The Edge of the Abyss? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I have several years of serious photo hobbitry behind me, including 35mm and MF. I have decent darkroom skills, but my recent reading the Adams trilogy, The Camera, The Negative, and The Print have me yearning for more.

I use MF frequently with the camera back vertical and then shift the image on the enlarger baseboard to avoid convergences and so forth. I am a sharpness freak (I use TechPan in 6x7!).

I have way too much camera gear as it is. 35mm with 4 lenses, MF with 3 lenses, and a darkroom with a 6x7 enlarger.

Still, I think I must try LF.

Here is the question 

Assuming I am not going to mortgage the house, or pedal all my other gear (an idea I have seriously contemplated), how can I get into LF without wasting too much money (which I definitely did getting into serious 35mm)?

I have thought about a Wisner Traditional-S in 4x5 with a single lens (maybe a 135/5.6 or 150/5.6). I have thought about a Calumet Cadet (they sell the trades for only $299) and a cheapo Caltar II lens. I have thought about a Canham DLC. I am pretty sure I will want a long lens eventually (perhaps 300mm). I am not so sure about a really wide lens (anything wider than 28mm in 35mm format is undesirable to me). I think I will stick with LF for the long term, but I will shoot the format relatively infrequently (perhaps 12 or 18 serious attempts per year). To me LF means B&W photography.

Of course, I realize that a 4x5 enlarger and suitable lens must be on the horizon, and that that may well be the most expensive end of this venture.

I love to shoot my town, Fort Worth, Texas including vistas, buildings, and architectural details. I will shoot some portraits, and some landscape and wild flowers as well. Maybe some table-top stuff, but not much.

So, I want to put my toe in the water, knowing I may end up swimming at the deep end. What approach do you recommend?

Thanks, in advance, for your thoughts.

-- Dan Brown (, April 14, 2000


I vote for the cheap camera (Cadet, Toyo VX, etc.) with a good lens. Not only will it greatly limit your initial outlay (vs. a Canham or Wisner), but it'll give you time to decide whether you're a monorail or folding camera guy (I'm the former, even when backpacking), a metal or wood guy, a loonng lens or <300mm user, etc. In the meantime, the images you make will look just as good as if you'd made them on a $4-5000 setup (and thus when you get the 4x5 enlarger someday you won't rue the quality of your images made 'way back in 2000). For an initial lens choice, I'd consider something slightly offbeat as a first lens, such as a 180/210 or a 120, instead of a 150. Let us know what you decide. . . and how it works out!

-- Simon (, April 14, 2000.

In my post above I meant the Toyo CX, not the VX. . . .

-- Simon (, April 14, 2000.

I would say that sticking to a limited budget on a camera and spending a little more on a decent lens would be the way to go for a couple of reasons. First you are admittedly a sharpness freak, and if you are going to use Ansel as your barometer, you probably ought to get good glass. Second if you do "get serious" you can always migrate the good glass to another body.

By posting a question like this in a public forum you are bound to get as many opinions as answers, causing your quandry to become an outright conumdrum. A plethora of really slick, really expensive cameras exist out there, and you sound like a lover of photography - dangerous combination.

-- Chad Jarvis (, April 14, 2000.

"I have way too much camera gear as it is. 35mm with 4 lenses, MF with 3 lenses, and a darkroom with a 6x7 enlarger."

Had to laugh when I read that--I've got over twice that much stuff (though in my defense, I do actually use the vast majority of it on a regular basis).

I second the idea to get a basic camera first. Used equipment is the best way to go on a budget. Most large format cameras are quite simple, so unless they've been abused, they don't wear out easily.

For large format equipment, e-bay is not a bad place to shop. Unlike some of the other camera equipment sections, the prices for large format gear is often (though not always) pretty reasonable.

And don't sell your other stuff just yet. Large format does what it does very well, but many subjects are much better suited to small and medium formats.

-- Mike Dixon (, April 14, 2000.

Here's another idea: just skip 4x5 and go right to 8x10. The point is that you can contact print your negs, and won't have to get a new enlarger. You can also experiment with alternative processes. Although many people talk as if 8x10 is very difficult to use, I find it easier than 4x5 overall because of the larger ground glass. For situations in which 8x10 is not well suited (because of lack of portability), use your MF gear. If your goal is to make really big enlargements, this may not be a good idea. But if you like smaller prints, having a MF and an 8x10 setup, rather than 4x5, is worth consideration.

-- Chris Patti (, April 14, 2000.

Ok here we go-I got into 4x5 years ago. At that time I had 4 or 5 Nikons with more lenses than I ever needed as well as a couple of medium formats. Have used Hasselblads, Mamiya TLR, SLR--pretty much everythin available at one time or another. In that same time frame I owned a 4x5 Calumet which I absolutely loved--had a couple of lenses with it. I picked up an 8x10 from a friend whose father had passed away and he had this camera in the attic. It was an ugly red monstrosity equipped with a triple convertible Turner Reich lens-I eventually refinished the camera (a task which I do not recommend for the faint of heart) and kept it for a long time after I had acquired an 8x10 Calumet with a 4x5 reducing back. I guess that my point is that there is absolutely nothing like looking at a negative, or positive, from a negative that size. I am sitting at my computer right now with a 4foot by 5foot duraflex image on the wall right behind my desk and the detail is fabulous. I shot a lot of photographs with the 4x5 reducing back simply because of the cost of 8x10. I have worked in commercial photographic labs for years so my costs are greatly reduced from what you might incur in enlarging, but some of my most satisfying photographs have been from contact prints from black and white negatives. I sure am long winded tonight--sorry about that--step all the way up and if you ever have any questions please e-mail me and I will try to help in any way I can. Fred Deaton Imaging Services Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, Alabama

p.s. I know about how all of the space images are photographed!

-- fred (, April 14, 2000.

If you're willing to spend the bucks, imho the Canham DLC would be a good way to go. I just bought one.

Avoid the "cheap" cameras. Although they of course work, they'll have gotchas and drawbacks, sometimes being not all that rigid and sometimes having cheapo parts where they shouldn't.

I haven't used the Calumet Cadet, so really can't address that. However, if you can buy a demo or clean used one for $299 it'd be a reasonable way to get started. Same for the Cambo/Calumet 45NX, which often goes on the used-gear market for under $400.

I believe neither of them have geared anything (friction focus drive) and they're rather large. An advantage would be that either would be pretty easy to resell further down the line.

I'd recommend _against_ the Toyo 45CX or the earlier Toyo/Omega 45D, C etc; the reason is that the standard blocks are plastic and are easily cracked. In fact it's pretty common to see cracked blocks. Of course the blocks can be replaced for about $60 each, but that's absurd. Plus these cameras are _huge_.

I've been using a Toyo 45 A-II for a while. Although it's a well-made smooth-working camera, it has a couple of shortcomings. For a lot of things I shoot there isn't enough direct front rise; I have to tilt the camera, then return the back and lens to vertical....and that's often a pain, especially with a lens in a recessed board because it puts a mighty strain on the bellows. The other problem is its short extension. Being able to focus a 305 lens to around 15 to 25 feet, depending on the lens, just doesn't get it.

So...within their limitations, the Toyo 45AX and A-II cameras are awfully nice, providing those limitations don't limit what you want to do.

Anyway, I bought a demo Canham DLC ($1850, Badger Graphics) and it just arrived today. It's rather slick, the locks tend towards fiddly although of course I'm not the slightest used to them, and folding it is also rather fiddly. Otoh, it extends to 20" and has 2.5" front rise compared to the Toyo's 1" or so.

I think the most important thing is to buy a reasonably decent camera and lens and _get started_. You can't know exactly what you'll want in a camera until you've used one or two for a while; only some experience can tell you what's important and what's not.

For example, I've never once used shifts. Never had the need to. Swings could give indirect shift if really needed. So that's not something that's really high on my list. Otoh, if you shoot buildings you might find more use for shifts.

Yes, you'll need an enlarger. Figure about $1000 for a clean used dichro w/assorted carriers and maybe a couple of lenses.

BTW, you haven't mentioned film developing. I use Unicolor 8x10 print drums for sheet films, on the Unicolor motor roller. Works wonderfully and is dirt cheap on the used-gear market.

-- John Hicks (, April 14, 2000.

Rent a 4x5, shoot some poloroids, rent another camera, shoot some Fuji Quickload, rent yet another camera for a weekend (maybe an 8x10), buy some decent modern glass (Nikon, Schneider, Rodenstock), figure out how you want to shoot (monorail or field) and by then it'll be too late -- you're hooked. Keep the old stuff though (you do travel kind of light) -- you'll appreciate it in a different way after LF. Check E-Bay, pick up a few issues of View Camera (check the Nov/Dec and Jan/Feb issues for LF under $1800 and getting started in LF articles), read the archived posts here, and you'll see what the market is and the choices. At some point - ARCA - Sinar - Cambo - Toyo - Linhof - that choice won't matter. Come on in, the waters great!

-- (, April 15, 2000.

I'm not trying to be flippant here so bear with me. Why do you want to try LF? Think about it. LF isn't all it's cracked up to be. Before you go off the deep end think about this. What do you really want to do with this format? What will this format do for you that your current equipment won't? I shoot LF almost exclusively now. But I have a specific reason for doing so. Perspective. For what I shoot, perspective is very important. Is perspective important to you in the subject matter that you shoot? If you can answer yes in a loud and convincing voice, then welcome to the worst addiction you will ever run into in photography. Yes the beauty of an 8x10 contact is wonderous. But so is a 67 or 66 if exposed, processed, and printed properly. The medium format has a lot going for it that you may not realize. Ok. Now you want to get into LF so first you need a camera, lens, loupe, darkcloth, tripod, miscelaneous filters/shutter releases/light meter, ect. Oh yeah! And a 545i polaroid back for polaroids and Quickloads, a kodak Readyload back for Readyloads. Oh yeah, and film holders. At least 10 because that's the minimum number if you don't want lint all over your film from loading in a changing bag with sweaty hands. Oh! And wind now becomes your worst enemy. It will always be windy when you least want it. Clouds? Only when your'e not shooting. Contrails appear like magic when you have taken the better part of an hour getting to and setting up for "the" shot that will define who you are. And that's just to capture an image. Now you will need to replace that puny 67 enlarger with a 4x5 enlarger. And a rotory processor. Oh sure you can tray process. I did. But believe me. You will eventually go with a rotory processor. And larger trays for processing the larger prints you will inevitably be making until you finally see the wonder of the small 5x7 print from 4x5 film. Let's see here. Do you want a cheap one now, even though you don't now realize that within a very short time you will "have" to upgrade to a Saunders LPL or at least get a new twin tube coldlight head for your existing chassis. And you will subscribe to every publication that comes along and "have" to take workshops because you will forever think that your prints aren't as good as they could be. And God forbid you ever see a truly LF contact print by Michael Smith or Paula Chamblee in say 11x14 or 12x20. Of course by that time your wife will have emasculated you and your kids will wonder what happened to that nice guy they used to know who used to carry what looked like a camera. So go ahead and be my guest. Jump right in and drive yourself mad. But first answer the questions at the beginning of this warning. But if you still desire to become addicted, welcome. We're here to help. Just repeat after me. "Hi. I'm Dan and I'm an addict." James

-- james (, April 15, 2000.

Definatlybuy the best lenses you can afford, as to repeat what anther poster mentioned a LF camera is basically a light tight boxwith a hole to put the lens on and one for the film. There is no way you will be able to tell an image taken on an old speedgraphic with a new lens, and a top of the line Linof, wisner, Canham or what ever taken with the same lens, even at that older lenses erform well untill ou enlarge the image hugely. so why not buy yourself a s/h LF camera and a brand spanking new les with some darkslides (10 is about right, though you can use just one, but having more is SO much easier), polaroid back (as far as I know the only difference between the 545 and the 545i models is the lighterconstruction of the 545i, if anyone knows differently, please feel free to correct me). A loupe and darkcloth, unless the camera comes with a focus hood and you are comfortable with it. A sturdy tripod - out of personal preferance a Uni-Loc or Benbo, go for the largest where possible - and a sturdy pan and tilt head. And last but by no means least a dirty great pile of film - BTW tech pan in LF is V.expensive besides unless you are making a print the size of a small outhouse you don't particularly need it - go for Ilfrd delta developed in paterson FX39 (Ithink thats the correct formula) or FP4 in a 1-60 conc of ilfospeed.

-- David Kirk (, April 15, 2000.

You might consider a used, inexpensive 5x7 camera. This way you can contact print rather than having to buy an enlarger. You can always get a 4x5 back if the need for enlargment bites you. Used 5x7 with lens packages are to be had from about $300 and higher. A lot of them are available & the format isn't really that popular so prices are not high. Then, if you want to move to a newer camera you can get the excellent Canham 5x7 which allows you to also shoot 4x5 by changing the back as well as 4x10 for panoramic. (with a back & bellows change)

-- Dan Smith (, April 15, 2000.

Taking the opposite point of view, I think you're in an excellent position to try out LF without spending a lot of money.

You've already got most of what you need in a darkroom. As to an enlarger, a D2V Omega is relatively inexpensive and is emminently usable for 4x5. Swap meets are an excellent source for this and other inexpensive and usable LF gear that you'll need. To try out color printing, look for a "U-Develop" type of lab.

Consider buying a used camera and lens. Far from being cheap, Caltar II , S II, II S, II N are high quality lenses made by Schneider or Rodenstock.

If you decide against LF, your medium format printing could benefit from the bigger format enlarger and longer lenses, and you can easily unload your camera and lens. If you decide in favor of LF, you'll have a great time, and some great adventures.

-- neil poulsen (, April 15, 2000.

Several posters have already jumped in and given voice to my immediate thought in reading your post: try 8 X 10,and skip the enlarger costs. 8 X 10 cameras are frequently available used for lower prices than 4 X 5 on ebay, as are the lenses (it's pure market: not as much demand for them). I started in 4 X 5, and now do almost exclusively 8 X 10 contact printing. If you're a self- avowed sharpness freak, and really enjoy B + W printing, you may find this incredibly addictive. Film is more expensive, but you do shoot less, and paper/chemical costs will be less than printing large prints from your 4 X 5 (which is what I did before I got into 8 X 10). I agree with one poster above that 8 X 10 is in many ways easier than 4 X 5, as the image on the ground glass is so much larger, allowing you to appreciate the effect of your swings and tilts much more readily. It worked that way for me anyway: I really don't think I developed an intuitive sense of what the movements really did until I went to 8 X 10.

Just another point of view.


-- Nathan Congdon (, April 15, 2000.

Although I agree with the posters above about the best lens, I disagree with the 8x10. Yes it is wonderful format and I have used it both with work and for fun, the selection of films that are "readily available" are much to be desired with 8x10. I have a very good camera store that I deal with so getting it isn't a problem. When I want to go out shooting, I want to know that I can get the film that I will be using for the shoot and it is more available in 4x5 than ordering it and waiting for the shipment to come in. Just my opinion! Cheers, Scott

-- Scott Walton (, April 16, 2000.

I am sort of with James here. If 6x7 TechPan isn't sharp enough, what are doing? Unless you are making HUGE prints, you won't see much of a difference in sharpness or smoothness with Large Format. You get to develop the film separately, which is nice, but otherwise, you are mainly gaining a different camera set-up. Different cameras are good for different things. I personally could care less about most movements. Tilt and some swing are nice, otherwise, I don't use them. A Super Speed Graphic, at $500, is great for me. Put a nice lens, and you are set. The Calumet IIE lenses are Rodenstock Geronars. I have a 210mm. It does great after it's closed down about one stop. Remember, the same lens with the same film won't know if a Crown Graphic or a Linhoff sits between them. But, of course, Graphics are laughed at due to their lack of status symbol. John Hicks has basically told you you need to buy a lifted, big tired Ford Expedition to drive on a dirt road, and forget about an old Jeep.

-- E. L. (, April 17, 2000.

> and forget about an old Jeep.

Hey! I have an old Jeep!

My point was that some of the inexpensive 4x5 cameras can be more trouble than they're worth, with settings that won't stay put and things of that sort.

But I think you've made a good point. Medium-format TP or APX 25 will get into the quality that's virtually undiscernable (is that a word?) from large format in common fairly small print sizes. Yes I can readily see a difference between medium format, 4x5 and 8x10 in terms of apparent sharpness, tonal rendition and overall smoothness; an 8x10 from MF TP doesn't in any way look as "good" to me as a contact from 8x10 HP5+.

But otoh not one single soul has ever mentioned anything about what format I did a photo with.

So I think what it comes down to as far as need goes is whether or not movements are needed. More important is desire; if you want to play with LF, go for it.

Some have mentioned 8x10; I do that too, but not a whole lot. It's huge and heavy, not to mention the huge and heavy tripod that goes with it. Plus then what do you do if you want a 16x20?

My laziness is showing.

-- John Hicks (, April 18, 2000.

I am a sharpness freak, I am a sharpness freak, I am a ... aha another addict!! Dan APX 25 in 120 roll film is as sharp a combination as you are likely to get. I have just returned from a trip to the Highlands of Scotland and have just finished processing identical shots on APX 25 (120 roll) and FP4 Plus (5x4) and the difference is negligible. But let me bore you for a moment. I moved up to LF for the promise of increased sharpness, but what I have found which is more satisfying is that although I cannot see any difference in sharpness, what is very evident is the tonality of the LF negative . It is beautiful!! Take the plunge, get hopelessly hooked, and then dream of what a contact print from one of the real "monsters" must look like. I can afford my 5x4 and my 120 (6x9) but realise that anything bigger is out of my budget at the moment!! But I am much happier in my photography since moving up and this alone must be a good thing?? Regards Paul. P.S Get yourself the 110XL Schneider....I am a sharpness freak, I am a ......

-- Paul Owen (, April 18, 2000.

Thank you all for such excellent information and thought provoking posts. I think I will migrate to LF gradually, rather than spending money quickly (recklessly?). I will make all my future acquisitions consistent with a migration to LF. For example, I recently got a heavier tripod (the Boben 3021 just wasn't stable enough for me at full exension). I got the 3036 which will easily handle a 4x5. My enlarger is an Omega C700, which is mostly a hobby enlarger and it stuggles to handle 6x7. Only does 11x14 and no glass carriers are available for it. My next enlarger will handle 4x5.

In the interim, I will rent a Horseman F(?) and a Polariod back from Light Tec in Dallas and try some LF that way.

Thanks again ... I'll be lurking out here for sure.

Best regards;

-- Dan Brown (, April 21, 2000.

If you are going to do LF, polaroids are nice but using sheet film is about more than just a large image and changing perspective. It also is a way to expose and process a piece of film so that the negative brings to the print all that you want it to. Negative manipulation is the name of the LF game as well as perspective control and size. This is something that roll film makes difficult or impossible. LF gives you the ability to make the most of an image. So make sure you shoot some real film and not just using the LF for snapshots(polaroids). James

-- james (, April 22, 2000.

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