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hamr22
9-Nov-2008, 18:04
Getting back into photography after about 20 years off of amateur/fun stuff. I really want to try LF for portraits, macro, artsy stuff...but I'm so crappy that I would burn through enough film that it would bankrupt me.

Is it a reasonable plan to learn photography with a digital SLR first before moving on to LF? Is there a way to learn LF without burning through my budget with developing/printing costs? If the costs of shooting were the same, I'd ditch the digital SLR in a heartbeat.

Thanks in advance for your help. I'm new here (obviously).

John Kasaian
9-Nov-2008, 20:01
Getting back into photography after about 20 years off of amateur/fun stuff. I really want to try LF for portraits, macro, artsy stuff...but I'm so crappy that I would burn through enough film that it would bankrupt me.

Is it a reasonable plan to learn photography with a digital SLR first before moving on to LF? Is there a way to learn LF without burning through my budget with developing/printing costs? If the costs of shooting were the same, I'd ditch the digital SLR in a heartbeat.

Thanks in advance for your help. I'm new here (obviously).

LF is a completely different animal IMHO. First, get a copy of Steve Simmons' book Using The View Camera and read it. If you do your own developing and printing the cost isn't so bad (one reason is that you just don't burn through film the way you'd normally do with 35mm or digital images) You can get a hold of a metal monorail like an old Calumet or Graphic View, tripod, a 203mm ektar (for example,) a few holders and a box of Arista.edu Ultra for very little money (or a crown graphic for even less dough) compared to a digital slr.
Enjoy the adventure!

lenser
9-Nov-2008, 20:45
Hamr,

I am as anti digital as they come. In fact, I don't own one, but I agree with your plan for one reason only. Photography is all about recording light. The capture medium is not relevent when you are learning to see light and produce lighting patterns with daylight, windows or studio lighting gear. Even though there are definitely differences between film and digital, knowing light is what photography is truly about. Study light and lighting and experiment like mad with your digital and then abandon it for film when you are ready. You should be able to adapt to film very quickly and enjoy learning the use of whatever camera system you select.

Depending on your area of interest, there are many books out there on how to light portraits, or commercial or architectural images. Use those to learn and the gets Steve Simmons' book on View camera technique when you graduate. It will help immensely with your transition.

Good luck.

Tim

B.S.Kumar
9-Nov-2008, 20:59
Why not use rollfilm initially? You would learn most of the purely LF stuff like movements and composing on the groundglass, and yet not spend a fortune on film/lab costs.

Cheers,
Kumar

John Kasaian
9-Nov-2008, 23:48
I agree with Kumar. If you can find a camera that will accept a roll film back that would certainly be an option. Composing on the gg where the aerial image is upside down and backwards is a hurdle. Digis won't prepare you for that, nor the loading and unloading of film holders.
Nor has it ever been known in the history of photography that a curious bystander has asked a digi shooter the question: "Isn't that a Hasselblad?"
If you want to shoot a LF, there is nothing like simply jumping into the pool to test the waters!
You'll find plenty of help here. :)

robert fallis
10-Nov-2008, 00:05
I think you should go stright away to film don't waste money on digital. Start with orthochromic film which you can devlope in trays under a red safe light so you can see whats happening to your image, Freestyle photographic are the people for reasonablely priced Photographic supplies here's a link to there ortho film
http://www.freestylephoto.biz/sc_search.php?q=lith+film&rfnp=40&rfnc=406&catsel=all&

bob

brad martin
10-Nov-2008, 00:34
If you want to learn "photography", I would get a cheap manual 35mm camera, a light meter, a 35mm enlarger, and learn to develope black and white film yourself. keh.com
midwest photo, and freestylephoto.biz. johns suggestion of steve simmons book is a good one. also ansel adams books: the print, the negative, and the camera are also very good. available at amazon.com. the absolute cheapest way of learning photography without buying a camera would be to get ansels "the negative".
good luck

Bill_1856
10-Nov-2008, 04:48
You don't need a digital SLR -- any digital camera will work. Just always shoot with it on a tripod to simulate the "feel" of using LF.

John O'Connell
10-Nov-2008, 04:53
The best way to learn photography used to be Polaroid on a camera with manual settings. Instant feedback and total responsibility. Two years ago everyone would have advised you to get a cheap 4x5 and a Polaroid back. Polaroid, alas, is no longer with us.

A digital SLR is now the way to go to learn photography from scratch---instant feedback and no development costs. I'm not a huge fan of digital for my own work, but as a learning tool it would be hard to beat.

cobalt
10-Nov-2008, 05:52
I learned on a digital camera.
I think using a medium format camera, say a Fuji 6X9, will give you results that will likely maintain your excitement about shooting. The film is much easier to deal with and tote around, and the 6x9 negatives from the camera can, in many cases, approximate 4x5 in terms of tonality.

Toyon
10-Nov-2008, 05:57
If you think your portraits are crappy, the camera is almost irrelevant. I suggest you simply shoot as many portraits as people are willing to sit through. If you use 35mm slide film (still inexpensive to process using mailers) you can project them. With reference to some of the excellent books people have mentioned go through each slide, projected on a screen, and analyze which you like and don't like (e.g. straight on shots, with flash, with fill-flash, oblique angles, full body, bust, close up, shot from below, above, with deliberate poses, with more natural expressions, etc...). Bring a friend whose esthetic opinions you trust. Work from your mistakes and gradually improve your technique. I think it is better to use a manual camera and film, preferably without flash, because you simplify the number of factors involved and it is easier to understand where technique has made the shot, rather than unknown or less-well understood factors. When you gain enough confidence in 35mm you can move up to roll film, or the less expensive lf film. It is a good suggestion to develop your own, as color film processing costs for the larger format are fairly steep. Again, my chief points are keep it simple and shoot a lot. And remember, the portrait is a reflection of the relationship between the photographer and the subject - no matter how brief. What you put in relates to what you get out.

Steve Hamley
10-Nov-2008, 07:40
Use 8x10 color - you'll darned sure learn fast!!

Cheers,

Steve

Jordan
10-Nov-2008, 08:00
Well my friend I would say to jump directly into large format photography. I would suggest purchasing the best equipment you can afford and keep presenting your questions on this forum till you fully understand the process. Once you do understand and you're staring at a beautiful large format negative that you made, you will be feel so accomplished and wish you never even bothered with any smaller format to begin with. If you'd like you can PM me with any questions and I'll help you get started as well.

Rakesh Malik
10-Nov-2008, 10:13
Working with a large-format camera has done wonders for my composition skills in particular. I've also gotten much better at determining ideal exposures, enough that I can now shoot with a medium-format folder and get reasonably consistent results even without metering -- though for more than a snapshot, I still want a meter.

It's a tough way to learn, but if you make it through that process, you'll be a better shooter no matter what format you use down the road.

Having a digital camera to shoot with does have the advantage of making it much easier to experiment with than any film camera will ever be. They have their place... but once you see a 40x50 inch print from one of your 4x5 (or bigger) sheets of film, you'll wonder why the digital fanatics claim that they have the image quality...

(I just got one of my slides printed on a 40x50 canvas... it's getting framed, hopefully today... the person that printed it for me did a great job, and the print is astonishing.
http://mimeosquare.com/)

Brian Ellis
10-Nov-2008, 10:20
I can't offhand think of a good reason why solely for learning purposes you'd buy a 35mm or other smaller format film camera when you can learn much more much faster much easier and much less expensively with a digital camera (unless, of course, you also want to learn darkroom work but that doesn't sound like what you're interested in right now). Perhaps some of the people here who have advocated using a smaller format film camera rather than a digital camera could explain why they think this is preferable but I can't offhand think of a reason.

With a digital camera you'll be able to see a histogram of your photograph in the camera each time you make a photograph. You also will be able to see the histogram along with the photograph itself on your computer monitor, depending on what software comes with your digital camera or that you buy. You perhaps don't know what a histogram is right now but believe me, the ability to see one for each photograph you make is an invaluable learning tool.

You also will be able to easily view each photograph you make on your monitor almost instantaneously without having to develop film and have prints made. A monitor isn't the same as a print but you can learn a lot from the monitor, especially given the ability to easily enlarge various sections of the photograph to check for things like focus or depth of field.

You'll also be able to see and automatically preserve a lot of useful information about each photograph you make - e.g. what f stop you used, what shutter speed you used, and the lens focal length among other things.

You'll be able to see a curve for each photograph you make (again, depending on your software). That's useful by itself but you can also adjust the curve on your computer screen and see what effect various adjustments have on the photograph. You may not know what a curve is right now and you may not want to explore photography that much but the ability to see one for each photograph you make and to play around with one to see the effect on your photograph is a very useful learning technique.

All in all, I can't think of a better way to learn the technical aspects of photography in general (as opposed to things peculiar to large format photography) than with a digital camera. Just make sure that whatever digital camera you buy has a manual exposure mode. All SLRs have it, some point and shoots don't. But as long as a point and shoot will allow you to set the aperture and shutter speed manually, I don't see why you would need a digital SLR just for learning purposes. And one last thing - when you feel comfortable moving to large format photography, you can keep your digital camera and use it as an exposure meter.

Gordon Moat
10-Nov-2008, 10:31
Technically all you need to start is an understanding of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. When you know how those relate, then your exposures will be nicely controlled. Next is a good light meter. Rather than the spot meter that so many might recommend, it can be a nice easy start to use an incident meter, and simply measure the light falling upon your subject/scene. When you are not quite sure, then you can try a sheet of Fuji Instant (instead of Polaroid), or use a small digital camera to test the meter settings. At the very least, this is the technical start. Obviously with so many manual settings and steps when using a view camera, you could still make mistakes.

Composition is completely different, and unlike many I would state that using a DSLR teaches you nothing about composition with a view camera. Most of the time a view camera is used on a tripod. Where and why you point your view camera at something is part of a process of planning and choices. While you could point at numerous things, burn through lots of film, and try to figure out what worked later, I think a more measured and thoughtful approach will speed up the learning process and more quickly lead to results you will want to print . . . and maybe even print big.

What I suggest to work into using a view camera is getting a sketchbook. Even if you cannot draw, it will at least get you into thinking more about subject, scene, and composition. You can do scratchy blockish drawing in a rough manner, and start thinking more about interrelationship of objects in a composition, because what you are really learning is how to see. This is vastly cheaper than learning by using a DSLR, but if you just want to go buy a DSLR, then go get one.

Ciao!

Gordon Moat Photography (http://www.gordonmoat.com)

Maris Rusis
10-Nov-2008, 16:59
Learning photography as a prelude to large format camera work can be done with any film camera. Film exposure, processing, darkroom work, even mounting and framing photographs is the same for all formats except for a few minor changes in work flow. In essence, light sensitive materials work the same irrespective of size. Once you have film and paper yielding the tone, density, and contrast outcomes you want it is time to move on to camera handling.

Digital picture making does not make pictures out of light sensitive materials like large format photography does so it is basically a distraction, a waste of time, unless you want to brush up on miniature camera handling and small format image management.

Practicing for large format camera work need not use any film at all. The ground glass really does show everything you are going to get and what it will look like when you get it. One of the advantages of digital cameras often touted is that you can chimp the image on the view screen after you have gone click. The view camera goes one better than this. You can view (chimp?) the picture in full detail on the ground glass before you click and then decide whether to click or not. That's why they are called view cameras.

In comparison to small camera work (play?) large format tends to produce very few photographs but the ones it yields tend to have consistently high level technical and formal qualities.

QT Luong
10-Nov-2008, 17:24
The ground glass really does show everything you are going to get and what it will look like when you get it. One of the advantages of digital cameras often touted is that you can chimp the image on the view screen after you have gone click. The view camera goes one better than this. You can view (chimp?) the picture in full detail on the ground glass before you click and then decide whether to click or not. That's why they are called view cameras.

Not necessarily. For instance, in my experience, when using wide angle lenses, the dimness of the image and the light fall-off make it quite difficult to assess the image.

Ed Richards
10-Nov-2008, 17:28
Do you want to do wet printing? If so, then starting with roll film makes a lot of sense. If you plan on printing digitally, then I would go for a cheap 4x5 camera and lens, a pile of holders, a Jobo Expert Drum and changing bag (screwing with trays and a darkroom is not worth the savings), and a cheap consumer scanner that will do 4x5.

douglas antonio
11-Nov-2008, 05:54
to me 35 mm and 4x5 as the smallest large format are light years away from each other.
the way i handle things i would never get the "same" sort of results using these formats. its not all about the size but the "procedure" of shooting.
i believe everyone having used these sort of systems knows about what i mean.

so in case you are more towards lf than getting back to photography my recommendation would be:
look out for those books recommended to learn in detail about handling these sort of cameras.
then try to rent a system - preferably a field camera - (less frightning ;-) for a day or two, fiddle around with it , compose on the ground glass and shoot a couple of trannies.
after having them developed you will know whether the bug bit you or not.

if photography itself is what you want there have been a lot of excellent recommendations from all the others.

Michael Roberts
11-Nov-2008, 06:53
I think it's a good plan. I did the same thing starting about seven years ago. You can't beat the instant feedback and low cost of digital for developing an eye for composition and learning which subjects/scenes will translate into a compelling image and which ones won't.

When you make the switch to film, I suggest starting with a 4x5 and a simple camera--something like a Crown Graphic. Get the metering and exposure down first (as well as basics like loading film), and don't worry about camera movements when you first start shooting film. After several years, I actually find determining exposure to be easier with film than with digital cameras (I hate using digital cameras now). After you learn to determine exposure correctly, then you can start experimenting with camera movements.

Brian Ellis
11-Nov-2008, 08:29
Learning photography as a prelude to large format camera work can be done with any film camera. Film exposure, processing, darkroom work, even mounting and framing photographs is the same for all formats except for a few minor changes in work flow. In essence, light sensitive materials work the same irrespective of size. Once you have film and paper yielding the tone, density, and contrast outcomes you want it is time to move on to camera handling.

Digital picture making does not make pictures out of light sensitive materials like large format photography does so it is basically a distraction, a waste of time, unless you want to brush up on miniature camera handling and small format image management.

Practicing for large format camera work need not use any film at all. The ground glass really does show everything you are going to get and what it will look like when you get it. One of the advantages of digital cameras often touted is that you can chimp the image on the view screen after you have gone click. The view camera goes one better than this. You can view (chimp?) the picture in full detail on the ground glass before you click and then decide whether to click or not. That's why they are called view cameras.

In comparison to small camera work (play?) large format tends to produce very few photographs but the ones it yields tend to have consistently high level technical and formal qualities.

Please read the OP's message. He says he can't afford to use film for learning purposes. His question isn't whether film is better than digital, his question is whether using a digital camera for learning purposes is a reasonable plan. It clearly is a reasonable plan. Focus is focus. Depth of field is depth of field. Shutter is shutter. ISO is ISO. Composition is composition.

Viewing a potential photograph on a ground glass doesn't tell most of us what a final print will look like. If it did every photograph we make would be a "keeper." Clearly there's more to learn about making a photograph than can be learned simply viewing the scene on a ground glass. Viewing an image on a monitor also doesn't tell us what a final print will look like but it comes a lot closer than viewing a scene in the field on a ground glass, plus it provides information that can't be gained any other way.

Merg Ross
11-Nov-2008, 09:46
If your goal is, as stated, to make large format portraits you will need a large format camera. I would advise against substituting a digital camera for a large format camera or for any other type of film camera. Digital will teach you nothing about film, and probably even less about composition.

Perhaps you should consider why you want to embrace the film and large format tradition.There are substitutes, but nothing rivals the slower, contemplative method of working with large format.

Perusing current equipment prices, you could get set up with a large format outfit for a modest monetary outlay. And, you might just be surprised how little film you burn through in the learning process. Give it a try, and have fun!

hamr22
11-Nov-2008, 16:12
Thanks to everyone for the input. My take on this discussion is: it's at least not a terrible plan. So I just bought a DSLR and will be up and stumbling in a few days when it comes. That way I'll spend more time snapping rather than fretting.

The point about LF being a different animal than DSLR is well taken, however. My ultimate goal is still LF for the real feel of film and the beautiful prints in sizes larger than a computer screen. So, I'm planning on getting a well used LF starter kit one piece at a time over the next year. (There must be a thread already for how to do that).

I'm still jealous of you guys, but hope to be there soon. Thanks again for your thoughts.

lomomagix
11-Nov-2008, 16:38
Now how about trying your digital camera upside down to simulate the view from a ground glass? ;)

Rakesh Malik
11-Nov-2008, 16:49
Now how about trying your digital camera upside down to simulate the view from a ground glass? ;)

Don't forget, in order to achieve the same feeling, you have to stand on your head when using a digital camera... so it's actually far easier to just get a view camera and stand on your own two feet ;)

Vaughn
11-Nov-2008, 17:21
Since you were into photography in the past, I'd suggest just getting the LF camera and spend time under the dark cloth...no need to burn film at first. Since the GG (ground glass) is a WYSIWYG sort of thing, you will have a chance to actually see what a view camera can do (movements, macro work, etc)...things that you can not learn from a digital camera. Learn how to see as the view camera sees...and you don't need to actually expose film for that.

IMO, using a digital camera to learn how to use a LF camera is like driving a bus to learn how to fly a plane.

Vaughn

PS...no harm in using a digital camera in conjunction with a LF camera to judge lighting, etc.

Jim Galli
11-Nov-2008, 18:09
Like learning to drive in a Cadillac Escalade and then climbing into a Model T Ford and saying what the hell are the 3 pedals for? Best of luck in your adventure wherever it takes you.

Vaughn
11-Nov-2008, 18:23
Like learning to drive in a Cadillac Escalade and then climbing into a Model T Ford and saying what the hell are the 3 pedals for? Best of luck in your adventure wherever it takes you.

Much better than my example! Vaughn

Brian Ellis
12-Nov-2008, 08:27
Thanks to everyone for the input. My take on this discussion is: it's at least not a terrible plan. So I just bought a DSLR and will be up and stumbling in a few days when it comes. That way I'll spend more time snapping rather than fretting.

The point about LF being a different animal than DSLR is well taken, however. My ultimate goal is still LF for the real feel of film and the beautiful prints in sizes larger than a computer screen. So, I'm planning on getting a well used LF starter kit one piece at a time over the next year. (There must be a thread already for how to do that).

I'm still jealous of you guys, but hope to be there soon. Thanks again for your thoughts.

Good for you. Glad to see you ignored those who couldn't seem to grasp the concept of someone wanting to learn the basics of photography but who couldn't afford the cost of film and prints while doing so.

Stefan Lungu
13-Nov-2008, 10:23
Thanks to everyone for the input. My take on this discussion is: it's at least not a terrible plan. So I just bought a DSLR and will be up and stumbling in a few days when it comes. That way I'll spend more time snapping rather than fretting.

The point about LF being a different animal than DSLR is well taken, however. My ultimate goal is still LF for the real feel of film and the beautiful prints in sizes larger than a computer screen. So, I'm planning on getting a well used LF starter kit one piece at a time over the next year. (There must be a thread already for how to do that).

I'm still jealous of you guys, but hope to be there soon. Thanks again for your thoughts.

I think it is a good step, but you have to be carefull. You have to use that digital as you would use a future view camera exactly in terms of ISO, exposure, aperture and so on. The 35mm cameras, be it digital or film, are very "user friendly" : integrated light meter with various of modes, automatic this and that and so on. If you let the camera do everything or most thing, it will not help you with the view camera. It leads to a different kind of shooting, that is not aplicable with a view camera because of lack of these "conviniences". So you will need a lot of self control in order to do a quick learning with the digital. Digital has one more pitfall : since you can shoot a lot, it is easy to shoot a lot, even of the same subject. You will have to examine your shots is order to learn about composition. But I think for this, looking at other work that you like and noticing what you like about others pictures will be of great help.

Regards, Stefan

Dave Jeffery
14-Nov-2008, 03:15
I agree that a digital camera is a low cost way to learn to shoot as long as it does not depreciate in value much. You said that you are interested in portraits, macro and artsy stuff and a digital camera is a cheap way to explore those interests.

If creating large format images is your eventual goal you may also want to consider what the costs are of not capturing some opportune shots is while you are playing with the digital camera. You will waste some film learning LF but you will also make some nice images.You are going to lose some film when you switch anyway.

If you are driving places to shoot and spending any significant amount of time and money to do so those are also expenses that you must consider. If you are shooting close to home then it doesnít matter as much.

If you havenít done much studying yet you will need some time to do so anyway and the digital camera will be great in the mean time.

I wrote a little bit about being rushed into my first shoot in the thread listed below which also mentions the resources on this site that saved me that day. I spent about four months reading through this site and posting dumb questions, as well as reading the books mentioned previously.

There are a lot of great people on this site that are very generous with their time who made my foray into LF photography relatively easy and really enjoyable.

http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?t=39062

Have fun!

Michael Nagl
14-Nov-2008, 13:08
Hamr,
today I was out with my 8x10 when a guy asked me if he could take a photo of my camera; I invited him to enter under the darkcloth and "take a picture of the picture I am taking!" --Now that would sure be a way to get pictures from the big camera without having to spend money on film.
On the other hand, sell the DSLR and do buy film!

arca andy
14-Nov-2008, 15:42
Hi Hamr
With a LF you spend a lot of time looking and thinking before you even set up your camera. With your new digital camera take it slow, think about what you want to achieve before you put the thing to your eye, also, as mentioned already, use a tripod for every shot. Oh and once you mastered the craft of 'slow photography' dump the digital thing and buy a view camera you won't regret it.:) But above all enjoy taking pictures which ever camera you use.

J_Tardiff
14-Nov-2008, 16:49
Since you mention wanting to eventually try LF portraits, in my (albeit limited) experience, my digital SLR was invaluable for practicing with even the simplest of lighting setups. I will still pull the DSLR out when I fiddle with lighting gear -- talk about a great way to blow through film!

Have fun!

JT

hamr22
16-Nov-2008, 11:06
Thanks again for all the input. This is already more fun that I had thought!

Gene McCluney
16-Nov-2008, 14:41
I think Digital consumer point-n-shoot, and DSLR cameras are just about worthless for learning photography. About the only thing you can learn is composition and you can learn that without a camera. Since ALL digital cameras do automatic exposure and shutter speed selection and the zoom lenses are auto-focus, and many don't allow manual over-ride there is little "easy" way to learn the basics that you will NEED to know to operate any LF camera. Yes I know that most DSLR's can be switched to manual mode, and "can" be focused manually, the response to user input is not really as direct as using a LF camera.

My Opinion, get an inexpensive 4x5 press or view camera, one lens, a Fuji-roid instant film back and some Fuji FP=100c45 film. Instant feedback, and very nice little minature 4x5 prints, which look very good when exposed well.

Stefan Lungu
17-Nov-2008, 04:28
Gene, I would disagree a little there : DSLR cameras allow for manual settings, including complete manual control, that is you can use a light meter as with a view camera and set the time and aperture accordingly. The only problem is you have to do this even if the camera could do it for you - and that is not easy ;)

nanuq
18-Nov-2008, 15:14
I think Digital consumer point-n-shoot, and DSLR cameras are just about worthless for learning photography [...]

As someone who has started and progressed entirely with digital, and only very recently gotten in film, I am taking offense at your remark. DSLR are great tools, both for learning and for actual picture taking. They're just different from film and LF, but saying they're worthless is just plain stupid.