Trends in Large Format Lenses and Cameras : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm doing some research into the Large Format Lens market, and I would like a general view about this market - it's small and niche - is it dying?, is it expanding?, will digital ever come close to this market? - Thanks in advance to any one who can help me in finding information about this

-- alice richard (, August 18, 2000


Alice, In my own opinion, large format shooters are a select group. The amount of people who shoot does grow although not as fast as the 35mm shooters. The price of equipment, time to shoot (alot slower than motor driven 35mm), the amount of film that is shot (alot less but much more planned shots), the price of film and processing... the list goes on why there are fewer large format shooters. Digital backs are available for 4x5's and they are great for catalogue and brocure shooting but not all that practical for landscape shooting. It is in no way dying!!! Alot of people tend to "eventually" shoot large format in some way or another. It all depends what a persons desires are. I have been shooting large format (4x5) for some 20 years and hardly ever use my 35mm equipment. It all depends on what a person thinks is important in my opinion. An even smaller "niche" are the people who shoot large format pin hole cameras. Hope this helps a little. Cheers

-- Scott Walton (, August 18, 2000.

Digital is not competition to large format. It is a companion. LF shooters - particularly catalog/product photographers - were probably some of the first to take advantage of digital. LF systems are so modular and flexible that you can swap between film and digital without having to replace the whole camera and lens.

As for the large format lens market, whether you're shooting film or using a digital back, you will still need a lens to form an image on the imaging plane. And large format will still have advantages over smaller digital cameras needed in some markets such as movements and modularity.

I might even suggest that the digital LF users are driving the development of digital photography at the high end. Eventually, improved ressolution, speed, software, etc., required by the LF photographers will come down in price and find their way into more common products.

-- John H. Henderson (, August 18, 2000.

The large format people are in love with the motto " why do it the easy way when you can do it the difficult way" , eh! eh!, infact, there are many ways to get to this crazy but wonderful world and it could be nice to enquire on this forum about hows and whys did we all get here. My opinion as a user and a long time teacher of large format portrait photography is that the sector is slowly growing in users however the industry is, and this is just an impression, shrinking in numbers but growing in quality. Many people shoot large formats but they tend to own better cameras nowadays and a lot more of gear. "Contadiction in terms", might seem even though I tend to agree that many of us are prepared or prepare to a hybryd form of working mixing the camera with some digital features. It remains an odd combination. It produced though a renewed interest in the mini large formats like 6x7cm, 6x9 which suit better the size of most affordable and practical digital backs. Regards

-- andrea milano (, August 18, 2000.

I believe the LF market is growing both in users and selection of equipment although the terms "snail's pace" would be appropriate.

The problem with digital capture in LF is that the equipment is priced _far_ outside what most users are able or willing to pay; the thousands of dollars a digital back and associated equipment for LF that gives "acceptable quality" costs would buy a lifetime supply of traditional materials.

The convergence of the view camera and digital is in medium format; uses need view-camera movements and the sensor sizes in the high-quality digital backs are a good match for this format. Equipment prices still make it "institutional" equipment.

Lens makers specifically? Well, they're regularly hatching new lenses for medium-format digital but there's only a couple of new lenses expected for 4x5 and larger, so I'd say the LF lens market is still expanding but very slowly.

-- John Hicks (, August 18, 2000.

Alice its far from dead. LF photography has always had a big following in th USA but here in the UK (and I suspect in the rest of Europe) it's been quite a small concern but it does seem to be on the up if current trends are anything to go buy. Dealers like Robert White are selling more LF cameras then ever before. Digital is certainly poised to hit the LF market but I stil believe it's some way off yet to provide the quality at an affordable price that LF users require. It's more suited to the smaller formats at present, although I could be wrong for I'm biased towards more traditional methods. Personally I don't think I will ever encompass digital photography, I have no need to, I'm not a professional photographer so I have a take it or leave it philosophy, it's my time at my leasure. All the best with your research,

-- Trevor Crone (, August 18, 2000.

There are more Dagurreotypes being made today than there 50 or 100 years ago, but I don't think you can extrapolate that it's much of an expanding market. In ten years there will be no one making large format silver images except old snobs and young Turks (in a digital backlash). Okay, maybe 15 years, when us old guys can't lift the last box of Multigrade XXXVII.

-- Bill Mitchell (, August 18, 2000.

I think you might be surprised at just how "large" the large format sector is. If you look back at the number of hits this site gets, by different posters, you might be surprised at the interest in LF. I personally use digital for projects at work almost daily, it has totally replaced 35mm for these projects. I think if there is any medium in danger in the short term it is 35mm.

LF kind of exsists in it's own plane with a devoted league of practicioners who have determined to develop the discipline necessary to succeed in a form of photography that can be a hard task master. "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" may have been written in response to a full day of frustration; first by bad light, and a breeze that can detect the pulling of a dark slide, closely followed by a kicked tripod leg.

I doubt there are very many LF devotees that wouldn't at least like a crack at a reasonably priced LF/Digital interface (although they may not admit it openly). It could open whole new worlds of creativity and frustration!

-- Marv (, August 18, 2000.

> LF kind of exsists in it's own plane

I think that's a great way to put it.

-- John Hicks (, August 18, 2000.

I think that interest in participating in Large Format photography has grown considerably over the last ten years. I also have a theory about why this is.

I think a lot of LF photographers got into 35 mm photography in the 70's and were well and truly bitten by Ansel Adams; even if they used AE-1's and FM's rather than LF cameras. Then time passed. Some of us stayed in photography and even made a career out of it. Many others did not. But now these other people are in their 40's and have a hankering to get back into photography. The problem is that they don't want a Minolta Maxxum with AF everything. They have point-and-shoots; and want something that will let them put craft into their art. So with AA in the back of their mind they trundle off to buy a Toyo and a 210.

How long will it last? Or will the Toyo replace the F2 in the third drawer down, under the socks? For some it won't. Like a stationary bike, the Toyo seemed like a good idea at the time. Unless they commit to the expense of a film and printing darkroom, a fairly steep learning curve, and invest in some courses or workshops; they will never get Ansel Adams results, not that anyone does; but they will just be unhappy with their results.

But digital may actually help since OUTPUTTING the LF image has been a stumbling block. Scanning a 4X5 neg at 1600 dpi and printing it on a late model Epson while retaining complete creative control is right around the (affordable) corner. And the results will be spectacular. That type of scanner and printer (later this year) would cost just twice what my Schnieder 135 Componon-S would be and never mind the enlarger you'd have to stick it too!

So all though LF will never be "big" I think that it will endure, and that's all I want.

-- David Grandy (, August 18, 2000.

You can be sure that as the American "baby boomers" retire from the work force, many photographic hobbyists will revisit large format. This is already happening and should last 30 or so more years. These are men and women who may have taken some photography classes in the '50's and '60's with a 4x5" Speed Graphic and remember the thrill of the big image. They have planned for years to have an elaborate darkroom in their retirement "dream" homes--and they will!! Seminar leaders have already noticed an increase in affluent "senior" attendees; and this population alone will account for significant growth in the interest of the medium. Listen up, manufacturers!!

-- C. W. Dean (, August 19, 2000.


Thanks for your question. I would be very interested to learn about the results of your research, if you are inclined to share them. I asked a similar question on this site about two months ago (it's in the digital section under "Will digital replace large format?"). My motivation for asking was that I was planning to buy (and have now bought) an expensive new LF lens and wanted to know if digital would make it obsolete over the next ten years or so. Ten years sounds like a lot but part of the justification for spending the money was that it would last a lifetime (hopefully a lot longer than 10 years!)

Well I bought the lens so you could infer that I have made a commitment to "traditional" methods (although I'm hedging because a digital friend recommended the lens I bought as being suited to digital - this is only an issue is conventional film goes completely off the market). I am a bit disturbed by the fact that T-max is apparently going to be withdrawn this year in the 5x7 format, but I am encouraged by a few facts...

1) Schneider is still bringing out new lenses (I bought the Super Symmar 110mm XL for the record). They also brought out a 150mm XL, 210mm XL and are bringing out an 80mm XL lens. I would guess that developing a new lens is very costly and so hopefully they do not see this sector as drying up soon. 2) Digital will probably exceed LF quality soon, if it hasn't already. Apparently there is a digital "35mm" camera which has LF quality. I use quote marks because the camera requires half a room full of equipment and can only take three pictures at a time. However advances in technology being what they are this is bound to change. Despite this I am sure LF will always be around. Why? It's actually quite simple. Digital formats and standards are bound to change every few years. For example, I used to own a Commodore 64 computer just ten years ago - and do you think I can use it now? Can you imagine yourself using a mobile phone from even two years ago? And I bet last year's palm pilot seems outdated. So even if I go out and buy a top of the line Kodak digital camera, Epson printer, and whatever else, and save my picture as a jpeg or pdf file, I bet that in 20 years I won't be able to access it. It's not truly archival, which sounds extraordinary I know given that digital information doesn't decay. A negative, however, can always be printed. We can still print negatives from Ansel Adams and will always be able to. I think therefore that photographers will shoot a negative for their records, then scan it into a computer for the image manipulation. 3) LF photographers, as others have mentioned here, are a crazy bunch. I for one love it and cannot imagine myself switching to digital (although I'm no Luddite and love other elements of the digital revolution). Digital just doesn't seem fun to me. I love fooling around with chemicals and paper. And since I work with computers at work, who wants to hit "control-P" to print my work? It just isn't satisfying. I am hoping that there are sufficient like-minded people out there who will keep the market for film and other traditional methods alive, no matter how "niche" it becomes. 4) You can still buy valve transistors. Hang in there film!

-- Andrew Herrick (, August 21, 2000.

Thanks to the net sites such as this promote the use of large format. Sooner or later serious 35 mm shooters tend to investigate large format photography and some of them make the leap. The rewards are many for those who use large format cameras.

One of the biggest problems I had was having to compose a scene while squinting through a 35 mm viewfinder. The other was I was taking the shot gun approach to photographing a scene with 35 mm. Use of the larger cameras has largely eliminated these issues and let me concentrate intensely on the image and nothing else. The precise controls available are of great value to my still life work.

-- VNC (, August 21, 2000.

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