Linhof is a long established company in Munich in Germany which is well known for their precision analog cameras. The Linhof Technika was first marketed in 1936 and has been contionously further developed since then. It is a full metal camera for sheet film in the sizes 9x12 cm or 4x5 inch. but it can also be used with roll film backs up to 6x12 cm. Furthermore, models for 6x9 cm und 13x18 cm (5x7 inch) were also available.
Even if many judge this camera as being outdated: the 4x5 inch models are still in production in Munich. Two similar cameras are available, the Master Technika Classic with a rangefinder and the Master Technika 3000 which has a built in wide angle device instead of the rangefinder. These cameras are not cheap, but due to the high production cost in Germany and the precision work this is more easily to understand than the pricing level of a first class digital camera which is mass produced in countries with low wages.
Since I buy my equipment usually second hand, I do not know the production date of my camera. It is a Master Technika, which was built since 1972 and which corresponds largely to the currently produced Master Technika Classic. I owned a Super Technika V before, which is only slightly different from my current camera and can be had at considerably lower cost. The Supter Technika V lacks the flap in the front top of the camera (recognizeable by the two knobs on each side), but it has a useful sprit level instead.
The Linhof Technika is a field camera with a body which can be completely closed. A small lens like the shown Apo-Symmar L 5,6/150 does not have to be removed and is protected during transport. When opened, the drop bed carries the lens standard. The track has a double extension, allowing for use of longer lenses.
However, long lenses are not nearly as long as those of a 35 mm camera. It gets already difficult with a Apo-Ronar 9/360; for close focus (up to 10 feet) it is necessary to fully extend the drop bed tracks and the back as well.
Telephoto designs like the Apo-Tele-Xenar 5,6/400 are much more appropriate for this purpose, but it is much much larger, heavier and expensive. These lenses correspond to a 105 mm lens on a 35 mm camera. Thus, use of long lenses is not a stength of such cameras.
Normal and wide angle lenses are much more appropriate. While the field camera design limits the use of extreme wide angles as well as the down shift, they are still suitable for many purposes. Thus, the Technika is not the best choice for architecture and product photography, but perfectly suited for landscapes and portraiture, particularly due to the ease of transportation and the availability of a rangefinder and a viewfinder.
Use as a View Camera
The Linhof Technika is a fully adequate view camera, allowing for control of perspective and focal plane by adjusting the standards.
Changes of perspective are achieved by shifting the lens, which is possible in three directions: upwards and to both sides. For adjustment of the focal plane both the front standard and the back can be tilted in all directions.
The upper illustration shows an adjustment for correction of perspective to avoid tilting lines. Despite horizontal line up of the camera, the picture will be taken almost 45 degrees upward. The second pictures shows the setting for changes of the focal plane. In this case, both the front standard and the back show a horizontal swing. In this setting, the focal plane extends from infinity on one side to 50 cm (about 20 inch) on the other.
These adjustements are controlled on the ground glass. Because this is pretty dark some sort of device is needed to see it properly. The camera has a a built in hood, but to my view it is not particularly useful except for protection of the grond glass during transport. I much prefer a dark cloth and a 7x lupe. A good protection against stray light is achieved by the hood from BTZS, albeit the ground glass may be fogged in cold weather by your breath. For photographing in less bright environments I prefer a standard dark cloth.
An alternative to a dark cloth is the focusing bellows with a lupe which can be separated, allowing to see either the whole picture or an enlarged part of it. Unfortunately, it is lined with foam inside, which stabilizes it but is not overly stable long term. It is safe to assume that the foam will crumble within few years of use, rendering the bellows useless. As a remedy I lined mine with black velvet, but it is elaborate to do.
The third option is the rigid right angle mirror from Linhof. It allows for side inversed but upright viewing and can be swung away to allow for critical focussing.
Use as a Rangefinder Camera
Without using movements, the Technika may be used as a viewfinder camera. It is used then with the built in rangefinder and an optional viewfinder.
The rangefinder is attached to the side of the camera and has a base of about 9 cm (3,5 inch). Its use is not easy for everybody, but I like to work with it. Each lens requires a specifically made cam which is inserted into the coupling mechanism in the bottom of the camera. These cams can not be interchanged for different lenses, even if the correct focal lenghth is indicated. The picture shows two superimposed cams for 150 mm lenses, but it is obvious that the slope of both curves is different. Each cam has, therefore, also an imprint of the serial number of the lens for which it was made. It is thus not meaningful to purchase single cams without the lens.
While the rangefinder is built into the camera, the viewfinder is sold separately at considerable cost. Along with the rangfinder, it allows for use as a viewfinder camera. It can be adjusted for focal lengths from 75 to 360 mm and fitted with exchangeable masks for different formats, for example 4x5 inch, 6x7 cm or 6x12 cm. Unfortunately it is not possible to see the whole frame when wearing glasses amd using focal lengths below 135 mm. There are no diopter correction lenses which could be used with shorter focal lenghts. I glued on a Nikon diopter correction lens on my viewfinder, but this is probably not to everybodies liking. There is also an older model with grey lacquer where this restriction is even more pronounce.
Those who want to use the Technika as a hend held viewfinder camera, may want to attach a hand grip which is also a separate accessory. Working this way strengthens the muscles.
Usage with Wide Angle Lenses
The Rodenstock Grandagon-N 4,5/75 is my strongest wide angle which can be used on a recessed lens board. The very short extension of the lens standard allows only for small amounts of movements upwards or to the sides. The flap on top of the camera extends the movement range a little, but the gain is not substantial. In most cases a Super Technika V which does not have this flap will also be sufficient. The flap is the only component of the camera which does not quite correspond to the high build quality: it has no hinge but is just glued to the leatherette. It fulfils its function, though.
Lenses below 72 mm can not be used directly with this Technika model. This is possible with the Technika 3000 (or the earlier 2000) which is equipped with an additionla focusing rail in the camera body. However, lenses with a helicoid can be used with the master Technika without this focusing rail. If the drop bed is moved to the lowest position, even the Schneider Super-Angulon 5,6/47 XL may be used - corresponding to about 14 mm for a 35 mm camera. Moving the standard is in this position hardly possible, but when removing the accessory shoe 1 cm rise is possible. This is more than the image circle of this lens allows.
The 47 XL with infinity focus must be used with the back in horizontal position, otherwise the drop bed will be slightly in the picture frame. For vertical images the camera must be turned of the lens slightly shifted upwards.
Lenses with helicoid are mounted on flat lens boards, which precludes using them with other cameras which ususally require a recessed lens board.
Lens boards and cable releases
The Linhof Technika lens boards may be used on many other cameras, for example the Linhof Technikardan or many field cameras like the 4x5 inch models from Chamonixor Shen-Hao . Furthermore, adapters for use on other cameras are available. It is also possible to use the even smaller lens boards of the Horsman cameras on the Technika.
The Technika lens boards are quite small but allow for mounting lenses up to shutter size 3. Recessed lenses are available only for size 0, hence some faster wide angle lenses like the Super Angulon 4,5/90 in size 1 shutters must be mounted on flat boards. This limits the movements a little compared to the slower wide angles.
The threads for the cable releases are fairly close to the lens board, which makes it difficult to handle or even impossible with recessed lens boards. Some lens boards are therefore equipped with a quick release where the Linhof cable release is simply inserted. This works only with cable releases from Linhof which have recess above the knurled part. These releases may also be inserted into the hand grip. Furthermore, a little cone which is supplied with the Linhof releases must be fitted to the thread, otherwise it often will not attach properly. Since these are easily lost, I usually carry two different releases.
Roll film backs
The Technika has a Graflok back, which means that besides the regular double dark slides Super Rollex or other roll film backs may also be used. These are available in the formats 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 and 6x12 cm.
Using cassettes which can slide in are easier to use, although the Sinar Vario cassette is quite big. Linhof also has the Rapid Rollex 6x7 for sliding in, but the picture frame is not centered.
Tripods and Tripod Heads
The Linhof Technika has three threads for attachment to a tripod. One is below the housing, the second is in front of the flap, and the third is below the accessory shoe which can be removed. These additional threads are usful for a better balance with a heavy lens or for upside down mounting of the camera. The latter allows for downshift, but usage requires acrobatic talent and not for regular use. For longer lenses it is usually sufficient to use indirect downshift by lowering the bed and tilting the lens backward to get it parallel to the film plane.
The quick release plate of the Manfrotto 410 head fits the Technika well, and I have a second plate mounted on the front flap. As an alternative, I use the small Arca-Swiss system with the Arca-Swiss P0, which also has a L-Grip. This is stable enough to hold the camera turned 90 degrees, as may be necessary for the Super-Angulon 47 XL. Under normal circumstances the rotating back will be used instead.
What's in my bag?
An equipment suitable for many purpusos consists of the lenses 65, 90, 150, 250 and 400 mm as well as a pinhole with shutter. This can be stowed in a fairly compact backpack. Depending on the task, I may exchange some lenses or leave them out altogether. Besides three double dark sides, two Grafmatic cassettes also fit, in total good for 18 exposures.
The pockets hold some small parts and the dark cloth. On the outside I fix the carbon tripod with ball head. The total weight is about 11 kg (about 24 lbs), which is reasonable to carry for 10 km (6 miles) hiking in the black forest.
Tips for Buying Second Hand
A company like Linhof deserves selling new cameras. However, not everybody will be able to spend a substantial amount of money, while a used camera may be within budget. Depending on the condition, a used Technika will cost 1000 € to 2000 €, plus lens. This is still a lot of money, but not more than a mid-priced digital camera which will lose its value in few years. The Technika is a precision instrument which will be a deligh to use for many years. I owned an older Technika 70, which still could be repaired at Linhof. The Technikas are robust, however, and repairs will rarely be necessary also with older cameras. My Master Technika had a broken rail for the Graflok, and Linhof sent me a replacement free of charge - a service which I would hardly expect anywhere else.
A Super Technika V is largely identical with the Master Technika shown here, and it is just as suitable for most purposes. I would opt for a model from later production with a metal lever for the shift adjustment, the same as it is on the Master Technika.
The most important part which suffers from wear is the bellows. It is quite supple to allow for flexibility and may be damaged with older cameras. Carefully check the corners of the bellows; the must not show any holes. Even tiny holes which are not obvious (pinholes) are critical. To check the condition, extend the bellows and inspect it from the inside with strong lighting from the outside. If you want to work with the rangefinder, check out the adjustment. With an inserted cam and fully retracted rail, the images must superimpose.
With some cameras the leatherette is partially missing, but this is only cosmetically relevant.
My experience with the Technika
The Technika stands for a different photographic experience than accustomed from a digital camera. Taking conditions, effort and cost lead to thinking in single pictures. This can be done with a digital camera just as well, but judging from myself I usually work differently with those. This extra care which goes into each picture likely shows up in their quality.
The pictures are different regarding their content. Fine greyscales, selective sharpness, change of perspective - all this can be easily achieved. These properties are valid for all large format cameras, but the Technika puts it into a system which is easy to transport, robust and fairly quick to set up. It does have restrictions compared to other large format camera designs, but since I rarely photograph architecture or products this is hardly relevant for me. The capability to work without the ground glass is highly valuable for me, and most other large format cameras do not provide this option.
Last not least I like the precision and technical refinement which went into the construction of this camera. Thus, there are good reasons why this camera is still in production. All in all, I appreciate this camera a lot and will use it long term.