Large format beginner

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by larry_benjamin, Oct 17, 2004.

  1. Hello,

    I was considering venturing into large format (4x5.)Would someone
    please inform me on the basics of film handling & loading. What would
    be the simplest system to start with ? Any relevant input would be
    greatly appreciated.
    Thanking you in advance, Larry
  2. Well, you asked for the basics of film handling...I will assume that you have empty 4x5 film holders, film, and a room you can make totally dark (I use a hall closet with weatherstriping around the door and the lights off in the hall---small folding table and chair therein): 1) Place film box and holders with darkslides pulled 1/2 way out on table in front of you. Traditionally, the silver side of the darkslide showing outside means that unexposed film is in it & the darkslide is turned to black side after exposure. 2) In total darkness open film will find a box inside a box and film in envelopes inside that...feel the film and orient the notches in one corner so they would be in the upper right side as you face the film...this puts the emulsion side facing you. 3) Take one sheet and slide the lower end of it under the grooves on each side of the open film holder (you will have noted looking at an empty holder in the light earlier that the end of the holder is hindged to open when the slide is part way out) slide the film all the way in, then close the hindged end flap and slide the darkslide closed all the way. Repeat for each side of each holder. I just discovered that its alot easier to do than it is to describe in writing!!!

    You want to be sure to dust all the holders well before you start...cleanliness is truely next to godliness in handling sheet film!

    Simplest system? Probably a basic field camera. I started with a Busch Pressman years ago and have gone through several press and view cameras since. My current 4x5 equipment includes a Super Graphic press camera for use when lots of movements aren't needed and a Cambo monorail camera at other times. I find that the Cambo is used probably 90%+ of the time, just because I like it and don't mind carrying the rig into the field. It is much heavier and much more trouble to transport than the Graphic. In addition to the cameras and several sheet and roll film holders, I have a choice of six lenes ranging from 90mm to 438mm, lens hoods, filters and filter holders, loupes, focusing cloths, ad nausium, that I might carry along on any given junket. The working rig can be as simple as one camera, a couple of holders, one or two lenses, a focusing hood, a loupe, and a tripod, or it can get alot bulkier. I'd start out basic if I were you and add goodies as they were needed.

    Used press cameras with a basic lens can be had pretty cheaply and make good first field cameras; Add a tripod and a couple of sheet film holders and you're ready to go shoot pictures!
  3. Larry,

    IMHO, Steve Simmons book "Using The View Camera" is an excellent place to start. Also check out the Info articles at View Camera magazine's website. If there is a community college in your area you can inquire about any photography classes that cover LF photography(these seem to be rare---you're more likely to find a classes offered in digi-photgraphy I'm afraid!)

    After reading Simmons' book, get yourself a "kit" and have at it!

    Good Luck!
  4. Hmmmm...
    Simplest system to start with... I would get a Polaroid 545i holder - find one used. You can then use Fuji Quickloads (this is simple - but more expensive than using sheet film and loading holders).
    Simplest system to start with is probably a field camera. I have to say. I picked up a Graflex Super Speed Graphic and it is solid and works well. Came with a 135mm lens (say equivalent to a 40mm or so in 35mm film terms?) So it is pretty simple to use, fast to set up (I use on tripod), and can be had inexpensively on the used market (or something similar). You may trawl Ebay, or maybe check out Midwest Photo Exchange. And check out their used gear, give the large format department a call and ask for a complete used starter system - I suspect they could put you on the right track.
  5. I am in the same boat after shooting 35mm, digital, back to 35mm and MF now into LF too.

    I got frustrated with 4x5 folders, but the toyo feild, or an ebony (big $$)camera looks decent. I went through a crown graphic, Burke and James, Calumet 4x5 rail camera (all pretty cheap but those two folders are sloppy) and have landed with a Sinar F1 and could not be happier.

    They are expensive used but worth it. I got a F1 with fresnel screen
    and a lens board for about $600. Scour the internet for info on sharp LF lenses and buy the sharpest ones you can afford. I went through the cheap LF lens route and it is not worth it.

    As far a actual shooting, for me readyloads are very easy but expensive. I have gotten to where I like kodak E100G and E100VS better than almost any other film. Its about $60 for a box of 20. If you are going to shoot readyloads or fuji quickloads all you need is a polaroid 545 film holder, probably about $60. You just pop the readyload in the holder, slide it in the camera, pull the darkslide, take the photo, slide the darkslide back in, remove the readyload and mark it exposed and drop it off at the developer. Its really simple.

    If you go the sheet film route, buy a bunch of late model film holders and a film changing tent. Dust is a big problem though and one reason I like readyloads.

    So all in all you should be able to buy a F1 and one lens and a 545 film holder for about $1100.

    You need a light meter too if you dont have one. A loupe is also nice for focusing. Oh yeah a dark cloth or shade.
  6. Check out

    Nice site with a good rundown on the basics. Also has a forum. I've seen a lot of people who also post there.

    I started out beginning of this year doing 4x5 black and white using traditional film holders (as opposed to quick loads). It's very straight forward. But you may have different needs so check out one of the books listed above or that link.

    Have fun.

  7. Go to, click on the "articles" tab at the top of the home page, scroll down to the article dealing with loading film holders. It contains photographs showing the process step by step. However, the "simplest system" is the Kodak Readyload or Fuji Quickload systems. With these you don't need to load the film yourself, various films are furnished in light-tight envelopes that you insert in a Readyload or Quickload holder. They will roughly double your film costs but they don't require any loading, are dust-free, and the negative doesn't need to be removed from a film holder and stored before delivery to a lab, you just give the lab the envelopes.

    The first section is titles "How to get started in large format photography" which should tell you much of what you want to know. For instance:
  9. Thank you all so much (& those to follow)for your most valuable input.

    I have 35mm, MF & digital systems but i would like to push my envelope to be more encompassing. I have all the basic tools required, now my search is on!

    Cheers, Larry
  10. pvp


    All good suggestions. I'll add another: after you've read through some or all of the above, and you have thoroughly trained yourself in all the myriad ways one can ruin a sheet of film (both in an out of the camera,) plan on duplicating many of the errors you've read about! I am routinely humbled by this stuff, and I've resigned myself to slowly working through the list of goofs on my own, just as if nobody had ever thought of each mistake before I stumbled on it...
  11. You might check with Central Camera in Chicago and Lens and Repro in New York. Both of these shops deal in press cameras (Graphics, Speed, Crown, Busch, etc.) and have good stocks of models in a variety of conditions. Most come with a 127, 135 or 150mm lens and a solid shutter. Get a lens hood for the lens if there isn't one already. Buy film holders used, but pay attention (mark folder with notches or something) so you can tell which shot comes from which holder, thus allowing you to eliminate or fix light leaking holders. Type 55 can be expensive, but as above, you can double duty on Fuji Readyloads, which can also be expensive. I learned the basics using a handful of used 9x12 holders at $4 ea. and a box of 100 sheets of Fomapan 100 that I got for about $13. Took a lot of photos of the trees across the street from my house. If you don't have a darkroom, at least get a dark bag, but probably get a tent as they make loading the film and dust control a lot easier. And for developing, I use the HP CombiPlan tank (daylight, no darkroom developing), which works well once you get the process of draining and filling down. I will second the recommendation on Paul Butzi's page about loading film holders. Finally, a roll film back will be the next accessory - for 6x9 or wider I would suggest - for days when you want to walk around and shoot without holders.
  12. For a more hands on approach, get some old throw away 4x5 negatives or a couple of pieces of sacrificial film and a holder, and using the directions you've read practice loading in daylight until you can do it with your eyes closed. Then go in the dark room or stick it all in a changing back and go for it! Its not all that hard and if others can do it, so can you. Polaroids and Ready loads are wonderful and have their place, but you might as well learn the basic routine first.
  13. I'll throw in another idea. Get a Polaroid 545 holder, Polaroid Type 72 (ISO 400, B&W), and use nothing but Polaroid for a while (like 6 months to a year). Instant feedback (and gratification or desolation). You'll learn fast, and be able to see what you're doing with focusing and movements. You'll learn precise exposure, too. I tweak Polaroid to about 1/3 stop, since it has to be right.

    Type 72 is lovely film, and needs no coating like Type 52. My two best images are on Polaroid. They're like little jewels, and I don't regret that they're one of a kind.

    Good luck!
  14. I am going through this experience myself right now. I got a Graphic Super camera for my 66th Birthday.

    First: the good news! Once you see a 4X5 negative from a reasonable lens, you will be dazzled! Even compared to a 6X6, a 6X7 or a 6X9 cm negative, the 4X5 is wonderful.

    Now the bad news: Everything is new. I needed a 4X5 enlarger to replace my 6X9 version. I got an Omega D2 with lenses for $250 plus a lot for shipping. Next it was loading the film holder. I have a changing room which is super for rollfilm. After a lont of fristration, I decided that it was better to have things laid out on a table in the darkroom. Now I am getting pretty good at loading holders (do figure out which side has the emulsion by the position of the film notch.)

    Development: There are several possibilities. Many use tray development which is easy and requires only a very dark room. There are tanks some of which are daylight. Each seems to require practise.
    I settled on a JOBO system. It has a loader which helps to load up to 6 films on a reel. I find this is easy to do in daylight ...less easy in the dark. Now I load 4 sheets in the #3 and the #1 slots.
    I have a Chromega rotary system I use to develop the film. I stick my 2521 tank into an old Uncle Ben rice can - Lord knows how old this can is! and it works great. I use 270ml of developer and the methods is very consistant. Of course, if you have some heavy coin, JOBO makes a nifty system as well.

    Drying is easy with clothes pins just at a corner.

    There was an article recently in Shutterbug describing the move to a 4X5 darkroom.

    The though will occur to you: If 4X5 is so great, how about 5X7; 8X10 etc.

    By the way, there are a lot of good used 4X5 cameras. With some restriction, there are a lot of good lenses. I put a modern 135 mm Rodenstock lens on my Super and the cam works very well. THe Super has a terrific distance scale going up to 50 feet. My Horseman VHR is a lovely machine, but the distance scale on it goes only to 30 ft.

    That's a real plus for the Super.

    I wish you the best of luck. Mistakes will be made, but when things work, the quality will be wonderful!
  15. Superb input all, Very many thanks. !! Cheers, Larry
  16. Well sheesh:) Since we're on the topic...
    The reason I recommended the Polaroid 545i holder is it does take Fuji Quickloads (and I
    suspect Kodak Readyloads). But it takes Polaroid also:)
    Polaroid 55 film yields a beautiful fine grain negative for printing or scanning. I kid you
    not. And the print gives you feedback (prints need coating - but I rarely save them as
    keepers). And you can play with Polaroid color film and do emulsion lifts and transfers.
    See Polaroid 55 P/N links on my community page.
    (I'm mentioning this because I simply was skeptical that Polaroid negatives could be good
    enough. They're great. They are also SLOOOOOW - I rate at 32 ISO - print rates at 50 ISO.
    Clearing is simple, and you can release without triggering development and take home
    and batch them all there - unlike the pack films - and play with the Sabbatier effect - got
    back issue of Polaroid magazine and it describes clearly steps to yield the Mackie (sp?) line
    with 55 P/N negative - which I'm about to try and if works will try to post notes).
  17. This is why I love the 545i (or 545 metal) holder, it takes the Readyload and the Quickloads. That saves money buying two holders, and a lot of space too. I have read a few complain about film flatness, but I never shoot below f/11 and have never had a problem.

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