This is my view on the insanity that is large format photography. Large format is the most heavy, slow, expensive, and accident prone of all formats of photography. But in terms of image control, and image quality there is no other alternative. I mainly do landscape and nature photography, often walking or hiking quite a distance. So a camera that folds down and is reasonably light is a plus.
5x7 is a really nice format with almost twice the negative area, but enlargers and accessories (like film holders) are a lot harder to come by and are more expensive.
8x10 and larger is really for the truly insane. Enlargers are the size of a small car and cost a bundle. However contact printing is viable in such a large format. An 8x10 contact print is truly a thing of beauty. A print that has only been through one lens has tonal subtlty nothing short of amazing. Expect to pay a lot of everyting; lenses, film holders, film, back surgery.
For general purpose large format work, 4x5 is your best bet. There are the largest selection of cameras, lenses and film. The differences between enlarged 4x5 and enlarged 8x10 are not worth the additional cost and troubles. 8x10 is a good second large format camera to own, but not really a good choice as an only large format camera.
large format cameras fall into two general catagories, field and studio. Field cameras fold up into a box and are the smallest and lightest large format cameras. There alre also metal field and technical cameras. If you like the weight and look of wooden cameras, never never try a metal camera. Metal cameras feel more sturdy and the movements are almost universally smoother to use than wooden cameras. Technical cameras also fold, and typically offer more movements than a standard field camera. Aften certain movements are not available in a field camera, but other movements can be use in conjunction to accomplish the same effect of a missing movement.
Studio cameras are typically monorail designs, where the front and rear standards move along a bottom rail. Many movements, particularly focusing, are geared. Studio cameras have all movements and lots of range of movement. Studio cameras, trade weight for ease of use and full mevements. Some studio cameras fold up reasonably small, and aren't much heavier than a metal field cameras. But many studio cameras are seriously heavy and large, and not really practical for field use.
As the owner of a metal technical camera and a monorail camera, I'd have to say that if a suitably light studio camera can be found it makes for the best possible field camera. A monorail is generally easier to use once set up in the field. In my opinion, carrying all that junk into the field is an excersize in pain. So what's a touch more pain? And the whole point of this is to get the best possible pictures. If you aren't fighting the camera, you're going to be in a better mood, and a better mood makes for better pictures.
This is a real tank of a camera. It's one of the heaviest and most sturdy field cameras I've tried. It tips the scales at about 6.5 pounds. It's also get a much longer bellows draw and great back movements. The newer technica cameras have even more movements. This camera has a silky smooth and very solid feel. Once you've tried one, you'll understand why new ones cost as much as a used car and sell like hotcakes. It's a camera built to uncompromising standards. Even though this camera doesn't have the movements of my studio camera, I've only ever missed one picture I wanted because of lack of movements, and that was with a very wide lens. This camera also has a focusing hood which protects the ground glass. If you drop this camera, worry about your floor, not the camera. As field cameras go, it's my first choice. The technica III is a good choice for a reasonably priced ($600) solid field cameras. The newer Technicas are more versitile, but cost twice as much or more.
This is a great old monorail camera. Arca Swiss cameras have a very interesting design which folds down to a very small size. The problem with that brand is that there is very little company representation in the United States. However it should not be overlooked. All the movements are smooth and the controls are layed out in a very intuitive and usable way. The best part of this camera is that the front and rear standard is easily removed. With the standards removed, the rail and standard holders are quite small, and the two standards folded down is about the same size as my Technica. The best part is that this camera can be bought for about $450 used. There is also a wide range of accessories. It's a great alternative to a Toyo CX or other inexpensive monorail cameras. I've never seen a monorail camera that folds into such a small package.
This was a fun project, and is a clever camera design. But it and Bender's 4x5 design are wooden cameras and don't have the rigid and smooth feel of a metal camera. That said, they are versitile cameras with more movements than any LF lens can accomodate. The 4x5 camera is also very light (half the wieght of my Technica). As an engineer, the best part of this camera was building it. I've gotten some very nice pictures with it, and the 8x10 bender camera is about the same weight as my Technica. If you enjoy building things, this camera is worth a look.
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