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ScenicTraverse
5-Mar-2013, 22:30
Hello LF photographers

I am just about to take the leap head first and in reverse from my digital SLR (Nikon D800) to a 4x5 camera. I recently purchased a Zone VI that is in great condition and included two lenses (a 90mm and 210mm) as well as some film holders, focus cloth, shutter release, etc.

However, there is still a list of goodies that I need to procure in order to start shooting..... For the first time in recorded history, I, a woman, need help from the largely male population of a forum with shopping.

Note: I have done alot of searching on this forum for this stuff, so please don't suggest search to answer my questions. I didn't find what I was looking for......

Here is what I've determined I need:
- A loupe for focusing. I'm young and have great eyesight, so is something like a 3-4x good enough? How about the Hoodman Loupe I already own (the only thread on that topic is several years old)?

- A film holder bag. Logic would dictate the film holders, once they have been loaded, are more likely to stay light tight and sealed up if they are in a protective bag rather than free floating around in the camera bag. I'm envisioning a small bag that sits inside my backpack. Is this really a problem and if so, what do you guys like? B&H has an amazing number of choices.....

- A mount for my tripod. I currently have a nice Gitzo tripod with an Arcatech ball head. I need an Arca-Swiss style plate that can screw onto the bottom of the camera. Does anyone else do this, and if so, do you suggest a longer or shorter plate? Does it matter?

- A brush for removing dust from film holders. This is pretty straight forward....

- A changing bag for film. I am a little woman with little woman arms. Are these bags going to be too loose on the arm holders? If so, how do I beat that problem? Is there a particular brand you guys favor over another? I assume it's better to get a large bag vs smaller bag?

- A light table for reviewing negatives. Do you guys actually use this, or is the old lamp/sun method good enough? If so, what do you prefer that isn't going to break the bank or require too much space in my already overcrowded photo suite.

- Film. Holy Sheet (har har har). There's a ton of great information about film on this forum, but I've read so much it's starting to confuse me. I'm thinking initially that I'll shot BW on one side of the film holder and color on the other of the same subject so I can practice both, but is there reason to start with one or the other? This might be a totally dumb question, but is some film more "forgiving" for incorrect exposures than other film brands? I wish B&H sold film grab bags like they sell paper sample kits for printer paper.

- A light meter..... this one confuses me the most, probably because the only metering I have ever done has been via my dSLR. Let's say I'm shooting the Washington Monument at night, but I'm standing some distance away so I can fit the whole thing into my frame. If I'm standing 200 ft away, when I do a metering on the light where I'm standing, I am likely to get the wrong exposure (the monument is well lit but I could be standing in a darker area of the national mall). My dSLR meters based on what it's pointed at, but a hand hold meter is doing the ambient scene correct? Are you using the meter to get a rough guess and then using your brain the rest of the way? Does anyone use the meter in their dSLR to judge exposure on LF? The threads I've read on here about meters all make reference to brands and types I cant find for sale.... and even if I did I'm totally confused about what I really want. I need lots of help here....

I know that's alot of questions, so I appreciate any help, even if it's just to answer one! Also, if you have suggestions for something I've overlooked that is a 'critical' piece of equipment that I'd need in order to start shooting, please let me know and I'll add it to the list!

Thank you guys for the help you've provided thus far. This forum is full of fantastic information!
-Kristen

C. D. Keth
5-Mar-2013, 23:10
I thought you were writing a book there for a second. Welcome to the fray, Kristen. You're going to love large format. Unless you hate it, that is.

I'll give it a go:

OK, loupe. A 3x or 4x is OK. A lot of people never go higher than that. I like a 6x or 8x because it's easier to see and focus wide lenses with a little more magnification. I have an 8x mamiya loupe that I absolutely love.

My film holder bag is a gallon ziplock bag. I'm not big on padding everything I own. If I did that I would carry so much weight in padding I'd have to leave something useful at home. If you insist, I have seen a soft insulated lunchbox at target that is just the right size for 4x5 holders. It will hold ten of them and has a couple mesh pockets on the outside for a cable release or a notebook. I think they're about $10.

I would get the longest plate that won't stick out from the base of the camera. My reasoning for this is macro work. It can be really handy to be able to slide the camera in or out a little bit

A brush is OK. I like a little oil-free air compressor I bought at harbor freight. It was $50 and I have all the <100psi air I need for holders, film, scanner bed, and whatever else you might want it for.

Having loaded millions of feet of film, a good changing tent is the thing on this list I feel strongest about. Just get a harrison changing tent. Don't even look at other designs. It's absolutely the best. It has good double elastic arms that are very tight on me so I think they'll be sufficiently tight on you, even if you're really tiny. If the sleeves are a little loose or the elastic wears out (mine is strong after several years, they're built well) you can slip a sport wristband over the sleeve to pinch it in better.

Film is such a huge subject. I would just shoot B&W for a while, until you get the hang of large format. Mistakes on B&W are a buck or less a sheet rather than $6-9/sheet with color film plus processing. The only way to find what you like is to try some things. You might as well start cheap and get some arista EDU film from freestyle. It's repackaged fomapan and a lot of people like it, myself included. It used to have quality control issues but I haven't experienced anything like that myself in the last several years.

Lightmeters are another preference kind of thing. Many modern meters or their older counterparts would serve you well. Not all handheld meters are incident meters, which are held st the subject and pointed back towards the camera position. You'll find most people here using and advocating spot meters, which measure light reflected off the subject like your DSLR meter. The difference is that your DSLR meter measures reflected light in the whole frame, often weighting the center in its calculation. A spotmeter measures a small spot- typically 1-degree- and tells you the exposure to render that spot as middle grey. With a little experience interpreting that reading, it really is the best no-guessing-involved way to meter a scene.

There's a good article about meters, metering, and a bit about the zone system on the LF homepage here. (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/articles/conrad-meter-cal.pdf)

lenser
6-Mar-2013, 00:02
Hi, Kristen.

Not at all a lot of questions and they are all quite relevant. Keep in mind you are likely to get dozens of different opinions, each quite good and workable for the person who answers, so you may need to distill what we all say into what will actually work for you.

Here goes on my opinions based on several decades of figuring things out as I go. By the way, I also shoot a Zone VI and love it.

1: I am 63 with not so good eyes and I get along very well with a 3.6X Toyo loupe. They can often be found on the for sale section here and on ebay for around $40-$70.

2: For film holder cases, look at Photobackpacker.com at their cascading film holder and on Ebay for a good used Zone VI camera bag...the nylon one, not the vinyl one. The cascading film holder holds six at a time in zippered enclosures (with lots of other features) and hangs from your tripod. The Zone VI Case holds several film holders, several lenses, meter, loupe, filters, dark cloth and bag bellows (look into that bellows for your wide angle work), lens pen, notebook, etc. for easy transport, but may not be a field bag for you because it does accumulate a lot of weight once you add more items. Some people just keep their film holders in zip lock bags and do well with those.

3: I'm highly prejudiced against ball heads. I just can't get them to level with any size camera and view cameras are the hardest. I use a Bogen/Manfrotto 410 geared head which gives three geared axis movements, both in gross movement and in fine micrometer movement. That's perfect for me since I shoot a lot of architecture and need very precise adjustments. It's also wonderful for nature work as it allows those very tiny refined movements to get your composition just perfect.

4: A brush is a great idea. An anti static brush is all the better. Never a nylon brush as that would produce static.

5: Avoid film changing bags as you are always fighting the collapsed fabric, a huge PITA. Calumet offers a film tent called the changing room, but it is just okay rather than great. Not enough room and curved sides limit that even more. The Harrison Film Tent from cameraessentials.com is really great and comes in three sizes. The middle size is terrific for 4x5 and even works well for 8x10. It has a footprint that allows for plenty of working room and is flat all the way out to the four corners. The gussets on the sleeves are quite tight and should give you no trouble with your arm size.

6: When I had a portrait studio and we had to mount hundreds of negatives per day on lab printing cards, I built a 2x2 foot viewing table into one of my counters. It consisted of a shallow pan of wood, open at each end for ventilation and painted bright white. In that were two florescent tubes like you can get at any Walmart to fit under kitchen cabinets. It was finished with a counter sunk groove around the perimeter so that a sheet of white translucent plexiglass dropped into place and remained flush with the counter. It was a counter when needed and a light box when that was desired. However, you might check with your local hospital to see if the are trashing any x-ray viewers since even those are going fully digital nowadays. Those would hang on the wall and be out of your way when you don't need to use them. If you need portability, there are several 8x10 light box units available at art supply stores.

7: I shoot both color transparency and black and white negative and use 100 speed films in each to keep things simple on exposure measurements. To avoid confusion in the camera bag, I color code all of my holders with nail polish on one edge with all holders stacked with that edge in one direction for instant differentiation. I use red for color and white for B&W. If I were to add color negative film, I would add a third color code for that and get a few new holders specifically dedicated to that film.

If you want to shoot back to back in the same holder, I suggest you do the same, but use the coding colors on both sides of the edge of each holder so you know for certain which film is which. That may not sound important until you want to use a red filter to enhance the contrast in a black and white scene and suddenly realize that you don't know which type of film is on which side of the holder. Loading film might be a bit tricky, but I would just leave the dark slide all the way in on the color side and partially out on the B&W while you load black and white in the dark, then take them out and in the light. At that point don't touch the B&W slides while you pull the color dark slides out to the point where you can identify them by touch in the dark and then load those with the appropriate film back in the dark. In my dotage, I would never try to do both film types at the same time in the dark. I would have to separate the procedures as described. To unload, just stack the holders with all of one type up, or down and unload just those on the up sides into one "exposed" film box, then do the other after getting a separate box for that exposed film.

8: You want a spot meter that reads only one degree of the scene! That can be as simple as an analog Pentax or Soligor II (black, not gray as the black are a newer version) which work beautifully and are relatively cheap (the Soligor often goes for under $100.00), or a Pentax digital, along with several other digital meters that either have spot attachments or built in spot systems. I have used both the Soligor and the Pentax analog meters for thirty years plus and see absolutely no need to change to the digital until those fail.

The only thing I would add is to go back to my mention of a bag bellows. In case you are not familiar, those are what the name implies. Instead of the pleats, the bellows frames are connected by a loose bag which allows for the lens standard and the film back to move with huge flexibility. It's primary purpose is to allow for the use of very wide angle lenses (which require a lot of bellows compression) and still allow the ability to do extreme camera movements such as a lot of rise on the lens. You will find it useful even with the 90mm and absolutely needed with anything shorter, especially if you shoot a lot of taller buildings (ex. the Washington Monument) or verticals in nature with wider lenses. While these are no longer made for the Zone VI, they often show up on ebay and sometimes even here on the for sale section.

Good luck and enjoy the heck of that camera and all your new adventures.

Tim

jumanji
6-Mar-2013, 00:08
For shooting, that seems to be enough. Just need to add a backpack.
I recommend you use a Pentax digital spotmeter and a Harrison film changing tent.

For developing, there are some ways to choose...

biedron
6-Mar-2013, 00:35
I would second the Harrison tent, especially if you travel. They are relatively expensive new, but worth it. They occasionally come up for sale used. Here they are at Badger - I think for 4x5 most folks would suggest the "Original Tent" rather than the "Pup Tent" for a little extra working room. https://www.badgergraphic.com/store/cart.php?m=product_list&c=161

You really do want a dedicated light table / light box rather than a plain old light. Here are some candidates from BH PhotoVideo - they can range all over the map in price and size: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/Lightboxes-Light-Tables/ci/1558/N/4220238504. But assuming you are shooing 4x5, something on the size of 10x12 would be fine, but if space is a concern, they come in smaller sizes. I've got the Porta-Trace 10x12 two lamp model (second in the link) and have been happy with it.

For a film holder bag, the one from Photobackpacker is great: http://www.photobackpacker.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Session_ID=ba258e20cff604064681c0457f0c9453&Screen=PROD&Store_Code=RPT&Product_Code=FHC4x5&Category_Code=RPT05. Bruce, the owner is a member here and is very helpful and prompt. Lots of folks put the individual holders inside antistatic bags, which then go into the PB holder - helps cut down on dust. I use ones like these: http://www.amazon.com/Antistatic-Bags-Resealable-6X10-Pack/dp/B000BSN274/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1362555084&sr=8-2&keywords=antistatic+bags

Bob

PrabuVenkat
6-Mar-2013, 01:41
Dear Kristen,

I am a newbie, I have not started using the system as much as I would like to, but thought I will nevertheless write this.

1. Adding a clip-on fresnel to the ground glass did a world of good to the way I could use my Sinar! I am not sure if the Zone VI comes with one, but if it doesn't, it might be a very useful addition. (I am not sure if others would agree with me here, opinion might be divided, but just wanted to say it turned out to be great for me!)



[B]2. Loupe : 3x - 6x seems ideal. I bought a 10x (newbie over-enthusiasm, what else!) and am looking for a 4x now.

DavyG
6-Mar-2013, 02:13
Another welcome to the fabulous world of LF !

Regarding light meters... Everyone seems to suggest spotmeters. And they are probably very good - but have you seen the prices?
You say that you're young, so I'm going to generalize and assume you have a smartphone. You can get a good - and free! - light meter app for your smartphone! I've compared it to my professional light meter and in most situations they agree on times/apertures. And when they don't, the difference isn't that big.

And while I'm at the smartphones, you might consider some other apps too... Massive Dev Chart app (for developing of B/W film), Viewfinder app, Reciprocity timer app and Depth of Field app. These are the ones I use...

I hope you have fun with your new camera :)

Len Middleton
6-Mar-2013, 04:31
Kristen,

Welcome to the asylum and group therapy.

Well thought out relevant questions, and well articulated.

As noted earlier, you will find a lot of opinions and personal preference, and you will need to sort out what is best for you.

Now going through your list:

Loupe - I have and use a good quality 6x and 8x loupe, but then my eyesight is not getting any better. I picked up a good second hand Schneider 6x loupe before Christmas for C$25, so they can be inexpensive.

Film Holder Bag - There are different solutions, mine is zip locks.

Mount for Tripod - I assume you mean a QR (quick release) mount. Certainly handy with the 4x5 format and generally doable. I have a Linhof one I use for 4x5 and pleased with it. I know Arca and Kirk have a good reputation as well, but I do not have personal experience with them. For the bigger formats (8x10 and ULF - Ultra Large Format e.g. 11x14, 8x20, 16x20, etc.), finding one robust enough is difficult. I too do not like ball heads for large format. OK for smaller cameras (e.g. digital, 35mm, medium format), but I am not fond of them for the big guys.

"A brush for removing dust from film holders. This is pretty straight forward...." Nothing to add that has not been said.

Change Bag for Film - Have one, do not use it. Great source for collecting dust, dirt, and other debris, and you may want to add retouching supplies to your list if you start using one. Change tents are another matter, but do not know much about them. I previously loaded and unloaded film in a bathroom with no window, with a towel at the bottom of the door, the lights in the room outside the bathroom turned off, and done a night. Currently have a windowless room in the basement with a table to load and unload film; very much a requirement for the 8x20.

Light Table - I frequently see these going relatively cheap on the local Craigslist (approx $40), so a good idea. Use one myself.

Film - Large format provides a great deal of flexibility in what one can do, including multiple creative ways to screw up. There are some informative and amusing threads on this site describing some. If you can get someone to mentor you, that would greatly help. However shooting, developing, and printing film will be one of your main methods of learning. You might want to get relatively inexpensive film (or use paper negatives) to learn the mechanics, and then find your favourite film as you progress. Next logical film question is local or mail order; I purchase local when I can.

Light Meter - Two primary category with a number of sub categories. Incident light meters are used to measure the light falling upon the subject; reflective (unsurprisingly) measures light reflected from the subject. These can be further divided into ambient reading (available light) and flash reading. Spotmeters are a special class of light meters that only measure reflected light within a one degree spot. My preference is a spotmeter. The smartphone app is also doable and the one I have on the iPhone seems to work well. Not selling the Pentax digital just yet though... The DSLR can also be used as a meter, although it is much more bulky than a dedicated meter.

You might find this will generate as many questions as it answers, and that is not uncommon. The group here is generally quite accommodating, especially where you have put some thought and research into it before hand, as it seems you have.

Hope that helps and good luck on your journey,

Len

Leigh
6-Mar-2013, 05:34
Hi Kristen,

- A loupe for focusing
There is a sweet spot in the 3.5x to 4x range, where most folks find the best trade-off.
If the loupe is too strong you'll see the grain of the ground glass rather than subject details.
I have a nice Toyo 3.6x available. PM if interested.

- A film holder bag
f.64 makes a very nice film holder bag, holds six 4x5 holders. Here's the B&H link:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/91702-REG/f_64_FH4X5_FH4X5_4x5_Film_Holder.html
I have three of these new; PM if interested.

- Film
You'll find as many film recommendations as there are shooters. I love Fuji Neopan Acros (100 ASA).
It's a lovely film, with very wide exposure latitude. You can't blow the highlights if you try.
It also has excellent reciprocity characteristics (no compensation up to 120 sec, only stop to 1000 sec).

- A light meter
I would highly recommend the Sekonic 558 (no longer in production). It does everything.
It meters incident plus having a 1 spot meter. It will do flash, ambient, and any mix thereof.
It has a built-in (optional) wireless trigger that works with the PocketWizard Plus II remotes.
This model was replaced by the 758, which is $200 more and has lots of useless bells and whistles.
I have a 558 with the wireless option available if you're interested.

Good shooting.

- Leigh

ScenicTraverse
6-Mar-2013, 05:42
Wow! I am blown away by the responses....

A few additional points of clarification then.....

- Loupe: I read on several threads that the 6-8x magnifications would start to give you so much detail that you could actually start to see the grains in the ground glass, which sounded like it'd annoy the crapola out of me. Is 3-4x sometimes not enough magnification for a scene, or does it really depend on your eyesight? I just want to make sure that I understand that most folks who are using the larger magnifications don't have some secret reason besides eye age for selecting that magnification.

- Film holder bag: Seems there are some very different schools of thought here. For the ziplock users- is the clear nature of the bag not un-nerving or problematic. I was assuming I wanted a dark bag, not that it'd be light tight per say, but for a little extra comfort in that department.

- Changing bag: Thanks for the comments here. I'd really only been considering the bags for the size factor when traveling, but seems there are some strong opinions to support taking a little extra space for the tent.

- Light meter: I do have an iPhone and was going to piddle with the various apps I've seen folks list here, but I've also read some mixed results. I will research spot meters later today and come back, I'm sure, with more questions!

I have a trip to Alaska later this spring that I'm looking forward to and would like to bring the LF camera if I've figured out enough to be dangerous by then...... I will probably have more questions regarding travel soon. I appreciate all the time you guys took to respond and welcome any more thoughts or opinions!

Peter Lewin
6-Mar-2013, 05:58
Kristen: All excellent responses so far. I'm of the "don't buy it until I'm sure I'll need it" school, so my thoughts are more about what you don't absolutely need to start:
1) I've lived without a loupe for a long time. If you want to check focus with something better than your own eyes, the old trick is a 50mm lens from an SLR, held "reversed". Then, after you have gained some experience, you can decide whether you want a loupe, and what magnification.
2) I keep my holders in quart-size zip-lock bags, three holders in each. Keeps dust out, and doesn't expose all of the holders every time you take one out, which would happen with a larger bag. If you want a "real" holder case, I would get the photobackpacker film holder, my camera backpack, camera, and lens cases all come from photobackpacker and are great, as is Bruce, who "is" photobackpacker (hope I remembered the right name!).
3) I use a Markins plate along with a Markins ball head; most manufacturers have a "universal plate" they recommend for view cameras.
4) I use a brush both to sweep dust out of holders before I load them, and to brush off negatives for either scanning or my enlarger. I use an old Kostiner 5" anti-static brush. Whatever you can find today, I particularly like the 5" (or wider) size, matches holders and negatives.
5) No experience with changing bags or tents, but the tent makes more sense to me. I've always used a closet with a towel under the door at night, or my own darkroom in my basement.
6) I have two light tables, virtually never use them any more, although I have a negative with a pinhole to retouch, and I will use one of them. For "normal" use, I just hold the negatives up to the light. Basically scanning or proofing tells me what I need to know about the negative, I even now make my proof sheets by scanning the PrintFile holders, four 4x5 negatives at a time.
7) I would start out shooting just b&w to get some experience. IMHO, one "sees" differently for b&w and color, since many scenes which might look nice in color don't translate well to b&w (especially unless you use filters to separate tones which blend in b&w). If anything, I would have separate holders for b&w and color, since it is fairly common practice, if a shot has real potential, to expose both sides of the holder to the same image, so that either, if one negative gets damaged in processing, you have a second, or for those more sophisticated than I am, one can look at the first developed negative, and try a different developer or time to "tweak" the second.
8) I am devoted to my, once again hard to find these days, ZoneVI modified Pentax 1 degree digital meter. I have both the digital and a small incident meter in my bag, but the spot meter is the "go to" meter, the incident is for back-up, or those occasions when an incident reading is simpler and sufficient.

Hopefully all of our opinions won't conflict too much, and will be helpful. I look forward to seeing your images in the "Post Your Photos" threads!

Len Middleton
6-Mar-2013, 06:09
- Film holder bag: Seems there are some very different schools of thought here. For the ziplock users- is the clear nature of the bag not un-nerving or problematic. I was assuming I wanted a dark bag, not that it'd be light tight per say, but for a little extra comfort in that department.


Quick answer is the zip lock keeps out dust and moisture, and the locks on the top of the film holder keeps the dark slides in place. I just put them in the camera bag like that, and have not had problems. But then I do always ensure the dark slide locks are in place...

Certainly good advice provided by others, in that do not buy it until you need it.

Scott Walker
6-Mar-2013, 06:51
- Light meter: I do have an iPhone and was going to piddle with the various apps I've seen folks list here, but I've also read some mixed results. I will research spot meters later today and come back, I'm sure, with more questions!



I would recommend the pocket light meter app for the iPhone, it's free and it works great. There is going to be a bit of a learning curve when you start metering things with a spot meter. You can meter the scene with your spot meter, determine your exposure then check it with the iPhone to see if it agrees with your calculations. One of the really cool features of the app is that you can hold the phone up viewing a scene with film speed set, aperture set and the app determines what to set the shutter speed at by center weighted metering. But lets say the lighting is a bit goofy so the scene is dark in the preview because of the center weighted metering. You can move the little metering box within the scene with your finger to where ever you want, so without changing what you are looking at you can change what part of the scene the center weighted metering is focusing on. This not only changes what the recommended shutter speed should be but it also previews the scene for you at those settings. Definitely a must have app, I used a spot meter exclusively but a couple years ago I decided to get a little camera for street photography & doing the touristy thing and found packing my Pentax spot meter around to be a pita so I looked into the iPhone apps. I was pretty skeptical at first and checked the phone meter against my spot meter and found that there was absolutely no reason to not trust the metering through the iPhone app. It is the only meter I use now with my RB67 and even with my view camera the iPhone will come out on occasion if I want to preview a scene with a couple of different metering choices

biedron
6-Mar-2013, 06:53
- Loupe: I read on several threads that the 6-8x magnifications would start to give you so much detail that you could actually start to see the grains in the ground glass, which sounded like it'd annoy the crapola out of me. Is 3-4x sometimes not enough magnification for a scene, or does it really depend on your eyesight? I just want to make sure that I understand that most folks who are using the larger magnifications don't have some secret reason besides eye age for selecting that magnification.


Yes, in my opinion the limiting factor to larger magnifications is how large/annoying the ground glass or fresnel texture gets. More magnification helps in critical focusing, but too much grain in the GG is annoying. So one reason (I think) you see a wide variety of recommended magnifications is that the grain of the GG varies from camera to camera. You won't really know what is optimal for you until you try one out with your setup. So a middle value of around 4-5x might be a good place to start. If you try one and don't like it you can more than likely sell it here.

Bob

Kevin J. Kolosky
6-Mar-2013, 07:28
90749

My film holder bag. A few bucks at Walmart.

With regard to light meters, as you know, there are both reflective and incident meters.
Before you make this "expensive" decision, I suggest you read two books.

1. Zone VI Workshop by Fred Picker
2. Beyond the Zone System by Phil Davis

(if you cannot get them and would like to borrow them I would be happy to loan them to you)

I also suggest that you go to Ken Lee's site and read everything he hasthere under "Tech", and "News".
That doesn't mean you have to agree with everything there, but you should read it and understand it.

http://www.kenleegallery.com/html/tech/index.php

And finally, I suggest that you befriend somebody who is a large format shooter. Someone you can phone up in the middle of the day or the middle of the night to ask questions of. Someone who can walk you through stuff. That someone will save you a lot of time, a lot of aggravation, and a lot of money!!

John Kasaian
6-Mar-2013, 07:40
Hello LF photographers

I am just about to take the leap head first and in reverse from my digital SLR (Nikon D800) to a 4x5 camera. I recently purchased a Zone VI that is in great condition and included two lenses (a 90mm and 210mm) as well as some film holders, focus cloth, shutter release, etc.

However, there is still a list of goodies that I need to procure in order to start shooting..... For the first time in recorded history, I, a woman, need help from the largely male population of a forum with shopping.

Note: I have done alot of searching on this forum for this stuff, so please don't suggest search to answer my questions. I didn't find what I was looking for......

Here is what I've determined I need:
- A loupe for focusing. I'm young and have great eyesight, so is something like a 3-4x good enough? How about the Hoodman Loupe I already own (the only thread on that topic is several years old)? Use the loupe you have and see if it works for you before spending $$

- A film holder bag. Logic would dictate the film holders, once they have been loaded, are more likely to stay light tight and sealed up if they are in a protective bag rather than free floating around in the camera bag. I'm envisioning a small bag that sits inside my backpack. Is this really a problem and if so, what do you guys like? B&H has an amazing number of choices....zip locks

- A mount for my tripod. I currently have a nice Gitzo tripod with an Arcatech ball head. I need an Arca-Swiss style plate that can screw onto the bottom of the camera. Does anyone else do this, and if so, do you suggest a longer or shorter plate? Does it matter?probably not

- A brush for removing dust from film holders. This is pretty straight forward....I use a little shop vac

- A changing bag for film. I am a little woman with little woman arms. Are these bags going to be too loose on the arm holders? If so, how do I beat that problem? Is there a particular brand you guys favor over another? I assume it's better to get a large bag vs smaller bag?not to worry

- A light table for reviewing negatives. Do you guys actually use this, or is the old lamp/sun method good enough? If so, what do you prefer that isn't going to break the bank or require too much space in my already overcrowded photo suite.they're nice but you can get by without for now

- Film. Holy Sheet (har har har). There's a ton of great information about film on this forum, but I've read so much it's starting to confuse me. I'm thinking initially that I'll shot BW on one side of the film holder and color on the other of the same subject so I can practice both, but is there reason to start with one or the other? This might be a totally dumb question, but is some film more "forgiving" for incorrect exposures than other film brands? I wish B&H sold film grab bags like they sell paper sample kits for printer paper. stick with one film when learning. FP-4+ is very forgiving

- A light meter..... this one confuses me the most, probably because the only metering I have ever done has been via my dSLR. Let's say I'm shooting the Washington Monument at night, but I'm standing some distance away so I can fit the whole thing into my frame. If I'm standing 200 ft away, when I do a metering on the light where I'm standing, I am likely to get the wrong exposure (the monument is well lit but I could be standing in a darker area of the national mall). My dSLR meters based on what it's pointed at, but a hand hold meter is doing the ambient scene correct? Are you using the meter to get a rough guess and then using your brain the rest of the way? Does anyone use the meter in their dSLR to judge exposure on LF? The threads I've read on here about meters all make reference to brands and types I cant find for sale.... and even if I did I'm totally confused about what I really want. I need lots of help here....use your dslr

I know that's alot of questions, so I appreciate any help, even if it's just to answer one! Also, if you have suggestions for something I've overlooked that is a 'critical' piece of equipment that I'd need in order to start shooting, please let me know and I'll add it to the list!

Thank you guys for the help you've provided thus far. This forum is full of fantastic information!
-Kristen Now get out there and shoot some film!:)

Jim Jones
6-Mar-2013, 08:12
I use a cheap 6 or 8 power loupe. Seeing some grain in the focusing screen is good -- it assures me that the focus of the image, the focus of my old eyes, and the plane of the focusing screen coincide.

A Christmas tin that originally held Oreos also holds four film holders, is nearly light tight, is durable, is cheap, and provides much physical protection. I would never load one film holder with two types of film. It seems almost as easy and much more error-free to swap holders. Film has some distinct advantages for B&W capture. My D3100 is good enough for color; a D800 should be much better. Do shoot in RAW; it permits more manipulation of the image. This is usually necessary when converting to B&W. Do provide a means of identifying which film holder has taken a negative. A combination of five narrow and wide notches in the flap provides unique binary numbers on both sides of 16 film holders. The same number on the outside of the holder lets you record the exposure and other details. Long ago I recorded such information, and found it facilitated learning from many mistakes. It can also identify a light-leaking film holder.

A three-axis tripod head is better for setting up LF cameras than a ball head. My ancient Tiltall has an adequate three-axis head and uses the standard 1/4" tripod screw. I trust that more than a QD plate, even though it isn't quite as convenient. LF photography isn't about convenience, it is about quality.

A darkroom is much better for loading film holders than a changing bag or even a tent unless you have to work on the road. Edward Weston draped blankets over his old Ford to load holders in the inferno of the desert. At least Alaska shouldn't be that uncomfortable. I haven't wrestled with a changing bag in decades.

I rarely use my X-ray viewing light box. For smaller negatives, it has a few advantages over a light source built into a table source; the glass or plastic surface doesn't get scuffed up, the table top remains perfectly smooth, and the light box can be used anywhere. However, a built-in source is convenient.

Your D800 can be used as a spot meter, but some experimenting may be necessary to accurately translate from it or a smartphone app to film. With practice, an averaging meter works well. With even more practice and care, photographers did without any photoelectric meters for the first 70+ years of photography. In good sunlight, experience may be as reliable as any meter. Any time you meter a subject, first guess at the required exposure. You may become quite accurate in guessing, a valuable time saver. For example, read up on Ansel Adams' photograph of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941. Photographing the Washington Memorial at night is a difficult situation. If possible, move in close or use a spot meter that can meter small areas of the subject. You can either take one reading of a portion of the subject that should be rendered as a mid-tone in the image, or meter both shadows and highlights where detail is desired, and set the camera to an appropriate exposure between those extremes. In two sentences I've tried to cover a topic that can fill a book. Get the book!

With a DSLR, it is tempting to try many versions of one subject. As Ben Franklin said, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket." When first learning photography, that can be good. With LF, be selective. Study the subject and the light. Chose the best camera position , settings, and time. Make that shot count. An interviewer once asked Ansel Adams if he bracketed his exposure. He replied, "No, I get it right the first time." He also added that sometimes a second shot at the same exposure provided insurance and perhaps different development after viewing the first negative. As Mark Twain said, "Do put all of your eggs in one basket, and guard that basket!"

Joseph Dickerson
6-Mar-2013, 09:35
Kristen,

OK, I will fall into the trap or trying to help a woman shop...:cool:

Something that no one has pointed out is that while the Hoodman loupe is fine for pixel peeping, it's pretty much useless for ground glass focusing. Get a good loupe, even with good eyesight you'll appreciate it. Rodenstock, Fuji, Silvestri, Peak, are all excellent brands but can be a bit pricey. Many like the Toyo loupe, I've never been able to get one that actually focussed on the ground glass, I always have to hold it a few millimeters above the ground glass. But they're common and not expensive.

Some of us use clip on type magnifiers or reading glasses in the 4-6+ diopter range, this approach leaves both hands free for making the necessary camera adjustments. The only problem I have with mine is that my wife keeps stealing them to use with her jewelry making projects.

I'd really recommend either Using the View Camera by Steve Simmons, or Jack Dykinga's book on Large Format Nature Photography (I don't recall the exact title and can't find my copy at the moment). A very good, but expensive, reference book is View Camera Technique by Leslie Stobel.

Just hanging out around here can do a lot to improve your knowledge, welcome to the community.

JD

Bernice Loui
6-Mar-2013, 10:48
Hello Kristen,

See reply in *

I am just about to take the leap head first and in reverse from my digital SLR (Nikon D800) to a 4x5 camera. I recently purchased a Zone VI that is in great condition and included two lenses (a 90mm and 210mm) as well as some film holders, focus cloth, shutter release, etc.

*Great !

However, there is still a list of goodies that I need to procure in order to start shooting..... For the first time in recorded history, I, a woman, need help from the largely male population of a forum with shopping.

*Even better to see another woman crafting images with sheet film :)

Note: I have done alot of searching on this forum for this stuff, so please don't suggest search to answer my questions. I didn't find what I was looking for......

Here is what I've determined I need:
- A loupe for focusing. I'm young and have great eyesight, so is something like a 3-4x good enough? How about the Hoodman Loupe I already own (the only thread on that topic is several years old)?

*If there is already a loupe in the kit, start with that one first. These are kind of a personal preference item that range from Schneider loupes, enlarging lenses (25mm to 50mm reversed), home made to... Me, it is a Horseman and it is very, very well used. Tie a long string to what ever loupe used and hang it on the tripod/camera to allow easy access and prevent it from being lost while setting up the image.

*Tilting the loupe at the edges of the ground glass can help view and focus when using wide angle lenses.

- A film holder bag. Logic would dictate the film holders, once they have been loaded, are more likely to stay light tight and sealed up if they are in a protective bag rather than free floating around in the camera bag. I'm envisioning a small bag that sits inside my backpack. Is this really a problem and if so, what do you guys like? B&H has an amazing number of choices.....

*Film holders in a zip lock baggie, then choose a pretty bag of your choice to carry them in. There is nothing really special about film holder bags and most commercially sold film bags tend to be plain and drab. Carry more than one zip lock baggie, one for un-exposed film, another for exposed film and at least one spare. When working in the field, these baggies can get lost or damaged.

- A mount for my tripod. I currently have a nice Gitzo tripod with an Arcatech ball head. I need an Arca-Swiss style plate that can screw onto the bottom of the camera. Does anyone else do this, and if so, do you suggest a longer or shorter plate? Does it matter?

*IMO, give up on the ball head. These don't agree with a view camera unless the ball head has separate locking for each axis. It will be an exercise is frustration when trying to level the camera as once the ball head lock is un-locked, where the camera was once set goes out-a-whack.

*Get a reasonable pan/tilt/swivel head of your choice. This does not need to be fancy, just easy to use, stable when locked and not overly heavy.

*Setting up usually means checking the levels on camera, it the camera does not have levels, add them. tilted or crooked images are not always pleasant or desirable.

*Some time ago, Hasselblad offered their bottom quick release plates to be used with their quick release couplers. These were good enough for most smaller field type view cameras. They were low profile, stable, lightweight and worked well. Bolex cine cameras had a similar system. Most of the current quick release plates are hurky/bulky like the hex plate used on Bogen. They work fine, but the bulk is tiresome.

*Tripod does not need to be over sized or excessively heavy, just stable and easy to use.

- A brush for removing dust from film holders. This is pretty straight forward....

*Skip the brush or blower as they can blow dust or dirt into traps in the film holder and re-appear when least expected. Get a new brush attachment for your vacuum cleaner and vacuum out the film holder with the dark slide out and flap completely open. Vacuum the dark slide slot (one of the great dust and dirt traps) and make sure the dark slide is clean. Then put the clean film holders in a zip lock baggie to keep them that way.

- A changing bag for film. I am a little woman with little woman arms. Are these bags going to be too loose on the arm holders? If so, how do I beat that problem? Is there a particular brand you guys favor over another? I assume it's better to get a large bag vs smaller bag?

*Dark room is better if not use a changing tent. Bags can be frustrating to use due to size, dust/dirt trap and... This applies to changing tents too. If you're going to use a lot of film, better to bring more loaded film holders and not do any film changing in the field.... which is another risk for film damage or getting stuff on your film.

- A light table for reviewing negatives. Do you guys actually use this, or is the old lamp/sun method good enough? If so, what do you prefer that isn't going to break the bank or require too much space in my already overcrowded photo suite.

*JUST Normlicht.. find a good used one. These are light weight and low profile. If viewing color transparencies, make sure the light source is 5000K or the colors will be off. This applies to any light box used for viewing color transparencies. Uniform light distribution on the entire light box surface is also important as allows viewing and some measure of light fall-off or uniformity of exposure. This is where a really good loupe applies and helps.

- Film. Holy Sheet (har har har). There's a ton of great information about film on this forum, but I've read so much it's starting to confuse me. I'm thinking initially that I'll shot BW on one side of the film holder and color on the other of the same subject so I can practice both, but is there reason to start with one or the other? This might be a totally dumb question, but is some film more "forgiving" for incorrect exposures than other film brands? I wish B&H sold film grab bags like they sell paper sample kits for printer paper.

*Might be best to start with a good predictable film like Ilford FP4 or HP5 and get to know your camera and practice your technique until it becomes second-nature before moving on to other films. The idea here is to focus on image making and not fall into the trap of trying to find that golden image widget that makes the perfect image for you. It is so easy to fall into the trap of trying new stuff at the beginning and never really developing one's own style and technique by focusing on the basics. This includes everything from using the camera, loading/un-loading film, processing and print making. There will be exposures where you forget to stop down the lens, set the wrong speed, out of focus, loaded the film backwards and.... All this is part of the learning process and it will get better. Don't allow these Oooopsies frustrate you, just keep at it and at some point, it will all come together.

- A light meter..... this one confuses me the most, probably because the only metering I have ever done has been via my dSLR. Let's say I'm shooting the Washington Monument at night, but I'm standing some distance away so I can fit the whole thing into my frame. If I'm standing 200 ft away, when I do a metering on the light where I'm standing, I am likely to get the wrong exposure (the monument is well lit but I could be standing in a darker area of the national mall). My dSLR meters based on what it's pointed at, but a hand hold meter is doing the ambient scene correct? Are you using the meter to get a rough guess and then using your brain the rest of the way? Does anyone use the meter in their dSLR to judge exposure on LF? The threads I've read on here about meters all make reference to brands and types I cant find for sale.... and even if I did I'm totally confused about what I really want. I need lots of help here....

*Me, Minolta Spot meter F. Do learn how to use a spot meter and what the readings mean. Incident meters do not allow measurement of specific areas in the image being made. This is important for fitting the overall scenic brightness range on to film and how the print looks in the end.

*Using a view camera is totally manual, ya gotta do it all as the camera does little for you other than focus light onto film and control exposure by shutter speed.

I know that's alot of questions, so I appreciate any help, even if it's just to answer one! Also, if you have suggestions for something I've overlooked that is a 'critical' piece of equipment that I'd need in order to start shooting, please let me know and I'll add it to the list!

*Dark cloth.. and velcro on the dark cloth and camera..

*There will come a time to explore camera movements and more..

*Focus on image making and not on the widgets as this is about creativity and expression, less about what the toys might do.


Bernice

lenser
6-Mar-2013, 11:26
A couple of additional thoughts: A BTZS hood instead of a dark cloth for windy conditions. And the packing size of my Medium Harrison film changing tent is about 5"X 16". It sets up easily and tears down the same. The footprint makes for easy use on a motel bed or the hood of a car when traveling.

Peter Lewin
6-Mar-2013, 11:37
More in the way of not buying things: instead of buying a dark cloth, I, and many others, just use a black t-shirt: stretch the neck around the ground glass, and put your head in from the bottom of the shirt. Compact, works well in breezes (less to blow around), and most of us already had one.

lenser
6-Mar-2013, 11:43
Email sent regarding Zone VI directions.

C. D. Keth
6-Mar-2013, 13:09
And the packing size of my Medium Harrison film changing tent is about 5"X 16". It sets up easily and tears down the same. The footprint makes for easy use on a motel bed or the hood of a car when traveling.

You can be even smaller and lighter with the harrison tents if you leave the poles at home. A little length of para cord and a binder clip will still let you hold the top of the tent up off the film and holders.

ScenicTraverse
6-Mar-2013, 18:09
Once again, amazing responses so thank you all (again). More comments/Questions:

- I got a dark cloth with the camera and was going to stick with that for awhile until I figure out what I like/dont like

- For reasons of financial efficiency, I was going to stick with my ball head for the time being. Good points about the pan/tilt and leveling being a tad harder, but I can't justify spending money on another head when I have one now. LF is all about shooting and working slowly and methodically, so I might as well take the same approach to the tripod!

- Thank you for the reading list. I've been reading the Ansel Adam's series and purchased "Finely Focused" and am just starting that. Both have been good reading material and help alot.

- Special thanks to Lenser re: the email you sent me.

- Question on the tent: Some of you mention just using a dark room, but my issue there is when I travel I can't guarantee that I will always have a dark room handy. I assume (maybe incorrectly) that if you are flying, you wait to load your film in your destination, so you need something like a tent in the event that you dont have a light tight room at your hotel, etc. I would hate to travel somewhere to discover I couldn't load film without huge risk of light exposure! If you don't have a tent/changing bag, then what do you do when you travel?

- Another question on film - I assume as a newbie I'm going to burn through film as part of my learning curve. Are there places that sell in larger quantities at better prices than B&H? And if you buy in bulk, why do you freeze it? My dad always put film in the fridge, not the freezer..... that seems like it'd be harder on the film (but it could taste like ice cream!)?

- Another question on brushes - some of you mention the shop vac, air compressor, etc, but what do you do when you travel? I suspect you're not checking a shop vac in your luggage, so do you also use a brush?

Thanks again for the responses, this is giving me lots of material to research further and to think about. Y'all are saving me alot of money as I'm probably not making some of the "usual mistakes" as a result of your help. Where the heck was this advice when I started shooting digital! ;)

lenser
6-Mar-2013, 19:41
The Dark cloth is fine until you get into a high wind situation. Then it will drive you nuts unless you can clamp it down or have a shooting partner hold it on the camera while you fiddle with the controls. Big clips from an office suppy help with that problem, but the BTZS hood is almost the ideal solution.

There are many great used tripod heads out there such as the Bogen 3047 that often go for well under $100. I can almost promise that you will hate the ball head after the first five minutes trying to level your Zone VI.

I used to rely on motel bathrooms and just sit on the floor to make the film changes with towels stuffed under the door and duck tape along the outline of the door. Then Calumet came out with the changing room years ago and then I found the Harrison, a dream to work with. Those are also available used, but research carefully before buying one. They had problems with the fabric becoming very sticky on some of the older ones. I still don't have info on why, but they were a real pain. The newer ones are wonderful and they have changed storage recommendations to keep them set up and hanging in a closet, etc. instead of long term storage in their bags. This is a true investment and worth every dime and then some.

Look at the EDU films from Freestyle. Some swear by them and they are quite cheap. Also, I've been using B&W Ilford film from the late nineties that I got at an estate sale a few years ago. I still get gorgeous negatives. Have little fear of outdated black and white film even if it hasn't been refrigerated. This stuff was in a storage unit (NOT climate control) in hot Missouri summers for at least two years before I got it. Color is a big other matter and should only be bought outdated if it has been kept frozen.

I haven't cleaned my holders with anything but canned compressed air in years. I don't remember the last time I had dust problems. In a super dry climate, I might be more worried due to possible static attraction, but so far so good. Just brush them before leaving on your trip and don't be too worried.

biedron
6-Mar-2013, 21:26
Once again, amazing responses so thank you all (again). More comments/Questions:
- Question on the tent: Some of you mention just using a dark room, but my issue there is when I travel I can't guarantee that I will always have a dark room handy. I assume (maybe incorrectly) that if you are flying, you wait to load your film in your destination, so you need something like a tent in the event that you dont have a light tight room at your hotel, etc. I would hate to travel somewhere to discover I couldn't load film without huge risk of light exposure! If you don't have a tent/changing bag, then what do you do when you travel?

Kristen,

While you usually can make a hotel/motel bathroom light tight with towels and tape, it can be a hassle. Do that for a week or more and it grows tiresome. You might consider going that route when you are starting out if you want to save some $$. But it sounds like you may be traveling, likely by air, to photo locations and a tent will be a real convenience.

Regarding ball heads vs 3-axis heads, if you are shooting mostly landscapes, then a ball head should be OK if you take a little time - getting things absolutely plumb is usually not critical. If you shoot architecture, where you need the camera back to be absolutely level and parallel to the subject plane, then a 3-axis head will shine. Since you've got a ball head already, I'd suggest sticking with that to begin with. Later, you can decide whether a 3-axis head will work better for you. Also with regards to traveling by air, I think most 3-axis heads are heavier than ball heads.

For cleaning, a "rocket blower" is travel friendly. You may already own one for your digital gear.


Bob

John Kasaian
6-Mar-2013, 22:32
Arista.edu Ultra from Freestyle is certainly a good economical film (it's Fomapan) but I recollect you mentioning low light photography and reciprocity appears to be an issue with .edu Ultra which is why I didn't mention it. For normal exposures i think it's good stuff (I've got 3 or 4 boxes in the freezer!) For Ilford films I order from Badger Graphic. They usually have the best prices and besides, state sales tax is horrible for California residents who buy film in California (and sales taxes don't benefit the California State Parks as per the recent scandals)
For travelling you can certainly use a brush, just get a good one that won't shed bristles. IIRC there are specialized anti static brushes, or try a Giotto blower(it looks like something used for giving an enema!) or even your lens cleaning brush (which probably also has a bulb for blowing air) If you really want to spend $$ a better alternative is a Micro-Vac, about the size of a small "c" cell flashlight with an assortment of brushes that is packable---I used one until it finally gave out (in all fairness it did last me several years) It wasn't very expensive but I have no idea what they go for now. I prefer a dedicated mini shop vac at home because I don't like the idea of brushing or blowing dust off of gear as the dust can float around and sneak back on aboard when i'm not looking. With a vacume, the dust is captued and contained where it can't get out an run amuck (at least thats my theory)