A Beginner’s Guide to Large Format Film Camera Photography

Massive format cameras are sometimes regarded as troublesome to function, however there’s nothing unimaginable about utilizing them. If you’re organised and methodical they’re easy, if not precisely easy to make use of. Many photographers discover the concept of utilizing a big format digital camera daunting as a result of we’re all so used to having a lot automation in our cameras. Evaluate a big format digital camera to a ‘handbook’ 35mm movie digital camera and you’ll quickly see that there’s a entire new stage to handbook while you transfer as much as the most important codecs. Most giant format cameras are actually no extra that an adjustable mild tight field with movie at one finish and a lens on the different. There is no such thing as a metering, nothing is battery powered. The one factor powering the digital camera is the clockwork shutter. Regardless of this, working with these massive outdated beasts is maybe some of the satisfying experiences a photographer can have. After I use my digital camera I really feel an actual connection to the historical past of images and take nice satisfaction in having the ability to produce superb photographs with none assist from automation. That is ‘pure’ images.

In case you have ever toyed with concept of utilizing a large format photography, or have simply purchased a digital camera and have not used it but then this information is for you.

What’s Massive Format?

Massive format is usually thought-about to begin at 4×5 inch sheet movie. because the title suggests movie comes as particular person sheets that must be loaded into holders. A course of that will be be acquainted to photographers 100 years in the past. Massive format movie offers you two essential benefits: The standard is unsurpassed, with photographs approaching or surpassing the equal of 100mp, and since you shoot single sheets, every sheet may be developed in a different way to go well with the lighting state of affairs you end up in. There are many sizes of sheet movie some historic, like entire, half and quarter plate, others nonetheless out there at present like 4×5, 5×7 and 10×8. Of those 4×5 is by far probably the most broadly out there, and has probably the most choices by way of movie sort. Color destructive, color slide and black and white movie are all out there, though the alternatives in color are a little bit skinny.

Taking your first

In contrast to smaller codecs there’s various gear you want past a digital camera and a few movie to efficiently make a big format photograph. The excellent news is that almost all skilled photographers will already personal loads of it, and issues like darkish cloths may be improvised from issues round the home. With care you may put collectively all of the gear you want for a comparatively modest preliminary outlay, and lots of the stuff you want may be purchased second hand and offered for a similar cash you paid for them.

Gear Wanted

Massive Format Digicam

To get began you must decide a 4×5 digital camera. The opposite two widespread sizes are 5×7 and 10×8 however it’s costlier, the gear may be rather more troublesome to search out, and movie provide may also be a difficulty. There are many totally different decisions from costly, superbly crafted subject cameras to outdated studio monorails you may decide up for a few hundred kilos. Mild weight is the factor that tends to price cash, and conventional picket subject cameras go for greater than monorails. Monorails are sometimes the higher and extra versatile cameras, it’s simply that you simply would possibly give your self a hernia lugging one into the wilderness. They’re additionally not as fairly as subject cameras and I am positive that has an affect! I’m primarily a portrait photographer so I exploit a monorail, primarily as a result of they focus extra intently (i.e. have longer bellows) and are simpler to make use of as soon as arrange. Be certain that the digital camera locks down correctly and the bellows are mild tight (shining a torch contained in the bellows in a darkish room is a straightforward strategy to test). Examine as properly the digital camera has sufficient actions to go well with what you can be use it for (it is a sophisticated topic however their is loads of data on-line).

Lens boards

One of many nice benefits of enormous format is that lenses are just about interchangeable between any digital camera so long as your bellows will focus them. Nevertheless a lens board is required to mount the lens. These lens boards are merely a flat piece of wooden or steel with a gap drilled in them to mount the lens. They are typically particular to the model of digital camera, and are available three essential sizes Copal zero, Copal 1 and Copal three. The widespread varieties are Linhof for subject cameras and Sinar for monorails that are each copied throughout varied makes and types, though Toyo boards are fairly straightforward to search out too. Some cheaper second hand cameras use troublesome to search out lens boards (therefore why they’re low cost). If you’re trying to purchase one among these make certain it comes with the lens boards you’ll want to fit your wants, or the design of the board is easy sufficient that you could make your personal.


Typically nearly all comparatively fashionable lenses are good. As your first lens, I might advocate going for one thing in a contemporary Copal shutter from one of many essential producers – Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji or Nikon. Your first precedence must be placing collectively a dependable system, in order that preliminary errors are simpler to diagnose. One thing like a lens with an unreliable shutter will trigger you limitless grief if you’re not already assured in your expertise as a big format photographer. Commonplace Lenses are across the 150mm mark, however if you’re stepping into giant format I’ll assume you’re skilled sufficient to know which sort of lens you need. Simply multiply the focal size of your 35mm lens by three to get its giant format equal.


Nearly all giant format cameras have to be positioned on a tripod to be useable. This isn’t an space to scrimp on, as a wobbly tripod will trigger you limitless frustration with blurry pictures. As potential decision goes up, the extra meticulous it’s important to be. Be certain that the tripod you select is robust sufficient and tall sufficient for the digital camera you select. One good factor is nobody needs humungous heavy tripods anymore, to allow them to be discovered second hand fairly cheaply. Carbon Fibre is the Rolls-Royce choice and really mild and stiff, however there have been experiences of those tripods blowing over in windy circumstances after they have a subject digital camera on them with the bellows prolonged. The bellows act like a sail turning your costly picket digital camera into firewood!

Mild Meter

Most skilled giant format photographers will use a handheld meter for establishing publicity, both a spot meter or incident meter relying on what they wish to shoot. Nevertheless you may simply as simply use a DSLR and switch the studying to you giant format digital camera or get a light-weight meter app in your smartphone. A DSLR might be the most effective methodology when you find yourself beginning out because it permits you to ‘polaroid’ your giant format publicity earlier than you expose a sheet of treasured movie. You’ll in all probability discover it higher to overexpose the movie barely in comparison with the DSLR studying, however once more I’ll assume you’ve some passing familiarity with capturing with movie, so I am positive you’ve your personal choice.

Movie Holders

Tip: Examine movie holders have good seals and the darkish slide isn’t cracked.

Basically a light-weight tight field that carries two sheets of movie. You possibly can often decide these up second hand for about £10-20 every, make certain they’re mild and in good situation, in any other case you get fogged movie, which is pricey and irritating at this stage of images. If you’re beginning out you will see that that 5-10 holders is sufficient. Fashionable holders are made from plastic and are fairly bullet proof, some older holders (40 years+) are made from wooden and may warp with age, so watch out of this.


There’s nonetheless a good alternative of movie out there, the one draw back is color is considerably costlier than black and white. Within the UK black and white movie is about £35-£40 for 25 sheets of black and white or £50 for 10 sheets of color movie. To start out off with I might advocate Kodak or Ilford 400iso black and white movie, because it offers you a bit extra flexibility with shutter speeds and f-stops which is able to provide help to get sharp footage while you begin. Movie and creating is the most costly a part of the method, however bear in mind when you get every part proper you may produce photographs that might solely in any other case be achieved with a medium format digital again. A system like that may set you again 5 figures.

A Altering bag or Darkroom

Movie must be loaded into the holders in full darkness. The simplest means to do that if you do not have entry to a darkroom is to buy a pop-up darkish tent, they’re about 3ft cubed which is sufficient area to load movie comparatively simply on a desk in daylight.

Cable Launch

The cable launch attaches to the shutter to make sure you do not vibrate the digital camera throughout publicity

A cable that attaches to the shutter mechanism so you may journey the shutter with out transferring the digital camera. These are comparatively low cost to purchase, that essential factor to observe for is to ensure the discharge is lengthy sufficient so you may stand away from the digital camera. It’s also possible to use your physique as a protect to shelter the digital camera in windy circumstances.

A Loupe or Magnifier

That is one thing you may spend something between £5 and £200 on! Hottest when beginning off are the 8x Agfa or Kaiser slide loupes that may be purchased cheaply and can do the job.

A Darkish Fabric

With no darkish fabric it’s practically unimaginable to see the focusing display screen in brilliant circumstances. Should you do not need to go to the expense you need to use the double T-shirt methodology. Simply put a black T-shirt inside a lighter color one and use the neck of the shirt to suit across the focusing display screen.

A Pocket book

You will need to take notes when capturing with a big format digital camera. You do not have metadata with each publicity, and it’s a lot simpler to make errors. Ensure you write down your publicity, movie sort and velocity score, and quantity your darkish slides in order that if in case you have a light-weight leak you already know the place it got here from!

The Wrap Up

Massive format cameras in all probability provide probably the most bang per buck than any digital camera system. With a little bit of ingenuity, you may put collectively a 100mp+ digital camera system for properly beneath £1000, and be capable of re-sell it for what you paid for it. It might probably additionally produce photographs which have a novel look that you could’t replicate with digital, and educate you expertise that may be utilized to supply glorious leads to another digital camera system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *