View Full Version : New to LF. Format advice requested.

21-Feb-2007, 12:41
Hi folks. Looks like a few old friends are here already.

My photography is taking another turn. The last several years have been all 6x7 B&W, but as a lease dispute has pretty much put the darkroom into storage I'm looking for a format for contact printing. I'm having trouble living with nothing but film scans and miss silver.

My background in LF is pretty thin. I have a Horseman VH-R (which is currently loaned out) and have done some 4x5 in photo school about 20 years back. What I am now considering are 5x7 and 8x10 formats.

My questions are:

Is a contact print from 5x7 satisfying? That is, will 8x10 blow me away so badly I should just go there first.

Is 8x10 so unwieldy to use that I'll be grabbing the big Pentax rather than lug everything to the truck?

I know these are subjective questions, but I'd like to hear some opinions from folks who've spent the time and money already.


Ted Harris
21-Feb-2007, 12:50
You are going to hear all sides of the story for sure but in the end you are the only one who can make the decision. First 5x7 contact prints are quite satisfying. Second, it's a new world where you can make digital negatives and then contact print much larger.

My absolute preference is 5x7 ovr larger formtas and over 4x5. I shoot 8x10 when I absolutely have to but the gain in size and weight of the gear just doesn't make it worthwhile for me .... not true for others though.

21-Feb-2007, 12:51
5x7 is a different shape then 8x10. I always want to crop 8x10. Which is why I tend to lean towards enlarged 4x5 over 8x10 most of the time. Now 11x14 would be nice I think.

5x7 isn't a very big print. Some subjects will work better IMHO then others.

8x10 cameras widely vary in size and weight. Some are lighter then some heavy 4x5s. I keep wondering about those new Argentum cameras. They sound lighter then my Mamiya RZ.

steve simmons
21-Feb-2007, 12:52
I don't think anyone else can answer these questions for you. I personally like 5x7 contact prints but my floor may be another man's ceiling.

Thee is an article called

Getting Started in Large Format in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site along with an article on 5x7.


steve simmons

David Louis
21-Feb-2007, 13:08
For contact printing I prefer 8x10 over 5x7. The prints are easier to doge and burn and have more substance. As for inconvenience, a 5x7 is just as unwieldy as an 8x10, so I go for the bigger format. Finally, film and film holders are more readily available in 8x10 than 5x7.

Oren Grad
21-Feb-2007, 13:15
For my taste, negatives 5x7 and smaller can work for contact prints with some subjects. 6.5x8.5 and larger work well with just about anything.

Re size and weight, the Pentax 6x7 is itself a beast. If you're used to that, an 8x10 outfit need not be unwieldy. A camera toward the light end of the range, with one compact lens, three holders, a focusing hood and a middleweight tripod, is well within carrying capacity for most people and is plenty enough for enjoyable and productive field work with an 8x10.

You might even be able to get away with less of a tripod, because that big honker of a focal plane shutter in the P67 places huge demands on a tripod mount, far beyond what the weight of the camera alone might imply. The leaf shutters in LF lenses are a delight by comparison.

21-Feb-2007, 13:22
I love the 5x7 format, but find 5x7 contact prints too small to visualize fully. (Think of how often in the past you've printed your 6x7 negatives onto 5x7 paper -- not often, I'll wager). They're just too small.

Jim Galli
21-Feb-2007, 13:24
It'll boil down to what you enjoy the most won't it. I've got a fabulous little Minolta Autocord that can make the smoothest nicest negs on 120 I've ever seen. I'd compare it to anything I've ever done with a P67 yet it's like a feather around my neck. But I don't use it. For some reason I just love the entire process of setting up an 8X10 (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?t=22748). I love the look of the contact prints. If you've got time to kill wade through some of the pages at my web site. Newest stuff is near the bottom, like the Goldfield Courthouse.

Gene McCluney
21-Feb-2007, 13:26
The main thing about shooting in large format is that it is NOT an impulse activity. With your Pentax 6x7, you can just grab your camera, pop in a roll of film and go. With large format, you have to plan ahead, possibly even scout locations before taking the equipment out. You have to consider weather, wind and accessability away from your car. Just how far are you willing to carry 40 lbs or more of equipment and tripod? You also have to pre-load your film holders in advance, and estimate the number you think you may need. A good large format day may be exposing as few as one sheet, or maybe 10, but certainly only a few sheets. You will learn to visualize what the camera will see before even unpacking the camera.
Even with all this bother, Large Format is definately worth it.

Oren Grad
21-Feb-2007, 13:38
40 lbs or more of equipment and tripod?

It's not all that difficult to assemble a compact 8x10 outfit, as described in my earlier post, that will fit within 25 pounds.

21-Feb-2007, 13:39
Newest stuff is near the bottom, like the Goldfield Courthouse.

Lovely work! All of it. Thanks.


Gene McCluney
21-Feb-2007, 14:07
It's not all that difficult to assemble a compact 8x10 outfit, as described in my earlier post, that will fit within 25 pounds.

I know one can assemble a light-weight outfit. The average 8x10 outfit, using an old camera, a couple lenses on boards, 6 to 8 loaded holders, tripod, etc. I will wager will weigh more, though. A great many of us that got into 8x10 or larger years ago purchased (or found) older cameras not built for light weight.

Eric Biggerstaff
21-Feb-2007, 14:17
In some ways it comes down to personal style.

I like to put a LOT of film through my camera and work compostions in different ways. So, for me, 4X5 fits my way of photographing better that larger formats. While I really enjoy 8X10 and it is great to play with, there is no way I could afford to go through 700 - 800 sheets a year if that were my primary camera. I am not a pro so I have to consider expenses.

If I were to move up, then 5X7 would be my next choice but the larger the format, the more expensive the supplies, and the fewer images I would make - so I stick with 4X5.

When I am out photographing I don't want to worry about the cost of my film, with 4X5 I feel free to take as few or as many images of a subject I want to.

I agree with Ted that I like the size of 5X7 and it makes nice contact images. It would also allow you to refine your contact printing skills with less expense, then if you want to move up, these days you can sell your 5X7 and probably make money on it!


steve simmons
21-Feb-2007, 16:17
The 8x10 camera is not only bigger but the film holders, when multiplied by 6 or 8 will take up a lot more room. I am not knocking 8x10 and I love contact prints, either 5x7 or 8x10. IMHO, and strictly for my own aesthetic, a 4x5 contact still looks like a proof print.

just my 2 cents

steve simmons

21-Feb-2007, 16:21
FWIW, I prefer to only work with formats where I can get Velvia. I know some like to say Velvia doesn't portray natural colors, but I beg to differ. It matches how I see colors, which may not be how others see them.

John Kasaian
21-Feb-2007, 16:29
If you don't mind being wedded to a tripod---8x10! If I could have only one LF camera it would be a Deardorff flavored 8x10. OTOH if you enjoy shooting "on the fly" look for a 5x7 Speed Graphic or Linhof Technika, either of which can be shot handheld and still yield a decent size negative for contacts. My 2-cents!

John O'Connell
21-Feb-2007, 16:31
If you print your 6x7 images to 5x7 or 8x10 size frequently, you might be happy with 5x7 or 8x10 contact prints. I would think long and hard about what size your images work well at before you commit to smallish contact prints though.

21-Feb-2007, 16:36
Don't forget that plenty of "hybrid" photographers are shooting film and printing digitally, shooting digitally and printing analog, and every possible combination. There is nothing wrong with ANY format (Medium, Large, Ultra Large) -- your real question boils down to a workflow issue. Without a full blown darkroom, what's a boy to do? The answer: anything you want (within the confines of your current situation).

MF --> digital neg --> contact print
MF --> digital print
LF --> digital print
ULF --> contact print

Rafael Garcia
21-Feb-2007, 17:09
4x5, 5x7. The camera is 8 1/4" x 8 1/4" x 3 1/4" with the backs attached. Without lens and backs it weight 3.5 lb. Now, 8x10, that's a different story!



(my new bellows are being shipped to me, hence none are shown in the photos)

21-Feb-2007, 17:49
If you print your 6x7 images to 5x7 or 8x10 size frequently, you might be happy with 5x7 or 8x10 contact prints. I would think long and hard about what size your images work well at before you commit to smallish contact prints though.

When the darkroom was up I printed only 11x14. That was the max size I could fit trays for. Didn't see a point in doing anything smaller. When I was shooting commercially and B&W prints were deliverable "original art" I mostly delivered 8x10 unless otherwise specified. Frankly, I didn't think much of 8x10 prints from 35mm or 120 - they just weren't very impressive. My most recent work has been printed by Gene Nocon to 16x20 for whatever gallery I finally end up in. I haven't been able to print that size since I had the whole lab to myself in photo school a very long time ago.

In order to be happy with either 5x7 or 8x10 contact prints I'll have to change my personal aesthetic - at least until I retire in a few years and can re-establish my darkroom. But I think that change is well underway, and I'm leaning toward 5x7 at this point.

Nevertheless, Ken at Camera Exposure has a very pretty cased Wista field camera in 4x5 with a convertible Schneider lens for a reasonable price without even dickering yet. And living in the digital age, my flatbed can scan 4x5. I'm melting...


Brian Ellis
23-Feb-2007, 20:05
I've always liked the aspect ratio of 5x7 better than any other so when I decided to get into contact printing it was with a 5x7 camera. While the size worked for a few prints, in general I thought it was too small to be satisfying. 8x10 contact prints worked much better for me.

8x10 isn't too unweildy for me but it's too heavy for walking more than a mile or so. If I ever get back into 8x10 it will be with the lightest weight camera I can find that's also reasonably solid, probably a Wehman.

Frank Petronio
23-Feb-2007, 20:35
Hi Don, welcome.

For low light and murky subjects, you might want to consider what sort of lens and style you hope to effect. I don't think your work is quite the sort of thing that translates to f/64 hyper sharpness... Jumping from 120 to 8x10 is a challenge, passing through a 4x5 along the way is a good way to learn without blowing $10 a sheet.

Last year I did a lot of low light 8x10 interior portraits. I briefly had a 5x7 -- I love that it is almost 4x5 size gear-wise while having a more satisfying negative. But in the end, 4x5 wins out. It is less expensive, you can easily make Polaroids, it is easier to get processed, scanned, etc. Plus you can find faster f/4 lenses and more focal lengths. And you can carry 40+ holders on a shoot -- I couldn't afford that with 8x10.

I make digital inkjets on matte paper. Now I know a silver print is wonderful -- made many thousands in the day -- but I really do like matte paper. It was something I was trying to do back in the darkroom days to no avail, and now that it is in our grasp you'll find people poo-pooing them. I think they are lovely.

I also like digital processing because of fingerprints, dust, fixing lighting, and the wonderful liquify filter for reducing big buttocks. I shudder at the thought of spotting negatives and that sort of thing. If you photograph a lot of white sheets you'll also appreciate being able to selectively burn down highlights and such.

The Wista/convertible Symmar is a pretty nice way to start.

Let us know what happens - Frank

23-Feb-2007, 21:07
Hi Frank. I saw you were on here before I registered. And another old friend, Ralph Barker. Probably others I haven't run across yet as well.

I ended up buying a Toyo 45A with revolving back that's been on a local rental shelf since positives were pewter. Sironar-N 150/5.6, some film holders and other goodies. The box was tighter than expected and had new bellows. Could have done better on eBay maybe, but I got to inspect the camera and handle it and I've been buying camera gear from this guy's shop for 19 years. I'll pick up some Tri-X or similar tomorrow and expose some of it. Gonna have to get a developing tank soon, but I can probably do a few sheets in the big reel can for now just to see how it works with XTol.

Anyway, you anticipated me well. Thanks for the slightly belated good advice.


Frank Petronio
23-Feb-2007, 23:04
Sheez I used to tray develop (although XTOL is a different than the Tri-X/HC110 I used a lot) cuz it was easier and faster to do various quantities.

The Toyo is a great choice and the Sironar is the kind of lens you should never sell. If you've seen my (ex) equipment list you'll appreciate that comment.

24-Feb-2007, 08:30
5 x 7 has a nice dimension, but I went for 8 x 10 and contact print and enjoy it very much. I can always scan the neg at a later date for digital printing if I want to. It's easy to tray develop and with pyro inexpensive too. There are also (I find) more film choices and holders to choose from (on the used market for holders). You may wish you had an 8 x 10 if you go 5 x 7. I don't find the weight an issue, but I guess it can depend on the camera choice as well.

Jim Noel
24-Feb-2007, 10:17
I have every format from 35mm through 8x10 and access to 7x17.

When I am ready to head out what camera always goes?
The 60 year old 5x7 Deardorff.
It is a terrific compromise in weight, image size and cost between 4x5 and 8x10. Wonderful contact prints are but one of the products of the format.

Ole Tjugen
24-Feb-2007, 10:23
I'm with Jim Noel on this. I have everything from 35mm to 12x16" - and plate cameras from 4.5x6cm and up - and what I use most is 5x7".

Just large enough for contact prints, small enough for enlarging. The camera(s) is light enough to carry, the lenses are (mostly) relatively lightweight and easy to find. Most of the lenses I use on 4x5" are also used on 5x7"; none of them on 8x10" and larger formats although there is a little bit of overlap between 5x7" and 8x10" (121mm Super Angulon and 355mm G-Claron).

24-Feb-2007, 10:36
If you don't mind the expense (where I live it's around $100 for a 25 box of 8x10 B&W sheet film) and size of 8x10, it sounds like a good format for contact printing. Better to have the ability to crop for smaller prints than be stuck with them. I did see an interesting stitched contact-print job from 6 x 4x5 negatives at a museum yesterday, but I doubt you'd want to try to do that kind of insanity.

Gordon Moat
24-Feb-2007, 11:31
Hello Don,

Just catching this thread a bit late. You might want to try contacting Robert Benson locally. He has been doing wet plate collodion portraits with an old 8x10.


A writer friend of mine recently did an interview with him, which should be published soon. I got a bit of a preview, and the work is very interesting.


Gordon Moat
A G Studio (http://www.allgstudio.com)

Gene Aker
24-Feb-2007, 16:36
I certainly enjoy making 45, 57, 810 contact prints and exchanging with friends. You will find out very quickly if LF and contact printing are your cup of tea. So jump in and try. Making contacts is probably the easiest way to enjoy the special quality of LF photography. Some people see contact prints as unique, some people do not. At worst it's a nutty way get little prints; at best it's the pursuit of the finest expression of black and white photography.
For me, the enlargment is never quite as good as the contact print. But enjoying them is a rather private experience. I mean they are not wall art.
I shoot with the 810 Tachi, and I recently bought a 57 reducing back. Someday, I'd like to have a 57 camera. I would be more inclined to carry it further.
Good shooting, and good luck