TGIFridays: Quick look at the Sinar X large format camera

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Its Friday again! And letting our hair down, we taken a quick and closer look at my (new to me) Sinar X large 4×5 format camera with Nikkor W 180mm f/5.6 lens.

We have covered large format film photography and cameras in our earlier TGIFriday articles. My first hands-on encounter was with the Sinar P at Crisp Contrasts, a commercial studio who represent me as a photographer. I further followed up with a short piece on the delivery of my own Sinar X camera.

The Sinar X is a full featured monorail camera, capable of a very large range of motion for both the standards. Shown here, the front standard is raised 38mm, right swing of 30° and front tilt of 15° while simultaneously holding the rear standard at the 0mm position, with left swing of 30° and rear tilt of 15°. This is an extremen position, seldom used in regular photography, but usable with a suitable lens.

I bought 2 boxes of relatively inexpensive black & white sheet film (Shanghai GP3) and 2 boxes of relatively expensive slide sheet films (Fujifilm Provia RDP III). Film developing in black and white is relatively straightforward and inexpensive. I develop with Ilfortec HC with Ilford Rapid Fixer, with just a water stop bath, and get excellent results.

St. Joseph’s Church in Singapore. Photographed with the Sinar X/Nikkor 180mm f5.6 with Shanghai GP3, developed with Ilfortec HC.

E6 development for Provia is developed at a local lab – Analog Film Lab. Development is rather expensive, and currently stands at SGD 12 a sheet.

Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. Photographed with Sinar X/Nikkor 180mm f5.6. Provia RDP III, E6 development by Analog Film Lab.

I will do a quick guide to developing black and white film in a later TGIFriday episode.

TGIFridays: Quick look at the Sinar X large format camera

The Camera body – the Sinar X

The Sinar X is designed to be a cost efficient alternative to the flagship P2 model, performing all functions with equal excellence while deliberately dispensing with some of the operating amenities. The camera is is delivered with a simple back, while the P2 is delivered with a TTL Metering Back which can be used for direct spot metering. However, the TTL Metering can be fitted to the X as an option (increasing the cost).

However, the Sinar signature features like asymmetrical swings and tilts which are yaw free, the depth of field calculator, and two point focusing system remains. The range of motion in the swing/tilts, shifts/rise/falls are exactly the same as for the P2.

The movements for rise, fall, swing, tilt, and fine focus on both standards are effected by concentric knobs driving micrometers on the side of the camera, while the shifts for both standards are performed by the red thumb wheels.

Formats – film and digital

As discussed, the X forgoes the ability to change format from 4×5 to larger formats like 5×7 or 8×10. However, hacks are available to provide this conversion, and for my use case, I doubt I will need any larger than the 4 inch x 5 inch format that it supports. The other change from the P2 is the lack of detents at Zero positions.

The Sinar X is a 4×5 camera which is able to take film measuring 4 inches x 5 inches. Shown here is the rear view (photographer end) with a Fresnel lens attached to the ground glass.

The X supports the standard 4 in x 5 in large format film holders which hold film of the same dimensions. The back features a precision hinge system in which these film holders (by third party manufacturers like Toyo and Fidelity Elite) slots in. The back also features a removable ruled ground glass and Fresnel lens. The ground glass is ruled on the inside to provide 10mm square markings as well as format markings for 6x7cm, 6x8cm, 6x9cm and 6x12cm medium format through a film back which can be attached by a Graflok system built into to the Sinar. Through adapters, digital backs like the Hasselblad CFV II 50C and Phase One IQ4 150 as well as Fujifilm GFX can be attached. Digital medium format, as well as film medium format is much smaller than the area covered by 4×5 sheet film.


The camera is capable of a full range of motion to both the front and rear standards. And all movements are available simultaneously. Both standards are able to rise and fall by 40mm, a shift of +50mm and -30mm. Compared to the Alpa 12 Plus we reviewed recently, this range of movement is enormous, as the 12 Plus is capable of only +/-20mm in both rise/fall and shifts and only applied to the rear standard. On the Sinar X, the front standard can be raised 80mm (+40mm front rise plus -40mm rear fall). Even more vertical shifting is available by indirect rise/falls by tilting the rails and correcting with base tilts.

The controls. Shown here is the photographer’s view from the back of the camera. Red arrow is the locking mechanism to attach the monorail to the tripod rail holder. White arrow shows the rear standard tilt in degrees. Yellow arrow indicates the Zero position of the shift of the rear standard, as shown it is -15mm. The blue arrow shows the swing scale while the green arrow points to the spirit bubble which indicates the rear standard is horizontal. (parallax error shows the bubble left of the marked lines from this camera angle.

The camera is also to simultaneously apply up to +/- 30° swing and direct tilts of +/-15°. A further +/-40° tilt is available with the base tilt. All the movements, except for the base tilt is driven by precision micro meter scales which are self arresting. The feel of the movements is very smooth with no play, and the standard stays exactly where it is left with no free play.

Focussing is a two step affair. A rough focus is achieved by looking through the ground glass. The standards are unlocked one at a time, and moved to a rough position by sliding it on the monorail until the image is roughly in focus. Then, either the front or the rear of standard is driven by the precision micrometer up to -10mm / +30mm to precisely focus the image. A dark cloth over the ground glass increases contrast, and allows the image to be viewed in bright environments. A loupe is then used to adjust the micrometer for critical focusing.

The lens: Nikkor W 180mm f/5.6

The lens chosen is the Nikkor W 180mm f/5.6 multicoated lens mounted on a Copal 1 shutter. The aperture is from a wide open of f/5.6 to f/45. The Copal 1 shutter has shutter speeds in 1/3 stop intervals from T/B and 1s to 1/400s.

The Nikkor W series is designed for non-specialised use in large format cameras. The 180mm has a covering angle of 70° (at f/22), and offers an excellent degree of freedom from distortion, field curvature and chromatic aberration.

Nikon catalog for large format lenses. The 180mm f/5.6 is highlighted.

The design of large format lenses are such that they are simpler, with less need for correction. The lens is multi-coated to provide high contrast and good colour rendition. The lens is also relatively light, and compact when compared to lenses of the same focal length in 135 full frame format or medium format. The lens is also very sharp through the corners. The image circle is a very large 253mm at f/22 which just about covers 8×10 (4 times the area of 4×5 film sheet), and thus is good for generous movements.

Concluding thoughts

The Sinar X is a superb, high precision tool for photography. It is at home in the studio, where is reigns supreme held in place by a studio stand. But also equally at home in the field perched on a sturdy tripod like the Gitzo GT 3541 and Photoclam Multiflex 3 axis head which I use. However, it is a rather large and heavy camera, especially for field use. I pack and carry the entire camera with lens, accessories like loupe, cable release, note book, changing bag, dark cloth and 5 film holders in one (large) Pelican 1620 roller case.

In use, it is a real joy. There is nothing like composing and examining an image on a large piece of ground glass at the back of the Sinar X. Everything looks better through the ground glass. The image is upside down and laterally inverted, but one gets used to that rather quickly, and for me, having this detachment from the scene allows me to compose better. The controls are a pleasure to operate. Smooth but with good resistance and self arresting with no back lash. The results also speak for themselves, albeit the camera is unforgiving. Do the dance right (see the P article here), and it rewards with an excellent, very high resolution photograph.