View Full Version : First 4x5 for portraits and contact printing?

21-Jan-2016, 06:57
Hi, I am considering selling my enlarger, medium format and 35mm gear, and going with large format contact printing and digital 35mm only.

I don't really have room or time for an enlarger and lots of negatives. I have now got to the stage where I need a permanent darkroom to keep up with my shooting, but no realistic chance of achieving that.

Currently I use my bathroom for a darkroom, but setting up takes an age, and I am running out of space for equipment. I am considered getting a battery powered safelight and light for contact printing, that way I won't have to run extension leads into the bathroom either. (I know!)

So advice needed on a camera (I am new to LF), and setting up a batteries - only darkroom setup.

Any recommendations for battery safelights?

I anticipate recommendations for speed or crown graphics, but the local shop has a Toyo monorail with a 135mm f5.6 and lots of holders for 350 (which is about my budget). I like the idea of having movements, but also like the compactness of a field camera.

Thanks in advance...

21-Jan-2016, 07:05
My favorite cameras have become old wood folding view cameras: small enough, light enough, cheap enough, movements enough, portable and versatile. For me, press cameras don't have a large enough lens board, nor long enough bellows. Otherwise, they would be fine. Rather than contact printing, I scan the film, with a cheap-enough HP G4050 scanner.

If you want any kind of reasonable portability, avoid monorail cameras if you can find an alternative that you like.

21-Jan-2016, 07:33
For LF portraiture I actually recommend a monorail... for exactly the reasons mdarton stated: larger lens board and more bellow. Sure, they require a bit more effort to take into the field but...

If I may offer a completely unsolicited comment that is completely contrary to your current desires. For portraiture I much more prefer a MF SLR than 35mm or LF. If I were to get rid of any equipment it would probably be the LF gear. It takes a lot of effort to shoot LF and I find much better returns from MF. [Ooops... in hindsight... that wasn't a very supportive thing to post on a LF forum. They may kick me out for that. Sorry if I offended anyone. I really do like LF... it's just getting more difficult for me as I get older.]

21-Jan-2016, 07:41
Yes. I think there's a separate thread here about shooting portraits with LF. It's not convenient at all, but the charm rests on the resulting effect of working slowly. But on convenience, I certainly agree. :-)

If you decide on a monorail, and they're great in the studio, Cambos are cheap and accessories for them are easy to find. My favorite Cambo attachment for portraits is the reflex viewing hood. It avoids having to squat down behind the camera under an unwieldy cloth, and you get to see things right-side-up, too! I picked up an extra Cambo back just so I could graft it and the reflex finder to the back of my larger wood cameras.

21-Jan-2016, 08:11
It may actually be a Cambo in the shop, not a Toyo...

Point taken about MF being better for portraits. Given that my hit rate is about 7 or 8 of 12 6x6 on a roll, that could get frustrating and expensive with 4x5. And harder.

That still doesn't solve my darkroom problem though. My only other thought is to try contact printing a strip of 3 6x6 negatives. I have a recent shoot I can try that with.

I certainly am feeling frustrated about my inability to properly print all my good negatives though, I do need a solution to that.

21-Jan-2016, 08:53
A hit rate of 1 or 8 out of 12 is fantastic! You may find, like me, that with 4x5 a lot fewer images are exposed but the "hit rate" isn't too different. Cambo is what I've been using since the early 1980s. I've been very satisfied with it and have used the "system design" to accommodate both longer lenses for portraiture and shorter lenses for architecture.

I can relate to the darkroom issue. I use commercial processing due to lack of adequate darkroom... and print very few images because of that. Not a totally fulfilling way to be a photographer. :(

21-Jan-2016, 09:10
Another aspect to consider is possibly finding ways to streamline your setup. I've seen one setup online awhile ago where everything the photographer needed, including a battery pack to run his enlarger, lived on a neat little wheeled cart that got stored away in a corner, and then wheeled into the bathroom and was setup and ready to go in a minute or two. Cart went into the space in front of the toilet, then took the door/cover off the front and it folded out into a table that went over the tub.

When finished things got put back into the light-safe and locked up, stuff was cleaned and dried, and then everything went back onto the cart which got rolled back to the corner of the living room or wherever it was he was stashing it.

As long as he remembered to plug the battery packs in when he finished and put it away in the corner, then everything apparently ran smoothly and was a neat and efficient setup.

I will try and dig up where I found the video of it.

Sirius Glass
21-Jan-2016, 09:55
I have a 4"x5" enlarger but I still enjoy 4"x5" contact prints.

21-Jan-2016, 10:18
I think I know the one you mean, that's The Art of Photography guy. By the look of it, he's a single guy in a nice spacious flat. But I live in Victorian terrace 2 up 2 down, with a step down to my bathroom, and a small cupboard for all my gear. I have a big sash window in the bathroom, so I have to stash a 1.5 metre square frame behind the sofa in the next room. We don't actually have another toilet, so you can imagine how popular I am with the girlfriend when I want it all left up over a long weekend...

I think a small 4x5 contact print setup, and a scanner and printer may be the way forward... :-(

21-Jan-2016, 10:27
A hit rate of 1 or 8 out of 12 is fantastic! You may find, like me, that with 4x5 a lot fewer images are exposed but the "hit rate" isn't too different. Cambo is what I've been using since the early 1980s. I've been very satisfied with it and have used the "system design" to accommodate both longer lenses for portraiture and shorter lenses for architecture.

I can relate to the darkroom issue. I use commercial processing due to lack of adequate darkroom... and print very few images because of that. Not a totally fulfilling way to be a photographer. :(

When I say 7-8 out of 12, I only mean that's how many have acceptable focus, not 'keepers'!

Darkroom space if frustrating. I have checked out the few 'public' darkrooms on Ilford's site, but one wants 75 per day (although they have a DeVere 4x5 enlarger, so I may bear that in mind) and the rest are too far.

Jim Jones
21-Jan-2016, 15:04
In your situation I would consider scanning and digitally editing and printing. This minimizes the darkroom set-up, and that work flow has some advantages over doing it in the dark. Some older Epson scanners accept 4x5 negatives and do a good enough job for many of us.

As for cameras, the MPP is versatile, although heavier than some of the press cameras. The lens on the camera described in the first post is likely more suitable for much 4x5 work than the lens originally fitted to most press cameras.

Sirius Glass
21-Jan-2016, 21:04
Welcome to Large Format Photography Forum

Tim Meisburger
22-Jan-2016, 00:42
Use a Patterson Orbital to develop both film and prints. Get a battery powered safelight (red LED or rubylith over a white LED), and a tiny hite flashlight for contacts and you are set to go. I use some white plastic cups over my light as a diffuser to get longer contact printing times.

For a camera, I recommend a field camera. Press cameras and monorails are specialist cameras that do what they do very well, but a field camera will do acceptably everything you want to do (go to the field, have movements, shoot landscape, portraits and still life, etc.). Its a generalist, and the best choice for one camera. Just search 4x5 field camera in ebay and you will find a lot of options (a Wista might be a good choice in your price range).

Have fun, and welcome to the forum!

24-Jan-2016, 12:29
I am still pondering possibilities. I know this isn't strictly a large format question, but what is the smallest darkroom it is possible to get away with? I may have the option of putting a partition in a garden shed/office. It will probably be about 7-8 feet long and 5 wide, with a door into the long edge. Do-able?

Sirius Glass
24-Jan-2016, 15:49
Yes, that sound do-able.

24-Jan-2016, 18:01
I'm envious. I'm scheming ways to use our 54" square powder room as a temporary darkroom. 7X5 is very doable, jump in.

Peter Lewin
24-Jan-2016, 18:03
I think a small 4x5 contact print setup, and a scanner and printer may be the way forward... :-(
If you are considering a scanner and printer approach, I'm afraid I would (heresy!) suggest that for portraits you stick with medium format, and scan and print your negatives digitally. Personally I love my 4x5 camera and silver-gelatin prints, but I have the luxury of a real darkroom complete with relatively un-moveable DeVere 405. Given your circumstances, as several have already posted, a MF camera is probably more suitable for portraits, and if you go the scan and print route, you only need a developing tank and a dark closet to process your film (i.e. load your tank in a dark closet, since you have that window in your bathroom) and then process in the bathroom in the tank. Just seems much easier.

Will Frostmill
24-Jan-2016, 19:45
May I suggest splitting your darkroom? Could you set up your enlarger in a closet or other darkenable space, expose a set of paper there (at night?), tuck the paper into a paper safe, and use a really minimal tray setup to process it in the bathoom? You'd only need space for the trays, and a few bottles when you are actually processing your paper,
So you wouldn't be tying up the bathroom that long, and you'd have sone more choices for where to work. Some people even use a single tray with a pouring lip, and funnel their chemistry in and out sequentially.
With rollfilm you could get away with negative development in a dark bag, if you haven't tried it already. As for battery powered safelights, most red (not amber) leds are film safe, so if you can find something that runs one - or if you are willing to bodge together one with a 9v battery - you are all set.

In any case that sort of sucess rate with medium format is enviable.

1-Feb-2016, 03:28
I use both medium format (Mamiya C330) and large format (Linhof Kardan Super Color) for portraits. The time you take to set up with a LF camera simply produces a different KIND of portrait, a more measured, studied type of effect. If you are a slow worker, and develop a good rappor with your subjects, LF may be the way to go. I'm just an amateur who loves to take pictures of friends, but I have a very high rate of success with my Kardan or my Linhof Color. Over half my shots seem to be useable. Here's a couple of examples, the first taken with the Linhof Color and a Nikkor- W 185mm f5.6 lens, the second with a Linhof Kardan Super Color and a Schneider 240mm Symmar, both on Foma 200, in Pyrocat.

Why don't you look at the Linhofs? They can be had cheaply (I got my Kardan for $220 inc shipping), and I don't know why. They are high quality, available, and simply not as popular as they should be IMHO. Check out Ebay . . . you'll be surprised. The ones to look for are the Linhof Color, the Linhof Kardan Super Color, and the Linhof 45S. These can be found as real bargains. Techikas, bis, and Technikardans are not bargains, but their smaller, lighter monorails are.



1-Feb-2016, 06:46
As for portraits, it usually depends on your sitter... Some sitters (like kids) wiggle, move around, and can't sit still (or nervous types)... Others don't mind sitting back and enjoying the ride... If you are getting your feet wet with portraits, probably a view camera would be a little slow for you, as there's many steps for the set-up, you don't want to mess-up a portrait someone is letting you take (and is expecting to see), you don't have so much time to chill with the subject to put you both at ease, and you can't view the subject (through camera) up to the time the shutter opens like other cameras... (It's a could vs should thing...)

For film processing, the darkest/cleanest place that has running water/drain, a little counter space, a place to put a cupboard to store your stuff, and a clean place nearby to dry film are the basics...

Steve K

1-Feb-2016, 08:10
I once had a dry darkroom in a tiny entrance hall closet. There was just enough width for me and a counter, just enough length for my Omega D2V at one end at the end of the open space, right angles to the trays, me, and the trays. I saved newspapers and always worked with quite a thick layer under the trays, rolling the whole mess up and tossing it at the end of the session. A tray ladder would have helped a lot, but I couldn't afford one at the time.

I had a friend who used an even smaller powder room, but he was a news photog shooting 35mm, using a smaller enlarger. A removable shelf over the toilet for the enlarger; tray ladder over the sink for the developing, wash tray on the sink draining directly into the sink.

Now however, I develop 8x10 in narrow tanks with hangers, on top of the clothes dryer, and I scan and print in the comfort and light of my office. I have considered contact printing, but scanning is just too nice to go back to the darkroom, especially if I were doing tiny 4x5 negs. :-)

1-Feb-2016, 10:01
Consider a 180mm or 360mm Tele-Arton or similar true telephoto lens. If you use a monorail, the shorter bellows draw may not matter but if you have a folding camera, it might.

I would consider keeping the enlarger and timer if you will be contact printing. Yes, it can and has been done with a bulb. The materials that famous contact printers like Weston used were very, very slow and timing did not have to be especially accurate. I have contact printed extensively with 8x10 and have always used an enlarger. The lens and timer allow a precise control of the light on the paper. It's repeatable, too. If you find that f 11 on the lens, 5 sec. on the timer and 12" distance from lens to paper is correct, the next time you make a print with that negative, you can get it.

4-Feb-2016, 05:56
Thanks for all the advice. Further choices depend on bigger things such as whether we move house, whether I can afford a shed in the garden, how much of that space I can allocate to a darkroom... Etcetera.

20-Feb-2016, 00:58
I completely agree on underrating the non-tecnika linhof. I have one since about 1 week and am still playing with it without film. It fills up the gap between my Cambo monorail and ebony sw45. I can imagine it works great for portrait. The camera I am talking about: the linhof kardan color (last versiin where You can raise the back). I found a near perfect example for 200. You can't beat that with any other 4x5 if You look for a well build 4x5 that is still portable in a certain kind of way.