2014 October 3    Film   Scanning

Intro / Getting Into Big Film

Digital technology has improved quite a bit.  Even so, large format still has an enormous resolution advantage over any DSLR right now.  Furthermore, it has the colors and tones that digital cannot accurately copy.

Most important is the whole experience of shooting big film. 

4x5 and larger is for serious photography, but it's also serious fun.  Shooting large format is one of the best things in photography.

You can buy a working 4x5 press camera for cheaper than an entry-level DSLR.  (See below for recommendations.)  Sure, the film is expensive (couple bucks a sheet), but it's not as much as 8x10.  If you don't mind skipping restaurants or the movies sometimes, most anyone can afford to shoot 4x5. 

Large format photography is something you have to try if you want to know the real deal.   It's pretty much the diametric opposite of digital.  Instead of automatic, fast, and computerized, it's all-manual, slow, and requires complete participation by the photographer.  

And I love it, missed photos and all. 

If you're one of those people who thrives on a challenge, then you need to get into 4x5.  When you get a good sheet, it will feel like a personal victory over the forces of chaos and bad photography.   (They're friends, you know.)

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Crown Graphic on Tripod

Choosing A Camera

A Graflex Crown Graphic or Speed Graphic is a great way to start, at least if you're on a budget.   They have only a couple of front movements and no rear movements, unlike a real "view camera".  For most landscape work you probably won't mind.  (The front-raise movement, which they do have, is very handy.)  

Most of them come with lenses, because 4x5 lenses don't fit on DSLR's and thus haven't been pillaged. 

Most everyone wants the Graflok back, but I prefer the spring back.   You can't use as many accessories with it, but if you stick to regular Graflex 4x5 film holders, the spring back is extremely easy to use.  It's actually easier to use than a Graflok back. 

I like the regular Speed Graphic because it has a big, cloth focal plane shutter.  (That's actually the opposite of what most 4x5 shooters would probably want.)  One thing you have to watch, though, is that some people removed these.  This greatly cuts down on the value of the camera (not that it's all that valuable to begin with;  $200 is typical for a working one with lens.)  I like the cloth focal plane shutter.  Crazy as it sounds, I've used it to take photos at 1/10th of a second where it would probably make the camera shake.  The pictures still look good.  It's all about a steady tripod.

If the camera is missing its focal plane shutter, you will not be able to use "barrel lenses";  you'll need a lens with its own shutter (e.g. Copal #0).   If it has the focal plane shutter, you can still use lenses with their own shutters, but you have to set the focal plane shutter to "O" (Open) when you use it.

I have a lot of experience with press cameras, so I'm reasonably sure you'll have tons of fun.  I've had my Speed Graphic for years and still stubbornly use it, even when I probably could have saved up and bought a Shen Hao.

Get your 4x5 press camera through this link or the other ones on this page, and it helps me keep this site on-line.  (It helps whether you buy cameras, stereos, camping gear... almost anything.)

If you want to jump right into one of the best, get one of these cameras.  It's a little more sophisticated than a press camera but has a similar form factor and appearance.   If you get that camera, they take this kind of lens board.   Be sure to get one that's made for your intended shutter type (e.g., Copal 0, Copal 1, etc.).   If possible, just get one with a lens and shutter already mounted.  (Then you don't have to worry about what shutter size.) 135mm or 150mm would be a good choice for starting out.

4x5 Lenses

The 135mm Optar is the most affordable lens (or one of them), and it works just fine.  You'll find this a lot on Graflex cameras.   Another common one is the Ektar 127mm.

If you want more serious quality, though, get a Nikkor W, a Fujinon, or a Schneider.  There are also Zeiss and Linhof lenses, depending on how much you want to spend.   I'd probably just get this Nikkor W, if for some reason I weren't satisfied with Optars and Ektars.

If you're there for "whole-landscape" type shots, 135mm is a very good choice for 4x5.  (You can use lenses as wide as 80mm with almost any 4x5 body.)  For the 35mm equivalent, divide the actual focal length by three.  This is not an exact conversion, but it's a good rule of thumb for getting the approximate 35mm equivalent.  (Dividing by 3.3 might be more accurate, though.)    A 210mm lens on a 4x5 camera is like a 70mm lens on a 35mm SLR.  An 80mm lens on 4x5 would be like a 27mm lens.

My favorite focal length on 35mm film SLR's is 40mm.  The 3x conversion rule of thumb would give you 120mm on 4x5;  based on the 3.3 conversion, that would be a 135mm lens on 4x5.   I have never bothered to see exactly which it is, but at least you're in the right ballpark with those.

I also really like the 70mm and 100mm focal lengths on a 35mm SLR;  on 4x5 these would correspond to about 210mm and 300mm.  

Autumn Is About This

October 12, 2014

Velvia 50 (4x5)
Speed Graphic w/ 210mm barrel lens
1/280th sec @ about f/5.0

4x5 Film

I shoot mostly Velvia 50 and Velvia 100.  Right now I think only the Japanese market has 4x5 Velvia 50 still available new, which I can't understand.  For the time being you can still get Velvia 100 in 4x5.

I never liked Velvia 100F quite as much because it doesn't go open-loop on the saturation, but actually, one or two of my favorite shots were taken with 100F.   I believe 100F has been discontinued, but if it were the only thing available, I'd use it without hesitation.

Another great, great film is Kodak Ektar 100.  I would definitely pick up a box or three of this stuff in 4x5.  It's a color negative film that's almost like a slide film in terms of punchy appearance and saturation.  It's also extremely fine-grained. 

Film Ferrania has been talking about re-starting production of slide film, which will basically be a resurrected Scotch Chrome.  If they make it in 4x5 they will be my heroes forever.  (But it would still be cool even if only in 35mm.)

By the way, if you shoot Velvia 50, don't forget it has reciprocity failure.  Somewhere I have a chart.  I remember having to leave the shutter open for several minutes for some shots, and it wasn't even dark outside. 

Crucial Accessories

First of all, you'll need some 4x5 film holders.  (You have to load these and unload these in total darkness.)

Equally important is a good tripod.    Hand-holding a camera with a 135mm lens would require 1/150th or 1/200th of a second shutter speed to be guaranteed of sharp pictures.  This is not going to be possible at the narrow apertures usually employed with large format.   Some large format lenses are 150mm, 200mm, even more.

You might get nearly the whole landscape in focus at f/11 on your DSLR.  A large format camera is going to require f/22, maybe even f/32 to get everything in focus.  That means you'll be working at shutter speeds anywhere from 1/60th down to a couple of minutes, depending on film speed and lighting conditions.  You'll want the steadiest tripod you can afford.

A 4x5 press camera might be five or six pounds, but you're better off getting a tripod rated for more than that.  In the reasonably affordable range, I would consider this one.  You'll need a tripod head for it, such as this one.  

Another suitable choice would be this bundle, which includes a very good tripod together with a very good pan-tilt head.    Full-fledged view cameras can be heavier and require bigger, more expensive tripods.   The best ones I've seen are wood, and they're heavy (and expensive).  You don't need one of those for a press camera, though.  Generally, any "medium format" tripod is OK with a press camera.

Those are your main accessories for shooting 4x5.  You could buy yourself a Pentax spot meter, which is probably the best way to go for metering.  However, any good SLR or DSLR will have a spot metering mode.  Or, you could even get by with Matrix or Evaluative metering. 

Also, don't forget to carry a small bubble level.

This has been a look at the main pieces of equipment you'll need to get started in large format photography.  It's not an exhaustive list, but with these choices you can be up and running fairly soon.

I hope you enjoyed this article.   Your support, when you purchase your stuff through these links, is what allows me to keep this site going.  Your help is much appreciated.

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