Sinar P2
I was impressed when I saw in the 80s the Sinar P of an institute photographer. Without touching it - I would never have dared to do so - the camera with its shining aluminium and the multitude of adjustment knobs made the impression of a precision tool, as expensive as complicated. Indeed, the camera was at that time the Rolls Royce among large format cameras. This was partially due to its elevated price tag of about 8000 USD in 2007 for the 4x5 model - plus shutter and lens. The total cost was about 14000 USD. The main reason for the leading position of this camera was the ingenious and innovative engineering of Mr. Koch in Switzerland. Since there was not much to improve, the subsequent P2 model is not much different from the Sinar P. Still, due to its black painting, it is easily differentiated from the shiny Sinar P.

Modular Construction

The Sinar P2 is a big and heavy camera - much more so than a Linhof Technika, which takes pictures in the same size. However, these cameras have different concepts and are best suited for different tasks. While the Linhof Technika was designed with outdoor use in mind, the Sinar P2 is a distinctive studio camera.

The Sinar P2 is a modular camera which can be adapted to the sizes 4x5, 5x7 or 8x10, or the European equivalents 9x12, 13x18 or 18x24, respectively. The modularity is not restricted to picture sizes but holds also for other cameras of the Sinar system.

The Sinar X corresponds largely to the P2 4x5, but it has restrictions for use in other formats.
The F1 and F2 models use simpler standards and were accordingly cheaper. In 2007, the F1 was sold for 1600 USD, the F2 for 2700 USD, which is about one fifth or one third of the corresponding P2.

Almost all parts of the system may be used with any model, much of it even for the previous model Norma. Exceptions are the format frames of the P2 which can not be employed for the other models. The F2 allowed for different formats by exchanging the complete rear standard of the respective size.

Sinar provided also a hybrid model C2, which has the rear standard of the P2 and the front standard of the F2. My camera was initially a C2 for 8x10. I changed it later by changing the front standard to a P2, and I added frames and bellows for 4x5 and 5x7.

Changing for digital use is also possible with the frames of the P3. I suspect, however, that the P3 is better suited for the task due to adapted gears for finer movements.


"Sinar" is an acronym for the fields where the cameras may be employed: studio - industry - nature - architecture - reproduction. This may be valid for some Sinar models, but the Sinar P2 is not only big and heavy, it is also sensitive - even in the smallest size. While I occasionally use it outdoor, I see it mainly suited for the studio. This does not only apply for still life, but also for fashion and people photography. For example, Richard Avedon used the previous model Norma in the size 8x10 for his portrait photography.

The Sinar P2 is a monorail, i.e. a camera with an optical bench. This bench may be extended by adding further rail extensions. It can take besides the main standards also additional standards, for example for extending the bellows or for attaching a compendium. Even with large formats, the camera has thus no limits for use of long focus lenses.

Reinhard Wolf took his famous pictures from New York with a Norma 5x7 and such a long focus that he used two tripods for support.

Wide angle use is also not restricted. The standard bellows of each size may be swapped for a wide angle bellows. The Super-Angulon 5,6/58 may still be used on a flat panel, whereas shorter lenses require recessed boards.

DB Lenses and Behind-the-Lens Shutter

Sinar uses square boards in the size 14x14 cm which may be used with all standard lenses.

The Sinar cameras may be used with a behind-the-lens shutter, which also takes care of the diaphragm of the special lenses made for this shutter. These DB-("Druckblenden"-)lenses have their own diaphragm but no control for it nor a shutter. They are chaeper than regular lenses but can be used only with this shutter.

The shutter can be set from 8 seconds to 1/60 second, plus B. The f-stop ranges from 5,6-45, with newer shutters from 4-45. Some DB lenses like the shown Sinaron S 6,8/360 have an additional f-stop setting which allows closing the lens further than the setting of the shutter allows for (DBM lenses).

The behind-lens shutter offers several advantages:

  • Aperture and shutter speed can be set from the rear of the camera.
  • The shutter is self-cocking.
  • When the shutter is opened, it fully opens the aperture as well. For control of depth of field and vignetting, it may be closed to working aperture with the cable release.
  • When the back is connected with an automatic cable, shutter and aperture are set to taking conditions when inserting a cassette.
  • Lenses may be changed without re-adjusting aperture and shutter speed and without swapping cable release or sync cable.

Conventional lenses or barrel lenses up to a 75 mm lens diameter may used with the shutter function, for example historical lenses. The diameter exceeds a compound 5 shutter. It may be necessary to use an extended board to provide sufficient clearence for the shutter.

Working with the behind-lens shutter is much more comfortable, quicker and safer than with conventional lenses. Those interested in people photography with limited depth of field will appreciate the much shortend delay between focusing and taking the picture. Focusing with open aperture - inserting the cassette and pulling the dark slide - release. No other shutter can do it so quickly.

It does also have some disadvantages:

  • The sutter may be used only with flat or extended panels; the shortest focal length is 65 mm.
  • 1/60 s as the shortest shutter speed is rather long with continuous light, regarding moving objects as well as working with limited depth of field
  • The lenses made for this shutter can not be used for other cameras.
  • The shutter is fairly noisy, but this is understandeable due to its size.

The Sinar lenses were made by Rodenstock and correspond with their product line:

  • Sinaron S: Apo-Sironar N (white Ring)
  • Sinaron SE: Apo-Sironar S (red Ring)
  • Sinaron WS: Apo-Sironar-W
  • Sinaron W: Grandagon-N (green Ring)
  • Sinaron WE: Apo-Grandagon (green Ring)
  • Macro-Sinaron: Makro-Sironar
  • Macro-Sinaron SE: Apo-Makro-Sironar (orange Ring)
  • Apo-Sinaron: Apo-Ronar

The colour rings are present only on newer lenses.



A simple compendium consists of a standard bellows, two clips and a hexagonal connecting rod. Besides straight rods in various lengths, there is also an adjustable rod, as shown in a picture further below.

Those who want to use a compendium mask need a multipurpose standard (which is the front standard of the F1). The mask is fixed on the front, a standard bellows on the rear with only one clip for attachment to the lens standard. There are two different compendium masks. One is a simpler type with two flaps. The type shown in the picture has roller blinds which can be adjusted to fit the picture frame. The adjustment is made from the rear of the camera with the knobs on the corners of the mask.


Each ground glass has clipped corners which are used to check for vignetting and for the positioning of the compendium mask. This is achieved by looking through the corner to the rear of the stopped down lens. The intire circle of the diaphragm must be visible to exclude vignetting. The same holds for the positioning of the compendium masks which should just be invisible from the opposite corner. For the 4x5 back, the clipped corners are inside the picture area, whereas they are outside on the 5x7 and 8x10 backs.

The 4x5 back has a Graflok adapter so that it can be used with corresponding polaroid and roll film cassettes.

For roll film, Sinar provides cassettes which can be inserted like a double dark slide. They are bulkier than graflok cassettes but quicker to use. The picture shows a Zoom 2 cassette, which is adjustable for the formats 4,5x6, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 and 6x12 even between shots. Changing to smaller formats causes loss of film, however, so it is not a significant disadvantage to use the simpler Vario cassette instead. It offers the same sizes but they can be set only for the entire roll.

Besides these adjustable cassettes, there are also cassettes for fixed formats. The picture frame is shown with an adjustable mask in front of the ground glass.

To change the format of the 4x5 camera to 5x7 or 8x10, three parts are needed:

  • a format frame, which is attached to the rear bearer
  • a bellows of the corresponding size
  • a corresponding back.

These can be attached for vertical or horizontal orientation. For 8x10 there are two versions, one for use with the booster and the other without this capability.

Furthermore, the P2 8x10 has a more stable bank holder which is equipped with a metal bracket on top. Of course, this holder is also useable with the smaller formats.

The front standard is identical for all formats.

Metering Probe

Backs for the metering probe can be used with the Sinar Booster. This is a light sensor which can be moved and fixed to any position on the ground glass. This allows for an exact spot metering which takes into account bellows extension and filter factors. The corresponding light meter (for example Minolta Flashmeter V) can be attached to the side of the frame. However, working with the booster is a little awkward, which is why I rarely use it.

Camera Movements

The camera obviously provides all movements for horizontal and vertical shift, tilt and swing. Ten movements (five each for front and rear standard) have self locking gears. Those not working with the camera frequently can easily mix up which knob is associated with a particular movement. Unintentional changes are quite easily possible.

Besides the micrometric gears there are also four clamps, two each for re-positioning and and for base tilt of the standards. The base tilt of the rear standard can be inadvertantly changed due to leverage when inserting the cassette, particularly with the 8x10 back. As the middle illustration shows, this can easily escape attention. Solid clamping at the zero detent is recommendable to lower the risk.
In the 8×10 version, the adjustment range of the rear section is clearly limited, so that only minor corrections are possible. However, as the standards can be tilted overall by the clamps, additional adjustment can be gained by indirect displacement.

For the 8×10 format, there is also a wider standard block that allows slightly greater adjustment of the back. Both blocks can be used for all formats.

Swing and tilt mechanisms of the P2 are constructed in a way that they turn around an axis which is indicated on the ground glass (see illustration further above). These axes are the right and the lower dotted lines. Due to these asymmetric movements, the focus point on these lines is not lost with tilts and swings of the ground glass. Since only the other areas of the picture are affected by the movements, setting the focal plane according to the Scheimpflug principle can be easily and securely applied.

This method applies to adjustments of the rear standard but affects image proportions. To avoid this, both standards have scales to transfer the rear movement to the front standard.

Due to the asymmetric movements, the camera is particularly suited for tasks where changes of the focus plane are required. The other Sinar models do not provide asymmetric tilts and shifts, but the F models provide an angle metering scale which aid Scheimpflug adjustments in a similar way.

Besides these control options the camera features also a scale for depth of field control. To use it, the camera is first set to the far focus point, and the scale is set to zero. After focusing to the near point, the required f-stop to achieve appropriate depth of field can be read off the scale. After turning the focus gear halfway back, it is properly set. Unfortunately, the scale is not exchangeable. Accordingly, it can be used only for one format, unless it is covered by a scale for a different format in use.

Tripods and Tripod Heads

The Sinar P2 is a studio camera, and to my view the only truly adequate support is a column stand. Unfortunately, due to size, weight and cost I do not own one, so I need to resort to other solutions.

Adjusting the legs of a tripod or even a center post with the mounted camera is challenging due to the high build of the camera and due to its size. In order to make it reasonably manageable, I use a Manfrotto 058 in the studio which has a stable geared center post and legs which can be adjusted by pressing a button on top. When it is necessary to get further down - which is often necessary due to the high build up - it gets difficult because the angle of the legs has to be changed by adjusting the struts. This is not an easy task.

Along with this tripod I use the Manfrotto gear head 400, which allows for accurate adjustment and which offers a quick release to easily take off the camera.

This combination weighs in about 20 kg (45 lbs) which makes it difficult to maneuver around. I used this combination with a dolly (tripod carriage) which does make it much easier. However, it is even a little further up, and it can no longer be moved down.

On the rare occations I used the camera outside the studio, I use a Gitzo carbon tripod series 4 (G1349) along with the Sinar head. The Sinar head can be moved in only two axes; the third is adjusted with the bank holder. Because this is only a clamp, it is necessary to be careful so that the camera does not inadvertantly tip. Because I often need small changes in hight, I use it with a center post. Because it has no gear, the whole weight of the camera has to be lifted with one hand when changing the hight. This combination is not as easy to use as the Manfrotto combination, but it saves some weight. Both are not perfect.

Richard Avedon also used only a Gitzo tripod, so it is manageable. He had some assistants, though.

What's in my Trolley?

I transport the camera in a Rimowa case. With the 4x5 back, a lens and a compendium it just fits in, additionally also the separate 5x7 back, rail extension, lupe, dark cloth and the cables for the shutter. Additionally also my "zoom finder" made from cardboard, very useful because it saves unneccessary repositioning of the camera. All in all this makes up for 18 kg (40 lbs); cassettes, additional lenses and unfortunately also the sensitive 8x10 back need to be transported separately. The camera alone weighs about 7 kg (15 lbs), without compendium.

Tips for Buying Second Hand

Sinar cameras in the 4x5 version, including the Sinar P or P2, can be easily found on the used marked. A P2 in good condition without shutter and lens will cost about 600 € to 800 €, considerably less for the similar P. The 5x7 and 8x10 versions are offered less often and at higher cost. However, used conversion kits for 5x7 are easy to find. Those for 8x10 often cost twice as much as the 4x5 camera.

With some offers, the end caps of the rail are missing. They prevent indadvertant shifting of the standards off the rail. Replacements are easy to find.

The behind-the-lens shutter and DB lenses are readily available, though the shutter often at higher prices but without the necessary cables for release, flash and cassette automation. It is good to know that these can not be replaced by alternatives, including the shutter release cable. With some luck, a complete set can be found for about 300 €. Also pay attention to the connector which is necessary to attach the automatic cable to the back. Newer versions have a plastic nut which can break for no obvious reason. The adapter may be used without this nut, but it can not be securely adjusted. Metal replacements are available.

The bellows, like with all large format cameras, are weak points of the system. Damaged corners or even patches are not a good sign. Replacements for 4x5 are easy to find, whereas the 8x10 bellows can be costly.

The Sinar P/P2 has geared tracks which are mostly made of plastic. Due to the substantial weight of the camera, these are easily damaged with rough handling. The gears then stop working at the position of the damage, which makes a repair unavoidable. I had this already twice, and each repair costs above 200 €.

The gears can have some play. My camera has some with shift and tilt, but I can live with it. For the focusing gears this would be hardly tolerable, but my camera at least has no issue here.

The spirit levels often dry out. They are difficult to access, so a do-it-yourself repair is not easy.

The adapter for the sync connection is not overly robust. I have one which does not release reliably, and another where the outer rubber sleeve deteriorates, leaving exposed thin but still isolated cables.

The rubber sleeves of the gear knobs and of the bank holder are not resistant to aging. A while ago at least they were still available for replacement. The Sinar P has no such rubber sleeves, so there is nothing to deteriorate. Sinar does not produce the P2 any more, but the P3 which shares some similar parts is still sold. I am not sure, however, whether this indicates longer term avaliability of parts for the P2. Since repairs are expensive anyway, a replacement by a used part is certainly something to consider.

My Experience with the  Sinar P2

The Sinar P2 is one of the two large format cameras which I currently prefer for the studio. I like the ingenious and modular construction, which allows for comfortable work with different formats. Accurate Scheimpflug adjustments are usually not so important for my work, but if I do still life the asymmetric tilt and shift mechanisms make the adjustment a joy to use. I love also the behind-lens shutter, not only due to its comfort and its speed of operation, but also because it allows use of barrel lenses. It would be nice to have the shutter opening even a bit wider and to have shorter exposure time options so that it would be better suited to fast lenses and for daylight work. Still, most other cameras do not even provide an equivalent of this shutter.

Not so much to my liking is the high weight and the mechanical sensitivity. I would like to put the camera on a column studio stand, but I do not have this option. I can live with other options for studio work, but outside it is getting rather difficult. Ten meters from the car are manageable, provided the camera does not hit anything which may cost a defective gear.

Despite these critical points, I appreciate the camera and the substantial thought that went into its design. However, due to its high weight, I consider to extend the system by a 5x7 F2 back; anything else I need for a complete F2 is still availble from my original C2.

Finally, some pictures which I took with this camera:


I provide this information solely because I like photography and because it may be useful. I have no commercial relationships to any vendor or manufacturer mentioned in this post. The camera and all supplementary parts are my personal property.

What people talk 5 Comments

9. January 2024 Tayo Afuwape

Very happy with Sinar. It really is a beautiful piece of equipment.
The quality shines through.
Thank you for your thorough description of the P2.

6. September 2023 Boris Haberthür

Lieber Ewald

Vielen Dank für Deinen tollen Blog.

Ich habe gerade en einstieg in die Grossformat Fotografie gewagt und freue mich sehr auf die neue Herausforderung. Ich habe günstig eine Sinar P erworben. Da ich fast ausschliesslich Architektur im Grossformat ablichten möchte, bin ich jedoch am zweifeln ob ich nicht besser die F2 gekauft hätte. Nun überlege ich mir meine Kamera zu einer F2 oder C umzubauen.

Nun habe ich eine Frage.
Es gibt Bildstandarten, Objektivstandarten und Wechselstandarten. Was sind sind die Unterscheide der jeweiligen Standarten? Dient die Bezeichnung nur der Lage der Standarte oder gibt es da Unterschiede von der Rück- zur Frontstandarte?

Besten Dank im Voraus.

Herzliche Grüsse

6. September 2023 ewald

Lieber Boris,

die Sinar P habe ich zwar selbst nicht, aber die P2 ist ja nicht sonderlich verschieden. Prinzipiell sind sie wegen ihrer ausgeklügelten Kontrollmöglichkeiten und der Basis-Schwenkung hervorragend für Architektur geeignet.

Es mag sein, dass die P (wie auch manche P2) Zahntriebe aus Metall hat, aber auch dann ist es meines Erachtens wegen der nicht arretierbaren Feintriebe eine empfindliche Kamera. Wenn Du sie unterwegs einsetzen willst, rate ich dazu, die Träger beim Transport von der Bankschiene zu nehmen.

Die Sinar F und F2 Modelle sind leichter und haben auch nur jeweils einen Feintrieb an den Standarten. An der Frontstandarte der F ist nicht einmal der. Die machen zwar bei der Arbeit weniger Freude, aber wahrscheinlich auch weniger Ärger. Selbst Gregory Crewdson hatte an seiner P2 eine Frontstandarte der F2 verwendet, ich denke aus guten Gründen.

Wechselstandarten heißt wohl nur, dass man sie auswechseln kann. Wobei die P/P2 aber anders als die F/F2 auch wechselbare Formatrahmen haben. Von der F2 gibt es (selten und einiges teurer) auch Versionen für 5×7 und 8×10. Deren Standarten sind ähnlich, aber deutlich stärker ausgelegt als bei dem 4×5 Modell.

Front- und Rückstandarte haben bei allen Modellen die gleichen Anschlüsse für Objektive, Balgen und Mattscheibe. Funktionalität und vor allem die Bauform sind aber verschieden. Das siehst du auch an der P, deren Standarten zu den Außenseiten der Kamera herausragen, zur Innenseite aber nicht. Nur so läßt sich ein minimaler Balgenauszug realisieren, wenn man die Bedienelemente auf der gleichen Seite haben will.

Ich hoffe das hilft Dir weiter!

Herzliche Grüße,

20. December 2022 Ruediger Merz


I just bought a Sinar F2, which will arrive today, and this article is very helpful. Thank you so much for all the work you put into to it. I have an apprenticeship in photolab technique, which is now over 40 years ago. But since then I used all kinds of different cameras. And photography is still may main passion. I am new to large format and I am excited about the Sinar. I found a book, Photo Know-How The art of large format photography by Carl Koch/Marchesi. Which is good, because in the photo school we used the Photokollegium series. So I know the Marchesi style. Let me make one suggestion to your article: There are some paragraphs which are still in German. Since I am an American-German I have no problem reading it. But I can imagine that some english speaking people get confused. You might wanna finish translating those.;)

Happy photographing.


25. December 2022 ewald

Hello Rudy,

thanks so much for your comment!

I found indeed a few passages which were not translated. That is fixed now.

Congratulations to your F2! I think you will like to work with a large format camera, and the F2 is a good choice – actually better for outdoor use than the P2.
If you want to know more about the Sinar system: there is also a series of five books: SinarEdition/Verlag Photographie, written by Urs Tillmanns. The first is a fairly detailed description of the system, the others describe its use for specific photographic themes.

Happy work with the new format!

Best wishes,

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