Where to begin with Plate Cameras?

Discussion in 'Plate Cameras and Accessories' started by fritzphoto, Aug 7, 2008.

  1. fritzphoto

    fritzphoto Member

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    Could someone suggest places to learn about plate cameras? Or just lenses?

    I'm working with dry-plate tintypes. I have a 4x5 field camera, and wonder if I can just get an old lens (something fast) that produces that wonderful old shallow depth of field and whatnot. I also have an unidentified old 8x10 on loan from a friend, also with a slower lens (5.6).

    I've tried shooting with my modern 4x5 lenses, but they're just too slow. I just don't know where to start in researching lenses and cameras, and can't seem to find a suitable post on here to that end.

    Any help would be appreciated.
     
  2. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    I don't understand dry-plate tintypes. Tintypes are a wet collodion process.
    For info about equipment go to the collodion forum. There are strings there related to lenses and other equipment.
     
  3. fritzphoto

    fritzphoto Member

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    The cameras and lenses will be the same either way, wet or dry. It's a pretty slow emulsion. That's why I'm asking here.
     
  4. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    A "slower lens (f:5.6)" on a 8x10" gives about the same DoF as a f:2.8 on 4x5". I would say that that is a good start!

    For learning about plate cameras APUG is as good a start as any, especially if you're not after the finer details of production numbers of obscure 19th century camera makers in Manchester (I kid you not!).

    To get really sharp coverage of your 4x5" with a classic fast lens, i.e. a Petzval, you would need something like a 14" f:3.5. Just do the maths, and you will find that the beast is more than 4" across, and at least a foot long. Finding a camera that will fit that kind of lens is more difficult than finding the lens!

    Most "modern" petzval users use far smaller lenses than that. But since the real coverage of a Petzval portrait lens is about 15 degrees, that is what they used back when Petzvals were state-of-the-art.

    One common combination is a Speed Graphic and an Aero-Ektar. The Speed Graphic has the great advantage of a focal plane shutter, and an adjustable (in most cases) rangefinder.

    My own version of this (despite having a Speed Graphic and several very fast lenses) is to use a 24x30cm German plate camera with format reducing inserts in the plate holders. My camera can focus anything from a 47mm SA XL up to a 640mm Aplanat at portrait distances, on whatever size film or plate I might desire to put in it. As soon as I get the bellows replaced so I don't have to wrap it in the dark cloth, I mean...
     
  5. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I have two or three lenses of the right vintage and they start at f8, that was a fast lens at one time. Remember that there were special devices to hold a sitter still for early portraits :D

    Ian
     
  6. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    F:8 was the speed of a "Rapid Rectilinear". It was only "Rapid" by comparison with all other rectilinear lenses of the time. For portraits the f:3.5 Petzval Portrait reigned supreme until well into the 1920's!
     
  7. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Member

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    g'day fritz

    try a homemade simple lens constructed from a single magnifying glass
     

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  8. fritzphoto

    fritzphoto Member

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    Good point. So what was it that gives that lovely super-shallow depth of field and that difficult-to-describe bokeh?
     
  9. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Even at f:8 there isn't much depth of field if you're using a 360mm lens on 8x10". There's a lot more with a 210mm on 4x5", but it's still pretty shallow!

    And as I said most portrait lenses were f:3.5 Petzvals, with a few f:5 to f:6 "Portrait Aplanats" mixed in.
     
  10. k_jupiter

    k_jupiter Member

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    for your 4x5, I recommend the Zeiss Tessar 135mm f3.5 from the mid 20's on. It will give you acceptably sharp images, wandering out to a soft edge and nice subtle but noticeable vignetting in the corners of 4x5. Vignettes seemed to be the norm in tintypes, didn't they? It is not a portrait lens though.

    tim in san jose
     
  11. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    It was long focal length lenses, and undercorrected lenses that gave the look you are wanting. Longish, portrait-style lenses may be what you are looking for, but don't expect ultra-fast lenses. Back in the 19th century, people just had to remain still for a few seconds when they had their picture taken.
     
  12. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Ultra-fast lenses are precisely what they used! F:3.5 is about an average portait lens; some were f:2.8 or even f:2.4. In the LF world, that's ultra fast as in "they don't make 'em like that no more".

    "Rapid" Rectilinears came in several different "flavours", but I can't recall having seen one faster than f:5.