Travel with a 4x5 Camera : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Alright, I have a few questions about travelling options/hassles and am seeking advice.

I plan to take a trip to Europe in the very near future and I wish to bring along my 4x5 Large Format View Camera.

What I would like to know is the latest, up to date experiances from other professionals.

Do I take sheet film or polaroids? Is film cheaper here or there? How to carry? etc.

Thanks ahead of time for your input and advice.


-- Simon Kogan (, May 21, 2002


Bring everything.

If you have any equipment that is made in a country other than the US, make sure to get a US Customs certificate at the airport, before you leave. List everything that you bring on that form. The US Custom's officer will usually look at all the equipment so don't pack it at the bottom of your suitcase.

If you can, do bring film in unopened boxes and try to get it hand inspected (may not work anymore)...

Film is most likely less expensive here as you will have to pay VAT (sales tax) in many countries in Europe. This sales tax can amount to 24%.

Carry your equipment in an old ragged looking bag if you have one. A new gleaming Haliburton case attracts the wrong kind of attention...

Carry your equipment in that bag - or in a backpack - and carry your tripod in a separate canvas over-the-shoulder bag...

If you plan to visit Northern Europe bring rain gear!!!

-- Per Volquartz (, May 21, 2002.

Thank you very much. Keep the advice coming :)

A question however, what exactly is a US Customs certificate and where in the airport could I obtain one?

Also, how long is the customs checking procedure on average?

Thanks again :)


-- Simon Kogan (, May 21, 2002.

Every International airport in the US has a US Customs office (or should have one...). It is usually located right inside the terminal - before you check your luggage.

Call your departure airport for info.

The certificate is free. It is just a small 4X5 (roughly) document where you write the list of equipment incl. serial numbers. After you have filled out the form, the official guy = the one with the super clean white shirt and the gleaming badge will stamp it for you. Keep the certificate with your passport. When you re-enter the US you need to show it to a customs officer examining your goods. Having the certificate will be your proof that you did not purchase the equipment overseas, and therefore do not need to pay duty...

To get the certificate should take no more than ten minutes, unless there is a line of large format addicts in front of you...

-- Per Volquartz (, May 21, 2002.


film prices do vary significantly throughout Europe. Prices are e.g. cheap in Germany (usually cheaper than in the US, esp. if you take into account the current currency conversion rate US$-Euro) and more expensive in the UK. The same applies to processing. Do not expose your film to any risks than the light you wish ;-)


-- Thilo Schmid (, May 22, 2002.

Simon, I mentioned this deep into another recent thread but it doesn't hurt to repeat here:

It helps (at US airports anyway) in getting them to agree to hand- check your film if you tell them that some of the film has already been through x-ray a couple of times on other trips. Otherwise they use the argument "It doesn't harm film slower than 1000 ISO" and proceed to send it through the machine. But some of the inspectors realize that x-rays can be cumulative on film (or you can explain this or show them an article that states this), and if you whine a little and say you are worried about the cumulative effect causing fog, AND if they have time (you must be patient also), they often will hand- check for you.

Cheers, Sandy

-- Sandy Sorlien (, May 22, 2002.

When I travel with the 8x10" camera, I find I'm often asked to open my bag anyway, because of all those things in there that look like time bombs, so you might just ask for a hand inspection up front on the grounds that they'll want to do it anyway (but don't mention the words "time bomb"!).

If they have the machine for checking for explosive residue, I've found it not too difficult to ask security not to open an unopened box of film, but I have a friend who was unable to prevent an inspector from opening and ruining a box of 5x7" film, fortunately at least before it was shot, so do be careful.

Also, I usually check my tripod in a Tenba TTP case (they come in 3 sizes). I usually leave the head attached and the handles loose, and it's never been damaged.

-- David Goldfarb (, May 22, 2002.

Hi Simon,

I would also advise you to take everything with you, including sheet film, except maybe if you want to expose 1000 sheets, in this case you can locate a dealer in the coutry you visit and pick it there (weight, bulk, one less 'X-raying',...). Polaroid or sheet it more related to the kind of photos you wayt to make.

There are good dealers of 4x5" film in every capital city of Western Europe, in case of emergency. The point is you don't want to waste your time hunting for film while you are on a trip. Regarding price, I am paying my regular 10 sheets of Velvia ~22 Euros in Germany (with tax) and ~30 Euros in France (also with tax) compared to $20 = 22 Euros at B&H (without tax).

Problems with pickpockets are the same in every big city, maybe with a little higher rate in Southern Europe countries. When you are shooting in Rome, take the same precautions as in NYC or LA, and there will be no problem.

Avoid flashy bags (but this is a good advice for everywhere) and consider your environment before shooting. You may not want to attract too much attention in railway stations for example.

Good luck and good light :-)


-- Pierre Kervella (, May 22, 2002.

As one who travels regularly between the US and Europe with 4x5 camera, possibly my experiences would be helpful to you.

I have found that, while getting a hand inspection in the US is a possibility, having the security people hand inspect in Europe (especially England) is next to impossible. I have carried film in boxes and loaded holders, both unexposed and exposed and in carry-on and checked luggage and have never had a fogging problem,(that said, all that was pre-9/11). However, you should be aware, that in all likelihood, your film will get X-rayed. I'm not sure if the European airports are using the new, more powerful scanners for checked luggage, but, if you do carry film with you, I would advise bringing it in your hand luggage. You can request a hand-inspection, but don't expect it to help. Just smile and let them run it through the machine.

Some years ago I decided it was easier (particularly in the light of reports of new, more powerful X-ray scanners for checked luggage) to simply buy film at my destination. You don't mention which films you use, but I imagine you can get them in Europe. If you have an address there, you can even order in advance and have them shipped. Of course, you will need to be able to load holders somewhere, but that is usually not an insurmountable obstacle. I would also advise that you develop the film there if at all possible and then bring it back in your carry-on.

Perhaps some of the European contributors to this forum would be able to help with the above if you give particulars.

Hope this helps, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (, May 24, 2002.

I was just in Greece with my 6x7 Horseman in a back back with film, holders lenses etc. It was opened at every ck point.The tripod went through with the chkd luggage. The only hassle was leaving Athens where an overzealous podium person refused to give my pack a boarding tag because it was too heavy! I took it anyway and had no problems at the gate. In one of the Islands there were over 100 members of the Royal Photographic society. Cameras all over the place! Locals and others were facinated with the view camera esp. if I gave them a look at the GG.

George Nedleman

-- George Nedleman (, May 24, 2002.

I did not find the films' prices in US and Europe too much different (consider that, even if VAT is up to 24%, you can claim it back by simply filling a form at your departure from UE countries), therefore I try to buy them where I go in advance, making the parcels shipped to the first hotel or picking them up in person, if possible. Last year I succeded in obtaining hand inspections on both ways to and from US (with some more difficulties in San Francisco than in Milan, but maybe because I was a foreigner there), but this year could be harder: few days ago I flew to Washington and the sensibility of the gates have been set so high that even my wedding ring made them "bipping". In Italy (and I found the same all over Europe), LF is less known and used than in US, so you can find film in 4x5 format only in the pro shop, that usually are not the ones you find downtown. If you need for more detailed and specific information regarding Italy, feel free to e-mail me directly.

Best regards,


-- Diego Rigatti (, May 27, 2002.

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