View Full Version : Rome and Florence

5-Nov-2007, 23:40
I am on the verge of buying a LF camera, and I'm taking a trip to Rome and Florence this Christmas time. I haven't worked in LF before but I have been doing photography for many years. I am also experienced in the darkroom as well. I am looking for some tips tricks and ideas revolving around my trip (try to take film through security? or buy it and dev. there? etc) What kind of gear I should expect to buy, and some good LF cameras I should be looking at. (Right now Im looking at a perfect condition used Toyo-View 45CF with focus hood, lens, and Beattie Bright Screen).

Any input would be greatly appreciated.

- Jordan

Louie Powell
6-Nov-2007, 05:47
If you haven't used LF before, I suggest not planning to take LF equipment on your trip this Christmas.

LF requires a different approach to photography - slower, more disciplined. You spend far more time looking than making pictures. You would be far better off taking your trip with familiar equipment. Then, if you still want to make the LF purchase, do so at a later point when you can devote the time to learning a new approach to photography without the pressure of knowing that you are on a memorable vacation and feeling that you just have to take pictures of everything you see.

As Tillman Crane puts it, the tipping point with LF comes when the pain of seeing a photograph and not capturing it on film exceeds the considerable pain of getting out the camera, setting it up, composing, metering, and then exposing a negative.

Scott Davis
6-Nov-2007, 08:02
Regardless of which system you take with you, it is perfectly safe and feasible to carry your film on the plane with you; DO NOT CHECK YOUR FILM IN CHECKED BAGGAGE.

If you take LF with you, a field camera is your best option for travel, especially overseas. My advice to you would be to get a camera, any camera, as far in advance of your trip as possible, and spend some time burning through film here where you're comfortable and familiar, to get acquainted with the quirks of the camera. Every camera will have quirks, and you may find after spending some number of hours behind it, that you appreciate, or loathe, its quirks. My recommendation would be NOT the Toyo 45cf - I had a chance to play with one when I was looking at a 45 system, and I did not like it at all. I know it is very light, and carbon fiber is durable, but it FELT plasticky and likely to break. It is also limited in its movements and bellows extension. It would also be more prone to vibration because it is SO light. I would suggest something that takes a Linhof/Wista style lensboard, instead of the Toyo lensboard, because if you get into a system that you find out you don't like, it is much easier to switch systems without having to buy new lensboards. While not truly universal, the Linhof Technika lensboard is the closest thing there is to a universal lensboard out there - if the camera doesn't take them by default, it will take them with a single adapter board.

I would highly recommend as a starter field camera the Shen Hao. It is a bit heavier, but it is very rigid, and very durable. It also has enough movements that you can tie the bellows in knots if you insist. There is an accessory bag bellows (very inexpensive) that will let you use extreme wide-angle lenses on a flat lensboard (down to a 58mm). In Rome and Florence, you will find wide-angle to normal lenses your better friends, because the spaces are very narrow. I would think you'd want lenses from 75 (maybe even as wide as 65) to 210, 240-250 on the outside for something a little longer than normal. A decent three lens kit for places like Florence and Rome would be 75-90-150, or 90-135-210 if you tend to run to the longer in your personal vision. If your budget (and back) will allow it, you can bump that out to a 5 lens set - 75-90-150-210-240.

Frank Petronio
6-Nov-2007, 08:50
Toyo CFs are kind of plastic-y.

Get a handheld, rangefinder focused Crown Graphic (one lens) and some Grafmatic film holders and shoot Tri-X handheld and don't get all anal about it. Get a Calumet Changing Room to load film on the road. Practice before you go of course.

John Kasaian
6-Nov-2007, 08:53
How cool! I don't know how quickly you'll get the hang of LF but it is certainly possible! As far as buying a camera for travelling goes I think it would depend on your mode of travelling. Getting around in Iialian cities to me means walking (a lot) so a lightwieght camera would be my choice.

6-Nov-2007, 09:24
Sorry to say that Christmas time is not the best period to visit Florence and Rome and take pictures with LF.
There will be crowded of tourists and many "Christmas lights" will be hanging in the centre...........LF equipment seems to me too cumbersome in the middle of the Italians during the Christmas shopping :)
Good luck anyway.
My suggestions is for a Shan Hao wide bag bellows and a medium tripod with 75, 135, 210 lenses or 90, 150, 240. With these you will cover the 90% of the towns pictures.
If you want to buy B&W films, this could be the right address: http://www.fotomatica.it/
for Colour films:
If you need more....ask

6-Nov-2007, 18:52
Thanks for your expedient replies.

As far as "learning LF" goes, I dont think I'll have too much trouble. Mostly because I wont be at it alone, my professors at my school have been shooting LF over 50 years, and are very well respected. I meet with them all the time and I have been shooting film photography for years as well as 16mm film with the Bolex, CP, Arri S and on...

Photography is in my blood, and the idea that setting up the photograph and taking large amounts of time for detail and anal precision is nothing new to me at all. Even when I am photographing digitally, I spend a lot of time with my image before I capture it. I'm only 22, but I live through my images.

Also, I am not taking this LF camera with the idea that it is going to just be a point and shoot. I plan on scouting locations and dedicating large amounts of time to each photo. This isn't about getting a LF negative of the famous roman buildings, its about capturing the specificity of visual cues and subtle arcs that truly take me to a different place. Rome and Florence are not about big old buildings, its about the specific quality of culture and surrounding aura of the place. That is what I want to capture through my own visual aesthetic. Anyone can take a photo in monument valley, but it takes a photography to capture its essence.

I am thinking about carrying the film on my person, and using film holders and changing bags, also I was told about the "ready loads" or "quick loads" but Im not sure if they are made for B&W anymore, and if they were, I heard they were around 100 speed.... which is unfeasible for this sort of already ambitious venture.

Thanks for your input, all, and I look forward to learning more.

Donald Miller
6-Nov-2007, 20:52
I just returned from six months in Italy two and one half months ago. I am scheduled to return to Italy in two weeks.

I realize that the idea of LF has captured your imagination but I agree with what those who have advised against LF at this time of year in Italy and at the beginning of using large format on such an important trip. It will take you some time to get used to composing images on the ground glass that are upside down and reversed for one thing...to do it with a bunch of people milling around you is another thing entirely.

If you have no plans of photographing structures but rather capturing the culture, than I would recommend shooting with a hand held smaller camera and format. You will become totally frustrated by the impatient nature of Italians who are having to deal with some damned tourist with a large camera.

I shot digital during my six months there. With that capture, I can adjust perspective in PS and I can capture images that I could never gain with my 5X7. From digital capture I can make enlarged negatives and make pt-pd prints from my digital capture. I could do the same thing shooting medium format film and scanning to arrive at enlarged negs with the same final output.

It all depends on whether you want to have a pleasant and worthwhile photographic experience or if you want memories rife with frustration and difficulty. The Caribinarri frown on tourists that impose their presence on their citizenry.

Good luck and good light.

6-Nov-2007, 21:59
Donald Miller,
Thanks for your valuable input, I'll give a little more detail on my plans.

I plan to take my digital SLR, my 35mm SLR, and my (tba) LF. I am not planning on shooting exclusively LF by any means, I also do not plan on lugging my LF around for "just in case" type shoots.

Anywhere I take my LF camera, I will have been there before. There is still a chance I will not shoot on it at all during my stay, pending such issues as you all have all generously and courteously provided. But I don't think I can withhold from myself from, at least, the possibility of capturing a few images in my "youth of LF" while in Italy. I feel that the value of these photographs will definitely outweigh their quality, but that is something I have obviously considered and fully understand.

But, as you can see here, I feel that as a simple duty to my passion, I must gain as much information about this great task (as possible) so I can make a fully informed decision.

I highly value and appreciate all of your input. And I thank you especially for reaffirming each other's ideas and suggestions.


P.S., you all speak of the intense learning curve, and also the amount of time it takes to set up and take a single photograph... While I realize asking you "how long..." is an utterly pointless question because of all the variables, but if you had any more insight, that would be helpful as well. (and not to be a lazy person, but if there are also any productive threads/sites on these [understandably broad] topics, those links would be appreciated as well.)

Ron Marshall
6-Nov-2007, 23:39
You can gain proficiency very quickly with intensive practice before leaving for Europe. You can even practice swings and tilts indoors, and do dry runs through all of the steps required; compose, focus, tilt, refocus, stop-down, close aperture, load film holder, meter scene, set shutter speed, cock shutter, remove darkslide, shoot, replace darkslide. Run through this sequence a few times without film, otherwise you are bound to blow a few sheets at the beginning, everyone does.

John Kasaian
7-Nov-2007, 02:29
I agree with Ron Marshall, the learning curve isn't all that steep, but managing the equipment takes some getting used to. If what you're contemplating dosen't require perspective control (movements) a Crown Graphic should work out fine. If OTOH you're considering timed exposures or movements, something like a Gowland Pocket View would IMHO make for delightful travelling companion. Both these are very lightwieght so they won't require a heavy tripod---the Crown won't really even need a tripod. Conversely you can get something like a Technika and have the best of both worlds (but wiegh more!) Another item to consider is using grafmatics rather than conventional filim holders.
Perhaps one approach is to study LF 'togs whose work is similar to your vision, learn which LF camera & gear they shoot with, why and how.
Good luck & enjoy the wine!

John Kasaian
7-Nov-2007, 02:35
...and as far as how long it takes to set up, once you become sympatico with your gear you can set up remarkably fast, but it takes awhile to reach that particular plateau. Having a camera you enjoy shooting helps, as does being able to guesstimate the light by being your own light meter (at least sometimes.)

Frank Petronio
7-Nov-2007, 06:05
I'd avoid a tripod altogether, the classic spots are busy places with lots of security that will rightly or wrongly hassle you. Think handheld and fluid, not "point and shoot" but remember that you can fix a tilted horizon later on as well.

Have you seen the Razzle modified Polaroid 110s? They are even smaller than a Crown Graphic and quite elegant.

Another option would be to use a good 6x9 roll film camera, like the old Fuji Rangefinders, those were the bomb and an order of magnitude easier to manage for travel. The Mamiya 6x7 Rangefinders are pretty awesome too.

John Kasaian
7-Nov-2007, 08:23
I'd avoid a tripod altogether,
Amen to that!

7-Nov-2007, 08:30
If your heart is set on 4x5, I would go light (shen hao?) and a nice quick release tripod head and graphite tripod with readyloads (think light). Stick with one lens - 180 or 210 - again keep it light..as above, don't check film. Above all, enjoy yourself...don't get angst over making images...

Richard Raymond
7-Nov-2007, 09:04
My recommendations on gear are for lenses: Look at Kerry Thalmann's list of light weight lenses. Choose the ones that fit your "vision". I tend to work on the long focal length side so I tend to favor something like 110mm, 180mm, 240mm for a set...but that is my preference. For a camera I would look at something like the Wista/Zone VI camera because it is built to allow the camera to be folded and closed with a lens attached. Other cameras you might want to look at are the technical cameras that have "stops" like the Horseman, Linhof or Wista SP. This would allow for quick initial focusing and you could also get a rangefinder version of one of these to allow for full range focusing and a more spontaneous approach to shooting. These last cameras would be a little heavier and have fewer movements but you should look at them before buying if they fit your approach to photography. I am sure that there are others but that is the one I am familiar with. For example, if you shoot 150mm you could use a Fuji F6.3 in a Seiko shutter and when you set up you can quickly look at the composition. This also helps because you now have one less lens floating in your equipment bag. For film, I would use quickloads or readyloads depending on your preference for film.

Richard Raymond
7-Nov-2007, 09:20
Sorry, forgot the tripod. I would recommend something like the Velbon Chaser ELF 4. Weights about 4 pounds, closes to between 20 and 21 inches with a head and would be sturdy enough that with a small field camera and careful technique one can get some good pictures. Also, don't forget that there will be many "local camera supports" such as shooting street scenes with the camera placed on the table at the cafe, using a wall, bench, the edge of a fountain, the Spanish Steps, etc.

7-Nov-2007, 13:13
As far as Tripods go - I own a Manfrotto 3021BN w/ Manfrotto 322RC2 Ball Grip Head.

Sticks: http://www.amazon.com/Bogen-Manfrotto-3021BN-Classic-Tripod-without/dp/B00006I52Y
Head: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000184N22/ref=dp_cp_ob_title_1/104-5413503-0965548

Marco Annaratone
7-Nov-2007, 18:21
I would strongly caution you about shooting LF in Rome and Florence at Christmas time. Mind you, such an objection is not the one to react to like "wow, then it gets really challenging and exciting and fun". No, you will most likely be disappointed for reasons explained very well already in other posts, and because of that your non-LF photography may suffer as well.

Indeed, an MF rangefinder would be an ideal tool.


Scott Davis
8-Nov-2007, 08:23
Your legset is fine but that ballhead will be a royal pain to work with LF other than a Speed/Crown Graphic. Your range of movement with it is very limited, and more importantly, that head has a single control for all movements of the head. You can't pan with it without unlocking the tilt of the ballhead, and with a 4x5, that means it is highly likely to come unlevelled when you want to pan the camera. Very Bad.

If you can, get a standard ballhead - there are some nice Chinese ones out there now, as well as the Bogen/Gitzo/Arca products. With a field 4x5, the head size isn't critical (I used to use the same Bogen ballhead I had for my 35mm/Hasselblad stuff with my Shen Hao, then upgraded to a Gitzo ballhead (the wierd-looking but very useful side-mount ballhead, with individual controls for pan and tilt). Ideally, you want a head that has separate controls for the ball tension and panning the head.