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Zone VI 4x5 Field Camera

by Philip Greenspun, 1993

I just returned my Zone VI 4x5 field camera and I thought I'd let you know why.

Good point

The camera looks beautiful, with its polished mahogany standards and gold-plated fixtures; people always stop to ask you if it is an antique (with a Sinar, they just stop to ask if you are sane).

Bad points

  1. the camera is heavy and bulky, almost as bad as a Sinar F2 and not nearly as small as a Horseman FA
  2. the lensboards are big losers. First of all, they have to be almost forced into the camera since the clips don't retract far enough. Secondly, after laboriously removing a lens, one must then push the clips back to fold the camera (a Horseman would let you leave a small lens mounted so I hear). Finally, the dish around the rear element isn't large enough for either of the two spanner wrenches I tried to work, i.e. you have to spend $150 for a special wrench or you can't share lenses with another camera.
  3. the camera would be way better if it had a collapsible focussing hood so that the ground glass was protected in transport and also so that one didn't have to carry a bulky focussing cloth
  4. folding up the camera is a tedious nightmare of unscrewing what seems like dozens of crudely knurled knobs -- not much fun on a freezing day.
  5. focussing involves manipulating knobs on both sides of the camera
  6. even with all knobs tightened, the standards seem to move without my wanting them to.

Using one of these for just a day will remind you of why they invented Nikons.

This was originally posted in 1992 on rec.photo.

Article created 1993

Readers' Comments

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Joe Alsko , April 25, 1998; 12:16 A.M.

I can't imagine any 4x5 being heavy and bulky. Try lugging an 8x10 and supporting equipment around in the Alps and tell me a 4x5 is heavy. My Zone VI 8x10 does take a while to set-up and tear down, but I didn't get into LF to speed things up. Changing to plastic knobs would save some weight and reduce the discomfort from the "crudely knurled knob". If the lensboard clips are too tight, they can be loosened a little, which I did for mine. Its not a perfect camera, but just one man's idea of what large format photography is all about.

Tom La Bron , August 27, 1998; 02:39 P.M.


Get a Linhof Master Technika it has performed great for me from Iceland to Africa.

Tom La Bron

Mark Finhill , October 09, 1998; 10:03 P.M.


I must admit that I've looked at the beautiful Zone VI cameras and had to wipe off the drool at the corner of my mouth...I have had a few problems of my own with my camera. Though not in the same league as, well, anything else, my Graphic View I is not a bad camera. It has full movements, is as rugged as a tank, and only cost me $100.00.

However, its 12" monorail is hardly adequate for close work, and it shakes a great deal. The fits this camera goes through while inserting a film holder would make any large format user nervous. Also, portability is not one of its best points. But it is cheap and well-made (other than the shaking.)

I'd recommend the Graphic View to anyone beginning large format photography and has a limited budget. Save the money for the lens. The shaking is a nuisance, but can be worked with. I would not get the Graphic I, but would try to find a Graphic II, which is a little more money, about $300.00, but has an 18" monorail and the ability to accept the 120 roll film back.

Dave Blazer , October 25, 1998; 11:25 P.M.

I worked extensively with an 8X10 camera in a studio environment, then switched to a Sinar 4X5. When I no longer was doing studio work I "traded" the Sinar off for a Zone VI 4X5. I found it extremely easy to use, the lens board functioned flawlessly. It took some getting used to before folding the camera for storage was a smooth operation. Overall the quality of the product is exceptional.I found it more pleasing to use than the Sinar and actually easier for field work. I'm only parting with mine because I'm going digital and don't have the $$$ to keep the Zone VI. Great camera.

r.l. michel , November 13, 1998; 09:32 P.M.

the zone vi is a seriously flawed product in my opinion. it is not very rigid, exhibits poor finish quality, and does not accept very many standardized accessories. far better for the money is a wisner traditional or technical. also very good at the same price point is the walker abs and the entry level canham. zone vi -- especially since picker left -- simply has not stayed competitive within what has become a very hot lf camera market. by the way, if you don't mind buying used gear, a tech iv or v with several lenses will cost you about the same as a rickety zone vi camera and will give you much better results.

Robert A. Zeichner , December 31, 1998; 01:46 A.M.

I have had quite a bit of experience with the Horseman 45FA and aside from its limited bellows draw, can highly recommend it. I also own an older Zone VI 4x5 (actually made for them by Wisner) which is indistinguishable from a Wisner Traditional. I can't comment on the newer ones, but while my older model is a little heavier and a bit more time consuming to set up, it has valuable features that make it more suitable for certain kinds of work than any of the metal folders. For example, the generous movements allow more perspective correction when doing architectural work and the "dry" construction of all the moving parts and the ability to dissassemble in the field make it easier to clean after a long day in the sand dunes. When people ask me what I was "shooting" when they see my photographs, I often just tell them "large format" or mention the film stock I used. I've seen many great photographs made with moldy old press cameras. Cameras don't make photographs, photographers do! While there are almost unlimited choices of tools to work with, the important thing is for the user to understand the limitations of the tools they select and learn how to get the results they're after through proper technique. If readers of your column want to sweat the details, they might investigate the accuracy of their ground glass alignment. This can often be the source of unsharp negatives and I've heard of folks trading up to more expensive lenses to no avail, when all the time it was a misaligned g.g. Readers are welcome to contact me if they have experienced this problem!

Andy Watts , February 24, 2000; 08:46 A.M.

I bought the Zone VI 4X5 camera soon after it originally became available. It is easy to use, (for a view camera). I've never had a single problem with it. The fit and finish are flawless, significantly better than the Wisner 4X5 PE I bought last year. Overall if you like wooden view cameras, this one is good. It's only limitation in my experience is related to the use of short focus lenses. I have a 75mm and this camera must be contorted severely to use this lens. It really takes the fun out of it. It is difficult to get the standards close enough and still keep the rails out of the picture. It can be done, but it is difficult to the point of obstruction. That's why I bought the Wisner PE. In this very clever design, Ron Wisner has completely eliminated the problem. Outstanding design, and very light weight! It feels flimsy but once it's positioned and locked, it works fine. It probably won't handle much wind, but that's common to view cameras. Workmanship on the PE does not match the old Zone VI. (I have no information about more recent Zone VI since Calumet took over. I doubt they improved the workmanship.)

w robb , July 19, 2000; 12:13 A.M.

Phil's problem seems mostly to relate to laziness and stupidity. What is the point of comparing a Nikon to a 4x5? They are different fish. Frankly I am astounded that a comment such as "Using one of these ( Zone VI 4x5) for just a day will remind you of why they invented Nikons." would make it into photo.net, especially since the source is Greenspun himself. Or is this just an example of the low level of intelligence on that forum? The Zone VI is definitely not small, but it offers almost monorail camera movements in a flatbed field camera. The guy is just not thinking about what he is writing. His lensboard issue could have been solved with a bit of fine sandpaper and about 5 minutes of time. I made my own lensboards for my Tachihara. It wasn't all that difficult. Perhaps Phil needs a lesson in basic home maintenance. The groundglass issue was addressed by Zone VI, they produced a groundglass protector that sandwiches the film back. A very simple solution. I have never seen a focussing hood that I liked. They always seem to allow too much light to hit the screen to allow easy ( or any) visibility of the screen. A dark cloth is still the best method for viewing a large format screen in outdoor use. His problem with dismounting the lens from the lensboard is a lens issue, not a camera issue. His description of folding up the camera is typical of flatbed cameras. The Zone VI is pretty average in this respect. My Tachihara is the same way. Once you work with the camera for a while, it becomes routine. Same with focussing. One knob to focus, one to lock. If he was having problems with the standards slipping after being tightened, he had at one time, over tightened the standards to the point of crushing them. Abusing a piece of equipment, then blaming the equipment for failing is pretty moronic. I have always thought Greenspun is a bit of a flake, now I think he is a total idiot.

Alex Tullis , April 16, 2001; 07:34 P.M.

This is to Robb's previous comment to Phill.I think any camera can reasonably be adapted to any user if one works out the problems. Clearly Phill didn't give the camera nor Zone 6's reputation any effort. But Robb you must accept that there are many differnt types of photographers out there. All being so different is what makes this art so loveable. Try not to be so blunt and rude to others misunderstandings. We have all been in that boat at one time or another so don't forget your roots. I hope most of the people reading this faq about the Zone 6 4X5 camera UNDERSTAND that it's not the camera but the photographer. Focus on your work and DEAL with the technicalites of a particular camera with patience.

John Fine , June 25, 2002; 11:43 A.M.

My main problem with the Zone VI camera is the need to change to the bag bellows for wide-angle lenses. I mainly do outdoor photography with my 4x5 and have tried out a number of different "field" cameras, including Wista, Tachihara, Zone VI (older Wiesner type), Linhof, and Toyo. By far my favorite is my old Toyo Field. This is not the model 45A currently available, but the original model that first appeared (I believe) back in the 60's. A flat bed design, it has a 15" bellows draw (at least 2" longer than most other field cameras), a rotating back, a folding focusing hood (easily removable, which I do often as I agree it is easier to view the ground glass with a dark-cloth outside), a beautifully made compendium lens shade and more movements than the current Toyo Field with the one exception that it lacks rear swings (a movement that I have rarely needed). The bellows is very flexible and can handle a 75mm lens pretty easily. I also do a lot of macro work and one feature the Toyo (and also the Zone VI) has that I find an absolute joy in a field camera is the ability to focus with the rear standard. This allows you to preserve the lens-subject relationship which is very important with macro work. The camera uses speed graphic lens boards which are pretty commonly available. One other thing is being a metal camera, it is very tough. I once had the camera blown over by a strong gust of wind while I was in Big Bend National Park. It went down pretty hard (luckily not on the lens) but was not damaged in the least. Try having that happen to your wooden field camera! That is probably one reason that John Sexton uses a stripped down Linhof Technica. Which, come to think of it, is where the Toyo 45A comes from.

Phil Marcus , October 30, 2002; 04:15 A.M.

I just bought a Zone VI field camera. But the one I bought must be at least ten years old. As a result, I had to disassemble the camera and clean and relubricate most everything. The brass work is all scuffed and the camera looks well used.

The good news is that after some maintenance, the camera works like a charm, probably better than new. I call this "the extended break in period". Most folks would say "worn out". I shot professionally for many years, and I really wore my equipment. I've only had one or two items really need a rebuild, and the rest often seem better after a few years of use. I don't mean sloppy from over-use, but smooth from having been used and maintained over a long period. Of course, only some cameras are worth being rebuilt. I believe Bill Jay said in one of his books on photography that you should modify the equipment to suit you, not change yourself to suit the equipment. I say if it has rough edges or doesn't lock tight enough, modify it.

ken schroeder , January 15, 2003; 07:01 P.M.

In my opinion this review of the Zone VI camera is unfair and reflects more upon the user than the product. I purchased the same model camera in 1990. I ended up returning the camera, but would not be so harsh in my evaluation of it. I later purchased a Wisner 4x5 Technical Field Camera, which is both larger and heavier than the Zone VI camera. I purchased my first 4x5 camera in 1981 from Zone VI. At the time they were selling the Wista DX with their name. The Zone VI/Wista is a delight to use. The main constraint is the twelve inch maximum bellows length precludes easily using longer (300mm) lenses. Both the ZVI/W and the WTF required minor tweaking with a chisel and sandpaper. The Zone VI front standard needed enlarging in one corner to fit the lensboard. The Wisner didn't quite work with a Calumet roll back. These were minor annoyances in the long run. I had a difficult time adjusting to both cameras. I attribute this to user inexperience with the first camera and a dose of presbyopia added with the second. I can't imagine not using a good (large and yes bulky) focusing cloth with a view camera. When I packpack short distances instead of using the Zone VI shoulder bag, I generally wrap the camera in the focusing cloth. It works fine in a bookbag. I bought the bag bellows, but haven't used them in years. I found the standard 23" Wisner bellows beautiful but clumsy. I ordered a set of Infra Red bellows from Wisner (18" maximum). I have never used Infra Red film, nor do I intend to. These bellows work very well for my purposes. They extend far enough for the 300mm and don't bunch up when using the 135 or more rarely the 105 or 90. Using a Ries J200 head instead of the Bogen 3047 is more rigid with the larger cameras. (The Bogen is fine with the ZVI/W) In hindsight, The Zone VI would have been very adequate at a slightly lower price than the Wisner. I still use the ZVI/W about a third of the time. I feel the longer bellows draw and the ability to focus with the rear atandard as well as the front standard compensate for the extra weight. (The rear focus is especially useful in close work; it has saved me from having to reposition the tripod on numerous occasions.) i have an old lens wrench sold by National Camera Repair which works fine in tight places. I think it sells for between $30 to $40 now. A lens wrench is a good investment. There is a learning curve involved with becoming fluent with any camera, including wooden field cameras.

Steve Campbell , April 29, 2003; 10:32 P.M.

I think that Phil's comments are accurate and heartfelt, but that he misses the point of using this type of camera. Yes, the Zone V1 4x5 has its own set of flaws and idiosyncracies, but it is also a wonderful tool and a joy when you have become accustomed to using it.

There is much more to photography than just having the latest and greatest technicaly advanced computer enhanced gadget. There is a harmony and sense of completeness that comes from using a device that is simply elegant. Taking the time to learn and and become accustomed to creating with a hand-made tool like this camera enhances you as person and as an artist by making each step of the act of photographing important. The inevitable slowing down of the photographic process by using a view camera brings a focus and determination that escapes most smaller format photographers.

I would be much less an artist and a person without the relationship I have developed with my trusty old Zone VI.

Dennis W. Finley , May 17, 2003; 02:09 P.M.

I've had and enjoyed my Zone VI since 1992. Chosing a camera or a car it's the same thing, some people are Chevy people and some are Ford people, then you have those really strange people who are into Chrysler products...

Byron Boyd , May 20, 2003; 01:59 P.M.

Phil why did you get a LF? you seem unsuted to the use or diginity that goes with a large format camera. The Nicon you mentioned is a far diffrent tool than a field camera. With 35mm after focusing and composeing all 36 exposurers I might get 5 or 6 shots I like, you see to be the shoot and zoom crowd burn 6 rolls of film and get 2 good shots, I may expose 7 or 8 shots of 8X10 film in a day and all of them are what I want. My 8X10 gear ,Camera ,tripod, film holders and all of the other nessitys probaly weigh 90lbs alltogather,if I want to go light I pack up my 4X5, Phil do yourself a favor get rid of your LF you will be happier

Mike Johnston , July 28, 2004; 04:09 A.M.

Y'all should remember is that there is no "the" Zone VI camera. First one was a Wista with a Zone VI nameplate. Second one was made by Wisner to Picker's specs. Then Picker and Wisner got into a knock-down drag-out (culminating in a lawsuit), and so the third Zone VI camera is a knock-off of the second one built by craftsmen Picker hired in Vermont. Presumably these folks learned how to build view cameras as time passed, so later ones are most likely better than earlier ones by leaps and bounds. Fourth one is the first Calumet version which I believe was made in China. I don't know if the Calumet version has stayed the same since the beginning or if there have been further changes, as I stopped following the saga at the time of the first Calumet version.

So you see there are at least four cameras called "The Zone VI 4x5 Field Camera," all of them significantly different cameras in some way or another. You really can't discuss them without specifying which one you have (if you know).

Alfred Kukitz , January 03, 2005; 08:14 P.M.

Willows Blue Rock

Thank you Steve Crawford for those fine words and ideas about photography. I'm looking into the view camera for the very same reasons you use them. It took a long time in 35 mm photography to learn patience, my finger wanted so badly to press the button. Finally, I surrounded my mind with the air, intuition and silence. Then the magic began.

Haim Toeg , February 04, 2006; 07:37 A.M.

What a fascinating discussion, lasting almost ten years and the review itself was written in 1992. I just wonder how many of you would get a grinder and work the hood of your brand new car if it did not shut properly when you drove your car off the dealer's lot. Similarly, lensboards should fit properly, the camera should be solid, knobs should be well designed and work. Technical equipment can't have 'personality' or 'idiosyncracies', in my mind those are hallmarks of poor design, engineering and build quality.

And yes, Nikons are very well designed engineered and executed.

Al DiVenuti , February 10, 2006; 10:57 A.M.


I'm guessing you've never used an LF camera. I did so for the first time, recently, and I feel completely confident in making the following two statements:

1) Phil Greenspun has more money than sense. He doesn't see the appeal of LF and, therefore, any review on the topic penned by him should be dismissed out of hand.

2) If Zone VI (or any view camera) had designed their cameras with the same poor engineering and appallingly flimsy build quality as Nikon churns out their SLRs - then they would not have sold a single one of them.

Statement #1 probably needs no elaboration. Here's how I justify #2...

LF photography is horribly unforgiving. There are between two and three dozen steps that must be performed with every exposure (depending on the composition and the desired effect) and as a consequence any design trade-off can, depending upon the challenge of the moment, become a major annoyance.

Moreover, the design tradeoffs for a Field Camera like the Zone VI are the most difficult to make because light weight competes with rigidity and rigidity competes with allowable movements, etc. Nobody wants to try to backpack a 12 lb camera.

The workflow for taking a 35mm photograph is far simpler (and the creative control of 35 mm is far less) that that of LF and far more exposures will be made with a 35mm camera than an LF camera. Therefore, the (occasionally) stupid ergonomics that Nikon employs (ever used the idiotic push-button interface on an N70??) are of less consequence because the operator can adapt more quickly. Moreover, these cameras are made in much higher volume so automated manufacture is cost-effecitve. That isn't true of any LF camera.

Steve Johnston , March 09, 2006; 07:39 P.M.

I used a Zone VI 4x5 for a few years and found that it was a bit unstable. I did get used to it, though. What I really dicovered was that a really good 2 1/4 camera can produce as good a picture as a 4x5 and is a lot more mobile. However, I love 8x10. It is worth the hassle. Try an RH Phillips, if you can find one. Light, tight and easy to figure out.

J Sew , April 06, 2006; 10:58 P.M.

It's an interesting discussion. I've used 4 x 5 to 11 x 14 in my commercial work and I found them to be quite a formable tool. I don't think it matters too much which brand. It's more important to focus on producing the shot. No doubt the large format is a working mans camera and lacks the speed and spontaniety of a 35mm. To compare the both would be like comparing film versus digital. I've aprenticed under old masters who were die-hard large format shooters, and it is an art to master these. With 4 x 5 or larger, patience is a virtue with this format.

Drew Bedo , April 12, 2006; 01:26 P.M.

Last year I moved from a Burk& James 5x7 (with a 4x5 back) down in size to a second model Zone-V. There were several cameras offered by Zobe-VI over the years.

1978: Made by Tachihara for Zone-VI,nickle plated, it had 12' Bellows draw, single stage focusing,Front and rear swing/tilt.

1980: Made by Wisner for Zone-VI, 12 bellows, front and rear swing/tilt with front rise.

1986: Made by wisner, 16" bellowswith double extension focusing railes. Interchainable bag bellows. Front rise/fall and swing/tilt, rear swing/tilt...no rise/fall.Weight about 5 pounds. Only 150 of these were made.

1990: Made by Picker fro Zone-VI Studio. Features and movements like the Wisner above. Standard material was Mahogany wood. some were made with gold plated fittings. Some were made in Black Walnut and Cherry.Total production for this model was 3000 units.

A complete historical review is found in View Camera Magazine, Jan-Feb 2003, page 34. Good article with sereal number ranges and production figures.

As I wrote above, my previous camera was an industrial-strength B&J 5x7. My 1980s era Wisner-made Zone-VI is a light weight by comparison. I use Toyo style boards on itwith no problem. The 12' bellows is a little bit limiting and I do miss the nearly 20" on my old camera.never the less I am delighted. I now have an outfit that can be taken anywhere and wont break my back. My feeling is; "Quit your wineing and Shoot!"

David Schwartz , March 07, 2007; 05:17 P.M.

Just found this page, and though I never used a Zone VI camera myself, I do want to tip my hat to the late Fred Picker. His catalogs in the early 1990s and his newsletters were the first exposure I had to large format, and I fell in love with large format largely through reading his catalogs and newsletters. Simply put, he is the reason I own a large format camera in the first place! (It is a Kodak Master View 8 x 10 -- not bought for its beauty, but rather for its simple, rugged construction.)

William Grulkey , April 18, 2007; 11:04 P.M.

I recently purchased a Zone VI on eBay, mainly because of the price, but it was sent with a copal 0 lensboard, whereas all of my lenses are copal 1. Can anyone suggest a source for Zone VI lensboards, or a substitute?

Louie Powell , May 13, 2007; 04:34 P.M.

William -

Sadly, Calumet has discontinued the Zone VI camera and its accessories.

However, Richard Ritter, who was the craftsman behind creating the original Zone VI-made camera, is still around and can easily knock out lens boards. He has a web site and e-mail address, but the best way to reach him is by telephone 802-365-7807.

I've made my own Zone VI lens boards using 1/4" poplar from Lowes. The dimensions are 4"x4", with a 1/4" wide, 1/8" deep rabbit around the outside.

Tom Johnston , September 23, 2009; 07:21 P.M.

Wow! What a long thread! I'll try to keep it alive.

Philip's review of the camera revealed a total lack understanding about large format photography and he definitely wasn't suited to it by nature. That's O.K.! Each to his own. But his criticisms weren't valid and neither were those by Haim who claimed that there should be no idiosyncrasies in any camera. Such an obsessive an anal attitude is totally contrary to the artistic process. Phil and Haim clearly don't understand large format photography nor do they understand that the camera in question was built entirely by hand. Both Phil and Haim should definitely stay away from large format photography and the slow, methodical, and contemplative process involved. Such photographers want the latest wiz-bang electronic wonder with all the bells and whistles. Large format photography uses simple equipment and complex technique and requires a deep understanding of the entire photographic process and should be left to serious, thoughtful photographers - not that there aren't serious and thoughtful small format photographers. Nothing is automated and that's what large format photographers want.

The main flaw in Philip's reasoning is so obvious that I find his review to be simply amazing. He is comparing apples to oranges. It's like comparing a Maserati to a big truck and complaining that the truck is too big. They serve different purposes! Small format and large format are two entirely different forms of photography requiring different equipment and skills and the goals and end results cannot be compared. I would love to see one of Philip's large prints placed next to one of my own made with my large format cameras. The difference would be stunning. I see it all the time because my prints actually are displayed next to those by small format photographers, both analog and digital. Even die-hard digital photographers with the latest 20 plus MPs cameras are stunned and often humbled when they see well made prints from large format film. Even the professionals at my lab who produce prints for top professional photographers using every type of equipment say that the difference in LF and small format is incredibly stunning. Most of those master printers are large format photographers too and for good reason!

Comparing a large format camera to a small format camera is truly idiotic. It's obvious that Phil only cared about ease and speed of operation but he totally overlooked the gigantic gap in quality between the formats. Yes! You have to work for that quality difference! That's fine because Phil obviously shoots fast subject matter but it's no reason for him to criticize a large format camera because it's slower than a small format camera. Of course it is! But the difference in the results is incredible. 4x5" can reportedly capture the equivalent of 250-MP of information! It may be more. For example, I have picture of a redwood forest that I scanned with my run-of-the-mill Epson Perfection 2450 flatbed scanner at dip. I zoom into a tree branch about 60 feet from the camera. I see the tiny redwood needles clearly. I zoom in more and see an individual dew drop on a single needle. I zoom in more and see a particle of dirt or a tiny insect in the dew drop. And that's just what my cheap scanner picks up. The film itself holds even more detail. Imagine what 8x10" film holds. Big prints are so detailed that they almost look 3-dimensional. That's what large format is zll about - that and incredible tonal gradation and perspective control. Try that with your small format camera.

But I digress. The point is that comparing small format to large format is simply ridiculous. They are two entirely different tools for two entirely different purposes. Yes, a truck is slower and heavier than a Maserati but trying hauling 20 tons with a Maserati. Different tools for different purposes!

I am truly amazed that Phil made such a comment. It makes me question his thinking process. Hopefully he understand these things better now. It's been 17 years since his comment was made. Maybe he has gotten over his obvious infatuation with bells and whistles.

KENT WHITNEY , October 26, 2009; 04:31 P.M.

Tom Johnston,

Wow, I love your grit and that shot of the Redwood Forest is outstanding. I am a new student of photography at Palomar College and have started out with 2 Nikons, a 35mm F6 film and a 35mm D700. When I finish 2 or 3 semesters and move into the more advanced photog classes, I would love to take on the medium and large format cameras and processes when ready. I can tell you have the savvy and what it takes to know the art of photography and the skill to work it with grace, I have the same thoughts and desires as you have. For my future planning I covet your advise for a starting point and the right equipment to start off with. I am 66 years young, a just retired Navy Master Chief of over 40 years and now a full time Photog Student. I have the rest of my life to devote to mastering photography. I want to become good, not for the money but for the love of photography and developing the art of "SEEING". Any help and or advise would be greatly appreciated!

Most Respectfully,

Kent M. Whitney Master Chief, USN Retired kmwhitney@cox.net

Skip Fendl , November 14, 2009; 11:26 P.M.

I can mirror Tom's comments about it being all about the process of taking the photo that gets you into that mind set and leaves the rest of the world behind. I've got a Wista (no complaints) and when I take one of my 20 minute photos of a nearby national park, my stress level and blood pressure both drop. It's like fishing, you can fish all day long and not catch anything but still have a great time. That's because you're forced to slow down from this crazy American lifestyle and enjoy nature for enough time to forget your 401k, pin numbers, mother's maiden name, windows logon password, and whether or not that guy trying to escape from Africa by depositing money into your bank account is legitimate. The point is that it's all about being completely immersed in the photographic process at it's purest level. Woooo, gives me a woody just thinking about it. Anyone else?

By the way, spectacular shot of the redwoods Tom!! What film did you use?

John Prothero , January 23, 2010; 11:06 A.M.

Skip, I appreciate your perspective on fishing and large-format photography, and I enjoy both of those activities for the same reason you mention: time to slow down!

I have been doing some research on the Zone VI 4x5" field camera. I purchased mine used back in 1997, and it was my 1st large format camera. I took a few photo trips in the next couple of years and had plenty of use with it. I have both a 90mm and 210mm, and find them a good fit with the camera. I've been trying to determine which "model" I have, and from what I have read, mine is the post-Tacharina model, but before they added the release lever for the film insertion. Mine is the spring-back model.

I do find the controls difficult to move sometimes, and not very precise. The brass-plated finish is showing its wear after these years (I do not know when this camera was manufactured - there's no date on the bottom or face plates). But for a sometimes dabbler in large format photography, this camer is fine. I would rather have a Wisner, or even a Canham, but for the very few times I take this out to shoot, it's adequate.

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Jason Stoller , June 03, 2010; 02:06 A.M.

Very interesting discussion.  I happen to know Phil is highly intelligent but as with many highly intelligent people they do miss the boat sometimes.

Phil and I have exchanged a few words in past posts and it looks like this will might be another one of those times.  I myself have recently read another post and discussion Phil authored in regard to Large Format Photography.  It appears that Phil does shoot Large Format but he is in love with his Sinar LF camera which he is entitled to.  I have no idea how accomplished as a photographer with that camera and that is also not the subject of this discussion.

This discussion is of course about the Zone VI camera's, their history, and the creator of the Zone IV camera Fred Picker. 

I guess I should qualify my comments now.  I was lucky enough to have a father who put a camera in my hands at the age of 8.  I am 53 years old now.  Having a father who was a Camera/photo enthusiast while growing up provided the opportunity for me to learn about as well as have the opportunity to shoot many different cameras.  Of course when he past away my mother wanted the cameras to come to me. 

So over the years I have shot many different cameras.  I sold off all the old camera's when Canon finally rolled out the 1D and while I was very active shooting digital, getting published locally,  and of course chasing new technology along with many others, I always had at least 1 film camera around.  Unfortunately in the past, I had never shot a Large Format Camera. 

A couple of years ago and because of the drop in pricing due to the Digital age, I finally was able to buy one of the Camera's of my Dreams, a Hasselblad 201F.  Of course I made some stops along the way while figuring out what particular Hassy I wanted but I soon had that sorted.  One of the things my mother always loved where the pictures that were taken out of the twin lens Rolleiflex and I always did too.  All of this finally brings my journey to events of this recent week.

Like many I did not really understand the difference or comprehend what the difference was between what I had been shooting in both 35mm, digital,  and medium format and what I was about to shoot.  Fortunately for me I had never forgotten the effort that goes into taking a good image with a camera and lens.  It had bothered me for sometime that I observed so many who went out and just bought a digital camera without bothering the read the manuals or learn the skills associated with creating a good image.  I guess its been that way since the days of the point and shoots like the Kodak and the Fuji box cameras, not to mention the 110mm, disc cameras, and instamatics. For some reason I had an itch, a desire to shoot film again. 

At age 53, I am finally in a time in my life where I decided that I needed to stop shooting to serve other peoples interests, and start shooting to serve mine.  So I decided to go where I had not gone before and got on e-bay and bought myself a Large Format Camera with a lot of goodies for a very reasonable price.  Once again the Digital age has taken its toll not only very seasoned and skilled photographers but also on the value of Film related equipment.  So I would encourage anyone who has the desire to get on e-bay or look around at the used camera websites and you can get a nice large format 4x5 body for $200-300 bucks. For another $200 you can get a nice older or used lens.

I guess what is hardest to grasp until you finally decide and get to shooting large format cameras is that You, as the photographer, gain a tremendous amount of control.  The bigger message I need to send is that one of the most important things if not the most  thing important thing you gain is control over perspective.  As a good friend of mine puts it, you have so much movement and adjustment in the camera body, that you can make an egg look round.  In addition you control the film plane as well as the lens angle which gives you a very creative tool in a large format camera.  Its like handing a painter a bunch of different texture brushes and shades and colors of paint and turning them loose to be inspired and creative.

I have to confess, I shot my Large Format Rail Camera for the first time just recently.  I am waiting for my chemicals to arrive so I can process the negatives.  I believe the view of Fred Picker was to create the best negative you possibly could.  I think that many others have come to understand that through his work.  That is my goal, because without a good negative to work from, it really does not matter what I attempt to create.  I am now getting back to the place, where I have to put a lot of effort and thought into creating an image and a proper exposure.  While I have always put the human into the equation, it is now more about the Human involvement than the equipment used.

With that note, I would like to add, that after countless numbers of images I have created with both film and digital, I am now taking another step in educating myself in the Art and Creativity side of photography. 

Last Saturday while I was in Chicago, I was lucky enough to find and buy, a Fred Picker Zone VI Mahogany Camera and it was in either new or very minty condition.  I have the original box and instructions.  Mine happens to have a serial number so I know for sure it was produced in Vermont prior to the sale of the company to Calumet.  It is almost too pretty to shoot. 

There are a few things that Phil has missed here.  One is the appreciation for craftsmanship.  Think about how much we take for granted today in regard to how things are manufactured.  Another thing Phil missed is that no matter what camera you own, Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Calumet, Cambo, Bolsey, Rollei, or Zone VI, there is always a learning curve until the photographer learns to master his equipment.  Phil should understand at this point in his live and even 10 years prior that there is no perfect camera and all have an issue or two.  You can either live with them or you cannot.  Phil decided he could not but it begs the questions, how long did he have the Zone VI for and how much effort did he really put in it?

I am looking forward to shooting my Zone VI.  After carrying around a Cambo SC-2 for part of a day, I can certainly understand and value the reasoning behind a Wooden 4x5 Field camera.  The Zone VI is piece of Craftsmanship Art, and ironically is a tool that is used for creating more Art.  Many photographers have realized that and it is reflected in the way the current prices are rising for them as they are short in number and high in demand. 

Jason Stoller




Tom Johnston , October 04, 2010; 09:36 P.M.


I just read your comment about my post.  (I wasn't set to receive additional comments posted to this thread).   I hope you are now doing large format photography and enjoying it.  If there is anything I can help you with, don't hesitate to email me at thomas.johnston@comcast.net



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Dennis Peterson , January 07, 2011; 10:21 P.M.

Yes Jason, thanks for your good words and incite on large format photography. I do agree with you.

It was a revelation for me the first time I made a 4x5 Transparency from my Toyo G camera. Having used only 35mm and 6x7 in the past.

 I was instantly taken when i saw that 1st Chrome 4x5 shining like a star on my light table, YES I was smitten. I think you are either a romantic or you are not and if you shoot with large format you are most likely in that camp. I know i am.

Which brings me to the Zone VI 4x5 camera. As a custom Furniture Maker i was also taken by the beautiful , dare i say elegant Walnut Zone VI third version that i just purchased for 500 USD off ebay.

Got it home and could not wait to shoot with it. Yes I love it . Is it perfect, No its not. Does it do what I need it to do, absolutely!!!

As A furniture maker i realize that making anything is always a "dance" between weight , proportion, cost, beauty and function.

Well, Zone VI and Wisner et al, did it pretty well. thank you very much. When the tool you use is made well , looks good and works for its intended purpose, you are more relaxed and able to concentrate on the most important aspect at  hand,making  the best "Music", if you know what I mean.

Thanks Fred Picker.

Dennis. P.


Craig Ward , April 24, 2012; 07:03 P.M.

Just picked up a Zone VI 4x5, and a Shen Hao 3 weeks ago. Both are used, the Zone VI was made 1989/1990 and is one of the limited runs of different wood. The Zone VI is better built than the Shen Hao, but that is not to say the Shen Hao is bad, it's just the Zone VI is that little bit better. The movements are all smooth, everything locks down very, very securely and the fit and finish is in my opinion perfect. Not bad for a camera over 20 years old and on it's 3rd owner!

Ted Rick , August 27, 2014; 07:13 P.M.

This is a very old page that I have just found, but I would like to add my comments about Zone VI cameras.

I was a commercial photographer and used a Sinar P for years in my work (mostly architectural).  I had been a subscriber to Fred Picker's newsletters since they began and when I retired I sold my Sinar and bought a Zone VI Field Camera as a retirement present.  I was never so disappointed in my life.  It was unwieldy to use and poorly finished (and this was meant to be a premium product - 'the most beautiful camera in the world', etc). 

After about six months I sold it to a second-hand camera dealer.  This was interesting - he could not pay me a top price because he already had three of them in stock, and he showed them to me.  I live in South East Australia where I don't think there would be many Zone VI owners and to say that  four of them had bought Zone VIs but had now sold them, I think, really says something about the cameras. 

Fred Picker was a very interesting person.  I think he was extremely self-confident and there was no arguing with him - his way was the only way.  But he wasn't as good with technical things as he thought he was.  I had all of his newsletters (I have since sold them on eBay) and I could pick some howlers.   Electronics people have said that his modified Spotmeter (I bought one of those also) was either not modified or, if it was, it made no difference. 

I'll now go out on a limb and say, yes, he made understanding the Zone system very easy but he was, actually, not much of a photographer.  He fell into the class that made technique everything, that is, that his photographs were mostly beautifully printed, toned and mounted photographs of . . . . . nothing very much.  How many pictures of ice on beaver ponds does the world need?  I know I will get loud howls of protest about this but consider this:  tell me where there is one example of his work in any reputable public collection or in any published anthology of American twentieth-century photography.  I have been unable to find any.  


Brian Rowland , August 08, 2015; 09:37 P.M.

Hi Ted,  I also own a Zone VI 8X10 purchased from Camera Exchange in Melbourne in 2012.  It is in near new condition and in my opinion well designed and built.

For what I paid ($1200)  it provides excellent value for money and delivers superb results. It has plenty of movements and unlike disposable digital SLR's it will be around for a long time.

There is something nice about Mahogany it is good to look at and durable.   My other LF camera is a 4X5 Linhof Master Technica which I adore for its precision and versatile movements - so my standards are high.

I also subscribed to the Zone VI Newsletter in the 80's and I was always impressed with Fred Picker's energy and enthusiasm.  While his photographic output may not have been in the class of Master photographers his photographs were competent and many people bought his fine prints for reference.

I believe Fred  gave us some reasonably priced and well built exceptional products:  notably the Zone VI cold light Stabiliser which I still use.  I have also been fortunate enough to pick up a Zone VI 5X7 enlarger which is also great to use with its dual cold light head and stabiliser.

Sure Fred was a good marketer but I think he also offered some really good advice on the art of making photographs both the seeing side as well as technicalities.  I think Zone VI  should be remembered as an exceptional American company that designed, built  and sold a great range of specialists photographic products.

There is no equivalent that I am aware of left in the world today.


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