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Linhof Technika:4x5 Used Buying Guide
Tech III, Tech IV, Tech V, Master, 2000, Recognizing Cams, Disassembly, Used Buying Guide, Conversions Rangefinder Focusing
Unsurpassed precision and quality in a Technical Field Camera. That's what the Linhof Technika is all about. Strangely enough, there is little information available to help you choose the best one for you or even identify the different models. This guide aims to help.
Technika History to Tech III
Interestingly enough, Linhof actually INVENTED the all metal field camera. In the beginning was the Linhof Technika I and II. Forget them as modern user cameras. Not worth discussing here except to say their serial #'s preceded 19,000. They are black square cameras with no bright metal trim. No Technikas before the III had built in RF. Now you know what to avoid.
Popularly Technikas are often referred to as "Press Cameras" since they are so similar to the Speed/Crown Graphics and offer such comparatively fast 4x5 operation. This will drive purest nuts, since technically speaking, Press Cameras do not have back movements. "Technical Field Camera" is a more correct technical description. OK, so it's a cheap pun---I couldn't resist. Graflex made me do it.
The modern Technika III was introduced in 1946. Unfortunately there were FIVE different Technika III's bearing the same "Tech III" designation!!
The first 1946 Tech III had all the essential III features including
Linhof introduced interchangeable Rangefinder Cams on the III. Change a lens, change the cam, and you still have RF focusing. That's the good part. The bad part is that EACH Tech III had to be matched to EACH lens. In other words, III (and IV) cams are not interchangeable with different lenses or cameras. Sometimes you might luck out and it will work out OK, but it will be luck. Linhof no longer grinds III or IV cams, but a talented photo machinist can still make them for you. If that you want to use modern lenses with RF focusing, the III is not your best and easiest choice. Of course the III is still a fine choice with ground glass focusing.
A lightweight alternative is to remove the rangefinder/cam assembly in order to lighten the camera and reduce its size. It's not as hard as it might sound. If you can work on your car, you should be able to rangefinder in an afternoon's work--just a few screws here and there. This is an especially smart move if you shoot modern lenses and can't get any cams ground for them anyway. After you remove it, it's easy to cover area with leatherette.
There are FIVE Tech III's, ALL called the Tech III! With the rangefinder, it's a Super Technika, without RF it's a Technika -- or so say the old Linhof manuals, so I pass on their terminology. Serial #'s are approximate and may not be accurate because factory records were not always accurate, according to Bob Solomon of HP marketing, the US importer of Linhof.
Common Tech III Aging Problems: Keep in mind that the youngest III's are 40 plus years old, and they have probably seen a very busy and profitable commercial life.
Easy Tech III Modifications
Tech III Operating Tips
If you are new to Techs, the hardest things to figure out will most likely be:
Front Swings: On the lower left edge of the front standard, as you are facing it, is a flat chrome lip. Press it downward, and rotate the front standard.
Front Backward Tilt: Notice the two buttons on each side of the front standard, on the outside of the yoke handle. Push them in, and tilt the standard back.
Back swings/tilts: See those chrome knobs on the rear of the body? Loosen them and pull the back out. Set the back as you like, and then tighten them down until after the shot. You will have to focus by ground glass for this--the rangefinder will no longer be accurate.
To change the focusing cam, open the camera and leave the front standard in the body. Extend the focusing rail. That triangular chrome thing below the focusing rail is the cam. Just pull it out to remove it.
The focusing rail extends an extra five inches or so by depressing the two chrome lips on the right lower side of the focusing rail (as you are facing it). Then pull it out manually, or womanly, as the case might be. It is not geared. Remember to UNLATCH the little metal catches on either side of the bellows before you do this, or you run the risk of tearing your bellows.
The back just revolves, turn it and you will see. No lock.
To remove the anatomical grip, push inward on the chrome lip at the bottom of the grip mount, and then slide the grip DOWNWARD. The little lever on the top of the grip mount must be pointing down.
Early Tech III's were not made with the Graflok aka International backs, only Version 5 left the factory that way. It could be fitted to earlier models. To unlock this version, push the chrome locking latches OUTWARD on either side. The focusing back will just slide off in the direction of the center finger hold. Be careful not to drop it.
In some ways the III is the wonderful older sister everyone ignores because of the beautiful younger sister. The III is a VERY competent camera, just very over shadowed by the IV and later cameras. Detractors forget the III still outperforms ALL of the Graphic press cameras in terms of precision, rugged construction and movements.
The much improved Tech IV was made 1956 to 1964. Serial numbers started from # 62501. From 70500 top of RF housing is flush with top of body. IV's usually have tan leather. Features include:
Tech IV Weak Points:
An improved IV, Tech V's were made from 1963 to 1976. They are practically the same camera. A better name for the V would have been the "IVa". The V has all the features of the IV and then some. V's usually have tan leather.
HOW to spot the different RF Cams
III Cams are Flat, without the IV and later ridged groves which insert into the camera body. III cams will not physically interchange with the later IV/V/Master--and vice versa. The top of the cam has the focal length and serial number of the lens engraved upon it. The bottom of the cam has the serial number of the camera they are matched for. IF the camera serial number on the cam is before 62501 (the starting point for the Tech IV) the cam has to be for the Tech III.
The IV/V/Master RF cams will physically interchange. They can be quickly recognized because they have ridged grooves where the cam is inserted into the camera body.
IV cams have the serial number of the camera on the bottom of the cam AS WELL as the serial number of the lens on the top of the cam. Note that since the IV has a non standardized back, its cams will not dependably focus on the later cameras, or even on other IV's.
V/Master cams look the same as the IV cams, but ONLY have the serial number of the lens engraved. These cams can be accurately interchanged between V and Master bodies using that particular lens.
The Master Technika was introduced in 1972 and is still in production. Masters are slightly improved V's, which is to say, slightly improved IV's. Perhaps a better name for the Master would have been the IVb. Masters usually have black leather. The Masters do have slightly more movements than the V, but whether you can justify the big increase in price for such slight improvements is a logical question.
The Master's claim to fame is improved extreme wide angle movements by way of a top body flap which will move out of the way for extra movements with wide angles. In other words, if you don't work too much with lenses shorter than 90mm, the V will do the job just as well for a lot less.
Linhof's newest Technika is the 2000. It's a modified Master. The main modifications seems to be the removal of the optical rangefinder and mechanical linkages, and the addition of base track focusing in the camera body for wide angle lenses. This makes the 2000 body a bit smaller than the Tech V. The 2000's increased wide angle capabilities have finally done away with the wide angle focusing device for 65mm or shorter lenses.
As introduced in 1994, the 2000 had a optional, large, and expensive electronic rangefinder which was attached to the top of the camera. It was also completely incompatible with all previous rangefinder cams. The electronic rangefinder proved unpopular with consumers and was discontinued in 1998.
On the other hand, if you like Rangefinder focusing, the 2000 is NOT your best choice. Even if you prefer and can find a used electronic rangefinder, the V/Masters are a much better buy for rangefinder focusing . Even with the Master's $200 per lens fee for grinding a new RF cam, you will come out ahead dollars wise with the older cam system of the V/Master. On top of that, the V/Masters will RF couple to longer and shorter lenses than the 2000.
Someone must have used 2000's for sale, but I have yet to see a used one. Translate that into low production and happy original owners. It's an outstanding camera if your budget will allow it. Undoubtedly the 2000 is the best 4x5 Tech choice for super wide lenses. I'm told it's the choice of John Sexton. Too bad all of us don't have his talent. Well, maybe some of us do.....in my dreams.
Techs in other Sizes
Smaller versions of the Tech are often encountered in roll film 6x9 size. Most of these are older style III variations, but can be elaborate as a miniature version of the Technika V. Personally I never thought the small size reduction was worth the loss of 4x5, but to each their own.
5x7. There is a conversion back for 4x5 to 5x7, but they are far and few between....and rather expensive. There are also a few 5x7 Techs out there. Most of them are III's or IV's in my experience. I have never heard of a Master 5x7.
8x10? Yes. 8x10. A very small number.....16 to be exact were made. Again, very few and far between.......and expensive. But if that is what you want, let me know.
You may need to clean your Tech up, or perform minor repairs on it. Basic disassembly is very easy, so long as you don't over do it and get yourself into trouble.
To Remove the bellows and front standard from the body on the I, II, II, IV, IV and Master, all you have to do is 1) Loosen the four locking knobs for the back movements. 2) Remove the end caps for the four rear movement rods. Open your camera up, pull out the front standard to its normal position, and then look back at the inside case of your camera. You will see four metal rods with end caps screws on them. Unscrew and remove the end caps screws. 3) Pull the front standard forward so it is off its tracks 4) Pull the back off the camera away from its body, thus pulling the front standard and the bellows through the body cavity and away from the body. To install after cleaning, just do the opposite. Be careful about the bellows, otherwise you might tear it.
To remove the remove the revolving back off the body, rotate the back 45 degrees off square. From the back of the camera, look at the body of the camera you have thus exposed. Notice at each of the four corners there are four flat metal latches. Push them outward, they will move about 3/8". With all four latches unlocked, the revolving back will simply lift off.
Used Tech Buying Guide
If you are on a budget, the III offers low price and more versatility than any Graphic. Yet I would avoid it unless it is in exceptionally nice condition. Think twice about paying more for an outfit with older RF cammed lenses. It's false economy as far as I am concerned. Modern lenses are sharper. Just resign yourself to not being able to use the Rangefinder with modern lenses. This is not important to a lot of photogs who remove the RF to save weight anyway. In other words, don't buy a Tech III unless is very low priced -- something you will seldom find. Put your money in a Tech V. As the world moves to digital and there are less and less large format shooters, large format equipment is dropping in price across the board, including Techs.
The IV/V/Master/2000 are variations of the same camera. All are much more capable than the III and are much more expensive (surprise). From a dollar to performance standpoint, the $1500 or so difference between V and Master bodies make the V an easy best buy in my eyes. If you want to use a 65, my personal solution is the addition of a Super Graphic camera rather than the very expensive wide angle focusing device, or the Linhof Color conversion listed below.
Used Tech stuff is often difficult to find. If you are just starting out in Linhof, think twice before turning down an outfit. It might save you a lot of time looking.
OFF Brand Lens Boards are out there, made by a number of different people. The real ones sell for more new, and more used. Some generics I have looked at did not fit properly. I am told some work fine. Still, I personally prefer the real thing.
LENSES: Due to a reputedly high Linhof rejection rate, the odds are that a "Linhof" labeled lens will be better than the same non Linhof labeled lens.
Linhof Color for Super Wide: If you are looking for a second camera for wide angles, this might be it. It will take lenses as short as 65 mm. It's a strange beast, basically a Technika IV front standard/bellows/rear standard mounted on an overly large monorail. While large and heavy, it has the SAME lens boards and revolving back as the IV. Compared to a normal monorail camera, they aren't too great in the movement department--but still very adequate for field work. As a result, they sell comparatively cheaply, $400-500 being an average price in the US. They were manufactured from 1958 to 64, when they were replaced with the more versatile but very similar Kardon Color which was manufactured 1964 to 1975.
Take a second look at the Linhof Color. I have seen home made conversions which remove the front and back standards to install them on a short, compact focusing rail. This will give you a VERY compact wide angle camera at a bargain price. I'm working on such a conversion myself. $600 for a poor man's TechniKardan doesn't sound too bad to me. Another possibility is substituting a bag bellows.
"Master" Tech III's, IV's and V's
The Master Technika's folding top flap for wide angle lens coverage is fairly simple, and probably a modification you could do to an earlier model. Apparently there is no real hinge used for the flap on the Master. Instead, it depends upon the bending of the leatherette. Strange, but true as far as I can tell.
Consult your local friendly machine shop. Three cuts, a hinge, and two little locks, and that's it!! Just remove the top leather first, then re-glue it. Only when you do it, do it right and have them install a real hinge. Unless you are skilled in metal working, this is not something you want to try yourself. Pay the few extra bucks, and have an expert make the modifications.
Rangefinder Focusing: Unfortunately Out of Fashion
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no art law which states photogs are only artsy fartsy if hunkered down behind a ground glass and tripod, with a dark cloth over their heads.
Most Technika's have built in rangefinders for fast, quick focusing. While Rangefinder focusing for large format was very popular in the 50's, here in the 80's and 90's it has fallen out of fashion. Today, most Technika users are fine art photographers who prefer ground glass focusing for careful composition. While this certainly has its place, so does RF focusing.
If the light or subject is quickly changing, practically the only way to get the image on film is with Rangefinder focusing. With practice it's quite practical to spot shots and take them hand held within 30 seconds from start to finish using the Technika's rangefinder focusing.
I am not suggesting that ground glass focusing should be forgotten, just that RF focusing often is--and it shouldn't be!!! It's an important function of your camera. If you don't learn to use it and add it to your bag of tricks, you will be short changing yourself and your work.
NOTE: If you like RF focusing, the best choices today are the Tech V and Master. Cams for the III are no longer being made, so you can't mate it with newer, sharper optics. RF cams for the IV are matched ONLY to that camera, so you have no versatility. RF cams for the V and Master can be interchanged between any V and Master, so long as you are using that lens. The new 2000 uses a now discontinued electronic rangefinder. Strangely, this electronic system is actually less versatile than the older one since it takes a more limited range of focal lengths and is not backwardly compatible with the RF cam system. Therefore, the V and the Master are your best choices for RF Tech focusing with modern lenses IMHO.
Linhof Technikas are great cameras. They are among the very few cameras still made today without compromise. The more you use it, the more you love it. If Leica made a 4x5 Rangefinder, it would be a Technika. High praise indeed.
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Revised: January 11, 2004. Copyright © 1998-2002 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.