Leadenhall Market in the City of London, shot at 1/4s, f/16, ISO 400 on a Hasselblad CFV 39 back. Copyright Adam Woolfitt
When I was first introduced to Kaj Simon, designer of the Linhof Techno, at the Photokina trade show in 2008, his prototype camera immediately struck me as a very practical hybrid approach to the problem of making digital medium format quality available to serious architectural and landscape photographers. It appeared a thoroughly well built and workable tool, but what made it special was its ability to accommodate longer lenses for product, technical and landscape photography.
Nearly two years ago, to mark the end of a serious drought for architectural photographers aspiring to shoot digital, I reviewed a group of specialist medium format cameras for BJP (17 September, 2008) and found they fell into two distinct groups. All were capable of mounting a digital back with a 645 sensor. Some could also mount a digital SLR for use as a studio workhorse with movements for technical, product and food capture.
The first group were rigid bodied cameras of very compact form that offered extreme precision
between the front and back standards, and though all had optional ground glass screens, they were really designed for focusing by distance using helical lens mounts. These included the Arca R and the Alpa Max. A single variant to this group of rigid bodied cameras emerged in the Sinar Artec, which also employs helically mounted lenses, but the lens mount flange also has ±5° of geared tilt that can be rotated around the optical axis, and the rear plate carrying the digital back provided ±20mm of shift.
A rigid bodied configuration is ideally suited to mounting the newest very wide-angle lenses (23, 24 and 28mm) that Rodenstock and Schneider have introduced. Such very short focal lengths require great precision to ensure accurate focus while still maintaining parallelism between lens and sensor.
Digital sensors are extremely flat in a way that film (certainly 5×4 and 10×8) could never match, which is one reason why digital images are so sharp.
But such rigid bodied designs are pretty limited when it comes to longer focal lengths, and they also require that every lens in a photographer’s case has a uniquely calibrated helical focusing mount, which is neither cheap to manufacture and calibrate nor at all cheap to buy.
However, the reliable precision of a rigid bodied design is attested by an acquaintance who uses his Alpa Max with 24 and 35mm lenses, but doesn’t bother with a ground-glass focusing screen. He has found the engraved distances on the helical mounts to be 100% accurate and has dispensed with everything except a spirit level and a tripod, framing his shots from the previews on the digital back.
This is probably anathema to classic view camera photographers, a breed whose love of masochism has always seemed to me quite as acute as their night vision. Focusing a very short lens on a ground-glass screen in a dark interior, even with the benefit of a Fresnel screen and a very good magnifying hood, is tricky and often comes down to a question of “point and hope”.
The second group of cameras comprised semi-traditional designs with a focusing bed and separate back and front standards furnished with tilt and swing as well as rise and fall. By their very nature, this second type tend towards lower levels of precision in terms of parallelism between the lens and sensor planes. In addition, they struggle to mount very short focal lengths without resorting to inconveniently sunken lens panels.
These included an Arca 6×9 that could only just handle a 35mm lens, and the much more versatile Silvestri Bicam, which could be either rigid bodied or use a separate bolt on extension rail system for longer lenses. This chameleon design appealed to me a lot. Not quite “two for the price of one”, but a bold step in the right direction.
Although the Linhof Techno has a front lens standard that travels along a focusing bed, the massive strength of the camera is provided by a completely rigid L-shaped rear frame, machined from solid alloy. The front standard, which accepts normal Linhof lens panels, is also very solidly built, providing the required rigidity for precise work with high resolution digital sensors.
Into the rear of this massive frame is machined a mounting plate that carries the capture medium, be it film or digital. This plate is geared to provide ±20mm of vertical movement, independent of the front standard and without requiring impossible compression of the bellows. Which means that the Techno can accommodate Rodenstock’s acclaimed 23mm lens without a sunken panel and still offer some shift to take advantage of the lens’ extraordinary image circle.
The bed of the camera carries the focusing mechanism, comprising twinned rails that may be extended in two stages to provide up to 250mm of focusing movement. The front standard is first pulled out to a stop by “pinching” two locking tabs.
The second stage is then drawn further forward to increase the focusing range. Fine focusing is achieved using twin rubber-covered knobs on either side at front of the camera, and is secured with an extremely handy locking tab fitted to the underside, exactly where the index finger of the right hand sits.
The lens standard is mounted on a very solid block with a gently rounded profile, whose base houses the geared tilt mechanism. This is worked by the outer of two concentric drive knobs, while the swing action is set using the inner knob.
A corresponding knob on the opposite side of the lens standard controls the geared cross movement, which is precision milled into the top surface of the lens block. Two stout rails extend vertically and a knob on the left hand side of the front standard allows shifting the lens upwards on these rails.
Finding your way around the controls at the front of the camera is largely intuitive and it is a pleasure to note how everything falls to hand.
Every movement on the camera has a graduated scale with a centre or “zero” point either clearly marked, or fitted with a click stop. And every relevant surface on the rails and structure has it’s own spirit level – so crucial for architectural work.
My only serious gripe with the system is with the Linhof Adapter Slide, which I found to be hazardous and heavy in use. Moving the back across between focusing and shooting required enough force to nudge the camera out of true, while to change from vertical to horizontal, the digital back must be removed from the Sliding Back, turned through 90° and refitted.
This exposes the sensor to dust and involves the risk of misalignment, or even dropping the back in the process. All the focus screens intended for digital backs show engravings for both orientations and I cannot believe a precise rotating back is beyond the skill of Linhof.
Otherwise, the engineering is of a very high standard throughout and as noted elsewhere the ergonomics are excellent delivering a convenience that made the camera a pleasure to use.
With the camera I had the use of a 23mm f/5.6 Digaron S HR, a 40mm f/4 Digaron W, and a 90mm f/5.6 Digaron HR, all made by Rodenstock and all mounted on Linhof lens boards, which are fit directly to the front standard of the Techno with a single positive locking lever.
The 23mm caused quite a sensation when Rodenstock launched it at Photokina in 2008, and rightly so. It has an angle of view of 112° and an image circle of 70mm, which covers the 36.7×49mm of the Hasselblad CFV digital back I borrowed from The Pro Centre comfortably – with a bit to spare if you are greedy for movements too.
But more than that, it offers excellent resolution to the very edge of the image circle with a high degree of evenness of illumination and colour across the field. This is a very advanced lens, computed with the newest generation of 40, 50 and 60 megapixel sensors firmly in mind.
In use the 23mm startlingly wide angle (almost precisely matching the coverage of Canon’s 17mm tilt-and-shift lens on 35mm). It proved extremely sensitive to flare but it does come with a very strong warning that the dedicated lens hood must be used.
The hood gives a sharp cut off limiting the image field. But I found that in certain circumstances where the camera and lens were well shielded from any ambient light, it was possible to dispense with it and reap the benefits of several extra degrees of coverage.
Even used like this, the 23mm lens delivered excellent resolution at the perimeter of the field of view, and I could find only the merest whisper of chromatic aberration or colour fringing. The lens’ ability to render straight lines with utter precision made me (a Canon user) gasp.
The 40mm Digaron W was also a delight with its surprisingly fast aperture of f/4 and an image circle of 90mm. It would be my lens of choice for general use when absolute and extreme angles of view were not required. Like the 23mm it rendered straight lines with utter precision, though it did exhibit a whisker of colour fringing at the far limit of the image circle.
The Rodenstock 90mm f/5.6 Digaron H would be a perfect choice for mid-range product work and architectural details. With an image circle of 125mm it had bags of movement for controlling the geometry in still life subjects.
It also required a change of bellows from the super soft bag bellows to a longer and slightly more rigid set. Resolution was excellent and the longer focal length would be ideal for manufacturing the very shallow depth seen in much current food photography, where only a single pip on a strawberry tart is rendered razor sharp.
All three lenses came with a three-inch cable release pre-fitted, which made adding a longer release cable very simple.
The Techno benefits from the classic Linhof tradition of providing adapters for a wide range of formats and capture media. The list of alternative fitting plates range from a 6×9 Super Rollex film back to back plates for Contax 645 and Mamiya 645, and of course the Hasselblad H1, H2 and classic V-fit digital backs.
All of these fit the Universal Rapid Change Adapter Slide, which allows the digital or film back to be moved across into position after focusing on the ground glass. It also provides intermediate click stops for precise alignment when shooting consecutive frames for multi-shot panoramas.
Hasselblad has paid attention to its legacy users of the V system with the recently introduced CFV 39. It has broken the price barrier with its latest in a line of battery-powered digital backs, and the CFV 39 sports the same large 36.7×49mm 39 megapixel sensor used in the current H3 39 megapixel back. Apart from the cosmetics, the truly crucial difference is that the CFV costs just £8750 against £13,395 for the H3 back (both +VAT).
This positions it superbly, in terms of cost and quality, for the many thousand V system camera users around the world who wish to move up to digital or those who need a high end capture device for the back of studio monorails or architectural cameras like the Techno.
It is noteworthy that while the 39 megapixel sensor has no micro lenses, it still responds extremely well to the acute incident angles at which the image strikes it with lenses like the Rodenstock 23m Digaron.
The CFV 39 kindly loaned by The Pro Centre came with a copy of the latest Hasselblad Phocus V.2 software to process the proprietary 3FR files. I found the files could also be opened and processed by converting them to .dng (for use in Lightroom and Photoshop) or with Raw Developer (from Iridient Digital), which always astonishes me by opening even the most irritating proprietary file formats in a trice. Capture One Pro also opens 3FR files but Hasselblad suggests that its own Phocus software does the job better than all of the above, so that is what I installed and used.
When working with the H2 or H3 cameras, the full panoply of geometric and chromatic aberration correction, colour shifts and focused distance corrections are automatically invoked in Phocus as the software recognises the lens, f stop and focused distance from the embedded EXIF data in each file. None of this is available when shooting with a view camera as there is no interface to transfer data from the lens to the back and thence to the raw image file, but users of the CFV 39 with a classic V camera and a Carl Zeiss lens can enter the lens data to enjoy these post-processing corrections.
Raw 3FR captures with the 39 megapixel occupy on average 50MB of disk space and open as ±117 MB eight-bit TIFF files at 5412×7212 pixels. The single card slot allows use of any fast Compact Flash storage, and a 4GB card will hold around 80 images. Frames can be captured at the rate of 39 per minute, and the sensitivity range of the sensor is ISO 50-800.
On the Hasselblad CFV 39 back itself the controls proved simple enough for me to master in short order. An on/off button (top left) wakes up the back, displays the basic camera settings and tells you if there is no card or if it’s full. The back is delightfully tolerant of gross behaviour like removing the card with the back on.
A small coiled cable connects the flash synchro socket on shooting lens to the digital back, to effect triggering as the shutter is tripped. Woe betide you or your assistant you if you don’t pack a spare, since you will be dead in the water without it. A separate socket on the CFV 39 is used to trigger studio flash.
Accessing the menu allows changes to white balance settings (five presets) and ISO range and a traffic light warning system warns of over or underexposure. Previewing images is quick but disappointing because the screen is so coarse that even at 100% magnification it is hard to judge what may or may not be sharp. However, with the back tethered in a studio or to a laptop in the field, an accurate assessment is possible via the Phocus software.
Out on location where it’s battery power and universal connectivity make the CFV 39 so versatile, the performance of the rear viewing screen is poor – barely as good as many mobile phones, and certainly not consistent with even the discounted price tag of £8750.
The Techno is a very sound design, and well suited to precise architecture, landscape and studio product shots when matched to a high-end digital back. Although, in the best tradition of Linhof gear the Techno is distinctly chunky, it is solid as a rock.
In the same tradition it is also pretty pricey, though it is actually the new generation of lenses from Rodenstock and Schneider that hike up the cost of a working outfit. But all these lenses, specifically computed for the latest digital sensors and mounted on the Techno, open new realms of superb quality to the professional architectural photographer.
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