View Full Version : getting started in LF

gary bridges
11-Jul-2004, 20:09
is a 4x5 negative to small to make a contact print from? I would like to get started in LF in this format-I would also like to do my own film developing & printing. I have an enlarger, but it's not a large format one so I need to start out making contact prints. I would appreciate any advice.

11-Jul-2004, 20:12
Unless you are satisfied with making 4x5s with your present enlarger, you won't be happy making contact prints from LF negatives.

steve simmons
11-Jul-2004, 20:29
We have an article called Getting Started in Large Format on our web page in the Free Articles section


steve simmons

Frank Petronio
11-Jul-2004, 20:55
4x5 contacts can be nice, but most people think they are too small - unless you photograph a lot of smaller, simple subjects in detail. Get a 5x7 or 8x10 to start with - they don't have to cost a lot of money. Post another question about how to start in 5x7 or 8x10 inexpensively and you'll get dozens of good ideas...

John Kasaian
11-Jul-2004, 21:01

You can get an Omega D2 enlarger that will handle 4x5s on a budget if you look hard enough.

If what you want is to make 8x10 contacts though, you might as well get an 8x10 camera. For studio use, a metal Calumet would be hard to beat for features and economy. If you want to take it into the field, look at B&Js, Agfa -Anscos, etc... If you actually want to hike with it(in moderation) unless your built like "The Governator" take a look at Deardorffs, Kodak Masterviews and Century Universals. Of course if you've got deep pockets, there are all sorts of new and professional type used cameras available.

Some alternative processes are costly ventures and the cost is usually in direct proportion to the format size. In that case a 4x5 or even smaller will provide you with a more economical format to learn on.

An attractive possibility might be to get an older flat bed type camera like an Agfa Ansco or B&J that will accept both 4x5 and 5x7 backs, giving you a 4x5 format to practice with and a 5x7 format capable of (IMHO) intimate contacts with more of a "presence" than many 4x5s.

Good Luck!

Ralph Barker
11-Jul-2004, 22:17
You're likely to get opinions all over the map on this one, Gary. FWIW, here are my 2.

Among the various LF formats, 4x5 is the most common, and the least expensive in terms of typical equipment, supplies, and enlarging. You can get used 4x5 enlargers for anywhere from $250-$400 or so, and about the same for a used 135mm lens (you can use your existing lenses for smaller formats). An Omega D2V condensor enlarger in good condition will serve nicely, and should be fairly easy to find in that price range. With 4x5 contact prints, however, you run the risk of them being thought of as drugstore prints.

In contrast, 5x7 is a great format, and the contact prints a bit more impressive. That format, however, is not well-supported by the film manufacturers (film choices are quite limited, compared to 4x5), and 5x7 enlargers are more difficult to find, and usually more expensive. 8x10 is great for contacts, but supplies are expensive and enlargers for 8x10 are really tough to find - particularly on a budget.

Another alternative with 4x5 is to scan and print digitally. Different than silver prints, of course, and a good scanner that is 4x5 capable (e.g. an Epson 3200) and a good printer (e.g. an Epson 2200) will end up being more expensive than the 4x5 enlarger.

Christian Olivet
11-Jul-2004, 22:55
Contact printing and enlarging are two different things. I myself only did and still do contacts prints only. The reason is simplicity and quality. Some of my 4x5 contact prints are just truly amazing, but most of the are a little too small. Nowadays I use an 8x10 camera. It is the workhorse for contacts. Some have metioned 5x7 as a viable alternative and I agree, I always wanted to have one. I would say, take it easy and read lots about it. Remeber that all negatives unless tremendoulsy huge, can be scanned and printed on transparency material and then contact printed. Check out the forum michaelandpaula@michealandpaula.com You will find tons of information for contact printing only.

11-Jul-2004, 23:15
is a 4x5 negative to small to make a contact print from?

You'll have to answer that for yourself. I made 4x5 contact for a number of years. I like small prints. I use 5x7 now. It's just as good if not better. 8x10 is a little too much for me. But I own a few beautiful 8x10 prints made by very good photographers.

Brian C. Miller
11-Jul-2004, 23:32
You've taken 35mm film and gone to the store and got prints, right? Was 4x6" too small? You can get an enlarger when you've decided to make larger prints. In the mean time, you'll have lots of fun.

Jay DeFehr
12-Jul-2004, 00:00
In my experience, 4x5 is a great format for learning LF, view camera movements, sheet film handling, contact printing, and alternative processes. I made a lot of exposures in 4x5 before I got any that I wished were larger than 4x5, and then I made enlargements. Of the 4x5 negatives that I enlarged, only a few looked better enlarged than they did contact printed. How much my printing abilities and subject matter contributed to my assessment of the prints is an open question. My subjects are mostly portraits, which tolerate small printing better than grand vistas, I think. 4X5 enlargers are dirt cheap on the used market, so I don't see that as much of a factor, and the ability to economically enlarge 4x5 negatives makes the format the most practical in LF. 4x5 is the most common large format, and the used market is loaded with accessories, which will end up costing as much or more than the camera when you are fully outfitted. Even if at some point in the future you decide that 4x5 is too small for contact printing and you move up to a larger format, a 4x5 reducing back will ensure that your 4x5 kit survives the transition, even if you sell the camera itself off to finance the upgrade. I've moved up from 35mm through all of the medium and large formats up to 10x12, and I'm still going, but I've never abandoned a format completely. I've found that each has its place, even if it is only in my heart. Good luck.

12-Jul-2004, 06:30
I think it depends on what you photograph. Also on what you intend to do with the prints. Nothing stopping you from making contact prints until you get an enlarger.

Robert Skeoch
12-Jul-2004, 06:37
As you can tell from the replies, there's no easy answer. Most people start with 4x5 and many are very happy staying in that format. I don't have a 4x5 enlarger so decided to shoot 8x10's and make contacts, but almost everyone with an 8x10 camera still has a 4x5 also. That makes it a great place to start, and maybe never move up. If money isn't an issue, I think the wisner and ebony camera's are the nicest on the market for wood field camera's.

Bruce Watson
12-Jul-2004, 07:29
If you are just starting out, you'll find a wealth of information here:




Good luck, and welcome to the club.

Erik Sherman
12-Jul-2004, 07:51
Another digital possibility is, if you have the scanner and printer, create a larger negative on clear-based media, and then do contact prints of them. Dan Burkholder has a book out on doing that.

Don Wallace
12-Jul-2004, 08:24

One of the first challenges in LF is learning the camera and getting good negatives. I spent a year working on my development procedures and only doing contact prints until I could afford an enlarger (an Omega). 4x5 contacts are probably too small for most purposes but you can still get started and learn quite a bit without an enlarger.


Brian Ellis
12-Jul-2004, 08:26
Paula Chamlee has made a lot of lovely 4x5 contact prints so it's something that can be done and that some people like. However, it depends a lot on the subject - Ansel Adams' photographs wouldn't be very well suited for 4x5 contact prints for example. It also depends on your personal tastes, some people (I'm one) just like small prints. The idea that the bigger a print is the better is a modern idea fueled in large part by marketing considerations(photographers and galleries can get a lot more for a 40x50 print than an 8x10 print)and also by the fact that digital has made it more feasible to make huge prints than it was with a traditional darkroom. Many of the old masters such as Steiglitz and Weston never made a print larger than 8x10 and their work has held up pretty well.

Having said all that, I think it's still fair to say that most people would find 4x5 prints too confining and too small for most subjects on a consistent basis but it's a good way to begin if you don't have a 4x5 enlarger (and these days people are virtually giving away 4x5 enlargers so buying one wouldn't break the bank).

12-Jul-2004, 08:28
Start off with 4x5. After that, you have 3 options, contact print, buy an enlarger, or go the digital route. You can make really nice 8x10 prints with a HP 7660 ($80 refurbished) and an old sacnner with a trannsparency adaptor (Acer, Eposn, orthers used, $50 eBay). I think that is the best start.

Jim Chinn
12-Jul-2004, 08:42
What size of final print do you like?

If you like 8x10 then you just as well get an 8x10 camera and a inexpensive lens and contact print those. (plenty of info about reasonably priced lenses for 8x10 on this site).

If you see yourself someday making larger prints, (11x14 and larger) then get the 4x5 camera and an enlarger. You are limited by the 8x10 negative for enlargement purposes.

5x7 is a nice compromise, mounted and matted a good 5x7 contact can have a lot of impact. You will be limited to contacts however unless you want to find an old 5x7 enlarger.

And of course there is the digital option already mentioned.

We do not know what your budget is and this usually plays about in the equation. Remember with the enalrger you will need a good lens, a place for the enlarger etc. Contact printing 8x10 you need the printing frame and light source which can be as simple as a tungsten bulb hanging over the frame. 8x10 you need a good sturdy tripod, 4x5 depending on the camera you can get by with a lesser tripod. There are a lot of variables. But if you are interested in contact printing 5x7 is the smallest I would go and 8x10 is ideal. That is untill you decide you want to go to 12x20!

Nick Morris
12-Jul-2004, 11:15
I started LF with 4x5, a Super Graphic. I now use an 8x10 almost exclusively. I have a 5x7 back for it, but haven't yet exposed 5x7. I've become addicited to the 8x10 contact print. I would recommend thinking alot about what and how you want to photograph. There is a big difference in the portability of 4x5 and 8x10. I would also think about how much money you want to spend on materials. 8x10, the best way to do LF in my opinion, is expensive. Bought new (and fresh) 8x10 B&W film ranges from about $2.00 to $3.00 per sheet, or about what a 24-exposure roll of 35mm film cost. Of course, if we think too much much about the money we spend on making pictures, not many pictures would get made. However, I have found that the larger the film size, the fewer exposures I make. I think it has more to do with the time and effort required to set-up the larger cameras; becoming more selective about what I photograph; using one camera/film combination and being more confident about the result, than it does with film cost. If the on-going cost of film is not a problem for you, I'd say go straight to 8x10. Otherwise, I would recommend a 5x7 camera with 5x7 and 4x5 backs, rather than a 4x5 camera. Whatever you get, get a camera in good operating condition. There are generally more steps involved with using a LF camera, and you don't want to be fiddling with broken or malfunctioning parts when setting up and making adjustments.

12-Jul-2004, 11:44
In my not so humble opinion, 4x5 is where to start. Its going to be cheaper to setup, easier to find equipment, lighter to haul equipment, and most importantly cheaper to make mistakes on. :)

A 4x5 contact print may not have the same appeal as an 8x10 contact print, but then again, if you find something you like enough to enlarge, you can always find a local lab (or scan and print it).

Finally, if you decide you like LF enough to stick with it, but decide you want to move up to 5x7 or 8x10, you'll be able to take everything along with you. While your 4x5 lenses won't cover 8x10, you can always use a reducing back to just re-use your 4x5 equipment (sans camera, of course). If you buy lenses for 4x5 that cover 5x7, you won't even need to replace them if you move up.

So, yeah. By this point, I'm just repeating what others have already said, and said better. Consider this another vote to try out 4x5 to decide if this is the right move for you, then upsize as you think you'll need.

tim atherton
12-Jul-2004, 11:58
8x10 is nice, very nice, but generally it's a whole other ballgame in terms of size, weight, cost and avialability (both gear/lenses and film)

And yes, with some exceptions I do find the 4x5 contact a little too small - but it's one way to get started.

You are going to find it much easier - and generally cheaper - to find a wider variety of 4x5 cameras and lenses. Film holders are cheaper and comparatively much lighter. Film is also cheaper for starting off.

Biggest point is that with some patience you should be able to pick up a decent 4x5 enlarger for a good price - either locally or on ebay (friend here just bought a cambo 4x5 monorail, 90mm 6.8 Super Angulon, 150mm 5.6 Schnieder, film holders + a very nice durst 4x5 enlarger with two schnieder lenses all for $1000.00 for a local pro/studio photogorpaher going digital). A year or so ago I bought an old Omega 4x5 enlarger + lens for $125.00 at a garage sale here. And that's in a city of only 13,000 people.

If you find you really do get hooked but want the bigger neg, you will probably not lose anything on selling your gear to move up to 8x10 (though if you are like most of us, you will probably find an excuse to hang on to the 4x5 gear as well....!)

Max Wendt
12-Jul-2004, 13:35
I'm still very much a beginner with LF. I went the 8x10 route since I only wanted to contact print. While I don't regret my choice, I will say that if I were doing it again today, I'd start with 4x5 instead; there are just so many more options.

gary bridges
12-Jul-2004, 22:03
thanks to all for advising me how to get started in LF-I hope to be able to start soon