Hi: I thought I'd ad my 2 cents since I went thru what you're going thru about 25 years ago. Some of the things I say are what I'd do if I had it to do all over again....
First, my biggest recommendation is, if you want to do LF, DON'T GO 4X5. Instead, go 5x7 or 8x10 directly. I started in 4x5 and when I went up to 8x10 I found it so easy to use and quality so much higher that I wished I hadn't spent all that time in 4x5. Yes, you can backpack 8x10 - I do it still including a heave Ries wooden tripod. I've climbed all over 600 foot sand dunes with this gear. Personally, I'd start out in 5x7 which I'm beginning to think is the perfect format. Here are a few reasons why:
1) 35sq inches vs 20 in 4x5!
2) Contact prints in 5x7 are actually viewable whereas a 4x5 contact is too tiny to really view let alone frame and see from 15' away.
3) The physical size of a 5x7 isn't that much more than 4x5. In fact, K.B. Canham's 4x5 IS a 5x7 but with a reducing back. You could buy his 5x7 and later get a 4x5 back for it. These are showing up in the used marketplace more and more now. I just bought a near-mint one for $800 less than list - and I got it from a great guy on eBay.
On www.mpex.com you can see they sell a Tachihara 5x7 for $1299 (in fact the Tachihara 8x10 is also $1299! )
4) You can use this format and make contact prints only and avoid the entire hassle of enlargers and all the associated gear. If you go 8x10, your darkroom could be a lightbulb hung from the ceiling, a contact printing framd and some trays. Edward Weston did pretty well for himself this way. If you insist on enlarging, there are 5x7 and 8x10 enlargers out there (the Zone VI from Calumet does 5x7 and 8x10). You can make stunning 11x14 prints from a 5x7 negative.
5)Like the 4x5, you can put the 5x7 on a tripod, put it over your shoulder and walk around and take pictures. Just as simple to use but you end up with a negative almost twice as big!
There are only a few basic reasons to go to LF:
1) Each picture is it's own negative and can be individually processed.
2) Bigger negatives = higher quality prints. In fact they offer the ultimate in quality, the contact print.
3) Camera movements that allow you to have more control over a)composition and b)depth of field via the Scheimflug (sp?) principle.
4x5, 5x7, 8x10 all offer these advantages. It's just a tradeoff between negative size, equipment investment and 'luggability'. I think 5x7 is a good trade off in these areas. I found in time that 4x5 is just too small of a format - contacts were too small and I didn't like to enlarge much above 8x10.
A word about movements. In spite of what has been written, ALL the camera movents are important, and I do mostly landscape b&w work. In virtually every picture, I am controlling depth of field with swings and tilts. I often have multiple planes of focus in a scene such as foreground receeding into background so I tilt forward a little to increase dof. Then, I have have another plane like a fence running from my left away into the distance on the right, so I swing the lens to the left. Then I can use rise\fall and shifts to tune the composition. As for rear movements, I use them to control some image perspective - if there is a rock in the foreground that I think is too big, I tilt the rear standard forward and the rock will decrease in size becaue the groundglass is now intersecting the image closer to the lens. Don't buy a view camera with front rise\fall, front swing and front tilt and shift. It should also have rear swing and tilt. Shift would be nice but isn't necessary if there is shift on the front. Some have rear rise\fall but this would drive up the price a lot and isn't necessary. Doing some of these compositional movements from the rear are more convenient if the bellows are extended way out and you have to stretch our arms way out there to use the front movements.
You'll also have to consider base vs axis tilts. I started out with base tilts and really loved axis tilts when I chnged cameras. The problem with base tilts is that when you tilt forward the image goes drastically out of focus. So, you have to have your eye on the groundglass, one hand on the tilt and the other on the focusing knob. As you tilt forward you rack the focus knob to keep the image in focus. With your 3rd hand, you keep the darkcloth from blowing in front of your face<g>. It can get to be a jumble. With axis tilts, when you tilt forward the image may go slightly out of focus, but not much. I would not rule a camera out if it didn't have axis tilts for my first camera. Now, I would not buy anything else.
So, do you want to buy 4x5 and all the enlargiing gear or just go right to 5x7 or 8x10 and contact print for a while until\if you decide you'd like to enlarge them?
(BTW, I have an 8x10 enlarger and you haven't seen anything until you see an 8x10 negative enlarged!).
I also recommend going straight to 8x10". That's what I did, and I find it much more intuitive to work with than 4x5", and nothing has quite the depth of a large contact print.
Only after working with 8x10" for a few years did I begin to appreciate 4x5" for very specific reasons, more associated with the particular 4x5" cameras I have than with the format itself. I love being able to shoot with my Tech V handheld as a rangefinder camera without losing the flexibility of a view camera when I need it, usually for travel. It's more dynamic for certain kinds of portraits, though I also do portraits with the bigger cameras. I have a 4x5" Gowland as well that I slip into a pocket of my ScopePak that holds my birding outfit--a 35mm camera with a 600/4.5--so that I can take some impromptu landscapes and macros in large format between bird setups, and I can't manage that so easily with the 8x10" camera.
Start with 8x10" and you'll think of your 4x5" camera as the "light and flexible snapshot camera."
I think it's hard to argue against any of the points made above about going straight to 8x10, except one: cost. The cost of 8x10 and related paraphernalia seems astronomical. Fine if you can afford it, but perhaps not practical for the average amateur photographer, at least as far as I can tell. 4x5 is much more affordable.
It's not necessarily more expensive to start with 8x10" than 4x5". I paid around $550 for my 8x10" Gowland used. I processed in trays that I already had. I tend to shoot less film in 8x10" than 4x5". I contact print, so there are plenty of excellent classic lenses suitable for contact printing out there for not too much money, and I didn't have to acquire a new enlarger or anything else to go along with it. I already had a big tripod for telephoto work with 35mm, but I did upgrade the head for 8x10". 5 filmholders were enough in the beginning, but one can get started with 3. I've definitely spent less on my 8x10" kit than I have on my Linhof Tech V.
I would love to go 8x10 but due to the restriction that I have no where to tray processes I would not be able to process the film. At elast with 4x5 I can use a changing a bag and process in something.
When I move I will get an 8x10 down teh road but for now a 4x5 is goign to make me very happy.
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With practice you could use a changing bag for processing 8x10s in tubes. This is what I do so that there is no need for a dedicated darkroom and I can work with all the lights on. In addition I only work with contact prints. A spare room with running water and a hook to hang the bulb is all that is necessary (and some trays of course). There are some fantastic deals on process lenses these days, some of which have coverage that is unbelievable. Film holders will be about 30 to 35 bucks in mint condition each.
Knowing what you want and sticking to your guns_as long as they are reasonable_is great. Especially in a forum where people can be mighty convincing with their go straight to 8x10 arguments. believe me, they are convincing too.
Don't let not having room to tray process stand in your way. I have very little room too. The bathroom is a very easy place to black out and if you have a tub you have a place to process. You will get a sore back though. I built some tubes following Donald's method and they work great. They did take practice though. and no more sore back, or hanging out in the dark for a very long time.
If 4x5 is your route then great. There are lot's of ideas and some really cheap ones too. I got a mint busch pressman D for next to nothing. Be careful before you purchase and make sure you know what you want. Nothing worse that movement envy in the field. and do not sell out monorails that can be broken down and packed that way. Yes longer to set up but everything takes longer with large format. When I made my move up I realized quickly that I had to anticipate the light a lot more. No more skidding to a stop, whipping out the camera and firing off a roll in the last few seconds of a South Western sunset.
For lenses I would go to a camera store and try them on a camera they will let you fiddle with. It helped me a great deal when I was deciding what to buy. Older guys in camera stores are very helpful.
No advice will replace actually laying your hands on a camera or looking through different lenses.
Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI
So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004
One positive thing about 4x5 is that it's still reasonably affordable and practical to use Polaroids, both 4x5 and the smaller pack film, as well as sheet film. To me, that would be a significant advantage for the kinds of things I would like to do with a large format camera. Using Polaroid is also a boon when first getting the hang of this larger equipment.
Perhaps it is me, but the larger I go the less lenses I need. For my 4x5 outfit I have 6 lenses, for the 8x10 3 and for the 12x20 1. 8x10 is not necessarily more expensive, the body might be a little bit more, but you might find you need less lenses and gizmos.
Originally Posted by pierre
As to processing, you can use tubes, as stated before, or you can use a bathroom and place the trays in the tub, cover any windows with a dark cloth. I did this for years until I was able to afford a dedicated darkroom.
Not to sound ignorant, but where do you buy cloth to do this? Also I would need to do the door as well. After putting up the cloth how to do you test to make sure it is light safe? I have no problems using trays. I would prefer to develop in trays anyway as it sees that is the preferred method.
I just did not realize that you use a cloth or some type.
If this is the case I wouldn't have to use a bag to load my MF onto reels either which I would really like a lot more Just have no clue how to dark out the bathroom with the window and loose fitting door.