MF, LF, film or digital... and do I want to go there at all?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Iron Flatline, Jun 17, 2008.

  1. Hi all.

    I need to kick this around with some photographers, there is no where else to turn other than the Internet.

    I want to make a major change in my photography. I am tired of street photography, which I have pursued for years. I will never abandon it, esp. when traveling, but I really go out and shoot people because it is easy for me. I grab one of my digital Rangefinders, and ride public transportation for a few hours. It's fun, and gets me out of the office. I like people and food stands and cities, it's where I spend my life.

    But I'm bored by it.

    What next?

    Well, I have always admired the very large format prints of certain photographers. I love what Andreas Gursky does (who doesn't?!), Edward Burtynsky (The Ship-breaking, for instance), and especially Hans-Christian Schink.

    So, I want to do that. Somehow I am attracted to the mechanical and deliberate process of shooting industrial landscapes. I know I'm not re-inventing the wheel of creativity, but this is a personal journey, I'm not earning a living as a creative artist.

    Ok, so what do I do equipment-wise? I want as much sharpness as possible for large prints, and maximum Depth-of-Field. And I want maximum resolution.

    I have two high-end cameras, but I'm not convinced they're up to the task - the Canon 5D, and the Leica M8. The Canon has a bigger sensor, and the Leica has very sharp lenses.

    I bought a book called Medium and Large Format Photography, but I'm not learning as much from it as I would like. It bills itself as a guide to moving up from 35mm format for better pictures, but it doesn't provide enough help. It's more like a gear-head book (and believe me, I enjoy that kind of equipment pr0n) but I can't really get my head around how each camera works.

    Also, and this is the most important part, I am unsure about work-flow. Let's for a moment assume that I can afford anything, do I want to work with digital backs? Or do I want to shoot film and then scan? I have become pretty reliant on the digital process - meaning histograms, and ability to see the shot. Without Polaroid I'm wary of working with film. But I'm not sure if digital can match the high quality of a large(r) negative. I read that most of the photographers I admire shoot film, scan and then print digitally.

    ...and finally, do I even need to go to a larger format? I own some Canon L lenses, and some Leica R lenses that mount to the EOS. The 1Ds Mk III has a lovely sensor (with LiveView for real easy shot-composition) and that might be good enough for now...

    I do seem to have an unhealthy crush on the Linhof M 679 cc...

    I will be in LA for the summer with nothing to do, so I am going to take some courses. I thought I was going to focus on lighting and studio work, but I think this might be a more interesting direction to take.

    A teacher I took a class with (Architectural Photography with Doug Hill) shoots with a Hasselblad and a P39 back into a laptop with Capture One... I might start there by asking him for lessons.

    So - how do I move to a larger format? Is it even worth it? How do I get my feet wet? I am hoping to get a discussion going here, I'm not even sure what to ask yet.
     
  2. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    Where to begin? It's such a personal thing, especially when it's all about what drives you personally rather than commercially.

    Of course you could get an MP or an R6.2, and use film (that comment is only partly tongue-in-cheek).

    Let's just suppose that you decide to move up to large format. It looks like you want to use colour, whether exclusively or not. That makes some formats more attractive than others. You also would like to be able to use instant film to check things, learn things. Fuji 4x5 pack film is still in production in both B&W and colour, and the backs are easy to get*.

    That suggests 4x5. Nice small cameras.

    You mention a Linhof M 679. Some people like the 6x9 size of camera. Personally I prefer the extra versatility that 4x5 offers. There's a good article on 6x9 cameras in an issue of Magnachrom, though I think it downplays the disadvantages a little.

    You might like the compact Arca Swiss '6x9' small front standard / 4x5 rear standard combo with a Linhof lens board adapter, so that when you buy your ebony Ebony or maple Chamonix you can switch lenses easily.

    Maybe next time you are in New York you should drop round, play with some cameras, try some decent lenses and shoot some film. I probably have the kind of cameras, lenses, roll film backs and other impedimenta that you would want, and I could scan your film on an Imacon 949 or Screen Cezanne to give you a feel for the sort of quality you could achieve. You could do a side-by-side with your Canon/Leica-R combo.

    Enough for now. More later no doubt.

    Good luck,
    Helen

    Edit: I decided to remove nitty-gritty reference material to notes.
    *The relevant backs are the Fuji PA-45 and Polaroid 550 only. They are fairly easy to get, though not cheaply (around $200 now. A $200 cheap second-hand plastic box, for crying out loud. They less than that new from B&H if you can get them).

    The Polaroid 545 series are much cheaper ($1 if they come with a large cup of coffee) because Polaroid doesn't make film for them any more, and both Ilford and Fuji have stated that they will not start to make that kind of 4x5 instant film (sheet film, not pack film). The Fuji 4x5 pack film is suffixed with '45' (eg FP100C45). The Fuji films are also available in the smaller 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 pack format (eg FP100C) that fits the Fuji PA-145 or Polaroid 405 holders. These holders fit 4x5 backs, but produce a smaller image.
     
  3. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Oh sure, ask the easy questions! This is something I've been working through myself (Although there's no way in hades that I could afford to actually do it).

    I was lucky enough to have for a mentor when I was in high school a very dedicated amateur photographer who had everything from a very old 8x10 view camera (brand unknown) to a full compliment of Contax and a really nice 500CM outfit. I was able to play with all of it (under very close supervision) and really loved working with the 4x5 view camera (my allownace wouldn't stretch to 8x10 sheet film).

    I've looked at Hasselblad's H series and wondered (assuming I could afford it - I can't) if I would go that route, and I think I've decided the answer is 'no'.

    Don't get me wrong, I love working with digital, but the results available with big film just can't be beat. If you're going to go MF or LF, I'd vote to go film!
     
  4. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    These 'should I buy a Phase One P45+ with a Linhof M679 or an Arca Swiss Orbix with Sinar film holders' questions come up so often on TPF that we should ask for this thread to be stickied.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  5. Alex_B

    Alex_B No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I will follow this thread with interest, since part of what Ironflatline wrote, exactly describes the things going on in my head.

    I certainly do not want to give up on 35 mm , but I feel the growing urge to at least try MF and/or LF for architectural and landscape photography.
    Digital is certainly out of my financial scope here, but film sounds a good start.
     
  6. Steph

    Steph No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    If I were in your situation and could afford it I would buy a LF camera. I think it is ideal for landscape photography as it allows controls over depth of field and also over perspective (useful for architecture/industrial landscape).

    As for workflow, call me old-fashioned, but I would shoot slides and get Cibachrome prints. I think they look beautiful.

    For me photography is as much about the process of taking the picture as about the end result and I believe that you have to put much more effort when using a LF camera compared to any other smaller format (film or digital). That's one of the reasons why I would like to have a go at LF photography
     
  7. TheLostPhotographer

    TheLostPhotographer TPF Noob!

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    If you're looking to emulate the work of the photographers' quoted, then 'dive right in at the deep end' would be my advice. Get yourself a quality 10x8 field camera and take the steep learning curve.

    On the plus side, ebay offers extremely good value LF kit these days. A quality camera with decent 150mm lens (35mm SLR standard 50mm equivalent) for an angle as close as possible to human visual perception (the photographers quoted are very much realists in the Becher mould), good tripod and all essential accessories.

    On the down side, mistakes are expensive! Even if you process your own film (not recommended for colour) you will still be looking at around €12 a shot all told.

    10x8 LF represents the absolute pinnacle of photographic accuracy as far as I'm concerned. Well worth the effort and the cost.

    Although there's a lot to learn, the basic principles remain the same. The only difference is understanding camera movements and remembering to load your sheets of film the right way round. Far more effort obviously, but the results speak volumes. You can't beat the pleasure you get from a 10"x8" negative, or transparency. It's a completely different league. More effort = much more reward.

    I'd suggest asking a few rental studios if they could provide a couple of hours tuition in use with LF film (forget digital for the time being. If you're going LF go for the very best quality. Digital is still a long way off) cameras. Or, ask a local pro with the gear if you can spend a bit of time with them.
     
  8. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    A small point, and possibly irrelevant in the context, but don't you mean a 300 mm for 10-8?

    In many ways 10-8 makes sense over 5-4 in practical ways as well as aesthetic. Contact prints are simply breathtaking and decent quality scanning can be done with a high-end consumer scanner like the Microtek M1 or Epson V-700/750. Those will let you do about a 4x enlargement with throwing the quality of 10-8 or 5-4 away.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  9. droyz2000

    droyz2000 TPF Noob!

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    One thing to consider, and you may have done this you just might not have posted it, is where you would process you LF negatives. I know that I personally miss the darkroom. I think that when I would process film and print it I could brainstorm so much better than when I sit in front of my computer. If there were one thing that I could afford right now it would be my own darkroom. I am not say that is the answer for you but then it would allow you to take any avenue and actually print your own prints regardless of size negative. I would not go digital though. I would stay film in MF and LF.
     
  10. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    I don't enjoy tainting my work with my inadequate words, but I'll have a go at explaining why I use large format colour film: It's the best way I know of being transparent, of presenting what I see with the most straightforward clarity, with as little as possible interposed. Hopefully the viewer will be able to connect to the scene in the same way that I did, rather than seeing interpreted brief notes on the scene.

    Because of my work work I'm familiar with large format digital and I could use it for my personal work if I wished. It's nice and convenient. But it doesn't really kindle the spark like the simple process of exposing a sheet of film does. It's not a big deal, but that's how it is.

    Painful BS, I know. Sorry.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  11. sabbath999

    sabbath999 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Exactly my thoughts... I have nothing substantial to add, since I am completely ignorant on this subject, but I will follow it with interest.
     
  12. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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    Maximum resolution clearly spells 4x5 or 8x10. I think 4x5 would probably be the better format for you. It also has the benefit of being able to use digital backs w/ an adapter.

    And ever since Kodak stopped manufacturing Portra NC in anything larger than 10-sheet packs, color 8x10 has gotten more expensive.
     

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