What changed when you switched to 8x10 ?

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I am a 4x5 and roll films user and am pretty satisfied with what I get. But when I see an enlargement or even a book printed from 8x10 slides, I admit they are clearly superior. Especially images containing tiny details and structures or subtle colors seem more vivid and bright. Independently from the result itself, I have been told that working on a larger ground glass makes composition easier and that the quality of the photographs can improve by this. Is it true or is it rather the stress generated by the material costs that keeps from firing on anything but a good shot? I know of a photographer who says he didn't fully express his skills until he switched to the larger format. What are your experiences? Did the large format reward you for the extra weight you have to carry? Is it worse having the two standards and selecting formats according to the subjects or to the distance one has to walk?

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), February 18, 2000


I find the bigger ground glass makes an enormous difference. My overall stress and frustration levels really fell when I began to use 8x10. I never use my 4x5 anymore even though I have a 4x5 enlarger and the quality of some of my 4x5 gear is clearly superior to my 8x10 stuff. I'm sure not all people have this problem, but I found it hard to deal with the smaller image and the smaller equipment. It is a lot more difficult to lug an 8x10 around, however. Particularly the tripod. Generally I take a picture with roll film and develop it before I haul the 8x10 out to the site.

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), February 18, 2000.

Rather than trying to explain all the thoughts that raced through my head when I read your question, I'm going to list some ideas:

1. 8x10 gear is considerably heavier than 4x5. Don't forget to consider the weight and number of film holders you plan to haul around with you.

2. Lens coverage gets tougher with larger formats. Don't assume that a 325mm image circle will yield sharp coverage from corner to corner. It just ain't so, so if you want tack sharp images all the way through, plan on spending more on high quality lenses.

3. Contact printing an 8x10 negative will undoubtedly produce better results than enlarging a 4x5 to 8x10 (given comparable lenses, emulsions, etc). This opens the door to alternative processes such as POP, Pt/Pd, gum prints, blah, blah, blah (not that these things can't be done with 4x5, but I love a big negative).

4. Don't let anyone kid you - larger formats will not make anyone a better photographer. Period. Allowing one to express oneself as a photographer isn't the function of the camera being used, but I'm sure that for many photographers using the larger formats allows them to BELIEVE that their craft is somehow enhanced. Sometimes that little bit of inspiration is all that is needed to produce a better photograph.

5. Larger format films cost more, which leads (IMHO) to more contemplation, which leads to better photos.

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), February 18, 2000.

I absolutley find the larger camera easier to compose with and use. It's like composing with a picture frame or a t.v. monitor. You can actually back up and look at the whole image, see the whole thing, like you would a fininshed print. I have forsaken all other formats for 8 X 10, until I can afford an 11 X 14 that is.

I will say this - finding the right camera for you is much more important! It's not just weight and movements and price and durability, but the way you work with it and how easy and intuitive you find it to use.

One of the reasons I started l.f., skipping 35 and medium format completely, was because it was so much like shooting with a Betacam and composing with a monitor. The down side is that it attracts a lot of attention in public places. I have no idea if my work has improved, but I do enjoy it more. I once recieved a compliment from a pro in D.C. who was impressed at the detail and sharpness in my Azo contact print. I had figured the odds of something I had done impressing a pro was non existant.

If you switch to 8 X 10, you will encounter the bizarre phenomenon of "format shrink". Go to Chris Perez' page and read his discussion of using his 12 X 20.


Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee refer to 8 X 10 as "medium format" and 4 x 5 as "small format". While weight is a factor, I am really tired of hearing people complain about it. Weston was a little guy and Adams weighed all of 135 in his youth while he was 6' or 6'1". I haven't met Zoe Zimmerman or Andrea Modica or Sally Mann, but I get the impression they aren't what you'd call "bruisers".

I'm 5'6" and weigh 165 lbs. I have never exercised a day in my life and my diet sucks. I flunked gym class and feel like an idiot when kids come up to the reference desk and ask for books on famous sports figures I've never heard of. I think my 8 X 10 kit weighs 42 lbs and my shoulder bag with 9 loaded holders is 16. The tripod adds another 12 lbs. I am really going to have to weigh all this and find out for sure.

In July of '94 I spent a week in Colorado in Rocky Mountain National Park. It turned out to be the hottest summer in recorded history there and forest fires were breaking out all over the place. Being from the east coast, I had NEVER been over 5,000 ft. except in the pressurized cabin of an airplane. I spent that week lugging around a Sony BVP 7 (35 lbs) a Sachlter tripod, Anton Bauer batteries (nickname the brick) tape stock and some sound gear and never once suffered from altitude sickness or shortness of breath. Yes I was a little tired and sore when I got home but I never felt the need to complain or slow down while I was there. I did drink a lot of water and eat less though. My 8 X 10 kit actually weighs less than the gear I carried that week!

Sorry to wax long winded, but my point is, if a schlub like me can do it, ANYONE can. Did you see the issue NOV/DEC '99 of View Camera? On page 25 Gordon Hutchings details his gear. While I admire his results, I think his kit is entirely TOO large and heavy. He uses a hand-truck for crying out loud! It doesn't have to be that way.

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), February 18, 2000.

On the idea of chromes or contacts from 8x10, they can be stunning, especially when compared to enlargements from smaller formats. When looking at books printed from 8x10 originals, if the images are 8x10 or larger you are just fine. But start reducing them and you are no better off than with some of the smaller formats. Does 8x10 change how you work? Yes, in many ways. Slower on many fronts is the first. It won't make you better unless you work at it, just slower & making more expensive mistakes. For some the larger formats are a nice, comfortable match. For others a hellish nightmare solved only by going back to smaller formats. The discipline required in spending time with an image compared to fast frame/fast motor drive photography is different. Keeping a wide receiver in focus as the ball is in the air and coming into his hands while a defensive back tries to block it-while you are shooting a 3-6 shot sequence, all the time keeping composition in the frame as you shoot with a 600mm lens takes intense concentration, talent and experience. You don't do it the first time out. Composing an image on the 8x10 ground glass, checking focus with the lens stopped down, exposing the film properly & finishing with processing, printing & presentation for an excellent print doesn't happen without intense concentration, talent and experience either. Both ways of shooting can result in images that will live on their own and both can create expensive trash can material. Some, when faced with the larger ground glass, can't handle it past the novelty stage. Others enjoy it as they see 'everything' there is to see. But then again, how many with 35mm or any format actually 'see' what the camera takes a photograph of? Not many, judging from the "that wasn't there when I took the picture" reactions. 8x10 is meditation on film & quickly shows the results of unclear thought and a confused mind. If you would see just what this can do, and get a hands on experience with the large cameras in an intense learning environment, check out the Mammoth Camera Workshop at Waterford Institute this June. Hands on shooting with formats from 4x10 to 20x24. An introduction that will answer many of your questions. And, besides Tillman Crane who puts it on, you will have both Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee at hand to help, going so far as to spend a few hours viewing & composing a specific image in the field with you under the dark cloth. Who knows, maybe you will become enchanted with the way a 7x17 or 16x20 helps express your vision. At worst, you will get to shoot the Polaroid 20x24 view camera with the experts at hand to answer questions and help both. I shoot 8x10 & enjoy it. But I work more in 5x7. It is a question of what best fits ones vision & working methods. There are times I borrow a friends 8x20 as that works for me, but not for everything. Rent or borrow an 8x10 if you can, or attend a workshop where you can actually use the gear. That will help. If you want to shoot with this stuff, you will find a way to do it. If you find you don't like it as much as you thought you would, you can always sell the gear.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), February 18, 2000.

Purely personal response to your question:

1. Mechanical changes: For me, it is definitely easier to check for sharpness and compose on an 8 X 10 GG. I simply find that I have fewer "gues shots" where I kind of stop down and hope that everything is sharp. Part of this may be experience and greater care, but I do believe that the larger GG makes for technically better shots for me. Also, with 8 X 10, I really had to learn a greater facility with movements. I just couldn't get everything into focus by stopping down to f32 any more. I think this has also made for technically better photos.

2. Personal changes: I found the right format for me and my style of shooting when I moved to 8 X 10. I quit wondering if 8 X 10 contact prints were really better, couldn't I get just as good results from MF, did I have the right lenses, should I try other larger formats, etc, etc. I really enjoy the results I get with 8 X 10, love the experience of using the camera, and just don't think much about using anything else right now. That sense of finding my comfort zone and forgetting to some extent about camera, format, etc., was probably more important for me than technical changes as above.

3. As for comments above about weight of 8 X 10, I agree wholeheartedly. If I can carry around 45 lb, anybody probably can. The difference between my 4 X 5 and 8 X 10 outfits is maybe 20 lb. I'll be carrying around that much extra weight in my butt alone within another 5-10 years!


-- Nathan Congdon (ncongdon@jhmi.edu), February 19, 2000.

My apologies to Mr. Hutchings. A closer reading of the V.C. article seems to indicate that his carrying 8 X 10 kit weighs in the neighborhood of 40 lbs and does not require the handtruck.

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), February 19, 2000.

What changed when I began using 8x10? Everything!! First I found this wonderful forum for tips and help on purchasing the equipment. I am not new to Large Format, as I had been using 4x5 since college in the 70's. But the 8x10 is different, when I am making an exposure, I feel like I am getting inside the camera to make it. Things just make more since now, the images are simpler, more direct. They have a tactile quality that I do not see when I look at the enlarged 4x5 images. I am not shooting anything other than 8x10 unless its pics of the family now. They won't sit still for the the big camera. Weight is not a problem. I have become stronger. I do find that I spend more time looking at my image before exposure, angles, lighting, points of view. I now put my tripod up and look very closely at the image before I put the camera on it. I leave more images behind now than I used to with the 4x5. My vision seems much more clear, I throughly enjoy the format.I have even made some 8x10 chromes, what a hoot. Now it's time to learn about POP papers, any hints?

-- jacque staskon (jacque@cybertrails.com), February 20, 2000.

It is obvious that all of you who have made the choice of going 8x10 or larger consider it as a major step forward. Less takings but better photos, cumbersome equipment but a better proximity and intimacy with the subject, more weight but stronger muscles, more pleasure and comfort in the process, both before and after the shot, less mobility but more thinking in the choice of subjects and places. As it was suggested, one has to think twice and be sure this format will correspond to one's kind of photography and working methods. I think I should give it a trail but with caution: Seems that the "format shrink" virus is quite bad and many of you have been irremediably infected! I appreciate your comments and shared experiences so far!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), February 20, 2000.

I got the format shrink virus, too. When my new 8x10 arrived, I thought is was ridiculously big. I thought buying it was a mistake. But only for a week. After two weeks, it started looking more normal. After a month, it seemed like the size a camera is supposed to be. Now, when I handle 4x5 film, it feels tiny. Every time I move to a larger format, this happens. I wonder if 8x10 is the end of the line, or will I like something bigger if I tried it.

-- William Marderness (wmarderness@hotmail.com), February 20, 2000.

Oh, one more thing. I find that my 8x10 outfit is no heavier than my 4x5 outfit was. I have not weighed them, but the 8x10 does not feel heavier. I carried 4 lenses with 4x5 and about 8 film holders. With the 8x10 outfit, the camera weighs 5 more pounds, but I carry two lenses and two film holders. I am also glad I made the change. If I am going to go to all the trouble carrying heavy equipment and setting up a shot, it better be with 8x10.

-- W (wmarderness@hotmail.com), February 20, 2000.

Some great input... I agree with it all... I still shoot both 4x5 and 8x10... I could never give up 4x5. Putting aside, cost of 8x10 film and processing, gear, shooting less shots, weight burden,.... my main reason is that too many shots can not be had with 8x10, but are very successful with 4x5. Two main reasons,

1) DOF is reduced with the longer fl lenses required to get the same view on the gg. If diffraction was not an issue, this would not be the case... but sometimes diffraction on 8x10 (to acheive the same DOF as the 4x5 shot) makes for a less sharp chrome than a 4x5 enlargment to 8x10. If diffraction was not an issue, I would shoot even much larger formats! (16x20)

2) Lens tilt is sometimes eliminated in 8x10 unless you happen to have some of the monster image circle lenses and do not tilt much. I have encountered many 8x10 shots that needed 20 deg. tilt, but the lens runs out of image circle before you get to 20 deg. Not the case with 4x5, assuming you use large image circle lenses. The tighter image circle also limits your movements vs. 4x5, this also makes some of my 8x10 shots not feasable, but very feasable on 4x5.

So you may want to consider both formats, or simply use a system that is interchangeable. However, these interchangeble systems are rarely field friendly. One other tid bit that may interest you... the resolution fall off on most lenses gets very severe going towards the edges.... utilizing movments will surely get this poor resolution area on the film... not true with 4x5... once again assuming you have large image circle lenses.

But when all is said and done... looking at 8x10 chromes shot with my super symar XL 150mm.... well nothing I have ever seen can beat it! Even though I can only use it selectively, it still is the best thing out their. But translating that beauty to print is a whole different story and a different thread......

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), February 24, 2000.

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