Is LF/4x5 viable for long-term documentary project?

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by adam_kingston, Nov 11, 2014.

  1. Hi forum

    I'm beginning work on a long-term documentary project. My intention was to shoot it on 6x9 (I have Fuji GW/GSW rangefinders), but this project would benefit from a slow, careful approach and 4x5 in theory sounds like a better choice. My only concern is around the availability of sheet film and C-41 processing in the UK, and whether it's viable to begin a long-term project using this format. I attended a talk a few months ago by a well known photographer who works in 8x10 and said he was buying up thousands of dollars of Portra stock because he's concerned they'll cease production in a year or two. Is this paranoia or a genuine concern? Maybe these are questions that can't reasonably be answered?

    Any thoughts you have would be appreciated. At the moment I'm in two minds - stick with 6x9 (crop to 67 format, not a fan of the 3:2 ratio) or take the plunge, invest in a Chamonix field camera and all the necessary bits and pieces.


  2. What is long term?
  3. Also look at a Canham DLC 4x5. More than film stock availability, I'd be concerned about the viability of labs that will continue
    to process large format color film.
  4. Hi Bob

    I should have said, I'll be working on this for 3, 4 years.

    Ellis I agree, that perhaps should be my primary concern. There are very few labs in the UK who process large format C-41 and I don't have the stomach for home processing it.

    I'm leaning toward the Chamonix because I spent some time with one and was comfortable using it, but I'm open to suggestions.
  5. 5x4 processing in the UK:
  6. I am well aware that starting to process 5x4 is not a step to be undertaken lightly, but my own experience has been that it is far less daunting than it appeared to be before I tried.
    I use a tank and processing machine bought from eBay and the process is simple and quick (quicker than B&W in fact)
    My worry with any commercial setup that is not putting a high volume through would be lack of control over solutions. At home you have total control. To emphasise this a processor I have used a lot said that they were now gathering up films for a single run of the machine each week, on a Wednesday, to ensure fresh chemicals - but that if I wanted they would put the film through on a Tuesday with the previous chemicals if I was in a rush. And they were trying to be helpful! I don't know the life of unused chemicals in a machine, or even if the machine was swithched on between uses, but if they felt it necessary to replace/replenish them once a week then processing the day before it happens would be a worry.
    Scanning is another issue. A high end scanning service is essential if you want to go down the digital printing route, and this may be harder to find in a few years as tanks/racks etc will just sit in a processor's darkroom waiting to be filled with fresh chemicals, and so a service could be restarted at any time, while the more frequent computer equipment upgrades may mean that scanning hardware for LF is replaced by newer systems that will only take sizes used more commonly.
  7. Just a couple more thriving London labs that offer 5x4 and 10x8 film processing ( and traditional hand printing or hybrid printing also) that have been missed out:
    and for black and white:
  8. C-41 film processors that use a replenishment system need to have film run through them every day or it is almost impossible to keep the chemistry in balance, same with paper processors. Since film is not nearly as commonly used it's tougher to keep the chemistry right and it's often easier to use one-shot chemistry. Doing C-41 at home is not difficult, you mostly need to keep temps at a close tolerance. I truly hope C-41 film stays with us for the foreseeable future in all formats.
    Rick H.
  9. it


    I would go MF and save on major expense and hassle.
  10. Thanks Steve and Andrew for the heads up on labs, there's a few there I wasn't aware of. Peak and Digitalab have handled some of my 120 stuff in the past, I stopped using them because they didn't look after the negs but it's reassuring that there are still plenty of options out there. I've had good results from Metro in the past but they're very pricey, perhaps because you're paying for the regular replenishment of chemicals that Nick and Rick talk about. I'm pretty resistant to home processing, I live in a two up, two down cottage and we just don't have the space. The wife would go mad.

    A couple people I've spoken to have suggested GX680 III if I'm happy enough with MF resolution but want (albeit limited) LF movements. I'm aware there's also an adapter for digi backs which might future proof the investment to some extent. I suppose this is the wrong forum to ask if anyone has any experience with the Fuji but it's an intriguing option, the only downside being the weight.
  11. Adam, if you're willing to go with roll film but you need full-bore movements, another consideration is a medium format view camera. They're scarcer than regular 4 x 5 view cameras, but it might be a solution.
    A summary is on this page.
  12. Or I would add a 5x4 view camera that takes a roll film back. I know for my Wista VX definitely takes a 6x7 back, I think also even a 6x9 and 6x12.
  13. That link is far from current.
    For the past 22 years the Technikardan S 23 has been current. It replaced the Technikardan 23 in 1992. It is currently in production.
    The Super Technika V 23b is the version with the lift-up top flap. The Super Technika V 23 did not have this feature. The b version was introduced in 1975, it has been out of production for many years.
    The M679 was replaced by the M679cc as noted. But this was replaced by the M679cs several years ago which does have tilt/swing/rise/shift in front and back and is equipped with a geared leveling head. It is currently in production.
    Not mentioned is the Linhof Techno digital/film field camera made from aluminum and carbon fiber. It does have full front movements as well as rear rise/fall. It is also a 69 camera and in current production.
    On the M679 cameras and the Techno all movements are geared. On the TK cameras the focusing is geared. On the Super Technika V 23 cameras the rise and the focusing are geared.
  14. Andrew,
    Depending on the roll back your Wista, as well as all other recent Wista cameras, accept all types of 45 Graflok and Graphic type roll backs for 35mm, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 and 6x12 film. If you pull your gg panel back you will see that the opening between the gg and the back of the camera is much wider then on any other 45 camera. This is so it can accommodate either type of back + your camera is equipped with an International or Graflok back so you are already equipped to use slip-in or Graflok type backs.
  15. The availability of Kodak's colour materials in ANY format in four years would give me pause for a long-term project. There is reason to believe that under Kodak Alaris, the committment to colour negative is strong. But if I had a four year project relying on that product, I would be inclined to purchase plenty of film at the beginning, as an insurance policy. This applies whether it's 4x5 or roll-film.
    The bigger question is whether 4x5 is viable for you on a long term project. I say this because I shoot plenty of 35mm and 120 film. I have also put together a nice Graflex Graphic View II kit: clean body, new groundglass, a stack of film holders, a 120 rollfilm back, a 3x4 Polaroid back, a couple of decent lenses. I intended to shoot the Graphic View on those days when I can enjoy myself, dedicated 100% to photography. But to date, I have not shot a single frame with the Graphic View. I always end up taking a medium format kit or 35mm kit. Because shooting 4x5 requires a level of conscious preparation (i.e. loading sheet film holders) and thoroughness that I don't need to shoot 120 or 35mm. I have grand intentions to shoot with the Graphic View; in fact I opted to not sell it when I had the opportunity recently. But as a tool for a long-term project, I would need to consider how possible using 4x5 would be for me.
    I will also add, having shot with the big Fuji rangefinders, they are a joy to shoot with. I have had good luck using them for environmental portraiture, and would not hesitate to use them for a long project. Those 6x9 negatives are big and sharp.
  16. "The availability of Kodak's colour materials in ANY format in four years would give me pause for a long-term project. There is reason to believe that under Kodak Alaris, the committment to colour negative is strong. But if I had a four year project relying on that product, I would be inclined to purchase plenty of film at the beginning, as an insurance policy. This applies whether it's 4x5 or roll-film."
    But once you have made that investment to buy plenty of film there is the other problem. Availability of processing facilities or chemistry.
    Think what the end of Kodachrome processing meant a couple of years ago. If someone had stocked up on Kodachrome before the end there is absolutely nothing that can be done with unprocessed Kodachrome today.
  17. Bob, I agree it could get tricky. But I think C41 is quite a bit different than Kodachrome. No-one ever had a home processing line for Kodachrome, but C41 is regularly touted as "do-able" at home. Chemicals may get harder to source, but someone, somewhere, can probably run little C41 in four years time. Kodachrome had a hard limit hanging over it.
  18. As a LF shooter, I have to agree with Ian: "I would go MF and save on major expense and hassle".
    If you were using b&w and making your own processing, I`d say LF is the way to go. But sending materials to professional services is extremely costly these days.
    Do you really need LF? If you feel fine with 6x7, just stay with it. BTW, I don`t understand at all the idea of LF for a "slow, careful approach". LF only ask for a much slower setup time, much slower image control (difficult viewing, framing), much slower shooting time because you need to change a chassis for every shot; nothing related to the idea, the image or to the subject. Is this what you`re talking about?

    Also, notice that Chamonix are extremely lightweight, simple cameras. They are good to be carried, good for the budget, but IMHO far from being the tool I`d choose for an extensive shooting project.
  19. I don't see there is necessarily any problem in a long term project with changing media at some point. An example would be Mathew Brady, who documented the American Civil War in the 1850's and 1850's. In his case he started out using the daguerreotype process but switched to the Ambrotype process once the earlier process became obsolete.
    Isn't the photographic value more in the image than the process or format?
  20. Nah. For whatever his reasons are, the OP may see this as a unitary body of work. IOW he may want all his images to match up, as far as the medium and materials go.
  21. "I don't see there is necessarily any problem in a long term project with changing media at some point. An example would be Mathew Brady, who documented the American Civil War in the 1850's and 1850's. In his case he started out using the daguerreotype process but switched to the Ambrotype process once the earlier process became obsolete."
    The only problem with his project was that the American Civil War started in 1860 and ended in 1865.
  22. Dave S, I agree the OP may want his work to be in a single medium but that was not my point. My comment was that in the past a change of medium enforced by technological progress, even that as drastic as from Daguerreotype to Ambrotype has not necessarily reduced the value of an extended work as it is the value of the image which is important. The OP asked for 'any comments' and that was mine.
    Bob, yes you are right, Brady opened his studio in 1844 and his 1850's work included daguerreotype portraits of politicians etc. But the war had not started then:)
  23. While I am a LF film devotee myself, I am asking why LF film is the best choice for this project. A Nikon D810 or equivalent DSLR will give you huge files with 35 Mega Pixels at 300 dpi resolution. Processing is not an issue nor is film cost. I am paying over $3.00 USD per sheet here (Houston Texas) and about that much again per sheet for processing. Turn-around for negatives only (no prints) is about two weeks. With a DSLR the feed-back is instant and prints may be made more quickly.
    If this is more than a personal art project, that is, something done commercially that you get paid for, I would go high-end digital.
  24. Perhaps Adam doesn't own a Nikon D810!
  25. He can rent one then
  26. Steve-Bob: Right . . .I do not mean to be caviler about this. I get from Adam that this project is important and significant to him. He is considering a major commitment ,in both time and money, to a process (Large Format film) which I find creatively satisfying, but can be cumbersome to manage, has a slow turn-around and is expensive on a per image basis. From this I assume that he has commitment to the project and has the resources to bring it forward. I mention that model Nikon because I have a passing knowledge of it from a friend who makes his living in commercial photography. Other DSLR models may also do the job for Adam. I am suggesting that some form of digital solution may better serve the purpose.

    Others here have suggested that the medium or method of image capture is less important than the image itself: That the body of work is the goal not the process. If that concept is considered valid by the OP, than considerations of cost and overall flexibility of the process may rule his decision.
  27. I use a Chamonix 45N2 professionally, it is no low budget toy and I would prefer it over any other 4x5 at triple the price.
    But for long term documentary I would use either my Mamiya 6 or Hasselblad system, much easier in fast changing
    situations and overall production costs. I would not use my D810 or D750 however because the digital journey as not
    nearly as satisfying to me and the temptation to chimp is very derailing of the rhythm of my vision.

    Use what speaks to you, not what the arm chair experts are telling you, it's that simple.
  28. Thanks all for your input, your ideas got me thinking about the best way to approach this. Daniel’s final contribution is in line with my own thoughts having struggling with this for a few weeks. The financial and time commitment people have mentioned have dissuaded me from going the LF route: my feeling is that to complete this project to the standard it deserves I would ideally have already spent a number of years with LF gear and have a well-honed workflow. So I’ve made what I think is a compromise by purchasing a GW670III from a friend, I’ll keep hold of the GSW690III and I’ve also purchased a GX680III with a wide lens and 6x7 mask. I’ll be cropping everything to 4x5 ratio as those dimensions feel most comfortable to my eye, but will use the full 6x9 frame of the GSW for another project I am working on. The heavy, unwieldy GX680 will have sufficient movements for some of the images I have in mind and for the work not requiring movements I have the relatively portable rangefinders. Some people might not agree that those clown cameras are portable but I share David Scott’s enthusiasm for them! I seem to have two very good copies as well, as I understand there’s some variance in lens performance.

    The Nikons are wonderful cameras but I find with digital it’s too easy to turn to a sort of additional approach. When I’m limited to 8 or 10 frames on a roll I work carefully and I think this approach suits my temperament, as I’m sure LF would if I felt I could make the commitment to it. I might still explore LF again, but there’s too much to lose at the moment. I’m part-funding the project at fairly considerable expense to myself so it’s fair to say that I’m nervous about getting it wrong!

    So thanks again, it was a great help.

  29. I meant "attritional" approach not "additional".
  30. If the OP is committed to sheet film for a long term project, buy all your film now (with the same lot numbers) and freeze it until needed.
    Why? Not because film is going away anytime soon but because photography emulsions are often tweaked by the manufacturers from time to time. The longer a project takes, here greater the likelihood. So if continuity is important, you can have confidence that you'll be working from same lot of film from beginning to end.
    My 2-cents anyway.

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