4x10 format questions.

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(From a long time lurker that never has asked a question.)

I am considering several options for getting into large format panorama photography and producing platinum/palladium and/or Azo contact prints. My biggest quandaries are the format size I should use, and what camera.

As I get older, I do not have the capacity to carry too much excess weight, and really don't want to have to have an assistant (wife) with me all the time for the largest sizes, although 7x17 and 12x20 are beautiful. There is also the problem of long term availability of film and paper in these odd sizes. I am leaning heavily toward the 4x10 format for several reasons. Weight, availability of film and paper (I assume I will always be able to get something in 8x10 and cut it in half), and the fact that I have lenses that will work nicely in this size are the plusses. The minuses are that some people have told me that they think this size is too small for effective contact prints. I like smaller prints, but am so near-sighted that I always get real close to look at a print critically anyway.

So, does anybody have any thoughts on this and what brand camera? I am leaning to the Canham, but Lotus, Wisner and Tachihara also make 4x10 cameras. Are there others? Please share your thoughts.

-- Earl E. Ennor (ecubed@europa.com), November 07, 2000


Earl, Contact prints from 4x10 may be small, but you can always use an 8x10 enlarger to enlarge them. To me this seems more of an option than carrying a 12x20. It doesn't really answer your question, it's just a thought.

-- Dave Anton (daveanton@home.com), November 07, 2000.

Frankly, I don't understand the rationale for 4x10 when you can just use 8x10. While these panoramic formats make sense in very large sizes (like 7x17 or 8x20) where a more rectangular camera (14x17 or 16x20) might be unmanageable, the 8x10 format is not difficult to use. I don't have experience with 4x10, but I would guess that considering the need to acquire odd sized holders and to cut down all your film, 8x10 is on balance less hassle. 8x10 is a beautiful format for contact prints, and if you want the "panoramic" format, you can always just crop to 4x10 (or any other ratio), or use the "panoramic" holders made by Toho (or make your own) which allow you to get 2 4x10 shots on a single 8x10 sheet. That way you have a "multi-format" camera instead of one limited to a single panoramic format.

-- Chris Patti (cmpatti@aol.com), November 07, 2000.

Just turn the little button to "Pan," and depending on the film you have used you can make them any size you want.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), November 07, 2000.

I'm using a 4X10 camera now. Well sort of, and this is how the scam goes:

When I got a 8X10 Burke and James last year one of the film holders that came with it had a damaged (and useless) darkslide. The damage was on one side and it looked like someone had tried to take a bite out of it. So after getting some imput from other LF photographers I scribed the damaged darkslide and eventually cut through it, ending with a half darkslide roughly 5 1/2 X 10.

When I'm in the field I compose a 4 1/2 X 10 image on my 8X10 ground glass using the "top" of the frame. I put a 8X10 neg holder into the camera and withdraw the normal full 8X10 darkslide. I then put the half darkslide into the neg holder to mask out the side of negative that I don't want exposed. After making an exposure I replace the half darkslide with the full darkslide. I then can remove the film holder and then I can either re-compose, to use the "bottom" side of the neg; or rotate the whole camera back, if I want to use the same framing.

Before I made the half darkslide, I was a bit concerned about light fogging between the two images. So I left a bigger gap than I think I needed to since there isn't a hint of a problem.

Since the 8X10 format is fairly common I see lots of advantages to this method. I'm guessing that processing two sheets of 4X10 film would cost more than one sheet of 8X10 film and that the cost of 4X10 film itself could be more than 8X10 just because of its special order status.

Operationally if I'm shooting transparency film this would give me a chance to bracket and have two images on one sheet of 8X10 film. Obviously I can also choose to shoot 8X10 film as well if the spirit moves me, without having to have another camera or film handy.

So for 4X10 shooting I can't think of a way to get into it any cheaper. And of course this method would work for 4X5 (1 3/4" X 5"?) stuff as well. And it may well cost you ten bucks!

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@accesscable.net), November 07, 2000.

I think Bender also sells a 4x10" adapter (8x10" darkslide cut in half) for this purpose.

A friend of mine has a 5x7" Deardorff with a back that has built-in removable wooden masks designed for shooting 4 portraits or two wide-format group shots on one sheet of film. I would imagine there are such things in 8x10" as well.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), November 07, 2000.

Chris and David both raise some interesting points about the 4x10 format. I've shot 4x10 using both methods (2 up on 8x10, or straight 4x10). It is an intersting format, but I gave it up years ago for a number of reasons (hassle of cutting my own film, holders that leaked light, lack of commercial outlet for my stock images - 6x17 is BY FAR the preferred format for panoramic stock sales, etc.).

When I first started, I was using an 8x10 Deardorff and shooting two up on each sheet pf 8x10 film. The back on the Deardorff had a provision for "slider boards" that let you shoot either two 4x10 or two 5x8 exposures per sheet. I had an original Deardorff 4x10 slider board, but if you have a Deardorff camera and are even slightly handy, you could make one yourself. Or, as Chris mentioned, Toho makes a 4x10 1/2 darkslide to shooting two up in a conventional 8x10 holder. I found two minor, but irritating problem with this method. First, 8x10 cameras ARE bigger, bulkier and heavier. Granted the Deardorff at about 13 - 14 lbs. isn't exacty a lightweight 8x10, but still, given comparable designs, a 4x10 camera will save you a few pounds and a fair amount of bulk. The dedicated 4x10 I had was a Wisner Technical. The basic chassis was the same as a 4x5 Technical (actually, I bought the camera as a 4x5 Technical and bought the 4x10 back/bellows as an accessory). Again, the Wisner Technical isn't exactly a lightweight 4x5 by current standards, but in the 4x10 configuration weighed about 7 lbs. I believe Wisner now has 4x10 converstion kits for his lighter weight models (Expedition and/or Pocket expedition). These models, in 4x10 configuration should be a couple pounds lighter than a 4x10 Technical (the Technical is Wisner's heaviest 4x5). By building around a 4x5 base, and having a back that's 1/2 the size, a 4x10 camera can be significantly smaller and lighter than an 8x10. Not important for everyone, but an issue for those who hike (I ONCE did a 23 mile day hike with my 4x10 Wisner, big heavy tripod, holders, lenses, etc. It was hard enough with the 4x10, I wouldn't wanted to attempt it with an 8x10).

The second issue I had was that it was necessary to shift the lens up and down to center the image on the 1/2 of the 8x10 film I was using. This then limits the amount of effective front rise you have left. If you have lenses with huge coverage, you can probably just shoot both halves with the lens in its normal neutral position. Or, if you have a camera with gobs of front rise, this isn't an issue. I was using lenses that didn't quite, or just barely, covered 8x10 (115mm Granadgon-N, 165mm Angulon, 210mm Nikkor W, 300mm Nikkor M), so it was always important that I recentered the lens for each shot to avoid vignetting. Not a show stopper, just a little convenient.

In spite of these issues, for me, the dedicated 4x10 solution was even more of a hassle. At the time, the only 4x10 film holders I could get to fit my Wisner were the Mido II type. These were small and light, but were very prone to light leaks (some operator induced, most due to manufacturing defects in the holders). I sent my holders back twice to have them repaired/replaced. Each time the problem got better, but was still unacceptable. Cutting my own film was a hassle I was prepared to live with, but cutting my own film and then having 1/2 the exposures ruined by light leaks, was not. Of course, now there are better 4x10 holders on the market, so this is probably a non-issue for anyone entering this format these days. BTW, the 4x10 Wisner was a fine camera, it was just the hodlers I disliked. The Canham 4x10 holders were MUCH better, but bulkier and heavier. The current wooden Wisner holders should be much better than the old Mido IIs I was using.

Finally, cutting the film WAS a hassle. Not impossible, not even difficult, just tedious. And, it exposed the film to a much greater likelyhood that dust would settle on it during the cutting, notching, loading process. At the time I entered the 4x10 format, Ilford sold pre-cut FP4 and HP5 film, but I was shooting color transparencies, so I had to cut my own Velvia. When I bought my camera, I was hopeful that 4x10 was an emerging standard (Wisner had just entered the market as the second major manufacturer to offer a 4x10 camera, Ilford was selling precut 4x10 film...). I hoped the format would catch on and Fuji, Kodak, etc, would start offering precut 4x10 film. Well, history tells us I was naively optimistic in this regard. I don't believe Ilford still offers precut film in the 4x10 size (or maybe they do, but it's special order only). If not, and you don't want to cut your own, Photo Warehouse will do it for you at prices that are quite reasonable (at least they are in other oddball sizes like 6 1/2 x 8 1/2).

With light leaks, a lack of a market for my stock images, a lack of supporting products (4x10 transparency sleeves, Quickmounts, etc.), I finally just gave up on the format in favor of 6x17. Of course, I've been waiting forever for Keith Canham to actually make the 6x17 roll film back he has promised for my 5x7 MQC, but that's another story.

I did like the aspect ratio of the format, and I also liked the fact that many lenses I already had covered the format. It's possible to assemble a very wide range of lenses that cover this format, and still avoid the heavy, bulky #3 shutter necessary for many 8x10 lenses (much like 5x7 in this regard). Like I said above, there are many very good, reasonably compact lenses, both new and old, that barely or don't quite cover 8x10. These make wonderful choices for use on the 4x10 format.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the format itself, just a lack of support. If you're not shooting for stock (the original poster specifically mentioned alt process prints as his goal) and don't mind cutting your own film, or buying from someone like Photo Warehouse, I say go for it. If you have access to an 8x10, get one of the Toho panoramic darkslides (or make your own) and give it a try first to decide how you like the result. If you decide you really like the format, then invest in a dedicated 4x10 camera.

BTW, I was not aware that Tachihara made a 4x10. Do you have any specs, price, etc.? Patrick Alt used to make a 4x10 camera from lacewood (very beautiful). Not sure if he still does, but that's one more to consider. Canham, Wisner and Lotus all make great cameras, so you'd be hard pressed to go wrong with a camera from any of these three.

Good luck. I hope your venture into 4x10 lasts longer and meets with greater success than my brief attempt all those years ago.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), November 07, 2000.

Great responses so far. Thank you all. To clerify some points...

Weight is a concern of mine as I am getting weaker with age and have bad knees, but cost is not a concern. I currently have a VERY heavy B&J 8x10 that I will be retiring as I tire myself! Canham's 4x10 is basically a 5x7 with a differant rear standard/bellows. I know it is not light weight camera, but the possibility of a lighter camera (than I have now) that could be used as a 5x7 (a great format IMHO) with a change of rear standard/bellows is attractive. This camera would not weigh much more than my RB, which is admittedly a tank for medium format.

I am not sure if Tachihara makes a 4x10, but have seen a 7x17 Tachihara recently that may have been a specially made camera. I made an assumption that Tachihara made such a camera, but I may well be wrong.

-- Earl E. Ennor (ecubed@europa.com), November 07, 2000.


I've been making 5x4" platinum contact prints for the last year or so. Before I started, I thought that 5x4" prints would be too small, and thought they would only serve as 'practice prints', but I really like them now. I still haven't put aside thoughts of a 10x8" or 16x20", but at least I'm happy with the smaller format.

I've shown some prints to people (whenever I get my arm twisted to enter a camera club competition, etc), and I'd been getting sick of hearing the judges say things like, "Nice print, but I don't know why it wasn't printed bigger. It looks sharp enough, so I think it could be enlarged without the grain becoming too obtrusive". You'll be pleased to hear that I've always refrained from jumping up and shouting, "Of course it's sharp, you ditherin' wally - it's a blinkin' 5x4inch contact print, photographed with a Super APO Bazooka, and it could be enlarged to billboard size without showing any grain".

The last judge, wonderful fellow, said that the 5x4" prints showed that you didn't need a big print to make a good photograph. At last, someone with insight and vision...

So, I suppose, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I just thought I'd let you know that bigger doesn't always mean better. I think the subject and composition of a smaller print will be different, and probably more 'simplistic'. I also think that presentation is important, with a sympathetic mount that focuses attention on the print.

There's room for all sorts of prints - I saw an exhibition by Henri Cartier Bresson recently, and the prints were huge (the smallest were probably 20x24"), and many had grain the size of golf balls (enlarged from 35mm). They obviously required viewing from further back. Many were great portraits, but of a totally different 'feel' to a 5x4" portrait - and I wouldn't say one was better than the other (there's a cop-out).

Anyway, I'm beginning to ramble now, so I'd better go...

-- David Nash (nashcom@btinternet.com), November 07, 2000.

I believe there are some other 'things' that you may wish to consider.

#1, Do you feel comfortable composing in the long and narrow confines that 4x10, 7x17, 8x20 or even 6x17cm offers. When done well, the format is awesome, but there are some serious challenges in executing to the 1:2.5 ratio's.

#2 Do you intend to shoot vistas... ie lots of 'things' with lots of little details. If so contacts become dificult and you are better served enlarging the smaller sizes or getting into the larger formats. This way the viewer can see the little things that you want them to see. Small contacts work when the subject fully captures your eye within the composition.

Since you are looking at weight, I quickly looked at the Canham specs...

the 7x17L is 10lbs, and the 4x10 is around 7-8 lbs. Not much difference there.

Holders is where you will quickly feel the additional weight. The Canham made 4x10's are pretty light (50% of a modern 8x10). 7x17 holders, individualy do not weigh much, but you put 3 of em together, in a case (see filmholders.com), and you will quickly feel the weight.

Lenses are another consideration. More lenses are available to cover 4x10, and you will be tempted to take more with you. On 7x17, the selection of 'new' or modern lenses that cover (444mm diagonal)is much smaller, and you are less likely to carry a large selection.

In summary (sorry for the long post), ask yourself how you 'see' & compose, this will help with the dimensions (both h/w ratio and size), then look at the complete package you would buy (camera, holders, lenses, tripod) and would carry. By answering these questions, your solution will then be much clearer.

Good Luck!

-- Steve Nieslony (sejn@pacbell.net), November 08, 2000.


You've obviously received some very thoughtful and well-informed respones. I just want to raise a couple more thoughts in support of my plug for going 8x10. First, if weight is a major concern, there are very light 8x10 cameras available, particularly the Phillips Compact or Explorer models which are, I believe, around 8lb. Second, 8x10 would allow you to do panoramic verticals much more easily than a dedicated 4x10 camera, which you would have to turn on its side. Good luck with your decision.

-- Chris Patti (cmpatti@aol.com), November 08, 2000.

My 8x10" Gowland Pocket View is just 6.5 lbs. The current version might be slightly heavier, but that would be a plus. Info at www.petergowland.com. Click on "Their Cameras."

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), November 08, 2000.


Actually, as I was typing up my previous post I was thinking of the Phillips Explorer. I don't have the specs in front of me, but I believe the actual weight was in the 5.5 - 6 lb. range. This makes it lighter than the 4x10 Wisner Technical I used to shoot with. However, I believe the Wisner actually has a longer maximum extension. And the Phillips Explorer is horizontal only, so you have the same issue of turning the camera on it's side for verticals. BTW, Wisner also makes vertical versions of his panoramic cameras, but unless you primarily shoot vertical subjects (i.e. skyscrapers), the horizontal version would be a better choice. I can't find the exact weight specs on the Wisner web site, but the 4x10 Expedition model would be in the same ballpark weight-wise as the Phillips Explorer and have about the same maximum bellows extension. Either camera would be a good choice for some one contemplating 4x10, but wishing to keep the weight down. I'm not sure if Phillips is still making the Explorer - anybody know? Finally, does anybody have the specs on the 4x10 camera Patrick Alt makes (made?)?. If I remember correctly, it was of a simpler design than the Wisner/Canham/Lotus models. I think it was a simple tailboard design, which might make it a little lighter than the other 4x10 models.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), November 08, 2000.


I think I heard from some reasonably reliable source (maybe Phillips himself) that Phillips does still make the Explorer. I understand, however, that he makes his cameras in "runs" of all one model or another, and so it may be a while before he gets to Explorers again.

-- Chris Patti (cmpatti@aol.com), November 09, 2000.

I understand that there is a waiting list of two years now on the Phillips 8x10 Explorer camera! I heard this recently from someone who had just talked to Richard Phillips.

Earl, if weight is a serious issue, you may want to consider using a 6x17 camera in the field, and then having a digital negative made to bring the print up to the size you wish to use. The cameras are not very light, but the lack of filmholders and the generally shorter focal lengths required for the 6x17 format result in great weight savings.

I would consider the Art Pan camera as one to seriously look at for this use. It is not designed like the Fuji or Linhof, which use large 'cones' on each lens to set the proper distance for focusing. It uses a short bellows, so it is compact and extra lenses do not require a large volume to contain. I understand it can handle from 75mm through 210mm with the proper adapters.

As a person who recently purchased a 7x17 camera, I feel the bulk and weight is worth it for me, but I'm also reasonably young, and should be able to lug this camera around for a number of years.

Finally, If I were getting a panorama sheet film camera in the approximate size of the 4x10 you mention, I would think about the Wisner 6x10 camera that was made a while back. There has been a couple available used in the past year on ebay, etc. I think the proportions are nicer than the 4x10, and the 6 inch minimum dimension will make the print feel larger than a 4x10. Of course, it is 50% larger on that dimension, but those two inches are critical!

Best of luck.

-- Michael Mutmansky (psu4ever@ix.netcom.com), November 17, 2000.

Hi Kerry:

Re. the AltView 410, what would you like to know? I have one. I bought it from Patrick in, I believe, 1997. He met up with me in Sedona, AZ, delivered the camera, and we spent the next 2 days driving around north/central AZ photographing. I used it with a 6.5" WA Gold Ring Dagor, and pre-cut HP5.

Haven't used it since. My main problem is that I felt that the contact print was not large enough. It always felt like a bit like a postcard. I got a couple of exquisite portraits of Jay Dusard at his old ranch in Prescott (fitting subject, fitting setting for this format). But truth be told, I'd really like the opportunity to make enlargements.

If anybody is interested in this camera, please drop me a note.


-- Kent Phelan (kent@phelan.org), November 19, 2000.

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