How do you cut cost with your LF photography? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Like a lot of people on this forum I am somewhat of an equipment junkie and I own a variety of 35mm, medium format and LF equipment. Because of other comittments, I have recently had less money to spend on photography and I have decided to concentrate primarily on LF. Because I can't just totally quit buying equipment or taking pictures(If I did I would probably have siezures and my wife might think that I had taken a mistress)I have been trying to think of ways to cut costs and stretch the available funds without selling off any equipment. While there is a lot of information on this forum that will help in doing this, I don't know that I have seen this question asked specifically. And with all the expertise on the forum, I am curious as to what others in this situation might have come up with. So far, I have come up with the following money saving ideas:

1. I bought an Epson flatbed scanner with film adapter. This has been great for evaluating my negatives without cranking up the darkroom to make contact prints or test prints.

2. I have come to like outdated paper. I have gotten some very nice prints using old outdated paper that I find on the sale table at the local camera stores. I have never really had a problem with any of these papers and some seem to have a quality that can't be duplicated with newer papers. I especially like using such paper for portaits. I suppose that someday I will get burned buying the old paper, but so far, so good.

3. I shop for most of my camera bags at the outdoor, luggage and cooler sections of WalMart, Sam's Club and other discount stores. There is some good usable stuff here! I recently got a great backpack at Sam's Club that is nicely padded with lots of pockets for all my field gear for about $40. This may not seem like the best area to save money, but I am hard on field equipment and go through bags and tripods rather quickly. So it is a somewhat frequent expense. I don't find that the more expensive camera bags hold up much better than the stuff I find at the discount stores.

4. I refuse to save money by using older lenses. I recently replaced a usable 127mm Kodak Ektar with a new Rodenstock 135mm. I just don't like the uncertainty of older lenses and shutters.

I would appreciate any cost cutting ideas you have or comments on any of the above. Thanks!

BTW, I enjoy this forum greatly and have been reading regularly for several years. I don't post very often, but I am going to try to do so more frequently just as soon as I develop any kind of expertise. (Don't hold your breath for this!)

-- Tom Hieb (, March 11, 2002


Well, I try and save money by purchasing the best equipment I can, and only purchasing it once.

There's up front pain (buyer's regret), but it goes away after a while. :-)

That said, all of my equipment, excluding my lenses that were purchased new, was purchased on eBay. I was careful to watch the prices of stuff, and made sure I didn't pay too much. I haven't been burned yet.

I take the same tack with all my woodworking tools. Buy the best, buy once, and enjoy for the rest of your life.


-- Ken Miller (, March 11, 2002.

Tom, My comments are intended to encourage your creativity and possibly cut your costs. You have, in a sense, answered your own question--you are an" equipment junkie". Why did you replace a usable Ektar with a new lens? Uncertainty, you say. That is your decision and not necessarily a bad one if you are not concerned about cost. However, I have been photographing for over fourty years, the bulk of them professionaly, and purchased my first Ektar last year. I like the performance of this lens as well as that of my Artars, Dagors and Symmars. If your commitment is to large format, I would suggest you divest yourself of the other formats you mention. And,yes, don't shy away from outdared papers, the results can be excellent. Regards, Merg Ross

-- Merg Ross (, March 12, 2002.

Outdated papers sounds better. Thanks, Merg

-- Merg Ross (, March 12, 2002.

"I recently replaced a usable 127mm Kodak Ektar with a new Rodenstock 135mm. I just don't like the uncertainty of older lenses and shutters. "

I can understand replacing a lens for better performance (movements, contrast et cetera) but I fail to see what is "uncertain". I use both 'older' and modern lenses, in pretty dry and dusty terrain, and have found that older shutters are as robust, and at time more so, than newer ones--I have had two Copals lock up on me in the field, but NEVER an Ilex. Basically, I believe that if you take care of older lenses, they will be as tough and reliable as newer ones. This means sending them for CLA every two years (ok-this is a pretty random period, but it works for me), something one should probably do with modern lenses. I fail to see what is uncertain about older glass. I save money by taking care of what I own, and not replacing things unless I really have to. I do agree however that buying junk is NEVER cost effective.

-- jason (, March 12, 2002.

This may not answer your question, but these are my own thoughts on the subject:

The best camera I have is the one loaded with film. Unless you are a pro, stick with what you have. Get together with some guys/gals and buy paper and film in larger quantities. Use lith or cheap ortho film. Get outdated BW film. Spend money on film and paper rather than a new bag or a bargain MF you really don't need. Concentrate on one film and one paper. Get a barrel lens and a black hat. Get started in alternative printing, like cyanotype.

As mentioned earlier posts, shed all the stuff not needed, ie all the 35/MF gear/assorted junk we happened to buy while scrounging the flea market, all this-might-come-in-handy stuff. I don't pretend I am no equipment junkie, but I am trying to kick the habit, as spreading the money over 35mm/MF/LF misses my own idea: less is more.

BTW, I like my 127 Ektar, and it works great. :) If nothing disasterous happens, it will last me a life-time. That's the great things about LF gear. It's been around for 160 years and still going strong.

Good luck with the cost-cutting!

-- Jimi Axelsson (, March 12, 2002.

I you would like to save on film, probably you should try ARISTA (never used) or Forte. The latter one is made in and old european Kodak factory, and is pretty much like Super XX.

I have used forte a couple of times, it is very good film if you like Tri-X and is about 40% cheaper.

-- Enrique Vila (, March 12, 2002.

Tom, it's a breath of fresh air on this forum where the answer to every question is Sinar, Ebony, Schneider XL and call Steve Grimes, (please notice I've put steve in pretty good company here, not picking on anyone) that someone actually admits they're even thinking about the long term costs! Keep your medium format and 35mm equipment! From a junkie to a junkie selling that stuff would be like a drunk pouring whiskey down the drain in the AM and then re-buying it in the PM. Besides most of us wobble back and forth doing "work for others" projects where 35 and MF are the correct tools to have! And you did good trading up to the 135. I'm sitting here looking at an irreplaceable scene, enlarged 4X, made with the good old sharp 127, and if I was going to nit pick, it's soft out in the far extremes. That little Tessar, good as it is just doesn't have the line pairs I needed out in the corners.

Here's a couple of ways I've saved a few bucks:

I mix everything from dry chems. Pyro gets used once, it's always consistent because it's always just mixed, and it costs pennies to develop my film. I've got an old Ansco formula I love for printing. I've re-crunched all of the formula's to 800ML so that when I mix a fresh batch of paper developer it's already at full dilution and basically is a 1 time use item. However if I run out of gas on a Saturday night and want to finish on Sunday AM, that 800ml with take-off just became the perfect amount to pour into an empty wine bottle. 750ml. And wine has all the same attributes as photo chems, that's why they make that glass DARK (we're talking good wine here, Galli, I'm a dago, Californians, Im not sure what you'll do with the Chardonnay bottles). So printing sessions cost just pennies too.

I also haven't been burned on EBAY. (came damn close once Mr Ornsteen) and being a junkie, at least I can re-sell the dross. DO NOT buy old paper on Ebay! It's there for a reason! Or film! Dry chems are fine there though, and in bulk that sometimes will last a lifetime. You can't beat Arista films or Paper. Thank-you Freestyle Sales co. It's about 30% less than it's Ilford siblings. And it's fresh and consistent. There's more but I've probably stirred up enough trouble for now.

-- Jim Galli (, March 12, 2002.

I am always concerned with costs as I work on a limited budget. While I will occasionally use the more expensive papers I have learned to get the most from Ilford, Forte and Agfa variable fiber papers. I Use rinsed Ilford 1ltr Rapid Fix bottles for chem storage and purchase amber glassware from a local pharmacy.

Mixing your own chemistry saves money depending on what you need, and is really quite simple and enjoyable. You can use a scale purchased from a gunshop used to measure shell loads for measuring the chemsistry.

There are several pieces of darkroom gear that can be made such as a print washer, light box, drying enclosure for negs, drying rack for prints and cutting jig for mount boards and overmats.

I use RC paper contact prints for smaller formats and use the light box to determine initial exposure decisions with larger formats all though I probably will sart using a scanner and printer to make contacts and first proofs in the not to distant future.

I also purchase from E Bay and have not have a problem. Just check customer feedback and return policy of the seller. As far as lenses go, unless you are shooting color or architecture professionally, the previous generation of lenses work beautifully. The only gear that I felt was critical to having new were my enlarging lenses.

-- James Chinn (, March 12, 2002.

Just a comment about ebay. I have bought all my LF stuff on ebay, and while I can't say I've been totally burned, one needs to use extreme caution to be sure.

For instance, a Toyo 45A with "Bellows are in good condition and light tight" meant bellows needed to be replaced due to rotten corners. Cost me an extra $180 for new bellows. My total investment in the camera is now about what the other used ones are getting.

And, the Cambo that included a lens with "Shutter working perfectly" needed SK Grimes to clean the shutter which had only 2 speeds; sticky and slow. Still, I'll sell the Cambo body and end up with a nice Symmar S 180/f5.6 for about $250.

In other purchases, I've received stuff that was just plain filthy. In all cases, I have always received the item I paid for.

The moral is that on ebay, you usually get what you pay for. The things I've paid high used prices for have been great, including an almost new Sironar that took 2 weeks to get here from Cananda; worth the wait. (many bidders shy away from foreign sellers) But if you see something that looks like a great bargain, it probably isn't.

As to saving money, I made 2 lens boxes out of some stiff cardboard and duct tape. They hold my 2 lenses on Toyo field boards very nicely, cost about 3 cents and 1 hour time. Of course, everyone seems to be saving the most $$ on camera cases. I paid $10 for a brand new rolling backpack with padder shoulder straps. Another $10 for some closed cel foam, a few minutes with knife and tape, and I have a camera bag LowePro wants $200 for.

-- Douglas Gould (, March 12, 2002.

Your posting clearly had a "the more I buy, the more I save!" quality to it. You can save money on your purchases or you can reduce your total costs.

For me, the main cost of photography is the paper. Everything else beyond the initial camera/lens is pretty cheap. (Well, framing and matting is a good place to look for bargains too.) Sometimes, I can save a couple bucks by spending half an hour extra buying and mixing bulk chemical. But then I lose those couple bucks on a single 16x20" print where I set the exposure 1/2 stop too high or misjudged the effect of the contrast setting on the lower right corner.

Cost reduction is in the paper! Kodak and Ilford sell a little bit of film and a whole lot of paper (mostly to labs of course)! Buy big boxes of fresh paper and it is much cheaper, plus you will get nicely outdated paper (with known reliability) before you finish the box. And you will really use the paper unlike some of those must- have-accessories in the back of all of our closets....

If you can get a finished print in three sheets or less, then you are saving more money (and even more time) than anyone who mines their own minerals for home brew chemistry. (Not that you might not want your own recipes for non-financial reasons, of course).

I see people in the darkroom I share, going through 10-20 sheets before they are satisfied with the print. Then they tease me for making test prints with a step tablet....

That said, I'm off to buy some gold chloride now in case I want to try some gold toning someday. I've found a great deal! :-)

-- Eric Pederson (, March 12, 2002.

Cutting your own lens boards will save you plenty! Lots of sparks and very artist looking brush markings on aluminum plate. Talk about cost cutting! Pun intended!

-- John Grunke (, March 12, 2002.

For really active photographers, most of the expenses will be in consumables. It's difficult to save on good hardware such as cameras and lenses, and anyway they hold their value pretty well should you need to resell them. With that in mind, here are my cost cutting methods: I use expired film when I can find some, and I have my film processed mail-order at the cheapest lab that I can find. While traveling, I try to fly using air miles, I never stay in a hotel or motel but preferably at free campsites, and spend less than $50 on groceries for a two-week trip. For computing equipment (unfortunately this has to be considered consumable) I try to buy discountinued stuff when possible.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, March 12, 2002.

The biggest cost for me with photography is the travel to get to the places I want to photograph and then staying for a week or two, so my efforts at economizing are in that area rather than equipment and supplies. The one place I do save on supplies is by buying Arista 8x10 film rather than Ilford labelled 8x10. Arista costs about half of the cost of Ilford and is reputed to be Ilford film anyhow.

-- Brian Ellis (, March 13, 2002.

In my case time as well as money are in short supply, but I find that I can conserve both by making every photographic outing count. We plan our trips carefully, attempting to previsualize subjects and conditions, if possible wait for a good day, and when on the site try for a few really good exposures. For us, LF is all about quality images, not quantity. We keep using the Nikons, they're like body parts, we take them everywhere, and have never fallen into the trap of trying to duplicate 35mm subjects in large format. Even when the large negatives don't turn out, I try to learn something from the experience. Over our LF photographic lifetimes, I'm hoping for a few score really good negs, which I fully intend to print to death, all the way up to 20x24, maybe bigger. So, my first point is, I keep trips (and travel expenses), film, and printing to a high quality minimum, while still firing away on the Nikons.

Some of the best subjects are right in front of us, but it takes insight, contemplation, plus some luck ("the harder I work, the luckier I get") whenever you're not depending on some sure-fire spectacular subject. Backyard, family members, fruit and vegetables, found objects, main streets and factories--it's all been done, as we all know. But it takes a lot more work (and talent) than Niagara Falls....

As for equipment, I can't be bothered (and don't have the skills anyway) to deal with defective cameras, lenses, etc. Used is fine, but I won't buy stuff I can't see or, if I can see it, am unable to test. So I pay the going discount prices for new, but have decided to work with minimal lenses in particular. We shoot 210, 300, and 450mm lenses on an 8x10 field with a 5x7 back. The reducing back increases the range and options of effective focal lengths and adds a more rectangular aspect ratio. To an extent, we let the equipment condition the subjects we shoot; extremely wide angle and long shots are not in the cards for us (break out the Nikon!).

My darkroom is basic, but some day I hope to add an 8x10 enlarger, and when I can't lug the big rig around anymore, I expect to keep on printing those few really good negatives that we're working so hard to shoot now while we are able. Good shooting, Nick.

-- Nick Jones (, March 13, 2002.

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