To me, the greatest benefits of using sheet film cameras are:
1. Movements. Though it is not always the case, most sheet film cameras offer some movements as a rule. So do some medium format cameras...but it is usually assumed that when you say "4x5", you mean a camera with movements, and when you say "medium format", you mean a camera without them. Almost every shot I take, in any format, could be improved by some sort of movement, if I actually had the time and ability to apply it without missing the shot. Movements give you an insane amount of control over your images that just is not there with most smaller format cameras. If your subject matter will allow you the time to carefully set up your shots, there is no better tool than a view camera with movements, in my opinion. This is independent of format. Movements are movements, and have the same effect regardless of format, so it is not really a "4x5" advantage specifically, but most 4x5s do have this advantage.
2. That you are shooting individual sheets, not rolls. There are many positive aspects of this. Being able to duplicate exposures and/or process the same exposure (or different exposures) in two different ways is perhaps the most important one.
3. Raw image quality of the larger film is notably superior to medium format if you are doing very large-sized prints. With 4x5, you theoretically have approximately the same image quality in a 16x20 that you have with an 8x10 print from a 6x7 negative (assuming no or little cropping of either neg).
4. You can use fast films in large format, and given a certain sized print, the "technical quality" is higher than it is from smaller format negs of the same emulsion. This gives you all the advantages of fast emulsions (higher shutter speeds and/or smaller apertures, lower contrast, more latitude, more malleability, etc.), but without many of the technical drawbacks (lower sharpness, higher grain, etc.).
Numbers 3 and 4 simply have to do with advantages in film size. Number one has to do with advantages in control of your image. Number two has to do with advantages in exposure and processing controls.
The "it slows you down and makes you think" reasons do not make any sense to me. You can do the same with any format, and hopefully you do.
Last edited by 2F/2F; 11-30-2009 at 03:33 AM. Click to view previous post history.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
If you can afford the Leica M9 or a Hasselblad HD3 go digital at least then you will have something close in quality but different in look to film, but I would go 4x5.
I'm with Keith on this one. If you want to make contact-printed portraits, skip 4x5 and go to 5x7 or 8x10. Knowing that you will be contact printing brings a real discipline to using the whole frame as you compose. If your preference is to crop and recompose on the enlarger easel once you find the frame with the "perfect moment", I'd stick with MF as your chances of getting the perfect moment go way up if you are not messing around with darkslides and the like.
Hi there, thought that I would throw my thoughts into the ring!
It may sound strange but I think it depends on what "type" of portraits you are intending to do - large format portraits tend to be rather set up and sometimes lacking in spontaniety - this is not a bad thing per se just different to being able to "catch" a look with a smaller format. I think this may have something to do with putting the darkslide in place *shot is coming* rather than the *always ready* of the smaller format.
Where are the shots being taken? In a studio with full powered lighting or on location?
Portraits can be in a context e.g. workers in a factory or singers after a performance as well as formal in a studio - although most formats can be made to work in most situations, some are more suited than others.
Large format does have the upsides of greater tonality, less grain, easier movements etc but potential downsides of more expense, less manouverability, less spontaneity etc. Difficult choice.
Having said all the above I have recently been admiring the work of Frank Pettriano - large format but perhaps more fashion shooting than classical portrait style.
Have fun with your choosing!
I think Sim2 makes a good point - just how spontaneous is your portrait work?
I've still got my Bronica ETRS camera, but I'm loving my Russian FKD 18x24cm camera (currently using paper negatives in it, but getting sorted to use glass plates).
The Bronica (and 35mm) are good for capturing those transient moments, but the slower speed of working LF may be what you are after - you'll definitely see photography in a new light with an ~8x10 ground glass! Contact print and revel in those tones!
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Let's not forget the existence of press cameras, which have established a pretty good track record for street shooting and spontaneous portraits (Weegee, anyone?). That approach probably isn't too feasible above 4x5, which suggests that someone who's interested in large format but not in the stereotypical "landscapes and studios" repertoire should stick to that size.
I'm going to disagree with those who have said 4x5 is too small for contact printing. It produces *small* contact prints, but I don't see why there's anything wrong with that; it wasn't that long ago that 6x9cm contact prints were the norm for family snapshots, and if you give one of those little prints some attention you can just fall into the details. They're problematic to hang on the wall gallery-style, but I've got little contact prints in 6x9cm and 9x12cm in tabletop frames all over the house and I like 'em.
That said, the desire to be able to print larger *did* eventually drive me to 5x7. The upward slippery slope in format size is very real. But I don't think you can bypass it---don't the people who start out at 8x10 find themselves saying "if only I could print at 20x24"?
MF and LF are very different processes, as others have said. Medium format is quite like 35mm in the sense that you drop a roll of film in the camera, determine appropriate parameters, and shoot accordingly---you aren't making processing decisions individually for each shot, just exposure decisions given a set of fixed assumptions about processing. Sheet film can, if you want it to, throw this relative simplicity into a cocked hat; this sheet goes at box speed, this one is pulled a stop, this one pushed in a different developer with reduced agitation to control what you suspect will be a hot highlight area, this one is a backup copy of the box-speed one and if the first version works out OK you might try something odd with the backup like solarisation...You don't *have* to do this stuff---you can shoot each sheet like a "roll" of one frame and still get the benefits of tonality, grain, contact printing, &c.---but you *can* do it, and it's fun and gets you profoundly involved in the *whole* process of turning photons into silver. To me that's the big difference between LF and roll formats.
Last edited by ntenny; 11-30-2009 at 11:27 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: added last paragraph
San Diego, CA, USA
The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
-The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_
You are right that LF is very different than MF. Sheet film is a different animal -- no "motor drive" feature.
Originally Posted by Bokeh Guy
If you are interested in tonality, it's nearly impossible to beat increasing film area. More film = better tonality, and better tonal transitions IMHO.
The choice of which format will come down to your workflow and your final output. If you want contact prints for example, you probably will want to go bigger than 5x4. And this will pretty much limit you to shooting from a tripod (which you may find frustrating or not, depending on how you like to work). If you are going to enlarge, there's no reason at all IMHO to use anything larger than 5x4. And if you want to hand hold, you can still do it with a 5x4 camera -- something from the Graflex family of press cameras for example.
When you get to LF lenses (lens manufacturers and camera manufacturers don't need to match in LF), there are bunches of old portrait lenses out there, and therefore a range of effects from very sharp to very soft focus.
One other thing to note -- the bigger you go, the smaller your DOF at a given aperture. With a 24x20 inch camera you have to decide which eye lashes you want in focus and which to let go. Really.
Wow, leave the Mac for 10 minutes and . . .
All the comments have been extremely helpful; I've decided to forget the 35mm digital SLR to go 4x5. With 35mm and a couple of Rolleiflexes, I believe that I'm pretty stocked up on equipment for street shooting and the spontaneous portrait. I read Vanessa Winship's account of her use of an Ebony 4x5 for her recent Sweet Nothings work and it mirrored many of the comments here. So I guess I'll take the dive. But I also got lucky; sold off my redundant 35mm film camera and lenses (for pretty good prices) and found a mint 4x5 for a steal. That always helps.
Congrats, BG!! Keep in mind how you like to crop. If you like longer prints with 2:3 or 1:2 ratios then you're losing some film real estate. In fact, if you crop 1:2 then you might as well shoot 6x12cm roll film because that's basically what you'll be cropping 4x5in to. I like the wider formats so my 4x5 will be dedicated to 6x12cm roll film only. If I want bigger I'll go much bigger. No use in taking tiny steps, IMHO. If you don't at least triple your film area then the step is barely noticible, IMO. I would suggest 5x7 (if you like wider images) but, as much as I like it, I can't in good conscience do so because the support from color film manufacturers is dwindling.
I would like to ask what the motivation is to move from MF to 4x5. In answering that you may well answer the questions above as well.
Contrary to most here, I loathed the experience of shooting sheet film, and I didn't find that out until I had spent about $2k on a camera, lenses, holders, dark cloth, processing equipment, a new enlarger, etc. I had to make due with getting $900 for it when I sold it two years later.
My motivation for 4x5 was to get a higher quality print. Well, after I got rid of some film developing problems with uneven densities, dust problems on the negatives, and finally was able to crank out negatives worthy of printing, I found myself reaching for the Hasselblad. Loading film holders, unloading, dust care, time to set up each shot, etc - I really hated it, with a passion. It did not suit my work flow at all.
Now that I have film developing of my 120 material completely under control, I just don't miss the larger negative, not even from a print quality standpoint. I don't miss it for one second.
I gained a little bit, just a tiny bit, in image quality. But I lost so much in spontaneity and capturing beautiful moments. The cost / benefit analysis was a no-brainer for me. I sold the 4x5 rig at a HUGE loss, and was very happy to do it. Never again, unless it's ULF, like 11x14 and contact printing. That would be cool!
I just wanted to give you a different account. Think long and hard WHY you want to 'upgrade' before you take the plunge. Borrow a camera if you can to try it out. Do every step of the process on your own up to the printing stage, just to see if you like it enough to take advantage of a larger negative.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh