What is it about LF?

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Hey All,

I'm in a ponderous mood and was thinking back on my journey from that first Ricoh SRT201 35mm camera to the Arca and Canham cameras I use today.

I'd love to hear how others have ended up in large format. Surely most of us started with something much smaller and easier and found ourselves driven be something...larger negatives, creative control, a desire to lug around the heaviest kit with the most pieces...etc.

Just wondering.


-- David G Hall (me@davidghall.com), December 20, 2001


Control of focus and perspective, sharper prints, the enjoyable methodic process of shooting, looking at those big transparencies on the light table.

-- Lester Moore (mlmoore@peakpeak.com), December 20, 2001.


For me its a number of things. The speed of the camera, the size of the ground glass, the joy of seeing the negatives hanging up to dry after processing, and contact printing. I hate to enlarge negatives anymore......


-- Geroge Losse (glosse@netaxs.com), December 20, 2001.

For me it was negative quality, I always noticed when I did proof sheets how nice the contact sheets looked, but then when enlarging it look like crap....once I took the plunge and saw the difference I was hooked. I can fairly state my photography improved 100% just by using a larger negative.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm58@prodigy.net.mx), December 20, 2001.

I got the LF bug at the School of the Dayton Art Institute, in the beginning of the fall semester of 1969. When Emmett Gowin demonstrated the wonderful quality of contact prints from large negatives, I knew I had to get involved...

-- Dave Richhart (pritprat@erinet.com), December 20, 2001.

My story is a bit strange, I guess.

I took a job with a San Jose company in September of 2000. Living in Calgary Alberta, this involved a lot of travel, so I thought I'd purchase a 35mm and document where I was going, mostly for my kids.

During one stretch, I commuted between Calgary and Missouri for four months straight - every week. It was brutal. I was travelling for around 20 hours a week, and working 50-60. Did I mention it was brutal?

I'd been a point-and-shooter for along time with a simple 35mm viewfinder, and didn't really know squat about photography, so I purchased The Camera, The Negative, and the Print.

After spending countless hours on the plane, reading each book cover to cover more than once, I started to realize that 35mm, while very convenient, just didn't offer the flexibility you need to shoot some scenes. I therfore decided to dive into large format.

I purchased a Calumet 45N off eBay, and a single 150mm lens. I now own a 45A-II, and three lenses, and make regular trips into the Rockies, which are an hour from my door.

Did I also mention I built a (small) darkroom, purchased a 4500-II 4x5 enlarger (practically new), and have already taken a workshop in Yosemite? All since March, when I bought the 4x5?

I don't just dabble, I dive in. :-)

Haven't sunk yet. And I'm lovin' every minute of it!


-- Ken Miller (andawyr@hotmail.com), December 20, 2001.

I was actually just coming to the board to ask that exact same question.

For me it started about a year ago when I saw an article in the local paper about platinum/palladium printing. At that point I was only shooting 35mm and just getting serious about my photography. With research I realized that P/P required a contact print and that my 35mm negs wouldn't cut it. Only then did I realize that people still used those "old-fashion" cameras. I researched some more, discovered this board through photo.net, and bought the Steve Simmons book. After enless hours of reading I learned in addition to having the large negative for P/P and finally understood that the shifts and tilts would correct my architecture photos -- one of my favorite things to shoot is the outside of old buildings. Plus, I was attracted to the need to slow down and really compose.

At that time I had just gone to a new job with a nice pay increase and treated myself to an Arca Swiss Discovery. I had no idea at the time that that was just the beginning. Next was a better tripod, endless amounts of film, an additional lens, you know the routine.

But, I'm absolutely hooked although none of my friends understand why.

-- Jennifer Waak (jen.waak@visi.com), December 20, 2001.

I used a 35mm Nikon for 10 years before I bought a Hassy and a 4x5 Arca-Swiss a year later and then a 8x10 Wista a few months later and a 8x10 Deardorff another few months later. I only shoot 8x10 now. It's an addiction. It's so hard to get a fine print, but you really start to learn. You drive a few hundred miles over the weekend just for that tree or rock or that special light. It's an experience. It's a life.

-- hugo Zhang (jinxu_zhang@ml.com), December 20, 2001.

St. Wensceslaus church in New Prague, Minnesota. A number of years ago I arrived in this small Minnesota town about an hour early for a business meeting. The town is not far from where I grew up and I remembered that the catholic church there was an interesting building and very large for a small town. with my Nikons in hand I went to take some pictures. I was frustrated by the inability to get the spires and the full facade into the shot without the the converging lines. Switching to a 20mm lens seemed the help but then I had a 35mm frame with about 1/3 church and 2/3 sidewalk and street leading up to it. So the search began for a perspective control lens. After finding out how expensive they were, how scarce in the used market, and how limited their usefulness was, a shop owner suggested I try one of the old Crown Graphics he had. And the rest, as they say, is history. The large negative, control of plane of focus, individual frame processing and all the other benefits soon became apparent.

-- Dave Schneider (dschneider@arjaynet.com), December 20, 2001.

Working only in b/w- its mainly about tonal range, the "smoothness" of tones.

-- Trevor Crone (tcrone@gm.dreamcast.com), December 20, 2001.

When I was in high school I saw the Calumet ad in Popular Photography for a $99 view camera (those of you who remember now know my approximate age!), and I sent for their brochure. I didn't understand everthying they discussed about perspective control, but I knew that was the kind of camera I wanted to use.

I guess some of us are just drawn towards detail and image control and view cameras just come naturally to us.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), December 20, 2001.

Short answer: Beauty

WRT to the other thread about Half Dome... I realize completey that no photograph I can ever make could possibly equal the grandeur and majestic natural beauty of Half Dome - or the delicate beauty of a tiny single wild geranium blossom.

Still, it is my love of natural beauty that drives my photography. Photographing nature with large format is doubly rewarding. I get to be immersed in nature and experience it first hand while I am trying to photograph it to share with others. And although my photographs are small two-dimensional representations of what moves me in nature, I still want them to be as beautiful as possible. Anything less and I cheat myself, I cheat my viewers (even if they can't tell they don't consciously notice the difference) and I short change the natural beauty that is my subject. For my needs, I have found shooting with large format is the only way I can achieve the results I desire.

Besides, I just like to do things differently. I've never been a trend follower. I've been shooting with large format for so long now, it has become an intergral part of who I am. Technical issues aside, anything else just doesn't feel like a camera to me. Obviously, in the hands of others, the smaller formats are capable of stunning work. I admire their skill and wish them well. But, for me, I'll still take my big, cluncky, slow, expensive large format cameras and the wonderful big transparencies they (occasionally) allow me to produce.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), December 20, 2001.

I am addicted to the image. My love affair with images goes back to the 10th grade. The high school I attended had photography classes, so like any red-blooded American teen, I thought that it was a good way to earn credits without having to take a "real" class. We learned how to use the Graphics and B&J press cameras, and basic darkroom work. I was totally hooked from the first day. Years later, with the time pressures of jobs and family the big cameras got left behind in favor of the 35mm systems- this was when the first AE cameras were hitting the market. A couple of years ago, I now a bachelor/empty nester - I found an old B&J camera - & then a Tachihara. I can't imagine how I managed the last 30 years without them! I am now starting to make images again!

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), December 20, 2001.

I'm with Charlie. I had shot a bit of 35mm and 2 1/4 square, but was never really happy with the results. I finally got together enough money to order one of those $99 Calumets and really got hooked on LF. Incidentally, $99 was a lot of money then...more than a week's wages. After that first Calumet, there has seldom been a time when I didn't have a 4x5. I have owned the usual lineup of 35mm cameras over the years, including several Leicas and Nikons, plus numerous twin lens Rolleis and such. I used them a lot, but always missed the big negative in the darkroom. Even with the smaller stuff, I always shot with an LF frame of mind...trying to get the best image possible. About 10 years ago I began to LF as my primary camera, with occasional 35mm or 120 shots. I have not regretted my decision. I like taking the time to compose and shoot with the larger stuff.


-- Doug Paramore (Dougmary@alaweb.com), December 20, 2001.

My love affair started in the 70's in London, when I met my first mistress. She was mature and experienced and she was big and beautiful.

Her name was Sinar and she could do anything, twist and tilt and swing and shift. She was "yaw free", which impressed a young lad straight from the wilds of New Zealand, and she was part Swiss and part German and this exotic mix made my head spin. To walk into the studio in the morning and see her draped in her black focusing cloth, waitiing for me, was enough to start my pulse rate climbing. Her big, bright focusing screen, her long black bellows, shiny chrome rail and delightful knobs contributed to her seductive nature and I was hooked. She would let me shift her this way and that, tilt her up and down, swing her right and left and all the time without a word of complaint.

When I started doing modelling photography, she never got jealous, and was always there ready to do her job, looking on sliently at the gorgeous young models, with her critical German eye, waiting for her turn to help to give them that special image.

We worked together for many years forging a strong bond of mutual respect. We used to delight in watching, when those beautiful, big transparencies she produced, left the "prima dona" art directors "gobsmacked", for once in their lives. It was a sight to behold!

But as the years passed, I realised that I had to move on, I wanted to travel, explore the world, and watching my contemporaries mixing it with the younger and slimmer and lighter models, I knew Sinar could not come and I got distracted by the new girls in town and the day came when we had to say goodbye. I remember closing that studio door for the last time and I swear that the glint went out of her eye just before the door clicked shut.

I left my LF mistress in London and for the next few years, I travelled with my new loves, the beautiful German Rollei and her smaller sister Contax and for a time I was satisfied with their beauty and freshness. We were able to go to locations that Sinar would never have gone. We had a lot of fun and saw many things, but I was never completely satisfied with the German sisters and longed for the "movements" of my Swiss beauty - my first love.

So now, no longer having to met deadlines and put up with demanding clients, having seen the exotic and the mundane, having climbed the mountains and looked into the valleys and realising that my German girls just can't cut it, I have once again been seduced into the adult world of LF.

This time my seducer is called Ebony. She is an exotic Japanese, although sometimes there's that German glint in her eye, she is both functional and beautiful and although she can't twist and shift and tilt quite as much as my first love, she is lighter and easier to manage. She delights in taking long walks in the woods or along the beaches early in the morning or late at night, she is beautiful to look at and lovely to touch, so I suppose after 30 years I've been seduced again and I've come full circle.

Perhaps I should never have deserted my first love ;-)

Seasons greetings

Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (photo_illustration@bigpond.com), December 20, 2001.

Good thing you're not talking about a computer, you'd be 'sleeping on the couch' a lot.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), December 20, 2001.

I'd been shooting a 6x7cm Mamiya RB 67 for almost a decade, but in 1999 the Canon rep loaned me a 24mm t/s lens. I took it to American Basin in the San Juans of Colorado in late-July, and the wildflowers were unreal. I composed, focused, then tilted the lens and (as Emeril would say) BAM! I was hooked. I researched the t/s adapter for the Mamiya RZ67, and all the equipment would've cost me more than just making the jump to 4x5. The rest is history. Jeez, I love those BIG Velvia trannies!!!

-- Todd Caudle (todd@skylinepress.com), December 21, 2001.

I kept looking at David Muench photos & he used 4x5. Paul Caponigro used even bigger. Edward Weston used bigger yet. Ansel used big cameras. Morley Baer and so many others all used big cameras. It seemed natural to go for the big camera for my work when most of those I really admired outside the Photojournalism circle used it. So, I bought a Calumet for $89.95 or so, got a lens & never quit using the bigger film. These days it is because the larger sizes allow me the control & quality I like. Add to that the fact that so many of the photographers I really admire still use LF, I really like working with it and you can understand why I will be coating glass plates if the film is no longer made. I works, I like how it works and even more than that I like how the images look. So, I keep on keepin' on.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), December 21, 2001.

First film camera I ever picked up was a 4X5, Linhof SuperTech V that I took an extra job for 6 months to buy. I had taken some digital shots with what was available back then (4-5 years ago). Travel shots of Bolivia. That was the first time I had ever really used a camera, and I loved image-making, but was unsatisfied with the quality of mid 90s digital (if you'll remember, somewhat like bad APS processed by monkeys). Took some beginner photo book out of the library, which said beginners should buy a 35 mm camera, medium format was for people with $ to burn, and large format was horribly complicated, fussy, too big to carry, and only appropriate for people with degrees in photography. But gave great quality. So, of course I decided LF was for me. I bought an 8X10 camera 2 years later, and 12X20 this year. I love shooting 8X10 the most, because I find the whole process of using the camera and working with negs of that size intuitive, satisfying and fun, I can carry my 8X10 pretty easily wherever I go when I travel, and because I really enjoy what I produce with it. Producing something that a lot of my friends and colleagues enjoy and will hang on their walls has been incrdibly satisfying, and I'm lookig forward to my first gallery show in April. No idea if I could be getting "equal quality" or "better" with a Hassy, or the latest digital, a 4X5, a Holga, or whatever, and I've never really bothered to ask myself. I enjoy everything about using 8X10, and am very satisfied with the results. Why bother comparing it to something else?

Lately, I've just begun making Platinum prints in 8X10, soon 12X20, and THAT has really rocked my world. They are just unbelievable to look at, and actually a lot easier than printing silver contacts with all that dodging and burning. I think I may be hooked. A new "justification" for shooting 8X10 and up, I guess!


-- Nathan Congdon (ncongdon@jhmi.edu), December 21, 2001.

I remember as a child standing in a museum in Los Angeles and looking at photographs that were different than any I'd ever seen. These were BIG. 30X40 inces. And the detail was all there to be studied. That sank deep into my psyche. I thought those were for somebody else, not me. I was sure pictures at that level were out of my reach.

Years later when we had our first child, I convinced my wife that if we paid the $ for a good camera I could do anything those expensive portrait guys were doing. So we bought a Nikon FG. And paid portrait photogs also. The Nikon lay mostly unused. A promise unrealized. It didn't even seem to make good snapshots. 10 years later I had assembled a large collection of old Lionel trains. I had a 6 1/2 X 18 foot layout with all the antique tin buildings and it was really very pretty. I'd go out in the evenings with a glass of wine and turn out the lights and watch my little city come to life with all the buildings lit up. I wanted to take some good pictures but it was apparent that just getting the Nikon out wouldn't cut it. I bought some books and some lenses and began to learn what that little Nikon really could do. I gradually got more interested in the Nikon than the trains.

The rest as so many have said is history. For me the biggest hurdle was convincing myself that I could come up with a correct exposure independent of a 35mm camera. I grew up in the world of auto exposure. That was magic that was built into those little cameras by the japanese. I remember to this day the first time it dawned on me that if I could figure out an exposure......hell I could take a picture with anything! You older guys that started there in the first place will think that's quite odd. But it took time to convince myself that the little Nikon wasn't magic after all. Auto exposure was/ is a crutch, and I had to learn how to walk without it.

Once I crossed that threshold, the leap to 4X5 was nearly instant. A Cambo 4X5 and a Caltar SII 210 were a combination that while heavy, were extremely efficient.

Large format is a bottomless pit. There's no end to the combinations, the learning curve, the possibilities, the expression.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), December 21, 2001.

When I first picked up my tech 5x7 I thought: "#$%@!, this is heavy! I'm going to have to shoot less," And I did. And I still had more good shots. Let's face it folks: A beer just tastes so much better when you worked hard.

-- Riaan Lombard (ryan3@workmail.com), December 21, 2001.

I used LF cameras in my university photography program. The cameras were the worst cameras in the known universe. The really old MPPs and Cambos. I kept on reading photography books and magazines. I realize a lot of photographers I love use LF. I love Andreas Gursky and Sally Mann for example. I purchased a beautiful Arca Swiss Discovery (one of the best cameras ever made). I realize now its the best camera for me. I still use 35mm but thats for event photography or candid/casual people photography. Medium format is too much in between a fast camera and a big picture camera therefore I dislike it. Its also too expensive.

I love the ritual of the big camera. When I make a picture with a kit that weighs thirty pounds, I know I am going to make a good picture.

I can't remember anything and I use photography as a memory trigger. I want to have the biggest negative or transparency to help me tell the story of my life.

-- David Payumo (dpayumo@rogers.com), December 21, 2001.

COMPOSITION! One word one overwhelming reason.

-- Ken Woodard (klwoodard1@home.com), December 21, 2001.


Rise is nice, too.

-- John H. Henderson (jhende03@harris.com), December 21, 2001.

My story isn't as exciting as all yours, and shows that I am a catfish in the photoworld, aiming to move up to a sturgon or a halibut. I was using my spotmatic and loving it, but it was mostly clamped to a tripod anyhow. I was getting bored. I went into a junk store and found an old Coronet Ambasador, which is a classy Brownie- type box camera. Can you still get film for thoese things?. For a piece of junk the contact prints were amazing, but the procesing was expencive. This lead to the bathroom darkroom. Once you've jumped that barier, well... Anyhow, after a string of box cameras (all of which take up cubic footage) and reading a few issues of View Camera I went to my local used camera store in the worst part of town, walked past all the skateboarders begging for food for their dogs and the countles adult stores and bought my old Brand17 with a tele lens that had an immage circle the size of a tuna can. This lead to a Crown Graphic, and then an 8x10 Eastman. In closing, the biggest difference between Box cameras and view cameras, is cubic meters. Have a good Christmas. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), December 21, 2001.

I got into large format because I was looking to reproduce details I couldn't get near enough to with 35mm or medium format. I am shooting in both large format and 35mm now. I have to admit however, that sometimes I shoot something in 35mm with grainy 400 film that has a graphic impact that is equally powerful, but totally different than large format. My sense is that 35mm black and white resonates with our fleeting consciousness of things as we quickly move through our everyday world. Large format on the other hand reflects our more contemplative moments with things and people that we have a much longer experience with. The difference between the two formats is something like the difference between a quick, exciting impression of a new place versus a revisit to a place of great meaning. Both have the capacity to form a lasting and meaningful place in memory and both have their limitations. To me, 35mm falters when you are are trying to reproduce a certain depth information in a scene, while large format can become victim to a deathly stillness that can occur when an intricate scene is photographed over a long period of time. I saw some photographs in a fancy gallery in New York. They were massively enlarged 8x10 prints of modern warehouse buildings in clipped lawns. To me the extra information was unwanted like being forced to spend 10 hours hours in a featureless room. But if you photograph someone you know in large format the depth of information captured can be extremely powerful.

-- Andrew Held (Heldarc@hotmail.com), December 21, 2001.

when i was in college i was doing habs/haer-esque type work without knowing it. i was using a 35mm and 6x6cm camera. after i graduated i worked as a "lab-guy" for a portrait photographer in providence (rhode island) who was the last of her generation to still take portraits. she shot only 5x7. after processing, retouching with leads on the negative and printing all of her big negatives it was hard for me to go back to smaller formats, so i sold the yashica mat124 and saved my cash to give to ep levine in boston and got a speed graphic. i still shot the same sort of stuff - portraits of buildings sites and people, and eventually went to historic preservation finishing school. i started using 5x7 over the past 5 years, and will probably be making a 7x17 or 8x20 in the next few months to do pinhole work with. if i could, i would like to turn a room into a big large format pinhole camera, but i have a feeling that i would want to go even bigger than that next, and i have a feeling my wife would kind of be bummed if i paint the walls with liquid emulsion, and then photo chemistry. i kind of use the speed all the time with the focal plane shutter because i like experimenting with 19th century lenses, and using junque-glass as lens material, to see what happens to the film. kind of an addiction / obsession you might say .. john

-- john nanian (jak@gis.net), December 21, 2001.

Because......damn it's fun! James

-- bigmac (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), December 22, 2001.

Over twenty five years ago, I bought a used Rollei for $75 and said "Wow" after seeing the difference between 35 mm and 2 1/4. About 8 years ago when I got into LF, I said "WOW" after seeing the difference between 2 1/4 and 4x5. I figured that I didn't want to trip out with Timothy Leary and LF is another way to see everything upside down and backwards. Happy shooting. Pat.

-- Pat Kearns (pat.kearns@coopertsmith.com), December 22, 2001.

My step dad was a studio portrait photographer. He did a good job of teaching me rough carpentry, but not photography, so I grew up wondering about that big camera with the bellows on the tripod, and the film holders that he took into a dark closet at night. My mother gave me an old Brownie when I left home for graduate school; later my wife and I bought a Nikkormat before we left for Greece for two years. I remembered my dad's b&w work, so I shot some very slow fine grain Kodak, set up a darkroom, and successfully enlarged to 5x7 but never got a good 8x10.

Meanwhile, while building an academic career, I had been living this parallel life as camper and backpacker in the Sierras. From my first family trip to Yosemite Valley in the 1950s, I knew this was my place, so I hiked all over the Valley and eventually the John Muir trail (unfortunately for the most part without a camera). Ansel Adams was just a name, the photographer whose work was for sale in Best's studio; only much later did I become aware of his fame outside the Valley.

Somehow all this came together a couple of years ago when I reshot a 100 or so very old family photos on 35mm to enlarge to 5x7. It got me interested in b&w again, but I already knew I needed bigger negs. I almost bought a 4x5 when it dawned on me that I'd need a new enlarger, an unwelcome expense. So when I read that Edward Weston had shot and contact printed 8x10, I decided that this was what I'd do. What pushed me into this risky, expensive, and uncharacteristic undertaking was my growing realization that this was also what both my step dad and the bearded man shooting Half Dome from the top of his woody had been doing. So in my case a number of powerful influences combined to make me a LF photographer. Nick.

-- Nick Jones (nfjones@stargate.net), December 22, 2001.


-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), December 22, 2001.

Simple. I need more exercise. The 35mm gears does not give me good enough load while I am hiking.

-- Mark Boon (boonmark@sbcglobal.com), December 23, 2001.

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