Getting into large format

Discussion in 'Film Discussion and Q & A' started by Aquarium Dreams, Nov 25, 2007.

  1. Aquarium Dreams

    Aquarium Dreams TPF Noob!

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    I've been considering this for awhile, but I'm not sure where to start. I'm especially interested in using large format for some older processes, particularly tintypes and daguerreotypes.

    Any suggestions what I should start off buying, concerning camera, accessories, and darkroom processing? Thanks.
     
  2. Bobby Ironsights

    Bobby Ironsights TPF Noob!

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    Yes. I have some advice, I say start with large format first, then move into wetplate/vapour phase photography later on down the road. It's no joke. It's like marrying someone in a wheelchair, sounds like no big deal, but is usually more than people bargain for. 94% of marriges to disabled people end in less than five years, 98% in less than fifteen. I think those are probably similar to the statistics for wet plate photography.

    I would advise getting a mentor. Wetplate is seriously difficult, seriously dangerous and seriously expensive. Also, you don't buy wetplate gear, other than a lens, generally speaking, you build wetplate gear in your workshop. Almost all wetplate photographers are older men, for a reason.

    Most wetplaters have a fair bit of disposable income, are quite strong physically, are risk takers, are very handy at building what they need, and have accumulated the associated workshop tools, and they are usually photography obsessed people who are bored with, but well skilled in conventional large format photography.

    Thus....middle aged men.

    If anyone tells you, that it isn't that hard, they are trying to sell you space at a wetplate workshop.

    P.S. Used gear? Maybe, if you can find someone who built their gear, and then quit soon after, but remember that the process uses wet and corrosive chemicals in/on/around the camera, so the wood rots, the metal dissolves, and the rubber/fabric bellows corrodes away, in relatively short periods of time. Expect to rebuild your camera more than once over your career as a wetplate artist IIRC.

    Also, your camera itself will become hazardous to be around or touch for children or women of childbearing age, or the overly health concious.

    Someday I'll do wetplate photography, just probably not in this decade.
    http://www.wetplate.com/forum/default.asp
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    If you decide on large format, I suggest that you try conventional film for a few years, here is my advice on large format film photography.
    **note, advice not asked for deleted, ask for it if you wish**
     
  3. jon_k

    jon_k TPF Noob!

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    Collidion on your skin will give you burns, if you get it on your fingertips, it will burn them off. Thats what I've heard from people who have done it.

    Thats enough to keep me away.
     
  4. Aquarium Dreams

    Aquarium Dreams TPF Noob!

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    Bobby, wow. I definitely appreciate the information. Wetplate processing sounds like a completely different level than anything I could imagine. I love the idea of having a poisonous camera, though.:lol: Realistically, I can see why few women do it. The first half of our lives we're either children or of childbearing age, then we've got children and grandchildren about. Where does wetplate photography fit in the modern woman's lifestyle?:lol:

    I'm looking for advice for large format, so please post your advice. It will be most appreciated. If it helps, I'm thinking of getting a field camera, since I won't be doing any studio work with it, at least not at first.
     
  5. Aquarium Dreams

    Aquarium Dreams TPF Noob!

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    Okay wait, is it true that those chemicals will burn your fingers off?:(
     
  6. Bobby Ironsights

    Bobby Ironsights TPF Noob!

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    Yes and no, depends on the collodion, and whether you buy it, or make it with nitric acid.

    Properly made, no. The chemicals you make the collodion with, yes.

    Oh, and I didn't know you were a chick, I just included that part about the mercury risks off the cuff.

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    Here is what I like to think I've learned about large format.

    Before I start, I want to plug large format. Many photographers keep buying more and more expensive lenses, when a modern and cheap prime lens, less than 300 dollars, already far exceeds the resolution capabilities of even modern films, and far exceeds the resolution capabilities of digital sensors.

    Which is why my old ektar (made in 1942), which resolves 40-80 lines per mm, far outdoes my prime on my Canon f1.8 (2007) which does something like 210 lines per mm. It's because a persons face on my 4x5 inch film is 3 1/2 inches across, and the same person is less than a half inch across on a 35mm frame. So an image 7 times as wide, doesn't need to have anywhere near as good resolution, and still seems so sharp it's unreal.

    First, decide on your beginning format. Decide on 4x5.

    Many will tell you to go straight to 8x10 inch format, first I'll tell you why I think it's a bad idea, even though I will eventually go 8x10 or larger, myself one day.

    most 8x10 beginners contact print for a few years, then take a few more years trying to build their own 8x10 enlarger from bits and pieces.

    8x10 inch negatives have to be tray developed. Have you ever sat rocking a tray of developer for 13 minutes in absolute dark? Would you like to do it for EVERY negative?

    8x10 enlargers require a moving van, and three or four strong men.
    4x5 is cheaper than 8x10, not just a bit cheaper, but alot cheaper and alot less hassle. I got a 4x5 enlarger sent from detroit for a measly 125 bucks in freight costs via UPS.

    8x10 enlargers are rare, as they have only two common applications, 1. aerial recon photography for either the army, or mapmakers. 2. Custom built for art photographers or high end portrait artists prior to the 50's when film had massive grain compared to today.
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    So, start with 4x5 inch negatives, It's common, it's cheap, and it's used in crown/speed graphics.

    Crown Graphic/Speed Graphic. Several million of these camera's were made. No joke, that is why, even though they are excellent, and large format, they are still dirt cheap. COMMON AS SPARROWS!

    They can be bought for less than $150 and you can buy a modern large format lens for about the same or slightly more, for stunning picture quality, or use the original lens, for excellent quality.

    The crown and speed graphics have rangefinders, so they can be used handheld, like a modern 35 mm. It allows you to get spectacular image quality for less than the cost of a new lens, on the fly.

    I wish I could just use 8x10 and to hell with the difficulties, but 8x10 is only four times as big, fourteen times as expensive, and forty times the headache.

    4x5 enlargers are fairly common, a new one costs about 2000 dollars, or you can buy used, for about 3-400. (LIKE ME!!) Warning, they are big. I can lift my beseler 35mm/120 enlarger with one hand, and it's only a foot wide, and two feet tall. There are many 4x5 surplus enlargers, because there were millions of 4x5 press cameras manufactured, and every school had to have one, every newspaper had to have one...etc...etc..lots of surplus 4x5 enlargers on the market.

    My 4x5 enlarger uses a motor to raise and lower the lamphouse and weighs in at about 150 lbs. It's two feet wide, and about three and a half feet tall.

    A 4x5 isn't as good for contact printing, as many people will point out, but you can cheerfully make refridgerator door sized enlargements, tack sharp.

    So, 4x5, speed/crown graphic to start. You can use the lenses on any other 4x5 camera you decide to use.

    Use 4x5 because the combi-t film developing tanks are cheap and easy to use. You can develop a dozen negatives at a time! In a daylight tank, just like 35 mm!

    Use 4x5 because the lenses are fairly common and fairly cheap.

    Use 4x5 because you won't need to cut a hole in your ceiling to accomodate an enlarger.

    MONEY!

    Crown/speed graphic with original 135mm optar lens in usable condition-$175
    Brand new combi-T sheet film system-$79.95
    box of sheet film $30

    300 bucks to get started making contact prints.

    3-500 dollars for either a beseler 45 or omega enlarger with lens.
    200 dollars for a newish caltar (off-label Rodenstock) modern lens.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    About $1000 to start making enlargements that make the prints coming off a 35 mm look like they came off a kodak disposable fun-cam.

    One last advantage to 4x5, is that with an elarger, you can make a print, ON FILM, and then use that film to make a contact print.

    Since the enlargment scale is only 2x (diagonal), you lose practically nothing in image quality, and you can contact print in 8x10, or 11x14, or bigger if you want.
     
  7. Joxby

    Joxby TPF Noob!

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    S'cuse my hignorance, and buttin in but, why would you want to do that.
    Couldn't you just use the 4x5 enlarger straight to print ?
     
  8. JC1220

    JC1220 TPF Noob!

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    Before making the investment into LF ask yourself several questions, such as why, what are my goals, what am I trying to do, how much do I have to spend, etc. Especially if you are thinking wet plate and going LF is a deliberate choice and you better know why you are making it if you are going to enjoy it and get the most out of it. Research, read, experiment and make smart choices in equipment.

    Such as most find going to 4x5 or 5x7 from 35 or MF easier as most intend to enlarge and much of the same knowledge can carry over. Going larger again is a deliberate choice, as you move up in negative size the technical challenges grow especially beyond 8x10, a minor defect with a 4x5 negative can be spotted, but the same defect on 12x20 leaves you with $15 of wasted negative.

    Much of it is a matter of care, it takes no more time to develop a batch of 4x5 than it does 12x20, you just need to be a bit more careful with larger films, but the steps are the same.

    Personally, I spent less than a year with 4x5 before going larger, but that choice was made deliberately. I knew I wanted to contact print and have devoted myself to that choice and my formats 8x10 & 12x20. I would encourage someone to look beyond 4x5, look beyond a press style camera and choose equipment that allows you to expand down the road. I won’t hazard to say more than that without knowing your goals.
     
  9. jon_k

    jon_k TPF Noob!

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  10. Bobby Ironsights

    Bobby Ironsights TPF Noob!

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    Absolutely, if you're printing conventionally, but some crazy wackjobs like to do some far-out alternative processes, like platinum/palladium process which requires contact printing with a negative.

    It's stupid expensive, but they talk about things like exquisite detail, a feeling of vast depth and mind blowing tonal range.

    Enlarging is an inherently lossy/distortion laden process.

    That other dude on here with the 12x20 banquet camera makes fools like me drool. Someday, perhaps I'll own a behemoth and make black and white transparencies, and mount them in lightboxes.

    But not today, university is...Lot$ and Lot$ of fun for now.:wink:
     
  11. jstuedle

    jstuedle No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    That's a cool site jon_k. In school we had a 8X10 process camera. It was fixed, bolted to the floor over track rails and had a vacuum table for holding original artwork flat. Obviously we used it to shoot negs for high speed printer plates. Occasionally you will see a school want to sell one. They basically sell it for very little, the big expense is to move it. The lens and bellows would be worth it if you could find one. Ours didn't have a shutter in the lens though. We just turned on the room lights to expose the film.
     
  12. Mitica100

    Mitica100 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    OK, I'll add my two penny worth of thoughts here...

    First of all you have to ask yourself how big of a print you're going to be happy with. A 16x20, 20x24? If so, consider that enlargements made from a 4x5 negative are quite similar to the ones made from an 8x10 one. I'm not saying that they are equal, just that they are so close that you will not be able to see the difference much. I have a friend who is a pro LF photographer and he shot all LF formats as well as the ULF, he went back to the 4x5 simply because the results are almost as good as the ones coming from larger formats. 4x5 is a lot more portable and cheaper overall.
     

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