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 4×5 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 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.
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 4×5, 5×7 or 8×10, or the European equivalents 9×12, 13×18 or 18×24, 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 4×5, 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 8×10. I changed it later by changing the front standard to a P2, and I added frames and bellows for 4×5 and 5×7.
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 8×10 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.
Wide angle use is also not restricted. The standard bellows of each size may be swapped for a wide andle 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-Lens Shutter
Sinar uses square boards in the size 14×14 cm which may be used with all standard lenses.
The Sinar cameras may be used with a behind-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 may 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.
- 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 carrel 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 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 (grüner 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 4×5 back, the clipped corners are inside the picture area, whereas they are outside on the 5×7 and 8×10 backs.
The 4×5 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 4,5×6, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×12 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 4×5 camera to 5×7 or 8×10, 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 8×10 there are two versions, one for use with the booster and the other without this capability
Furthermore, the P2 8×10 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.
Backs for the meter 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 rarele use it.
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 8×10 back. As the middle illustration shows, this can easily escape attention. Solid clamping at the zero detent is recommendable to lower the risk.
Shifts are noticeably reduced with the 8×10 back, so that it allows only for minor corrections. Movement can be substantially increased by using the base tilts or the swings for indirect movement.
For 8×10 there is also a larger bearer which allows for a little more shift. However, this and the normal bearer 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 Case?
I transport the camera in a Rimowa case. With the 4×5 back, a lens and a compendium it just fits in, additionally also the separate 5×7 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 8×10 back need to be transported separately. The camera alone weighs about 7 kg (15 lbs), without compendium.
Tips for Buying Used Gear
Sinar cameras in the 4×5 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 5×7 and 8×10 versions are offered less often and at higher cost. However, used conversion kits for 5×7 are easy to find. Those for 8×10 often cost twice as much as the 4×5 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-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 4×5 are easy to find, whereas the 8×10 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 5×7 F2 back; anything else I need for a complete F2 is still availble from my original C2.
Finally, some pictures 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.