Roll film on a 4x5 - experience to share? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hi All -

Anyone out these have experience with 120 roll backs on a 4x5 field camera? I haven't tried it myself yet, and I wanted to tap into your collective knowledge. Is it a practical alternative to lugging a MF camera around? Anything will help, but I am especially interested if you have used a Canham or Ebony, since I am considering these cameras. I mostly work out of doors, with a wide variety of lenses.

Fun facts to know and tell? Pitfalls to avoid? What works, what doesn't?

Thanks in advance!

-- Kevin Bourque (, June 19, 2000


Hi Kevin,

I think the first question you should ask yourself is do you want to shoot MF or LF. If MF, get a MF camera and you'll be much better off.

I have a Canham and a Calumet roll film back; both work extremely well. Some considerations... The back will add some weight to your load as they're pretty heavy. Depending on your lens selection you may not be able to compose the shot on roll film. Remember, a 6x7, 6x9, 6x12 etc. back will only see a portion of the total 4x5 ground glass view that you see. The "effect" is your lens' will "appear" to be almost twice their actual focal length. Though I haven't experienced this, I have heard of problems keeping the film flat in the holder.

Personally, I think roll film holder have their place, but they are not replacements for MF cameras. Good luck!


-- Pete Caluori (, June 19, 2000.

Kevin I use Horseman 6x9 and 6x12 roll backs on an Ebony. They are well made, reliable in that they hold the film absolutley flat and their frame spacing is good. Also they are easy to load. The downside is they are fairly heavy, expensive and you have to remove the focusing screen to fit them on the camera. And yes in my opinion this is a far better alternative to MF given the "viewcameras" versatility. Regards, Trevor.

-- Trevor Crone (, June 19, 2000.

Kevin, I own Horseman 6x9 and 6x12 backs and agree that they are very well made, if a little on the heavy side and a bit too expensive. But I find myself using them less and less. I prefer to use the 5x4 negative which is easy enough to crop (especially to 6x12) yet retains the advantages of the larger negative. I still use the roll film holders for films that are not available in LF such as APX 25. Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, June 19, 2000.

B&H sells two Wista holders for only $269. This is really cheap compared with those Horseman and toyo models. I almost think BH made a mistake. I got the 6x7, for DX. You may notice there is another 6x7 model which costs $369. Only difference is DX model add a plate at its back. They say it can be inserted in front of ground glass like a usual film holder. Actually it's quite thick, hard to insert. I always use it as a standard back(remove gg first).

One thing to watch out. The holder apparently has been used by someone else when I received it from BH. This made me very unhappy. I haven't finish the first roll yet so I don't know if there are other defects than cosmetics. If its function OK, it's a steal. If not, I'm going to screw them. BH is not always that good as many people said. Good luck.

-- Aaron Rocky (, June 19, 2000.

I use a calumet C2 6x7 holder, and find (apart from the fact I don't have a wideangle eqivalent for it in my LF lens selection) that it performs well frame spacing is consistant, although a little low as to have the frame numbers in the image.

-- David Kirk (, June 19, 2000.

I agree with pete's coments and would add that I too have not had the film flatness problem. (that's how I aquired both of my old Calumets) I'm now looking for a third for another kit. But I would like to add that my main use is at customer request and if I need to use the full movements of the LF camera. I'm sure it's been discussed but, I have placed markers on my glass for ease of composure on the glass. I would add that I know a few people who use only roll backs on 4x5, because they think sheets are a hassel(this is certinly an inexpensive way to get the movements for corection).

-- R. (Mac) McDonald (, June 19, 2000.

I think it's a great idea if you want to have the ability to control depth of field, etc. Personally, I like the 6x9 format, and even 6x12.

My experience with Horseman rollfilm holders have been excellent. I highly recommend them. No film flatness problems so far. And they are really well made. Price wise they are fairly good too.

I'd also like to give advice about buying used holders - some well used ones tend to have frame spacing problems (I have a 6x7 Wista that exhibits this problem, but it was a gift, so no lost). Better to have a money back gurantee in hand when you buy one such. Personally, I'd try to buy a new one to avoid any such problems (which may be unfixable due to obsolete parts, etc).

-- K H Tan (, June 19, 2000.

kevin I've used Horseman 6x9, 6x12 and Sinar 6x7 roll film backs with a Sinar C , Arca Swiss F, and Canham DLC cameras and have had no problems. I only wish I still had the Sinar back and the Horseman 6x12. Using a rollfilm back on a 4x5 is slower than using a medium format SLR or rangefinder but in some ways more versatile. If you have a 65mm lens on 6x8 it is the equivalent (in horizontal coverage) of a 90mm. A 300mm becomes the equivalent of a 600mm.

Do not assume that your actual field of view is 6x9cm , You'll have to test and mark the groundglass, the Canham is premarked and is very close to the Horseman dimensions.

-- Ellis Vener (, June 19, 2000.

Kevin, The roll film holders have been around for many years and they do work, though not as easily as 4x5 holders. In my humble opinion, they work best on press cameras where the viewfinder can be masked for the smaller negative and the roll film back locked in place. I have used a Calumet roll holder for years, and before that a Graflex holder. Both worked well when I did my part. When used as a slide-in holder, the springs on the back of the camera need to be plenty strong. The holder is quite heavy. You have to be especially careful when shooting upward and make sure the weight of the holder does not pull it away from the camera back, causing light leaks and an out of focus situation. Overall, the roll backs work well unless you plan to do some wide angle work without a bag bellows. Then the short lenses become a problem with many cameras. The widest I use is a 90mm, which gives me a normal lens perspective with 6x7 film. The 4x5 normal lens of 150-160mm gives you a nice portrait lens for 6x7 film. The roll back is another tool to expand the LF system. It is not as easy to use as a regular 6x7 camera, but it will do the job. It also lets you use just one set of lenses and one camera body. The roll holder is lighter than a Hassie or Bronica, etc.

-- Doug Paramore (, June 19, 2000.

I frequently and happily use the Horseman 6x12 rollfilm back on a couple of different 4x5's, especially for emulsions not available in sheet film (e.g., Reala) and for particularly vertical or repetitious subjects (like stained glass windows; I hate to bracket 4x5 when there are 20 or 30 tall thin windows in a church!).

The Horseman is exactly 2:1 (112x56mm) so it produces negs that are about .33" shorter than the Linhof 12x6 negatives (which are 120x56), but in 4+ inches per frame that 1/3" is not a big deal to me and nobody has complained yet about the graininess of my 6x12 enlargements.

6x12 backs tend to cost a lot more than 6x9 and 6x7 (say, twice as much) but I figured that there are many times the additional area would come in handy. Best price I've seen lately on the Horseman 6x12 is from $695 (B&H lists it for $770).

-- Simon (, June 19, 2000.

I've had good luck with Horseman 6x7 and 6x9 backs. Sometimes it would be nice to have a 6x12. Once purchased a "mint" Wista 6x7 and sent it back to the dealer. It had bad frame spacing problems. Wista makes two versions - one with a plain back, and one with something that looks like a skid plate. I believe the skid plate version is really geared towards those with Wista cameras.

I'm not a big fan of using roll film backs with LF wide angle lenses. To get a wide angle view (75mm - 120mm in 4x5) with a roll film back, you have to use lenses in the 45mm - 65mm range. Lenses this wide are not particularly easy to use, especially if your shooting interiors or in low light situations.

-- Larry Huppert (, June 19, 2000.


I am a user of the metal Canham, and frequently use my Horseman 6x12 back. The markings on the Canham GG apear to be accurate and since it is a Graflok back, it is relatively easy to remove the GG (press the clips forward / simultansusly slide the back to righ), and attach the 6x12 back (2 clips that slide inward). I have not used the smaller sizes (6x9 or 6x7) because I see little value... for those format dimensions on a 4x5, I'd rather have the bigger 4x5 format and at worst crop a little bit.

The 6x12 on the other hand is a pseudo panoramic (1:2 ratio), and although you could crop the 4x5 to match (lose 2 inches), I have found that I see a lot of images in this 'longish' ratio, and I can reduce my load by a few holders, sub in the Horseman and some rolls. This works for me, but you may see images differently.

I think your consideration should be based on how you compose your images, and the obvious attempt to get as large a negative as possible.

Happy Shooting! Steve

-- Steve Nieslony (, June 21, 2000.

The actual apertures of the Graflex "22", "23" and "RH10" are 56x56mm, 56x82mm, and 56x67mm. The actual RH10 negative size with a 105mm lens is 58x69mm. Does anyone know the largest aperture on a back which will fit a 23 Crown Graphic?

-- Bill Mitchell (, June 22, 2000.

Horseman 6X9 and 6X7 backs are available for 2 1/4 X 3 1/4 cameras with a Graflok back. (The older chrome/gray Horseman backs only fit Horseman cameras due to an extra light-baffle ridge around the film opening.)

Horseman 6X9 backs are 56X82 but the Graflex backs are only about 78mm long in the long dimension.

-- Bob Eskridge (, June 24, 2000.

I made a 6x7 film mask for my Super Graphic using yellow acetate from the local art supply store. When using it and my RH10 back for the first time with my 135mm lens, I noticed how much more I liked the full 4x5 image. The back tho did give me a nice telephoto look for less than a normal lens, and film savings is substantial if you don't do you own darkroom. The downside is the hassle to take the GG off and put it in your bag and replace it with the holder. I'm going to experiment and see if I can use just the sports finder on the camera to line up the shot. Then I can leave the holder on.

-- Wayne Crider (, June 24, 2000.

Here is my two cents: (1) A 210 mm focal length lens coupled with a 6 x 7 or 6 x 9 cm rollfilm holder produces an image close to that attained by a 300 mm focal length lens used with the 4 x 5 format. Instead of carrying two lenses, you bear the weight of only one lens. The roll film holder sits in the same camera bag pouch as the extra lens plus lensboard would have. I prefer the 210 mm focal length lens-rollfilm combination for portraits and 1:1 closeups. These lenses generally are cheaper and more compact than 300 mm lenses. (2) A compact 135 mm lens used with a rollfilm holder can serve as the equivalent of a 165-180 mm lens on a 4 x 5 format, providing highly desirable depth of field unattainable with the lon

-- David Caldwell (, July 01, 2000.

A follow-up to my previous response. Wista holder does have spacing problem: not even, 1st & 2nd frame overlaped a little on mine. otherwise just fine.

-- Aaron Rocky (, August 10, 2000.

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