To Go to LF or not...

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by lucafoto, Nov 28, 2007.

  1. I am sure this question is not unique, but in my searches of previous posts left me wanting...

    I shoot digital, Canon 5D and 20D.
    I have become sensitive to the limitations of 12MP and 8MP respectively, in my prints; I want to print 2 ft
    x 3 ft or larger for landscapes, architectural, and portraits.

    I find the photos that I am drawn to turn out to be produced with a view camera. I am familiar with film
    and I am not daunted by the manual nature of using an adjustable lightproof box with film on one end and
    a lens on the other.

    now for the question...

    Invest in a 4x5 view camera and associated paraphernalia, or invest in more megapixels and continue to
    use the Canon lenses I have?

    I do not expect a definitive answer from this post, but would appreciate a dialog to help me illuminate the
    pros and cons.
  2. Invest in the 4x5. To come close to 4x5 are you ready to dish out $25k or more for a digital back, plus extra for camera, more lenses,etc.You won't get close with a dslr camera. For fine art, the standard is 4x5. A nice choice is shoot 6x12 on your 4x5 and scan with a Nikon 9000 scanner (scanning each half and stitch together, since scanner only does 6x9 format). You will learn that for high quality the Epson scanners are not enough, and with a Epson 4990 your good for only a 3x enlargement (not much diff with Epson 750 either). At that point I would rather stick to the 5D (cost, portability). But if you get a good scan from the 9000 or a drum scan, look out! You will be blown away. You can get a good system on Ebay for about $2500 range. Lots of options. For field shooting consider brands like Toyo,Horseman,Linhof, Ebony, Canham, and lower end look at Shen-Hao, Tachihara, Gaorsi(probably spelled that wrong), Fotoman. There are others, the list is not complete. Ony linhof and Horseman offer their cameras with a zoom finder. Nice for corecting composition after camera has been already set up and loaded with film (time saver), or picking a lens before setting up.Have fun shopping. Just in time for Xmas!
  3. I shoot both the 5D and 4x5 film. I use the 4x5 for landscapes almost exclusively. It gives me greater perspective control, focus control and is a much more purposed, methodical way of working. And of course, the resolution is much better than the 5D.

    Portraits are not the strong point of 4x5 IMHO, the 5D will do just as good if not better there. Get yourself an 85mm f/1.2 L, you'll be amazed at what kind of portraits you can create. For landscapes and architecture, the 4x5 will be in its element.

    Buy a used wood field camera (Tachihara, Shen Hao) and a 150mm lens. Play around for a while, see if you like the way of working that 4x5 requires. If so, you can always add more lenses or upgrade the camera. If not, you can sell the gear for exactly what you paid for it. Used 4x5 gear seems to be very price stable.

    The biggest difference between 4x5 and a DSLR is the way that you think ahead, compose and become extremely methodical. Not that you can't slow down and think with a 5D, you are just forced to do so with a 4x5.
  4. stb


    "with a Epson 4990 your good for only a 3x enlargement (not much diff with Epson 750

    This is nonsense! The mentioned Epson scanners will give a good 8 times enlargement, 10
    times for the V750. All you need is to the film holder height to get a better focus. Very
    easy to do with the holders sold at

    Anyway, to print 24x36" from 4x5 you only need 7.2 times enlargement. Well in the
    capabilities of an Epson scanner.

    To put things in perspective, a V750 is better than any enlarger one is likely to have at

  5. Do you need the spontaneity-suited nature or ultra-fast lenses of a small format camera in what you want to do? Doubtful, from what you have said. In that case, it is my opinion that anything other than large format will be a fairly large compromise.

    That being said, it can take a large investment in equipment and time, and a healthy amount of trial and error and/or success to get into large format. Perhaps a compromise is in order with a Mamiya RB system. With its 6x7 format and mid-roll-interchangeable magazines, it's basically a mini field camera (no movements, of course). They are DIRT cheap right now.

    Also, I see a conceptual difference. For me, ANY digital sensor will ever will touch 4x5 film, no matter what the technical specs. To me, once you go digital in any way (including scanning), you are no longer dealing with a physical medium, and dealing with a physical medium is what I enjoy about photography. For me, It's not really about pictures. It's the making of that picture. It's about physically shuffling metal using only light and chemicals. It's about the fact that you can't see it right away; you just have to know from experience and understanding.

    This doesn't mean I never shoot digital and never scan. I just do these things when it is either a last resort, I don't care about the project/assignment, I know I will never print the shots, I am working for someone else as a second shooter, etc.

    I would say an RB might be an excellent step.

    If you need movements, go for Mamiya Press Super 23 instead. They have rear movements, interchangeable backs, and allow 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, or 6x9 format. They are not near as cheap as RBs, though.

  6. If you like photos done with a view camera, get one. It will change your creative life. I am sorry that I worked with 120 film for so many years before getting an 8x10 in 1982. I was afraid that it would make life unnecessarily difficult. But finally one gets to the point that switching to LF is the only way to improve the work. The real question should be what size camera to get. Ansel Adams said to get the biggest one you can carry. That is very sage advice. 4x5 is so small that I do not think the increase in quality is enough. I shoot 4x5 for miniature pictures. You should consider an 8x10, or at least a 5x7.
  7. Luca,
    Not to be flippant here, but either you answered your own question (and the answer is yes, get a LF camera), or if not, the answer for you should be no.

    Currently, the LF decision may be partly still be about pixels, but at some point (maybe) it won't. What does matter for LF today and tomorrow is perspective control, control of the plane of focus etc.

    The choice between a dSLR and a LF camera is like apples and oranges. It would be like asking whether to choose between a film-based SLR and a LF camera -- the digital aspect is quite irrelevant here. If you want & need the true capabilities of a LF camera, go get it...

    BTW, for me personally, the answer is yes, and I would never trade my Arca Swiss for anything that Canon or Nikon (or anyone else) will ever make ;-)
  8. The only way to make large prints is larger capture medium, film or digital.

    Stay away from the 1960 lenses if you like modern Canon glass. Any multicoated glass will be fine.

    LF can be difficult in cold, wet, windy, far from your transportation.
    It makes digital seem like childs play under these conditions. Wind blows the dark cloth in from of your face. It gets hot under there. Cold fingers do not pull darkslides well. The whole process is slow and methodical and you will make lots of mistakes in the beginning.
  9. I'm mostly a landscapie by inclination, and I shoot various dSLRs and MF & LF film (Shen Hao, here) as time goes by. Evidence from flickr is that about 20% of my output is film by volume and yet it makes up my top 4/10 or 9/20 shots. I'm pretty sure that's the "slow down" effect: I don't waste a shot because each one costs a bit and I get a significantly better return in the process.

    That said, I couldn't imagine using the Shen for portraiture - just thinking of focussing while having a humanoid wiggling around gives me the willies - but I can recommend medium-format for that.

    So it seems to me that if you want to combine all your genres into one platform, prepare to invest in some PC lenses for architecture, a dSLR would be an option. But I believe it would cost you both image quality and artistic merit overall afterwards.
  10. Hi
    since you say: I want to print 2 ft x 3 ft or larger for landscapes, architectural, and portraits
    I think that its a definite yes.
    this does not however rule out digital, as I'm sure you're aware of the digital scanning backs that are available.
    I own a Toho camera (which you may not have heard of) and its a definate look at candidate. Try reading:
    and this
    and this
    Without doubt I agree with the suggestions of get the best lenses you can and really if you don't mind eBay, they're very affordable. Unlike the latest offerings fitting onto all the DSLR's are reasonably robust and have less moving parts (like USM motors)
    As the owner of a epson scanner, I agree whole heartedly with the view that they are likely to exceed enlarger you'd normally have at home (love that phrase ... may I borrow it?) and will more or less do for anything to which you'd be happy printing from a 2000 dpi scan. Although to get that you'll still be better off scanning 16 bit 2400 and downsampling. I don't know that the V750 is capable of scanning 4x5 at its 4800dpi resolution (at 16 bits) certainly the 4990 and 4870 are not. The earlier models required the film to be re-oriented (as 4x5 rather than 5x4) to be able to scan higher than 1800dpi @ 16bit.
    However, for those "gosh" prints why not just send it out to someone with a good scanner (such as an Imacon) and get the highest res scan you can get out of them on a DVD and voila!
    Lastly, I'll toss in a thought. In your testing try using negative not only chromes and taking a digital camera that has RAW ability along for both:
    • use as your exposure determination (one shot is millions of spot meterings ;-)
    • a colour reference image
    • I've found that 2400dpi scans of new negative colour films (such as Fuji) have nearly the same resolution as films like RDP-III (the makers claim such too). This will also give you better highlight holding than a chrome, and if you expose more for the shadows will nearly compete with a RAW capture of a 10D or simmilar.
      sorry if this last stuff is teaching granny to suck eggs ... but no harm in mentioning it.
  11. 2'x3' should be a piece of cake with images from either of your digital cameras, especially the 5D. You don't need LF to get that size -- I'd say you'd be wasting your time and money.
  12. Overall view.
  13. Stepahne, 10x enlargement? Hmmm....I guess we all should not invest in high end pro flatbeds (eg- Creo IQ2smart or IQ3 model, Cezannes, etc)or drum scanners if the Epsons will do 10x with top quality. That is a 50 inch print with 4x5. Shees, you saved us all a lot of time and effort messing with Kami fluid and taping film to the drum, not to mention at least $20k. Believe what you want. Before saying it is nonsense, check out what others have to say about them.
  14. Thank you all for your diverse and encouraging comments. I will not be abandoning
    digital, but the advice above echos my own considerations about moving to Large Format.

    My landscape and architectural shots are generally pre-planned and timed with the
    sunlight so the methodical aspects of LF are perfect for me.

    Also the bit about retaining value.... that is the one I will tell my wife after I spend $5K!

    Thanks for the link to the Toho, very enticing...

    Bill that is an awesome B/W shot, what was it shot with?
  15. stb


    Van Camper, right, whatever you say.

    Creo scanners are not about resolution, they are about productivity for the publishing industry. They are of course much better scanners than any Epson, but would make little difference for a fine art photographer.

    Regarding 10x enlargements, yes, have done it successfully and repeatedly. Have you even tried?

    Drum scanners are a dying species. Their price is not competitive with medium format backs for studios and was never compatible with 99% of fine art photographers budgets.

    To output 2'x3' from LF, an Epson is all one needs and is all that's left on the market at reasonable costs. The Microtek M1 remains to be seen. It might just be what everybody was waiting for.

    For MF, a Nikon 9000 will give much better productivity and a bit better enlarging ability.
  16. In addition to produce an image on film that is enlargeable to any size you may dream up (speaking of 8X10) and retaining clarity in the process, LF is rather addicting once you get started. Being a diemaker by trade, I get to be my own S.K. Grimes (you'll learn about them also - the "Photographer's Machinist" in Rhode Island).

    You have capabilities with LF that no other camera can begin to approach.

    LF is nice as an "also can do" addition to a business, and some ad houses (I hear) prefer scanned film over digital imaging because of the resolution.

    It's not a bad choice at all - go for it!
  17. Luca

    Since you have a 5D, have you tried something as silly as orienting the camera in portrait, then taking say 3 images (in RAW) with a lens less wide than you'd choose. Then using a tool like PTGui to stitch these together?

    this image (for example) is 2 images joined, taken with a 50mm on my 10D.

    in this instance I was after the 16:9 sorta dimensions.

    This technique isn't good for everything, but might save you 5K if that'll keep your domestic situation smoother ;-)

    just a thought
  18. Chris:

    There is some kind of weird artifact on your file, maybe 200-300 pixels in from the right side of the 'Larger' version.

  19. "Creo scanners are not about resolution, they are about productivity for the publishing industry. They are of course much better scanners than any Epson, but would make little difference for a fine art photographer. "

    Stephane, also...whatever you say. You DO NOT know what your talking about. I doubt you even own a 4x5, or you would not talk nonsense. Ted Harris is a moderator here and the .Ask him, he is also a contributing editor at View Camera magazine. He has the Cezanne, Creo IQsmart 3, and the Epson 4990 at his workshop and is a tester for many leading companies. He is hard line at 3x for the 4990, ask him, make his day! I would love to see his comments.

    You think you know, but you obviously have no idea about quality, or your standards are very low. Creos are not just about productivity as you think. They are about resolution (and Dmax for slides). You NEED 4000ppi for scanning 120, plus the superior dmax. The true resolution of the Epson 4490 and V750 is about 1/2 of what is rated. At your 10x rating for enlargement (or 50inch prints from 4x5), that is way beyond what the scanner can do. Why do you think people are buying 8x10 as a substitute to high end scanning costs? The 8x10 format is the only format that can give BIG prints with a 4990 (30inch easily, but pushing it at 40"..but enough for many of us if you can tolerate the camera). Believe what you want. People do not throw money around unnecessarily, it is well researched, the Epson has been tried by us all and failed, and only then do we spend the big bucks. But go ahead, I really don't care about the results of your work, it is mine I worry about.
  20. Hi nope, it just looks like that. Thats a rock in shadow. Its amazing how much shadow detail RAW renders ... I think this is what you might be seeing (I've upped the curves to show it more)
  21. Luca one more thing ... I find it increasingly difficult to locate 4x5 materials. Films keep diminishing, and getting C-41 processed is near impossible in Finland now. Even back home in Australia its hard. Van: I understand the limitations of the 4990, but I've got reasonable results from my 4870 (an inferior predecessor). However, for some applications it can yeild acceptable results (though that is of course subjective). No doubt you've seen more comparisons than me, but on scans I've done of my 4x5 black and whites its not all that bad (imho) using this image as a reference here is a segment of that, the original scan was 16 bit 'monochrome' and I'll post that below. I have never had a comparison done with another scanner to know, but I'm happy with the prints I've had done from it, perhaps I'd be happier if I had another scan made on another machine.
  22. Photography is probably the most technical of the visual arts and is perhaps more dependent upon equipment mastery for full expression. Even so, its product (the photo) is a subjective, ephemeral thing. If it pleases you, go for it. I do not make a living cranking out pictures and shoot to please myself. If my work pleases others, it is gratifying but not essential. Digital may be faster but it doesn't force me to concentrate and distill all of my focus and effort the way large format does. And I like to pull a 4x5 chrome out of the sleeve and hold it up to window light, say, rather than cranking up the electronic hardware every time. 75 years in dark storage is archival enough for me and when I am gone people will still be able to see my work with the naked eye. Everyone has their own priorities. Everybody gets to be right. Right now, I'd rather be out in the mountains, deserts or seashore than criticizing someone's equipment. Let's all smile, shake hands and take ourselves out into nature to feel Her good tidings! Film or digital, if it resonates with your heart JUST DO IT!
  23. "To put things in perspective, a V750 is better than any enlarger one is likely to have at home..."

    Sure... ok. Now I have all these enlargers to throw out... What an idiotic statement...
    Thankfully, due to the digital epidemic and the methodical erosion of photography by file processing, "one is likely to have" a pretty good enlarger at home - so at least there is an upside.
  24. "luca foto, Nov 29, 2007; 09:55 a.m.
    Bill that is an awesome B/W shot, what was it shot with?"

    Steven Katzman used a Canon IDs Mk2 w/16 Mp resolution. He has a number of similar sized images that he donated to the North Sarasota Library (impressive!), as well as a couple of color images fom 6x7 Mamiya 7, which he scanned with his Imacon, and are not quite as perfectly sharp at the digital B&W. But I am definitely impressed.
  25. "2'x3' should be a piece of cake with images from either of your digital cameras, especially the 5D"

    Bob, the 5D gives approx 4368pixels on the long side. That is only 121 ppi for a 36 inch print. If a 26inch print is a piece of cake, how much farther do you expect to push it?

    By the way, nice shot. However when I look at the image, I can already see you looking sharper then the image behind you. It boils down to nose to the print quality, or from 5 or more feet away. There are many of us with drum/creo class scanners for a reason, and not because we run a lab.Itis also not true that drum scanners are out of reach of 99% of fine art photographers according to Stephane. Many are bought up for prices of $2-8k on Ebay.

    The bottom line, you will NEVER get the same quality from the Canon 5D as you would from a 4x5 properly scanned. If it were true, then why has Luca admitted to the limitations of this camera and in search of a better system.
  26. Note to myself -- never argue with anyone who thinks a Canon dSLR can beat the results of a 4x5 in areas where it matters (landscapes, architecture), or questions the superior ability to use a traditional enlarger for quality results -- not worth the time. Next thing they'll claim is that their 5MP cell phone camera will beat it, too...
  27. Wow things got stirred up!

    What are you saying Mike?
    All I need is a camera phone! ?

    I do not have a scanner at home and therefore would be paying a lab to do my scans, and
    I expect I will pay for the highest quality scan they offer... any recommendations for labs
    on the San Francisco Peninsula?

    Chris, I have done the panoramic stitching, and enjoyed the results, thanks for the

    But I am searching Ebay right now for a LF deal
  28. Luca,

    You will find that once you have the 4x5 that to get the results from those negatives you have to pay high prices for scanning. You have 2 ways around it. One, shoot 6x12 and get a Nikon 9000 scanner for top notch results. Then get a el cheapo flatbed for smaller prints to edit through your 4x5 images... the best ones you send for drum scans or a flatbed scan on a Creo IQ3(West Coast imaging has it, cheaper then drum scans because faster and less work for them). Also several people mentioned the Creo beats the Tango drum scanner. So its cheaper and top quality. Second choice, shoot 8x10 and scan on a Epson 4990, should cover 95% of your needs unless you need humungous prints.

    Unless your printing over 16x20, you might be better sticking with what you have. It depends how far you want to go with this. It is not just the cost of 4x5 gear, but also the cost of establishing a top notch lightroom. Before you needed a top quality enlarger with great lenses, now you need a top quality scanner.It is your weakest link. There is no free ride here. Next step up in scanners (drum) used start at about $2-5k on Ebay, but it is very easy to spend 8-12k. If your a pro, no problem. Unless your a very serious amateur, you might not like the expense. Most people shoot 6x12, 4x5, then edit on a Epson and send out for pro scans. Figure maybe 1 in 20 images need this special treatment. Don't want to scare you, but if you want the quality that 4x5 has to offer, you have to pay the price. If the image is really good, a Creo scan isn't that expensive (around $80 for a 300 meg file). Good luck.

    I recommend rent a 4x5, then bring in the film to a store to try on their Epson flatbed, and see what your quality standards are when printed at home. You can't trust everything your read, not because people are lying, but because everyone has different skill levels and knowledge as to what represents a quality print.
  29. one more point (I just thought of) is vibration.

    While I'm sure you are well aware of image losses due to camera shake, I've personally found that it gets worse as format goes up. I can "get away with" hand holding on my 2/3 digicam that my 10D images don't tolerate. I have found the same is true again with 4x5.

    I've spoiled all my efforts on some images due to small wind induced vibration in my camera (its quite a sail compared to a DSLR). It really doesn't take much to spoil the difference between "wow" and "hmmm not much better".

    So, if you're going to commit to the lenses, the scan costs, and the hassle in general then keep thinking "bigger negatives don't necessarily make better images".

    pardon me stating the obvious (again)

  30. "So, if you're going to commit to the lenses, the scan costs, and the hassle in general then keep thinking "bigger negatives don't necessarily make better images".

    He shoots 8x10, and believe me no one wants to carry an 8x10 camera, the per pound sheet holders, etc...unless it is worth it. Chris made a good point, you would need to upgrade your tripod too. A 4x5 field camera is very stable in the wind (forget monorails), but a 8x10 with a 600mm lens on it would have your bellows extended and increasing the chance of wind giving you problems. However, I prefer sticking to the 300mm range and down, what I use for my 4x5. In other words I don't see using 8x10 as a tele camera, use the 4x5 instead. Film real estate ALWAYS matters. This is why 35mm is dead, and 6x6 formats are doing poorly, while 6x7,6x9,6x12,6x17(very popular), 4x5,8x10 will not be out performed the more you go up in film size. Dslr hasn't a chance, medium format digital backs are wonderful, but to be similar to 4x5 your looking at a P45 back (only $39k although I think prices have come down, better grab one So grabbing a large format film camera is a dirt cheap solution for top quality. You just have to deal with how to get around the scanning issue. Shooting them is not expensive once you learn to be selective about what you shoot. You edit with you Epson (still getting nice 16x20), only sending out for scans for the very best images.
  31. "VAN CAMPER: The bottom line, you will NEVER get the same quality from the Canon 5D as you would from a 4x5 properly scanned."<P>BS (IMO).
  32. BOB, 100% agree!
  33. Van
    when I said "bigger negatives don't necessarily make better images"
    I was meaning that you can just as easily get an inferior image or perhaps no better than a 35mm with even an 8x10 if you fluff up.
    Using big formats is not by itself a recipe for fine art, and there can be weak links anywhere in the chain.
  34. Luca,

    I have seen side-by-side comparison of a print made from a drum scanned 4x5 transparency and from $35K MF digital system. The print size was about 30x40". No, one cannot do this comparison on a computer screen. This was done by a master photographer AND a master printer AND a Photoshop expert who used to shoot 4x5 LF for 20+ years (may be longer!) and now shoots MF digital. There are too many variables that could skew this comparison one-way or the other including the scanner expertise, the image content, amount of sharpening applied, printer, ink, paper, etc. THE RESULTS WERE VERY CLOSE. I will let you draw your own conclusions.

    "any recommendations for labs on the San Francisco Peninsula?"

    I would highly recommend Calypso imaging:

    They used to be located in Santa Clara and have moved to Santa Cruz. They have a drop off place in Santa Clara. They do E6 processing, Heidelberg Tango drum scanning, Imacon 949 scanning, LightJet printing, Epson printing, etc. Many famous photographers (including many outside of SF Bay Area) get their work done at this lab. I'm in no way affiliated to this lab other than I get my work done there.

    // Atul
  35. "bigger negatives don't necessarily make better images"

    Sorry Chris, your right. I read it wrong.
  36. Luca,

    "Wow things got stirred up! What are you saying Mike? All I need is a camera phone! ? "

    Not exactly -- what I'm saying is that if you have the applications where LF is at its best (Landscapes, Architecture), then get a LF camera, and don't let the "digital trolls" tell you otherwise. It is a slippery slope, though, once you get started and start appreciating the benefits. Before you know it, you'll be looking for a LF enlarger etc. ;-)

    Enjoy the LF journey!
  37. You will never get the quality from a Canon 5D (or 1DS Mk III, or D3) that is readily
    delivered by 4x5 film. It's not even an argument, really. An SLR is obviously the way to go
    for handheld photography or for working super fast, but for deliberate tripod work, a 4x5
    in the hands of an experienced large format photographer will deliver a better quality
    image. It's just a fact: 12 to 17 mega-pixels v. 100+ mega-pixels, not to mention
    perspective and focal plane control. Of course, pure aesthetics don't rely entirely on
    format. Truly great images can be made with digital SLRs, but they are of course an
    entirely different thing from large format view cameras.

    Then again, one can put a Phase One P45 digital back on their view camera and start to
    compete with 4x5 film, but who wants to spend $35,000 plus the cost of a new set of
    digital optimized lenses just to accomplish what film has been able to do for decades? Still
    not convinced? Try dropping a P45 in a creek, versus a Fuji quickload holder and a few
    sheets of film. Who is out of commission? The film or digital shooter?
  38. Mitchell - you make too much of digi.

    Luca - 4x5 gear has never been so cheap. The glass is second to none. The downside is that it is time consuming, methodical. Diff way of acheiving results based on the goals. You must ask yourself if you can/want to work at the slower pace.

    Best - Paul
  39. I have a different experience to share regarding the advantages of large format. Learning how to use a 4x5 camera was the best thing I've ever done to increase my skill as a photographer. Two years ago I shot 4x5 almost exclusively. Last year I bought a DSLR and loved it so much I shot far fewer 4x5s than usual. My photographs were MUCH better two years ago. I see the world differently, and more artistically, when I spend my time in nature visualizing 4x5 (and 6x17) compositions with my mind than I do while looking through the viewfinder of my DSLR and hoping to stumble on a pleasing composition. Not that this is the best way to use a DSLR of course, but it is seductively easy for me to fall into this trap, which is never a problem with the 4x5.

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