Any way to speed up LF shots? (Family patience question) : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

The following is a question I posted in the MF forum. One of the responses suggested that the monorail was part of my problem and that if I used a field camera I might not feel the same. I have been planning on building or buying a field version, but didn't ever contemplate a gain in speed that would help enough to get my wife and kids to hang out whilst I set up shots. I'm very new at LF so there's undoubtedly a lot I'm missing, but my impressions have been dictated by what I read here and elsewhere.

What I'd like to know is whether my assumption that LF is inherently a *lot* slower than MF is valid, or is there a way to alter my approach to speed up when that is necessary? Said another way, does it have to be a lot slower composition and photographic process, or is that in part a function of my equipment or experience (i.e., lack of)?

Thanks in advance.


--------------------------- Disclaimer - I know this is ultimately a personal decision, but I would value your experience and input. I have also exhaustively read the archives. My photographic interests primarily involve family/travel (color) and landscape/outdoor architecture (mostly black and white developed myself, but some color as well). I started with 35mm (currently a Nikon F100) and have added a 4x5 monorail. I love the 4x5 (for the landscape/outdoor architectural), but the reality of the time involved for a shot restricts its use to when I'm alone (rare) or with a photography buddy (rarer) as my wife and kids aren't *that* patient. The Nikon has ended up being used for the family/travel aspect, and for that it is really overkill.

To the point. I'm thinking about selling the Nikon and replacing it with two cameras: a point and shoot for the family/travel piece (all I really need for that) and a medium format to carry selectively for those times when I am hiking or something with the family and can do some more serious shooting, but still can't justify the 4x5. The Nikon doesn't work for me here because I'm not satisfied with the grain and tonality from 35mm at 8x10 and 11x14 even with good film and technique (TMax 100, tripod, etc.)

So my request is for your input on format (645 vs 6x7 vs 6x9 - 6x6 doesn't do much for me) and camera in my situation: but also, does what I'm thinking make sense to you. I will sometimes, but not always, carry a tripod, so I want handholdability (I may, though, decide to use a monopod religiously if I'm convinced it would help measurably). I want a readily discernable improvement in picture quality over 35mm, but don't need the ultimate given I have the 4x5. Weight is a factor - less is more (which is really the theme of this question as I am trying to put together an equipment package that will keep me shooting as much as my schedule permits), but I will judge that in the context of usability (specifically will I use it) and picture quality.

I think that's it. Thanks in advance for your help! -----------------------------

-- Chris Werner (, November 20, 2000


Edward Weston could go from a closed camera case to an exposed negative in 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Yes, there are ways to get things fast - the right gear, enough time spent using it to where it becomes like driving your car or getting food from the plate into your mouth, and keeping everything as simple as possible - one lens, knowing the correct exposure for a sunny day with no snow on the ground, etc. etc. etc.

I would not argue that a monorail is necessarily any slower than a field camera - yes design is important, but so is working with it. I'll bet someone who knows their Technikardan well could out-do old Ed'ard today.

There are ways to expidite things, little tricks, but I know my wife can barely sit still long enough for me to work, and we don't have any kids. There are some really nice 6 X 9 rangefinders out there - old Mamiyas, KoniOmegas and the new Fujis....

-- Sean yates (, November 20, 2000.

Don't get a field camera, get an American 4x5 PRESS camera, such as a Crown Graphic. Decide on a single lens (135mm is what most people use), and load your film into Grafmatic holders. Use fast film and forget the tripod. Focus through the rangefiner, and learn to compose through the optical viewfinder rather than on the dim, upsidedown ground glass. Then, as Walker Eavns said, "Figure out your exposure in advance for sunny scenes and for the shade and GET GOING!"

-- Bill Mitchell (, November 20, 2000.

Chris: It is always difficult to pick a camera for someone else because each of us has different preferences and working methods. However, while I was reading your post, I kept thinking "Speed Graphic Press camera". A Graphic would allow you to hand hold those quick shots, and would give you plenty of good negs if used on a tripod or monopod. The rangefinder is very quick on those ol' warhorses. If funds are available, I would opt for a used technical camera, which gives you most of the movements of the view camera in a hand-holdable package with a rangefinder. Either camera would let you interchange lenses with your monorail, although you may need to change lensboards. It has both front and rear movements. You should be able to find a used Linhof for the price of a medium format system. My suggestion if you want to go medium format is one of the rangefinder Fujis or a twinlens reflex, although the reflex is 2 1/4 square.

-- Doug Paramore (, November 20, 2000.

If your not going to be making use of camera movements, is there a good enough reason for thinking 4x5 in any form? How about the Mamiya 6 (only available used) or 7's? Both are small for their respective formats. The 7 also has some great wide angle lenses available, and its 6x7 negative should give you a significant step-up in tonality and apparent sharpness vs. 35mm. The ease of loading, processing, travel logistics and emulsion availability are also simplified with 120/220 roll film.

Regarding the setup/operating speed of a monorail vs. field camera... I can setup my monorail as fast (or faster) than my DLC. Monorail controls are usually much more straight forward than some field cameras. Indirect movements are rarely needed. I'd say in general the greater flexibility of the monorail may make it faster to operate, particularly if your trying to do something complicated.

-- Larry Huppert (, November 20, 2000.

The key isn't speeding up your process. You've got to slow down the wife and kids. If you can't get them enthusiastic about photography, how about birdwatching or sketching or mushroom hunting? My wife always has something to read and doesn't mind stopping, and as long as she's stopped, it might be a good time for an LF portrait, which she generally likes.

-- David Goldfarb (, November 20, 2000.

Two remarks:

-- Stefan Dalibor (, November 21, 2000.

I don't know how you use your 4x5. I'll typically get to some location and set up the camera and carry it on the tripod. It is a Toyo 45A field camera, and although I've never used a monorail, it seems that with all the folding and putting on lenses and stuff, it would take more time to set up the field camera. In fact, I'm tempted to find some sort of case in which I can keep the camera open with a lens on it so it is ready when it comes out of the case. Anyway, my point is that I don't think you'll gain anything with a field camera. Maybe you'll lose time.

The time comes with levelling the tripod, inserting and removing holders, inserting and removing darkslides, opening the aperture, focussing the image, closing the aperture, setting the aperture, setting the shutter speed, etc., etc., and there are a few, if any, 4x5 cameras that can speed this up much, so you might be on the right track thinking 6x7 when you want better images than 35mm, but are limited in time. I've been in the same situation, and dream of getting a Mamiya 7II to slip between the Maxxum and Toyo 45A, but it is not high enough of a financial priority for me now.

Note that Bronica just introduced a 6x4.5 rangefinder at Photokina. I've requested info, but don't know if printed brochures or pricing is available for it yet. Wait [click click]...B&H is listing it for $1799 WITH 65mm lens, but not yet in stock. That's less than the Mamiya 7II body alone.

I've dabbled with MF and decided that I don't like 6x6 because it's just wasteful with "normal" paper sizes. I'd go 6x7 if image quality is paramount, or 6x4.5 if processing cost, etc. is an issue. Again, that's my personal opinion, but you see my reasoning.

Before reading the replies, I, like some of the other posters, was thinking "press camera" while reading your original post. If conditions let you hand hold, then this is about the fastest way you can go with 4x5. (See for good info on press cameras). I think it's a good trade for your situation. Unfortunately, there aren't many new press cameras other than the rather expensive Linhofs, but there are plenty of used Graflex Graphics and Busch Pressmans available.

In fact, I'm thinking of getting a 2x3 Graphic with a rollfilm back to tie me over until I can get the Mamiya.

-- John H. Henderson (, November 21, 2000.

you'll want a mamiya 7. since the II came out used ones are easy to find and not that expensive. it is the only camera, i think, which will satisfy your requirements. 645 is too small (except the contax - amazing image quality but too big a camera). fuji 690's are great but the rangefinder is not easy to work with, at least not as easy to focus as the mamiya. plaubel makina 67 would be perfect if not so delicate. 4x5 press/technical cameras are faster than fields or monorails but are still slower than using the mamiya and much less versatile - if you don't use movements, if you shoot mostly handheld, etc. (really, how often will you be in a situation with a press camera when you can shoot handheld? those i know who use and love their graphics never seem to handhold). the mamiya has great image quality, is lightweight, has a very good rangefinder, and is reliable. rent or borrow one. i'm not trying to turn you away from lf, it just sounds to me that it's not currently appropriate for your needs.

-- adam friedberg (, November 21, 2000.


i just wanted to post as a speed-graphic user who has done handheld work with it (as well as tripod work).

i attempted a project about a track team i had been a part of. as i was on the team at the time, shooting and competing proved to be a huge problem. in terms of shooting, i found that i could shoot as quickly with the 4x5 as say my mamiya tlr. i wasn't as quick as with my nikon 35 gear. had i had graphmatic holders as one of the above posters suggested, i might have been even faster.

i think that if you are interested in hand-holding and absolute quality at the same time, then a mf rangefinder might be the best solution. if you want a quick setup lf camera for tripod work with occaisional hand-held work, then a graphic or other press camera would be ideal (unless you can afford a linhof tech, that might be even better...).


-- michael (, November 21, 2000.

Yep a camera that you don't have to focus through a groundglass is always going to be faster than a view camera.

Having said that, there are ways to speed up the process: practice, practice, practice! And if you can't find a Grafmatic holder than try Fuji Quickloads or the newly redesigned Kodak Readyloads (make sure you use the single sheet per packet versions.

-- Ellis Vener (, November 21, 2000.

About the Mamiya 7's: The main difference between the 7 and the 7II is that the 7II has a multiple exposure capability. I think I've read some reference to having a brighter viewfinder or something, but I don't think it is really significant. The 7's are more plentiful if you're looking for used, but lately I've been beginning to see the 7II's pop up on eBay.

Note that the Mamiyas have interchangable lenses, whereas I don't believe the Fujis do. The current selection is 43mm, 50mm, 65mm, 80mm, 150mm and the new 210mm.

-- John H. Henderson (, November 21, 2000.

Chris: I can set up my monorail (Arca F-line) faster than I could my field camera because I store it with a lens in place, and I don't have to unfold it. Quickload helps. Another speed up is a good binocular viewer. Although I love looking at the gg, there is no doubt that the binocular viewer speeds things up alot.

-- Glenn Kroeger (, November 21, 2000.

I think it's an exercise in frustration to attempt LF work with wife and kids around (unless, perhaps, your children are catatonic). When I go on trips with my family, I don't even bother bringing the LF gear; I've just come to the realization that these can't be photography-oriented trips. I do bring a MF rangefinder (Mamiya 6) and find that I can occasionally steal a couple of good shots. But even that can produce a lot of griping from my children who, after all, expect that I'm going to be spending time with them, not my camera, on family vacations. My advice is to save heavy photography for times when you can really focus on it.

-- Chris Patti (, November 21, 2000.

When using LF, if possible get things set up in advance, or at least let the people do whatever they want to do while you're getting set up.

I agree with the others about using a medium-format RF camera for quick high-quality family snaps; while the quality won't be as high as LF, the family won't look like they've wilted either.

A few suggestions; the little Fuji GS645 foldup 645 camera, which is a mighty handy little camera with a good lens, a clean Mamiya 6 or 7 or, if price is a serious object, a good Graflex XL. The old XL is a bit heavy and clunky, but otoh the RF/VF is good, the camera is simple and amenable to shade-tree mechanics, and a nice one complete with f2.8 Planar can fairly easily be found for less than $500.

-- John Hicks (, November 21, 2000.

I am almost never out shooting without the company of my wife. We do a fair bit of hiking and backpacking, the latter could probably not be done without here help. Now to the question of her patience when I am shooting 4x5. (I usually take 10-15minutes minimum for any given shot, from start to finish and don't see that coming down too much except in rare cases) We are finding a happy medium in which she sometimes helps by scouting additional shots while I work on one, helping load film and so on when I need to work quickly and finally by just going on ahead. For this the best investment we have made is a pair of Motorola walkie-talkies! IMHO having a family member just sitting there waiting is boring for them and really bad for your photography. Additionaly, I always have a small 35mm with me, lately a Rollei 35, and for real travel photography I have been using a Rolleiflex which is as quick as 35mm for me, perhaps more so as you don't have to choose a lens!

-- Richard Ross (, November 21, 2000.

I left out the important bit: I have settled (for the time;-) on the two Rollei cameras because of their compact size, ease of use, and razor sharp results. I have rarely seen 35mm film that is as crisp as the Rollei 35 (I have an SE with the HFT coated 40/2.8) and the Rolleiflex has a 3.5 Planar which is sharper than that and equal to my LF lenses.

-- Richard Ross (, November 21, 2000.

Chris, with regards to MF I would stick with 6x9. It is capable of delivering superb quality sometimes difficult to tell from 4x5. Cameras you may wish to consider in this format are technical cameras from Horseman VH, VH-R(rangefinder), Linhof, they all have a fair array of movments which make them more versatile then fixed cameras although the Mamiya Press is a beaut. esp. with the 50mm lens and is quite cheap on the s/hand market.

With regards to 4x5, again Horseman, Linhof and Wista provide excellent tech. cameras all hand-holdable. But for me my it would have to be the light and compact Cambo Wide with either the 47, 58 or 65 Super Angulon lens. Not a rangefinder, you would still need to focus on the gg for acurate focusing but with one of the above WA lenses the hyperfocal distance should be more then adequate for most hand held shots. A seperate viewfinder(which is a must, free if you order the camera from Robert White) and monoviewer are available.Regards,

-- Trevor Crone (, November 21, 2000.

For those times that I`m in a hurry,{wife,children,foul weather} and still want to shoot large format, I use a field camera with a lens that will fold in place with the cable release on it, a 612 rollfilm back, and optical finder. Leave the camera on the tripod, and you only need a few seconds to open the camera and slip a lens shade on and you`re in business...

-- Steve Clark (, November 21, 2000.

i posted earlier and have been thinking about this all day, because i am facing a similar issue (i will be going abroad for a semester this spring and will be in the company of non-photogs but will still want high quality photos). so i have been looking, but in a different vein.

so, as an addendum to my earlier post, why not check out the hobo cameras? fixed lens. fixed focus. point and shoot 8x10. would mightily speed things up. they are discussed elsewhere on the forum.


-- michael (, November 21, 2000.

Hi Chris,

I am approaching this question from perhaps a different perspective that most. I can closely relate to your situation because mine is almost a mirror image of your problem. I also am relatively new to LF, use a view camera and have a family that is impatient during my "photo moments". This came very acutely to a head when we were vacationing in Jasper National Park and at each stop I made I was very enthusiastically encouraged to “push the button” and get back in the truck. After that trip I did a solo day out and discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of carefully selecting and setting up for a shot. I also noticed how this helped to slow me down and make the whole process considerably more enjoyable and thought provoking.

Now in my case, I want to slow my hectic life down and this is the hobby I have elected to use to do that. Since that time I have discovered that I am slowly improving in my technique and am deriving an immense amount of satisfaction from shooting in LF and experiencing the results. I also came to the realization that I want to think about exposure and composition while I’m taking the shot and not later in my darkroom as an afterthought. So I guess I believe you should ask yourself “Do I just want a great negative ASAP or do I want the total LF experience”

-- GreyWolf (, November 21, 2000.

Thanks to everyone for all the great insight. It's so helpful to hear others' experiences and thought processes!

To clarify my objective a little, and specifically to Grey Wolf who said "Do I just want a great negative ASAP or do I want the total LF experience”, the answer is that I want as much of both as I can get. I too love the experience of slowing down and taking my time, but there are the inevitable times (and very important times in ways other than photographically, i.e. family) where I simply can't have this because of the burden it places on others. So rather than just accept saving my photographic energies for times when I have the luxury of time, I want to figure a compromise that keeps me involved photographically without excessively inconveniencing my family. What I'm trying to figure is whether this means adding a MF camera, or sticking to LF even in those scenarios (whether this means additional practice, different equipment or whatever). If I can find a solution that would enable me to utilize at least some of my existing LF equipment (particularly lens) all the better, but I mostly just want to get it right.

I squeezed in a little look at Speed Graphics and Crown Graphics today. Do you have to use dedicated lenses with these? Is there a clear advantage to the focal plane shutter with the Speed Graphics?

Thanks again for all the thoughts.

-- Chris Werner (, November 21, 2000.

You can use almost any lens from 75mm wide angle to 15" telephoto on the Graphic cameras, There is little need for the Speed's focal plane shutter, as nearly all lenses have their own shutters. is a great resource, and feel free to email me directly if I can help. Mitch

-- Bill Mitchell (, November 21, 2000.

I lost several years of family shots because I got too "serious" about photography, only LF would do. I realized it suddenly when my kids were graduating from high school, leaving home etc.

Set times aside for both serious and fun photography- you decide on your priorities. If you feel rushed or irritated or guilty you may still get a shot but will it satisfy you?

Don't forget your darkroom time spent away from your family unless you get them involved a bit.

I'd get up for some early morning shooting in solitude when the gang is still in bed- or at the end of the day. In my experience you can't combine LF shooting and be with your kids at the same time.

As far as speed is concerned-setting up should be a matter of 1-2 minutes; you can practice this every day. It takes time to decide on the right spot for your tripod, to wait for the right light, taking exposure readings, refocusing with a different lens etc.

-- Hans Berkhout (, November 22, 2000.

In regards to the focal plane shutter... DON'T underestimate it!

The F-P shutter on my old graphic is probably as accurate as many shutters of the same vintage, and it has provisions for faster shutter speeds. It works very well.

I have a collection of Wollensak process lenses, purchased on Ebay for as little as $6.00, that are tack sharp and give excellent results with the F-P shutter.

I'm not recommending total reliance on the F-P shutter (I love my 150mm Copal mounted Schneider), but it allows me to use an assortment of lenses that I could not afford in shutters. -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, November 22, 2000.

On that note there is also an advantage to having one set of consistent shutter speeds for every lens.

-- David Goldfarb (, November 22, 2000.

In reply to Chris Werners second post : "I want to figure a compromise that keeps me involved photographically without excessively inconveniencing my family. What I'm trying to figure is whether this means adding a MF camera..." Given the family is along, I think that using MF for at least some of those times is the right answer. There are many quite portable MF systems which can be shot hand held and on small tripods. You can then do everything from quick snap-shots to carefully composed and metered photographs. Also, the quality difference between MF and 35 for prints below 16x20 is much larger than the MF->4x5 differences. I went to LF for the quality, but MF can actually cut it for many situations. What I don't like about MF is the loss of perspective control and worse DOF problems. But you can never have it all!

-- Richard Ross (, November 22, 2000.

Chris - I'm in a similar boat and I'm currently looking real hard at the Koni-Omega Rapid (6x7 rangefinder). Rugged, handholdable system, and (according to several reviews) it has very good optics. And a big bonus is that the price is quite reasonable. Large format is still where my photographic heart is, but like you I'm no longer happy with 35mm for anything other than family snaps and I think the K-O might be good for portraits and those nice scenes it seems you only find when the whole family is packed into the mini-van.


-- Mark Parsons (, November 22, 2000.

> Koni-Omega

Beware the backs; it's pretty common to have bent pins caused by slamming the winding lever in and out, plus the usual assorted problems. It can be rather difficult getting them repaired.

Hexanons are regarded as good lenses, much preferred to the Omega lenses.

-- John Hicks (, November 23, 2000.

With my somewhat limited experience using an ARCA 6x9 monorail camera, I'd be very surprised if a field camera would speed things up. For once, you can always leave the lens on, no need to remove it to close the camera. Consider taking only a single lens into the field! This may appear limiting, but may actually enhance your creativity! To me, the main difference (in terms of time spent) is the tripod. Finding the right perspective takes much more time compared to hand-held photography. Putting a medium format camera onto a tripod would not save that much much time in my experience.

I found LF a bit too slow for my shooting style and after trying it for a couple of months, went back to my "trusted Hassie" quick release mounted onto a Slik Monopod. This currently is my ideal compromise for the kind of pictures I like to take.

-- Andreas Carl (, November 23, 2000.

I photograph a lot of wildlife and if you want to piss people off, have them wait while you play around with a 600mm tele while waiting for an animal to turn its head the right direction for your image. LF is a breeze in comparison. If they can't wait you might think of leaving them behind rather than subjecting them to your photo trips. Or, teach them to read and give them some field guides, history books or tour guides of the area you are in. Let them study the geology of the area and collect rock samples to use in the home gem polisher, look at the trees & flowers and trails. Then you photograph to your hearts content while they pursue another hobby that also takes time. No matter how many shortcuts you look for, if you can't take the time to really work at your images they won't be worth looking at later. Few photographers produce images on demand and keep quality high. You work at a certain speed & with habits that you hope get you good images. Changing that for any reason other than getting even better images is a mistake. You may have to do what the rest of us do at times, put down the bigger camera & pull out the Stylus epic and get a record shot and then come back later without the rugrats and spouse.

-- Dan Smith (, November 23, 2000.

I've done some LF shooting, mostly studio, and have tried to combine family outings and photography with 35mm and medium format. We have a 2 year old, so the advice above to have him be more patient is rather amusing. My solution to your dilemma would be very simple - forget about LF entirely when you are with the family. What's great about large format is that you have movements and can get much better control of the image, and you end up with a large piece of film.

However, 6x7 on modern emulsions yields extremely high quality enlargements, so I think you will rarely benefit from the added film area unless you are tripod mounted and quite deliberate in your focusing and shooting style. That's completely unrealistic for me in a family outing. Movements are great, but they also take a lot of time to fiddle with in combination with precise focus; again, an exercise in frustration and annoyance all around. So I see very little advantage. A 6x7 rangefinder like the Mamiya, on the other hand, is a totally different situation. While my best photographs are almost always a result of taking my time, if you need to you can take shots very quickly with the Mamiya. And if you are using 220 film, you don't have to reload too much more often than with 35mm. The camera is portable, fairly light, quite rugged, and has superb optics. So I think it's the best compromise for you, given your objectives.

My own approach is different; I choose to shoot 35mm in such situations, not least because when I am with family I want to take pictures of them. 35mm auto-focus has yielded many more wonderful images of our 2 year old than my Hassy, simply due to the fast handling and focusing. I'm reasonably fast with medium format and use it a lot in the studio, but modern AF gear is far quicker than I am. So I use MF (or sometimes, but rarely, LF) for my deliberate images and for studio use, and 35mm for pressured situations.


-- Oliver Sharp (, December 01, 2000.

dear chris,

no doubt time has elapsed since your original posting and you may have decided on the route to follow. In any case, i wish to relate some real world experience of shooting with a family.

Vacation are an important time to dedicate to the family, but an amateur pursuit is important for one's equilibrium. We have to make the most of available time. In my case i tend to get up very early for my photographic hobby and am back for breakfast. alternately I am usually quickly off after dinner time in summer to make the most of post sunset light. In that way i enjoy being with my children (all three of them)during the day and manage my own timetable as well. This means being extremely organized but the more kids, the more organized you become!

I confess having shunted the idea of LF so far for that reason. The time factor even in the above mentioned procedure is very constrained so I went the MF route. In this case a Mamiya M7. For those times when i wish to indulge at my own pace, camera on tripod, incident metering composition et al... it is light and easy to operate. for those times with the family, it actually weighs less than my 35mm basic family gear(f100+35-70 2.8). I was with the children and my 3 nephews in the park of versailles castle this w.e and was happy to use the M7 quickly for nice family shots.

sounds to me you are ready for m7. BUT i confess on negative side that since i started MF, i also discovered the DOF limitations. Just a little bit of movement on landscapes would be much welcome for those near-far shots.

LF will come later... no doubt.


patrick london

-- patrick dumont (, May 07, 2001.

I've evolved the ideal travel/family snap shoot outfit. I carry a G1/w 35 and 90 lenses and a hasselblad 500cm with 80 and 150. This is supprising light and the hasselblad is much more compact than my Pentax 6x7 or C330 . I can carry this combo all day in a small unassuming shoulder bag that looks more like a P&S outfit. I'm shooting color negative in the contax and B&W in the hasselblad.

-- Gene Crumpler (, May 07, 2001.

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