Film diaries: losing my large format virginity

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Doing gymnastics for the camera. I’ve never encountered a situation in which this degree of movement is actually required.

Many of you will know that earlier this year, I acquired a large format 4×5″ studio monorail. It’s an Arca-Swiss F Line with standard bellows; it has full but ungeared movements on both front and rear standards, a telescoping monorail and takes Graflex film holders. I paired it with a Schneider APO-Symmar 150/5.6, which turned out to be the right choice as I’ve not yet felt the need for longer or wider – somehow, it matches my perspective perfectly. Film – my beloved Fuji Acros 100 – and spare holders arrived a little while after the camera, and I’ve had a complete working setup for about a month. Today’s article comprises some collected thoughts after living and working with it for a while, from the point of a primarily digital photographer who’s also gone back to revisit medium and now large format film.

The camera is neither small, nor light. It requires some fiddling to set up and use; you need to put things in the right order or you might land up with the vertical standards blocking film loading, or knobs that face the wrong way, or a focusing scale that goes from 15cm to 30cm with no markings in between (hint: the rail is on backwards). For the most part, the camera is well thought-out; the knobs lock positively and the movements have zero detents that still allow small amounts of movement without snapping back to the centre position. Only focusing is geared; the rest is unlock-move the standard-relock. It is very important to remember to lock all movements before inserting a film holder, because that requires some force – enough that it may occasionally result in the standard moving. Especially if you weren’t aware of two small sliding lock tabs on the side of the hinging ground glass holder, as I wasn’t for the first few frames.

Technically, it is not a difficult camera to use: the (tiny) lens barrel – it’s a symmetric optical design – holds the shutter speed, aperture and shutter cocking controls; shutter release is off a cable release that’s threaded into the side of the lens barrel. Another lever controls stop down/ open up/ prime for shooting. Maximum speed is 1/500s, though you’re almost never going to use that anyway. More familiar territory are going to be the B and T settings; though if you need say 3.5 seconds, you can always set it to 1s, fire it three times, and then 1/2s. No need to worry about advancing film: you will remember if you loaded or unloaded it :)

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Click here to see how much resolving power a 4×5″ negative really has. You’ll be taken to an actual-pixels 100% screen cap from my 27″ Cinema Display, which is 2560x1440px.

Before we get to loading, it’s useful to understand how the shooting procedure works:

  1. Unpack and assemble camera, mount on tripod. There is no way to use it without a tripod. And a big heavy one at that, preferably with a geared head, and an Arca clamp – the camera’s monorail has a dovetail built into the bottom already.
  2. Zero all movements. This is important.
  3. Open up the lens – both aperture and shutter – but do not cock the shutter – in fact, do not store the shutter cocked; it can weaken the springs and affect timing.
  4. Mount the ground glass in the right orientation – portrait or horizontal; the camera is square so you just need to turn the holder. The film holder is integrated into the ground glass holder.
  5. Get rough framing using the tripod head.
  6. Get rough focus using the rail; I find it’s easier to lock down either the front or rear standard and only move one for focusing. It doesn’t matter which.
  7. Apply any movements you might need; start with rise/fall – this does not affect focus distance. Then move on to tilt; I find it easier to use the front tilt and keep the rear standard planar – you can view from the same position – unless your bellows restricts movements and you need to use both standards.
  8. Fine tune final framing and lock down tripod head.
  9. Fine tune final focus; check it with a loupe if necessary on the ground glass. A viewing hood is almost always a must; I use a swatch of black velvet, but I’m starting to think that a T-shirt might be a much better idea; the elastic neck would keep it around the camera ‘s rear standard and stop it from blowing away. Note to self: buy black T shirt later.
  10. Lock down all movement and focusing knobs.
  11. Close the shutter, set aperture and exposure.
  12. Load film holder; it slides in behind the ground glass, displacing it out of position and putting the film in the focal plane.
  13. Check shutter is closed. Remove dark slide from the side facing the lens (film holders are double sided).
  14. Cock shutter.
  15. FIre with cable release. The shutter will remain closed after the exposure.
  16. Replace dark slide, lock in place and remove from camera.
  17. Open shutter.
  18. Open aperture.
  19. Re-zero movements and begin again.

If that sounds like a bit of a faff, rest assured that it’s much easier in practice. In fact, I find it much easier to shoot this thing than trying to set up a tilt-shift shot with the D800E; if you don’t have enough movement on one standard, there’s always the other one, too. And having +/- 30 degrees of tilt and swing is insane – more than you’ll ever need. That said, I’d recommend doing some trial runs in a quiet place first. The camera tends to attract a crowd, and if you don’t work well under pressure, you’re likely to miss a step and flub something somewhere.

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I actually found the film handling to be far more of a pain. When loading, you’ve got to be very careful when separating out sheets not to scratch them; they’re in a big pile inside the pack. Then you’ve got to load them emulsion-side up – notches on the right side if the film is facing you, threading the sheets into thin retaining rails inside the holders. Replace the dark slides inside the holders, with the exposed/ fresh indicators facing a consistent direction: the dark slides are usually painted on one side on the top with bumps or ridges so you can tell which is which in the dark. Oh, and remember to insert the slides carefully: it’s again very easy to scratch the emulsion with the leading edge of the dark slide if you didn’t load it properly – assuming you didn’t scratch it when handling it. Clearly, more practice will be required to produce perfect negatives. It took 50+ rolls of experimentation before I  was happy with the 120 results; I’m only one box (20 sheets) in, so we’ve still got a way to go.

The holders must again be unloaded in a dark bag or dark room. If all has gone well, they’ve sat flush to the film holder, i.e. in the focal plane. Removing them is a pain because they won’t want to come out; the holders usually have a small depression on the inside under a flap so you can slide a thumbnail in there. Again: be careful not to scratch either side. I roll mine up into tacos along on the long axis, then load them into my usual Patterson System 4 tanks; each tank will take three tacos when the spools are excluded. You MUST put the central spigot back in, otherwise the tank will not be light tight. Develop as normal from there.

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Oops. Time for some forensics: there are several things that went wrong here. Firstly, I didn’t curl the taco tight enough when inserting it into the tank, so there are some vertical scratches; there are also some horizontal scratches (faint) from the dark slide hitting the film; I’ve also got a corner curl/ stress mark and a light leak.

If all has gone well, you can now proceed to scanning/ digitising. For some odd reason, the large sheets seem to attract more dust than rolls; I don’t know if it has to do with the static properties of the film (it’s also thicker than roll film) or something else, but scrupulous cleaning is a must, as is spotting afterwards in Photoshop. I copied these with the D800E on a lightbox, with the camera and lighbox both perfectly planar and a set of geared axes taking care of the motions. After some experimentation, scanning at approximately 2200DPI (6 stitched frames with reasonable overlap) seems to yield the best results – the LF lenses don’t seem to resolve at quite the same level as MF Zeiss glass; I tried some 3500DPI equivalent copies (8 stitched frames with minimal overlap) and didn’t see much extra resolution, but plenty of extra grain. 2200  would appear to be the best compromise between grain and detail resolution. It’s also entirely possible that we’re starting to see diffraction; you really need to be at f16 and below for reasonable depth of field – even after taking into account movements.

Interestingly, the stitched files respond better to a post processing workflow that’s closer to what I do for digital B&W rather than film; I have no idea why this is the case, but I suspect it’s because you have a bit more tonal range since your net magnification is lower and the noise floor thus becomes negligible. The finished files yield a clean ~100MP, which is enough for a 20×30″ Ultraprint – though of course they still look stunning at smaller sizes. I suspect at longer viewing distances, you’d have no problem going as large as you wish.

Initially, I thought that I’d also use this with the CFV-39 digital back and D800E (by means of a spare F-mount on a spare lens board) – I’ve changed my mind. I wouldn’t want to drop the back or expose it too many times in the field, and the movements simply aren’t precise enough to work with smaller sensors; 1 degree makes an enormous difference. To give you an idea, I usually work within +/- 5 degrees with the Nikon PCEs.

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In use

I suppose what I haven’t answered is the question of how I feel about the output. In all honesty, I’m still trying to decide. The slow nature of photography means it’s confined to static subjects – still life, architecture, landscapes; you can’t be stealthy with it, and though exposure and focus aren’t limiting factors for reportage work (it has the same latitude as a Hasselblad, pretty much) – the viewfinder and needing to load film quickly will be. The only way to truly appreciate the output is in print form; a lighbox is useless because you’re looking at negatives*. And even then, even with the Ultraprint process, we’re still looking at reasonably large prints. The only area where the large format ‘look’ is felt is in the depth of field and perspective because of the camera’s movements, or if you use it wide open; other than that, I actually think the output somehow lacks that organic feel of slightly smaller formats – the tonal transition at lower output enlargement sizes is too clean. That said, I do very much enjoy the process – there’s a lot of enforced thought that goes into the production of each frame, and I hope at least that much comes through. I’m sure clarity will come with practice…MT

*Slide film is impractical where I live, so forget it.

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Comments

  1. It is a good experience that all serious photographers should do. I suppose it is still the cheapest way to top quality if one just needs a few pictures of non-moving subjects. There is a reason for the big piece of film and movements, but time has passed and new technology has made them somewhat redundant. So there is a reason why product and landscape photography has moved away from large format. But it is still a very good experiment and slowing down maybe helps one to slow down a bit with modern equipment as well. More thinking and planning surely improves images even if there is no technical reason for slowing down.

  2. you often hear references to “the large format look”. what the heck is “the large format look”? most postings in forums talk about gear and process but fails to describe the characteristics of the image itself. ming, what are the properties in an image that you think contributes to the “the large format look”? is it the color, the tone, the contrast, the detail, the depth of field, the perspective, or what? can that look be replicated with today’s digital camera? if so, how? can you show a comparison of a scene that has “the large format look” and does not?

    likewise, you hear references to “a cinematic look”. same questions. what the heck is “a cinematic look”? gotta be more than just a wide aspect ratio. is it lighting, color, depth of field, perspective?

    hope you can help answer these questions that has been bugging me for a while. thanks.

    • I’m not sure I can define ‘large format’ yet, but cinematic – sure, already done. How about checking the archives?

      • Its a great question and a tough one to answer.

        I think the thing to focus on is the drawing* of the image. So many people focus on the sheer amount of information contained in a larger piece of film. And indeed, there is more information. But quite simple, lenses draw the images differently when they are projected onto larger films. To characterize it more, things seem more 3 dimensional to my eye. There is this sense of depth you get. This is the main “large format” look that I think really stands out.

        • Bingo: I believe it has to do with the different depth of field properties for a given real FL and FOV combination.

        • Exactly. And this is rarely addressed when people compare MF sensor captures to LF. They get caught in resolution, but miss the FOV a larger capture allows. If one is used to 35mm film they won’t see much difference, but go big and it’s there – if one has a ritical eye/mind.

  3. Hi Ming Thien! You are a little further along than me, I have been doing “dry runs” in the living room, reading up, and hoping that the weekend brings some decent light. A great resource is the largeformatphotography.info homepage and forum.

  4. This looks interesting. A new 5×4 B&W instant film might be on it’s way… http://www.filmsnotdead.com/2014/03/27/the-new55-film-is-finally/

  5. As for those extreme movements you will never use – just mount a longer lens, say a 300mm, and you will suddenly understand what they are for. You can run out of movements in a hurry with longer lenses.

  6. Hmmm… it seems that if it is not giving you an ‘organic’ look advantage, and not really giving a resolution advantage, then it comes down to one of the method (and tool) helping shape the final look, and as you say, when the standards are adjusted for effect.

    My favourite look from large format cameras is in portraiture. It’s so distinctive you see it immediately when used. One of my favourites is Michael O’Neill’s 1985 portrait of Orson Welles for the NY Times. There is a combination of exquisitely fine, but not harsh, detail in the crisp rendition of the face, and then exact and dramatic control of depth of field – the bulk behind the face melts away but is felt as if his head grew out of it like a sprout. Well, that’s my reaction to it anyway!

    Perhaps the next step is to sit the ever patient Nadiah down for some portrait work with it?

  7. John M Owens says:

    Ming, As a LF user for almost 2 years now, I enjoyed your post about experiences using your Arca-Swiss F. However, as you dutifully listed the steps for setting up, focusing, making lens or back adjustments, loading in the film holders, etc., etc. you completely left out the part about using an exposure meter to determine the correct exposure (f-stop and shutter speed). Not that this is rocket science, but your DSLR readers should know that this is another aspect of LF photography that needs to be considered, and dealt with in the field and within the work flow. My experience working with a good meter (Sekonic L-758) and using its spot metering capability, is that all of my LF shots end up perfectly exposed as I use the meter and Zone system to determine exposure settings. It’s all part of the fun! Thank you for exposing your readers to these LF considerations…. John Owens (Racine, WI USA)

    • Ah – I left it out because I meter by eyeball/ intuition – I’v been doing the same thing with my film Hasselblads…exposure is not a problem. But yes, I agree that most people will need to do it…

  8. Once upon a time, everything was done this way.

  9. I remember telling you in a previous post sometimes ago that I had a hard time being able to take more than a handfull of pictures a day, your answer was that you took few hundreds a day….pulling my legs.
    But you see I come from LF, I had an Arca Discovery and a Linhof, a bunch of lenses and even a dedicated back pack because it is far easier than any shoulder bag.
    Now I am telling you that you’ll never be able to snap a hundred pictures a day anymore when you get back using a digital or any camera….. just because you’ll now realise how shitty they would be !
    The further you go into thinking your photography, the less you trip the shutter for the better of your results.

    Michel

    • Sorry, I still disagree. If I’m on a reportage assignment, I’ve got no choice. I might shoot hundreds, it doesn’t mean I keep them all though. No quantity = no experimentation = no progress.

  10. Just out of curiosity, have you considered FlexBody? I know, a bit hard to find but they’re small and you could use your existing Hasselblad lenses on it. With digital back on it – being smaller than film – you might get few millimetres of movements.

    • *few more*

    • Actually, yes – and I didn’t buy one for the same reason I’m not using the digital back on the view camera: I don’t want to get the sensor dirty when I change focusing screen/back in the field; they’re not easy to clean. And there’s the risk of dropping it…

  11. Carlos Esteban says:

    Hi, Ming. Developing sheet films is much easier if you get a really darkroom so you can develop in “open sky” as described by Ansel Adams is “The Film”.
    By the way a field camera would be better in that “small” large format. You may never need the amount of movement view cameras provide (unless for abnormal/abstract perspective distortion) and they are much more convenient for a walk range.

    Regards.

    Ps. Will you try it with digital backs?

    • True. And no plans to use the digital back, mounting/unmounting with exposed sensor is a very bad idea in the field.

      • Carlos Esteban says:

        There are sliding adapter for MF backs… expensive but may help. But i guess it only makes sense for someone how has several lenses, filter and so on.

        You said something about focus latitude as Hasselblad… If i got what you meant that’s not the case since LF cameras can focus much closer – even to 1:1 magnification…

        • That still leaves the back exposed from the front, or at least the ones I’ve seen do. Still makes me nervous :)

          Yes, LF cameras can focus closer, but you need a very long bellows – which I don’t have.

          • Carlos Esteban says:

            Agree. That makes me nervous too altho better them take off and put on as many times as pict to compose/take.

            I don’t think your bellow is the problem but rail (150mm lens – 300mm lens flange to film plane distance for 1:1 image). That’s a “peculiar” (quit) way to add some distance – using an LF back to Hasselblad body adapter and them (my case) a digital back – a few more steps to take picture, but you can use Hassel’s viewfinder to focus and back would be firmly attached to the body all the time – this may be useful to makro, panoramic and even to “make” a LF digital back stitching several takes together by back panel movement.

            • My rail is in two parts and will extend, the bellows will not – that’s as far as they go. There’s a longer bellows (as well as a wide angle one) but they’re impossible to get and cost a fortune…

  12. Dear friend Ming,
    Too bad you didn’t buy a Linhof Master Technika instead. It does practically all the various swings and tilts of the Arca, but is so much more elegant, better built and easy to carry. I’m not despairing because I know that sooner or later you will get one!

    http://www.linhof.de/master_technika_classic_e.html

  13. its the one right after where you took the third shot, towards morib. that stretch of selangor coast i enjoy very very much, always look forward to going back. do you visit there often?

  14. That’s a real beauty . . . I’m an old hand at LF . . . I feel in love with the three dimensionality of the resulting 4×5 chromes on the lightbox . . . your hooked now Ming!!!

  15. John Lockwood says:

    Perhaps something like a Toyo 45A would be better suited for field use? The full movements are not necessary unless producing technical illustrations. If you find the 4×5 negative superior to what you can accomplish with the D800E, I’d recommend giving a field camera a try.

  16. CityTalk says:

    Reblogged this on THE VILLAGE HERO.

  17. hi ming,
    the scenes look familiar. did you check out the seafood restaurant near the swampy beach place? can’t remember what it’s called now.

  18. Interesting that you are on the fence. I was expecting you to be more excited by LF.
    Thanks for this article as i have been always wanting to try LF.
    Hope to see some inspiring images from you soon with this 4×5.
    Should be excellent for some architecture and detailed landscape images.

  19. Frank Petronio says:

    Large format film makes a significant enough jump in look and quality over digital that medium format film only begins to approach. Of course the weakest link in doing this is the scanning process and while macro shooting on a lightbox is fine for web previews, I’d hate to see you judge the medium based only on those results.

    I’m not sure of your darkroom or film changing arrangements but if you are only using a film changing bag then you will indeed have problematic dust, they are not meant for sheet film except in an emergency. A Harrison film changing tent will make a huge difference if you can not improvise a dark room in your lavatory or closet with a hard, clean work surface. The loading, dust, and scratches should resolve themselves quickly… sounds like some daylight practice with a few sacrificial sheets would have helped. The worries about film flatness are negligible, at least they were for the millions of photographers that came before you ;-p And yes, it is perfectly fine to shoot at f/8 or f/11, especially if you manage your movements correctly, and in good light the 1/500th speed is useful.

    By the way, cycling the shutter three times at one second and again at half sounds like a recipe for blur, even with a robust set-up like you have. Believe me, it’s better to count and be slightly imprecise. Besides if you ever use a mechanical shutter speed tester you’ll find those marked speeds are approximate, negating any decimal place timing.

    Before you abandon it, do yourself the favor of getting one negative drum scanned by a good technician like http://www.eigerphoto.com and popping for some color, it’s worth the trip for processing (http://www.4photolab.com Edgar Praus in Rochester, New York is one of the best labs). I know it is expensive and a long time to wait for shipping but it will provide a quality benchmark for you to measure against your future digital cameras.

    The Arca was a fine choice, however a 4×5 Chamonix is flyweight in comparison and surprisingly well made and rigid. Being lighter means that you can also use a lighter tripod and head so the benefits compound. And most of the Chamonix (and Ebony, etc.) cameras do have a nearly full range of front and back movements (all that you would ever practically need anyway). Where the Arca will shine is once you depart from “normal” and start using wider and longer lenses… with enough money you can build the perfect modular platform around the lens you want to use.

    I hope you give it your best shot Ming. It may not jive with you for macro studio work but for outdoors it is simply wonderful. Maybe the first 10,000 sheets won’t be so hot but you’ll get the hang of it!

    • Noted, thanks for all the tips!

      • Taildraggin says:

        Frank knows his stuff.

        I have 2 questions about you shooting 4×5, Ming. The first is that it doesn’t seem to fit your style. You get the results you want from much faster equipment. No shame in that.

        Part of that is you’ll need a higher shot count to really get your the mojo working in LF and it may not be taking you where you want to go. Maybe it’s something to hold onto for your retirement. It is oddly simple and complex at once, isn’t it?

        My 4×5 does linger on it’s wooden tripod in an open corner of the room for days after use. It’s nice just to ‘view’, itself.

        • I agree, it doesn’t. And I’ll need to shoot it more to figure out what/how to use it. But the movements sure are handy – I wish all cameras at least had rises/falls…

  20. Fun times :-)
    In all honesty, I prefer medium format over large, simply because the former is easier to carry, easier to process and more spontaneous to shoot. My large format setup doesn’t see much use, although it can produce some amazing negs/sldies.

    I’ve tray developed my negs, the obvious advantage being that each sheet can be processed individually, leading to finer contrast control. The drawback is the fiddly process in the dark (takes care not to scratch the film) and the fact that it doesn’t work for volumes; I do max 4 sheets per tray at a time.

    Regarding the resolution, some LF lenses, especially macros, can resolve well, but there are some fundamental challenges to resolution the biggest being that film is never really flat and not necessarily exactly in the position you expect it to be. In general though, most people seem to agree that even 4×5″ has enough resolution. I’ve contact printed some frames a long ago — the prints are small, but the tonality is very nice.

    • I’m on the fence, to be honest – MF is much more convenient in all aspects of the workflow, and LF’s advantage are the movements and resolution. Individual sheets are a minus to me – it’s just much, much slower. 4×5″ has to be printed pretty large to make the most of the resolution, I think. Oddly small prints from scans look like digital files; they’re just too clean.

      • Iskabibble says:

        the advantage of sheet film is the ability to specifically process the film individually. If you are not taking advantage of this, then a huge part of the benefit is lost.

        • Or, I’m exposing correctly for each sheet…

          • Carlos Esteban says:

            But, when subject is “wider” them film you may modify development accordingly to preserve as much information as you can (water bath, highly diluted developer, under ou over development etc.). That’s possible with MF “detachable” backs as well since one can carry, to say, three backs one for each development demands.
            LF is prone to a pretty wider technics variation aside camera movements – one i’d like to see in digital is pre-exposure or multiple exposure…

            Regards.

            • That’s true, but I generally try to get everything out of my film anyway; there’s got to be a digital conversion stage post-scan, so I can always make some further adjustments here. I suppose I think of negatives as raw files rather than finished jpegs…

              You can do multiple exposure with digital very easily – either in-camera or in PS afterwards.

              • Carlos Esteban says:

                I don’t know if we are talking about the same thing. Multiple exposure can be used to rise dark areas (using a piece of plexiglass in front of the lens and making a out of focus exposure to increase the amount of light hits the negative/sensor) or to a specific job ( example of mine – a water fall with dark surrounds but i didn’t want the water to be flowing in the final image – it was a f45 1/8s – as far as i remember – exposure but i made 16 exposures at 1/125s that avoided – to a degree – the undesired effect). I guess you’re talking about bracketing/HDR, isn’t it?

                Regards.

                • No, not quite – I wasn’t sure what you wanted to use the multiple exposures for. You can do the same thing with digitals, either for bracketing or just overlying two images on top of each other.

  21. Hi Ming if you ever get the chance try an Ebony, wonderful to have and use. 5×4 light weight compact and quick (for large format) to use. I travelled around with one for a few years using B & W and Velvia film and was sad to let it go.

    • I believe those are foldable field cameras with movements only on the front standard, right? They do look absolutely beautiful though. Too bad about the eye-watering prices and lack of availability! The black/titanium ones do push all the right buttons for me, I admit…

  22. Welcome to my world (and a thousand ways to screw things up)! For your step #15, I often substitute “Kick tripod leg. Return to Step #2″. Actually, the hassle of setting up and composing really makes one think about the entire image, patterns of tone, and what the final print might look like (Ansel’s “previsualization). On a good day with my Chaminox, I might expose ten frames — with my Hasselblad, two to three rolls! The number of quality images that are worth working on in my darkroom? About two or three in both cases. On processing negatives, hangers and dip and dunk tanks are the way to go — or the BTZS tubes make a useful Jobo substitute (and the processing can be done in a bathroom or kitchen). It also permits processing a bunch of negatives with of mixture of +, -, and N. And, I’m sure you’ve heard it before, the REAL pleasure of photography comes in darkroom printing! I hate post-processing in front of a monitor. Congratulations on the always interesting, always informative, website. I seldom miss a day.

    • Haha! That sounds about right – ten frames is a lot. I now wonder if it’s because you can see the preview in a much larger format, so you’re more likely to notice errors of composition than with a smaller viewfinder…

      Gotta look into those tubes. And the Mod54.

      • Yes, I think the larger “preview” helps, but of greater importance (to me) is the upside down and backwards perspective. It helps me to avoid looking at particular “things” and instead to concentrate on the overall composition/arrangement/pattern. I’m forever grateful to Bruce Barnbaum for suggesting that I move to LF specifically to avoid my “thingy” tendency. Incidentally, ten frames is a good day. There are days when I set up, look, think, and never click the shutter!

  23. Happy to read of your interesting experiences. Nicely done.

    Try making 8×10 negatives and contact printing Ming. Tell me how you like the tonal transitions and detail. Perhaps you have a friend whose 8×10 camera and holders you can borrow?

    I agree with Alanti about the Jobo CPP-2.

    • Not at the moment, but I’ll be looking into it.

      Very curious to see whether the Ultraprints hold up; I suspect they will as we’ve reached the resolving power limits of the paper itself.

  24. This is one rabbit hole that I’m not going to follow you down, though that’s what I said about film … Anyway, it’s always great to see another chapter in the Film Diaries, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with LF.

    It looks like at least one 4×5 picture snuck into Episode 4 — the two silver vases in Fine Art Style?

    2200 DPI should definitely be within the Epson V700/750’s actual scanning range should you get tired of setting up your stitching shots. I think they get 2300 DPI when used in their highest resolution mode.

    • Actually, no – that was shot with the ‘Blad. :)

      Epson claims 4800/9600 DPI but I suspect those are interpolated. Who knows what the actual DPI level is…I’m not about to buy one to try out, either. Too expensive for an experiment.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        This page is, I’m afraid, only in German .
        http://www.filmscanner.info/FilmscannerRangliste.html

        But it’s the best filmscanner comparson I’ve seen sofar.
        A lot of them have English reviews on this site though.
        Probably, as mostly, a bit biased, but hopefully all by the same amount.

        They measure Epson V700/750′s resolution to about 2300 dpi but consider it’s dynamic range to be on the low side.

        • Useful – and there’s always Google translate. Thanks Kristian!

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            You are welcome!
            But I’ve seen some rather weird results from Google translate …
            ( I’ll be happy to substitute any unreadable translation it cares to give you.)

        • Thanks Kristian. If you click on the British flag, you can see the site in English. Not all of the reviews are available in English, but the Epsons are. If you want to see something breathtaking, check out how much they charge for a NIB Nikon Coolscan 9000.

  25. Hi Ming. You may wish to look at the following for film development: http://www.viewcamerastore.com/btzs-4×5-b-w-film-tube-kit/

    In the past, I’ve used the 8×10 version of these tubes and they’re very easy to use and provide even development. Since about the mid-1990’s I’ve used a Jobo CPP-2 with Expert Drums for all my large format film processing. Can’t get easier than the Jobo, but this is most certainly a costly solution.

    Good luck with your foray in large format!

  26. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thanks for sharing!
    ( I never got beyond 6×9 …)
    I almost wish for my Linhof Technica again …
    But I never thought of that T-shirt!
    I used it a while for close ups on the ground with looong depth of field, but found the ground glass a bit too dark for quick focusing.

    • Haha, a pleasure! I do agree though – the ground glass can get quite dark, especially indoors. I’ve resorted to a torch for focusing under those situations.

  27. Great writing again, Ming!
    shooting large format is really slowing down the shooting process. And the preparations before and after the shooting is even more time consuming, as you described. My 4×5″ was collecting dust since many years and I still have some film holders loaded with film, that I never used. B&W I processed in my darkroom. But I lived on a small island of the Canary Islands and there was no chance to get color developed. So I used my 6×9 roll film back most of the time for color negatives and got it developed at the local film dealer in 1 hour.

    With 4×5 I even did a (only one :-) stitched panorama image. I took two shots at the same position, one with the front moved far to the left and the back moved to the right and the second shot with all movements to the opposite side. The scans where merged with PS by hand, a stitcher was not invented at that time, I believe.

    As I wrote in your post about the tilt/shift lenses, I discovered large format again, when I got the Rhinocam adapter from Fotodiox for my NEX cameras. The adapter fits on the standard back of a large format camera (besides using MF lenses directly on the adapter).

    With this adapter and a NEX on a 4×5 camera you take as many shots as you want (I did up to 40) shifting the NEX within the Rhinocam and/or shifting the whole Rhinocam with the shifts of the 4×5. Of course only of relatively static objects! – and stitch.

    You end up with images up to 200 or 300 MPix or even more, an incredible resolution. With all tilt and shift movements you need! And for a great price. A friend just bought a 4×5 Sinar for about 200€, the Rhinocam is about 300$, the NEX is used in the same range and you need a large format lens (that does not even need a shutter), again in the same range, or for close ups an enlarger lens will do as well.

    Here are my first images of this combination:
    With a 4×5 Gandolfi field camera

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157641081324295/

    and with Sinar P studio camera

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157641670093123/

    BTW: the Sinar P is geared on all movements and you can adjust fractions of angles on tilt and swing.

    You mentioned, it will be “a bit overkill”. It may be, but for me as a hobby it is great fun and in offers all the movements of large format to my digital shooting.

    I hope, you don’t mind, that I post this here as well. Your readers may be interested in using a camera like this without all the extra actions with film and chemicals, dust and scratches.

    I just happened to find another post on this topic:

    http://www.thephoblographer.com/2014/03/23/large-format-photography-dummies/

    • Thanks Dierk. AARGH…that Sinar. There’s also a Linhof with gearing in all movements. The problem with these is that they’re really too heavy to carry around with you, and in the studio I can use my geared head/column/rails and the D800E to stitch with the PC-Es and not require a view camera.

      • you are absolutely right, Ming
        I think, I will use it very seldom outside, it is 7kg without lens, back, Rhinocam, tripod…. :-(
        and tilt seems to be not so important for most landscape shots

        for high res landscapes I will continue to use the 17mm TS-E on the A7R
        or the 40mm Hasselblad Zeiss on the Rhinocam with the NEX-6 or my IR converted NEX-7

        but it is so much fun to play with this incredible possibilities, we get today with A7R and similar cameras
        and I love to look at my huge 2m² prints

        thanks for your site, it is always a pleasure and very informative to read all your posts!

    • “But I lived on a small island of the Canary Islands and there was no chance to get color developed. So I used my 6×9 roll film back most of the time for color negatives and got it developed at the local film dealer in 1 hour.”
      Well, those of us living in developed (heh) Kuala Lumpur would kill for such “basic” facilities ;)
      /utters the usual sigh of the wannabe KL film photographer … Enough for now with my 35mm rangefinder and a roll a … Umm, every six months, lol!

      Pics look gorgeous on my retina screen. Lovely indeed.

  28. liramusic says:

    I mistyped once more. “wen screens” means web screens or web resolution screens. Wonderful thred.

  29. liramusic says:

    In using that metaphor, I agree… there is a gorgeous, organic quality to a camera like this. I perceive too a paradox. As we move up in price, the simplicity of the picture’s content becomes more plain and beautiful. I’ve never put this into words but the camera affects what we think is beautiful to photograph. One more observation is how even on wen screens, I can totally see the difference in the look. Finally, thank you for including pictures of the camera itself. Even a sample of a failed shot seems interesting. Ming you’ve down done it again; you make me re-fall in love with photography. My desk is cluttered with lens caps, wires, lenses, and music items.

    • It’s my pleasure. I think so much of the experience is either lost or oversimplified thanks to ‘technology’, that we often lose sight of the wood from the trees…

  30. Hi Ming. You might want to invest in a Photoflex film changing room. I use one for anything from 5×4 to 10×8. Also make sure your finger nails are nice and short or use white cotton gloves. Cannot say I have every managed to scratch a single sheet of film. Do make sure the dark slides are spotless when it comes to dust. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/41880-REG/Photoflex_AC_CROO1_Film_Changing_Room_25.html

    • Thanks for the tips. I cleaned the dark slides before, and I’m very careful around the emulsion…loading turns out to be quite easy with practice.

  31. Film hangers, and 3 tanks to accommodate them.. another tank for wetting agent. wire line for hanging the film holder up so that the film can dry. Makes the whole processing go smoother. Of course that system requires a darkroom.. :) I’m reaching back 50 years here… Good luck.

  32. Reblogged this on rebloggobbler.

  33. plevyadophy says:

    An education. Thank you.

  34. Fascinating and inspiring to read. Here I am, barely having ventured into the 35 mm film world, hehe.

    Are you familiar with Ben Hornes blog? (http://benhorne.wordpress.com/) Very interesting video diaries of a large format landscape shooter.

    /Martin

  35. Kee Choon says:

    Hi Ming, a dark tent and the Mod45 reel for Paterson tanks ease a lot of difficulties in loading and development. :)

    • I’ve got the tent; the Mod45 reel is on my list of things to buy, but I’ll also need a larger tank and to find somewhere that sells the Mod45…

      • Taildraggin says:

        Morgan makes them in London: http://www.mod54.com/

        View cameras are a hack – you do whatever it takes to get the job done and that’s part of the fun. Generally, you only need one lens, and the extremely simple equipment can be very inexpensive (used(, with results will far surpass ‘miniature’ formats for the cost and effort. I’m impressed that you have ‘experimented’ in the format with Arca gear!

        If 4×5 catches with you Ming, you’ll probably get an old Jobo rig. Else, Morgan’s Mod54 neg holder fits into a Paterson 3 reel tank and makes a good job of it. You do have to feel that the negs are ‘stacked’ evenly and correctly inside a sweaty dark bag, but I have not yet blown any exposures with it, yet. There are a million ways to hack a dev tank, though. You

        For most, large format is an experiment, but for some it can really take hold. I like how it takes the ‘gear’ out of the equation. You have a set of simple tools that, aside for ‘speed’, are almost infinitely flexible.

        – Charlie

        PS – a nice little 6 x 7.5 sensor view camera would be a neat little thing…someday)

        • Excellent; thanks for that. I’m headed over there in July, so I’ll pick up one then.

          I was going to experiment with cheaper gear, but the Arca was second hand and very cheap, so I thought why not pay a little more and go for broke…that said, the entire setup including lens, spare holders, Pelican case, accessories etc was still cheaper than a D600 body. :)

          Already used to loading reels and Pattersons for my 120/135 work, so a 3-reel tank is next. Plus I can use it for four rolls of 120 at a go, too (tape the film end to end).

          Sensors that large exist, but holy cow – the price. They’re single wafer jobs and strictly for defense or deep-pocketed industries…

  36. I wonder, when will I lose my large format virginity :).

  37. I just started shooting with my 4×5(i may have said this in an earlier comment, but that was a false start). the aspect ratio just feels right to me in a way that 3:2 still doesn’t after 10 years of shooting in it. now that i have about 10 negatives, i need to start developing them. i know it’s yet another never-ending debate amongst photographers, but any thoughts on tray development vs. your method?

    • I’m sure tray development is easier, but you have to do them one at a time in the dark; unfortunately that’s just not logistically practical for me.

  38. NeutraL-GreY says:

    11×14 next? ;)
    Just kidding.

  39. I have a Cambo SC-R, and I’ve shot a few boxes of film through it in the last few months. I love the process, and the negatives are amazing.

    • Can’t argue with the negatives. I just wish our weather wasn’t such a disaster at the moment – if it isn’t very hazy from open burning (which makes for both poor light and respiratory issues) then it’s raining torrentially…

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