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Roger Hicks puts the 4x5in large format model from Mike Walker through its paces and is impressed by the plastic fantastic.


According to Kipling. 'There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right


Much the same could be said of large format cameras. Mike Walkers Titan SF - the initials are a tribute to the late Stan Falchenberg of Teamwork UK - is certainly unlike many other field cameras, and it has an excellent feeling of rightness


The greatest novelty is the material of which it is constructed. In place of the wood used by its ancestors, the main body parts are of injection-moulded ABS. Property used, as it is here, this is a superb material for making a field camera, warp-free, impervious to water or any reasonable extremes of heat and temperature (you could boil this camera), and capable of being moulded to a degree of precision more than adequate for even the most demanding of photography. The problem has always been in the tool-making the designer made the dies for the Titan himself, which was probably the only way that made economic sense.


Be that as it may. he has made a superb job the finish is exquisite, and the charcoal-grey matte of the body is complemented by the massive stainless steel of the metal fittings stitched together with stainless steel screws The single 3/8in brass tripod screw socket in the middle of the baseboard is finished with the same baked-on paint as the rest of the body, indeed, you need to look quite closely to see that the thread is not cut into the ABS The whole thing has a mil-spec' feel to it. The all-up weight, without lens or panel, is a fraction over 3 kg. about 6lb




The next unusual feature becomes apparent as the camera is erected one may search in vain for a release clip or catch. The body (which folds forward in the conventional way) is secured to the baseboard by a powerful magnetic catch Pull it apart, and the back clicks into the spring-loaded up-rights in a moment.

The front slides forward on the focusing rail: it hinges at the bottom to collapse, instead of the usual technique of hinging from the top or centre and folding back on itself. It takes perhaps ten seconds to pull into position and lock the focusing track location, the base tilt, and the front rise. The camera can be collapsed with some very slim lenses in position, but even a 150mm f/4.5 Apo-Lanthar proved too large.


There was a tiny bit of play in the front standard before it was locked down to the track, and it was possible to lock it slightly out of parallel with the back - no more than a degree or two of swing, but enough to make it worth taking a moment to make sure that it was in fact parallel. Once it was locked, with two tommy-bars, there was no play at all. Very slight play at the top of the front standard was traced to the way in which the pivots were made changing to a countersunk-head screw (retrofitted to this camera, and standard on subsequent production models) cured the problem Otherwise, the camera was rock-solid.


Off-axis forward tilt is limited only by the bellows, while the off-axis rearward tilt is about 45°. Most people will, however, be satisfied by the on-axis front tilt of better than +/-35° (70° overall) - more than most lenses can handle. Front swing is about 20° each way (40° overall), rise is 55mm. and fall is 38mm. No index marks are provided, they are not needed for swing or tilt which can be set by eye or by feel, aligning the standards and the base, while the zero position for rise/fall is set by two screw-heads which align with the top of the fixed part of the front standard There is no front cross.




At the back, forward tilt is limited only by the bellows, while rear tilt is around 20°; both are off axis. Rear swing is 12-15° either way (25-30° altogether) and rear cross is about 23mm either way. There is no rear rise. In sum, movements are more than adequate for most purposes, and if the possibilities of indirect movements are taken into account, they should be sufficient for all purposes.


The reversing international back operates well, both with dark slides and with roll film backs and the like. A grid overlay is used with a microfresnel ground glass, curiously, the corners of the ground glass are removed, while those of the overlay are not. it offers a god combination of on- and off-axis brightness and 'focusabilily'. There are no marks for roll-film holder formats, but these may be added on request.


The bellows are removable through the back, without disturbing any of the movements - a very desirable feature, especially when you are working on that unhappy cusp between bag bellows and a normal bellows. The front of the bellows is secured by two turn-buttons, and the back of the bellows clips in so that it does not jump out at you when you reverse the camera back.


The standard bellows gives a fraction under triple extension, about 425mm more than enough for all but the most arcane purposes. There is absolutely no 'creep' when you tighten the focusing locks. Extra extension is not available, and minimum extension with the standard bellows is around 53mm; a bag bellows (not supplied for review) apparently reduces this to about 50mm. but of course allows movements even where the standard bellows would be bound solid. A sunk panel is required for 45mm and 47mm lenses, and may be required for some 53mm lenses. Flat panels are fine for 58mm lenses.


Panels are to the increasingly common Linhof Technika standard the camera was supplied with a generic Linhof-pattern panel, but genuine Linhof (including sunk Linhof). Wista and Gandolfi Variant panels are interchanged perfectly well. The clear throat size is approximately 75mm, though fitting and removing a 121mm f/8 Super Angalon with its 74mm rear cell required a certain amount of jiggling.




The focusing arrangement is unusual and very good indeed, with the two rails (front standard and rear standard) nested on a wide baseboard, the back rack is on the outside, the front rack on the inside. The racks themselves are of very substantial brass, and the focusing knobs are of knurled light alloy, as are the locking knobs for focus, front and rear off-axis tilts, rise/fall and the bellows. Other movements (on-axis front tilt, front standard location, and front and rear swings) are locked with stainless steel tommy bars.


Handsome it may look, but handsome is as handsome does, so how does it behave?

In tests with a variety of lenses from 65mm to 210mm, it acquitted itself very well, both in the studio and on location. There was never a need for more movements (though inevitably the absence of front cross is noticeable if you are used to it), and there were a number of facilities. For example, the back focus can move the back a modest distance forward of its rest position, as well as backwards; an unexpectedly useful feature, it performed well with a 121mm Super Angulon, often a demanding test of bellows flexibility.




Most of its idiosyncrasies are minor and would become second nature It one were using the camera full time. For example, the contra-rotating tommy-bar locks on the front on-axis tilt are awkward at first but you get used to them. Likewise, an intermittent refusal to give as much movement as was wanted was quickly traced to one of the locking levers on the front lock or to one of the levers on the back swing; if these are pushed to the limit of their travel, instead of merely adequately tight, they can foul the movements. To find and cure the problem takes less time than it does to read about it.


The absence of any levels was rather more of a nuisance, the more so as the top of the camera Is not flat and cannot be used as a location for fore-and-aft leveling with a spirit level. A T-level on the top plate would be highly desirable It is slightly on the heavy side of average for a field camera, so a substantial tripod is needed if you want to raise the centre column much, though lightweight tripods such as the Gitzo Reporter are adequate if you do not want to raise the camera too high. One or two index marks for setting zero movements might reassure some people, but this is more a matter of fashion than of necessity. NB. the 2004 version is now covered in spirit levels!


In conclusion, the whole camera is very usable indeed and represents good value for money. it is not the cheapest on the market, though it is at the lower end of the price scale. The more than adequate movements, together with the true international back, front and rear focusing, interchangeable bellows and triple extension, add up to a package which is not quite as versatile as a monorail, but could still be used as an only camera for all types of work both in the studio and on location. For field use - especially for field use under demanding conditions, such as in rain or high humidity - it may be one of the best cameras available, keeping the lens dry becomes the principal concern If you are not into 'specmanship' - extreme movements which would rarely if ever be of use in practice - then you will find little, or nothing, that this camera cannot do.

Roger W. Hicks ©11th September 1996


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