View Full Version : Struggling with 4x5, looking for advice

Tim k
4-Aug-2008, 11:28
First a little background;
I've been fiddling with film for years, until them new-fangled electric cameras came out, then I chased after them till the last few months. For some reason I am being drawn back to film. After a lil bit of buying and selling, I ended up with a Toyo/Omega 4x5 view. For the last few months I've been putting my stuff together, getting ready for a couple month trip of R&R and playing with my new toys. Inspiration comes hard for me. I'm not the type that can stop anywhere and find something interesting. Something interesting needs to yell, "here I am bozo take a picture". So some of my best stuff tends to be more of a happy accident, rather than a planned event.

Here's my problem;
I'm halfway through the trip, and every time we go somewhere I tend to grab a little camera, and those seem to be the best of my images. I have, on several occasions went out taking only the 4x5, and while the time seems more relaxing (enjoyable) but I never seem to be at the right place at the right time with the big rig. I think one mistake I may have made is to get a large Pelican case that everything fits into. Its HEAVY. So it tends to be a bit of a project, to pack it up and go. And I'm a bit on the lazy side. I'm not ready to give up on 4x5, but perhaps I need to change my ways.

Here's some of my thoughts;
Get something that folds, that will fit in a back pack.
Cut a couple feet off the monorail, and get a smaller case.
Try medium format.
Leave the little stuff at home? (Thats going to be hard.)
Suck it up, and try harder.

I hope this all makes sense.
I really would appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks, TimK

4-Aug-2008, 11:46
I started out a long time ago with a heavy monorail camera setup and it completely dampened my interest in large format, because it was such a pain to take anywhere. Fast forward to the past year when I got a good quality lightweight field camera (Chamonix 45N-1) and some lightweight lenses and accessories. I keep a complete kit in a small backpack, so it's easy to grab and go when I want to go shooting. For me, good tools make the job a pleasure.

4-Aug-2008, 12:18
Look at really lightweight cameras.

I had the same issue when I got a half-plate "land camera"... it was so heavy I left it in a cupboard. I received a wonderful Korona 4x5 that was so light I could carry it by the handle, with a bag of bits on my back, and tripod in the other hand; the heaviest thing to carry was the tripod!

I've since moved onto the equally weighted Razzle, as it alleviates the need for a tripod in most cases.

Hang in there, look at lightweight field cameras or maybe crown/speed graphic handhelds. Razzles have a long waiting list and are very specialist.

Gem Singer
4-Aug-2008, 12:32
P.M. sent.

Walter Calahan
4-Aug-2008, 12:39
Only use a camera that matches your photographic vision.

LF is not right for all situations or stylistic approaches.

Don't beat yourself up if you happen to have the wrong system for the situation. Just go with the flow. The more you use LF, the easier it will be as you find your work flow.

4-Aug-2008, 12:40
Those of us who use large format do so for any number of reasons. For me, it’s the joy of seeing the ground glass image and knowing the resulting negative will perform in the darkroom the way I want it to. I started with a 35mm and a tripod and after about a year, I decided that the images I wanted to make were best made with a view camera. My first one was crude but I immediately saw that the LF route was for me. Except for water or clouds, I rarely photograph things that are moving. I don’t make lots of negatives. I savor the process and often spend an hour or more working with a subject and then walk away without making a negative, but I have enjoyed the process.

I think you need to evaluate your goals. If you are selling your work, then you need to “Hang’em on the wall” so to speak. If a relaxing hobby is your thing, do what feels good.

The “happy accident” is far less probable with LF. LF is a more contemplative medium and you will make far fewer negatives. For example, if I’m in an area with lots of possibilities, I will probably make 8 or 10 negatives a day or fewer. Usually fewer. My percentage of keepers, however, is far greater.


Ole Tjugen
4-Aug-2008, 12:44
The usual way to use a LF camera is to take it out, sit down, look around, set it up, then wait for the lighting to be perfect.

I've never managed that. But I can get a LF camera unpacked, set up, mount the lens I want (they seem to always be on the wrong type of lens board), frame, focus, shoot, and pack everything and be ready to move on in less than five minutes...

E. von Hoegh
4-Aug-2008, 13:05
Large format isn't for every shot.

My last trip to Europe, I took a NikonF with 35/50/105 lenses and a Nagaoka 4x5/6" Dagor with 4 filmholders and a lightweight tripod. Gossen Lunasix for both.

I shot 8 negs with the 4x5, and about 8 36exp. rolls with the 35.

When I went out with the 4x5, i usually had a list of scenes I wanted.

You need to think about which type of camera best suits the photographs you wish to make, then choose the camera and plan your day accordingly. (Or let your day's plans choose the camera)

For instance, we took a boat trip up the Rhine on a perfect day. I shot the castles and other landmarks as we passed. Now, I COULD have made every shot with a medium format camera, or for that matter my 4x5 Linhof in handheld configuration with a 270mm lens. However, the day's outing was part of a family reunion; messing about with fussy time eating gear would have been inappropriate. Not to mention that I'd have needed at least 25 4x5 filmholders...

TimK, take your time. As you gain experience you will learn which camera siuts the work you wish to do at that time. They all have their uses.

Gene McCluney
4-Aug-2008, 14:01
My suggestion is to get an off-road worthy vehicle such as a Jeep product, or Land Rover or similar 4-wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance, then drive close to where you think you might want to shoot, and work out of the back of the vehicle. This works very well for me, but I don't have any problem finding the subject material I like, and my only worry is "will I have enough film with me"? Last outing, I shot 70 sheets of 5x7. I don't pack everything away between shots either, I put stuff in the back of my Land Rover Discovery under a cloth, and I leave the tripod legs extended, also, and I have a quick release for my 5x7 to go onto the tripod fairly quickly.

Jim Graves
4-Aug-2008, 14:09
Over the last 3 years I've migrated to a 4x5 and a 6cmx9cm combination that works well for the various ways I shoot.

If I'm just walking around, traveling light, or just don't want to fool with the 4x5, I carry a Super Ikonta folder. Upsides are portability, speed and volume and you still get very nice sized, sharp negatives that will enlarge very well up to 16x20. I get 8 shots per roll of 120 film ... 12 if I use the 6x6 insert. I've found that I often will find something of interest, shoot it in 6x9 and then go back on another date with my 4x5.

My entire 4x5 backpacking kit weighs slightly less than 9 lbs. It is a Gowland Pocket View, 90mm Angulon , 203mm Kodak Ektar, Feisol CT3441 tripod with CB-30 ball head, Loupe, Cable Release, Kodak Readyload holder, and a 20 pack of Fuji QuickLoads. I use my jacket as my dark cloth. The Gowland is a little fidgety, no 0 detents, etc. but once you learn to use it, it becomes second nature ... and it has all movements.

If I'm going out and about by myself in the car ... I set up the 4x5 on the Feisol tripod so it's ready to go and I use my bigger, newer lenses. But I also take the Super Ikonta 6x9. Then, I'm pretty much ready for anything.

Since I hit on this combination, I take far more (and better) pictures simply because of the improved portability of the 4x5 and the 6x9 option and because I now actually enjoy myself more. But, as the earlier posters said ... you need to figure out what works best for the way you shoot. Good luck ... don't give up on 4x5, (you live in Arizona for God's sake!) ... and find a way you can really enjoy being out there shooting.

Tom Perkins
4-Aug-2008, 14:13
Something light that folds up is a pretty good idea if you're going to stick it out with large format, but the advice you have been given regarding style is sound. Large format has the potential to improve one's 35mm and digital photography tremendously, and the smaller formats are in many ways more challenging. But you have to have interest to make something, so if you don't you can bag it with a clear conscience.

Dave Hally
4-Aug-2008, 14:59
I have gradually worked toward a lighter rig, and I'm ready for the next step. The main thing is to be familiar with your gear, so you can set up quickly, and get the shot. The second thing is to be there (actually that's the first thing). I you feel that you're not getting the shots that you want, what did you want? Softer light? Sunset? Dawn? I wanted a certain shot of Mt Whitney through an arch, I had to camp there to get it, as I wouldn't have got up early enough to get it otherwise. Do what you have to to be there when you want.
A lighter rig will help get out there, familiarity with your equiptment will get the shot (at least more often), and familiarity with the location will help get the shot you want.
When I first started with 4x5, I used a Nagaoka field camera and a Tiltal tripod and 1 lens. I could fit everything but the tripod in the tank bag on my motorcycle. Now I tend to work out of my van, with the camera on the tripod, and the lenses and film packets in a satchel at my side. I can carry about 10 sheets of film and 3 lenses, as long as I don't go more than a mile from the van. I did do the Methuselah loop in may and was wanting a lighter rig and backpack by the second mile marker!
Stick with it, try to keep it simple.
Good Luck
Dave Hally

Bruce Watson
4-Aug-2008, 15:16
I'm halfway through the trip, and every time we go somewhere I tend to grab a little camera, and those seem to be the best of my images. I have, on several occasions went out taking only the 4x5, and while the time seems more relaxing (enjoyable) but I never seem to be at the right place at the right time with the big rig.

I can't believe I'm going to say this. But... you have to make a commitment. The little cameras will always be "easier" because that's the primary design function of most smaller format cameras. LF can give you a higher quality image because that's it's primary design function.

Decide which you want. Then stop using the other one. Because if you don't stop using the small cameras and commit to conquering the learning curves for LF, you'll never get good at it. And therefore you'll never really be happy with it.

So if you really are lazy as you say you are, make it work for you. Take the easy route and just use one camera system for your work. Less to pack, less to futz with, and one less decision to be made.

Now, what others are saying applies also. Especially about your using what is thought of as a studio camera for exterior work. A field camera would almost certainly make your life easier -- your whole kit needs to be optimized for the work you are going to try to do.

That said, it ain't the tools that are the problem here. You know this. The problem here is that you can't decide. And none of us can help you with that. You are the only one who can know what you really want.

Sorry. And good luck.

Ben Syverson
4-Aug-2008, 16:30
Decide which you want. Then stop using the other one. Because if you don't stop using the small cameras and commit to conquering the learning curves for LF, you'll never get good at it. And therefore you'll never really be happy with it.

This assumes that you can only shoot ONE format well, which is just hogwash.

There are many different cameras and formats out there because they all have different strengths. Sure, you can shoot wildlife or sports with an 8x10, but does that make it the best option? DSLRs are made for that type of fast, tight shooting. And sure, you can make a 60" landscape print from a DSLR, but obviously the 8x10 will be a better choice.

I love taking photos, so I always have at least one camera handy. If I didn't have my DSLR to take quick shots, I would be absolutely crushed. Looking back on my digital photo library shows an incredibly rich personal history of the past few years. All of the best and worst times are there, in intimate detail. I think I have something like 40,000 of those snapshots (and about 3,000 on flickr (http://flickr.com/photos/bensyverson/)).

Almost none of those images could've been taken with a LF camera, either because of weight, bulk, set-up time, or low light levels. Besides, there would simply be no need to capture all of those moments in LF—it's not like I'm making huge prints of personal snapshots.

For me, LF is the format I use when I have a premeditated photo I want to take. It's like the difference between 1st degree and 2nd degree murder. :) If I'm somewhere and a photo happens, I'll pull out the digital or MF camera. But if I have a plan for a photo, that's when LF gets involved.

If you can get away with ONE photographic format, then go for it... But don't begrudge anyone else the pleasure of using many!

4-Aug-2008, 17:19
I have never take a 4x5 keeper (few as those are to date) without repeated visits to the scene in different seasons, weathers, and times of day, thoughtful planning of specific position and perspective, careful calculation of sun and shadow times and angles, and patient pacing waiting to see if Nature agrees with my predictions in time for me to press the shutter cable.

Gene McCluney
4-Aug-2008, 17:47
I fully concur with the above comments that you have to "commit" to Large Format to do it well, it can't just be something to drag out "if" you have the time, or "if" you think the scene deserves it. You gotta USE it a lot to get comfortable, and skilled. The best way to do this is to NOT bring along an easier more familiar camera. Here is what I do. I shoot 5x7. I take my Leica M-6 for primary use as a light meter (a darned good one), and I shoot some slides with the M6, but I always shoot (of every view) a 5x7 negative. I don't shoot anything with the Leica that I haven't shot on a b/w negative with the 5x7 field camera.

I don't begrudge anyone that has and uses multiple formats, I personally have multiple cameras from 35mm Rangefinder to 11x14 View, including many medium-format choices, ........but......I don't take multi-formats out on a photo excursion, this only muddies the mind.

Scott Kathe
4-Aug-2008, 18:31
From my limited knowledge I think that if you want to learn to shoot large format, only shoot large format. You will never learn to shoot large format well unless you immerse yourself in it. I think it may be like learning a foreign language by only speaking that language for an extended period of time.

My first 4x5 was a home made Bender, it was a lot of fun to build and shoot with initially BUT it was taking so long to set up I almost stopped photography completely. I love the 4x5 ground glass and couldn't go back to the tiny 135 viewfinder and tiny film. I tried TLRs and liked them to but ended up getting a Crown Graphic and that's when things really started to happen. They are very easy to use, would work great for what you are doing, they have limited movements but that's one less thing to worry about. If you don't like it you can sell it and not loose a lot of money. I had the Crown for about a year and started missing all the movements I had with the Bender. Then I knew what I wanted in a large format camera. Now I have a Shen Hao and couldn't be happier. I just picked up an RZ67 and I like it but I may not keep it so I can get better with the 4x5. And maybe if I'm good I'll try 5x7 next year;)

I'm sure there are photographers who have no problem shooting all formats but I bet most of them learned one format at a time. Keep it simple, one camera, one lens, one meter and go out and shoot a whole lot of film:)


Ben Syverson
4-Aug-2008, 18:42
Personally, I think once you've learned the basics of photography, you don't need to "learn" new formats. You may need to figure out where all the controls are on a new camera, but all the formats are essentially the same—just different sizes.

That said, "photographic excursion" counts as premeditation to me. :) If you plan a picture-taking trip, take the LF!

Scott Kathe
4-Aug-2008, 19:02
Personally, I think once you've learned the basics of photography, you don't need to "learn" new formats. You may need to figure out where all the controls are on a new camera, but all the formats are essentially the same—just different sizes.
I agree to a very limited extent but I find that the different aspect ratios of various formats tend to need different composition strategies. A 6x6 from my TLR requires a whole different way of composition compared to 4x5 which is different from 135. I'm sure 5x7 will be different and panoramic formats very challenging at least for me.


Tim k
4-Aug-2008, 20:37
Thank you all for your quick thoughtful responses.

After reading them, my first LF/film outing came to mind. I was in Sedona, I scouted the location the day before, I was there before sun up. I have my shiny new 4x5, that came with a 6x9 back, 35mm film body that I picked up to do some film tests, then of course I had the electric job that I'm familiar with. I know I only have a few minutes of good light. So I then proceed to try to thoughtfully use everything I own, in just a few minutes of course. Well you get the idea. In hind site, it was funny. I could have sold the video. (had I thought to bring that along)

I think I'm going to try to prune some weight, re-read your posts, have a lil nip and ponder why, and then stick with it. Perhaps I am expecting too much too soon.

Again, thanks for the input. Thats exactly what I was looking for.

John Kasaian
4-Aug-2008, 21:07
Lots of good advice, but it's got me thinking "what kinds of subjects float your boat?"

Monorails can be field cameras, but IMHO they are easiest to use in a studio or on "location" such as an architectural study or portrait.

Also, what is it about large format that you like? Perspective control? The details recorded by a big negative?

These are two things worth thinking about when searching for a solution.
If it is a subject issue, there are delightful little lightwieght woodies out there that will provide more than adequate movements. If the big negative is what you're after there are Graphics and Technikas that can be handheld and swiftly put into action nearly as fast as a Hasselblad or RB-67.

Getting back to your own gear. If your problem is one of inspiration then rather than getting a new camera I suggest giving yourself a few challenging assignments. Such exercises might give you a new respect for the kit you do have as well maybe kicking your creative juices up a notch.
Good luck!

4-Aug-2008, 21:26
Here's my problem;
I'm halfway through the trip, and every time we go somewhere I tend to grab a little camera, and those seem to be the best of my images.

Lots of good advice above. I had a similar problem getting into 4x5 until I accepted the "you gotta take it with you every time" maxim. The key for you is to overcome the tendency to just take the little one, but a heavy Pelikan reinforces that. So I have everything in one backpack, ready to go ( 4x5 and digital backpack (http://www.fototime.com/inv/FC8078535BCFCFB) ) and it's chosen for lightness and not too heavy to just "grab" If the light's fading rapidly, I have digital, but otherwise I have the time AND the equipment.

5-Aug-2008, 04:54
Suck it up, and try harder.

Jeez photography is supposed to be enjoyable not a task!
You left out another option: get a handheld 4x5, with a grafmatic back.

Scott Kathe
5-Aug-2008, 05:49
One other thing, I would highly recommend that you purchase 'Finely Focused: A Guide to Traditional Large Format Photography' by Bruce Barlow here is a thread about the new version:


Bruce Watson
5-Aug-2008, 05:55
This assumes that you can only shoot ONE format well, which is just hogwash.

You are confusing what I said with what you wanted to hear. The hogwash therefore is yours, not mine.

5-Aug-2008, 06:14
Get some foam pipe insulation, and put it on your tripod legs.

Then mount the camera on the tripod and leave it permanently attached. Carry the camera over your shoulder with the tripod legs fully extended. Think of this as one portable unit.

Get a little back pack for lenses, holders, meter etc.

Set up for a new shot should take almost no time. You will be in a picture taking frame of mind.

Works for me, although I do prefer field cameras.

Tim k
5-Aug-2008, 07:57
Let me fill in a couple more of the blanks for you.

Landscape, momma nature, is what floats my boat.
This is a hobby, or perhaps an obsession.
The first goal I had was to get a large color print on the wall, although that might be changing a bit. So, 4x5 seemed like a great way to go.
I enjoy learning new things. Since I knew nothing about 4x5, it qualified.

I read somewhere that there is nothing photographic more than 100 yards from your vehicle. (or something close to that) That is pretty much my deal. So I thought I could make the monorail work in the field. Hiking is not my thing, but I do enjoy driving over things to get to a nice spot.

After reading your posts, I think I need to ditch the Pelican. The thing must weigh 50 pounds. But it is handy having everything there, but if its at home, not so handy. I like the idea of the backpack. But I'm not sure if I can pull that off with the monorail.

Thanks again, your posts have been very helpful.

Scott Kathe
5-Aug-2008, 08:37
Check out stuff from Photobackpacker http://www.photobackpacker.com/home.asp

I'm pretty sure Bruce is working on a case for monorail cameras, he has been very good responding to my e-mails. If you send him a message he will reply.


Drew Bedo
5-Aug-2008, 08:43
Hello Tim,

Welcome to LF photography.
I started in LF with a salvaged Crown Grafic press camera. It had been stripped of all things "press"; no FP shutter, no range finder, no body release, no leather (not even the strap!) and it had been painted black. Well, I could afford it at the time. There were NO movements. As the Graphic cameras do, it all folded up into itself with the lens mounted in place. To set it up I slid it onto the tripod's quick-release, opened the front bed and slid the front standard out to the infinity stops…about as quickly as I can type it out at my blazing 22 wpm. This woreked reallty well for me on a trip to the Grand Canyon. It all packed into a back-to-school book bbag stuffed with cut up foam.

Well I wanted MOVEMENTS and eventually got a Burk & James wooden field camera; a 5x7 with a reducing back. Talk about extension and movements! Used it for years, learned the craft of view camera manipulations, had fun, and shot only from my car...the total kit was a load.

I now have an early Zone-IV. It has limited extension (12") and could be a more rigid when set-up. But it is petite and light-weight (and pretty). Our son gave me a Pelican case for it all; looks professional, roles around and fits in an airline over-head etc. Yet, as you have found, it is cumbersome.

What do I shoot with? I found that most of the outfit (what I actually need) fits into an old 35mm bag! The camera and a few film holders along with a carbon tripod all sling on a shoulder, under my seat or even in my lap. I can go anywhere with this rig.

Try a smaller/lighter camera ( I've been thinking about a Razzle). Cut down on what you need for the shoot at hand and pack it into a compact camera bag. I use no dividers inside and separate the items in "velvet" Crown-Royal bags that I buy on e-bay. This strategy might work for you.

5-Aug-2008, 09:11
I can't remember who I sold it to, but I sold my Monorail, and sent it to the guy inside a backpack.

It was a fair-sized LAPTOP backpack, which meant front pocket, main pocket, laptop pocket. There were numerous other smaller pockets.

In that bag I fitted the complete Calumet 45N, disassembled to a point, with at least two lenses on boards, film holders, accessories like light meter, and there was space to share.

I then used the drink holder on the side, and one of the straps, to attach the tripod.

It wasn't light, but it was comfortable.

5-Aug-2008, 09:19
I can't find images of the Monorail, but here's images of a very large half-plate camera in the same bag.

This camera was LARGE.





Tim k
5-Aug-2008, 14:56
Ash, I'm embarrassed. If you can get that monster in a pack, I need to shut up, get busy with a hacksaw and quit whining.

E. von Hoegh
5-Aug-2008, 15:22
Ash, I'm embarrassed. If you can get that monster in a pack, I need to shut up, get busy with a hacksaw and quit whining.

Tim, I hike with a Deardorff V8, a 15 pound tripod, filmholders lenses blah blah.

I recently did 12 miles with that outfit, and I'll be 48 this fall.

Not to say YOU need to do this. I make pictures to satisfy myself, with LF. I make pictures to document events, preserve memories, and convey information with smaller cameras. It's just the way it works out for me.
Just gain experience, take your time, find your comfort level with each format.

I think your trouble is the type of camera, not the format. A field camera may be the way to go.

Ben Syverson
5-Aug-2008, 15:39
Here's my Gowland 8x10 with lens, in a medium-sized messenger bag. There are also two holders in there, along with a tripod! The whole thing weighs only a little more than when my laptop is in there. I could go anywhere with this setup.


5-Aug-2008, 16:01
hi tim

do you use a lot of perspective controls? or do you use the big negative factor and shoot like a smaller
format camera?
there are lots of 4x5 cameras that don't use or have perspective controls
( graflex slr's, press cameras, box cameras, tecnical field cameras converted polaroids &C )
and one of these might make your life easier.

good luck!

Tim k
5-Aug-2008, 19:12
hi tim

do you use a lot of perspective controls? or do you use the big negative factor and shoot like a smaller
format camera?

good luck!

John, When I decided on the monorail, I thought I would be twisting and turning. However, I have found that I am using surprisingly little tilt & swing. In hind site a folder may have been a smarter choice.

5-Aug-2008, 21:05
Does landscape photography require a lot of movement?