Fallen into large format

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Hi there, I have done one of those spur of the moment things and am now trying to catch up knowledge wise. I bought a Super Cambo 4X5 with various bits (Ross Xpres 5inch/f4.5 synchronised lens, Compur Shutter+3 Blank Panels+9 off 5x4 Plate Holders+Grafmatic Filmholder 45) off ebay and now want to get started with some work. I have read as much off the forum as is probably possible until some practical experience has been filled in. Question is what can I do with what I have got and what else do I need to get started ? I am at the level of - I dont even know whether what I have bought will work together (I know... one born every minute...). I am experienced with 35mm and Pentax 67 gear with my own darkroom based around a Fujimoto V70 enlarger that does up to 6X7. I am planning to concentrate on B & W initially.

Thanks, in advance


-- David Tolcher (davidjt@btinternet.com), July 18, 2001



Buy a polaroid 545i holder and 2 or 3 boxes of B&W Polaroid film. I'm asssuming you already know about loupes, etc.

Second: buy a good book that describes how the various movements (tilt/Shift/Swing/rise/fall) affect the image and the difference between rear standard movements and front standard movements. Avoid the Merklinger book like the jargonic plague it is. Stroebel is a good alternative.

Practice the movements and shoot polaroids as you try different things and keep a notebook with the Polaroids attached and your notes. You'll find this to be invaluable.

The first rule of using a view camera is to keep it simple: if you are having to use movements to correct your corrections, you need to zero the camera controls, point the camera at the subject and start all over again. Never correct your "corrections"! You can tie yourself in knots doing this and that takes all the fun out of the process

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), July 18, 2001.

I really like the Jim Stone book. Refreshing attitude; good rundown of movements-and a great 14 pp or so section on Lenses-the basic faults, history of lens development, and the basic modern ones. All in all-excellent. ENJOY!!!!!!!!

-- David Stein (DFStein@aol.com), July 19, 2001.

Steve Simmons' _Using the View Camera_ is also a good introduction.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), July 19, 2001.

Dave, good luck with this venture. Like you I worked my way through the "ranks" Pentax 67 to 69cm field cameras which I still enjoy using. Then the big jump to 45.

The books others have mentioned give excellent advice. But regular reading of ViewCamera mag. I consider a must. Every new issue seems to inspire me in some way to just get out and take pictures.

I suppose a 45 enlarger will be a must some day unless of course you become one of those "modern" printers and let the computer do it for you.


-- Trevor Crone (trevor.crone@uk.dreamcast.com), July 19, 2001.

Thanks for all the advice - and via email too. I clearly have a lot to learn but much pleasure in doing so. As noone has said otherwise I assume that I will at least be able to start with the gear I have bought and that I've not bought a pup - this is good news.



-- David Tolcher (davidjt@btinternet.com), July 20, 2001.

I'm not exactly clear on what you have, but here is my best guess:

4x5 camera with focusing screen/film holder holder back 5 inch lens in a Compur #3 shutter some blank lens boards 9 4x5 film holders a Grafmatic holder

Assuming everything works (there are ways to test, but there are other threads on those various topics), what you'll need in addition to what you have are:

light meter

You can start with a 35mm camera and a roughly comparable focal length lens, I still do this sometimes when shooting multi formats, for comparable focal lengths, see a table, there's probably one on this site somewhere, but generally, just divide the 4x5 number [in mm's] by three and you get a rough 35mm equivalent. Once you start getting into it and want to get more precise, you may want a spotmeter, but they're expensive and can wait until you have gotten other things. Who knows, you might never need one.


Focusing a 4x5, especially with a slow lens (yours isn't too bad) is difficult with the naked eye in anything but the brightest sunlight (and even then is a bit hit or miss). To start out, go buy the $4 loupe that 1 hour photo shops sell to check out 35mm negatives. There are much nicer ones out there, but the cheapo will get you started, and who knows, you might never need another.


You may already have this, just make sure it's reletively stable.

Film Holders

Although you have film holders already, unless they're reletively recent plastic holders in good shape, you'll probably be better off plunking the cash for at least a handfull of new Fidelity or comparable holders (about $30 for a pair to hold four sheets). Older holders are fine if they're not warped or leaking, but if any one of your set is, it will take you forever, and lots of $$ in film to find out.

Focusing Cloth

The focusing cloth makes focusing a lot easier, otherwise in a lot of lighting conditions, you can't even see the image on the glass without one. I found a cheap used one, look around. If in a pinch, be creative.

Polaroid Film Holder

As mentioned in a previous post, invaluable. You should be able to find a used one for about $100, new $150ish.

Polaroid type 55 positive negative film

Developing sheet film is a real pain until you get set up to do it (and at a lab it's as expensive as buying the polaroid stuff). All you need is a sodium sulfide solution (easy to make and keep) to process the negatives and the quality is very good. Also, having the immediate feedback while learning is a nice bonus. Mail order cost about $40-45 I think, shop cost about $55.

Ground glass cover

Not necessary, but you'll want one if you carry your camera around. I've seen some cheap plastic ones on ebay for a couple bucks, I got one for my 8x10, works great.

On your equipment, the two biggest things to look out for are light leaks in the camera and that the shutter works properly. Test the speeds, to the extent you can, against a 35mm. You'll get an idea if the shutter is shooting slow or fast, if it's a compur air brake shutter, mine all run a little fast, but are consistent. If you have a repair person nearby, get him to check it with a shutter tester and make a list of approximate speeds (they may vary slightly [or a lot, in which case the shutter needs work, see S.K. Grimes webpage].

All in all, you've got most of the expensive stuff, the Polaroid isn't absolutely necessary, but I'd still seriously consider it. The rest of the stuff is cheap at least to get started.

-- Andrew Cole (laserandy@aol.com), July 27, 2001.

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