View Full Version : 4x5 or 8x10?

14-Sep-2005, 08:43
I'm glad I stumbled upon this site.

I'm thinking about making the leap to LF. I am just not sure whether to just go right to 8x10 or start out with 4x5 first. Either way, my budget is around $2500. Up until now, the largest I've shot is 6x7. I understand that 8x10 is obviously a lot bigger, heavier, etc. But contact printing is a very appealing process to me. If I go with 4x5, I'd have to get a new-to-me enlarger. I guess my question is, for a beginner to LF, would it be too much to jump straight into 8x10 and bypassing 4x5, or should I start small and move up?

Thanks in advance!


Ben Calwell
14-Sep-2005, 09:05
Wes -- you could purchase an 8x10 with a 4x5 reducing back and have the best of both worlds.

Oren Grad
14-Sep-2005, 09:06
For me, working in 4x5 and working in 8x10 are really different experiences. Enlarging from 4x5 is more like an extension from medium format, but contact printing with large negatives is an entirely different game. The experience in the field is quite different too, not just in the weight and bulk of the equipment, but also in what it's like to view the image on a 4x5 vs an 8x10 ground glass.

My own tinkering with LF started with 8x10, using a borrowed camera and lens and making contact prints. It spoiled me forever. I've never really been happy with 4x5, although I do use it once in a while for specific reasons. I don't see it as a worthwhile detour if your ultimate goal is to work with the big camera.

You've got enough budget to assemble an excellent basic kit even in 8x10. If you can handle the weight of the larger kit, I'd say go for it.

Ed Richards
14-Sep-2005, 09:24
You should consider what you want to take pictures of. Some things lend themselves to 4x5 more easily than 8x10. (I am assuming you are going to do black and white.) Do you already have a darkroom?

jose angel
14-Sep-2005, 09:26
I am in the same opinion as Oren. If you are tempted, nothing will stop your curiosity. I moved up from 4x5", 5x7" and then 8x10". You can go straight to 8x10", and then to consider if you like to enlarge 4x5".

Donald Qualls
14-Sep-2005, 09:36
If you don't already have an enlarger with 4x5 capability and a 135 mm or 150 mm enlarging lens, it'll likely be cheaper initially to go 8x10. Used cameras are similar price to used 4x5, lenses not much more, and while film holders are a lot more expensive you can start with only a few; you'll tend to make fewer exposures in the larger format and the price of film will even out. Contact printing will mean you save hundreds of dollars on enlarger and lens(es), even though you spend some of that on a printing frame (but if you're at all handy you can make a nice printing frame yourself).

Even an 8x10 enlarger is often cheaper than a 4x5 size -- simply because they're so expensive to ship that they're almost impossible to sell (and you can convert the camera into an enlarger without difficulty, in a way that takes hardly any longer to set up and take down than tripod mounting to expose a film -- it's heretical to say it, but for the enlargements you'd be likely to want from 8x10, either a taking lens will work, or you can manage nicely with an inexpensive process lens).

And after you've shot and contact printed 8x10, you likely won't want to go back to 4x5 unless you're backpacking with your gear or otherwise need a light, agile rig for some reason.

14-Sep-2005, 09:37
You gonna be happy with 8x10 as your maximum size prints? Okay if you're Edward Weston, but personally I like to be able to print 11x14s or 16x20s. Also, it aint the camera and lens that will kill you, but the TRIPOD!

Eric Leppanen
14-Sep-2005, 10:01
I agree with Oren, Jose and Donald. Once I got my 8x10, the 4x5 kit remained stuck in the closet. I use it to shoot everything: contact prints, 40x50 digital prints from color transparencies, you name it. The larger negative provides substantially more detail, and the 8x10 ground glass enables me to compose more carefully and thoughtfully than I could with 4x5. The additional bulk vs. 4x5 is substantial (camera, lenses, film holders, tripod, etc.), but this just provides another reason to get in better physical shape! If you like to take long hikes with your camera, then 4x5 might be the better choice; but if you are satisfied by short hikes or working close to your car (or home or studio) then 8x10 is a great way to go.

By the way, 8x10 is not just for contact prints. I see significant improvements vs 4x5 with enlarged print sizes of 16x20" and larger. At 16x20" the improvements are mostly those of tonality; at larger print sizes the increased resolution starts to kick in. Another nice benefit of 8x10 is that you can produce excellent digital enlargements using a flatbed film scanner, which is far more compact than a conventional enlarger. (The digital workflow learning curve, of course, is another matter!).

Ken Lee
14-Sep-2005, 10:09
As someone who has recently moved from 4x5 to 8x10, I can point out that depth of field decreases with the length of the lens. If you need extreme depth of field for whatever kind of shots you do, then you might want to stick with a smaller format and its smaller lenses.

That aside, I quote Carl Weese in his article Really Big Cameras (http://www.mamutphoto.com/ULF/bigulf.html" target="_blank):

A couple of years ago PT contributor Oren Grad was engaged in a series of tests to see just how much technical quality he could wring out of modestly enlarged medium format and 4x5 inch negatives. One day a print arrived in the mail at my studio with an inscription on the back, “Finally figured out how to make an 8x10 that looks like a contact print.” Of course, what he’d sent me was an 8x10 contact print.

Ron Marshall
14-Sep-2005, 10:15
If you decide to go with the 8x10 but occasionally want a larger print then scan the negative and print digitally. A $450 Epson 4990 will be good enough for at least a 16x20 from an 8x10 negative.

Ralph Barker
14-Sep-2005, 10:32
Lots of good advice here, although only you can decide which path is best for you, Wes.

FWIW, I shoot both 4x5 and 8x10, along with 35mm and some 120. The bulk and weight of the 8x10, however, can be daunting for some. Personally, I have a back problem, so I have to be careful when hauling the 8x10 too far from the vehicle. I also agree that the experience between the two formats is somewhat different. The 4x5 format is (relatively) quick and easy compared to 8x10. BUT, seeing the 8x10 ground glass image is a "Wow!" sort of experience.

I also have a 4x5 reducing back for the 8x10, but the added depth does limit which lenses I can use on that combination. I use a double-extension Tachihara (which I like for the price), and a homemade 4x5 reducing back. The added depth of the back, and the minimum bellows extension of the Tachi doesn't allow me to use a lens shorter than about 150mm without going to a recessed lens board.

14-Sep-2005, 10:36
Wow, you guys are so quick to respond! Thanks so much for taking the time.

From what you all have said, I think I am going to take the plunge and go right into 8x10. If I want to enlarge, I suppose I can get the negative scanned by a drum scanner professionally (like with West Coast Imaging?) and then printed digitally, like some of you have pointed out.

I do currently have a darkroom, but I just can't see it housing a 4x5 enlarger. It's not impossible, but I'd definitely have to get rid of my current Beseler enlarger.

I intend to shoot mostly landscapes with my LF rig. Well, perhaps I should just bite the bullet. I think the main reason I'm considering 4x5 is that I thought it would be easier to learn on a 4x5, since it's smaller, etc.

Thanks for everyone's feedback. If anyone thinks of anything more to add, please don't hesitate.

dan nguyen
14-Sep-2005, 12:07
Similar to Ralph B. I use 4x5, 35mm, 120 but not 8x10 yet... I'm looking forward for either 8x10 back for my 4x5 camera or a 8x10 field.... I think you best go for 8x10 first and get 4x5 reducing back later, because 4x5 reducing back is easier to find than the other way around.....
...and welcome the LF world....

Sidney Cammeresi
14-Sep-2005, 13:58
Unless you really want to enlarge, I would go with the bigger camera. I don't make enlargements any more, and I don't miss them.

I also wouldn't worry about learning on an 8x10 vs a 4x5. I think you will make fewer mistakes with an 8x10 camera after you realise that those mistakes will cost you something like $2-5 apiece.

I shoot 11x14 almost exclusively these days, so my mistakes are eight times more expensive than a 4x5 mistake. I took a trip recently and was photographing a mountain. There was a road between myself and the mountain which was not visible, but there was a spot where a passing car (of which there were very few) could be seen for about one second. Of course, when I exposed the negative, I got a car in the picture, so I reversed the holder and made another exposure and got ANOTHER car in the picture.

Let me tell you, I was about ready to hike up that mountain just so I could throw my camera off of it after screwing up $10 in film, but then I calmed down and made damn sure I didn't have a car in my third exposure. :)

14-Sep-2005, 14:15

Thanks for the anecdote. I'm glad you were at least successful by your third attempt!

Ed Richards
14-Sep-2005, 14:46
There was a good article in View Camera a while back looking at 5x7 as an alternative to both 4x5 and 8x10. It is big enough to contact print, but the cameras and lenses are much smaller than 8x10. It also has good lens cross over with 4x5. It would also be easy to scan on a consumer scanner for prints up to a pretty good size. I am keeping my eyes out for a cheap 5x7 camera to try at some point. I have to fit my camera (and tripod) into whatever trips I take for other reasons, so size matters for me. If that is not a constraint, 8x10 sounds like fun, if you can afford to shoot the film. You have to shoot a lot of film to get good with any camera - you do not get 100 times the experience with each 8x10 shot just because it is 100 times bigger than 35mm.:-)

Brian Ellis
14-Sep-2005, 15:45
These days you don't need an enlarger, most people (though not necessarily in this group) scan their negatives and print digitally either on their own scanner/printer or by using a lab. I scan my 8x10 negatives (at first I contact printed, then when I learned to print digitally I did both for a while, now I don't bother with the contact prints any more). So the lack of an enlarger won't necessarily restrict you to making only 8x10 prints from your 8x10 negatives if you go that route.

I use both 8x10 and 4x5. For things close to the car around town I use 8x10, if there's any hiking involved I use 4x5. The main difficulty with 8x10 is the size and weight of everything plus the range of lens focal lengths is a little limited. I use a 300mm lens on 4x5 with ease but to get the same angle of view on 8x10 I'd need a 600mm lens (i.e. big, heavy) and if I want to get much closer than infinity I'd need a camera with at least a 30 inch bellows. It's no fun trying to work with a camera that has the bellows extended even that far, especially in any kind of breeze, and forget about anything much longer. On the wide side many 8x10 cameras only compact to about 150-200mm and then movements are restricted. While these are generalizatons, they're pretty accurate in most cases. .

But 8x10 is a great format, if you think that's what you'd like then I'd say go for it. If you buy your camera and maybe two lenses plus other accessories used on ebay or from a good dealer you likely will be able to sell everything for about what you paid for it if it turns out you don't like 8x10.

John Kasaian
14-Sep-2005, 22:02
One more vote for 8x10!

Thats because I really like 8x10 and the only real reason to shoot 8x10 is because you really like it. You can do just as well with a 4x5 or 5x7---really.

If you want to enlarge 8x10 you can always hunt up an old Elwood enlarger for probably less $$ than a 4x5 Omega or Beseler.

There is something about big honkin' negatives that makes up for the added bulk and wieght and logistics that goes with 8x10 that is hard to describe. I think there is an element of passion involved that I can't communicate. You can do just as well with 4x5 and 5x7---really you can---but if you really want to shoot 8x10 then you might as well go for it, just be aware it can end up a lifelong love affair and you'll forever be having to explain your actions to other photographers who'll tell you "You can do just as well with 4x5 and 5x7---really you can" and you'll know that they're absolutely correct except for the fact that, darn it, its not 8x10.

As far as learning plateaus go, I think you'll find the 8x10 can be reached fairly quickly. The format dosen't suffer foolishness. Everything requires more effort than smaller large formats except composition and focusing which I find easier on the big screen. The cost of a dozen or so botched up sheets of 8x10 tri-x is motivation enough to slow down, take your time and avoid mistakes.

Do what you want, but if you forsee 8x10 in your future why not start playing with it now?


Ole Tjugen
14-Sep-2005, 23:24
I have cameras in all sizes from 6.5x9cm (2 1/2 x 3 1/2") to 30x40cm (12x16"), but the 5x7" is what I use most.

The negatives are large enough to contact print, yet they can be enlarged in enlargers which fit in a normal house. The 5x7" enlargers tend to be cheaper than 4x5" ones due to size, and less popularity with MF photographers.

A 5x7" camera with a 4x5" reduction back is not significantly larger or heavier than a 4x5" camera. But an 8x10" camera is a lot bigger!

Many 5x7" cameras work well with short lenses and a 4x5" back, but 8x10" cameras will begim to struggle with a 90mm lens.

15-Sep-2005, 00:02
5x7 might be my favorite format too (with the disclaimer that I've never had or used a 5x7 camera ... i just like the idea of it).

Why don't you get the 8x10, and just make contact prints for the time being. No need to get everything at once just on speculation that you might like it. If you stick with it and decide you want to enlarge, you can get the big-ass enlarger then.

15-Sep-2005, 01:42
I considered 8x10 many years ago - I borrowed a camera on a few occasions... but it just wasn't for me. I find there are certain formats that just work better for certain people. I cannot really compose anywhere NEAR as well on 8x10 as I can on 4x5 or medium format. I think it has partly to do with seeing the whole image at once also. I suspect ALSO that it has a great deal to do with what size drawings are the most comfortable for you as well. I tend to draw small - probably 4x5-ish size... so there you go. Don't know if it's related but it would make sense at a certain level. Just try it and see.


Struan Gray
15-Sep-2005, 01:55
I keep being tempted by cheap 8x10 conversions for my Norma, but sanity usually asserts itself before I get out my credit card. I would love to have the big ground glass and the image quality of 8x10, and I freely admit I would like to have the bragging rights that a bigger negative confers, but 8x10 tips over into the impractical for the sorts of image I currently like to take. It's not the bulk and weight, but rather the effects on my seeing.

I'm currently on a long-lens kick. My most used lens in 4x5 is an 18", and duplicating that angle of view on 8x10 would be a major effort. Lenses are more expensive; tripod(s) are heavier; my arms are not long enough to adjust the front standard while looking at the ground glass; and depth of field gets harder and harder to manage.

I also like to take semi-macros looking straight down at the ground with a 240mm lens. On 8x10 this will again be a major undertaking. Suddenly I'm doing true macros at 1:1 instead of bodging and winging it at 1:2. I'll need a stepladder to see the ground glass because with a 500 mm lens it needs to be at least two meters off the ground to form an image at all. Depth of field is non-existant.

Finally, I like to explore the world through the camera. Moving from an MF SLR to 4x5 as made things hard enough, 8x10 would make it impossible to mooch about setting up the camera on spec to see what things look like on the ground glass.

So for now, I have my ears well-plugged with parsley and can't hear the sirens at all. No, no. Not I.

Calamity Jane
15-Sep-2005, 03:33
(Ok, who stole my post?! I KNOW I made a response yesterday but it ain't here!)


I started with a 4x5 about a year ago - made a camera, bought a couple of lenses, and got all set up to process and print 4x5 colour. I was (and am) happy with the 4x5.

This summer an old 8x10 flatbed came along on a certain auction site and was sitting there, ignored, at a price less than what I'd expect an 8x10 lens to fetch. Ok, I can't resist a bargain! The old 8x10 joined my stable. Then I added a better lens to the 8x10. Of course my $80 CombiPlan 4x5 tanks wont do 8x10 so I invested in a used Jobo CPA-2

So now I have 4x5, 5x7, and 8x10.

Of the 3 formats, 4x5 is the lest expensive to shoot and the easiest to pack around. It probably gets used three times as much as the 8x10 because the cost per shot is so much less. (4x5 E-6 costs me about $3 a sheet Canadian for a finished transparency; 8x10 E-6 costs about $15 a sheet.) I find that I save the 8x10 for those shots that I KNOW will be special. If I were rich, maybe the 8x10 would replace the other two formats but I am not so I will stick with having my economic 4x5 and the "special shots" 8x10. Only the 5x7 is in danger of meeting the auction block ;)

One thing I will say in favour of the 8x10 is that my ratio of good pictures to so-so pictures is MUCH higher with the 8x10. With the effort and cost of shooting 8x10 I am much more selective in what I shoot and take ALOT more care in setting up the shot.

You know Wes, there's nothing to say you are limited to ONE format. Start with a 4x5 - they come up for a reasonable price at auction - and add an 8x10 later. If you start off with that intent, you can accumulate your darkroom equipment to accomodate both.

15-Sep-2005, 05:53
a good start may be an arca swiss f line 45 ( areal 4x5), later you will be able to buy a 8x10 back for it...

Antonio Corcuera
15-Sep-2005, 07:42
Calamity, with her usual common sense (at least when not buying anything that comes across her eWay;-)) has got it right again. Mistakes in 8x10 are expensive. And you'll screw it up in the beginning for sure. I would go for a 4x5 and once you're used to the format and learnt about camera movements, decide to make the move.
Something not mentioned earlier but highly recommended is to borrow or rent a 4x5 and/or 8x10 and try it out. See if you like it. Take it easy, don't rush it. Maybe you don't like LF.

Calamity Jane
15-Sep-2005, 11:32
" common sense (at least when not buying anything that comes across her eWay)"

**** thumbs nose at Antonio ****

Can I help it if I have a love affair with historic cameras?

I tried collecting fellers but my last husband objected 8-)

15-Sep-2005, 12:30
I just want to say that I sure appreciate how helpful you all have been. I think I'm going to give the Arca Swiss F-Line a close look. The modular-ness (I know, not a word) of the system is very attractive. It is a little above what I was hoping to pay, but I think the versality of the camera is worth it.

Thanks again!

Craig Wactor
15-Sep-2005, 16:24
Sinar and Arca-swiss make cameras that can be upgraded to 8x10 from 4x5 by changing the top of the back standard and bellows. You should be able to get a Sinar P 4x5/8x10 package for around $1500 used. Plus, you get those asymmetrical movements.

15-Sep-2005, 19:47

Oren Grad
15-Sep-2005, 20:55
You do not want to be lugging an 8x10 Sinar P in the field.

As for the Arca Swiss, it's a marvelous 6x9/4x5/5x7 but at least from the literature I have, it looks as though the 8x10 version loses all the rear rise/fall, and the effective front rise is severely constrained because much of the travel of the front standard is swallowed up in recentering the front against the larger back. Look carefully at this if your intention is to start with 4x5 and then use the format conversion kit to move up to 8x10.

Scott Rosenberg
15-Sep-2005, 23:13
wes, i have the very kit you are considering... 4x5 arca swiss f-line metric with 8x10 format kit. i started with 4x5 and just very recently added the 8x10 back. the f-line cameras are, imho, the finest cameras on the planet. the 8x10 format kit is simply brilliant, and takes about 5 seconds to make the switch. the bellows are FANTASTIC, allowing you to use lenses from 75mm (if there was one that covered the format) to 600mm. after going through many cameras, this is the system i have finally ended up with and feel there's simply nothing out there that comes close to it. do yourself a favor, start with the arca and never look back! if i were doing it all over again, i'd still start with 4x5 and add 8x10 later, just be sure in building your lens kit that they will cover both formats. knowing that the jump was in my future, i built my kit with 8x10 coverage in mind...

75 Nikkor SW (only 4x5)
110 Super Symmar XL
150 Super Symmar XL
210 APO Sironar-S
305 G-Claron
355 Schneider Gold Dot Dagor
450 Fuji-C
600 Fuji-C

good luck!

Antonio Corcuera
16-Sep-2005, 00:19
Calamity, I'd also love to have your collecting capability ... but my wife doesn't let me either!