4x5 film for aurora photography?

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by jonpaulgallery, Dec 23, 2009.

  1. I would like to photograph the aurora with my 4x5. Given the smaller apertures of large format lenses, is there a higher speed color film available that anyone can recommend? do any of you have experience with this? Any input is appreciated.
  2. Fastest 4x5 color film you can get is Kodak Portra 400NC.
  3. I researched the same question Jon Paul, and came to the conclusion that you're better off using 120 film and medium format equipment, since there are more emulsion choices in 120, and the lenses are faster. Unless you have deep enough pockets for a Biogon... which I don't :) But if you do, you can shoot the Biogon wide open. And since it's also a wide angle it works especially well for aurora compositions and gives you about 30 second exposures without showing startrails.
  4. Mike K should have said "very deep pockets" when referring to the Biogon ($4K?) However, the Mamiya Press 50mm lens is a Biogon clone; about $500, $600, or thereabouts, if you are prudent shopper. Put it on a 6x12 and you can get 93 degrees of view, but it won't cover a full 6x12 (light fall-off in the corners.) You can get a good 10.6 cm wide negative on 120 film. If you made a temporary mounting for your 4x5, you would get about a 3" square image on regular sheet film. The lens was built for a 6x9 camera, so the circle of coverage is 106mm.
  5. Photo attached is a Mamiya 6x9 back modified to 111mm width. This might be big enough to do what you want without breaking the bank. Correction: the circle of coverage of the 50mm lens is 120mm; so with a diagonal of 120mm on roll film, the full frame size is 57mm x 106mm.
  6. John, I'm intrigued. You mention a great lens, one that folks have re-engineered whole custom systems around, one that I've been considering. How well does your Mamiya back work to keep the film flat? And how to modify the frame spacing to correct for wider frames?
    Realize however that the OP is talking about aurora photography. Despite it's being legendarily sharp, that 50mm Universal/Press Mamiya is a f/6.3. Even fast or hypered MF film won't compensate. From my attempts to capture Aurora borealis the OP's is going to need to find faster lenses that can be used wide open (Aero Ektar, maybe?) else his auroras will be smudged long time exposures.
    On balance, I'd suggest he'd be far, far better served to reconsider LF to do this (easily) with a FF 35mm DSLR that has no reciprocity failure at ISO 3200 or 6400, and one of the new f/1.8 (or faster) wide angles.
  7. With a time machine going back say 30 years:

    ****One had Royal-X at a real asa 1250 in standard 4x5 film;

    plus one also had more fast press lenses in useage.

    Here the old 1950's barrel 210mm F3.5 is fast; plus the 178mm F2.5 Aero Ektar too on a 4x5 Speed Graphic. Both were once used with Royal-x in 4x5 for astro work long ago.

    The 150mm F2.8 Xenotar and super rare 210mm F2.8 Xenotar were cheaper then too going back decades.
    One had also the super fast asa 3000 polaroid film for the Polaroid 545 adapter too. Plus one had Royal-X in 120 film that one could use on a 4x5 with a 6x9cm film adapter.

    As folks stopped using 4x5 for press cameras; LF became more of a slower format; more of an amateur one.
    Lenses got slower; press cameras junked; fast films disappeared.

    Today a rail 4x5 camera might sport a 210mm F5.6 lens; and its grandfather a faster F3.5 or F2.8 is long not remembered.
  8. Aurora photography is about photographing an extended object; like a nebula; ie it can be magnified. In this type of work the f-stop matters; one wants enough time to record the aurora before it moves; or the stars do too much. If one wants a bigger negative than 35mm; a MF camera with a F2.8 lens works. With a 4x5 camera; most folks do not have a F2.8 lens; thus one has a lessor tool.
  9. The aero ektar , while fast, is too long for aurora work. You'll want a wide angle to capture lots of sky, for some foreground landscape for composition, and to extend the length of exposures before stars begin to trail. That's why I suggested the Biogon at 75mm on 4x5 it would be perfect. And while not as fast as the ektar, it can truly be shot wide open, and with 400 ISO... that's plenty fast enough. Back when I was using 35mm for aurora photography, I would many times use 100 ISO, and it was plenty fast enough at f/2.8. It really isn't necessary to "freeze" the aurora, so you don't need supper fast exposures. I actually try to expose as long as possible before the stars begin to noticeably trail, so that you record as many stars as possible. With a wide angle focal length, this tends to be between 20 and 30 seconds.
    But if you can't afford the Biogon, (wish I could ;-) again, I really think you would be well served with medium format. It's what I use all the time... Mamiya 645 systems and the RB67. The lenses are plenty fast enough, even at f/4 and 5.6 with 400 ISO. There also will be no reciprocity failure issues... and use print film rather than chromes to give an extra margin of error. I ocassionally push the processing to get a bit more contrast. My reccomendation is to stay away from digital. All digital cameras are super battery dependant, and with the cold temps you'll be working in, batteries get zapped very fast. Besides, if you're after quality enlargements, no digital can touch medium format film for resolution... period.
    You can check out my "nocturnes" folder for some aurora photography examples... all film and both 35mm and medium format.
    Best of luck!!
  10. Ivan,
    RE: Flatness
    The original pressure plate is 4" wide; the new opening is 4 1/8", (red arrow in attached photo). The film rides on the original rails (green arrows) So everything is close to the Mamiya specs. for flatness.
    RE: film counter
    I used the knob-winder holders and the 6x6 window to see the frame numbers on the film backing. Simply double advanvce for each frame. This conversion would not work with the newer lever-wind film holders.
    I have dozens of cameras, but if I had to have only one, the 6x12 with the 50mm lens would be it. The Salmon Creek photo at my site, www.XtremeDigitalPhotography.com was taken with this camera. I have made 24"x36" prints and they are impressive.
  11. Oops! I should have mentioned that the two photos I posted were from different film holders. The 111mm wide one has a wider pressure plate; the 106mm is Mamiya original. For my customers, I recommend building the smaller one because it is easier and it takes stock Mamiya lenses. I use a 4x5 lens on the 111mm version to get a larger circle of coverage.
  12. An 178mm Aero Ektar on a 4x5 camera is abit like if one had a 79mm lens on a 2x2 1/2 " camera; more like a normal lens to wide angle. With an old 2x3 " camera a 4 inch lens is abit called a normal ie a 100mm . An Aero Ektar 178mm covers more than an RB67's 90mm lens; and less than the RB67's wide angle 75mm lens. A 79mm is only 4mm away from the 75mm wide angle; and 11mm away from its normal lens of 90mm.

    Shooting images of stars today is almost too easy with a digital camera.

    It only takes a few seconds at iso 1600 to capture stars. The wayword cloud in the Orion shot was recorded in 2.8 seconds @F2 using an iso of 800; with a 1950's Nikkor 5cm F2 Nikkor LTM on an Epson RD-1. Next shot is 4 seconds at F1 with a Noct. 3rd shot is handheld; this was shot in Calif instead of the southeast. The LA fog shows up quickly in 1.5 seconds at F1. Thus the sky fog of the Conejo Valley is NO good to hunt Nebula or Aurora. Using a Fast 35mm or 28mm lens on a digital body is another method to record stuff

    [​IMG] is han
  13. Thanks for the additional info and examples Kelly. Those are some beautiful shots of Orion. I wonder though how well a digital camera (or any battery operated camera) will do in -40 degrees for 8 hours... actually I already know since I've tried ;-) Not long at all.
    A 75mm lens on 4x5 is equivelent to about 25mm on a 35mm system or 50mm on a 6x7. I use a 50mm on my RB. A "normal" lens is already starting to get too long for the aurora. The aurora will many times cover 180 degrees (or more) of the sky, and you'll want to capture as much of it, (along with some landscape) as possible. Plus, you can only expose for about 12 seconds with a normal lens before to start to see star trails, and you can expose 2 or 3 times this long with a wide angle. You'll be truly amazed at how many more stars will record with a 30 second exposure verses a 12 second exposure. And... by using 120 film, or 4x5 film at ISO 200 or 400, it will be grainless compared to the noise or grain you'll see with 800 or 1600 ISO. I've made 40 inch enlargements (traditionally printed from the original negative), and they are as smooth as silk.
    Regardless Jon Paul of which equipment you choose, get out there and enjoy the sky!! Solar activity seems to be picking up, so the aurora should soon grace our skies once again.
  14. Do they do Provia 400 in 5x4" sheets? Not that I've used it, but I gather some people use that, and push it a stop, as par for the course for mundane photos, with fair results.
  15. Hi to the group. A lens that was once used eons ago for star work was the slow war surplus lens the 6" F6.3 Metrogon. It is a lens for 9x9" film; experimenters would use them on a 8x10 " rig; often just a wooden box. A 6 inch lens is about 150mm; thus on 8x10 it is sort of like a 75mm lens on 4x5. The wooden box 8x10 camera had no bellows; it was more like a light weight bird house ; it had a fixed focus at infinity and no shutter.

    With direct digital images ; and scanned film shots and old technique is to combine two or more similar shots. The signals on the images tend to combine; the noise adds too but since more random tends add less. The signal to noise ratio of the combo image is thus better. In vibration work this is like averaging sweeps to get the coherence up.
    With digital in astro work some folks take many shorter exposures then combine them later. What happens is weak signals in the "deep mud" of the noise floor "rise up" . This done with studies of important movie frame footage too. A crummy poor grainy shot of the Grassy Knoll might be digitized'; then each frame combined; even if the camera was being panned. One overlaps the images on still known features. The resultant has details appear that were barely there before; ie in the mud.
  16. @mike
    your gallery is simply stunning, i just feel the urge to travel north and take pictures of whatever is shining in the night sky!
    i tried taking pictures of startrails right after i got my 4x5. didn't know about reciprocity failure though, which eliminated the 4x5 completly for shooting stars as it is so much easier to take the DSLR and shoot at iso6400 (with my d700 at least)
    well here is an example of my first try with the dslr, F4 though for i wanted my girlfriend in focus as well...not sure whether i was actually hoping for her to freeze for 30 seconds...
    do you think a i could do that with strobes?
    it was taken outside of santa barbara, california (yes, another brookie...)
  17. Amazing image Michael! I'll send you a personal e-mail so we don't hijack this thread.
  18. Thanks everyone. I will keep researching. I am simply a stickler for print quality in very large sizes (I will be doing some 6 x 8 foot prints soon). If I can find 400 ASA transparency film, I will beable to push it 1-2 stops with greater end results for my purpose. I also shoot 6x17 cm, which has more availablity for film choice.
    Can you give a good starting point for exposure given say 400 speed film, 5.6 aperture? I will adjust as I can relative to pushing film, etc. This will at least give a starting point for needed exposure to start with.
  19. I've taken photos (aurora and aurora) at around ISO 800, f/4, 8s (a bit undercooked) to 13s (better) exposures.
    HTH :)
  20. Jon Paul,
    I usually try and expose as long as possible (to record as many stars as possible), and still keep those stars looking like points, rather than trails. The length of that exposure will depend on the focal length of the lens... the more you magnify, the shorter your exposure because you will be manifying star movement. Therefore, the wider angles will allow longer exposures. A simple equation to determine where that cut-off occurs is as follows:
    For 4x5 format, Take you lens' focal length, and divide it into 1800 to equal the number of seconds you can expose and keep the stars looking like points. So for example, if you're using a 150mm lens, 1800 divided by 150 equals 12 seconds. If using a 90mm lens, then 1800 divided by 90 equals 20 seconds. And if using a 75mm lens, then 1800 divided by 75 equals 24 seconds. This serves as a "ballpark" estimate, and there are variables that will affect the equation like what part of the sky you're pointed at, and what latitude you're at. But it works pretty well. You'll probably be able to go a bit on the longer side of exposure and still get very acceptable results... so maybe 28 seconds rather than 24 seconds for a 75mm lens. Of course, if you want startrails, then expose as long as you desire. Due to the generally slower speeds of large format lenses, I would try and use wider lenses to get as much exposure time as possible (which you'll want anyway to cover more sky and landscape foreground).
    Happy hunting,
  21. i tried shooting hale bopp (what year was that???) with 4x5 BW, was an exercise in frustruation, try focusing a 5.6 lens at infinity, the tree at infinity is 500 yards away....and no moonlight...
    I would stick with digital like Kelly. I did shoot some aurora b late 80s on 35mm film in Yukon T, it was amazing, but nothing I captured on film came close to what it was really like. One of those things best left to memory bank, just my opinion.
    I haven't picked up Sky and Telescope magazine in a while, but its worth a look to see what people can do with digital, i imagine they have a website..
  22. I too took 4x5 photos of Comet Hale-Bopp (see http://www.photo.net/large-format-photography-forum/00O2Du). I used a hand-driven barn-door tracker that I made out of wood and simple hardware such as hinges. It worked pretty well for exposures of a couple of minutes. It should be easier with shorter focal lengths, as suggested here for photographing aurora, with longer exposures possible before imperfections cause star trails. I didn't have any trouble focusing -- I think I used a loupe and a bright star in the center of the image -- it's been awhile (1997).
  23. Slightly off-topic but still...if you want great 4x5" night photos I would suggest leaving the shutter open a few hours to get some nice star trail. The colors look amazing and of course there's absolutely no digital noise which ruins long exposure digital images. I've yet to develop my fist 4x5' shots but here's one taken with a Mamiya 6x9 for 4 hours on Provia 400:
    This was shot at f/8 I think. Unfortunately not good for auroras but 4x5 star-trailed vistas should be spectacular.
    Digital may be easier but it's plagued by noise unless you take and stack many shots to get rid of that noise. And then you have a total exposure similar to that of film.

Share This Page