Bigger is NOT always better

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Ian Grant, Oct 8, 2004.

  1. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    The bigger the better bit is a bit of a fallacy.

    Choosing format size is extremely important in delivering the best possible end result. Assuming you have a choice of using 35mm, 120 or 5"x4" (or larger) there are a number of other considerations. Probably the most important is do you want to use a tripod or hand-hold.

    Of course you then have to decide on film stock & it's speed.

    Subject matter ultimately dictates format & film choices, and landscape can be shot in any format on any film and you can achieve excellent quality results, and sure the larger on a tripod will be far better.

    Now what about people, of course great shots have been made with large format, one only has to think of Irvin Penn's work, but here on this forum (and elsewhere) great images are being made on smaller formats, the work of Nicole McGrade could not be made large format nor that of Cheryl Jacobs. Before you ask I've had no contact with either they just happen to have posted images recently.

    So choice of frormat is made after taking into account a wide range of factors, which really relate to practibility and expectations.

    Ian
     
  2. raucousimages

    raucousimages Member

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    A camera is only a tool, sise is not as important as useing the right format for the job. I love shooting portraits in 8x10 but I am finding the slow pace realy bothers some people and the hasselblad is a better choice. Others love the novelty of the 8x10 and say it is like sitting for an oil painting. For children if the print will be no larger than 8x10 I shoot 35mm with t-max, kids are fast and a 35 does not scare them if I am in real close. I love LF but pick the best tool (camera, film, lens....) for the job. If there was one absolute "best" camera that would be the only camera made. As for me all I want is a multi-format 35mm to 11x14 with a 14 to 2400 f1.0 zoom at under 3lbs. watertight of course.
     
  3. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    and the lens multi coated, with changing colors to suit the situation.
     
  4. Andre R. de Avillez

    Andre R. de Avillez Member

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    Ah, yes the rainbow coating. Canon once tried to achieve this, with their super spectra coating.
    It is said that a couple of their engineers actually achieved the rainbow coating (TM). As soon as they realized what they had accomplished, they went in search of the pot of gold and the end of the rainbow.
    One of the men suffered a mild stroke when confronted by a Leprechaun, the other was never seen again...
     
  5. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    .... and then the lens misted up never to clear until the plaque of digital was driven from the land :wink:
     
  6. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    Usually to start with, the intrepid photographer will learn on a semi auto 35mm (or 35mm of some type) and ventures into the landscape or suburbia armed with their prescribed allround film, and dreams of making their mark on the world of fine art photgraphy.

    It doesn't take long for the landscaper to find out that they can't seem to be able to get the results they were expecting on the 35mm cheapy B&W or Kodak Gold that they were expecting .... and moves up to a pro film. Even this doesn't seem to provide the quick path to Artist recognition they were seeking, and after frequent exposure to the miriad of fine examples of landscapes that are published regularly, they make the leap to a larger format (bound by their own financial contraints) . If their aspirations are cultivated by Lee Frost et alia, they may be content to remain with the MF. If they aspire more towards Jack Dykinga et alia, they are still unsatisfied. And so the steps towards seeking the holy grail of the technically perfect landscape print are trodden.

    If they are nutters like some of us around here, they are never satisfied, and even a negative that has to be reduced instead of enlarged won't be good enough. And it will become necessary to use things like hand made artists paper, platinum and gold to approach the quality level they are seeking. At which time, they have usually surpassed the quality appreciation levels of the wider audience, and they need to seek an audience with a higher 'artist appreciation quotient'.

    Meanwhile the others take their own road.

    So, from this perspective, photographers find their own format of film to fulfill the personal requirements they have.
    Then there is the other kind of nutter. The one that wants to be different, not just by being better/more skilled at what everyone else is doing, but by using their highly developed skills to push a camera into something that it was not originally designed for. 8x10" handheld, candid people photography, polaroid transfer (perhaps not such a good example) but you get the idea.

    As I see it, none are really wrong. Thing is people will always have their own levels of satisfaction to fulfill in their photography, and choice of film format and type is a consideration.
    A friend of mine as a very successful print of a New Zealand landscape icon. It was taken on 35mm film and grainy. It would just not have worked on any larger format.
    For me however, and despite this example, I personally don't agree with Ian's first statement above. For me, it's gotta be large format (even MF is a compromise on necessary info in the neg).
    But who is to say this format is correct, and that isn't. "Or Horses for Courses". As soon as we go down that track, we take away a choice for the photgraphers' own personal expression. just my 2c :smile:
     
  7. k_jupiter

    k_jupiter Member

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    Yeah but ya know, I just can't get the same look with my 4x5 that I do with my Retina II using Tri-X shot at 1250 developed in diafine.

    On the other hand, the Retina never gave me prints that the 4x5 APX100 does.

    It's a tool.

    tim in san jose
     
  8. George Losse

    George Losse Member

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    Ian,

    I think you should look a little beyond the work posted here on APUG. While there has been some very nice work posted on APUG. There is much more out there in the world.

    I absolutely disagree that subject matter ultimately dictates format & film choices. Just because your shooting photographs of people does not mean you can't work with large format equipment. Sally Mann worked with 8x10 for her family images, and I read that was even hand held. Michael A Smith published a book a while back of portraits from a boys camp. And View Camera just published an article on a guy who shot 8x10 color photographs of porn stars. What about Avedon's American West Series? It was shot with an 8x10 camera.

    The photographer should be the only one to "dictate" what film and format choice they want to make based on their vision.
     
  9. JD Morgan

    JD Morgan Member

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    Single axle with a 2" ball receiver maybe.
     
  10. gainer

    gainer Subscriber

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    My grandfather, who died in 1905, used a 5X7 folding camera with a viewfinder like those on early Kodak and other folding cameras and a ground glass screen as well, sometimes on a tripod, sometimes handheld. I have over 100 of his glass negatives. Some are in pretty good condition, others are in terrible condition because his descendents did not take proper care of them.
     
  11. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I think you missed my point George

    "So choice of format is made after taking into account a wide range of factors, which really relate to practibility and expectations."

    Personally I work across all formats, and in my post did mention as an example the large format portraits by Irving Penn. I choose the largest practical format to be able to work at a reasonable pace and produce high quality images.

    I made this post because there seems to be a snobbery around using larger format cameras, and this isn't exclusively a large format forum.

    Photography is not ultimately about the format used, but it is about the images produced. Craft is far more important whatever camera, film etc you use to achieve the resultant images.
     
  12. Nicole

    Nicole Member

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    Hi Ian, thank you very much for thinking of me! :smile: You made my day.
    Whatever format, if I like a photo for whatever reason, it doesn't matter what size/format it is, it's a great photo (i.e. I love Cheryl Jacobs) and am lucky to appreciate it.
    By the way, I'm still learning how to use my Hasselblad! Yay! Can't wait to give it a 'real' workout. :smile: It may not be quite as big as some of you, but I'm over the moon.
     
  13. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Alas Ian as we know there is snobbery everywhere :sad:

    For years now we've had not only is my format better than your format, but also my glass is better than yours within the same format. I like Leica's (don't take this personally Leica users) for the way they look and feel. I also agree they can produce beautiful pictures in the right hands, but how many times do we see people in the street wearing them as point and shoot medallions?

    At the end of the day though they are all just tools and as with all tools once you have the hang of it, then you can use it. With different formats there are varying amounts to learn, but the final process is the darkroom and a printed image. Select the tool for the final image you want and have a picture regardless of which tool you chose.
     
  14. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

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    Me too!!! She is GREAT!

    Let us bath her in Rodinal 1+50 to show her the appreciation :tongue:
     
  15. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Morten - would you like to borrow my tin hat after that one :wink: mmmm the scent of Rodinal on a female :cool:
     
  16. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

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    I don't need the tin hat...I got my own :cool:

    I meant it in the most positive way!
     
  17. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    :D
     
  18. sergio caetano

    sergio caetano Member

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    IMHO bigger is better when all cameras are on tripods.
    Tripod here does not only mean composition exercise but subjects categories which should be considered for this comparison.
    In 35mm BW, the break even point among tonal scale, resolution, grain and acutance can't be properly accomodated on a stamp size negative. Of course not always that point is intended to be reached.
     
  19. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    The only time that I've ever spotted a Leica "In the wild" was a guy who I kept crossing paths with one day who was using it to shoot all his touristy stuff. Does that count?
     
  20. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Yes, Sally Mann used large format (4x5 and 8x10) for most of her photographs of children. She also posed nearly every shot, and her endlessly patient children held the pose for many exposures until she had gotten what she wanted. A very big part of the success Sally Mann achieved in her work was due to the extraordinary modeling skills of her children.

    I don't pose children. I don't work with child models. Actually, I don't pose anyone. A big factor in my work is motion and spontaneity. I can work that way in 35mm and 6x6. I intensely dislike trying to use a 4x5 to capture fast-moving spontaneity. It's counterintuitive to me. I hate using a tripod for my children's work, as I have to be flexible enough to jump forward when I see an opportunity for a great close-up, or jump backward when the splashing from a bathtub threatens my lens. :wink:

    If Sally Mann was hand-holding an 8x10, she was far more woman than I, literally. At 5'8" and 110 lbs, there's no way on earth I could manage to handhold an 8x10. I have trouble hand-holding my Speed Graphic, although I'm liking the effects of the effort on my biceps and triceps. LOL.

    In my opinion, bigger is only better when you can still get the shot. Why would I allow myself to miss great moments due to insisting on a larger format? Why would I ever allow a format to change my style and approach? I can't think of a single good reason.

    Yes, I agree. Based on my vision, I feel that Ian is correct that "bigger is not always better." :wink:

    Anyway....

    About that Rodinal bath..... :wink:
     
  21. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

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    I agree with you Ian. Some photographers do look down their noses a bit at formats that are not similar to their own. I guess there are many here guilty of doing the same to digital photographers. Before the eggs are thrown ... I'm Not one by the way (digi photographer or snob that is).

    It's quite a challenge to produce images that are different/noticeable/good, and stand apart from the work of other photographers. So film (or lack of it!) format is another string in the bow.
    And if the camera is very big, very expensive or rare, the materials equally so, the methods employed difficult and 'pure', then that might give some the feeling of exclusivity they are seeking.
    I think it's up to the other Artists (without using the term lightly) to show the value of their type of work. Step up to the mark, talk about it develop it and get a following!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 13, 2004
  22. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    LOL Yes we will give you a confirmed sighting on that one :wink:
     
  23. Max

    Max Member

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    I have a whole pile of big negs that serve as conclusive proof that bigger isn't automatically better! :wink:

    I decided to go LF as a hobby - my job has me sitting in front of a computer, often running DP software. I wanted to go low-tech with my photography, which for me meant building an 8xi10 camera and contact printing. I had no delusions that a bigger neg automatically made my photos better.

    I've since added a baby to the household (well, I guess my wife did the heavy lifting there), and so, addicted to the big neg, I recently picked up a 4x5 SLR.

    Even though it lets you see what's going on right up to the instant of exposure, it's still not the ideal camera for capturing fast kid action. I'll get faster with it, and enjoy the heck out of it, but it's not necessarily ideal for some shooting situations.

    Case in point - yesterday I was taking pictures of the baby. I had the back rotated to "portrait," and she started crawling. One of the dogs (who both usually make a hasty exit once she's on the move) came over to see what she was up to. I got the shot, but it would have been better with the back rotated to "landscape." With 35mm, I could have just rotated the camera in the blink an eye.

    Still, I'm having fun with 4xi5 kid shots, and will get better with it. But it's not for every situation.

    (edited to correct a typo.)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 13, 2004
  24. esearing

    esearing Subscriber

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    I think it would be kindof difficult to track a flying bird on a gimble head with a 4x5 mounted with a lens long enough. 35mm +600mm lens works just fine for that.

    I also don't see many tripods used by the pros at pro sporting events. Monopods instead, and balancing a 4x5 would be tough except maybe a press style camera.