Information about high-end 4x5 inch digital cameras as well as conventional photography equipment.


After many years of using Leicas and Hasselblads I found that a 4x5 inch view cameras offered countless advantages. Now that digital technology is replacing legacy cameras, it is nice to see that 4x5 offers as many advantages for digital photography as it did for traditional photography with 4x5 sheet film.


As a professional photographer of architecture, pre-Columbian art, and nature, for over three decades, I feel that museums, archaeological projects, and comparable professional level programs should continue the switch to high-end digital photography systems. Most digital camera manufacturers orient their advertising mainly to sell to product photographers, the people who do catalogs. But there are thousands of museums and, worldwide, thousands of archaeologists and anthropologists whose imaging programs would be significantly enhanced by moving into the digital era, now. 35mm digital cameras are great for snapshots, but not for seriously recording endanged art of a lost civilization.


After using a Linhof 4x5 Technikardan I had an opportunity to try the Wisner 4x5 field camera (nice and portable). Then I moved up to the Sinar X, the Rolls Royce of large format cameras. The Sinar X was the best studio camera I have yet handled. For 1:1 photography none of the other cameras are precise enough (their movements are too sloppy). This year (summer 2000) I will compare all these with the Cambo Ultima, the top-of-the-line digital camera from Calumet and Calumet Digital Solutions.


High End Digital Cameras

My first introduction to the quality of a Dicomed product came while I was scouring the library of the National Museum of Japan for information on digital imaging equipment. The German magazine fotomagazin, January of 1995, did a test on all high end digital cameras. The Dicomed got the highest rating.


I subsequently had an opportunity to visit the Dicomed corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, and was impressed by the quality of all their products. Other people I have spoken with about digital cameras have also held Dicomed in high regard.


Then in several issues of a commercial photography magazine I saw product notices about PhaseOne. I telephoned out of curiosity and got their literature. I was especially impressed by their filter for using with tungsten lights. Most museums in Latin American do not allow flash or strobe lighting, so I need a digital camera which favors tungsten as a light source.

The PhaseOne representative told me how many major museums were buying their equipment. But Dicomed got their digital system to us first, and these four web sites are the result (two on Maya archaeology, two on digital imaging).


Subsequently I found out that ScanView also makes a digital camera, the Carnival 2000S. This gave me a reason to visit Denmark, since PhaseOne is also a Danish company. But Dicomed has a fully portable, battery-operated model, great for archaeology expeditions. We show the Dicomed Field Pro in a variety of exotic tropical locations in Central America. It has been all over Central American for months. Neither rain nor humidity nor heat or volcanic dust have kept this remarkable camera from producing fabulous results.


As a professional photography of architecture, pre-Columbian art, and nature, for over three decades, I feel that museums, archaeological projects, and comparable professional level programs should continue the switch to high-end digital photography systems. Most digital camera manufacturers look mainly to product photographers, the people who do catalogs. But there are thousands of museums and, worldwide, thousands of archaeologists and anthropologists whose imaging programs would be significantly enhanced by moving into the digital era, now.


Now that we have tested the Dicomed Field Pro system we can report our impressions. Since F.L.A.A.R. has worked in virtually all the major museums in the world (from Australia to Switzerland, from Mexico to Miami) we are an ideal place to test digital camera equipment. Most high-end corporations have gone after just the pre-press market, and have forgotten about the countless anthropology departments, archaeology departments, art history departments, historical societies--10,000 eager customers wanting to enter the digital era--but not quite sure which direction to turn.


This is why F.L.A.A.R. is a leader in offering international digital imaging workshops to the museum, academic research, and educational communities. Since the curators, professors, and people at these institutions often do not have access to state-of-the-art digital imaging equipment, they end up buying low-end consumer oriented equipment that is not adequate. Buying a cheap, quick, and easy digital camera is the easiest way to lose money. You need a higher quality digital camera than your corresponding normal film equipment. We will have more test results as we get test units. In the meantime, check out our comments on the Kodak digital cameras, since we used these for months in the national museum of Japan where we did our initial training in digital imaging hardware and software.


Why a large format 4x5 view camera?

I spent twenty years shooting with just 35mm and medium format. Only in 1994 did I seriously use 4x5, and only in 1995 did I begin to enjoy the pleasures of 8x10 format. My conclusion, after 40,000 photographs, is that 4x5 is great. Try it for an extended period.  Most professional photographers get irritated at my work, partially because I do not follow the basic rules of photography. This is easy for me to do, since I never studied photography at all. 4x5 systems are even perfectly portable. Try out a Wisner field model.


Thus I was rather nervous being handed a several hundred-thousand-dollar contract from a major Japanese publisher and told I had to use exclusively 4x5 format!

My first attempts were rather pathetic, but soon I learned all the twists and turns. I must admit I never understood any of the rules or the reasons why I should do something. But out in the field you quickly learn to do what results in good photos.

So, do not fear, just get a 4x5 and start using it.


But which 4x5?

Arca-Swiss, Sinar, Horseman, Linhof, Toyo, Wisner, Calumet (Cambo) and many other companies make good solid products. I happened to select Linhof. They are represented in the USA by HP Marketing, (201) 808-9010. I started out with a 4x5 inch Technikardan. This folds up into a totally portable package. For 8x10 I went whole hog and got the top of the line, a Kardan Master GTL 810. This is a full-sized studio camera, not an expedition model. But it is completely portable nonetheless. I take it around Mexico, out in the most remote areas. I can set it up in less than 7 minutes and be taking my first test shot with a Polaroid within another 5 minutes. What other great products does Linhof make?


Since archaeology depends a lot on aerial photography, what would help an archaeological expedition the most would be to have a Linhof Aero Technika 45 EL. This has a vacuum rollfilm back for absolute film flatness.

This incredible camera takes 4x5 inch format images with a motorized system using 50 ft rollfilm (about 150 exposures at 4x5 size). Just imagine the great book which would result, aerial views of all the major Maya ruins, at this format! Scientists would be able to study every detail from the air.

This incredible aerial camera system also takes a 70 mm vacuum rollfilm back for perforated 70 mm film.

If you do aerial photography you definitely need a Ken-Lab Gyroscopic stabilizer

You can get this from Ken-Lab Incorporated, 29 Plains Road, Essex, CT 06426.

Same of the great aerial shots I got of Tikal about 1971 are here for you to enjoy. The pyramids are so tall we often got great views straight into the door from high in the air.


This essential gizmo keeps your camera steady while you are in an airplane or helicopter. I prefer to work from a Bell Jet Ranger. You can take off the door and shoot without the problems of dirty glass or scratched plexiglass.


To get good prints of your color images, scan them and then use a Lexmark color laser.


When is a Hasselblad System essential?

For public lectures it is necessary to have a 35mm camera system because virtually no university, museum, or club has a projector for 2 1/4 format slides any more. For this reason I also use Leica and Nikon to photograph for the lectures I give around the world.


But when I really wish to make an impact in a lecture room, I use the Hasselblad projector and 2 1/4 glass-mounted slides. You can hear the audience gasp. The Hasselblad quality almost burns a hole in the screen.


At our annual Maya symposium, this Hasselblad quality is what distinguishes our Maya Weekend program from the other excellent Maya workshops at universities elsewhere in the country. This conference is the only Maya archaeology symposium worldwide which shows the Maya world in 2 1/4 format, 300% larger, brighter, and more impressive than ordinary 35mm.


If the Maya palaces have lasted over 1000 years, their remains deserve to be recorded by the very best available. We have used Hasselblad photography equipment for over two decades.

For tombs and interiors of temples and palaces the Hasselblad SuperWide C makes the most sense.


For architectural details the 350 mm Zeiss telephoto lens is outstanding. Advanced hobby photographer Eldon Leiter just got a 500 mm Zeiss telephoto. He got infected with the Hasselblad quality after being on F.L.A.A.R. archaeology expeditions for over 12 years.


The Zeiss 50mm lens is ideal for recording exteriors of Maya palaces.

For the beautiful Maya vases and other ancient artifacts, I use a 135 macro lens on the Hasselblad bellows.


On occasion I use the new 120 Macro lens which has its own mount. This is also the lens I use on my Seitz panorama camera.


For camera bodies I use two ELX's, many many years old and still working perfectly. My bellows, though, is showing its age after over 20,000 photographs, and will have to be replaced soon.

What do I still need? A 553 ELX would be necessary if I intend to use the Dicomed back. My trusty ELX's are not modern enough to handle a digital back.


My Zeiss lenses are also rather ancient. None have floating lens elements. Thus I need to replace the old 50mm with the new improved Distagon CF 4/50 with FLE (floating lens elements).

Since I am a gadget freak I would like to have the Zeiss Sonnar CF Superachromat lens (5/6 250mm). And for architectural photography of Maya temples and palaces the Zeiss Tele-Apotessar CF 8/500 mm would be a great help.


For a viewer I need the Meter prism PME 51 since there are times out in the jungle I need to shoot on the spot, and do not have time to bring a Minolta meter into action.


My Hasselblad projector accepts only American current. Since I speak German and am often asked to lecture in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, it would help to have a Hasselblad projector which runs on 220 current so I can introduce audiences throughout Europe to Hasselblad and Zeiss quality.



In 1970 the F.L.A.A.R. Photo Archive evolved past 35mm photography to enter the realm of medium format. In 1994, funded from Japan, it was possible to move to 4x5 inch format. In 1995, several generous private individuals made it possible for my research institute to acquire an 8x10 inch format camera. Yet the core of the F.L.A.A.R. Photo Archive is still its mass of 40,000 2 1/4 inch format negatives and transparencies which will hold their Hasselblad quality forever.


What about other brands of medium format camera?

For some reason this is the one area of photography where American technology has resulted in zilch and European craftsmanship still reigns supreme. The archaeologist in charge of the Tikal archaeological project in Guatemala used a Bronica, and after I heard it vibrating as it worked I vowed I would never allow myself to suffer using such a low end piece of equipment.


Recommended Lenses for large format cameras

For top of the line lenses for large format cameras you have two choices--Schneider or Rodenstock - Lenses. I like them both, have many lenses from each company.


When I visited the Rodenstock headquarters while on photo assignment in Munich, Germany, they immediately loaned me a lens that I needed to try out. No cost, no questions asked. This was sure nice service.


For some reason I tend, though, to buy Schneider lenses for my 4x5 Linhof. For my 8x10 Linhof most of my lenses are Rodenstock.


For telephoto lenses I must admit I went to Nikon, since their lenses are less expensive, and you can convert one size into another with add-on units. If I had enough money I would stick with Schneider or Rodenstock for telephoto, but until I win the Lottery I have to be realistic.  For middle format cameras I use exclusively Zeiss lenses.


Vacuum Backs

Two decades ago I asked the most experienced archaeological photographer I knew whether I should use large format or not. He said no, and warned me that in the topics the sheet film would buckle.


So for twenty years I heeded his advice and used a Hasselblad and Leica exclusively. 

Then I got a lucrative contract from a Japanese publisher. True to Japanese quality standards, they wanted everything to be in 4x5 inch format (9x12 cm). So I bought a Linhof and a dozen lenses and accessories. When the heat and humidity were excessive, however, I used only the Hasselblad.

Over an 18 month period I did not notice any terrible results with sheet film, but I do realize that sheet film is not perfectly flat inside the average holder. I asked and asked for information on vacuum holders, but never found anything practical


I now understand that Schneider makes a Hi-End Back with vacuum capability. It would be great to have these for photographing Maya pyramids and palaces in the humid jungle. Trouble is, for a day's shoot we need at least a dozen backs, since it is rather unrealistic to unload backs in the Central American rain forest.


Sinar Equipment is the pure definition of "High End"

Sinar Bron makes the most incredible photography equipment in the world. If I had the money, I would select Sinar in every respect. For example, their shooting tables would be of immediate use to any archaeology expedition (and certainly for my life-long photography of Maya artifacts).

What more can I say. I tried the Sinar X and it was outstanding.


These Sinar-Bron catalogs impress me with the sheer quantity of gadgets and extras that Sinar offers, far more than any large-format camera company in the world.


Unfortunately, I do archaeological photography, not commercial photography, so I can only dream. It would be great to set up a complete digital archaeology photography studio completely outfitted with Sinar equipment! This would be about $132,000 for the basics. Back to reality.


What Flatbed Scanner is Best?

I started out with a Microtek ScanMaker 600Z six years ago. It still works flawlessly and we sent it down to Guatemala so archaeologists there can scan their material. We will shortly be packing up our UMAX Powerlook to donate to Guatemala as well. Next in line is Honduras. Since people donate equipment to F.L.A.A.R. we feel we should share it with our colleagues in Central America since they have helped us in our research for several decades.


The UMAX Powerlook is great. We got the model I just as the Powerlook II was coming on the market. The college professors in the photography and desktop publishing areas were so impressed with the UMAX that they ordered one for the school as well (a Powerlook II).


It is nice that UMAX has come out with a flatbed scanner capable of 2000 dpi (true optical rating). This is great, since we have been drooling over the Scitex high end flatbed scanners ... but as a non-profit research institute we do not have $28,000 to buy such a great piece of equipment.

Nonetheless, be wary of claims that a mid-level flatbed "is comparable to a drum scanner." You need a minimum of 4000 dpi before you can even begin to think of making such a claim. 2000 dpi is only half way there.


We tried out a UMAX 2000, but it did not give us 200% better quality (it costs over $4000) so we returned it. The machine was certainly not bad, maybe it was that the Powerlook (which cost less than half that) was so good. Maybe we were not patient enough, since it is reported that the Binuscan software with the model 2000 is even more sophisticated than that of the Powerlook.

Heidelberg CPS (Germany) recently sent us a Linotype-Hell flatbed scanner which we like very much.


In the meantime colleagues have told us they find the UMAX Vista-S12 is great and the UMAX PowerLook 3 is tempting.


For high end in flatbed digital equipment most people think of Scitex , one of the foremost companies in the world for this class of scanning equipment. But other companies are coming up fast, such as ScanView, with their ScanMate F8. Archaeologists need these to scan in their site maps, since most maps are larger than letter size. The ScanMate F8 will scan up to 11x17. Check out the Fuji C-550 Lanovia as well.


Where do we buy our scanning equipment and other hardware and software?

We highly recommend DTP Direct.


A Lifetime of Photography with Leica

My photography life started at age 16, with a Leica IIIg. Within months I was out in the jungles of Central America photographing Maya ruins.


But I was still in high school, so my camera technique was not very impressive. Undaunted, I kept taking pictures on every subsequent expedition to Mexico. Shortly I moved up to a Leica M1. My first exhibit was in the common room to my college dormitory at Harvard. One of the professors at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology saw the exhibit and gave me numerous tips on how to turn my immature exuberance into serious picture taking.


Next I moved up to the M2; this I lost doing inadvertent somersaults down a pyramid at Uxmal. Thereafter I moved up to the M3 and a few years later had an M6. Currently, two decades later, I have simultaneously an R3 (for my girlfriend Andrea), an R4, and an R5 so I can do TTL flash with my favorite Metz potato masher units.


The other lenses I use frequently are the Elmarit-R 28mm wide angle. A 35mm lens is not wide enough when in front of a giant Maya palace with the menacing jungle immediately behind where you are standing taking the picture. There is no room to move far enough away from the structure to get everything into view unless you have a 28mm lens.


For artifacts both the Macro Leica lenses are great. I own both the old 100mm and the somewhat newer 60 mm.


Leica now has a new and improved 100mm macro. We did a rotating virtual view of it elsewhere in our labyrinth of web sites.


The legendary Leica lens quality is sure an asset in doing art, artifact, and architectural photography. The Leica APO-Telyt-R 280mm lens is my favorite. Although I bought it for my hobby (nature photography in the jungles of Central America) actually this remarkable lens is ideal for architectural photography. This lens can capture details of Maya temples high up on top of the lofty pyramids. As a result of having this lens I can sometimes capture detail that other photographers miss, especially with the special Leica tele-extender made just for this lens.

Sample 7th century Maya ballplayer figurine from the Museo Popol Vuh, Guatemala City, photographed with a Leica on the KAIDAN rig. Since it takes 36 slides to do a full turn, rather than stick 36 separate slides into a dedicated scanner we cheated and scanned them all simultaneously on the UMAX flatbed (20 slides at a time). The definition was not as sharp (since the slides were in their cardboard mounts, hence elevated 2 mm above the focusing surface of the flatbed scanner, but the UMAX is good enough to get away with this for use on the Web.


What more do I wish I had in my equipment?

I need the Super-Elmar-R 15mm, for distortion corrected views of tombs, inside narrow palace rooms, and other frequent instances in archaeology where you need lots of view--but do not want fish eye distortion.


My other need is for a new Macro-Elmar 100mm, since I wish to donate my present 100 mm lens and one of my extra Leicas to the archaeologists of Guatemala. They need this class of equipment to record their national patrimony at the many Maya sites and museums in their country.


Do I also use a Nikon? Yes, of course, especially for underwater photography, the Nikonos. Since I could not afford the Leica 15mm lens I must admit I bought a Nikon F-3 and their distortion less 15mm super wide angle lens. But my institute would like to donate the Nikon 15mm lens to archaeologists in Belize, Guatemala, or Honduras. This is why the Leica 15mm lens is still on my "wish list".


I am very satisfied with Stan Tamarkin (ask for Eric Bowman). I tend to shop at B+H Photo since they stock everything I need, digital and otherwise, Leica, Hasselblad and also Linhof and large format.


If you prefer Calumet, ask for Louis Shu at their New York store.

It would also be nice to have a Vario-Elmar lens, since Andrea prefers to photograph the easy way. When I travel it takes a truck to move my equipment to the site, and then several assistants to help move the lenses and accessories from one pyramid to the other. Andrea is sensible and likes to have everyone in one basic unit. As a person steeped in heavy metal, though, I am not yet ready for a lightweight point-and-shoot replacement.


Where do I buy my Leica equipment? For years I bought from E. Philip Levine, as they were right across from my Harvard dormitory. Then I bought from St. Louis Photo Supply. Subsequent I was a customer of 47th St Photo for over a decade, until I got short-changed in film envelopes twice and did not get an immediate replacement.

It is always rumored that giant discount houses such as B+H do not give personal treatment. In fact the B+H staff person who handles the F.L.A.A.R. account knows me immediately by name, knows my work, is super helpful and friendly, and is great to deal with. He is Dan Laxall, ext. 2614. Main number is 1 800 947-9950. Ask for extension 2614 if you want Dan.


Digital Cameras in 35mm Format: Kodak and now the new Leica digital system.

While at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan, it was possible to use a wide variety of digital equipment, including two models of Kodak digital camera as well as the impressive Kodak professional Photo CD dedicated work station. Prior to using the model 460 we used the Kodak model DCS 420. This had the disadvantage, not only of a small image density, but also, the lens captured only a portion of what could be seen in the viewer. With the improved 460 you could capture almost the entire area seen in the viewer. The Kodak model DCS460, mounted on a Nikon N90 body, was a handy unit. It took a bit of experimentation to figure out which filter to use with tungsten film. But eventually we got the color to come out to our general satisfaction. I was routinely able to enlarge black-and-white images to A3 page size (approx 11x17 inches). Color could probably also be enlarged to this degree, but I had no A3 size printer for color at that larger size.


Overall, if you have money to spend, if 35mm equivalent is adequate for your needs, we recommend you try out the new Leica digital system. It is not worth trying the save money to get the Kodak model 420. The equivalent of the power of the model 460 as a magazine to fit onto your Hasselblad is not cost effective because the Kodak system will capture an image only as large as the sub-35mm system. If you want full 6x6 cm (2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches) you have to upgrade to a Dicomed or PhaseOne system.


Digital Cameras which are of professional quality but not excessively expensive

I tried out the Leaf Lumina. It has no reflex viewer, so you have to look at everything upside down. The camera's weight balance is completely lopsided, so when you try to focus upside down the camera falls away even if held in your hands (and all this presuming it is on a tripod anyway). I also suspect that the Leaf Lumina is based on technology which is several years old. We returned this system to the dealer after giving up trying to get the camera system up and running

So far, the only camera under $28,000 that we have seen in use, which has a quality equivalent to old fashioned film, is the Fujix DS-505A. This system costs about half of what the Kodak DCS 460 goes for. Obviously, though, the high end Kodak gives you twice the quality.

If you just want to shoot for the Web, best camera we have seen so far is the point and shoot Mavica.


High End Digital Cameras

Sinar, Rollei, Dicomed, Better Light, PhaseOne and other companies make high end digital cameras. Be forewarned that many claim to be medium format, or even large format, but hidden inside is a miniscule chip, a mere 31x31 mm. Dicomed, Better Light, and the larger of the Phase One digital systems offer 72x90+something mm, a whopping difference. Why use software interpolation from a whimpy sensor when Better Light, Dicomed, and the high-end of the Phase One line give you true large format from state-of-the-art CCD chips?


Selection Suggestions for Dye Sub printers

In Japan we had the opportunity to use a Seiko ColorPoint printer. It was nice and easy to use, but I got the impression it was set for thermal wax transfer process. The resulting pictures were quite pretty, but not as stunning as the results from the Kodak 8600 dye sub printer. It took about 4 to 5 minutes for the first print to be finished.


The Seiko class of printer is deliberately outfitted so that you can switch from thermal wax (which is not as expensive as dye sub) to full dye sublimation (which costs perhaps $4 per print). Probably if we had switched the machine to dye sub process it too would have improved upon its already attractive print quality.


The Kodak printer was first recommended to us by Justin Kerr. Then Professor John Blank (Cleveland) also recommended it and gave me some sample prints. I took these prints to Japan and suggested that a printer of this class would be ideal for studying Maya art. Since the national museum of Japan has no actual pre-Columbian artifacts (as an ethnology museum they have handicrafts and items related to ethnography, but no ancient pots) it is useful for the scholars on the research and curatorial staff there to have color-true images from photographs. The museum quickly bought two Kodak model 8600 dye sub printers on my recommendation.


Several other manufacturers sell dye sub printers. Seiko has a model for A3 paper size, as do other companies. Keep in mind, though, that you can print only on one side of the sheet.

Unless you want to spend $8000+ for the printer, and then $5+ for each page, why not consider a color laser. Lexmark color laser offers fabulous color for half the price of a dye sub machine, and each copy is 12 cents. Quality is superior to ink jet.

I got the opportunity to use one of these Kodak marvels for the last week of my stay in Osaka as Visiting Professor. The colors are phenomenal. Since then Kodak has come out with an improved model, the 8650, and another new model recently, so you cannot miss. If you have $8500 this is definitely the dye sub printer to buy.


Which tripod?

Most beginners make the standard mistake of getting a lightweight tripod with lots of short sections. These are easy to carry, but do not provide a sturdy platform for your camera.


I have four Gitzo tripods, I love the Gitzo 'Big Ball' tripod head, and I could not live without my 12-foot-high Gitzo (where I use a ladder to get my shots).


Gitzo is considered a fully professional tripod and they have many great features, such as the legs angling outwards at an upward angle. This is essential in rough terrain when I do nature photography.


Be careful of tripod whobble. This wobble tends to be around the center pole, at the top. It is a result of the different parts not fitting with adequate precision. This is typical of products not made in Switzerland!


I would enjoy trying a top-of-the-line Bogen tripod. All my best light stands are from Bogen, and the best heavy-duty tripod head in the world is from Bogen, so I would imagine that their tripods are correspondingly excellent.


Ries tripods attract considerable attention because of their beautiful wood. Ries just opened up a new corporate web site which you can check out.


What about tripod heads?

For my Leicas and Hasselblads, my favorite tripod head is the older model Arca-Swiss. The new model Arca-Swiss was too complex for me to figure out, and it got locked tight in transit (a routine problem with this model). Since I cannot afford an Arca-Swiss head for each and every tripod I have, I use the Gitzo 'Big Ball' for some of my Hasselblads. Keep in mind that I usually need to use 35mm, medium format, 4x5, and 8x10 practically simultaneously. This means that each camera must be mounted, since otherwise I would waste too much time moving things around, and the cameras would get stepped on if not safely on their respective tripods. This means having lots of tripods and a corresponding number of heads.


But for the 4x5 Linhof, and particularly for my 8x10 studio-sized Linhof, the Gruppo Manfrotto head is superior to anything else I have tried so far. Bogen is the US distributor for Manfrotto of Italy.


Necessary add-on gizmos

The Arca Swiss quick releasing accessory is considered the best in the world. Indeed these are so popular that two American companies have developed to provide additional add-ons.


One of these companies is called "Really Right Stuff," in California. They have useful products.

But I much prefer dealing with the friendly people at the competition, a man and his son, in the Midwest. They offer quick service as well as a good job. I recommend them. Kirk Enterprises.







New page format posted November 17, 2009
updated Feb. 23, 1999; last updated July 24, 1999