Wood field cameras and long-term effects of humidity

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Been lurking for awhile, so this is my first post. Here goes...

I currently have a friend/mentor's 4x5 Burke & James field camera on loan for the summer, so I can try my hands at shooting large format. So far so good! This brings me to my question. I'm interested in purchasing a wooden field camera at the end of summer. Given the possibility of me uprooting myself and moving to the tropics sometime in foreseeable future, I wanted to know how well a wooden field camera will stand up with the high humidity of the tropics, both short and long-term. I'm contemplating a Tachihara because of its price, but lusting for a Wisner. However, if wood cameras don't hold up well in an extremely humid environment (think Southeast Asia), maybe a Toyo metal field camera or something similar would make more sense?

Would appreciate any advice you could give. Thanks!

-- Badris (badris@mac.com), June 02, 2002


I don't really know much about this, as all my cameras are metal, but perhaps you should consider Ebony? Think tropical wood...

-- Ole Tjugen (oftjugen@online.no), June 02, 2002.

Ebony's are made of aged hardwoods and titanium. If you're planning on going to a humid climate, I would recommend these cameras. The metal won't rust and the wood would probably be less susceptible to the elements. Check out www.ebonycamera.com

-- Scott Killian (xx@xxx.com), June 02, 2002.

Badris, Wooden field cameras will hold up under tropical conditions,if they are properly maintained. Moisture on the bellows is probably the greatest problem. I have owned a Tachi and two Wisners , and recently purchased a Shen Hao HZX 45-IIA for my wife. It is in the same price range as the Tachi and about 1/3 the price of the Wisner Tech Field. The Shen Hao is built with teak wood. The Tachi is made of cherry wood. Wisner Traditionals and Tech Fields are made of mahogany. Boat builders use teak and mahogany. Draw your own conclusion.

-- Eugene (TIAGEM@aol.com), June 02, 2002.

If the cost of a Wisner seems steep, you don't even want to look at an Ebony. I live in Florida where the humidity is usually in the 90% range for three or four months a year and where it rains every day (well, it used to rain every day) during those months. I owned a Tachihara for several years and never had any problems with it. Friends own various other brand wood cameras and I've never heard any of them mention a problem with the humidity.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), June 02, 2002.

It occurred to me after posting the previous message that rust might actually be a bigger problem with a metal camera than warping, etc. would be with a wood camera. A friend of mine who lives near me in Florida has a Linhof Master Technika and it's developed rust spots in quite a few places in just the three or four years since he bought it new. I don't know whether that's because of the humidity or not (my Technika V doesn't have any significant amount of rust) but it's something (else) to think about.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), June 02, 2002.

Hi Badris, I'd think any of the cameras mentioned could take far more abuse of humidity than the lens and shutter. It seems the finely polished tiny metal pieces in the shutter would be the greatest risk. Or your lens could turn into a fish bowl. As far as woods, any wood used in a camera is probably heat dried to insure stability - after that procedure make your choice on your favorite color they are are the same. Best, David

-- david clark (doclark@yorku.ca), June 02, 2002.

Hello, In The 70s, I was living in Ivory Coast(for ten years), I was too young to shoot in LF, but I remember humidity was incredible. I think the wood of your camera should not be damaged but my concern is about the bellows. Moisture can appear in less than one month if you store it in a cupboard. In your case, I would think Teak, humidity is over 90% in the air, depending of the country. Lenses could also be damaged with fungus, if storage is too long! I hope this could help you. Regards

-- Daniel Luu Van Lang (Daniel.luu@worldonline.fr), June 02, 2002.

I have just something to add to my previous post. Brian, you are living in Florida and I think almost everybody in the US has Air conditionned so that humidity and storage are not problems. In Africa or south east Asia, you should keep those problems in mind. Aside that detail, I completely agree with all the posters. Best regards

-- Daniel Luu van Lang (Daniel.luu@worldonline.fr), June 02, 2002.

I'll second the suggestion for the Shen Hao. I've had one for over a year, and it's been great. I've had no problems in a St. Louis summer or a soggy Olympic Peninsula winter. The teak is beautiful and stable, and I think it's the best bang-for-the-buck camera out there. It is heavier than a Tachihara, though.

You may want to consider some sort of storage case for the camera and especially the lens. I would probably look for something air tight that you can put a dissicant in.

-- Dave Willis (willisd@medicine.wustl.edu), June 02, 2002.

I once had termites eating an old Gundlach 5x7 while living in Alabama. If it aint one thing it's another.

-- Brook Martin (brookmartin1@attbi.com), June 02, 2002.

The most dimensional stable wood is Eastern White Pine. Most hardwoods are not very stable, however, the humidity that the woods are cured and the cameras are constructed under will go a long ways in minimizing dimensional changes.

I believe most woods will tolerate a +/-35% humidity change before a significant change in dimension is realized. Wisner claims he manufactures his camera in 50% humidity at the factory. This equates to a range of 15% to 85% humidity before any changes are noticed. To further extend that range , he also resorts to extensive lamination where every possible which adds further stability. Whether his cameras will hold up in the tropics I do not know. You might want to call him and talked to him about this.

I am on the other end of the spectrum, living a very dry climate. I have notice some movement when things get very dry with my Wisner 4x5 Expedition, but not enough to effect the cameras performance and rigidity.

Hope this helps.

-- Stephen Willard (willard@paekpeak.co,), June 02, 2002.


I, too live in Florida. I just ordered a Tachihara today, and I'm not too worried about the humidity. It can get quite humid here (perhaps not as humid as southeast Asia, though), but I worry more about sudden changes in humidity.

For example, on a recent morning I drove to a park and made a large series of very helpful mistakes. It was pretty humid and I had all of my gear in the air-conditioned car for quite some time. I got out, took the gear, and walked for about 10 minutes before I came to the place I wanted to photograph. I was setting up and I found that the groundglass, the lens, the film holders, and the loupe were awash in condensation. The f/5.6 Schneider lens turned into an f/? soft- focus lens. I wiped the gear that I could, but everything was still a bit cold and condensation formed again in no time. The darkcloth made it worse for the groundglass and loupe. On one exposure, the old shutter became sticky, so I exposed another sheet of film and found that the stickiness hadn't disappeared. After I wasted those two sheets I had to test the shutter speeds then and there (in the fleeting light, of course) to find the one that was closest to 1.5 seconds.

When the Tachihara comes, I am going to let it acclimate slowly, but other than that Iím not going to worry much. I haven't visited Asia, but unless you move to an Aman resort you may not have to put up with the problem of air-conditioning and condensation. In my opinion, you may not have to worry much about the humidity, unless you move in with the Kaluli or something like that.

-- Matthew Runde (actorm@hotmail.com), June 04, 2002.

Thank you for the responses everyone. Much appreciated!

-- Badris (badris@mac.com), June 04, 2002.

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