Classic Cameras: Linhof Super Technika V

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My Linhof Super Technika V is probably the camera I can least justify owning, but it’s probably also my most cherished camera. For me, it represents the type of camera I dreamt of owning, but thought I probably never would. The reason for this? It’s a luxurious camera. Akin to something like a Leica of large format, Linhof is a premium brand known for making the best of the best, having strong niche appeal and, of course, coming in at a premium price. I previously wrote about the Linhof Technorama 612 PC as being “on my bucket list of cameras to own someday, but I cannot explain why.” And looking back now, I think the reason why I am drawn to these cameras is because of the mixture of a well-conceived utilitarian design with a bit more class than just the bare bones. So, when I had the chance to sell my previous 4 x 5" wooden field camera and pick up a Technika for a fair deal, I jumped at the chance to finally get a Linhof.

With large format cameras, even more so than smaller film format cameras, the camera itself has very little, if any, affect on your resulting images. Aside from maybe movements and stability, large format cameras are the purest sense of the expression “a camera is just a light-tight box.” But the Technika V is a robust, all-metal light-tight box, covered in a beige leatherette, and it has geared movements. It has a built-in rangefinder mechanism, infinity stops, and attachments for a grip and a viewfinder. And most importantly, it has the Linhof emblem that gives you the same confidence a prancing horse gives a Ferrari owner. But in all honesty, the Technika really is a desirable object, and it does give you stability and operability that make shooting a much more enjoyable experience compared to flimsier field cameras or more cumbersome monorail cameras.

I first learned about the Technika line of cameras when I was getting my undergraduate degree. My professor used hers religiously for everything from formal portraits to somewhat off-the-cuff street shooting, and when I assisted her on a few shoots, I learned how to work with these inimitable beasts. Up until that point, all of my large format shooting had been with an unwieldy monorail camera or with an archaic 5 x 7" non-folding wooden camera; both cameras nearly deterred me from the joys of large format shooting, but the Linhof (or more accurately, the field camera) brought me back. I loved that you could pack a folded camera, two lenses, and a handful of film holders in a relatively small camera bag; something I thought was only relegated to roll film cameras.

The Super Technika V, in particular, is the last in Linhof’s sequentially numbered Technika cameras, being preceded by the IV and succeeded by the Master Technika, the Technika 2000, and finally, the Technika 3000. Manufactured between 1963 and 1976, the V cameras were a modest upgrade from the IV, with the differences revolving mostly around the interchangeability of focusing cams (something that doesn’t affect the way I shoot, since I exclusively like to shoot with the ground glass). Some of the other distinct details of the Technika line include a unique lever for applying lens rise and fall, where you push/pull the lever’s tip to change the direction of the geared movement; the rear of the camera has four screw-tightened “struts” that allow you to swing and tilt the rear standard (pretty rare for a field camera); and the bed of the camera can be dropped past horizontal to accommodate a greater rise/fall range for more extreme movements.

Focusing with a Technika is pretty standard among field cameras, but is aided by the inclusion of infinity stops. An infinity stop is a small tab that is raised on the bed of the camera, and is color-coded depending on the focal length. When deploying the front standard from the camera body, you would simply pull it along the track until you hit the hard infinity stop– and then, presumably, you would be at infinity focus. This isn’t 100% accurate for me, since I don’t use Linhof-matched lenses (my favorite lens to work with is a Schneider Super-Symmar HM 150mm f/5.6, which is a massive lens for this camera—it’s better suited for 5 x 7"—but an exceptionally sharp performer) but it gets me pretty close. After hitting the infinity stop, you then use a rack-and-pinion system to move the entire bed for focusing. Now, I mentioned before that I don’t really use the rangefinder system of the Technika, and part of the reason is because of the lens I use. But it’s worth mentioning that the rangefinder is impressively accurate, considering all of the variables involved with focusing an unwieldy view camera. Before I had the Schneider 150mm, I had a Linhof 135mm lens and spent some time shooting the Technika handheld, using the rangefinder and an auxiliary viewfinder for framing. It’s definitely not a lightweight setup, but it’s not out of the question if there’s a need for large format quality and handheld flexibility.

To quickly sum it up, the Super Technika V is the peak of cameras, in my eyes. There isn’t much to say about it because it’s one of those cameras that does everything it should do with no fuss. I love the portability of this camera, I love that it gives me the few movements I really use, I love how sturdy and rigid the camera is, and I love how it looks. It’s a camera that gives you confidence when you shoot, but also leaves you knowing that if there’s a mistake with your shot, it’s entirely your own fault. It’s unforgiving but not punishing. There are few quirks to it, and it supports everything I need a view camera to do for the way I shoot. I still like to shoot large format when I get the chance—it’s still the ultimate way to spend a day, photographically.

Do you have any experience with Linhof cameras? Or view cameras in general? What are some of the qualities you look for in a used camera? Let me know, down below.

To read about more great classic cameras, click here.

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