Roll film vs Sheet film : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm in the process of figuring out my very first LF camera purchase. I am leaning to a relatively light camera which I can use on day hikes and for packpacking. Before I can plan out the lenses I will be buying, I will need to know the formats I will want to shoot. I am considering either using traditional film loaders or using rollfilm with my 4x5. I guess I can do both! Having the ability to shoot 6x9 and 6x12 rollfilm is very appealing to me, but I understand I can just crop the image from a 4x5 negative to yield similar results. I have two questions:

1) How heavy are the rollfilm backs? Let's say a horseman 6x9 and a 6x12. How heavy is a typical modern sheet film holder?

2) Are their any disadvantages to using roll film over sheet film? Is it harder to focus the image on the ground glass?

I have considered using Fuji Readyload, but am hesitant because of the limited emulsions available. I appreciate any experience that you might offer!

-- Nicholas Fiduccia (, June 02, 2000


1. Roll film holders for 120/220 aren't very heavy.

2. The disadvantages of roll film:

- 120 and 220 film base is much thinner than sheet film with a greater chance of buckling when processing. If you already process 120/220 you already know this.

- Image management (that is, using the view camera controls) is harder to do with a smaller image than a larger image. You have to be more careful in your adjustments, since the adjustments are smaller.

- You can't develop an individual image differently. You need different roll film holders for the different ways you will develop.

- Lenses for LF aren't designed to perform as well as MF lenses, which don't perform as well as 35mm. The smaller the format, the more burden the lens has to carry to get image quality. This doesn't mean LF and MF lenses are at all bad. Modern ones are very good.

That said, roll holders are useful for LF cameras, but it just isn't the same as sheet film.

As far as the Fuji holder, I don't have one, but try finding a used one. You don't have to get one right away, you can see if you like LF photography first, test the Fuji emulsions in regular sheets to see if you like them, then decide if you care about the costs and limitations.

If you are looking for the smallest, lightest "package" for 4x5, consider some used lenses, or Congo/Osaka lenses. A 3 or 4 element lens is less than half the weight and 1/3 the size of a modern 6 or more element lens. It'll cost less, too. Where you lose is not as big an image circle, and of course, some performance (resolution). But many of these lenses are contrasty, and produce nice looking images. You won't get multi-coating, but be sure to get coated (single coated) lenses. The extra coating isn't as critical, since there are fewer elements.

-- Charlie Strack (, June 02, 2000.

1) Film flatness is not going to be an issue if you use a high quality holder like the Horseman. A 6x9 holder for a 6x9 camera is smaller and lighter than a 6x9 holder for a 4x5 camera.

2) You will use a loupe for ground glass focusing, therefore it makes no difference whether the groundglass measures 6x9 or 4x5.

3) Yes, you can crop images out of a 4x5 sheet film, but you are not very likely to do so, I think... Modern LF lenses are VERY good. I recently bought an ARCA 6x9 and have to say that I am more than satisfied with the lens performances (my other camera is a Hasselblad, so I know what a sharp negative looks like).

4) If you buy a 4x5 plus a rollfilm holder, you have more flexibility cause you can shoot either format, so they say - however an important consideration is lens selection. Lets say you buy 3 lenses for your 4x5, a wide angle, a normal and a tele lens. If you use the rollfilm holder, you now have a slightly wide, a slighty long and a really long lens, which may not suit your "vision".

-- Andreas Carl (, June 02, 2000.


"4) If you buy a 4x5 plus a rollfilm holder, you have more flexibility cause you can shoot either format, so they say - however an important consideration is lens selection. Lets say you buy 3 lenses for your 4x5, a wide angle, a normal and a tele lens. If you use the rollfilm holder, you now have a slightly wide, a slighty long and a really long lens, which may not suit your "vision". "

Exactly! I am thinking of getting a 3 lens system. Since I like wide angles, I would choose 75-120-210 for a 4x5 format. However, if I get a 6x9 camera, I probably want a 55-90-150 combo. These combos roughly correspond to 24-40-65 in 35mm t

-- Nicholas Fiduccia (, June 02, 2000.

Consider a Crown Graphic to satisfy the requirements for compact and light weight. The trade off is only having minimal rise and movements on the front standard. These cameras fold up into a small, self-contained packaged that fits well in a backpack. The Crown works well on a small tripod, or hand-held, something that cannot be done with a monorail view camera.

Roll film holders come in two types: reverse curl and straight. The Calumet straight C2 holder does not have a reverse curl in the film path prior to exposure. If you are going to leave the film in the holder for a length of time, it can take a set and have a tendancy to bulge in the film plane. The C2 style holder inserts like a standard 4x5 film holder. Calumet and Horseman roll film backs are fairly expensive. If you opt for an older Graflex roll holder, the ones with the knob wind are more reliable than the later lever wind models.

If you are backpacking, consider small lenses such as the 135mm Nikkor or Rodenstock Apo-Sironars. They are tiny enough to fold up and close with the Crown Graphic. They have excellent image quality in the corners of the negatives, unlike Tessar designs in the 135mm focal length that are poor performers in the corners. Examples of these are the Schneider Xenars, Graflex Optars, and 127mm Kodak Ektars. The Tessar performance falls off dramatically around 60% of the image circle. In the 135mm focal length, a Tessar provides excellent performance within an approximate 96mm circle. 4x5 requires an image circle of approximately 155mm. This means the last 30mm of the corners will be pretty soft, even worse on the 127mm Ektar.

135mm Plasmat designs (Nikkor-W, Symmar, Sironar, G-Claron, Fuji) will provide more coverage angle, and certainly better edge performance than a similar length Tessar. I own a 135mm Nikkor-W as well as an Optar 135mm, and have found this to be true. Don't be afraid of the 'process' lenses, such as G-Claron, Apo-Ronar, Fuji A- series... they work terrific at infinity, have better optical quality than most plasmats and tessars, are tiny, and not expensive.

Amen, roll film holders ain't sheet film, and they don't easily provide for selective development. However, RF holders are a lot smaller, use less space, and can hold more film in a back pack. RF holders don't require a changing bag as do sheet film holders. Pros and cons, you be the judge. However, lenses that are 'normal' on 4x5 are going to be long focus on RF holders. A 135mm on a 6x7 RF holder is about the same horizontal angle as a 240mm lens on 4x5, or a 72mm on your Nikon 35mm camera.

A 3-lens setup using 75,120,210 might be better as 75, 135, 240 to stay within guideslines of small and compact. A 240mm Apo-Ronar or Fuji-A is *much* smaller than a 210mm plasmat. A 75mm wide angle will not fold up inside a Crown Graphic, and it would be the largest of the 3 lenses.

The only 120mm non-wideangle (read: huge size) that will cover 4x5 are the Schneider Symmars, various flavors. An old 120mm Angulon will cover, and meets the size requirements, but I have no experience with the optical quality, or their availability.

I carried my Sinar all over the Southwest in a footlocker on a hand truck, so I can relate to wanting smaller and lighter.

-- Bruce Gavin (, June 02, 2000.

Another consideration in favour of adding a roll film back is the range of emulsions available in 120. For example, for low light shooting with a 4X5 press type camera with a 6X9 back, Delta 3200 opens up possibilities which are not available with sheet film.

A 210mm lens on 4X5 is adequate for portraiture, but using the same lens with a 6X9 back allows you to take tighter head shots.

A 6X9 back is an inexpensive way of increasing the versatility of a LF system. It does not make sheet film use obsolete, but comliments it.

-- Mark Nowaczynski (, June 03, 2000.

There are situations where taking a sequence of pictures rapidly is advantageous. This is easier with a roll film back.

When using a 4X5 hand held (Linhof Technika), a 6X9 roll film back allows you to make 8 pictures witout having to put in or remove anything from the camera back and therefore makes it easier to use this approach as opposed to using the camera on a tripod.

-- Mark Nowaczynski (, June 03, 2000.

Nicholas I started using 6x9 some years back I still have a 6x9 field camera(an Ebony SW23) but don't use it much these days prefering 4x5 format with 6x9 and 6x12 Horseman roll backs.My 4x5 camera again another Ebony(SW45) is not much heavier then the 6x9 1.5kg as opposed to 1.3kg. I get out into the field with the camera and 3 lenses,6x12 roll back,at least 6-45 film holders,light meter,tripod etc.The camera gear fits into a Tamrac back back.My main lenses for 6x12/45 are 47XL Super Angulon(very wide,about 14mm in 35),75 Grandagon-N(good all round lens from 6x9 to 45) and 110XL Super Symmar(in my oppinion the No.1 lens for 45).I have other lenses which I used a lot for 6x9,a 55 Apo-Grandagon which is an excellent wide angle for this format,it also covers 45 and a 135 Sironar-N an excellent little lens very compact and light(it is now available as the Apo-Sironar). Every photographer has their own ideas and must have cameras/lenses so ultimately you must weigh-up what you feel you really need and afford.I have made some expensive mistakes in getting to what I now use and enjoy.So with the advice given on this bulletin board lets hope you obtain your ideal system first time. Best of luck,Trevor.

-- Trevor Crone (, June 03, 2000.

I bought a roll film back (6x7) at the same time I bought my first large format camera. I never once put it on the camera and sold it a couple years ago. I ended up figuring that if I was going to go to the trouble of carrying and using a large format camera, there was little point in not gaining the advantages of large format film. This was just my own thinking and obviously others differ. I mention it only to suggest that you consider holding off on the roll film holders (particularly considering the cost of the two in which you're interested)until you've done some photography with film holders and see how you like everything. When embarking on a new venture, my natural inclination has always been to decide at the outset what it is I think I'll need/want and then buy it up front all at once. I've fought hard to ignore this inclination because I've learned that, particularly in photography, it leads to expensive mistakes.

-- Brian Ellis (, June 04, 2000.

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