View Full Version : Selling 4x5 kit for medium format camera?

30-Jul-2013, 03:57
I`m thinking about selling my 4x5 kit and buying a rollfilm camera instead.
The main reason is that 4x5 film is a lot more hassle when travelling and film + processing is way more expensive.

Also I`m not sure if the image quality is really that much better with 4x5 when scanning the film on an hasselblad x1:
Since the scanner allows 3200dpi with medium format and "only" 2040dpi with 4x5" film.
Wouldn`t that result in about the same image quality/ resolution when using films like ektar 100 and really sharp lenses.
Has anyone done tests like shooting the same photo on 4x5 and medium format film and then scanning on an imacon/hasselblad scanner?

Otto Seaman
30-Jul-2013, 04:21
Yep people have tested variations of this concept, more often comparing something like a sharp medium format camera like a Mamiya 7 or Fuji 6x9 with the Nikon CoolScan 9000... and in many cases the scans will be comparable to a good 4x5 scan off an Epson 700. A wash more or less.

Then again, a carefully shot Nikon D800 file can give a mediocre scan off an Epson a run for the money, at least at moderate print sizes.

We could go on forever comparing different combinations. I remember that when I compared and printed a Nikon D70 file to what I was getting from scanning my Rolleiflex 6x6 on an Epson 1640 that the D70 looked really good. That was almost ten years ago. Not much has changed, just the model numbers.

Basically if you handicap the large format film with a mediocre scan and then compare it to a better quality digital or a scan from a better scanner... you'll wind up rationalizing whatever you want. That's the way the infamous comparisons between large format film and medium format digital have been run... by putting the 8x10 on a wobbly tripod or using some dodgy techniques.

What you give up is the presence and dimensionality of larger film for the convenience and speed of roll film or digital. But the superiority of large formats doesn't matter if you don't get the shots you want to because you're rushed. This was the rationale for developing roll film in the first place and it was a great idea. We got a lot of wonderful photos we never would have otherwise seen if everybody had to stop and set up for large format. A Leica makes a lousy image technically, compared to a nice 4x5, but we have important and wonderful photos thanks to grainy 35mm film.

If it were me knowing what I know now, I wouldn't even bother testing. I would use whatever I need to get the shot within the constraints that limit me (time and financial!). A Fuji GW690 and an Imacon is a formidable combo, as is a D800 with a good lens, or a Rolleiflex, etc.

You're lucky to have a great scanner, the Imacon X1... I would probably shoot high quality medium format film to exploit its strengths too.

30-Jul-2013, 04:47
Hi Mark,

I am not a scanning guru so I'm not going to touch the scanning aspects of the question -- except to invite you to reflect on your end-use for the images, and how much information is really justified in your scan files based on the final use.

As for the question of cost and convenience, yes, rollfilm is much cheaper and more convenient to travel with. So you need to decide on what your priorities are and what style of shooting works for you, and works for the kind of images you like to create.

Here are some of my feelings about the properties of the various formats:

The most "handleable" cameras by far. My F4 just sits in my hand beautifully
Really cheap per image compared with any other analog format
Modern, fine grained films will capture plenty of detail in that small negative; enough for many purposes.
Lots of automation

No movements (barring expensive and fiddly T/S lenses)
If you want more information / resolution / tonal subtlety than the negative contains, you're out of luck

MF: 646/6x6/6x7
A good compromise for many people. Sits between 35mm and LF on price, automation, image detail.

For me, in practice I find nowdays that I take the MF camera out least often. I have a fridge full of 120 film kind of looking at me accusingly every time I reach in for the sheet film. For me (and it sounds like your experience could well be different) if I want real image detail and total control I take the 4x5. If I want portability / handiness / speed I take either 35mm or digital.

Ground glass composition
Ludicrous amount of image detail and effectively infinite tonal gradation
Slow process compared with rollfilm bodies of any kind
BUT some LF cameras are hand-holdable. And some are as light or lighter than many MF bodies
Movements: Controlling the plane of focus cannot be done with rigid-bodied cameras like they can with bellows between the lens and the film
Different economics: Fewer, more expensive shots

It sounds to me like you want to change format, and there's nothing wrong with that, if speed and cost are major considerations for you. There are many truly outstanding MF and 35mm cameras available at reasonable prices on the used market, and a wide choice of film emulsions. There are also kinds of photography that are much more easily and effectively achievable with smaller, nimbler formats.

That said, you will sacrifice movements (can be partially replaced with some of the specialist perspective control lenses -- but those would wipe out your cost advantage) and the level of tonal subtlety that comes from from the much smaller relative grain size on larger negatives.

In the end, different ways of working suit different people. I like the time and thought that goes into a LF composition, but there's a bunch of things I'd never even try with LF, and would only do with smaller formats.

Nobody here can tell you what will work for you, so good luck with your photography whichever way you choose.


jose angel
30-Jul-2013, 11:23
Agree with the opinions above. I also have my own considerations about it, a bit on the "hardcore" side, so I know it could not be a great help...

Personally, one must enjoy shooting and processing sheet film. If not, large format is a real pain (hmm, it could apply to any kind of film).

When I`m on a hurry or need "results", I take first a Nikon DSLR (or a 6x6/6x7 Mamiya for some tasks). If I want to enjoy, I then take a Canham or a Technika.

And I think color film is not worth anymore; when I`m looking for "professional" results, I get far better prints via DSLR than with any of my other cameras. I rarely really need more resolution than that a D800 provides. In fact, I think film is now only interesting for those who work b&w in their own darkrooms. Well, I don`t want to start a film vs digital debate... these days I find silver photography to be something like embroidery, baked enamel, pottery... it doesn`t make sense to me to send it out for processing.
Also, I dislike hybrid processing. I tried it, I have a V750 Pro, but prefer either full digital& ink jet printing, or a full traditional wet printing process.

The difference between the formats could be negligible, depending on the camera, lens and technique. It`s way easier to work with and to get better results at "normal" sized prints with a Mamiya than with a field camera. The theoretical resolution could be higher on 4x5" film, but in the other side, the precision of my LF cameras is way behind my medium format ones. Sincerely, I`d not care so much about it.

So IMHO, if you simply don`t enjoy ALL the process, just get rid of it, whatever the scanning resolution, theoretical qualities or other considerations. Be realistic, choose the tools/media that really work for you. Other than this is time and money lost.

Drew Wiley
30-Jul-2013, 12:23
I won't comment on the scanning particulars either, but can comfortably state something related. When I'm printing Ektar in the darkroom from 120 roll film, the
images taken with a rollfilm back on the 4x5 tend to be visibly better than those taken with a similar-sized MF camera. Not only do you retain the use of movements
when needed, but this also allows you to use your lenses at more optimum f-stops. With an MF camera the only way you can handle depth of field issues is by either
stopping way down or changing the composition for use with a wider-angle lens (and then you can't correct perspective). I find my Horseman roll film holders to be
quite precise, and combined with Nikkor M lenses or Fuji A's, or any really good modern view lens, to generally give superior sharpness in the image itself. But MF
cameras are more convenient for quick shooting or in high winds, bad weather, etc. But another plug for a good rollfilm back: you can get them in 6x9 or even 6x12, which is still a much bigger neg than a Hassie cropped to 645. And dedicated MF gear isn't all that easy to lug around. Lenses can be real clunkers compared
to the compactness of many view lenses, which rely on a simple bellows for focal reach. And just maybe, even if you choose to travel with roll film, you might stash a couple of ordinary 4x5 holders in your kit ... just in case that special shot crosses your path where you need the extra enlargement. It's all relative. Ektar
will enlarge nicely quite a bit, but I shoot it even in 8x10.

30-Jul-2013, 12:29
I shoot a pretty even mix between full frame DSLR, 6x6 rollfilm and 4x5 LF. I am pleased with the quality of either of the three. Unlike most, I don't use large format to be sharp. I use it to be smooth, with old lenses. Different results than MF or DSLR. I mostly scan but also like the lack of intermediate steps needed to get a large format negative for cyanotype contact printing.

31-Jul-2013, 12:31
I think it depends on your camera. If it is light weight, you might consider to invest into a 6x9 roll film back for your 4x5.

It's the movements that give this type of camera an advantage (at least for me). I have sold my 4x5, kept the Arca 6x9, the two Fuji 6x9 rangefinders and the Plaubel 69W Proshift, because I have the Nikon LS 9000.

If I travel with the Fujis, I always feel a bit limited, but I have to carry a lot less weight. The Plaubel is somewhat exotic, because the angle is very wide, but it features rise/fall and shift, that means it imposes limits as well.

Just the Arca with a 5.6/90mm lens, two RFBs, a light meter and some film fit into a relatively small bag and give me all the freedom of movements I need. But it is heavier than a Fuji. You can't have everything at one single moment <sigh>

31-Jul-2013, 13:40
Hi Mark,

I'll just insert the usual horses for courses comment. As I think the several comments in this thread amply illustrate, each type of camera has a sweet spot and you really have to decide which sweet spot is the one that is going to matter the most for your photography.

You mention travel and processing costs as determining factors. Some people travel with 4x5's because that's what they want to have with them when they get there. Others, like me, tend to carry smaller cameras when traveling. I can put my Rollei, light meter, ten rolls of film, and various filters and attachments in a very compact bag - with room to slip in a little digital for the video and quick stuff. A great travel setup that is easy to carry almost everywhere and I can shoot with it quickly enough not to excessively anger my travel companions (three of whom are under the age of 9). My 4x5 setup would take up 2-3 times the space and weight, so the difference is not trivial. I just got back from AK with 26 rolls of shot film, and some really nice results. I shot a lot more than I ever could have pulled off with the 4x5, and used it in a lot of situations where the 4x5 would probably have just been a brick in my bag.

It's a tradeoff, though. You lose the movements, some of the resolution (not all scanners impose the same limitations as the Imacon), some of that wonderful play with depth of field, and some of the flexibility. I was definitely hindered by my 6x6 in landscape situations, and really yearned at times for a better landscape camera (e.g. 6x12 back on my Linhof). If I was on my own, and could carry the tripod more often, the 4x5 might have come along too.

And that's really the thing. I think most of us own both types of camera for a reason - sometimes one is just better than the other depending on the circumstances. If you can't financially swing owning both, and you are running up a difficult processing tab with the 4x5, then by all means move to medium format if you think it will serve your purposes. But, you might explore doing your own B&W daylight processing as a way to cheapen the LF shooting and get a MF camera in addition. Some good ones can be had for less than the cost of a barely passable Canon digital lens.


31-Jul-2013, 13:54
Oh - I should also point out that there are huge differences in travel weight with MF cameras. So, even there you have a lot of pluses and minuses to weigh.

I don't think my RB67 has ANY weight or space advantage over my Linhof. A Yashicamat or Rolleicord is at the other end of the scale, and is quite portable (though nothing like my little RX100). Weighing the merits of these cameras also takes you right back to fundamental questions about what do you want to shoot? Portraits with a TLR are a classic look, but those are pretty wide lenses and not everyone likes the look they deliver. I do, but people do get sensitive about big noses sometimes. With a system camera like the RB67, you get lens choices that are arguably more appropriate for portraiture. Folks here have also talked about 6x9 - that is a venerable format for travel cameras because it is a nice FOV for landscapes. I A lot of the old folding cameras came in this format. They are generally a pain for portraits though (think lots of extraneous stuff in the picture and attempting to scale focus at close range with tight tolerances). I happen to also like 6x12 for landscapes.

Etc. Etc. Hence why most people just wind up with a shelf, or closet full of different cameras.


Brian Ellis
1-Aug-2013, 07:41
Without going into a lot of detail, I agree with Jose above. If you don't really enjoy the whole LF experience - from loading the film to washing it - forget about it and go to something smaller. IMHO there really is no generally-applicable "knock your socks off" technical reason to use 4x5 today compared to medium format film or a good digital camera setup.

Drew Wiley
1-Aug-2013, 08:47
I personally find MF cameras an extremely poor substitute for what a view camera can do. The quality suffers in all kinds of ways. Convenience might or might not
be the overriding issue. How many shots do you really need? A few really good ones, or lots of em to pick thru? (Just thinking out loud) - When I do tote an MF system I'm gunning for what those things do best in their own right, and not compromised wannabee view camera subjects. If I want a baby view camera system per se, then I use a roll film back on a 4x5. Contrary to what Brian stated, when it comes to something like making prints, there are a LOT of valid technical reasons for
still opting for large format. If you just want something for the web or garden-variety stock photography, that's a different subject.

3-Aug-2013, 21:24
I regularly shoot 4x5 and both the Hasselblad and Rollei 6008 systems. For convenience and reliability, I far and away prefer the Rollei 6008. I have the same 6 lenses in both the Hasselblad and the Rollei systems, except that with the Hasselblad I also have the 180/4 Sonnar and the 100/3.5 Planar. I also had the Mamiya 7 system for a while, but I simply did not like the look of the images from the Mamiya lenses; they were perhaps too sharp or biting, I couldn't really put my finger on the reason, but I definitely prefer the Zeiss for my own personal taste.
But when it comes to image quality, the 4x5 REALLY does offer superior results especially when scanned with an Aztec or Heidelberg Tango drum scanner. More than anything else, it is the tonality and the 3-dimensional smoothness of the 4x5 images that convinces everyone who looks at the results.
Taking along either the Hasselblad or Rollei with around 4 different lenses will probably weigh in about the same as a good 4x5 field camera + 2 lenses (I prefer one WA and one normal focal length.)
But again, in terms of convenience, nothing beats the Rollei 6008, and it is far better in terms of film loading, magazine change etc. than the Hasselblad. (How many times have I had an entire roll of film destroyed by light leaks in one of the fiddly Hasselblad backs?!!!) But if convenience and space are the prime criteria, I'd go with either the Rollei or Hasselblad (with the latter, just make sure you ALWAYS keep those darned film backs in working order, and they are sometimes a real PITA!)

3-Aug-2013, 21:48
If it's holding still, a sheet film camera is the best. If it's moving, or I need to be moving, I don't even think about LF. I've been using my RB67 more recently, since I have a kid.