View Full Version : large format cameras

06-01-2004, 12:53 AM
in the thread "something for the art lovers" sally mann was brought up who uses a 8 by 10 camera ( any one know what kind of film she uses?) ( and the number of photos she took a day?) and bret weston was mentions . MMd mentioned he shoots a 4x5 so my question is what do you large format users think of the species? is their a future to large format or will it go away ? I have a couple of 4x5s and used to shoot a good deal, mostly with paper negs when I was in college I regularly barrowed the departments 8x10 and photographed the weber river. one of my 4x5s that I built uses a copyer lend and I put a arc welding shade over it to get long long exposures to emulate dullenberghs photographs from the john westley powell expiditions down the colorado river.
once had a friend stand still for 90 seconds for a daylight exposure.

please write about your experences with large format

Boomkin Joe
06-01-2004, 08:38 AM
Heavy gear.
Lacks depth of field.
Great for landscapes (or even interiors, see Lynn Cohen. Though you can snap landscapes with a disposable Kodak Stretch.)
I guess you can make one if you have the lenses.

06-01-2004, 09:51 AM

Once you use a monorail view camera (the photo above is the model I have - a Cambo Legend Series w/ 210mm Zeiss optic) and master the phenominal range of image controls such as perspective manipulation, off-axis depth of field, image axial shift, etc., you will wonder why all cameras don't have such controls. Then you go to print from a 4x5 negative and try to use one of those dinky grain magnifiers to focus your enlarger and realize that even at 10x you can hardly see the grain on the neg and you become slightly giddy. Finally, when it dawns on you that you can process each negative individually, you realize that you can manipulate contrast ranges via the zone system on a per-shot basis, and you are hooked and helpless for life.

Just like the CAD programs discussed in another thread, to have precision control and a broad palette of options available to manipulate the medium you are working with, a view camera is necessarily going to be big, bulky, and expensive.

Ahh, but the power!! :D

06-01-2004, 10:12 AM
Jeeze, Mike. Have you tried an oatmeal box and a pin hole?

I've tried making Ansel Adams style pictures of Yosemite with 35mm. NO WAY JOSE! My Nikormat is a cut above the pinhole but relatively speaking my 35 mm prints are not. 120 gets closer but if one wants to make fine B&W images 4x5 is the smallest negative. Otherwise one may as well stay with the grainy, out of focus stuff the photo mags publish as "art."

06-01-2004, 10:26 AM
Jeeze, Mike. Have you tried an oatmeal box and a pin hole? - Norm Yup. Actually, a hatbox fitted with a drilled metal plate for an apeture, but I found that the axial image control was poor. ;) :D

06-01-2004, 11:33 AM
I have a SpeedGrafic 4x5 that I have taken with me during traditional schooner races and class A ship meets.

This is the "Press" camera, a Sam Spade trenchcoat fedora accessory with the big flash reflector. When those magnesium bulbs go off, you know you've been captured on film!

The image quality, judging from the rigging details, is much superior to 35mm.

It is a little awkward to manage if you're to tend the mainsheet as well!

Paul Pless
06-01-2004, 11:38 AM
That was when I decided to take snapshots instead of photographs.

It is a little awkward to manage if you're to tend the mainsheet as well! LOL!

Ross M
06-01-2004, 11:55 AM
Got a photographic question for you pros...

Years ago I visited Beechcraft in Wichita. Mounted to the side of a building overlooking the tarmac was a large, high quality mirror.

I was told this mirror was used to create promotional photographs.

I have been wondering forever - why shoot a mirror instead of the aircraft? Does this help with depth of field?


06-01-2004, 01:27 PM
Size DOES matter...


06-01-2004, 01:48 PM
Ross, pure speculation here, but ...

The mirror could be used for the reason you suggest (depth of field increases with distance from hyperfocal point of lens), or it could be as simple as to merely overcome space limitations. If there was limited space between the building and the tarmac, to get the whole plane in the frame a wide-amgle lens would be needed. This produces an image with curvilinear distortions (the "fisheye" effect). To use a longer lens to get the proper perspective, maybe the mirror was employed to effectively increase the distance from camera to object.

Must have been a bitch to keep the mirror clean and distortion-free.

Attention all employees! Please refrain from using the south wall of building 3B for handball games. -By order of Management tongue.gif :D

Paul Pless
06-01-2004, 02:29 PM
or it could be as simple as to merely overcome space limitations Hard to imagine having a space limitation that would restrict photography at an airport.

Wiley Baggins
06-01-2004, 02:33 PM
Regarding the mirror, it may have been to get the depth of field (shooting from the non-hanger side) while keeping buildings, etc. out of the background (not necessarily possible with "ordinary" shots from the field side).

06-01-2004, 02:51 PM
Hard to imagine having a space limitation that would restrict photography at an airport. - Paul Pless I can.

S'pose you want to shoot the profile of the plane on 35mm film, with the runways as backdrop. This requires the plane to be between you and the airstrip, and the hangars at your back. To keep the perspective of the plane correct, you determine that you need a 105mm lens. To get the entirety of the plane in the frame plus a little bit of "cropping space", you determine that the camera must be seventy-five feet from the plane's fuselage. For compositional reasons, the fuselage must be twenty-five feet from the grass at the edge of the tarmac. The tarmac is one hundred feet wide from building to grass. You want the plane lit by low-angle sunlight, but there must be no building shadows on the tarmac at the bottom of the frame. To keep the shadows out of the frame, the camera must be thirty feet from the building.

Distance from hangar to camera - 30 feet
Distance from camera to fuselage - 75 feet
Distance from fuselage to edge of tarmac - 25 feet
Total distance needed - 130 feet
Width of tarmac - 100 feet


EDIT - Sorta like this shot:


[ 06-01-2004, 03:55 PM: Message edited by: mmd ]

06-01-2004, 04:07 PM
I remember from reading Ansel Adams autobiography, published in 1984, that he predisted a time when photographs would be
manipulated by computer. He was quite OK with that,seeing the coming changes as a natural evolution of the art.
Just now, looking for that passage, I ran across this on page 357. "I chide my Republican friends on their misinterpretation of the term
"capital". They say they are concerned with security of property and money, collectively known as capital. "Capital" in this sense is actually the interest and dividends from exploitation of the earth and its manifold benefits. I reply that the only true capital is the resources of the earth, and misguided Republicans that they are, they are actually invading our basic capital at the expense of the future."
All that aside, I love the craft of using a 4X5
to try and convey in Ansel's words, "What I saw and felt". Large format work helps me connect with my environment by immersing me in it. Snapshots seldom work this way for me. They are more of a shoot and run tactic for our busy lives as we try to capture what we don't have time to relax and be with.
Just my $.02 worth.

High C
06-01-2004, 04:57 PM
Yep, the view cameras are large, all right, but you ought to see the enlargers that handle those big negatives. :eek:

Wild Wassa
06-01-2004, 05:23 PM
Seafox, the largest format used by me was 24x20 inch, on a vacuum frame.

I'm a trained photographer, I majored in scientific photography, large format was the bulk of the work, otherwise it was looking down a microscope. Shooting off little polaroids, to test exposures or some days nearly bracketting an entire box when shooting rock art, was lush. I don't miss gingerly putting darkslides in place or dip'n'dunking sheets of film, or feeling around in the bottom of the developer in a deep tank for a sheet that came off a hanger.

The large format cameras that I've used were Linhoffs professionally, Arca Swiss when I was going to tech, and Klimsch for process work, and reproductions.

One chooses the camera and format for the job, was the way I learnt photography.


[ 06-01-2004, 06:49 PM: Message edited by: Wild Wassa ]

Ross M
06-01-2004, 05:45 PM
Thanks for the thoughts on the mirror, all.


Wild Wassa
06-01-2004, 05:57 PM
Ross, perhaps the mirror also replaced unwanted unmovable objects with nice reflections.
Photography remains a subtractive process, despite the organization that can go into making a shot work. "Remove all distracting elements, simplification is synonomous with good taste," said Andreas Feininger.


ps, Do you know of the f64 School?, I once used a lens on a Klimsch that was f480 (or was it f560?).

[ 06-01-2004, 07:11 PM: Message edited by: Wild Wassa ]

06-01-2004, 06:34 PM

Good God, Warren, what did you use for lighting & exposure - a continuously-fed ring of burning magnesium wire 'round the lens and an exposure of 3 days? :eek:

Wild Wassa
06-01-2004, 06:41 PM
mmd, 4 x 1inch Carbon arcs, or 4000w of process camera lights, light sources to suit the film types, exposure was measured in minutes, the films were 12-24 ASA. Mostly I only shut the lens down to f360 or so. There was no need to pull too much depth-of-field on flat copy, it was edge resolution that was good with the small apertures. The bright light was needed to overcome a few metres plus of bellows factor.

The process camera lenses that we were using, gave maximum resolution at very small apertures.


[ 06-01-2004, 08:19 PM: Message edited by: Wild Wassa ]

06-01-2004, 11:12 PM
speaking of long exposures , the printing papers that I used for negitives ( seagul resin coated papers mostle even used kodak but their logos on the back sometimes showed up on the final print. ilford was also good because it did not have logos on the paper) had an ASA of 6 does ano one know what the asa of the glass plate wet process negs were ? I remember reading that the first kodokrome had an asa of 1/2

would you describe large format photography as fun?

the large size camera shown above was neede because the prints were contact not enlarged.

at weber state college, now university we got from the state surplus system an 8x10 enlarger for 200 dollers the colume was 6 or 8 inch diamiter the base a cast iron wishbone with three wheels. under the rules we had to have it delivered by university transportation. the blankety blanks went down with a stake bed truck with 4 foot sides , didn't tie it down and it dicintigrated after sumersalting out t of the back of the truck on a curve. their reaction? " well it was only worth 200 dollers here your money back and we'll go get you another whenever"

an intresting peice on the news many years ago was about a son- in -law of brigham young who was amoung the earlyest photographers in utah. they were printing his negs at BYU using hand made albume papers ( paper coated with egewhite) that is why contact frames are made with a split back so that as the neg/paper sanditch sat in the sun for up to 8 hours you could open half the contact frame and check how the print was darkening with out causing the neg to move and blur the print. I guess that after the print was dark enough that it was fixed

Please corret me if I am wrong about this information as I have never made albume paper I am thinking that it did not contain silver.

the detail in the paper megs I made was incredaable ( glossy being a bit sharper than satin finished papers) in the photo lab I worked in we would often get in 18th century contact prints to be copyed and the detail you could in many of them see the eyelashes not just the puple in the iris of the eyes

Wild Wassa
06-01-2004, 11:54 PM
Originally posted by seafox:
"... their logos on the back sometimes showed up on the final print. ilford was also good because it did not have logos on the paper ..."

Seafox, there was a gelatin coated paper called Kodak Rapid Press, it was as thin as photocopy paper, designed to be sent air mail. This paper saved weight, smile.gif . I used to think that this paper was so cool, ... you coud see through it, it didn't need warter marks to distract. When I first entered photography, in 1974, Kodak made 86 different photographic papers, which extended to over 300 with the different surface types. Bromides and Chlorobromides, cool browns warm browns, blue blacks, real thick gelatin surfaces. In those days Kodak, Ilford, Agfa and Dupont didn't really make museun specialty papers (although they did) because all of the papers were truely awesome. Lots of silver to play with.

"... does ano one know what the asa of the glass plate wet process negs were ? I remember reading that the first kodokrome had an asa of 1/2."

Yes. Two weeks at f360. The reciprocal of the shutter speed in noon daylight that gives a correct exposure at f16, will be the ISO(ASA).

"would you describe large format photography as fun?"

No way. What's fun is a Cannon 35mm with a high speed motor drive, a Manfrotto Super Triaunt tripod, with a Gitzo quick release head and either a wireless or infra red release, a quartz flourite optic tossed in, ... that's fun.

"the detail in the paper negs I made was incredaable ( glossy being a bit sharper than satin finished papers) in the photo lab I worked in we would often get in 18th century contact prints to be copyed and the detail"

Wow, it let's you know how much silver the old photographers had to record tones and detail with. That's why large format gives more detail, it has more silver to record the detail.

I hope you enjoy the photography as much as I did. It allowed me to look at many professions, ... like a dermatologist.


[ 06-02-2004, 01:44 AM: Message edited by: Wild Wassa ]

Nicholas Carey
06-02-2004, 02:07 PM
Originally posted by Hughman:
The image quality, judging from the rigging details, is much superior to 35mm.A 35mm film negative has an image size of 24mm x 36mm, or 1.33920 square inches. Shooting fine-grained film (like Kodachrome 25), it is, digitally speaking, the [rough] equivalent of about a 15 megapixel image. For coarser-grained 35mm film, figure it as the equivalent of somewhere between 10 and 15 megapixel, depending in the film (Tri-X Pan being an exception).

Medium format film (2-1/4 inch roll film, aka 6 x 6 cm) has an image area 4 times that of 35mm film. Figure medium format images as 40–60 megapixel equivalent.

4x5 inch sheet film has an image area 15 times larger than a 35mm negative: figure it as the rough equivalent of a 225 megapixel image.

8x10 inch sheet film? It has an image area 60 times that of a 35mm negative: figure it as a 900 megapixel equivalent.

16x20 sheet film? It's image area is 240 times larger than a 35mm negative: That's a 3600 megapixel equivalent.

More on image sharpness at


06-02-2004, 03:21 PM
To give you a "layman's terms" description of the resolution of a 4x5 negative, I submit this personal anecdote:

When I was in college studying commercial photography (yes, back in the dark ages) I did a photograph for a fashion photography class of a couple standing together. You know the type, guy standing with jacket casually slung over his shoulder with other arm around girl's waist, girl in slacks and sweater, both looking like they are off to the pep rally at the college commons. The shot was framed full-figure, with "cropping space" overhead and underfoot. Shot on Tri-X film and processed with Kodak HC-110 developer (neither is renowned for it's fine grain enhancing qualities).

Some time later I resurrected the negative to use in a presentation of portrait photography styles. I printed a horizontal format 16" x 20" print cropped in tight to show only the head and shoulders of the subjects, an area of the negative that measured about 1/2" x 3/4". At the showing I recieved several compliments on my ability to make such a large print without any of the graininess usually associated with 35mm photography.

The moral of the story is that, with the negative size and optical quality of a 4x5 camera, the tonal quality of the resuting photographs are noticably superior to those of smaller formats even when the media and chemistry is not selected for minimal grain structure, and the same negative enlargement ratio is employed.

Convenient? No.
Inexpensive? Good God, no!
Suitable for all situations? Definitely not.
Superior image quality? Most definitely.

If I can make an analogy here, the difference between a 4x5 and a 35mm is very much like the difference between a fine wooden sailboat and a production plastic speedboat: To use the former to its potential, one has to learn the vessel well, plan for the voyage, and guide it carefully to its destination using somewhat arcane skills that you have carefully learned and judiciously applied to the task, all of which is part of what makes the voyage enjoyable. The latter merely requires that you know the rudiments of the vehicle, turn it on, point it in the proper direction, and go along for the ride. Both vehicles serve the same general purpose of getting you from point A to point B, but one form involves you more completely in the process. And the adherants of each often speak of the other in distainful terms, just like large format vs small format afficiandoes. ;) :D

Wild Wassa
06-02-2004, 08:56 PM
Originally posted by mmd:
Shot on Tri-X film and processed with Kodak HC-110 developer.

It was the very short development times with film like Kodak Pro Copy (a grainless film almost) that made HC-110 ahead of it's times and 4:1 to 27:1. Bad smell hey?

"If I can make an analogy here, the difference between a 4x5 and a 35mm is very much like the difference between a fine wooden sailboat and a production plastic speedboat."

I must dispute this mmd. The difference is in the final image magnification only (like a Seafly is to a Firefly), and the loss of quality associated with the larger magnification of a 35mm that is required to achieve the same image magnification, to that of a lesser magnification, required by a larger format neg or trany. 35mm lenses are the highest resolving lenses made, they have to be, because of the fall-off in image acutance due to larger magnifications that the film undergoes.

There is no way I could equate a wooden boat to a plastic one Sir. Wood has the resonance of a violin, plastic just goes ... flat... flat... flat .. ... flat, flat, flat.


[ 06-02-2004, 10:13 PM: Message edited by: Wild Wassa ]

stan v
06-02-2004, 10:08 PM
mmd, here's a better comparison. You must set up (pose) shots with large formats (4x5)....they ain't portable, you have some flexibility with medium format (think Hasselblad), but for speed and quickness when you won't enlarge over 8x10, and do it within most anyone's budget, then it's hard to beat a 35mm. Digital is different, too.

06-02-2004, 10:17 PM
Re: Beech and the mirror. It could have been that Beech was shooting the plane through the mirror to capture a bit of stretch imparted by the mirror to make the plane look bigger/longer/sleeker. It's called marketing - which is marketing's way of selling lies ;)

06-02-2004, 11:49 PM
I must dispute this mmd. The difference is in the final image magnification ... - Wild Wassa I do not dispute the accuracy of your statement, Warren (in fact, I agree completely), but if you re-read my post re: the head-and-shoulders print of the couple you will note that the area of the negative enlarged is actually smaller in area than that of a 35mm negative. I attribute the increase in tonal quality and fineness of grain to the higher silver bromide content in the Tri-X Professional sheet film stock than in 35mm roll film of the time.

I also agree with your comment on 35mm lens precision ... nowadays. I'm not so sure that back in 1975 (when the photo and comparison was made) an affordable lens for 35mm format was as good as a Carl Zeiss planar lens.

In my analogy I wasn't trying to compare the qualities of the precision machining of the all-metal 4x5 with the precision stamped & moulded parts of a 35mm (prized old Nikons and Pentaxes excepted) camera, but attempting to contrast the skills and mindset differences between the afficionadoes of the types, and the methods of their common use.

Stan, I have a 4x5, one 2-1/4 x 2-3/4 format, two 2-1/4 square formats, five 35mm, and one digital camera. I have used extensively a 5x7 and 8x10 format camera, and an 11x14 flatbed view camera occasionally. These, combined with a degree in photography and thirty years of practicing, make me pretty confident that I know the limitations of the individual hardware and the cost-per-shot. I wasn't trying to say that a large format is the best format for all situations, just my favourite when used as intended. When the format is coupled with a monorail bed and fitted with fully adjustable lateral & vertical tracking, tilt & swing lensboard and ground glass standards, it is the best tool for controlling field of focus and perspective corrections. Precision image control vs. convenience and speed. Different horses for different courses. I like my 35's, too.

These days I mostly use my digital.

stan v
06-03-2004, 06:52 AM
So, do I. Sold my Hasselblad to another pro years ago (I do miss that camera, I NEVER sell my stuff), but I couldn't justify the bulk and inconvenience. Who really takes portraits at home? Anyway, I love the set up and quality of larger than 35mm shots....just don't have time for that hobby. Golf either. ;)

PLUS, with digital I get to see the results NOW, can edit, etc....you know what I mean :D

At the risk of being chastised for not reading every sentence above, I wonder: mmd, you ever build or have a darkroom? THAT, was the most interesting part of photography for me, I still have my stuff.

[ 06-03-2004, 08:02 AM: Message edited by: stan v ]

06-03-2004, 11:08 AM
Yes, I did have my own darkroom for a while, but early in my boat career I was moving around all the time, going from rental to rental, so I became frustrated with portable darkrooms in bathrooms. When I settled down in Bridgewater, for a while I partnered with a local pro photographer in his darkroom (he hated the process, so I did his work in exchange for unlimited use of his facilities). This changed when I opened my design office and didn't have time to keep up my end of the bargain. Now all my darkroom gear is carefully packed away in my storage room awaiting resurrection and a space dedicated to it. Maybe when I build that new house on the seashore that I've been talking about ...