I have a lot of cameras. I’ve used even more than what I currently own, so when I say that camera X is my favorite, there’s more than a fair amount of experience that puts it in that position. The Linhof Technar holds that spot. I have a bias though, I love Linhof. Their cameras are amazing, and much like Rollei cameras; they are works of art. They are great examples of craftsmanship taken to the point of perfection. With the same attention to detail that the Aerospace industry puts into practice, Linhof has used to create a menagerie of cameras that are beautiful, functional, durable and fully capable of outliving its owner if properly maintained.
Linhof has been making precision roll film and large format cameras since 1887. The Technar was introduced in 1978 and produced into the 90s (I think). Mine was built in August of 1982 and used to belong to my friend and mentor, Terry Toedtemeier. I contacted Linhof directly and they gave me the production date along with some copies of marketing materials. Most of the parts are no longer available, fortunately it shares parts with other Linhof cameras but if it breaks, it will be a tough one to get fixed. They sent me a product brochure and a product list from 1981.
Much like the title states, it can be used like a point & shoot camera. Unlike its feature rich cousins from the Technika line, the Technar has no movements, no bellows, basically none of the typical features you would normally look for in a large format camera. Instead it provides a sturdy platform for creating large format photography in a simplified workflow. All you have to worry about is composing the image and properly firing the shutter. It has an adjustable view finder affixed to the top/side, the standard Linhof and Graflok compatible back that rotates (it doesn’t really rotate in so much as you take the back off, and change it’s orientation, then reattach it) to portrait or landscape, and a helical focus mount for the lens. Also unlike other 4 x 5 cameras, the Technar was designed to be used with a limited number of lenses. The 3 standard sizes were 65mm, 75mm and 90mm Schneider lenses, and I heard that you could have a 43mm and a 135mm special ordered to be compatible, but since each lens has its own specific lensboard, using any other lens is probably not possible. Fortunately for me, the one I have is the one I would want; the 65mm wide angle, but it’s not a surprise given who it belonged to. There’s a reason I prefer wide angle, and a big part of that is Terry.
Included with the Schneider lens is a Center spot filter to compensate for light fall-off at the edges of the image circle inherent to wide angle lenses in large format cameras. With shutter speeds ranging from T to 1/500 the lens can shot pretty much anything add to that a fairly fast aperture of f/5.6 to the inexhaustibly sharp f/45 and you have yourself, well, a damn fine Schneider – Kreuznach lens. The helical focus mechanism has a very short throw, navigating through it’s entire range of 5 feet to infinity in just a quarter turn.
Early models of the camera had a solenoid that triggered the lens rather than a simple mechanical connection. I haven’t found much information about it other than it was unreliable and awkward and abandoned on later models.
Using the camera isn’t unlike using just about any other 4 x 5 camera, you can slip underneath your dark-cloth, open the shutter and frame your exposure through the ground glass using a loupe. This is how I prefer to do it. The methodical nature of using a large format camera is a huge part of the appeal for me. There are a series of steps that you have to follow in order make exposures. It’s slow, purposeful and deliberate. If forces you to slow down and think about what you’re doing, not just click click click of digital cameras. I can go out all day and end up with 12 exposures and be happy with the result.
You can also use the view finder and sort of wing it. While the view finder is accurate, and tuned to the lens size with that specific camera, it’s still only a representation so you get an idea of what you’re going to get, but it’s 10 times faster. So if you’re, for instance, 20 meters out from the beach on a negative low tide in a sea cave that is rapidly filling up with water and chest sized waves, you could use the view finder so you don’t die.
They say “the Devil’s in the details” and that’s where Linhof lives, right down to the Schärfentiefen Table that’s included on all Linhof large format cameras attached to the focusing hood on the back of the camera. Everything is adjustable, every adjustment has a locking knob/mechanism. I think the only thing I can complain about is the little finger screw for tightening the shutter release is way too fragile and they tend to get bent and break.
Technars are pretty hard to come by these days and they will set you back a few coins, but they are worth it. There are a couple of other cameras out there modeled after the Technar which are available, like the Fotoman 45SPS and the Chroma Snapshot, but I’m unsure of how they measure up. So, if you’re into using a specialized camera that is extremely well made, then give it a go.
After a little more digging, I was able to find some additional images of what the solenoid system looks like, as well as the other lens boards and lenses.