large format.

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by Onyx, Aug 25, 2005.

  1. Onyx

    Onyx TPF Noob!

    Aug 16, 2005
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    does anyone have experience with large format? it has interested me lately. is it a lot harder to use? what are the disadvantages to it?

  2. lazarus219

    lazarus219 TPF Noob!

    Aug 30, 2004
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    Port Macquarie
    there are a few different kinds of large format, from monorail to 'field' cameras,
    Have you ever used medium format before? if not then i would suggest using that first- most large format cameras are large, physically more complicated,

    The main disadvantage is just the sheer size, The quality is amazing though- but medium format would defintely be good enough
    (sorry to be referring you to med-format if your stepping up from that :)
  3. santino

    santino TPF Noob!

    Jun 17, 2004
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    Austria, heart in Poland -->
    I wouldn't call them physically more complicated, they are most likely the uncomplicatiest cams but focusing is slow, the are pretty large, fast operating isn't really possible.
  4. montresor

    montresor TPF Noob!

    Aug 22, 2005
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    Cleveland Hts., Ohio
    Have played with a variety of medium format cameras and a 4x5 Crown Graphic. For me, the difference was how the lenses saw things. If you're used to, say, 50mm lens on a 35mm camera, the 80mm lens on a medium format or the 135mm lens on large "see" things differently: the differences are subtle but noticeable. When I first shot with an 80mm lens, I was surprised at how things resolved -- I had an image in mind much along the lines of what I was getting with a 35mm camera. Shot exactly the same way, but the result was... strangely different! Subsequently went back with both MF and 35mm and took the same shots. A valuable comparative exercise!

    If you're working with a large-format view camera, you should be okay, since you'll get a sense of how the lens is working when you compose on the ground glass.
  5. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

    Aug 25, 2003
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    Lawrence, KS
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    I shoot 4x5 BW. The cameras are much larger than 35mm gear, and even many medium format cameras (although some MF cameras get pretty big too). There is very little automation, so you need to remember to do everything: close the lens, load film, pull darkslide, cock shutter, stop down, replace darkslide, etc... If you skip a step your shot won't happen. Even with old 35mm SLRs that we consider fully manual there are a lot of steps that the camera does for you.

    All the additional gear adds bulk too. I almost always use a tripod (and it needs to be big and sturdy), although I have tried my Speed Graphics handheld occasionally. Photojournalists in the last century used 4x5 cameras handheld for decades, so it definately can be done (you'll need strong wrists! ). The dark cloth takes up some room. Film can take up as much space as the camera itself. I use the standard 4x5 sheet film holders that hold 2 sheets each, and a Grafmatic holder that holds 6 sheets.

    A huge advantage for sheet film is that you can process every shot individually, so there is a lot more control available than with roll film. Because of the extra effort and expense it does tend to encourage the photographer to choose their photosgraphs with care. I've spent hours wandering through the woods, intensely studying the land around me, carrying 50 lbs of gear, only to take 3 or 4 shots the entire morning.

    Many LF cameras have at least some movements. Movements are adjusting the lens plane and/or film plane to manipulate perspective and DOF. A Lensbaby is a lens with some movements. Just google "view camera movements".

    Of course an obvious advantage is the huge piece of film. I see people say all the time that you can't see the difference between medium format (like 6x7cm) and 4"x5" film in 8"x10" prints, but believe me, you can. And when you get up to 16"x20" prints and bigger you remember why you were lugging around all that gear anyway. ;) Also you can contact print big negs, which opens up a whole bunch of alternative and vintage processes.

    A disadvantage may be that lab services for large format are rarer. I only shoot BW because I can develop and print it in my own darkroom. There is maybe 1 lab within 100 miles of me that does 4x5 processing.

    I went straight from 35mm to 4x5, and skipped medium format when I aquired an Anniversary Speed Graphic (from the 1940s I think). The early learning went slowly, but there were occasional glimmers of what was possible with more practice. Eight or nine years later and I'm used to the weight and size, and I can set up my Super Speed Graphic and shoot just as fast as I can with my Pentax 67II, or any other medium format SLR. And more of the photos are keepers.

    An easy way to get into LF is with a 4x5 press camera like a Speed Graphic. Depending on the model or condition they go for $50 to $500 on Ebay. Speed Graphics are built tough.

    They'll usually come with a press lens. Some of these cheaper lenses are pretty good, and the 20 square inches of film makes up for a lot of lens flaws, but eventually you'll probably want a good LF lens. These go for $250+. LF lenses are usually mounted in shutters, and the whole thing fits on a lens board. Swapping from one camera to another is just a matter of having the right lensboard.

    Later model Speed Graphics have more movements, but none have all of the movements of a wooden field camera. Wooden field cameras start at about $600 with no lens for the most inexpensive models.

    My main 4x5 camera right now is a Super Speed Graphic, which was the last of the Speed Graphics. It has all of the front movements, and no rear movements. I have an old, heavy, solid steel 4x5 monorail view camera that I can drag out if I need to twist it up, but over all the Super Graphic covers most of my needs. I got it without a lens for $220.

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