Carrying a Large Format Camera? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

As an extension to a question I asked previously regarding how you use LF cameras in the field:

I want to mount my 5x7 view on my tripod, fit the legs with foam padding, and carry the camera and tripod balanced at the fulcrum point on my shoulder while I move from place to place. I may close the camera bed while doing this.

I'm trying to avoid the tedious delays in breaking down and setting up the camera every time I want to use it.

Other than the possibility of the camera falling off the tripod (which I will try to double secure), does anyone see any serious problems in using this method.

I did this with a heavy MF camera (RB67) and there is almost no weight at all when balanced correctly.

Anyone use this method?

-- Todd Frederick (, December 14, 2001


"Other than the possibility of the camera falling off the tripod (which I will try to double secure), does anyone see any serious problems in using this method?"

Catching low-hanging tree branches, lessening the chances of breaking the camera's fall should you slip, and having all of the weight on one side of your body.

I've hiked I-don't-know-how-many miles over the past few years carrying my camera (inverted, by the monorail) in my left hand and my tripod in my right. The lens is mounted on the camera and it's roughly prefocused; a quick mating of tripod and camera and I'm ready to compose, focus, load, and shoot.

I know I'm in the minority, but I've never backpacked with the camera folded up and stored in my backpack. For me, LF already discourages stopping and setting up (compared, say, to 35mm), and I suppose I'm afraid I'd be even less likely than I already am to stop and set up the camera and tripod if either one was on my back rather than in my hands. To each his own....


-- Micah (, December 14, 2001.

Todd...That system seems to work well over short distances when no overhanging limbs are involved. But, be certain that your lens and GG back have a secure system to prevent them from falling off, and I do mean DOUBLE SECURE! I learned the hard way how expensive that can be.

-- Dave Richhart (, December 14, 2001.

Todd, Try this . . . Go the Home Depot. Buy 1 length of copper pipe foam insulating. It looks like a 6' nerf stick. Collapse tripod to it's smallest size. Cover the 3 legs with cut to length strips of insluation. It's extremely easy and exceedingly cheap. Throw the pod over your shoulder. The padding makes the weight much easier to carry over distance.

-- Steve Feldman (, December 14, 2001.

I use it all the time with my 8 X 10 outfit and have no trouble, but then I'm not banging around out in the wilds of Alaska or wherever either.

I carry the mostly empty camera case in my left hand, the camera and tripod balanced on my right shoulder, and a bag of film holders suspended from my left shoulder onto my right hip. I wear a carpenters apron around my waste with all the little doo-dads you always seem to need in it. Total weight of the outfit is something like 50 lbs. I'm 5'6" and 165 lbs and have never been one to spend time exercising that could better be spent consuming beer.

-- Sean yates (, December 14, 2001.

I appreciate all of the truly helpful suggestions...not one person has uttered anything close to a put-down on this forum in response to my somewhat dumb and basic questions! Thank you.

I'm going to use the pipe insulation idea for the tripod legs, and I think I will just carry the camera in my left hand, since it has a handle (field camera), and the tripod over my right shoulder, with the film holders and extras in a small bag and vest...the carpenter's apron is a great idea! I did learn to keep my film holders in Zip- lock bags to reduce dust from very sad experiences when I did 4x5 many years ago. The 5x7 is a bit bigger than the 4x5 I used. any other ideas most appreciated.

What do you do with people who come up and ask ten thousand irrelevant questions...usually, "Why are you using that old camera?" or "Is that an antique?" That really bothered me when I did 4x5. I usually like to photograph alone or with other photographers doing the same in numbers!

Thanks for your patience and good ideas...I'm really new at this.

I'm going out tommorrow with the "Beast," so wish me luck!

-- Todd Frederick (, December 14, 2001.

The main problem is to stop the heavy camera from slowly twisting the tripod head while you are walking and grunting away. The tripod heads are made for satioary use adn the up and down stress of the camera's waight will cause them to move. I found this was the hardest problem to lick. You amy need a homemade bracket to stabilise the head while walking that can be removed to set up or just a stronger head ( for the tripod) or maybe you tripod head wil take the stress of the over the shoulder treatment. Good luck!!!

-- Ed (, December 14, 2001.

Ed...that is exactly the problem I noticed, especially with the weight and size of the 5x7 when fully extended...the camera would turn on the tripod head. Folding the camera, but keeping it on the tripod, seems to eliminate that problem, but I would be very upset if the camera fell off, so carrying it in my hand by its strap from place to place may be the safest solution, still avoiding having to repack everything in a backpack.

-- Todd Frederick (, December 14, 2001.

"What do you do with people who come up and ask ten thousand irrelevant questions...usually, "Why are you using that old camera?" or "Is that an antique?""

Unless really rushed by changing light or other conditions, I patiently answer all their questions. In addition to having a pedagogical nature, I figure it couldn't hurt to make the goodness of LF more widely known. We need all the interested folks we can cultivate out there!

-- Sal Santamaura (, December 14, 2001.

"I figure it couldn't hurt to make the goodness of LF more widely known."

Sal...I really like that answer...promote Large Format...Yes!

-- Todd Frederick (, December 15, 2001.

I agree with Sal, I have found that when I get done taking my shot,if someone is standing around looking at my 45 I offer to let them look thru the ground glass, they are always impressed by the size and the fact that it is upside down, and they are much more friendly when they leave. Pat

-- pat krentz (, December 15, 2001.

Sal and Pat,

That's exactly the way I feel. I've let literally hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of people have a peak under my dark cloth over the years. Everyone from little kids to senior citizens. Usually anyone who shows an interest. If the magic moment is imminent, I excuse myself long enough to make my desired exposures. If you tell people this is the moment you've been waiting for, it seems to make them all the more interested in what you are doing and why. In many instances, large format photography is a game of hurry up and wait. What better way to spend that waiting time than sharing the joy of large format photography with others? Makes the time go by faster, too.

I also usually give out my business cards to anyone I chat with out in the field. Since my card has my web site and email address on it, I get a LOT of follow-up contact from people I meet when out shooting. There are even a few that have become long term friends, and some that have since taken up large format photography themselves. Oh sure, there is the occasasional rude jerk, but you have can have that anywhere. I just ignore them as best I can and focus on the other 99.99%. In general, the people I meet in the field, especially on the trail, are extremely nice and share a love of nature and the outdoors. Many also share a love of photography. These are my kind of people. I enjoy chatting with them, and they get to learn a little bit about large format photography. Sounds like a win:win to me.


-- Kerry Thalmann (, December 15, 2001.

I have on occassion carried my 4x5 Wisner a short distance mounted on the tripod. I usually position it in the place it would end up if the knobs on my ball head loosen. This way, the camera can't flop over any further. I do this only when I'm moving down a clear path and don't anticipate any climbing or slippery conditions. Normally though, I remove it and pack it away. A couple of times I have slipped on wet rocks or have lost my balance and dropped something. I have been fortunate enough to incur no loss and this I attribute to adequate protection of the gear. I also keep a viewing card and a multi-focal view finder close at hand to avoid having to unpack the camera when there really is nothing I'm interested in photographing. This not only saves a great deal of time, but permits me to home in on the lens I want quickly. A tripod quick release also helps in speeding things up and so I'm less inclined to leave the camera on the tripod.

In response to Sal and Terry's comments on socializing on the trail, I couldn't agree more! I too, have met some wonderful people when making LF photographs. I always carry my cards and some postcards I've done to give away to interested passers by. This has even resulted in print sales. I also ask "would you like to see what's under the cloth?" People are usually amazed at an upside down world. One such encounter even resulted in getting invited to dinner by a couple of botanists and an author. Interested people are usually the most interesting people is what I have found.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, December 15, 2001.

I'm sorry, that was Sal & Kerry. I need more coffee!

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, December 15, 2001.

How to answer people who come up on the street --- stop completely what you are doing and talk to them, but don't try to do both at the same time. You will forget where you are in your sequence (for me, whether I'd advanced the roll film). My little black Arca and the orange cones I put on the sidewalk or street make me look like a surveyor, so I get very few queries. I got one rude one the other day -- a man was striding by as I was shooting into a deserted storefront in Phoenixville, PA. He yelled, "What could you possibly see there to take a picture of?" I said, "If you can't see it, I can't explain it to you." He nodded and seemed satisfied and strode on.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, December 15, 2001.

I also let people look at the groundglass and explain what I'm doing when I can. Of course in New York, passersby might start giving you advice, but that's just the local culture.

I carry the camera on the tripod for short distances when it seems safe to do so. I also have it on a quick release, so that I can take the camera off and carry it upside down by the rail for somewhat longer distances. This is a very common practice among wildlife photographers with long lenses, when it is important to react quickly but necessary to use a tripod.

-- David Goldfarb (, December 15, 2001.

Back to Todd's original question...

I sometimes carry my little Toho around all day without ever removing it from the tripod. It depends on the weather conditions, the terrain and how far I anticipate walking before setting up for my next shot. The beauty of this camera is that it's so light, I can carry it around all day on the tripod and not suffer any undue fatigue. Even with my "big" carbon fiber tripod (Gitzo 1325), the total weight of the camera, lens, tripod and head is less than 10 pounds.

If I'm only planning on walking a couple hundred yards, I don't bother to fold up the tripod legs. I just grab it like it is and move to the next spot where all I have to do is set it down and go to work. If it looks like I'm going to be covering a little more ground, I'll collapse the tripod legs and carry the rig horizontally at my side. In this case, all I have to do when I reach the next location is extend the tripod legs.

With a heavier camera, it would probably be less tiring to rest it over my shoulder, but I rarely find this necessary with the Toho. Also, I'm rather tall and with the camera riding that high it's in more danger of getting the bellows punctured by tree branches. With it held by my side, below waist level, I can carry it safely even along forested trails (as long as they aren't overgrown with trailside vegetation).

Also, if there is a light rain, salt spray, blowing snow, etc. I like to cover the camera with one of thse cheap shower caps you get whan you stay at a hotel. These weigh almost nothing, and they're free. The elastic keeps them in place and they offer a little added protection from the elements. One of the plastic wrap manufacturers (Glad, Saran???) now makes something similar that they sell in various sizes for food storage. They are made from a little heavier plastic than the shower caps, and might work if your camera is too big for a shower cap (if your camera is bigger than your head). Oh, and I usually also place the front lens cap on the lens while carrying my rig by hand to keep the front element clean and add as a little extra protection from potential damage.

These are a few of the things that work for me. And although I can set-up my camera pretty fast when I'm in a hurry, if I'm doing a lot of shooting within a certain area, nothing beats just plopping down the tripod with the camera and lens already mounted and going to work.

I also sometimes use a similar method when working roadside from my truck. I have a camper shell on the back of my pick-up and the bed is lined with a padded carpet kit. If I'm working some place where I'll be driving short distances between shooting locations, I just lay the camera and tripod down in the back of the truck. I don't do this on rough roads, or when I'm going to be driving at highway speeds, but for places like Yosemite Valley where I'm just driving at 25MPH around the Valley loop road looking for potential subjects, it works fine.

Finally, WRT quick releases, I use an Arca Swiss B1 with a QR clamp that accepts dovetail plates. All my QR plates are made by Really Right Stuff. When tightened in the clamp, these plates hold very securely. However, excess vibration could potentially cause the clamp to loosen. I've never had a problem with this, but it's one of the reasons I stow my camera safely in my pack when traversing rugged terrain - either on foot or in the truck. Also, when I am carrying my camera mounted on the tripod, I periodically check that the clamp is locked down tight.


-- Kerry Thalmann (, December 15, 2001.

I used to do this when I got my first view camera, to avoid the set up time. Frankly it got pretty old pretty quickly. I never found a place where the camera and tripod remained "weightless" on my shoulder for any length of time. Usually it would feel fine at first but quickly start digging into my shoulder. For me, a back pack is preferable even in urban areas but it's obviously an area of personal preference.

I found that questions from people walking by went from lots to none when I switched from a Tachihara to a Linhof Technika. The wood and brass of the Tachihara attracted a lot of interest. The black leather and metal of the Technika attracts no interest. I'm not sure people even realize it's a camera. I've had the Technika for a couple years now, I photograph quite a bit on the street, and I don't think I've gotten one inquiry from people passing by. With the Tachihara I used to get at least one every time I set the camera up in a populated area.

-- Brian Ellis (, December 15, 2001.

Depends on how you define 'in the field'. Most of my life is spent in a concrete jungle, so, I use a large aluminium trunk with my 4x5 monorail already assembled. Everything except the tripod goes in the trunk. The trunk goes on a trolley with foam padding (pipe insulation) to stop it rattling, the trolley has soft rubber tyres and the tripod straps to the top, then off we go (and mind your ankles fellow pedestrians). The only hard bit is finding the elevator/escalator in the train station, because stairs suck! There you go, 99.9% of Tokyo covered and no sore shoulders. Walking around on that green leafy stuff, or in a group of those bigger leafy things, looks dangerous. There's bears and stuff, right?

-- Gavin Walker (, December 17, 2001.

For what its worth, I attach a D ring to the tripod head under the base plate and another to one of the legs, about in the middle. Using the shoulder strap from a carry-on bag, clip on to the leg first, wrapping the strap around the legs to hold them together, then clip the other end of the strap onto the head. The biggest advantage is having the camera out front, where you can keep an eye on it. It hangs better with the camera tilted down

-- Bruce Wehman (, December 17, 2001.

I have experienced the pleasure of meeting uncounted people while shooting. The darndest is when you are setting up in a small town and the denizens and store keepers mistake the old best 8x10 for a movie camera and demand mony for the shot, In the Toronto area alot of "Hollywood " productions are shot and they lavish the denizens and stre keepswho may be in a shot with money. I do find the embarrasement the denizens and storekeeps experience once they see the old beast, I have a few pics called angry passerby or angry store owner shot as the yelled and hollered for payment and I just ignored them. Then as they approached and saw the old aluminum eastman the got REAL QUIET and skulked bach to their lair.

I like to get out the mahogany and brass red bellow wisbang too to get people interested and to invite them to get in the picture and by the geeze the really respond and put on quite a show before the lense, Of course I have fun too and the first two or three shots are just " blanks" until I actually load film. So I have some fun with them too.


-- ED (, December 17, 2001.

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