Start up costs : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I work with a large nonprofit and we use a lot of photos in our pubs and on the covers. All of our work is currently done in 35 mm. What can we expect to spend for equipment to get us started with LF? Do you recommend any particular do's or don'ts for getting started?


-- MaryRuth (, July 10, 2000


Why do you think you need LF to do this kind of work?

"Do you recommend any particular do's or don'ts for getting started?"

Do evaluate if LF is suited to the type of shots you're taking What type of subjects are you photographing?

-- sheldon hambrick (, July 10, 2000.

That's right. What expectations do you have for LF that 35mm isnt giving you now?

How are you using the 35mm images you currently make? Drum scans of 35mm transparencies to 8 1/2 x 11 full bleed four color covers? Lots of color inside? Lots of transparency duping?

What is the predominant subject matter in your publications? How do you shoot it now in 35mm, and is it very good quality, good enough, or still lacking something that you feel might be preserved in large format images?

How much of your photo work is done in-house -- IE: black & White processing and printing, color processing etc? How much do you have done at "drug store" labs? How much goes to full scale professional custom labs?

The one-hour places can't handle LF films. Some custom labs won't either. If you are doing your own printing and enlarging, you will need an investment in larger equipment to handle the larger format.

And some good people to run it.

Large format will:

preserve more detail for the same size finished enlargement allow camera adjustments to make the subject appear exactly the way you want cost more per photo than 35mm require custom processing, or possible retraining of in-house techs. take longer to set up for a given shot or project require more and larger baggage require a darkroom or makeshift in the field for loading and re- loading film holders

Large format is not good for:

quick grab shots rapidly moving action, except when using press-type cameras like the Speed Graphics. Even then, you wont be shooting off 20 exposures in half a minute. Sending a reporter out for a quick photo with a point-n=click camera Carrying 100 or more exposures' worth of film in one pocket

Like Sheldon says -- evaluate your needs carefully, and weigh up the pro's and con's of both formats before submitting a budget request for equipment that may not be the answer to your needs.

All that being said, this forum is an excellent place to get a feeling for what large format photography is and is not.

-- Tony Brent (, July 10, 2000.


I started shooting LF because I needed better images for my non profit group. I have since started using MF almost exclusively for that work, and do the LF as a hobby. When shooting for work I find that I don't quite have the energy to use LF and there are a lot of disadvantages for the particular stuff I do (public lands research & litigation). Also the MF image is big enough to make a decent scan if need be and reproduces fairly well and the film is cheap enough that you can burn up plenty of it. And easy to develop at home. On certain shots I really need movements and in those cases I either haul out the LF stuff or do without them. You really need to specify what your needs are and think about not so much the money but the time and effort. If you are shooting pictures of artwork LF might be the way to go; if you are taking pictures of National Forest streams ravaged by livestock grazing then let me recommend a Pentax 6x7. Works for me.

-- Erik Ryberg (, July 10, 2000.

I would think that 6x7 would be plenty for even large magazine covers and full spreads. Unless you need the movements, there's really no need for LF if you're just making magazine covers. Medium format cameras are much easier to use, the film is cheaper, and there's no fussing about loading holders or dust problems.

-- James Chow (, July 10, 2000.

In answer to the "do's and don'ts", my recommendation is "DON'T". Large format is just too much of a hassle if you and the staff aren't trained to work in that size. It is great for contemplative work, but not for the daily grind of publication. Why do you think the publications all changed to 35mm and 120 format just as quickly as possible when equipment and film reached the point where the quality was acceptable? It was to speed things up and make photography less of a hassle. When we changed from a Speed Graphic to a Rollieflex I thought I had gone to Heaven. I use 4x5 exclusively now for my art photography, but I would hate to use it again for publication work. The 6x7 or 6x6 format will give you the quality you want without the hassle. Good shooting.

-- Doug Paramore (, July 11, 2000.

To answer your question, a good LF starter system costs much less than a pro 35mm SLR. If you buy used, you can get a very usable camera and lens starting at around $500 or so. You will also need a few film holders, cable release, dark cloth, and of course a tripod if your current one isnt usable. Those accessories will add about $200 and up. Get 5 film holders, so you can load at least a 10 pack of film at one time.

-- Ron Shaw (, July 11, 2000.

I concur with Sheldon. What do you need lF for when 35mm is less costly to get into print? And as for scanable image size, why not MF? And as for the cost of equipment, a used LF system costs as much or more than a used 35mm system. A used MF system becomes the more costly of systems. The lenses alone are where the cost lies. Not to mention the cost of the backs. A cheap back is over a hundred bucks and you'll probably have to get it tuned up anyway. A decent LF camera costs around $500+ and then a meter, darkcloth, film holders, lens, tripod, cable release, filters........ A 35mm system in the CaNikoNolta range will go for $800+ and a decent lens for another $500+. But the film and processing in 35mm beats everything else hands down. Period. Unless you can elucidate a very great need for LF, forget it. And with LF comes the learning curve. And it can be steep. James

-- james (, July 11, 2000.

For pubs, med format will more than suffice.

-- K H Tan (, July 12, 2000.

Gee, MaryRuth, folks sure seem like they dont want you to use LF, do they! Maybe you should just get a Nikon Coolpix 990, just as usable, too. Why does everyone assume MaryRuth hasnt evaluated her needs and already determined that LF is needed. Many mags still use a lot of LF images, and its noticable.

-- Ron Shaw (, July 12, 2000.

Have you thought about 35mm perspective control lenses (usually in the 35mm focal length)? This would give you rise/shift, and yet stay with the same format that you've been using.

Another road down the middle is to use medium format film on a 4x5. You get the movements, but with the convenience of roll film. For 2.25x3.25 format, you would also get about the same ratio of length to width of film as 35mm.


47mm f8 Schneider Super Angulon: (Same as 0.444x47mm= 21mm on 35mm camera.) About $450-$600. (All prices used.) Better to get f5.6 S.A. at about $600 to $800.

58mm f8 SA: (Same as 25mm on 35mm camera.) About $500-$650.

65mm f8 SA: (Same as 28mm on 35mm camera.) About $350-$450.

75mm f8 SA: (Same as 33mm.) About $450-$600.

90mm f8 SA: (Same as 40mm.) About $350-$500. Or a Symmar-S f5.6 100mm (same as 44mm) in about the same price range.

120mm f5.6 Symmar-S: (Same as 53mm.) About $350-$500.

135mm f5.6 Symmar-S: (Same as 60mm.) About $350-$500.

150mm f5.6 Symmar-S: (Same as 66mm.) About $350-$500.

I'm partial to Schneiders, but there're other brands in about the same price range. The above lenses (except the 47mm f8) will give you plenty of movement for 2.25x3.25. For Schneiders, I wouldn't worry about getting multi-coating on the older 1970's lenses. Schneider tells me there's not that much difference.

Camera: Wide range available. You need to be able to use a wide-angle bellows for lenses at least down to 65mm, if not down to 47mm. (Probably the latter.) As an inexpensive ($200-$400) beginning, I've wondered about using an older Calumet 4x5, Wide-Angle, short-rail camera. It will handle all the above lenses. You could get the Calumet roll 2.25x3.25 film-holder ($250-$400) to hold color film. (Or B&W.) But, I've not tried this camera myself, so I would have to rely on the opinions of those who have. There are LF 6x9 cameras available, but they're expensive, even on the used market. e.g. Arca-Swiss, Linhof, or the Calumet/Cambo SF23 at $1800 new. There're lots of other possibilities. Check out EBay.

Or, use 4x5 film on a 4x5 camera.

-- neil poulsen (, July 13, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ