Jump to content
James S

Hankering after Large Format.

Recommended Posts

Advertisement (gone after registration)

Am I mad, suffering from an uncomfortable bout of GAS, or finally about to set out on the path to true enlightenment?

For some reason, I feel myself drawn more and more to Large Format photography and have a ‘cart’ ready for me to hit the button on the Intrepid website. But what do I stand to gain?

To be honest I worry I would shoot two film holders and consign it to the cupboard: I love shooting with my m246, but rarely get the M6 out. I have access to the wife’s Hasselblad 501, but have shot 14 images in 10 years with it (which I thoroughly enjoyed). I have a 24 TSE for our Canon, so I can do ‘movements’ but rarely make the effort. I will usually bump the iso a bit before getting the tripod out. And the photos I’m probably proudest of (and actually sold for real money) were landscapes taken with a 5D3 from a boat in Svalbard (https://www.jamesstubbs.co.uk/work/svalbard), with a 150-600 mostly at the longer end of the zoom; not something that would have been achieved with a huge box. 

When you then add in that I’m a very self conscious photographer, the head very quickly rules out a faffy, hassle full, slow, tripod bound camera where you can’t help but make a spectacle of oneself, all so I can take a technically perfect but artistically dull picture of a sufficiently hidden away location where I won’t feel a prat, or a flower in a vase.

BUT... I still hanker. I have this dream that the cost of film will make me really consider my composition, while seeing the image both upside down and back to front (having got my reading glasses out to compose it), taken the time to actually make sure my horizon is level, checked the edges to make sure the scene is full. Maybe I’m just after a technical way to set my work apart that I fail to achieve artistically. But when shooting with the Hasselblad, it felt different. My first roll of film had 2 that I was happy with - a much better ratio than I get at the moment: Sometimes I feel I shoot a few Digital images which are ‘close enough’ and so I must have something . And I was even happy to use it in central London - pointing it at people even!

It probably is GAS, I should just run a few rolls through the H501 and develop them at home. Or better - is there anyone in the south west of the UK, where I can do a days workshop with someone good who knows his darkslide from his cable release? A way to try without forking out for a whole load of stuff that I know I would never resell, as that would be admitting defeat.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You’re not committed enough IMO. (I only offer that because you asked; people are of course free to choose their own path, for whatever reason.) I enjoyed my 4x5 view camera and learned a lot from it, but that’s when I was not only younger and stronger, but had all the darkroom tools and supplies to turn those big negs into worthy prints.  
 

Jeff

Edited by Jeff S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

you may just want to do contact printing with large format which would save lots of space and expense of darkroom and very large enlarger. I use mine with J. Lane glass plates, and for contact printing to albumen and Pt/Pl. Large transparencies are incredible to handle though! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The simple side of large format is that it's no more complicated than any other format, you can process the film in your kitchen and an Epson V700 is absolutely fine for scanning the negs. A darkroom is a bonus but by no means essential.

The complicated side is equipping yourself to do it. Even with a lighter weight camera you'll need a backpack, good quality tripod, and all the accessories like dark cloth, dark slides, meter, and then maybe filters and an extra lens. You'll probably want the camera to be easy to set up, you'll ideally want a fast lens not for creamy bokeh effects so much as being able to see the image on the ground glass. 

The human side of large format is the increased discipline needed so as not to make obvious mistakes, you need to think twice about everything. But that's the frustrating human side, the pleasant human side is setting the camera up and taking a breath and slowing down, there's no rush, have a wander around the area or make some light readings, you're immersing yourself in the image. You load the slide, the shutter clicks and you feel far greater satisfaction than ever possible with 35mm or medium format. You get home and set up to process your negatives, and then that special moment in the dark or with your arms inside your daylight tent, you open the dark slide and find nothing, you forgot to load it. I told you there would be some frustration.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well that was "brutal but honest", Jeff! But no offence taken. Your comment that I'm not committed enough probably holds truth in that I'm struggling with what the point is to my photography, and GAS is a way of avoiding confronting that.

The Svalbard images were taken because:

  1. I was lucky enough to be there last year and 
  2. I had, in a moment of foolhardiness, agreed to take part in Somerset Art Weeks with a local group of artists.

I was, of course flattered, to have been asked by the group. But I spent the 6 months leading up to the exhibition painfully aware that I didn't have anything cohesive to present or, that I felt, was good enough to ask people to part with their cash for.

So when I arrived in Svalbard with only 1 month to go, I was relieved to be so captivated by it, and to be able to produce images that I felt were  different enough to everything else one sees in these days of . Of course, I felt an absolute fraud as I carried my prints into the hall and dreaded the opening. Later, having sold several of them I was on rather a high!

But now with travel curtailed, and no reason to take photos, I'm struggling to gain inspiration in my local landscape. My hope is that wanting to learn 4x5 (or 8x10 if I want to do some gorgeous Pt/Pl prints, as 'helpfully' suggested by Bob) will give me the inspiration to get out more and impose more discipline getting the composition right (rather than firing off 10 mediocre digital frames in the hope that one will be good), as suggested by 250SWB. 

I would dearly love to try it, but as 250swb says the equipment is quite extensive and I still haven't found anywhere locally where I could try it without investing in the extensive kit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You perfectly nailed all the reasons against Large Format, so that’s a good part of the decision process, because you are careful of what you wish for. The only thing that remains a bit implicit is the ‘decisive moment’: photography is often about that and you can forget that with LF, unless you start working like WeeGee the famous did. Intrepid is another channel. I bought a Chamonix 4x5 a few years ago, am happy with and enjoy working with it even with all the mistakes I made. Somehow LF is more forgiving for a few vignets, lightleaks etc. From my experience I can tell you this:

- if I had to start over I’d start with 8x10 and skip the 4x5 so-called learning stage (I worked with 4x5 30 years ago, so I know all that). 4x5 is too small for contacts and has little surplusvalue over 6x9 or 6x7 which is easy to do with some Fuji body. And this gives you the possibility of the decisive moment. Your series of Svalbard is great, is not very dependent on decisive moments but might have been possible on 6x7 somehow, but different. I’d use 8x10 for stills and perhaps portraits only: tonal scale, special old lenses and composition are the main drives and perhaps wet plate in the end. Perhaps a bit landscape, but more for fun. 
- I’m glad I bought the Chamonix and not the Intrepid because I do not use it very often and now my wife and me can enjoy that camera as an interior decoration when I don’t use it as a camera. I really like to own it as such, I enjoy it and I’m not ashamed that I use it only now and then. The Intrepid does not belong in the living room in my taste. 
- I agree with Jeff that age is a thing in working with LF, not only the weight, but also staying concentrated and not forgetting all the tiny steps in the whole process from shooting to printing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Advertisement (gone after registration)

If you feel brave enough to venture into the south-east London area you are more than welcome to borrow my Sinar 5X4 and associated kit to see how you get on. It's much bulkier than a field 5x4 but the process of taking the picture is very similar. I don't have any film left but have quite a few dark-sldes, Polaroid back, roll-film back and half-a-dozen or so lenses.

Personally I can't ever see myself going back to using the thing. I used to have a very good quality Epson scanner which could do 5x4 but then Epson stopped releasing software updates for it; all the 3rd party software  I downloaded was rubbish and that was the end of my 5x4 shooting days.

Filing duties apart IMO there's absolutely no point in having the potential quality a large-format camera will provide you with yet only producing contact prints. Even 10x8 contacts are (IMO again) a complete waste of time and energy.

Philip.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 minutes ago, pippy said:

Filing duties apart IMO there's absolutely no point in having the potential quality a large-format camera will provide you with yet only producing contact prints. Even 10x8 contacts are (IMO again) a complete waste of time and energy.

Its the only way to use old lenses as they were intended to be used. I've been sucked in for this reason alone. There are an immense amount of great (and often cheap) lenses out there but which can't really be used very well on small formats. But using Large Format is anything but quick and easy - I've built a step and repeat 'digital back' (for static subjects) which allows large composites to be made, but even this is time-consuming and rather laborious - but worth it IMO.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A contact printed 4x5 is too small and not worth the effort, but it is an ideal size to scan to make larger prints. One of my old mentors at college contact printed his 5x7 negatives and this is probably the smallest size where you can appreciate the tonal and detail qualities of large format. 8x10 is compromised by the size and weight of the gear you need to lug around, you'll be looking in the small ads for a mule.

I learned large format on a 4x5 Sinar monorail, I was 21 at the time and carrying that around the Derbyshire landscape nearly killed me but it's a wonderful camera in the studio. At the moment I have two Wanderlust plastic 4x5 cameras with wide and standard lenses. I don't like them much. A Thornton Pickard half-plate field camera is one I sometimes use, but it's a bit flimsy. Then there is my MPP technical camera, smallish closed up, very precise but built like a brick outhouse, very quick and easy to set up, but it's all metal so on the heavier side. But my favourite is my Shen Hao 4x5, a typical modern field camera, light, easy to use and not a bad price. Which one for a beginner? I'd recommend a technical camera like the MPP, or a Linhof equivalent. They have a limited range of movements so it doesn't get overly complicated, a standard lens can often be left mounted when the camera is closed, and there are plenty of spares available not that they go wrong anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW I have a Linhof Colour Monorail which cost me all of £150. Its fairly versatile/light/usable in studio ofrin the field, and lens boards are plentiful. If anything there is too much choice of cameras out there, but you need to really ensure that what you go for is viable for your purposes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 minutes ago, 250swb said:

I learned large format on a 4x5 Sinar monorail, I was 21 at the time and carrying that around the Derbyshire landscape nearly killed me but it's a wonderful camera in the studio....Then there is my MPP technical camera, smallish closed up, very precise but built like a brick outhouse, very quick and easy to set up...

We have had similar experiences. I, too, learned LF with a Sinar - it's what the college had - and bought an ancient early MPP for myself. Like you I carried the MPP around a LOT and absolutely loved the whole experience which using such a camera entails. As you say; a small-sized 135mm / 150mm ('Standard') lens - or something shorter - will normally be able to remain on a field camera when collapsed and there's usually not a need for too much in the way of tilt/shift so the smaller covering power of a lens at the lower end of the price scale is all that one might ever need.

Having just had a quick scan on the 'bay it seems that something like a Wista or Toyo in excellent condition can be had for around the £300 mark. A 90mm or 135 / 150 lens seems to be hovering somewhere about £100 - £150.

I've heard great things about the quality of output from the V700 scanner. Would certainly be an easier route than to create a full-blown LF darkroom!

Philip.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You can even use a 'Large Format Leica', well Leitz actually, but the lens is an Elmar. Mounted on an Intrepid. I have yet to use this seriously because of Covid etc, but I'm hoping to get some shooting done before the Winter sets in. This quite a light set up for large format.

I still hanker after using one of my 6 Grubb brass lenses, made in Dublin in the 19th Century, on a camera larger than the Intrepid as they are quite heavy. The object is to use the old lenses (which I already know to be very good) on large format cameras in order to bring them back to life again. 5x4 would not replace 35mm or digital equivalent, but would supplement it.

William

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
29 minutes ago, pippy said:

We have had similar experiences. I, too, learned LF with a Sinar - it's what the college had - and bought an ancient early MPP for myself.

We had DeVere Monorails if I remember correctly, with 150mm Xenars or Symmars. Solid and heavy - not for field use! The Intrepid is the only current UK made option (Brighton?) as far as I am aware.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, 250swb said:

The simple side of large format is that it's no more complicated than any other format, you can process the film in your kitchen and an Epson V700 is absolutely fine for scanning the negs. A darkroom is a bonus but by no means essential.

 

True for some, but for me it’s all about making a fine print, and that means a darkroom (or equivalent set-up).  I did once try contact printing, but that required an 8x10 view camera, which I quickly sold after a short learning experience, sticking with 4x5 and smaller. Scanning doesn’t get there for me...for any format.. so when I decided not to build a fifth darkroom following yet another relocation, I gave up film entirely.  
 

We each have our own path.
 

Jeff

Edited by Jeff S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
40 minutes ago, pgk said:

...The Intrepid is the only current UK made option (Brighton?) as far as I am aware...

Thanks for mentioning the Intrepid, William and Paul; I'd never heard of them before. £280 for their basic 5x4 camera is an absolute bargain! Looks very adaptable although I'm not sure whether a set of bag bellows is part of the operation.

Made in Hove, I see, so just a bit further along the coast.

Very interesting company!

Philip.

EDIT : I've just had a closer look through their site / products. They claim focal lengths from 75mm can be used but this f/l would need a recessed lens-board - which they don't make. Plenty around in the s/h market of course.

P.S. I could hardly believe how expensive double-dark slides are nowadays!......:o......

Edited by pippy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
42 minutes ago, Jeff S said:

True for some, but for me it’s all about making a fine print, and that means a darkroom......Scanning doesn’t get there for me...for any format.. so when I decided not to build a fifth darkroom following yet another relocation, I gave up film entirely...

I know exactly what you mean. I used to have free access to a fully-equipped LF darkroom in a studio I shared but when I moved from that place I also lost the ability to spend a day (or more) producing fine prints.

I did get the 5x4 scanner I mentioned earlier to circumvent the 'problem' and to a certain extent it was actually OK - especially when using 'fibre-based' style papers such as Hahnemuhle / (and much later) Canson - but after I stopped shooting film for my clients in 2008 the Sinar was put in the proverbial cupboard under the stairs and has been there ever since. The lack of software updates from Epson was the last straw for the scanner but as I'm now starting to use my recently acquired 1930 Leica 1(A) to 1(C) I might reconsider this lack-of-scanner situation. I do get the 35mm films scanned to disc when it is processed but the quality from the half-dozen or so labs I've used so far is mediocre at best.

OK; Thread De-rail Over!

Philip.

Edited by pippy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you've articulated your dilemma pretty well, and understand what you're struggling with. All I can add to the mix, is that I've really enjoyed using a couple of large-format cameras for the past year. It's cost a bit of money, but I've had a lot of fun. I'm not trying to make great Art, or take myself too seriously. And I definitely have no plans to sell any of my (very mediocre) images. 

It's probably the only activity I have that doesn't include the rest of the family and the kids. I take the camera out with me in a backpack, set it up, and take my time: waiting for the right light, composing the image, carefully adjusting all the settings... and sometimes not even taking the shot. 😀

I think somewhere else on the forum I compared it to a few hours fishing. It's the same sort of meditative experience, and really great if you really want to totally immerse yourself in your surroundings.

This is the Arca-Swiss I'm using now - the great thing about them is that they're modular. Here it's setup as a 6x9, but when I feel like it, I can switch the back and bellows to a 4x5. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, pippy said:

P.S. I could hardly believe how expensive double-dark slides are nowadays!......:o......

A bit like old Leicas. When they don't make them anymore, they become scarce and expensive. I'm predicting that dark slides will be made again within the next 5 years as film photography takes off. I am lucky to have access to a darkroom here in Dublin which processes 5x4, but I have 5 or 6 DDSs of my own. 

Dr Kaufmann has noted the uptake in film photography and has admitted that Leica cannot keep up with demand as the skill-sets have left the company. It is the same for film sales, which are increasing faster than the makers can supply the market. The thing that is forgotten by the largely older generation (myself included) membership on the Leica Forum is that to a young person there is very little magic in digital photography with expensive cameras. For young people, who can take as many digital images as they want every hour of every day on their phones, the real magic lies in film. You could make the same comparison between music streaming and buying LPs. 

Mark my words.

William

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
29 minutes ago, willeica said:

...When they don't make them anymore, they become scarce and expensive. I'm predicting that dark slides will be made again within the next 5 years...

As far as I can see, William, they are still being manufactured today. London's main Pro shops all have them - brand new and boxed - in stock.

Philip.

EDIT : I meant to mention, earlier, that I really like the OP's Svalbard images in the link in his first post; really nice work!

Edited by pippy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks all for the comments and recommendations. 

Otto, it is interesting that you recommend the 8x10, but just bought a Chamonix 4x5. While I understand the benefits of 8x10, I don't have anywhere to keep the mule that 250swb tells me I'll need to carry it. That and the fact that each sheet costs 4x the price, means I fear I'd never find a composition I was confident enough to invest that heavily in each shutter release. Of course, the moment 250swb describes of realising you forgot to load your dark slide, will then be sweet bliss when you realise how much money you've saved. And that Chamonix does look gorgeous so wouldn't have to live in the cupboard if I decide using it is all too much faff. 

Oh and I may have mentioned that I'd need reading glasses, but I hope I'm still young enough that I can remember the process!

Philip, thank you for the kind offer of the loan of your kit, but at the moment I don't have any reason to head up to London. Initially I would probably scan using something like a v700/v850 (against Jeff's advice), but at least with the negative, I would have the option to upgrade the final produced print at a later date!

Body wise (if that's what you call them), I think Intrepid is most appealing for an initial foray. The price for a brand new camera which should have no light leaks, seems a great entry point, and I should be able to get all I need to start shooting by getting rid of my underused Canon Tilt Shift.

William, Is that a 5x4 Mk4? I heard they got rid of the magnetic locks which hold the back in portrait or landscape mode on the Mk4, and wonder if you had an issue with that? Also you make an interesting point about the uptake of film. I wonder if lenses are soon to go up in price, given the recent success of Intrepid, who were producing 130 5x4s per month last year.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...