras, the focusing rail is attached to the inside bottom surface of the case and is extended out onto the dropdown bed. While this is a more convenient design, it is generally more limiting in providing movements, particularly rear movements.

Most press and technical designs provide direct rear backward tilt by changing the angle of the case to the horizon--in practice, by tilting the tripod head backward. This effectively tilts the case, and therefore the rear standard. The Busch Model D--a press camera--is shown with the bed dropped and the case tilted back. The front standard is no longer parallel to the vertical axis. It can be returned to this axis by using front forward tilt. These indirect ways of getting rear tilt and compensating front movements can quickly limit other front movements that might be desirable.

The drop bed method of effecting rear tilt is also dependent on the design of the drop bed mechanism. Some designs rely on spring loaded braces that have the normal 90° bed/case position and a second position that is about 110-120°. Other designs have locking knobs that allow any degree of forward tilt, a detent for the 90° setting and selected rear backward tilt positions.

In addition to rear movements, technical cameras are more likely have more types of front movements and those they have are likely to have greater ranges.

A general caveat in choosing a press or technical camera is that they have been manufactured in several countries, by many companies and for eight decades or more. As press cameras evolved, the movements on front standards equalled and sometimes even surpassed movements on the earlier technical cameras. Both Linhof and Horseman, noted for their technicals, have provided models that had no back movements, sometimes marking them as "press" cameras and sometimes blurring the distinction. Regardless of the names that manufacturers use, features can vary considerably, and of the four types of large format cameras, press and technical cameras have the most in common. In shopping for a press or techincal camera, you will avoid confusion and disappointment by clearly understanding the features of different makes and models and your needs for features.

Most technical cameras have alloy cases. Virtually all have interchangeable lenses. While technical cameras can have integrated rangefinders and viewfinders, many don't and depend entirely on groundglass composition and focusing, sometimes without even focusing scales on their beds. While there is no reason that a technical camera couldn't have a focal plane shutter like Speed Graphics, I am not aware of any that do. Most have no linkage connecting the between-the-lens shutter and the camera, though some have accessory anatomical grips with cable releases that attach to the shutter. Technical cameras generally have proprietary lensboards, though many manufacturers follow the Technika/Wista model. Most technical cameras have rotating backs, though some may have reversible backs that must be removed to be reoriented. While early technical cameras may have focusing panels that are not meant to be removed in service, most later technicals have international (Graflok-style) backs with removeable forcusing panels so that various types of film backs can be attached with sliding clamps. Some designs have narrow gapes--the opening for sliding in the film holder--while others have gapes that allow the insertion of even rollholders.

Unlike 4 x 5 press cameras which were phased out in the 1960s, technical designs have been produced continuously from the introduction of the first Linhof Technika in the late 1930s. Modern technical cameras benefit from newer materials, and while basic functions are similar to earlier designs, new strategies for effecting them have often become more sophisticated. WWII's impact on German and Japanese camera design and manufacturering limited the development of technical cameras, such that Japanese accendency in this market was delayed until the 1980s, when Horseman, Wista and Toyo found a significant market for LF designs based on the earlier Technikas.

Technika and Early Clones. The earliest Technikas had backs that could be extended backwards on four posts mounted in the camera body, providing direct rear tilt and rear swing, in addition to providing some additional extension for longer lenses. Technikas are still made to exacting Linhof standards. Some current models follow the traditional design, with additional features. Earlier post-WWII models had some limitations in front standard movements, but current models have generous front movements in all planes and rear shift and tilt. Linhof also made a Standard Press model without rear movements and front swing. Recent Technikas in good condition are well beyond the price ranges established in this site; those that are within that range are likely to be older with fewer features and may have been heavily used.
Technika Review and manual

Beyond the Technikas, there were two early competitors--Micro Precision (MPP) and Meridian. They had all-alloy cases and backs that extended like the Technikas. Both had rotating backs, but, as produced, neither were international G designs. Meridians were made in two models. One of my Meridians has been converted to a Graflok (international) G. Both Meridian models have front standards that can be focused while still in the case; the B model has a pinion-geared supplementary focusing rack in the case.

Merdian MPP User Group

Later Japanese makes have a greater range of front and rear movments and often very interesting collections of accessories that can expand flexibility and streamline workflow.

Wista. The earliest Wista, branded as Rittreck View, was a 5 x 7 with a 4 x 5 reducing back. Some other early models featured the Wista rear swing movement that pivots the rear standard using a plate system. All of the current Wista technicals have this feature; the SP has an additional mechanism that controls swing more precisely. Both the Wistas and the Toyos (below) have hinge systems that allow variable rear tilt angles forward and backward. Some may prefer this tilt/swing arrangement to the Technika-type design, or not. Because of this plate pivot system, it is not possible as it is with cameras with the Technika-style back, to get additional extention by using both swing and tilt movements simultaneously. Wista technicals with rear shift would be rare if they exist. Both the current Wistas and the Toyo A-series have short beds that improve wide coverage before having to drop the bed to keep it out of the picture. Both have double extension racks. The Wistas will focus a 65mm lens without special accessories. Wista makes many accessories, including a foldable 4 x 5 reflex viewer; a 6 x 9 sliding back that mounts a switchable groundglass panel and a rollholder. There is also a unique recessed lens frame and bag bellows that may have the distinction of the 4 x 5 technical that can focus the shortest lenses. The recessed lens board is actually an open frame that provides excellent access to shutter controls. Currently available models include the VX and SP without integrated finders and the RF that has them.
Wista B&H Photo   

Horseman. A defining characteristic of Horseman technicals is that the designers balanced lightness against features--a signal combat in the design of portability and capability. Like Linhof, Horseman invested in design of both medium and large formats. There are VH and VHR models that provide nearly complete front and back movements for the 6 x 9 format and there are HD and FA 4 x 5 models that straddle the divide between minimum weight and maximum function.

The VH and VH-R are clones of the Linhof 6 x 9 Technikas. They have front shift, swing and tilt and a Technika-style rotating back for rear swing and tilt. The difference between the two models is that the R version has a bright, but uncoupled rangefinder/viewfinder system. This full-featured design comes at the cost of weight; the VH weighs in at the weight of the more limited HD, a 4 x 5 model built to provide more limited functions, but larger images. HD's have about the same featureset as Super Graphics, yet they are considerably lighter, largely because the HD backs are not rotating, but reversible. Neither has other rear movements other than backward tilt via the drop bed. HD front movements include shift, tilt and swing. The Horseman 4 x 5 FA model has all front movements and includes a Technika-style back that is reversible. With Horseman, you can get what you are willing to tote and pay for. All of the Horseman technicals use an 80mm square lensboard; this can cause problems mounting some short focus and/or large aperture lenses with large rear elements. Some Horseman technicals may still be available in Japan and perhaps other markets, as new old stock; most models are frequently available on the used market. I've found little consolidated Web-based information about Horseman technicals so I've started my own pages.
  VH   All Horseman Technicals
    Notes on 2 x 3 vs. 4 x 5

Toyo. Toyo and Wista technicals are the only full-spectrum brands that are currently available as new in the U. S. Like Horseman, Toyo is keenly aware of the cost/weight calculus. Toyo offers both a lightweight field camera and two technical cameras. Toyo has pioneered the use of carbon fiber in LF camera bodies. Their CF model is a field camera made of carbon fiber and stategically placed metal parts, it is about the same weight as a woodfield camera. Toyo lists 90mm as the shortest length it focuses and it has a fixed bellows. It has generous front standard movements, rear tilt and a reversible back

The A-series are technical cameras. Like the Wista, the A-series has a bed hinged for variable rear forward and back tilt.The AX has an all-alloy case with rise/fall, shift, swing and tilt on the front standard, plus rear swing on a reversible back. The AII is essentially the same camera with a rotating back. The Toyo A-series will focus 70mm lenses on flat boards or 47mm on recessed boards. Toyo uses 110mm square lensboards which may mount some large diameter lenses that cannot be mounted on smaller boards, like the Technika/Wista and Horseman. Unlike the Wistas, the Toyo have fixed bellows. Toyo offers a 6 x 9 sliding back adapter that can mount digital and film backs. All current Toyo models have an 4 x 5 international G back.
Toyo    Toyo 45A Review



11/17/2010 22:49