View Full Version : Safe Haven for Small Formats

Peter Lewin
20-Jan-2017, 08:43
I'm putting this thread here, rather than in the small format sub-forum, because it is words and philosophy rather than images. What strikes me is that the vast majority of posts in that forum are "view camera images" taken with small format cameras. I was raised with the idea that one fit the format to the subject, rather than than reverse. By that I mean that 35mm cameras were meant for action photography where speed was more important than absolute image quality, medium format was for portraiture and "event photography" which moved at a medium speed, and large format was for landscapes and architecture, things which stayed put. Like everyone, I tend to be most comfortable with certain subjects and approaches, so my instinct also leads me to making "large format type images" with my little digital. But I have been trying to break that pattern, and use the small camera for images I simply could not make with my 4x5. Any thoughts on the camera-subject relationship?

Robert Bowring
20-Jan-2017, 08:55
There are no "rules". Use whatever works for you.

20-Jan-2017, 09:06
Whatever camera I am using is the hammer, and thus everything else is a nail.

But I do like using my rolleiflex for mid-20th century style modern styles of photography. In that case, it's more style than subject matter.

20-Jan-2017, 19:56

I think that there is something to what you describe, but it seems that there is also an element of "working speed" versus format, in that the larger formats more or less force you to spend more time per picture. (I hedge this by observing that the best press photographer that I ever met could make pictures with a 4x5 Speed Graphic almost as fast as I could with a TLR, but I think that was exceptional, and film didn't cost nearly as much back then.) And if you know ahead of time that it is going to be significant effort to make the image, you may be willing to select a subject which is subjectively "worth" it. This may be the reason that "good" still lifes tend to be made with the larger formats, and the good ones made on small formats may well have been done by folks who learned on larger film.

The issue of time-to-gratification has a kind of nonlinear relationship to format. Some of the older photography books suggest learning with sheet film, because one can process a single sheet and evaluate it before memory of its making has faded. Of course one can do that with a roll of film as well, but psychologically this involves "wasting" the other eleven, nineteen, or thirty-five frames on the roll. With a studio and darkroom, it is reasonable to process a single image for quick turnaround. then there are folks who used to develop roll film in "expedition mode" while hiking or camping, but I doubt that anyone (recently) has done that with 8x10 or larger.

For some reason, it seems psychologically difficult to spend anywhere from several minutes to several hours setting up a photograph, and then take one 35mm frame of it. One might as well take two or three, varying exposure or something. This leads to taking one or two at various stages of the setup, until eventually the digital point-and-shoot-and-choose-later syndrome develops.

Ultimately, it may not be so much that there are necessarily "view camera pictures" there to be made, but pictures where one can use degrees of freedom unique to the view camera to good advantage (swing, tilt, rise, fall and direct observation of the depth of field). The ones which don't require these options can still be made with medium format, but there is another subset (wedding photography comes to mind) where lack of full control over the background demands the ability to make multiple images quickly--perfect for medium format. And so on down the line, ending up with a Minox (which is marginally useful for anything which doesn't require unobtrusiveness :) )

21-Jan-2017, 06:54
I think there are generally camera to subject relationships, but they are not rigid and there are areas of grey between them. Shooting a touchdown pass at a high school football game with my Toyo 45AII would be a challenge, although not impossible. It would be easier with my Canon FX. This is one example.

Shooting a landscape or still life with my Minolta 7000 is fairly easy, but I prefer the results I get shooting these subjects with my RB67 and 4x5 cameras.

To me the relationships, or natural affinities, exist. They are not barriers or rules.

22-Jan-2017, 06:34
I was raised with the idea that one fit the format to the subject...I agree, but due to my serious lack of discipline when it comes to most things photography, I tend to approach each project emotionally - in other words, what camera / subject combination will give ME the most pleasure at the moment....




22-Jan-2017, 08:03
Shooting hummingbirds on large format is a truly special kind of dedication!

28-Jan-2017, 19:58
I dunno. I have a certain photographic approach, and usually see an image I'd like to make. I'm not an action or wildlife photographer, and do not ever do what it takes to do those things well.

I use a small camera when it's the biggest camera I have available.

Example: A little over a year ago, I left early for a business trip to Idaho, and was able to spend a weekend in Yellowstone and environs, on the last day it was open. I was spending a whole week there, with really only two days of work plus travel time. Thus, I figured I'd have three good days at least with the camera. But I was flying, and it's just too inconvenient to travel with a 4x5 camera, especially on a work trip. So, I filled a backpack with my Pentax 67 plus several lenses, and with my Canon digital camera plus a couple of lenses, and threw a graphite tripod and an Arca Swiss ball head in my big suitcase. I shot two rolls in the Pentax--20 exposures. With 4x5, I would have only gotten 3 or 4, and I wouldn't have been as mobile. That was a reasonable compromise for that trip.

Two weeks ago, I had another business trip to the Grand Canyon. This was a much different trip--I was there to meet with park staff for three days plus considerable time spend on the ground observing what I was there to meet about. I ended up with about a day to play with cameras. For that, I just took the digital camera and an array of lenses--the Pentax, which really must have a tripod, would have slowed me down and added a big lump in the suitcase that was already full. I ended up with bonus half-day in Phoenix and visited Taliesen West--I was glad I had the Canon for that visit.

When I'm really comfortable with the Travelwides, I'll take them on more trips. I just haven't had the opportunity to really wring them out yet--it's been an impossibly busy year.

The point is that the images I see in my head are the same no matter what camera I'm using. Sometimes, the camera I have facilitates what's in my head, and sometimes it doesn't.

Rick "not really an action photographer" Denney

29-Jan-2017, 03:53
Personally I find 'using the wrong camera for the right purpose' to be a hell of a lot of fun from time to time.

A while ago I was shooting outdoor art installations on 5x4 which i thought would be the right choice. (in the Nordic night at in -25 degrees, so maybe it wasn't ... :-)

Except 1 installation turned out to be interactive with a lot of spectator participation and movement, I could have come back the day after with a 35mm but thought 'lets do this'.

LF being 'performance art' by itself to spectators it turned out to be really easy to get random people to pose and follow directions so i could get the movements i wanted in my long exposures.

Using the wrong camera for it definitely made this more fun!

Note to self: buy a scanner so i can actually post these online :-(

31-Jan-2017, 11:58
That safe hfsf thread is so long with over 1000 pages of posts that I only had interest in looking at the last few pages. Generally dislike ridiculously long threads for that reason and wish there was some kind of practical limit after which they were just archived so a similar fresh thread that would actually be viewed might be started. No one knows what is on page 500 of a 1000 page thread. Just trying to find what one posted in such long threads months before is futile. So another reason for starting another separate thread even though it may be related.

Significant numbers of people have always shot the same subjects we large format photographers traditionally have focused on however there has always been a difference in output use. Back in the 35mm SLR decades, large numbers of landscape and nature subjects were photographed with the small format but use was for smaller stock images, commercial advertising, magazine quality images, and small prints while large format was mostly fine art black & white or specialized process color prints like Cibachrome and large format book use. In this Internet era small format images have another vast medium for output on computer screens.

Thus the real division between format sizes is not so much the subject type but rather intended use that relates to amount of detail though in this era large images can also be made via digital processes so subjects where traditional large format film are necessary are fewer. However some subjects at reasonable cost can still only be made using large format film if one eliminates expensive digital back technologies. For example large format seascapes with waves crashing on shores can only be shot with short exposures thus only single shot camera systems. Today using multi column row panoramic head stitch blending combined with focus stacking, one can create huge images as long as subject movement is not an issue. Thus the traditional landscape large format subject type is no longer the domain of just view cameras.



31-Jan-2017, 12:25
Portability, Pointability, that's what 35mm gives me. (or a digital, but we won't go there). It's being able to have a camera that has 36 shots, where I can bracket, or change my angle, or change the aperture quickly and cheaply. Pointability in that I can run outside when I notice a a great sunrise hitting my office window, and move around in my yard to avoid telephone lines. 35mm is for shooting things fast. I don't think about resolution or movements when I'm "conceptualizing a shot" or whatever. I just think about what is practical.

31-Jan-2017, 15:28

The fact that you don't know how to use the site is not the fault of the site.

All long threads have page icons that can be clicked to bring up that page, for example:
http://www.atwaterkent.info/Images/img_long thread2.png

I have no idea why you feel obliged to use an affectation to make your post different, but it fails:

- Leigh

1-Feb-2017, 17:08
Hello Leigh,

Indeed the page icon process to jump to whatever page in a thread has been obvious since I began using the site. My input was terse thus meaning vague. The issue I have always had is not being able to find my own threads easily if there are many pages because Search seems to have limitations so I end up just perusing page to page. Advanced search seems to work in some ways but there may be limitations? After your input above I just played around with it some more to see if there are any differences now and it seems to be the same. For an example on this thread:


We can see the member tuco on page 101 however if one goes into Advanced search and enters that member in the User Name field it does not show that search hit. I also tried unique text and same issue so suspect there may be a algorithm limit on how deeply into given threads search works. And note I tried several variations. Please enlighten if I am missing something, thank you.

As for my blue text, that it a strategy to easily visually notice my own threads not only on this board but also others since almost everyone else is black. Not surprised it may annoy some haha.

1-Feb-2017, 20:14
Sometimes a Google search produces the best results if you know a few unique words in a particular post.

E.g. Search entry: large format forum "celebrating national"

This also works: largeformatphotography "celebrating national"

Takes you to:
Page 225 of "Show off your Large Format Camera", where the above text exists in post 2243

1-Feb-2017, 20:26
Agree that google does a better job than almost any forum-based search engine. I search for text with the additional string:


and find what I'm looking for in most cases. It works for any website on which you search for information.

Peter Mounier
2-Feb-2017, 09:10
The issue I have always had is not being able to find my own threads easily if there are many pages because Search seems to have limitations so I end up just perusing page to page.

If that's the problem, you can always click on your name at the top/right of the screen and a page with your information will open. On that page is a link for your latest posts and latest started threads.


5-Feb-2017, 08:26
No one knows what is on page 500 of a 1000 page thread.


When I joined, I went through all of the image threads right back to the beginning. And I may do so again at some point when I have the time. I agree that there's no easy way to see all of one's own posts, unlike other forums I've been on. I don't think google will be of much help anymore on that issue.