Note: Dealer links below are based on sites where I found useful information. No other endorsement is intended nor implied.

(Not to scale)

Graphic View II


Kodak Master View


Gowland Pocket View


Toho FC-45X


Calumet NXII-45


Calumet Cadet / Cambo Explorer


Bender 4 x 5 Cherry kit


Toyo 45CX


Gowland Pocket View 6 x 9




Generally monorail designs derived from flatbed designs, but a rear standard, similar to the front standard replaces the case of press, technical and folding field cameras. Monorails are almost always metal cameras where camera rigidity is the controlling factor in design. The two standards are connected by a pleated or a "bag" bellows, then this assembly moves on a metal rail that also includes a tripod mount. In the middle of the 20th cy, "view camera" was often used as a synonym for "monorail," but with the development of technical and field camera designs, particularly with the expansion into the large format market by Japanese manufacturers in the last quarter of the century, the term "view camera" took on a more general meaning more synonomous with "large format."

Monorails have traditionally been designs that emphasized standards movements and particularly, the precise control over such movements. Providing more movements and precision often requires designers to add mechanisms, which in turn increase bulk, weight and manufacturing cost. So, as a class, monorails are likely to be bigger, heavier and more expensive alternatives. The most noteable exceptions to this rule are the Gowland Pocket View, still being manufactured in 6 x 9cm and 4 x 5 formats and the 6 x 9 Galvin, no longer being made, but available on the used market. The 4 x 5 Toho (note, not Toyo) monorail is compact and light.

The positve tradeoffs for monorails is the inclusion of most or all front and rear movements in ranges that are likely to exceed the coverage of most lenses. Often the controls for focusing and movements on monorails are more precise, convenient and indexed. Many monorails have swappable bellows, in part because their standard pleated bellows are longer and because monorails are more likely to be "systems" cameras. Although this is a moving target, you may find that monorails have more adaptability to digital photography and there are more monorails designed specifically with digital imaging in mind. You will also find that either of these options go well beyond the basic budget in this site of $1000 for an first time LF purchase.

Although most of us learn to use the equipment we buy, you might find that understanding movements on a monorail may be more intuitive. The front and back standards on monorails are more likely to have identical or at least similar ways of setup and adjustment for movements. Having learned to use Graphics as an adolescent, I am probably not the best judge of what would be intuitive for someone weaned on 35mm SLR or digital equipment.

There are several ways to mount the standards on the rails, including L-brackets, U-brackets or by including base mounts in the standard design. The mounting method may affect set up time and portability. It may also affect a kind of geometric distortion possible in monorail designs called yaw.

Monorails usually provide the most extensive movements and are likely to have the greatest range of travel for the standards (extension). For that reason monorails have been preferred for commercial studio and architectural LF work. They are usually the best choice for macro work because they can close focus a wider range of lenses. Since tilt and swing movements can change the shape of objects as well as controlling the zone of sharp focus, monorails are often chosen for product photography where object shape may be critical.

Monorails gained prominence as LF cameras following WWII, perhaps because lightweight alloys were heavily developed during the War. These alloys allowed designers to create monorails in the 7-12 lb. category which meant that monorails could more easily challenge field and technical cameras for use outside of the studio. Manufacturers started offering fitted cases for light monorails to improve portability. Modern monorail designs include models that breakdown into components that can be packed in about the space of a technical or field camera. Older designs may be less collapsible, but carrying a camera that is already set up is quicker to use out of the case. The smaller monorails--the Gowland Pocket View and the Toho--are light and compact enough that they can be carried set up in beer cooler soft cases with over the shoulder straps, greatly reducing setup time. This may be equally possible with the Bender and the Toyo CX that I haven't personally used.

Graphic. One of the earliest WWII designs was the Graphic View. The Graphic View was made from 1941-49 and the Graphic View II, from 1949-67. An unusual design feature is the inverted V monorail design that houses a rack; the standards are moved with a pinion on the bottom of the standard that engages this rack. Also fitted is a pan head that mounts anywhere on the monorail.

The original Graphic View had base tilts; these were changed to center tilts on the Graphic II. Front rise/fall is controlled by a rack; there is no direct rear rise/fall. Rise is generous enough to deal with most architectural work, but shift and swing movements are modest when compared to newer monorails. Bellows extension is 12" on the Graphic View and 15" on the View II. Backs are reversible and can be any of three styles--Graflex, Graphic ('spring'), or Graflok-- . If you are unfamiliar with the different capabilities of each, you may want to study my page describing the details of Graflex/Graphic backs, since these dictate the kinds of film holders you can use. Lens boards are standard (at least in that era) 4" square x 1.5mm aluminum plates with a cast light trap. A special adapter is available that accepts Graphic lens boards, which is very handy if you have a 4 x 5 Crown, Speed or Super Graphic.

The Graphic View II with pan head without lens weighs in at just under 8 pounds; the Graphic View with shorter bellows and rail is a few ounces less. Outfits may come with a Vulcanoid case that holds the camera inverted.

Though practically any lens is easy to mount on 4" lens boards, you are likely to find Graphic Views with Kodak Ektars or Wollensak lenses. The 127mm/4.5 Ektar is a sharp lens, but on the wide side for 4 x5--about like a 35mm lens on a 35mm format. A 152mm Ektar or the 203mm f /7.7 Ektar is also a frequent companion of Graphic Views and will be a better choice if you want to explore movements.

Kodak/Calumet. Another affordable choice is a model that began as the Kodak Master View. Kodak made wooden view cameras of different sizes for decades; post WWII, they made a metal 4x5 view camera that they later sold the manufacturing rights for to Calumet, so you may find essentially the same camera with either trademark. These are about the same vintage as Graphic Views, slightly heavier and bulkier than the Graphics, at about 10 pounds. There were several models, but most seem to have minor differences, except the Wide model that has a shorter bellows and a recessed front standard. Standards are mounted in a U structure with center tilts. Focusing is done on a round chrome rail with friction knobs and a tripod block that can be moved on the rail with a knob. Front rise/fall is with a geared mechanism of similar design to the Graphic View; both standards have tilt and shift, but there is no direct rear rise/fall. The Kodak/Calumet has a true revolving back with a bale that allows film holder insertion that is a little less intrusive than the Graphic View, but this isn't a Graflok back and therefore can accommodate a more limited variety of 120 rollholders.

Calumet/Cambo. Calumet and Cambo, a Dutch manufacturer, have marketed a model that has had several designations--N, NX, MX, SC--but share a basic design. Standards are mounted on a U-design with generous rise/fall on four tubes that extend up from the rail mount, which uses a 1-inch square aluminum tube of about 18-inches, where the tripod mount also resides. Rotating international backs are common on these models, though some models have reversible backs. Non-tapered bellows design contributes to generous range of movements which are well calibrated. Most have removable bellows, allowing for the use of a bag bellows or longer bellows. Although the bellows are swappable, the minimum focusing distance with a flat board is about 150mm. While there is intelligent use of aluminum and composites, because they are solidly built they weigh about 10 pounds. This may cause you to feel that they are more at home in the studio than the field, but they are also very welcome when doing architectural work because of their range of movements.

These are well designed, well manufactured cameras and many are available. Because of the availability of accessories, they are a good step up from basic monorails.

Calumet/Cambo also offered the Cadet/Explorer an entry level offering with full movements. Built on L-brackets that support center pivots, adjustment is not sophisticated but reportedly reliable. The Cadet has a G-back for flexible film choice. Bellows extension on the standard model will accommodate 75-305mm lenses; a cheaper bag bellows version allows lenses from 47-150mm. Many accessories for more expensive Calumet and Cambo cameras can be used with the Cadet.
Calumet Photo    Cadet Review


Gowland. Peter Gowland's Pocket View competes with the Toho as the lightest of monorails, and more generally large format designs, with full movements. He currently offers several versions that vary primarily in the movements they support and in back design. He has also licensed his design to other manufacturers. Pocket Views have been made for decades in several variations with different designs and featuresets; there are 6 x 9cm and 4 x 5 models.

Most Pocket Views have full movements on the front; back movements vary by model. Backs are generally reversible and vary in the kinds of film holders they support; newer ones are likely to have international backs. There are several options for the frame that carries the lensboard on the front standard. The pleated bellows can focus lenses from about 75mm through 300-400mm; extension depends on the model.

This is not a precision monorail, but when set up it is solid and it has an outstanding combination of movements for a camera so small and light--3-4 pounds. When paired with lightweight lenses, you can have a LF outfit that weighs no more than a 35mm SLR outfit. The components can be easily broken down for compactness.
Peter Gowland    

Toho. The Toho FC-45X may be the world's lightest monorail, with full movements, at just over 3 pounds. It has full movement of both standards, with base, rather than axial tilts; 360mm bellows extension; and what is effectively a reversible back, though in this case the entire camera is shifted 90° on the rail clamps. The back has a bale to minimize camera movement during film holder insertion, but this is not a Graflok back, and it won't accept 'fat' rollholders. It uses its own proprietary design round lens board, but will accept standard Linhof/Wista lensboards. Kerry Thalmann has used the FC-45X extensively and has a very complete use test, with copious illustrations that you can read at the Review link below. Kerry's reservations, though for him not serious ones, were in the design of the lensboard and the need to completely reorient the camera on the rail clamps to change image orientation. Since the Toho has a spring back with no Graflok bars, it is limited to rollholders with a thin film gate that can be slipped in the gape like a sheet film holder; the majority of rollholder designs are ones that will not fit the Toho. Toho also makes an FC-45 Mini model with stationary back standard and a simpler monorail.

    Toho Badger Graphics   Toho

Toyo. While Toyo makes several monorails, the advanced models may not be available under the $1000 limit, even used. Toyo has pioneered the use new materials in camera bodies and offers the 45CX as its entry level monorail. Its general topology is that of the other Toyo monorails, but the 45CX uses polycarbonate and lightweight alloys to reduce weight and cost. It allows all movements on both standards; tilt and shift are axis movements. It has interchangeable bellows, a reversible G-back and can use other Toyo accessories. Early reports warned about plastic mounting blocks that cracked, but this may have been fixed on later models. About 8 pounds.
Toyo Calumet Photo   

Bender Photographic makes a cherry wood 4x5 monorail kit for about the price of a used Calumet/Cambo. You get precut cherry parts, brass screws, Delrin knobs for movement adjustments, a 22-inch bellows and an 11-inch monorail. It uses a 4x4 lens board and has a reversible, but not a G-back, limiting it to a subset of rollback adapters. An optional bag bellows, a 22-inch rail and a 2x5 panoramic adapter are available options. The Bender monorail has full movements on both standards and the range of movement is likely to surpass most wood field models. Benders weigh about 3 lbs. and broken down are about the same size as a woodfield.

The Bender Web site describes needing minimal woodworking tools and simple techniques as being required to build the camera. The site also has several pages to help you understand what you are getting into and answer presales questions. I haven't seen the printed instructions, but judging from their well-designed Web site and the long life of this product, I expect that they are good. They also provide phone support to builders with questions and problems.

This appears to be a solid alternative to the wood field cameras from SE Asia. See the Bender site FAQ for a comparison of their design to flatbed field cameras.
Bender Photo    Bender Review

The 6 x 9 Monorails. Although the Gowland and Galvin 6 x 9 models aren't dramatically smaller and lighter than the lightweight 4 x 5 models, for those interested in only rollfilm, these can be attractive. The Gowland is essentially a smaller version of the simpler 4 x 5 design with all front movements, but only rear base tilt.

The Galvin provides axis tilts, swing and shift on both standards and rise/fall on the front. Like the Pocket View, none of the movements are geared. The Galvin has a focusing rail with a geared rib at the bottom which insures that the standards remain square with each other, a problem with the Gowland which has only a round shaft as a rail for the rear standard. When moving the Gowland's rear standard you must visually check that it is still square before reclamping it. The Galvin has an unusual back that opens widely to accept "fat" rollfilm holders without removing the focusing panel.

       Notes on 2 x 3 vs. 4 x 5




11/21/2010 21:01