What large format camera has quickest operation?

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by mark jk, Jun 19, 2008.

  1. Hello there,

    I'm contemplating trying on large format, when I understand what everyone says about "slowing down", it still bothers
    me that it takes quite abit of time from the moment of perfecting composition and focus to the moment of shutter
    (putting the film holder in, getting the dark slide out, press the shutter). As I do mostly portrait/people, things could
    have changed in those couple of seconds that I cannot observe.

    How long does it usually take you to do that operation and is there any camera that more optimised for it? I was day
    dreaming the other day and think why dont people would come up with something that makes the film holder more
    like a focal plane shutter, as I press the film holder in the dark slide get pushed out and left outside, and when I
    press the film holder fully in place, it also triggers the shutter (image the shutter release cable hidden in the film
    holder slot and will be trigger when the holder is fully inplace). By that way, as soon as I push the holder in all the
    way, the image would be capture and there wont be so much "black out" in the process ... Or maybe this is done
    already somewhere!

    Obviously I havent got experience with large format and this is all very much naivety.

    Please share your thought!

    many thanks
  2. Sounds like you might prefer a 4x5 Graflex camera. Look for a Speed Graphic or similar. They were made as press cameras so they give you more speed, if you will, than a field camera or monorail, but retain the larger negative size.


    - Randy
  3. Mechanically: A Sinar P 2 with a Sinar auto shutter. but you still have to push the shutter release.

    In terms of actually shooting quickly : have an assistant do the film changing --that is the way Dick Avedon did his portraits.

    There are also the old and generally troublesome Grafmatic 4x5 pack film backs.

    At the end of the 1980s a company developed a motor drive 4x5 sheet film back -- I saw it being demonstrated at PhotoExpo in 1991 -- but it never went into production.
  4. Use a Grafmatic Holder instead of the ordinary double sided film holders. Film is changed in the Grafmatic with a single 2-second in/out motion of the unit (6 shots). They weigh one pound, and sell for $50-75 on ebay.<P>The other thing that you can do to speed up the process is to use a self-cocking shutter, so you don't have to fiddle with the thing before each shot.
  5. I suppose the quickest way of working would be a press camera (Speed/Crown Graphic/MPP etc) with a between the lens shutter - Use the rangefinder to focus, viewfinder to frame and click. if you used a Grafmatic you could carry several shots, but even though I used to use this type of camera a lot, I never really used large format the way you are suggesting. For snapshotting I use 35mm medium format or digital. When I use LF it is because what I want to do is frame and compose the shot in detail and perhaps use camera movements to set up the shot exactly as I want before I take the photo. Perhaps this is why I am using a monorail more than the press cameras nowadays, but I am definitely on a 'horses for courses', ie different equipment for different photography trip now.
  6. "As I do mostly portrait/people, things could have changed in those couple of seconds that I cannot observe. "

    I believe in viewfinders, which is why I went with the Horseman FA with zoom finder (inc 612 back for extra speed, although the format is too long for portraits), and the Fotoman 617 with finder for landscapes. Between these two, I feel I have a big advantage over many photographers. In portraits I can see the changes during loading film, in landscapes (before sunrise and after sunset) I can compose easily using the finder only...try that on the groundglass, especially if your lens is f/8 and low light. Even if I need tilts and need to use the groundglass, the finder helps find the composition accurately in low light. For tallships, I can follow the movement, etc. Of course at close distances (portraiture), longer lenses are used, depth of field is shallow, so a string for distance consistancy can help, and use the viewfinder to adjust composition between shots.
  7. You might enjoy a Crown Graphic with a Grafmatic back. The top rangefinder model has interchangable cams.
  8. In practice, changing the film holders is less troublesome to me than making sure the subject stays in focus and in position while I reset the aperture, close the lens, set the shutter, load the film, pull the dark slide, etc. To accomplish this more quickly for portraits, I've always been intrigued by (but have ever used) the Gowlandflex, a cumbersome yet well-designed camera that allows you to shoot 4x5 in a TLR mode. See www.petergowland.com/camera/index.html.

    My experience with a rangefinder on a Speed Graphic suggests that it's not going to give you tack-sharp focusing for tight portaits. On the other hand, if you have deep pockets, you might look at the Linhof Master Technika, which seems to have a more precise rangefinder device. For less money -- and a smaller (2x3") negative -- you could also look at the Horseman VHR models.

    As for changing the film holder, I concur with the suggestion that the Grafmatic film-pack holder has reliability issues. I also think that 4x5 film packs are hard to come by these days.
  9. I'm with Randy. I too work mostly in portraiture and worked my way through the LF options including a Crown Graphic and a Deardorff V8 before trying a Graflex SLR, and there is really no comparison. I can operate my Graflex almost as quickly as I can operate my RB67, which is very much like a Graflex SLR in design and operation. I use 12-sheet bag mags and once accustomed to them, can work through a magazine fairly quickly, but the real differences for me lie in the ability to shoot handheld, and to look through the lens at my subject until the instant of exposure. The Graflex focal plane shutter permits the use of barrel lenses which can be had very inexpensively, with the possible exception of some of the more collectible portrait lenses like my Veritos, which are still cheap compared to modern portrait lenses in any format. The Crown Graphic is obsolete for me since getting the Graflex, but my Deardorff is a completely different animal and perfect for its application. LF rangefinders vary in their quality and ease of use, but none come close to the freedom and ease of operation of a Graflex SLR. One can still find a Super D in good condition for less than $1000, and less collectible models for much, much less. I paid a whopping $80 for mine and couldn't be happier with it. Good luck.

  10. Large format portrait photography can capture instants but it is not done by having the camera chase the sitter. When I photograph a portrait series (usually on 10x8) in the studio or on location the operating sequence goes like this:

    First focus the subject at the distance you want them and then fix a string line from camera to subject at that distance. My string has a little bead on the end that the subject pulls that to their chin. Provided the string is taut and the bead is on their chin they will be in focus and I don't have to look at the ground glass again.

    Note the right and left and top and bottom bounds of the field of view. Sometimes, in the field, I mark these limits with an inconspicuous stone or twig. Provided the subject is inside the boundaries they are in the picture and I don't have to look at the ground glass again.

    Set the correct aperture and shutter speed. If the light does not change I don't have to look at the meter again.

    When the shutter is cocked I insert a film holder and pull out the darkslide. Only a little press on the cable release is needed and the exposure can be made in an instant.

    Then I call over my subject from wherever they have wandered off to and put them in front of the camera. I say "pick up the string and pull it tight, place bead on chin, hold still, make a nice face, let the bead drop....CLICK! That's one exposure. For more pictures simply repeat the sequence while doing the usual view camera precautions about film holder and lens management.

    The key thing is that one does not look at the subject through the camera but directly at the subject in a face to face way. The moment the subject's face does what you want go CLICK. A pre-aimed, pre-focussed view camera with a cocked shutter and containing a bare piece of film is the fastest thing in portrait photography...one shot at a time.
  11. If you can find one, and can afford it, the 5" Linhof Vacuum roll back on a modified Linhof Master Technika would let you shoot 4x5" film
    (up to 60' at a time, on 5" roll film (126mm) on a modified NATO spool at better then 1fps.

    Of course you would also have to carry the 24V battery pack with it as well as the weight of the back and camera. But there are people
    who do do it.
  12. Hi Mark...
    I saw a Gowlandflex on ebay recently. These cameras were twin lens reflex using 4 x 5 film. Peter Gowland developed the Gowlandflex for shooting models for his well know glamour work. I believe they were used both handheld and on stands. It would seem that the ability to maintain visual contact with your subject is important to you. The cameras are pretty rare and not cheap; they were designed for the kind of work you seem to favor and used by a true master. Could be an interesting thought.

    Best of luck!

    Ed Lee
  13. As far as advice about the subject not moving you can always try Arnold Newman's and more Newman fabled words to his subjects : "If you move , I'll kill ya!"
  14. Jerome,

    I couldn't disagree with you more. The OP never mentioned becoming Karsh or Newman or any other "ace" photographer, never mentioned color, ad agencies, plead poverty or asked for anyone to assess the practicality of his goals, and never suggested LF would make him a better photographer. To imply LF portrait photography is comparable to brain surgery suggests nothing more than you might need the latter. LF portrait photography can be more challenging than smaller formats, but it can also be more forgiving, and it need not be expensive. It's people like you and posts like yours that discourage people from experiencing LF photography, and for that, you should be ashamed. I am neither wealthy nor a genius, yet I have managed, with no training, to make thousands of LF portraits of family and friends that I wouldn't trade for anything, and enjoyed myself immensely in the process.

  15. Jerome is right, but he misses the point of the honest advice being given. We all know that the probablility of the OP actually atempting what he posts is 99% BS, but on the unlikely chance of that other 1% he's gotten the advantage of many, many years experience (for what it's worth).
  16. No, Jerome is not right, and neither are you; we don't all know the probability that the OP is sincere, so we take him at his word, or don't bother to post. Those of us who do take him at his word could do without your cynical and worthless contribution to this thread.

  17. i agree with jay
    the graflex slr may be for you.
    they are not too expensive.
    a bag magazine is not too expensive
    and a box of outdated film to play with
    is pretty inexpensive.

    have fun !
  18. In my experience, the camera that sets up and shoots the fastest is the one you work with most often.
  19. I would opine if you're interested in any kind of operating speed, you'll be selling any LF camera you might purchase within a week.
  20. I love Ellis suggestion - I've felt I needed an assistant for a long time:) (Actually, I was in a workshop with Alain Briot with
    my 8x10 Arca Swiss somewhere in New Mexico - with 9 digital shooters. By the time I set up my tripod and camera they
    were ready to move to the next location. Natalie Briot stepped in to assist me because it was getting a little crazy. She was
    smooth in handling film holders etc. Totally helped).
    Less the assistant - a press camera. Get a Graflex Super Speed Graphic with the 1/1000s twist cock lens. Fastest 4x5 I
    ever shot. I do studio work with it. Street photography sometimes.
  21. You need to start shooting LF and practicing. This question will rapidly lose it's relevance. All LF cameras require similar amounts of speed and dexterity to operate.
  22. A Sinar P2 with an auto-aperture shutter and DB mount lenses would probably be the fastest to control as far as focusing, movements, and the actual shooting. It has a self-cocking shutter, automatically closes the shutter for you, and you can set the f stop from behind the camera. Combining this with a Grafmatic is about as fast as you will get in the world of large format.

    However, a Graflex RB would probably give you the viewing method that is most like whatever you are using now.

    But no matter how fast you shoot, there will always be the delay of swapping out the exposed film for a fresh sheet. THAT is when your subject will be moving out of position, and it will happen regardless of how fast you are.

    In all honesty, if you are in a hurry, don't use these cameras.

    The best way to get what you want will simply be to use flash...with any camera.
  23. Mark,

    I carry a Cambo 4x5 SF, (super field), monorail in a backpack, ready to shoot from the bag. I use a Kirk BH-1 quick
    mount and can set it up and shoot in under three minutes, after years of use. I suppose you could also do the same with
    a box camera, after regular use.

    This camera also converts to a medium format view camera with a bellows and rear standard change. In that
    configuration you can use a Horseman back and get 8 or more shots a roll, and lose very little in resolution at high
    magnifications, thanks to drum scanning.

    You will deal with a smaller ground glass for focusing, its removal and film back mounting but the smaller configuration is
    much easier to manage.
  24. I use a Linhof Master Technika as a inefficient snapshot camera - either with a masked viewfinder for 3200 speed Fuji
    instant film, or a graphmatic back(worth. every. penny!).

    Still not fast, but quick enough. Of course, where i really do want to run through 2 graphmatic backs in short order, a
    bare-bulb sunpack 622 and a wide depth of field let me go all Weegee style without focusing - a bit silly, honestly, but the shots are fun:)

    If you want to to get great quality while keep speed and flexibility, a Mamiya 7 or full-frame DLSR is likely a better
  25. Keith,

    it's true that when using an RB Graflex SLR one must still change film from one sheet to the next, and the subject might move in the process, BUT, unlike a view/field camera, the film holder does not obstruct viewing/focusing, and one can look through the lens at the subject, while adjusting focus at the moment of exposure, so it matters little how much the subject moves while one is advancing film. Using an SLR is nothing like using a view/field camera. A view/field camera cannot be used hand held, and there is an unavoidable delay between focusing and exposure. I use and love my Deardorff V8, but it is a completely different animal from my Graflex, which operates much more like a MF SLR than a LF view/field camera. A view/field camera simply does not address the OP's stated concerns regarding the delay between focus and exposure, no matter how quickly it might be operated.
  26. "It has a self-cocking shutter, automatically closes the shutter for you, and you can set the f stop from behind the camera."

    You could also use the Prontor Professional shutter system on almost any view camera. That not only is self-cocking but you can add
    controllers that set aperture and shutter speed from behind the camera as well as open the shutter to open aperture for focusing, to
    stopped down aperture for DOF preview and fully closed for shooting at taking aperture. If your camera has an auto back it would
    automatically close the shutter to taking aperture when the holder is inserted.

    Wista also makes a dedicated system that will do most of this with their cameras using Wista versions of the Copal Press shutter. But
    this shutter can not be set from behind the camera.

    These systems make any view camera "fast" once the camera is set up and the movements are made. No view camera is faster then
    any other, with the same type of movements, when it comes to composing the actual scene. Some cameras may have one or two extra
    steps required though to compose a specific scene. Cameras with large amounts of direct displacement will be faster to use then those
    that must use indirect displacements to do the same job. But a camera with large amounts of direct displacements require lenses with
    lots of coverage in order to use the camera that way.
  27. I'm happy with mine; Toyo Omega 45D :)
    Sometimes it's good to be happy with what's in hand...
  28. Mark, the short answer: If you're gonna shoot large format, drop the word "quick" from your vocabulary...you might get off one fairly fast shot from a 4x5 rangefinder-equipped press camera hand-held and already loaded with a sheet film holder with the dark slide in your back pocket and the lens pre-set, but that one shot's the end of "quick".
  29. It isn't as hard as it seems once you get used to it. With experience you can get off a shot within a few seconds of seeing it on the glass, with a normal 8x10 or 4x5. If that is not fast enough for you consider a Linhof Master Technika which is rangefinder focusable and hand holdable. You can get a shot with that as fast as with a 120 camera, but it does take experience.
  30. LF Photography is slow and always will be slow. Its about making pictures, not taking pictures. If you dont want to make pictures, stick to a point and shoot.
  31. Mark, I am not really a large format guy, though I might become (the wife willing and so on). Any way have a look at the Razzle (http://homepages.ihug.com.au/~razzle/index.html) custom built 4x5 from Australia I think. I met a guy (no *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#*), who swears by them, especially for their fast handling.

  32. John,

    Spoken like a typical landscape photographer. The notion that LF is necessarily slow paced and contemplative is utter nonsense. LF is about what we make it about. For some it's about slowing down and studying the composition on the gg, using movements to control perspective and the plane of focus, contact printing, and the list goes on. For others, LF is about making large format negatives from which to print. An RB Graflex SLR is every bit as much a LF camera as a monorail, field or press camera of the same format, and designed specifically to address the relative weaknesses of those other types of cameras for people who work in a different way than those who would choose them. If you can't understand why one would want the ability to work quickly and freely to capture fleeting expressions and gestures AND make large negatives, take another look at your portraits. Maybe you could use a good point and shoot.
  33. If someone thinks that large format has to be slow then they should look at sports photography as well as news
    photography from the 1950s and earlier.
  34. large format photography is as slow as you want to make it.
  35. If you are accustomed to the speed of smaller formats, then anything in large format will appear to be glacially slow. Sorry, but that's the way it is. Now if you're looking for a faster 4x5 format than the usual tripod mounted filed or monorail camera, there are alternatives in the form of old press cameras. Burke and James made some, and we all know about the Graflex Speed and Crown Graphics. Provided the rangefinder works properly, and is calibrated for the lens you plan to use, you can fit a Grafmatic back to the thing and blast away 6 frames at a time.
  36. Jay, that is exactly why I suggested an RB!
  37. Good call, Keith.
  38. Great cameras they are. I had a 3x4 that I used for a while and then sold due to lack of usability in color. I got a gorgeous 1954 Speed in a complete kit instead. I regret getting rid of the RB now, but I really only shot color at the time so I guess it made sense...and I do think that my Speed was a heck of a find in that condition and in that complete of a kit. In the coming months I hope to find a nice 4x5 series D.

  39. Hi Keith.

    My RB is a 3x4, and I love it, but I too am looking for a 4x5 for the availability of films in the format. I have a really nice Crown Graphic I should sell because I never use it. I'm a lot better at buying things than selling them. It's a problem.
  40. Mark,

    All of the above. I use a press camera, designed for easy hand held photography. With that I take advantage of the range finder focusing, it's quick and easy, and I use a sports finder to compose. To deal with film changes I use Grafmatic or Bagmatic film changers. Both are fast once you get used to them. I use self cocking lenses to eliminate the step of cocking the shutter. And last but not least, I use a chainpod, a piece of chain attached to the bottom of the camera that you step on and pull up on to steady the camera.

    I can shoot a 25 sheet box of film fast enough to go bankrupt in an afternoon of photography.
  41. Despite claims to the contrary, using a Graflex SLR is not speedy. The mirror must be returned after every shot. The shutter must be rewound after every shot. The aperture must be reset after each shot (even if it's a semi-auto diaphragm). The 3.25x4.25 model works well hand-held, but the 4x5 is better suited for a tripod. Only the last version (Super D) has a bright Ektalite lens with the GG, older models have very dim viewing, especially at actual taking apertures.
  42. Bill,

    compared to a view/field camera, a Graflex SLR is supersonic, and since I typically shoot fast portrait lenses at max. aperture, viewing is bright and there is no need to reset the aperture. I also disagree that the 4x5 is better suited to a tripod than shooting hand held. The 4x5 functions and handles just like the 3x4, it's just a little bigger, which is not a problem unless you suffer some physical handicap. Being free of a tripod and having the ability to focus and compose until the instant of exposure opens up possibilities unavailable to users of view/field cameras, and making twelve exposures in a minute is beyond "speedy" by comparison.
  43. Jay, I'm with you and Keith. I spent much too much time setting up yesterday afternoon for a shot of one little flower with my 2x3 Speed, just did the same again today. Different flower today, though.

    But and however, I much prefer to light my macro shots with electronic flash and that rules out Graflex SLRs. If nothing else, flash eliminates motion blur, and it was a little windy yesterday and today.

    Now, if there were an auto-diaphragming version of, say, the Arca-Swiss SLR ...



    Oh, yeah, I must really value the larger trannies. This weekend's shots would have been quick and easy with 35 mm gear.
  44. Jerome,

    Thanks for the compliment. I used to watermark but it was kind of irritating. You had to place the cursor over the image
    to make the mark disappear and my web designer said if someone really wants to steal the image, the mark couldn't
    prevent that so I dropped it.

    Sorry for the sidebar.

    I'm old enough to remember shooting with a 4x5 Speed Graphic for grab shots, and they were fun, but the monorail I use
    now makes that usage impossible. Besides, I like slowing down.

  45. http://www.fotomancamera.com/product_list.asp?id=190

    the ultimate in quick!
    Gary makes a good point, practice practice practice, i can't remember now how long it took ansel adams to get his camera out
    to capture moonrise over hernandez, but he was able to pull it off because he knew his equipment like the back of his hand.
  46. "If someone thinks that large format has to be slow then they should look at sports photography as well as news photography from the 1950s and earlier."
    True, but on the other hand news photographers used a giant flash that made small apertures possible, so they could rely on the depth of field. They also relied on the negative being big enough and the newspaper print quality being low enough to make the image look acceptable to the readers.
    It was speedy, all right, but far from optimum. :)
  47. Hi Mark,

    I currently own 6 view cameras and have spent half of a life time in the view camera market, and that's a long time. Of the monorail VC's the fastest is the original 4x5 Calumet (not the Cambo with a Calumet name). Because the bellows in not removable and the focus drives can be released with a squeeze the darned things will work faster than anything else and peices wont fall off if you push the wrong button. I still own a WF Calumet (architectural type which I invented) but I gave my last 16 inch CC400 away to a student who needed it.

    Wooden flat bed VC's are faster than most of the monorails and the true field cameras (yes there is a difference but virtually none of the sellers or manufacturers know the difference). Press cameras such as Busch, Crown, and Speed graphics work well and fast, but have very little swing and tilt controls.

  48. If you are seeking to do very tight face shots, I'd stick with a RB67 or Hasselblad. If you want to do more environmental portraits, then a 4x5 or larger is going to work fine... especially if you use lighting because you'll gain a bit of depth of focus there. Consider Avedon's cowboy shots as perfect examples... those may have even been done with an 8x10. And Yosef Karsh managed to get in a few good shots with LF as well.

    I don't agree that graphlex view finders need to be at all inaccurate... they can be adjusted to perfection. And the wire frame view finders can be pretty handy too.
  49. bill,

    i guess it all depends on what system you like to use ....

    you are right, you need to crank the shutter, set the mirror, change films, and set the fstop
    but that is a different dance than focus, lock the focus,
    take the lens off of b or t, stop down, set the speed, put the film holder in
    and expose ... like jay, i usually shoot my 4x5 slr wideopen,
    and i crank the shutter/flip the mirror as i shuffle films in the bag-mag ...

    unfortunately, every time i use a field or view camera, i look for the key to wind the shutter
    and it slows me down even more ...

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