Metering Color Negative Film

Over the last few years color negative film has become a major part of my portfolio, being used to capture both delicate subtleties as well as landscape scenes with nearly endless dynamic range. The film can be incredibly flexible and adaptive to many situations which makes it quite appealing when you don’t know what the light is going to be like, or when you have a specific look that you are going for. A lot of people get mystified by color negatives, so let’s take a look at a few pointers to help you get the most out of them.

“Boat House Sunrise” – A great example showing how negative film can capture both subtleties in the sky as well as a wide dynamic range from deep shadows to sunrise colors. Ektar 100, 135mm lens, 2 seconds at f32, 2 stop soft GND filter.

Color Negative Film – The Jack of All Trades

One of the biggest things to know about color negatives is how capable they are at handling a wide variety of subject matter and light. Nearly anything you throw at them can be captured if you expose accordingly and nurse the film just right during the scanning or printing process. If your goal is to capture the extreme dynamic range of a backlit forest, no problem. The same goes if you desire a softer color palette of a scene without much in the way of contrast. A general rule to know as far as color saturation goes is that if you underexpose the film, you tend to get stronger and sometimes a bit inaccurate saturation. If you overexpose the film, you get softer colors and lighter contrast.

“Shrine Paintbrush” – An example of a half stop underexposed sheet of Portra 160, resulting in colors that resemble the saturation of a slide. 90mm Lens, 3 seconds at f22, 2 stop soft GND filter.

Underexposed = Thin negative, saturated colors, strong contrast. Colors can become rather inaccurate if severely underexposed (more than a stop or two).

Exposed at Box Speed = Natural to somewhat strong colors depending on film stock. Good for general-purpose landscape shooting when moderate contrast and color is desired, though a little extra exposure typically won’t hurt.

Overexposed = Dense negative, soft colors, subtle contrast. This is often used for portraits to keep soft skin tones. Nearly endless details can be pulled out of the highlights.

“Homestead Sunset” – Example of an overexposed negative. I typically meter Portra 160 at ISO 100, resulting in an automatic 2/3rds stop overexposure. I then also overexpose further for most of my prairie scenes by an additional 2/3rds stop. The sky was held back with a 1 stop soft GND, though it was two to three stops brighter than the ground. Too much filter would have resulted in a darkening of the tree. The foreground was metered at 100 with an additional 2/3rds stop added, meaning the sky was about three stops overexposed even with the filter. The result is a softer color palette for a sunset that had rather strong colors in person. 135mm lens, 4 seconds at f32, 1 stop soft GND filter.

Expose for the Shadows

This is just about the only thing you’ll really need to know about negative film. A polar opposite to slides which can’t retain much detail at all if overexposed, negatives give you ample room to really reach into the brightest highlights. So long as the darker tones in a scene are exposed somewhat close to neutral the film will take care of the rest. This isn’t to say that it’s best to expose deep shadows as neutral, you still want subjects such as black rocks or pine trees in the shade to look properly dark. If you want to spot meter your scene you will likely want to consider placing these sorts of objects at -1 to -½ stop. More realistically, it works well to find the most important object (often the subject) in a scene and meter for that. Think about how you want the luminance of that object to be rendered. If a red barn is your subject, that is usually a good neutral tone and should be exposed as such. If it’s the white bark of aspen trees you’ll want to add a stop, perhaps more depending on how the light is hitting them. If you focus on getting your most important object exposed properly, chances are the rest of the scene can be handled by negative film and you won’t have underexposed shadows.

A daylight scene with a wide range of tones can easily be captured on negative film. The lower half of the frame was the area I average metered as I didn’t want the rocks on the bottom right to get lost in the mud of underexposure. The sky was a bit more than a stop brighter, but a filter would have been awkward and noticeable on this image. Ektar 100, 135mm lens, ⅛ second at f22, no filters.

Personally, I’m an average metering person. Anyone who has read some of my blog posts in the past knows that I use a small digital camera and simply point it at the scene I want to photograph to get a meter reading. With color negatives I mostly focus on the foreground reading, which is usually the darker part of the frame. When I’m working with a shaded foreground and a bright sky, I’ll take a reading of both and use a GND filter to split the difference. If possible, it’s still best to use a GND filter with color negative film. While the film can handle a lot of highlight abuse, the colors in the sky will be more rich if you bring down the exposure with a GND filter. When a filter can’t be used because you’re shooting in the forest, have tall mountains or structures jutting up into the sky, etc then meter for the foreground and let the film handle the sky.

Image showing how I meter and work with most of my scenes that have extreme contrast. Light changes quickly in the last few minutes of the day, so time is short to spend on metering. So long as you get your important parts of the frames metered properly the film can handle the rest. Ektar 100, 300mm lens, 15 seconds at f64, no filters.

Average metering works very well for a portion of a frame that is either in the same light, or has reasonable contrast. In the foreground of the image above, using a modern camera that has center-weighted average or matrix metering will get you reliable results. The light hitting the ground was softened by both the forest canopy and the distant atmosphere as the sun was about to set. There was only a few stops of variation between the shaded ground and lit ground, and averaging the two will give you a proper exposure of that region. That is the approach you could take with a handheld spot meter. The sun and brightly lit forest canopy was not something that can be average metered along with the foreground by any camera; there is just too much variation between the two and slight repositioning of the meter will give wildly different results. It also could not be filtered with a GND so it was simply ignored when making the meter reading. One could argue that such an exposure would be impossible on slide film, it was up to Ektar to handle the range.

“Sunflower Sunset” – Negatives excel at backlit scenes, pleasantly balancing the glowing flowers with the actual sun. Ektar 100, 210mm lens, 2 seconds at f45, no filters (to avoid glare).

While it seems that negatives can handle endless range, there are some practical limits so don’t just go shooting into the sun all day long. Once the exposure gets several stops beyond reason, the tones get so smashed together in the highlights (densest part of the negative) that you can’t extract them to make a usable image. Color will get lost before detail, so you can expect desaturated highlights followed by indecipherable details as exposure reaches the extremes. It’s hard to know exactly when this happens, but in the above image you can see that you reach the limits somewhere around the sun itself. This is acceptable most of the time as you don’t really expect to resolve the ball of the sun together with a landscape in a single exposure. Again, for this scene I average metered the foreground. The dark green petals were a few stops darker than the sunlit flowers so an average reading was perfect. Using my small digital camera I pointed the lens down to see only the flowers and no sky, holding my hand over the lens to shade the sun so that flare didn’t cause any erroneous readings. I then shot for the meter reading supplied by the camera’s meter.

Conclusion

For the most part with negatives just err on the side of overexposure, quite a bit if you need to. As with slide film make sure that your most important subject will be exposed the way you want it to be rendered, but remember that you have a lot of room to reach into the highlights if needed. If in doubt, expose it a little bit more!

 


Name: Alex Burke

Location:

Description:  I’m a large format landscape photographer from Greeley, Colorado.  Working with a 4×5″ view camera, I photograph the majestic beauty of the off-the-beaten-path wilderness areas as well as the subtleties of the Great Plains.  At home in places far and remote, the best images are created by taking the time to really get to know a place and growing a deeper connection with the landscape.

For educational tips on film landscape photography, check out my blog posts and ebooks here: http://www.alexburkephoto.com/educational-blog-posts/

Gallery: Alex Burke

Website: http://www.alexburkephoto.com/
FaceBook: @alexburkephoto
Twitter:
Instagram: @alexburkephoto
YouTube:

Film Drying

Developing Film at Home

Developing Film at Home

Developing your own film at home isn’t as difficult as some people seem to think. I was hesitant to start but after dipping my toe in Black and White I quickly moved to C-41 and even E6. The motivation to start the process of developing film at home started when the Postal Service lost track of my film in route to the lab. This went on for a few days but luckily they found the package and it was delivered successfully. Even though the lab was able to develop my film and sent it back to me without any issues it got me thinking about the risk of sending off my film and relying on others instead of owning the entire process from beginning to end.

Development Tanks and Trays

Let’s start with the equipment you will need. For 4×5 film, there are a few options available, less for 8×10 and larger. The first thing you will need is a tank or tray to develop your film in. The benefit of having a tank is the fact that it only requires complete darkness during the film loading. Once loaded the film is in a light sealed container so you can do the actual development anywhere. Trays, on the other hand, require the entire process to be completed in the dark making this a bit more difficult way to process your film. Because of this, I prefer to use a tank to develop my film but if you shoot larger than 8×10 you may not have any choice in the matter. There are a few different tank styles available for 4×5 film, some of the more popular options are the Paterson MOD54, Stearman Press SP-445, BZTS Tubes, the B’s 4x5reel, and Jobo Expert Drums. Of these, I have only tried the Stearman Press SP-445 and Jobo Drums but any of them will do the job. For larger sized film BTZS has an 8×10 version of their tubes and Jobo has an Expert Drum for developing 8×10 film. I have also heard that Stearman Press is working on a solution for developing 8×10 film as well so other options may soon be available.

Jobo 3010 Drum

I started with the Stearman Press SP-445 and it worked great. The only reason I decided to move up to the Jobo was due to scale. Last year when I came home from my fall trip I had around 40 sheets to develop. That means 10 full runs to complete all 40 sheets. By contrast, the Jobo Expert 3010 processes 10 sheets at a time so that the same amount of film could be completed in 4 runs. The more times you use your chemicals the longer the runs need to be to correctly process your film. A second reason I like the Jobo better is the fact that nothing covers the emulsion side so there is less chance of anything damaging the film. Using the Stearman SP-445 I have had sheets come out with clear spots where the film holder covered the emulsion. For this reason, I prefer the holders that require bending the film so the back of the film is the only thing touching the holder rather than sliding them into a flat holder that wraps around the film.

Chemicals

Black and White Film

Black and White film is by far the easiest film to develop yourself. To develop Black and White film at home you will need 1) Developer, 2) Stop Bath, 3) Fixer and finally 4) PhotoFlo. The only part of the process that is temperature-sensitive is that the Developer needs to be at a specific temperature. Please consult the chemical manufacturers’ website or find the information in one of the Apps listed below. I have been using Kodak HC-110 developer with no issues at all. The best part about this developer is that it lasts a long time. I have had the same bottle of HC-110 for 2 years now and even though it has expired and it needs to be replaced it still works fine and I have a quarter of the bottle left. This is after developing hundreds of sheets of film. Along with the developer, you will need a Stop Bath. Stop Bath is used to halt the development process. I have been using IlfoStop from Ilford. Again this stuff goes a long way. Next, you will need a Fixer, this “fixes” or allows the film to be safely exposed to light. You will use this chemical the most but again is relatively cheap. I use Ilford Rapid Fixer and see no reason to change. Lastly, I use Kodak Photo-Flo to keep water spots from the film while it is drying. There is some debate about using this and others say using a drop of dish soap is just as effective. My thoughts are it costs less than $10 for a 16 oz bottle and you only need a drop at a time so it will last a very long time.

C-41

When it comes to color negative film processing I use Tetenal Colortec C-41 Rapid 2 Bath Color Negative Developing Kit. It comes with all of the chemicals you need to develop your color negative films like Kodak Portra or Ektar. The kit includes 6 bottles of chemicals and when mixed comes out to a 3 step process, 1) Color Developer, 2) Bleach/Fix and 3) Stabilizer. The main change when moving from developing black and white to color is all of the chemicals need to be held to a consistent temperature throughout the process. Because I am using a rotary tank I keep the chemicals at 68° Celcius or 100° Fahrenheit but the manual that comes with the chemicals has all of the details you need. Unlike black and white chemicals, C-41 chemicals expire 12-24 weeks after opening the bottles depending on the chemical.

E6

Finally, there is E6 film processing for slide film or transparencies. Films like Velvia 50, Velvia 100 and Provia 100F all use this developing process. Just like with C-41 processing temperature is extremely important throughout the process with E6 development. For E6 I use Tetenal Colortec E-6 Developing Kit – 2.5 Liters which has proved to be a very good product. With this kit you also get 6 bottles but end up with a 4 step process, 1) First Developer, 2) Color Developer, 3) Bleach/Fix and 4) Stabilizer. Also, like the C-41 chemicals, E6 expires 24 weeks after opening.

Please dispose of all used chemicals according to local environmental regulations. There is a great article on this here.

Apps

To help keep track of your processing times I use a couple of App with built-in timers. Anything to simplify the process at a relatively low cost is going to be beneficial.

Massive Dev App

Massive Dev

This App is a must-have for Black and White Developing. Included in the App is a massive database of films using different developers so it will more than likely have your film and developer combination. Even if it doesn’t have what you need there is an associated website https://digitaltruth.com/devchart.php where you can look up even more. The main site https://digitaltruth.com/ has lots of useful information on film developing as well so be sure to check it out. There is also a built-in timer so you have everything you need to keep track of your development in one location.

Lab Timer AppLab Timer

This App is created by the same people that created the Massive Dev App but it is focused more on Color Development. It has quite a few built-in Templates to at least get you started. Also like the Massive Dev App, there is a built-in timer to make things even easier.

Drying

After the developing has been completed you will need to allow the sheets of film to dry. I typically leave film hanging in my bathroom overnight with the door closed to minimize dust. The film should be dry in 2-3 hours but as long there isn’t a lot of dust flying around there is no reason to rush the process. Until it is fully dry it is quite easy to create scratches or marks on the emulsion.

Film Drying


Name: Martin Quinn

Location: Phoenix Arizona

Description: I purchased my first and so far only large format (4×5) camera in 2005.  Living in Phoenix Arizona I spend the majority of my time photographing in and around the southwest.

Gallery: Martin Quinn

Website: http://www.QuinnImages.com
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/QuinnImages/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/quinnimages
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/quinnimages/
Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnimages/

 

What Ansel Didn’t Teach Us

As large format landscape photographers, it is of course a requirement to have shrines in our homes to the late Ansel Adams.  Stories of his images are the stuff of literal legend.  What would you do if you forgot your light meter and were so rushed that you only had time to expose a single sheet?  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t even bother unpacking the camera!  Instead, I would pull my phone out of my pocket, grab a quick snapshot, and then post it to the ‘gram (with appropriate hashtags of course) for maximum social media engagement.  Ansel on the other hand, nailed his composition, set the exposure based on some obscure lumen value of the moon, exposed a single sheet, and Moonrise Over Hernandez was created.  Like I said, the stuff of legend!

As great a photographer as Ansel was, he was perhaps an almost equal teacher.  For those getting into large format or film in general (especially black and white film) his books remain must-reads, even if they are a bit heavy on obscure math in places.  Personally, I learned how to use a camera by reading The Camera and learned to develop using The Negative…with a dash of YouTube teaching thrown in for good measure.  I have not read The Print because I do not traditional print yet and am therefore not a real photographer.  Maybe one day.

However, Adams didn’t quite teach us EVERYTHING that we need to know, and that’s why I’m here.  We are going to fill in the holes he left so that now you can be a complete large format photographer creating your own Moonrise Over Hernandez.  After reading this, I of course expect a portion of all of the sales from your award-winning prints…

IS THAT A HASSELBLAD?

In a world where essentially a super computer combined with a camera can fit in the pockets of even the skinniest of skinny jeans, why would anyone shoot with something as bulky as a wooden film camera?  It’s a valid question, and one that you’ll be asked.  A lot!  These cameras will draw a crowd.  For the most part, the crowds are just curious passers by genuinely wanting to know exactly what sort of contraption you are using and why.

The Hasselblad phenomenon was first brought to my attention by our own Ben Horne.  In the early parts of my large format journey, he let me know of the attention the camera would garner and that people would almost always assume it was a Hasselblad.  I don’t know quite what the big H did in their marketing past, but companies today would be well served to copy it.  Anything that isn’t a typical DSLR is a Hasselblad; end of story.  It matters not that Hasselblad does not make large format cameras, it’s the name that has stood the test of time.

Being that large format cameras were more common in Adams’ time, it is doubtful that he had to deal with such questions.  So how do you handle them?  It’s a timing issue really.  Are you still in the composing, focusing, calculating exposure stage of the image?  If so, then the answer to the Hasselblad question is a quick “yes” followed by a quick dive underneath the dark cloth.  That’s your safe-zone there.  You don’t have to actually look through the camera; just hide here until your audience moves on, bored with the tedium of film.  Have you already taken the image and are relatively certain that you didn’t screw it up too badly?  If so, you may take the time to (politely) educate your questioners that, yes, film does still exist, but this is not actually a Hasselblad.  No, the picture doesn’t show up on the ground glass after I’ve taken it…the whole having to develop the film thing prevents that.  No, after hearing my accent, I’m not actually from Texas.  This last question might be exclusive to me though.

Also, take the time to make sure they’re following you on social media…

MEASURE 15 TIMES, CUT TWICE (BECAUSE WE ALWAYS SHOOT DOUBLES)

I don’t think Ansel Adams or anyone else could have possibly prepared me for all of the creative ways I would mess up sheets of film.  Just when I think I’ve made every possible mistake, a new one sneaks in there.  Maybe he simply didn’t make those kinds of mistakes being the absolute legend that he was.  I’m somewhat less of a legend so here is a list of mistakes that I’ve made and how to remedy them.

Mistake – Pulling the dark slide with the shutter open.
Solution – Going off the wisdom of Ben Horne here.  Before you ever even think of pulling the dark slide, fire off a test exposure.  Large format shutters won’t fire unless the lens is closed.  If your shutter fires, you know the lens is closed.  This test “exposure” also lets you know if you have a sticky shutter, an intermittent issue on these decades-old lenses; staring straight at you 90mm Fujinon…

Mistake – Pulling the wrong dark slide
Solution – Just don’t be an idiot.  This is self-explanatory.  Also, you know those almost always useless rotate lock tabs on film holders?  Those do actually serve one purpose, to keep you from pulling the dark slide on the ground glass side of the camera.  As soon as I slide the film holder in place, I’ll rotate those to the back of the camera.  That has saved me some money on several occasions.

Mistake – “Exposing” film without pulling the dark slide.
Solution  – Again, just don’t be an idiot.  This is one of my favorite mistakes.  I can say that now because the image did eventually turn out.  Deep in the heart of the Narrows one morning I calculated a 14 minute exposure on Velvia 50.  Tripped the shutter, started the timer, then got bored at about the 7 minute mark.  Another LF photographer was making his way through, so we talked a bit until my exposure was almost finished.  I closed the shutter and then to my horror, could NOT find the dark slide.  I searched everywhere before realizing that the reason I couldn’t find it was because I never pulled it.  On a 14 minute exposure.  Thankfully I had a peer close by to witness my idiocy so that was nice.

Mistake – Forgetting to stop down.
Solution – At the risk of sounding like a broken record, don’t be an idiot.  Look, I realize that the bright and airy images can be all the rage, exposing an image at f/5.6 when the exposure was calculated for f/45 is not the best way to make images.  Having done this on multiple occasions, I’ve developed a little mnemonic that I say before every exposure. “Stop down, lock down.”  Seriously, I say it every time.  Stop the aperture down, and then close (lock down) the shutter.  Sounds silly, but it has worked!

As you can see, most mistakes can be solved by simply not being an idiot.  (On an unrelated note, this applies nicely to life in general.)  Having an aviation background, I’ll draw from that and say make a checklist.  Especially when you are just beginning, having a list so that you don’t have to rely on memory for these steps is an invaluable tool.  Once you have gained some experience you can leave the list behind…so that you can make the same mistakes again at a later date.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE…IT’S ALSO A NECESSITY

Ansel Adams did talk about diligence while making images, but I’m not sure he prepared me for quite the level of patience that would be needed to make a successful large format image.  Keep in mind we are talking about a man who, despite appearances, did actually make a large percentage of his images from the top of his car.  Wind is now your ultimate nemesis and you’ll spend sometimes hours waiting for a few leaves or blades of grass to just hold still.  Clouds can be equally frustrating as, when you need them they’re never there, and when you want clear skies they inevitably return.  A story from the Narrows comes to mind here.  When I was in the middle of a 4-minute exposure once, the light suddenly disappeared.  I looked upward to see the tiniest of clouds occluding the sun that I so desperately needed.  I closed the shutter, tried to restart it once that cloud passed, but the film was ruined.  That’s ok though.  It’s only wasted money.  And soon to be (probably) discontinued Velvia.

Another time, as I was envisioning an image that required fog, I waited months for the optimum conditions.  I by necessity became an expert on East Tennessee meteorological patterns.  I now possess the completely useless ability to accurately predict heavy fog in my hometown.  It’s completely worth it though as it resulted in one of my favorite images.  Not to start a film vs digital war as of course you can be as patient as you want while holding your (actual) Hasselblad H6D behemoth digital back, but it’s simply not an option with large format.  Sooner or later you’ll have to fall in love with the waiting game.

VISIT THE APP STORE

Once upon a time, I put out a video on YouTube about apps for large format photography.  You can click for completeness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swxX_nn4VzU) but I really don’t recommend it.  It’s dreadfully boring, and horribly shot.  So naturally, it’s one of my most-viewed videos.

Anyway, it’s odd that Ansel never included any apps in his books.  Perhaps he was an Android fan, or it could have had something to do with the fact that apps were about half a century away from existing whenever he wrote his books.  Either way, I do firmly believe that he would’ve firmly embraced technology to make photography easier, more efficient, and more fun!  This was a man who was predicting the rise of digital cameras before the technology actually existed.  Make no mistake, even though the get off my lawn crowd digitally yelled at me for my App video, technology will make you a better large format photographer.  Need to check a composition?  Aim your phone at it to frame without having to take the time to break out your camera.  Need reciprocity info for every film in existence?  Sure, you could bring along a notebook with its inherent risk on paper cuts.  OR, you could make a few clicks on your phone and discover that your one-second image on Velvia will actually need 4 years of exposure time to complete.

Yes, your phone could break and that would put a real damper on your afternoon, but you could just as easily lose a notebook full of data and charts.  Purists will scream at the use of technology…while also using a light meter and film instead of a wet plate.  The irony is as amazing as these apps on my phone.  I guarantee if you use them you’ll agree!  Probably.

It’s become somewhat cliche to say that Ansel Adams is one of your favorite landscape photographers, but he really produced amazing work.  This is especially true when you take into account the time period that he was producing this work.  His teachings were every bit as good as his images as well.  It’s a testament to his brilliance that his books are still relevant today in the 21st century.  Follow his advice and mine (but mostly his) and you’ll become an award-winning photographer in no time.

 

Name: Alan Brock

Location: Athens, TN

Description: I’ve been shooting large format since 2013.  I use a 4×5 camera and frequently bring it along on backpacking and extended hiking trips.  While I enjoy the high-quality images that this format produces, it’s the entire process of creating an image that appeals to me most.  Most of my work is from the mountains close to home in East Tennessee or in the desert Southwest.

Gallery: Alan Brock

Website: http://www.alanbrockimages.com
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/alan.brock.94
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Alan_Brock
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alanbrock/
YouTube: https://goo.gl/xTL5n2

 

Using calculators in large format photography

Part I: Depth of field

Correct focusing, as trivial as it may seem to users of small cameras like an SLR or even an autofocus camera, can become – and more often than not actually does become – a challenge when working with a large-format camera, in particular when the term “focusing” is meant to encompass all the correct camera adjustments needed to obtain a flawless, throughout sharp image with sufficient depth of field (DOF). Given that the superior technical quality of the final print is one of the major reasons for using a large format camera, it is clear that the LF photographer needs to understand and master proper focusing.

Figure 1: Silver and Gold. Stand of old Cottonwood trees in Colorado; Sinar 5×7´´, Apo-Ronar 9/300, RVP 100, 1 sec @ f/22 +2/3. This is an example of a shot which would seriously suffer from an insufficient depth of field – had both the branches close to the camera and those in the background not appeared tack sharp, this shot wouldn´t have made it into my portfolio. The moderately long lens required stopping down to a bit less than f/32 – needless to say that this was determined using the technique described in this blog post.

The reason for the difficulty to perfectly focus a LF camera simply is the fact that in large format everything is – well: larger. Among others this means that the focal lengths in the LF world are much longer than for small cameras – for example, the normal lens for a 4×5″ camera has a focal length of 150 mm, and the normal lens for an 8×10″ camera is 300 mm. Unfortunately, the depth of field of a lens decreases with increasing focal length, and it is exactly this theme of limited DoF which is a large format photographer´s steady companion. While in smaller format photography long lenses are often used to isolate an in-focus main subject from an out-of-focus blurry foreground and/or background, this is not often done in large format photography. Rather, here one normally tries to bring all elements of a composition into focus (or, more precisely, into the DoF zone within which everything appears if not perfectly, then at least sufficiently sharp). But how can this be accomplished with an average three-dimensional scenery when even a super wide-angle lens for an 8×10″ camera, equivalent to a 20 mm lens for 35 mm cameras, still has a focal length of 120 mm?

Stopping down is the first thing which comes to mind, and in LF photography this is absolutely essential: in practice you will never shoot wide open, both because of the minute DoF at open aperture and because traditional LF lenses, other than some modern digital lenses, are designed to be really sharp only when stopped down. Typically an LF lens´ “sweet spot” (the aperture where sharpness is at its maximum) lies somewhere between f/16 and f/22, regardless of its speed. Having a close look at how LF lenses perform, it often can be observed that a lens shows its highest performance in the center around f/16, with the corners being noticeably less (but still acceptably) sharp. Stopping down to f/22 then allows the corners to catch up, while sharpness in the center already begins to slightly degrade due to diffraction. So as a rule of thumb one may say that for many if not most LF lenses f/22 provides the best overall sharpness, with resolution in the corners being not much behind the performance in the center – of course always provided everything is in focus. While theoretically DoF can be increased by stopping down further – some LF lenses allow to stop down to f/90 or even f/128 – for formats of 8×10 and smaller stopping down a large format lens to beyond about f/32 is no good practice, because then diffraction kicks in and will start to visibly degrade image quality. It is often overlooked how dramatic this effect is: while diffraction limits the theoretical maximum resolution of a lens at f/22 to 68 lpm (= line pairs per millimeter), stopping down to f/45 cuts the achievable resolution down to only half of this value, 34 lpm. At f/64, only 24 lpm is left, and now even two thirds or more of the lenses resolving power are being wasted – that´s not why you decided to go for an LF setup.

On the other hand it needs to be seen that picture elements which are clearly out of focus are even worse than an overall somewhat “soft” image suffering from diffraction. Accordingly the goal will be to make sure that all parts of a subject will be within DoF, and at the same time to achieve this without stopping down too much. Camera movements (which are not part of this blog post) are often absolutely indispensable for obtaining sufficient overall sharpness of an image, but even with perfect adjustments of the camera it often remains a challenge to find the best possible compromise between sufficient DoF and limited diffraction.

I believe it´s fair to say that in the practice of LF landscape photography you´ll almost never be in the situation where you have any DoF to waste. Rather, DoF has to be seen as an invaluable and limited resource you have to be very considerate about, and more often than not to fight for – every carelessness will almost inevitably result in a loss of sharpness somewhere (or everywhere) in your image. If you locate your focus point at the wrong distance, too close or too distant parts of your subject will appear out of focus. If you don´t close the aperture far enough, DoF won´t suffice, and both too close and too distant picture elements will look blurry. If you close the aperture too far, diffraction will degrade resolution across the entire image. This situation might remind some people of thermodynamics, where the first law says that you can´t win, while the second law then informs you that you can´t even break even, and in any case means that proper focusing requires all your attention and skill.

From this it becomes clear that for a rational approach to focussing it will be indispensable to know exactly, once the camera has been set up and all movements made, from where to where DoF needs to extend, and which focus setting and which aperture will be needed to provide exactly this DoF, not more and not less.

What comes in extremely handy here is a DoF calculator like the one Rodenstock used to make (Fig. 2). The concept behind this calculator is strikingly simple so that it´s very easy to use: you just have to determine the extension difference between the near and the far focus points on your camera, which directly translates to the aperture needed for your shot. This sets the Rodenstock calculator apart from the numerous electronic DoF calculators available today, some of which are web-based (which doesn´t help much anyway when you´re out in the middle of nowhere) while others come in the form of smartphone apps. Unfortunately most if not all of these electronic calculators, and in any case all which I have seen so far, require you to enter the near point and the far point as measured as the distance between your camera and selected elements of your subject, not as extensions of your camera. This renders them virtually useless for outdoor use unless you find a way to reliably determine these distances in the field.

Figure 2: Rodenstock´s depth of field calculator

For determination of the extension difference it´s ideal if your camera has a scale like many monorail cameras have (Fig. 3). If your camera is not equipped with a scale, you can use a millimeter scale ruler which for this purpose could be removably attached to your focussing standard, e.g. using velcro. Once the two focus points have been determined, you´re almost done: just position the focusing standard at the exact middle between the near and the far focus point and close the aperture to the value required by

Figure 3: The millimeter scale on a focussing standard. The example shown here is the front standard of a Sinar Norma camera. Sinar´s monorail cameras allow choosing from either the front or the back standard to be used for focusing, depending on the situation.

the distance between the two extreme focus points. This value can either be read from your calculator (Fig. 4; read: with an extension difference of 4.0 mm, the calculator suggests f/16) or be taken from one of the tables below. The beauty of this approach is that the effect of the focal length on DoF is already factored into the extension difference itself and does not need to be further considered or corrected for. For example, an extension difference of 4.0 mm will always require stopping down to the same aperture, regardless of whether obtained with a 47 mm superwide lens or a 300 mm long lens. Also, forget about the “one third / two thirds rule” – using the focusing method presented here, the correct focus point is at the middle between the near and the far focusing point, nowhere else.

Figure 4: Reading the Rodenstock calculator

While the Rodenstock calculator works for essentially every LF camera, its use is particularly straightforward with cameras which allow both the front and the rear standard to be used for focusing, and which have fine drives with an engraved millimeter scale. These features in this combination won´t be available for most flatbed cameras (in which case you´ll have to improvise a bit), but they are pretty common in case of monorail cameras (e.g., Sinar). For these the workflow is as follows:

  1. Coarse focusing by adjusting the distance of the standards on the rail. While doing so, make sure that the fine drives of both standards stay in the “0” position.
  2. Fine focusing using the drive of one of the standards to the far point – the drive of the other standard remains in the “0” position.
  3. Fine focusing using the drive of the other standard to the near point – don´t touch the first standard in this step anymore.
  4. Reading the additional extension (in millimeters) needed to shift the focus from the far point to the near point.
  5. Determining the appropriate aperture corresponding to the additional extension using the calculator; stop down accordingly. Don´t forget the correction for an appropriate circle of confusion, as described below.
  6. Moving the second standard back to the exact middle between the near and the far focusing adjustments (i.e., to 50% of the additional extension) – and you´re ready to shoot.

While this description may sound a bit lengthy and complicated, in practice it´s absolutely easy to follow, and in the time needed for reading this paragraph you could have focussed your camera according to this technique two or three times.

Unfortunately Rodenstock has not only discontinued their line of outstanding LF lenses, but they also don´t make this fantastic tool anymore, so you´ll have to look for one of the places where they still have a couple of these calculators remaining on their shelves, to spot some forgotten stock which may show up from time to time, or get a used one. As of July 2019, you can still buy the calculator from the following sources: US  B&H (USD 79.95), Badgergraphic (USD 44.99); UK  Linhofstudio (GBP 34.00); Germany  Foto Mueller (EUR 37.20), W. E. Schoen (who actually designed the Rodenstock calculator; EUR 42.00). Alternatively you can laminate either a photocopy of the calculator (or a small number of photocopies with the calculator being adjusted to different scales of reproduction and to different front tilt angles, if that is relevant for your photographic style) or simply a printout of a table with the most important numbers (see tables 1-3). For those who are frequently working at reproduction ratios in the 1:1 to 1:20 range, Linhof has published a depth-of-field chart which also works on the basis of extension differences.

Finally, there is still one more interesting variation of the theme: DoF scales on the focussing knobs of some monorails which you can find, e.g., on Sinar´s f2 and P2 cameras. For those with the necessary patience and skills, instructions of how to make such a scale for other cameras (e.g., an Arca Swiss F-line) have been published on QT Luong´s Large Format Photography page.

Table 1: f-numbers for 1:∞ scale and zero front tilt. In deviation from the Rodenstock calculator, f-numbers already have been corrected for a smaller circle of confusion (see main text) and can be directly used without further correction. The (corrected) numbers in the table are based on those indicated by the calculator and thus depend on the shooting format. As explained in more detail in the main text, I nevertheless recommend using the values determined for 4×5 also for 5×7 and 8×10. Depending on the lens you are using, working at f/32 (fields shaded in grey) typically does not provide optimal resolution due to diffraction and tends to soften what actually should be tack sharp. Yellow fields indicate the onset of clearly visible image degradation due to diffraction. I cannot recommend stopping down to f/45 or beyond regardless of the format you´re using; this is nothing but an emergency solution if nothing else helps. Orange fields mean that you should seriously consider further refining your camera movements or even to change your composition since diffraction will seriously limit image quality. An alternative, although very time-consuming at the post-processing stage, would be focus stacking of images shot at a bigger aperture (of course only feasible if you use a hybrid workflow via scanning your film). A dash indicates situations in which stopping down beyond f/64 inevitably would cause such a loss of image quality due to diffraction that using a large format camera probably is not a good choice here. Finally, those rare situations in which a very small extension difference would allow to work with an aperture larger than f/16 (which would be out of most LF lenses´ “sweet spot” of sharpness) are indicated by an “o”. Here, in practice an aperture in the classic f/16…f/22 range is recommended.

However you implement this all in practice: working with precise focus adjustments and carefully determining the optimal aperture for each of your subjects will eliminate a lot of guesswork from your LF photography, and can lead immediately and effortless to technically significantly improved images.

In practice, a number of points need to be kept in mind though.

First, a correction factor has to be considered if you either use front tilt and/or are shooting a close-up subject, with a scale of reproduction of more than 1:20 or so. A nice thing about the Rodenstock calculator is that such parameters can be factored in very easily by making appropriate adjustments to the calculator; when working with a table, a little bit of guesswork may come in again. Table 2 provides the f-numbers for a reproduction scale of 1:10, table 3 the f-numbers for a tilt angle of 30°.

Table 2: f-numbers for 1:10 scale and zero front tilt. Like in table 1, f-numbers are corrected for a smaller circle of confusion.

Second, to my experience the circle of confusion used for these DoF calculations (which corresponds to the international standard circle of confusion of 0.03 mm for the 35 mm format) is too optimistic and does not fit today´s expectations regarding the sharpness of a somewhat larger print. I experienced this already many years ago on when using the DoF scales of my manual 35 mm Nikon lenses and bumped into the very same problem again after moving to Large Format. In order to overcome this, I recommend closing the aperture by one more stop than the calculator (or the DoF scale on a 35 mm lens) suggests. In the example of Fig. 4 above, I´d use f/22 instead of f/16 as the working aperture. In my hands this correction by one-stop provides highly satisfactory results, but the necessary correction will depend on your particular requirements, first of all the size at which you intend to print and the viewing distance from which your prints are expected to look flawless.

Table 3: f-numbers for 1:∞ scale and 30° front tilt. Correction like in tables 1 and 2.

Third, the logic behind these calculators assumes different scales of reproduction for different film formats. For example, it is assumed that because an 8×10″ negative needs to be enlarged only half as much as a 4×5″ negative for obtaining a print of the same final size, the allowable circle of confusion is twice as big for an 8×10″ camera. With this concept I do not agree, because I don´t want to pay four times as much for an 8×10″ sheet of film and its development and carry three times the weight in the field, only for obtaining essentially the same image quality which I can easily get out of a 4×5″ negative. While theoretically these numbers of course are correct, they suggest using the larger formats (5×7″ and 8×10″) in a way which I deem pointless. Instead I personally think that whenever possible the values determined for 4×5″ should be used regardless of whether shooting 4×5″ or larger, even if that means that in practice an 8×10″ camera will only provide superior results in comparison to smaller cameras with subjects which have not much depth and thus allow to work at f/22…f/32. Due to the deleterious and inescapable effect of diffraction, an 8×10″ negative shot at f/45 won´t contain more detail than a 4×5″ negative of exactly the same subject shot at f/22 from the same distance with a lens having half the focal length. It thus is just more expensive, without providing any advantage in image quality (except maybe looking more impressive on the lightbox).

One last thing: I absolutely don´t advocate focus stacking in large format photography, since it can be extremely tedious and cumbersome to perfectly combine the scans of two or even more differently focussed images to one flawless image file. One reason for my reluctance to do focus stacking is that in my experience for unclear reasons the scans to be combined tend to show distortions which prevent them from fitting perfectly. This effect renders their combination an editing nightmare which can cost you many hours if not days of work until everything is perfect. And don´t even think of letting the software do this for you – dismay would be guaranteed. That being said, unfortunately there are occasions where there simply is no real alternative to focus stacking, namely when in order to obtain the required DoF for an image you´d need to stop down so seriously that diffraction would essentially eat up all the advance large format has over smaller formats. In such cases, and they come up from time to time, I definitely prefer to combine two images shot at f/32 over one single image shot at f/64 which would be guaranteed to lack overall sharpness. In such instances you need a tool to set your two (or more) focus points as precisely as you can, and for this again a DoF calculator is simply indispensable. Fig. 5 is an example of a successful focus stacking project, but this took me more than two days of not very pleasant computer work until the two 400 MB scans had been seamlessly merged into one file.

Figure 5: Carboniferous. Hoodoos and coal bed in New Mexico; Sinar 5×7´´, Nikkor T-ED 9/360 mm, RVP 100, focus stacking of two exposures taken at 1/4 sec and f/32. Due to the difficult topology of the location there was no way to switch to a different composition which could have alleviated my focussing problems. I thus decided to apply focus stacking and to “split” the shot (which otherwise would have required stopping down to f/64) into two separate exposures at f/32.

Taking all these aspects into account, DoF calculators are a reliable, inexpensive and easy-to-use means to replace all the guesswork otherwise needed by a rational approach to focussing and stopping down. In order to get the highest technical quality out of large format photography you need to work as precisely as possible, and these calculators provide you with exactly the information you need to reach that goal. I´m using mine for practically every single shot, and I know that I´d be way less satisfied with the sharpness of my images if I didn´t.


Name: Frank Sirona

Location: Germany

Description: I´ve been interested in landscape photography since I saw for the first time a number of dye transfer prints made by the pioneer of color landscape photography, Eliot Porter. After my Nikon years I had a brief affair with a Mamiya 7, until in 2004 I finally upgraded to large format. Since then I´m shooting film using my swiss made 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10 Sinar cameras. Of these, the 5×7 has by far become my favorite, since weight and bulk of a 5×7 are still somehow manageable when air traveling (flying with a 8×10 monorail is a pain, believe me!), while the big groundglass is just a joy and makes composing easier than with a 4×5 camera. Also I personally do like the 5:7 side ratio much more than the 4:5 ratio of the other two standard large formats. The majority of my work has been done in the Desert Southwest, and I continue returning there whenever I can.

Website: www.franksirona.com

Instagram: @franksirona

Platinum Palladium Contact Prints

Platinum Palladium Contact Prints

When it comes to capturing an image, there is something almost spiritual when you do it utilizing a Large Format Camera. The entire process of capturing an image is so much more than just clicking the shutter. Viewing the image and composing it on the large ground glass, checking and double checking composition, metering for exposure, inserting the film holder, removing the dark slide, waiting for just that right light to fall on the scene, clicking the shutter release, re-inserting the dark slide, removing the film holder, writing down your notes regarding the exposure and subject, and then crossing your fingers that you did everything you were supposed to do correctly in order to capture that image on film.  For me, this entire process and experience of image capture is only one part of the overall experience of why I photograph with a Large Format Camera

Large Format Photography provides you with large negatives and positives full of detail and information that are just begging to be printed. I believe an image isn’t a photograph until it has been printed. The print is the reason I pack 60 plus pounds of gear around to capture that one image that speaks to me. The print is that one tangible thing that will remain with you or with your family, or with someone that appreciates your images for years and generations to come. Long after it has been seen and then forgotten on social media.

“Our lives have become digital. Our friends are now virtual, and everything you could ever want to know is just a click away. Experiencing the world through endless second-hand information isn’t enough. If we want authenticity, we have to initiate it.”

-Travis Rice

Hearing these words from Travis Rice had a profound impact on me and my work and how I thought about sharing my images. I decided that sharing my work and images on social media wasn’t enough and that social media does not do justice for images captured with Large Format Cameras. I wanted to offer and give “authenticity” I decided that I wanted to make hand-made contact prints of my images. I wanted something the viewer could hold, feel, and look deep into at the small details that are just not visible on a small handheld device.

Contact prints are something special to look at as they will show every small detail captured on the negative.  You can do contact prints in a variety of different media including traditional Silver Gelatin Darkroom Prints, but I choose Platinum Palladium prints for their range of tones, soft creamy whites, and most importantly long-life span.

I wanted my images to last for generations, long after I am gone from the world.

There is nothing quite like a hand made platinum palladium print.  It is simultaneously gentle and powerful, it is subtle yet rich and luxurious, and it has a physical presence like no other print. They are a work of art unto themselves.

I wanted to share a quick step by step of the process, but this is in no way a tutorial of how to properly make a platinum palladium print.  I recommend taking a workshop if one is available in your area or read a how to book.  I have done both and I definitely recommend reading The Platinum Printing Workshop by Ian Leake as a starting point before you dive into the process.

Cocoon – Oregon Coast – Platinum Palladium

Cotton rag paper is hand coated with a solution containing platinum and palladium salts and an iron oxalate sensitizer.

There are many paper choices, and some do better than others depending upon your environment, particularly your humidity level.

The mixture is then quickly brushed out across the paper as it is slightly absorbed into the paper.

After drying, the paper and your negative are carefully sandwiched together under glass in a contact printing frame and exposed to Ultraviolet light.

The contact frame is then placed inside an Ultraviolet exposure unit.  These can be made or purchased and use a variety of different Ultraviolet light sources.  I chose to make my exposure unit using LED Ultraviolet light strips.  You can also use the Sun as your Ultraviolet light source, but you may find exposure times to be inconsistent one print to the next.  The ultraviolet light causes a reduction of the platinum or palladium salts into pure metals.

The real fun and excitement to Platinum Palladium printing comes at the moment of development.  Once your developer comes into contact with the exposed platinum palladium coating, a reaction occurs where the image is transformed and visually seen at the same time the platinum and palladium have become embedded into the paper.

After several clearing baths to remove the remaining salts, the final print consists of pure platinum (Pt) and palladium (Pd) metallic fragments laid onto and embedded within the paper.  The process I use today is virtually unchanged from that first patented process in 1873.

The platinum-palladium printing process is such a fun way to print your images. You may find the printing process to have a steep and sometimes frustrating learning curve, but once you dial in the prints to your own personal liking you will find great satisfaction in printing your own images for lasting generations.

A full video of the printing process is available to view at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jx1BOiKOQKo

Thick of Things – Redwood Forest, California – Platinum Palladium

Land Of My Fathers – Ramasaig, Scotland – Platinum Palladium

 

Ryan Gillespie

Name: Ryan Gillespie
Location: Vancouver, Washington
Description: I decided to get back into film photography in 2014, large film, and the large format process. The camera is big and the process is slow, but this oversized and somewhat primitive camera design is a romantic and creative way to become much more intimate with the subject and landscapes around me. Majority of my work is captured close to home in the Pacific Northwest.

Lightweight Large Format Photography on a Budget

When you think of large format photography, several things probably come to mind: heavy, expensive, bulky, complicated, difficult. While these may be the stereotypes commonly associated with large format photography, they are by no means traits that must be associated with it in practice. In this article, I’d like to address the weight and bulk concerns, while also taking on the cost concern tangentially as well.

As a landscape photographer, I enjoy hiking and backpacking to find and photograph remote locations in the wilderness, often where no other photographers have worked before. This usually means that I need to traverse canyons, forests, and streams, climb mountains and spelunk into caves to reach my scenes. Regardless of the exact nature of the terrain in which you will be photographing, weight and bulk are drags on your ability to create compelling work. This is due to the fact that weight increases the amount of energy required to hike or walk any given distance with your gear. It also creates a strain on your muscles and bones which leads to back, shoulder, and leg pain as well as fatigue. When you are exhausted and fatigued, you will not be in a good position to be creative enough to produce your best work. This is a simple fact of human limitations. Because of this, I have invested a great deal of careful research and thought into the types of gear I use for my hiking and photography.

When thinking about gear, it is often best to divide and conquer by sorting your gear into systems. Each system is responsible for a different aspect of your operations. For example, you might have a gear storage system which includes your backpack, as well as any gear pouches or wraps which protect your individual items within the larger pack. If you are backpacking, you have a sleep system, which includes your sleeping bag, your sleeping pad, and an inflatable pillow. You also have a shelter system, which includes your tent, stakes, poles, guy lines, and any other accessories such as a ground sheet. You have a cooking system, which includes your stove, cook pot, spoon, and any other related items such as fuel canisters or lighters. Finally, you have your photography system, which includes the camera, lenses, film holders, dark cloth, light meter, filters, tripod, and any other items you carry.

Because I don’t wish to make this article overwhelmingly long, we will have to save the discussion of backpacking gear for another day and focus on that last category, camera systems. I’ll also touch on gear storage systems, as they are necessary to carry your camera gear into the field.

Camera Selection

When selecting a camera for landscape photography, one of my primary considerations (arguably above all else after negative or sensor size/specs) is weight. I also consider bulk to be closely related. I look for cameras that are both compact and lightweight. This probably seems a little crazy when you consider that I am a large format photographer, but when you think about it, weight and bulk are more important than ever when working with large format because we are already operating at a strong disadvantage in these areas.

The Intrepid Camera 4×5

If you are looking for a large format camera that is compact and lightweight, you have a few options. The first and foremost option is the Intrepid Camera, which are the cameras that I currently choose to work with. You will certainly be able to find numerous other camera companies who make cameras that are more luxurious to work with, have more features, better fit and finish, and superior materials. However, they are not purpose built with weight and bulk as primary considerations, and as such are frequently heavy, expensive, and complicated.

The Intrepid Camera 4×5 costs £280 GBP or $354 USD and weighs 1.1kg or 2.42lb.

Intrepid 4×5 Mk. 4, viewed from the rear with front rise

Intrepid 4x5, Mk. 4

Intrepid 4×5, Mk. 4 viewed from the front with some front rise, swing, and tilt

The Intrepid Camera 8×10

The Intrepid 8×10″ Mk. 2 is very lightweight and compact for an 8×10.”

My current primary camera which is the workhorse for most of my trips at the moment is the Intrepid 8×10. I had the unique opportunity to help develop this camera from its inception, and it has become my favorite camera to date. It has proved reliable, lightweight, compact, and extremely capable.

The Intrepid 8×10″ Mk. 2 viewed from the rear standard

The Intrepid Camera 8×10 costs £480 GBP or $607 USD.

What I Look For in a Camera

When it comes time to find a camera, I look for one that is affordable, lightweight, and compact, because these are the metrics for success in the use case I need the camera to serve. The Intrepid cameras tick all of these boxes. They are simple, rugged, compact, lightweight, and extremely capable pound for pound. To put this in perspective, I can create virtually all of the images with the Intrepid that I could with an Arca-Swiss, but at roughly 1/15th the cost and about 1/2 to 1/3rd of the weight, depending on the configuration. For me, this is a no-brainer.

Obviously, some of my friends here at the Darkslides take the opposite approach, which is perfectly fine. Photography is all about having memorable experiences while making meaningful images with cameras you enjoy using. Everyone will have different preferences as to what they enjoy and value.

As I mentioned above, it’s all about selecting a camera for your needs and your budget. My needs are that the camera must be compact and lightweight, and it must be affordable to own and replace if necessary. Landscape photography is notoriously rough on camera gear. I could destroy and replace my Intrepid 8×10 camera 15 times over for what it would cost me to purchase even a single Arca-Swiss 8×10 and carry two or three of them on my back for the equivalent weight. So for these reasons, I’m willing to accept some tradeoffs in other areas. Whether you are or not will be up to you to decide.

Some Important Background Notes

In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that I have been working extensively with Intrepid on the development and field testing of their cameras for several years now. Many of my images have been used to promote their cameras around the world. As a result, I’ve received all but one of my 6 Intrepid cameras for free in exchange. I stand 100% behind the company and recommend their cameras regardless of this arrangement. Their track record for customer service is excellent, and they have been aggressively responding to customer feedback and improving their products constantly. I can think of no other company in the large format industry which has a comparable record. It is important to note that I was only ever given the newer cameras because of the work I’d created using an early (and admittedly much buggier and less featured) version of the camera which I paid for entirely with my own money. I do not receive any commission or other payment from the company in exchange for the numerous cameras I’ve sold for them, and the cameras I’ve received were all for testing, development and review purposes.

For what it’s worth, my digital images were also used in the past to promote both Canon & Fujifilm’s cameras, and I do not currently even shoot, let alone actively recommend, either of those brands. I say this to clarify that these arrangements do not in any way buy my loyalty or recommendation of a camera or brand, and I reserve the right to change brands and recommendations at any time.

Now, let’s look at several competing options in the area of lightweight large format cameras:

Chamonix Alpinist

Chamonix Alpinist 8×10, front view

Chamonix Alpinist 8×10, side view

Chamonix makes an 8×10 camera known as the Alpinist, which only works in the horizontal orientation. To make a vertical composition, you must turn the camera sideways on the tripod, as you would with a 35mm camera. The camera does, however, feature a very nice fit and finish. It weighs almost the same as the Intrepid 8×10, at 5.48lb, or 2.49kg. The camera costs €4,690 EUR or about $5,261 USD.

The price tag alone essentially disqualifies this camera from consideration for the purposes of this article, as it is not affordable at all and is rather heavy. I include it here for reference so you can see what is out there, and how some of the other options compare. I also chose not to include the Ritter camera here, because it is too expensive and too heavy to fit in the affordable lightweight category.

The primary benefits of this camera are the build quality and low weight. The primary downsides are the very high cost and the lack of a way to rotate the back, which can be very limiting in the field. If you like the high quality, can afford the price tag and don’t mind the limitations, it could be a great camera for you. Its bellows supports lens extensions ranging from 60mm to 570mm.

 

Gibellini Proxima

Gibellini Proxima 4×5, showing off some flex

If you are looking for uniquely designed affordable lightweight 4×5 view camera, Gibellini makes their Proxima camera model, which is entirely 3D printed in white. The camera can handle bellows extensions ranging from 50mm to 380mm, or 400mm with their available bag bellows. It ranges from €379-499 EUR ($425-560 USD) in price, depending on the configuration. The Proxima weighs 1.4kg or 3.09lb. I don’t have any personal experience with this camera, but I do enjoy looking at pictures of it on the internet!

The Gibellini Proxima is a very unique and beautiful camera

Standard Camera

The Standard 4×5 is the only current monorail that can truly be considered both lightweight and affordable.

Standard is a new entry into the world of large format photography. Their only camera model right now is a unique 4×5 monorail that is both lightweight and affordable. It is truly unique as most monorails are very heavy by comparison. The Standard Camera 4×5 weighs in at only 2.3lb (1.04kg), or roughly the same as an Intrepid 4×5. It costs just $360 (€321 EUR), which is quite reasonable for a new large format camera. It also has the distinction of being the only camera that is available in pieces for you to assemble at home like a LEGO set. This makes it a fun project for makers and tinkerers. You can also save a bit of money (-$40/€36, making the camera $320/€285) by opting to assemble the camera yourself. I am currently considering adding a Standard Camera to my lineup as it represents the first time a monorail design has been light enough to meet my personal camera weight requirements. Monorail cameras provide a wider range of movements than their folding field camera counterparts, which makes the Standard Camera compelling even for those who already have a field camera.

The Standard 4×5 Monorail collapses down quite small, especially for a monorail!

There are of course a few cameras also available on the used market which may come close to this weight class and affordability level. My goal here was to cover a handful of the currently available newly manufactured affordable lightweight large format camera options as of 2019.

The Standard 4×5 is a beautiful camera with a simple, modern design.

Lens Selection

Next to your camera, selecting your lenses is one of the biggest opportunities to save weight. As a general rule, for wilderness landscape photography on large format film, you will want to buy lenses with narrow maximum apertures. Granted, you will have a brighter image on the ground glass with faster maximum aperture lenses, but you will pay major penalties for that convenience in weight, bulk, and cost.

The Schneider-Kreuznach Angulon 90mm ƒ/6.8 is truly tiny, at about the size of a 35mm lens cap or Micro 4/3 pancake lens! The rear element is nearly flat.

My lightest lenses have maximum apertures ranging from ƒ/6.8 to ƒ/8. They include a diminutive Schneider Angulon 90mm ƒ/6.8 for 4×5 and an also impressively small Fujinon C 300mm ƒ/8 which covers both 4×5 & 8×10.

I mount all my lenses in Linhof boards, which saves weight while also allowing me to use them on both my 4×5 and 8×10 cameras. To fit the lenses to my 8×10, I simply carry a Linhof-Sinar adaptor board, which mounts to the camera and allows it to accept my Linhof lens boards. This saves a lot of weight and cost vs. carrying separate lenses for both cameras or carrying multiple heavy Sinar lens boards for my 8×10.

A Note on Tripods

It is difficult to recommend anyone specific tripod, as the best tripod for you will depend on what type of camera you go with, how tall you want it to extend, and how small you want it to collapse. It will also depend on your budget and on weight, as well as availability considerations in your area (shipping tripods internationally can be quite expensive).

However, as a general set of guidelines, look for a rigid carbon fiber tripod that is fairly compact and can fit easily strapped to the side of your backpack. I tend to go with a tripod that is a little smaller than would ordinarily be recommended for my camera, as the cameras I use are so lightweight that they work well with lightweight tripods. You will find that as you make one thing lighter, you can also make another thing lighter as a result. A heavier tripod will, of course, be more rigid, but you can usually find a good balance of lightweight to rigidity with a medium-sized carbon fiber tripod.

Saving Weight with Accessories

Even after you’ve knocked out a lot of weight with your camera and lens selections, there are still dozens of other areas where you can save weight and cost in your large format photography setup.

Film holders are one of those areas. Wooden film holders are substantially lighter than their plastic counterparts, and in my experience have proven significantly more reliable as well. Furthermore, they can also be cheaper if you are patient and know where to look. My 8×10 film holders are vintage Kodak-Graflex wooden ones made in the 1920s, which I purchased on eBay for just $30 each. They weigh in at 520g each, which is even lighter than the brand new Chamonix wooden film holders with carbon fiber darkslides that cost $300 each, or 10 times as much. Intrepid has also just released some new wooden 8×10 film holders if you would like to purchase some new stock that hasn’t been used for many years and are still quite affordable and light. I’ve purchased all of my film holders on eBay.

Light meters typically weigh about a pound or half a kilogram. A couple of years ago, when Alan Brock and I were one day into a 5-day backpacking trip, both of my light meters decided to permanently stop working. They are rather expensive and heavy, so I was reluctant to replace them. I never did. For the past two years, I’ve done 100% of my large format photography using only a free iPhone app as a light meter, with good success and almost no exposure errors. Of course, this requires some knowledge of how various film stocks will behave in different lighting conditions, but you need that regardless of what type of light meter you use. This has allowed me to save a lot of money and 1-2 pounds of weight in my pack, which in turn cancels out the weight of a lens or two. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but don’t feel compelled to buy a light meter simply because others use them. They are a very nice luxury to have, but not essential.

Wanderer Dark Cloths are the best I’ve seen and used to date.

Dark cloths typically also weigh around a pound or half a kilogram. I do use an excellent dark cloth made by Wanderer Photo Gear for my photography that does not involve backpacking. These are the best dark cloths I’ve seen and used to date. They are available in a wide range of fabrics, including lightweight & waterproof versions, as well as numerous colorful and patterned options.

However, when going on overnight trips I simply use one of my jacket layers as a dark cloth, and that works quite well. Remember, something that is rain or windproof is also light proof. A wind or rain shell, fleece or puffy jacket will make a great dark cloth if you simply slip the collar around the rear standard of your camera (face down) and stick your head in through the torso opening at the bottom. I’ve used this setup numerous times to create many of my favorite images. To put this in perspective, my dark cloth weighs about the same as my R5.7 winter sleeping pad and consumes about the same amount of pack space. This is a substantial saving!

At the time of writing, Wanderer Photo Gear has recently announced a new ultralight version of their dark cloth (I had requested this version be considered after testing their standard design for them when it was first released). There is a possibility this one might be light enough for me to consider taking it backpacking. I will have to test one first to find out, but it looks promising. As another disclaimer, I received my current Wanderer dark cloth for free in exchange for providing field testing and feedback. However, I was blown away by the build quality and design, and recommend it whole-heartedly. They are well worth every penny.

A film changing bag looks like a T-shirt on which the bottom and neck were sewn shut. It is almost as light.

While we are talking about things I skip, I should mention something I don’t: a film changing bag. This is an area where I consider that savings to be “stupid light.” If I run out of film on a multi-day trip and have no ability to reload, my trip is over in terms of photography. For this reason, even on a 5-day trip, I carried two boxes of film containing over 120 sheets, and a small and light field changing bag for 4×5. I also carried 6 film holders (which is almost two full days worth of photography for me, at 12 exposures), because being forced to stop and load film holders in the middle of rapidly changing light is no fun at all. Note that this only applies to multi-day trips. On single day trips, I carry 2-4 film holders for 8×10 and 4-6 for 4×5 (depending on my plan for the day) and do not reload.

Carrying Your Camera Gear

There are a couple of features I look for in a camera backpack, and they tend to be much the same as the criteria for cameras. I want a pack that is rugged, purpose-built, lightweight, and affordable. I also want a pack with conveniently placed zippers that make accessing my gear a breeze. When I say “purpose-built,” I don’t necessarily mean for photography per se. Oftentimes backpacks made for photography are strictly designed to carry cameras, at the expense of all other functionality. This creates a problem because wilderness landscape photography involves far more hiking and backpacking than photography. A bag designed for urban or semi-urban (within easy walking distance of a parking area) use will often not be practical to use on a long hike or multi-day backpacking trip.

Camera Bags for Lightweight Large Format Photography

For this reason, I tend to find that backpacking bags work the best for landscape photography. As a result, I use a backpacking bag and simply pack my camera gear in protective cases or wraps inside it, along with all my hiking and backpacking gear, food, water, clothing, shelter, sleeping gear, etc.

The Mountainsmith Tanucklite 40 holds an insane amount of gear relative to its liter rating. I fit both my entire 8×10 & 4×5 systems, including lenses and film holders, inside with room to spare for additional hiking gear!

Mountainsmith Tanucklite 40, zipped open, showing off its optional cube system

Remember, we are looking for a bag that is also very lightweight, while also meeting the aforementioned requirements. These limitations essentially narrow the field to just panel-zipper loading ultralight backpacking bags, of which there are not many on the market. The pack I currently use is an Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) Camino 2, which is a 75-liter ultralight backpacking and travel bag featuring a panel-loading design. A pack that I have also been considering recently is the Chris Burkard Mountainsmith Tanucklite 40, which features a very similar design with some more photography-centered features. I had the unique opportunity to test my gear out in Chris Burkard’s personal prototype of the bag before it was released to the public. The Tanucklite 40 is officially labeled as a 40-liter bag, but I have personally tested it and found it to easily hold all the same gear that fills my 75-liter bag, so it seems to be quite conservatively rated in terms of capacity.

Back of the ULA Camino

Back of the ULA Camino

ULA Camino 2, zipped open

The panel loading design allows instant access to gear without undoing the top of the bag.

The Camino 2, like many ultralight cottage-industry bags, looks a lot like most heavy, traditional backpacking bags you might find at REI or other outdoor retailers. It just weighs a LOT less, while costing about the same!

The reason I use the bag that I do is primarily due to weight. Many comparable bags weigh around 5-6 pounds completely empty. By comparison, my bag weighs in around 40 ounces or 2.5lb. To put that in perspective, this weight savings in the backpack fabric alone entirely cancels out the weight of my large format 4×5 field camera.

I then continue this approach within the bag itself. I have modified the pack by cutting off many extraneous features that I don’t use, shortening all straps to only the required lengths, and simplifying or removing heavy buckles and closures. To store my camera gear within the pack, I have made a couple of padded inserts using Reflectix insulation, which is sold by the roll at home improvement stores for about $10. This may sound like a rather unorthodox material to use to house camera gear, but consider that it is waterproof, contains two layers of mylar thermal insulation, and a layer of internal bubble wrap material for padding. It has successfully protected my gear against splashes, heat, cold, and impacts.

DIY Camera Inserts

DIY Home Depot Reflectix case housing Intrepid 4×5. This one has been through the ringer. Note compartment at the top for 4 film holders. Side houses 3 lenses and sometimes a meter & filters.

These cases have survived multi-day backpacking trips trekking through chest-deep water, spelunking trips being dragged through caves, and countless day hikes in rugged and remote areas. They cost me about $3 worth of materials and weigh 3 ounces (85 grams) for the 4×5 kit case. Each case houses my camera, 3 lenses, and 6 film holders, as well as a light meter and filters. My 8×10 case weighs around 5 ounces (142 grams) and has worked similarly well.

To put this in perspective, when I went to find a commercially available case to do the same job, the lightest one I could find for 4×5 weighed in at well over a pound (18oz / 510g or so) completely empty and cost around $80-100. Furthermore, the commercially available cases left empty space in my pack because they fit my gear poorly. The custom DIY cases fit exactly around my gear with no room to spare, making for very efficient use of pack space. By saving this much weight and cost on cases to house my camera gear, I have canceled out the weight of one or two of my lenses and saved enough money to help pay for them too.

Using a Lens Wrap as a Camera Insert

A large lens wrap makes a great camera wrap.

If you are not too excited about the idea of building a case out of repurposed insulation, there are some other options. One that I frequently use is a large lens/camera wrap. This one is made by Tenba, but there are many brands available. They have 4 velcro tabs which allow you to securely wrap just about anything securely. Paired with a ground glass protector, they can house a 4×5 easily and do a good job of protecting it.

There’s an Intrepid 4×5 hiding in there.

I also use these to hold lenses and film holders.

Conclusion

Me, shooting 8×10 in the field, super happy and energetic because I didn’t have to carry a ton of weight out there to enjoy some large format photography.

It may seem silly to focus as much as I do on the weight of the year you carry and make the compromises I do. However, I can absolutely vouch for the fact that this stuff matters. Making my gear as light and compact as possible has fundamentally changed the game of my photography. It has increased remoteness and technicality of the locations I’m able to hike to. It has decreased muscle fatigue and back pain, increased energy and comfort, and decreased recovery times after returning home. I am able to camp in comfort and warmth with adequate food and water while still bringing a large supply of film and lenses which allow me to photograph uncompromised for days at a time – all with about 34 pounds (15.4kg) on my back for a 5-day trip. The end result of this is that I am able to capture large format film images while carrying less weight and bulk than most 35mm digital landscape photographers do on comparable trips. To me, that makes it all worthwhile.

Long Exposure Photography

What is long exposure photography and why I do long exposure photography?

By definition, any photograph made with a shutter speed of 1 second or longer could be considered long exposure photography. This varies from one photographer to the next. Some consider 0.25 sec long, some 0.5. Ultra long exposure photography, although there is no clear definition, is a long enough exposure which smooths out the movements. In my experience, anything longer than 30 seconds is considered ultra long exposure. Never the less, This yields a photo that records the passage of time in one single frame. the resultant photograph can only have an impact if the subject has an element of stillness and movements. For a long exposure photograph to be successful, it needs to have mainly two elements:

  1. a subject that is static, such as rocks, or trees
  2. an element of constant movement such as water, clouds, people, etc.
Standard Exposure

Standard Exposure

Long Exposure

Long Exposure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long exposure photography can turn a very chaotic subject such as the sea with harsh waves into a minimalistic, serene, dream-like scene that has mystery, that you normally can not see under normal circumstances. It is an abstract world that you can only create with your camera.

Long exposure photography with a large format camera is more challenging than with a digital camera, which is the reason why I like it. The calculation for a correct exposure for various films changes based on the respective reciprocity failures. The development of black and white film also is different for each film and also changes with long exposure.

The best time to photograph in my experience is overcast days, as the exposure is uniform due to the diffused lighting, there are no harsh lights and shadows, which can adversely affect the exposure and development of the film. Dark shadows on a sunny day, despite metering correctly, will yield a very dark, almost complete black shadows without any details due to effects of long exposure and tricky development. For the same reason, the highlights can often become over-exposed.

I typically carry a B+W 6 stop screw mount ND filter and a Lee 10 stop ND filter but I find that the 6 stop is what I utilize most often, As a 10 stop ND filter with the addition of reciprocity failure time can lead to very long exposure times which can increase the risk for failures. When it comes to black and white film, I often use Kodak Tmax 100 due to higher resistance to reciprocity failure than Ilford Delta 100. To put it into perspective, a 1-sec exposure for Kodak Tmax 100 with 6 stop ND filter yields a 1 minute and 30-second exposure, as opposed to 8 minutes and 14 seconds for Ilford Delta 100 in the same situation with the same 6 stop ND filter. As one can imagine, the Delta 100 exposures can easily add up in darker situations.

Black and White Long Exposure

Black and White Long Exposure

I also use Fuji Velvia 100 on overcast days as it is very stable with long exposure. One must be cautious on sunny days as you can easily have over-exposed highlights with long exposure.

For the exposure calculation I use an app called Reciprocity Timer which simplifies the task. It has a database of popular films which allows the addition of different filters.

To meter the scene, I typically meter as I normally would, then plug time exposure time into reciprocity timer, add the 6 stop ND filter, and use the exposure time given by the app. I have found that the only time my exposure has not been accurate is on sunny days with harsh lighting.

As stated earlier, there are many challenges with long exposure photography with a large format camera. On a recent trip, I discovered that wind, despite having a sturdy tripod, can still create movement, not by shaking the camera, but the movement of the film inside the film holder through the opening of the dark slide. This creates a partially out of focus photograph. One half of the photo is in focus which isn’t objected tot he wind. the portion of the film that is adjacent to the dark slide opening, is subjected to movements, thus leading to a blurred foreground in a vertical orientation. The film can also shift creating an out of focus capture. As I thought about this further, I came up with two fixes. In order to prevent wind entering the film holder, one can place a piece of masking tape on the opening after removing the dark slide and prior to exposure, or one can make a custom dark slide, long enough to place in the opening just after removing the actual dark slide. To fix the shifting film, one can tap on the film holder a few times to assure it doesn’t move during exposure. Removing the film holder from the Ziplock bag also allows any shrinking and expansion of the film sot hat it doesn’t occur during exposure.

Focused Top Half

Focused Top Half

Out of Focus Foreground

Out of Focus Foreground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I continue to learn this process myself, the biggest advice I can offer is trial and error. I recommend experimentation with your favorite film, with only one filter, such as a 6 stop ND filter which results in long enough exposure to yield the desired effect without leading to very very long exposures. Develop a technique that is consistent.

 

Name: Gevork Mosesi

Location: San Diego, CA

I began my photographic journey in the mid 1990’s with the legendary Canon AE-1 which still works till this day. In 2011, I rekindled my love for analog photography, leaving digital photography. I have not looked back since. I primarily use a 4×5 large format camera to make my photographs. I also utilize a 6×17 panoramic camera in the right setting. This format allows for a slower workflow which makes me more aware of the landscape, giving me full control of the image making process, ultimately avoiding multiple unnecessary digital exposures. Most of my work is from the landscapes of the Southwest.

Gallery: Gevork Mosesi

Website: http://www.gmosesi.com/

 

A Simple and Effective Ground Tether

As Alex Burke mentioned in last month’s blog post, setting up a view camera in the dark is an enormous challenge. The image on the ground glass is incredibly dim, and it is nearly impossible to see the composition.

Back in 2010, I developed an incredibly simple solution to this problem. Rather than trying to set up my camera in the dark, I found it easier to set up my camera the day before, then leave it in place overnight. For added peace of mind, I stayed with my camera until nightfall, then I logged it into my GPS, and returned to it before sunrise the next morning. This technique works best in wilderness areas where people aren’t likely to find your camera.

Over the course of seven years, my camera spent countless nights perched on the edges of cliffs, miles out on the salt flats, or in slot canyons in the Utah wilderness. Leaving my camera overnight was always a gamble — and that I was certainly putting my equipment at risk — but this technique paid off time and again. Many of my best photos wouldn’t have been possible without leaving the camera in place overnight.

It was during the winter of 2017 that my luck finally ran out. I was camping in Death Valley, and left my camera in place for a morning shot. I weighed it down with a stuff-sack filled with nearly 30lbs of rocks, covered it with my dark cloth, then drove back to my campsite for the night.

I slept in my truck that night, and remember waking up around 2am to the sound of strong wind. My truck was rocked back and forth by the strong gusts, and I had a bad feeling about my camera.

When I returned to my camera the next morning, I found that it had been tossed to the ground. The ground glass was shattered, and the wood frame was broken. Thankfully I had a backup camera with me on that trip, but I knew it was time to re-evaluate my technique of leaving the camera overnight.

Following that trip, I set out to find the most effective way to anchor the tripod to the ground. After testing several different methods, I learned that a single tether from the center of the tripod to the ground was the best method.

At my local hardware store, I bought a heavy duty 18” metal coil ground screw that looked like it would work well in the desert, especially areas with deep sand. At REI, I purchased some strong cord (very similar to paracord), and a multipack of Nite Ize Figure 9 fasteners that allow me to tension cord without the necessity of a knot. They are a huge time saver, and worked great for this application.

This setup is incredibly simple to use. Start by placing your tripod, then sink the orange sand screw into the ground at the center point of your tripod legs. Most tripods will have a hook or some sort of attachment to hang weight. Run the cord in a circular fashion between D-Ring of the ground screw and the tripod hook, then use the Nite Ize Figure 9 to tension the cord to itself and to lock it in place.

This technique paid off on my recent visit to Death Valley National Park. On one occasion, I left my camera overnight in some incredibly windy conditions, and it survived the 40mph plus winds without any issue. I used it again the next day to hold my camera steady while composing a photo in some strong afternoon wind. It was great not having to always keep a hand on the tripod to prevent it from tipping over.

I am very satisfied with this method, and plan on using it for future trips when the conditions require it, and where the use of a ground screw won’t harm the environment.

 

 

 

 

Neutral

Large Format Camera Movements