New to LF Photography : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am new to LF photography, but want (and need!) to do it because I plan to get into alternative processes.

One question I have is, what is a good 4x5 camera to start with? (One that I won't outgrow too soon and one that's well-made, etc)

Can someone also explain some of the basics of LF photography to me, like what is monorail? what is geared "something" on the camera?


Ron Whitaker

-- Ron Whitaker (, October 04, 1997


Call 1-800-CALUMET and order their new low cost 4x5 camera & the basic package that comes with it. It will work well and give you a basic body, lens & accessories to keep or trade later. Get Steve Simmons "Usingthe View Camera" book. Look at some issues of View Camera(Steve Simmons Publisher). This will help a lot. What specific camera you use isn't that important for most uses. Just as long as it is solid & will hold the adjustments when you apply them and is light tight. Try renting one for a week or weekend and see how it feels. This stuff is fun & the results, IF you can work with large format, are really worth it. I say IF, because some people don't 'see' in large format & the action is much different than a 35mm with a motor. But if you like it, the quality is a big, big plus & the control factor is unbeatable.

-- Dan Smith (, October 05, 1997.

Does CALUMET have an all number phone number, that can be called from outside the US? I'm in the UK and only have an old steam powered phone with numbers on it! Furthermore, in my experience free phone numbers are not accessible from outside the US.

-- Ron Hughes (, February 04, 1998.

Ron, Forgive me, I know you probably don't want to hear this, it will likely only complicate your decision further. But you did express a primary interest in "alternative processes" and concerns about "outgrowing" your potential LF camera choice. I'm only pointing this out because of my own experiences in "alternative processes", particularly platinum and palladium printing.

If you are primarily interested in "alternative processes", you might want to consider a format larger than 4x5, perhaps 8x10. Most, if not all, of the "alternative processes" require contact printing of the actual negative. If you want prints larger than 4x5, you cannot simply project a 4x5 negative in an enlarger to create larger prints, as you would with regular B&W or color printing processes.

While it is quite possible to enlarge 4x5 negatives to produce much larger negatives for contact printing, it is often difficult, time-consuming, and tricky to achieve good results. (If you're interested, I know of one commercial source for such negative enlargements for contact printing.) It is much easier to produce the negative, in-camera, in the actual final dimensions for contact printing. Many will disagree, but IMHO 4x5 contact prints are not all that impressive, particularly in the "alternative process". I've often seen and heard that 5x7 is the minimum reasonable size for contact prints, 8x10 is even better. In the past I've seen little 6x6 (or in one case, 35mm!) contact printed and displayed in preposterously large mats/frames. To each his/her own!

"Alternative process" prints, particularly platinum or palladium prints, do not give the same impression of sharpness and contrast that normal prints do. These processes are much more visually subtle, relying upon more delicate and wider tonal ranges and textures. In my experience, 4x5 prints do not do these processes justice, they are simply not large enough to convey these subtleties.

If you intend to do primarily B&W and color LF photography, and enlarging your negatives to final print dimensions in an enlarger, by all means start with 4x5. Enlarging equipment for 8x10 is prohibitively expensive compared to 4x5.

If, as you stated in your question, your primary goal will be getting into "alternative processes", I think you will soon outgrow 4x5 and will be looking for a way to create prints larger than 4x5. I speak from personal experience here, I am presently looking for a 12x20 camera/lens so I can create even larger platinum prints than 8x10. Call me crazy, but it's a disease.

There are several good, basic books to explain all aspects of LF. I recommend Steve Simmons' view camera book. It will answer all your questions. Good luck.

-- Sergio Ortega (, March 30, 1998.

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