View Full Version : Collodion wet plate with a 4x5 camera?

30-May-2009, 18:47
I am really tempted by the collodion wet plate process but I'm not sure if trying it with my 4x5 would be a great idea:

-are 4x5 wet plates too small (or not?) compared to 8x10?
-are there any technical issues from using that smaller format (handling of the wet plates,..)?

Plus, one additional question: is collodion somehow "dirty" for the camera? In other words: should I have a camera dedicated to collodion, next to my everyday Chamonix? (I could then consider buying a cheap PTB-45 here)

I am asking this as I am in Shanghai for a week and might go to the Shen Hao store and have a look at a 8x10 ( still need to check the prices though, and see if by chance there would be any second hand ones).
The thing is, I know 8x10 is expensive as I will probably need to buy a 300mm lens to go with it too... Not mentionning the portability.
But then I might use the 8x10 for palladium prints, which is very tempting too :confused:


Gene McCluney
30-May-2009, 20:42
The large bulk of "wet-plate" photography was in sizes smaller than 4x5. The tintype photo is a wet-plate image on japanned metal.

It would be easier to learn on a small plate, as all the equipment, sensitizing baths, etc, are smaller and cheaper. You need a wet-plate back and holder for whatever camera you decide to use. The plates when exposing are actually wet, and the chemistry can and does drip off and can be corrosive to wood. With a dedicated back and plate holder you limit the possible wear to the wet-plate parts. It is relatively simple to have a wet-plate back with a plate holder that can accept
various size plates, so you are not limited to one size.

31-May-2009, 10:04
I concur, starting with a 4x5 is easier and cheaper. You will shoot a lot of plates that are not that good, and you don't want to be wasting a lot of collodion, aluminum/tin, and/or glass. I started with a speed graphic and converted a film pack holder.

Jim Noel
31-May-2009, 10:06
4x5 is a good size with which to start. You will not want to use your good camera, unless you have a spare back. No matter how careful you are silver nitrate will grip on your back, and it has a bad effect on wood.
an old flatbed style camera like the 1920s or 30s Agfa or Kodak or similar makes a good camera for wet plate. You don't need to buy an expensive lens as you don't need a shutter. Exposures run from two to eight or 10 seconds depending upon light. A lens cap suffices as a shutter. You can pick up a rather cheap barrel lens, even an enlarging lens.
good luck and have fun.

1-Jun-2009, 00:42
Thanks for all your answers! So i guess I'll start with 4x5 :)
It will probably be one month or so before I start my first tests.
I can't wait :)

Concerning exposure time: how do you guys figure it out?
By trial and error?
Or do you have a kind of rule based on lightmeter or simply according to the weather?

Best Regards,

John T
1-Jun-2009, 01:11
Meters don't work. You need trial and error, which will eventually turn into educated guess.

If you are really interested in the process, I strongly suggest going to the Collodion forum at:


1-Jun-2009, 03:58
4x5 will work fine as mentioned above. i do not have any real problems with my silver nitrate getting on my camera and backs. some drip inside the holder but that is about as far as it goes. you have to be careful about getting silver from your finger tips onto the camera.....so wipe your hands before touching your camera.

you will need to rig up a holder in some way to hold the plate. there are many different ideas for this.

another great cheap option is to us an old brownie camera or the like. anything that you can get a plate into will work. open it up and put a plate in and you are uin business.

send me a PM with you r e mail. i have an e mail with all the info you need ready to forward. it includes formulas, chemical suppliers etc etc.

one last work before you buy another expensive camera....getting into wet plate if fairly expensive. the basic chemicals will set you back about $500.....and them you need the other "stuff".

have fun. it is an awesome process.

1-Jun-2009, 19:28
V, you will find a lot of answers on the http://www.collodion.com/forum/default.asp forum. Basically, the exposures are easy to correct because you'll be developing by inspection. Go for 2-4 seconds outside at around f4.5 and go from there. Indoors or low light can get much longer and trickier.

Joe Smigiel
8-Jun-2009, 18:25
The chemicals to get started in wetplate can be procured for maybe $300 total in quantities large enough to last for awhile. You may already have some of these if you currently have a darkroom:

cadmium bromide ~$25 for 25 gm (good for 15-16 standard batches of salted collodion...potassium bromide could substitute)
potassium iodide ~$10 for 50 gm
ferrous sulfate ~$7/454gm
white vinegar and/or glacial acetic acid
whiting (or rottenstone) ~$3/kg
sodium thiosulfate (aka "hypo" or plain fixer) $5/454gm
silver nitrate~$80/100gm
sandarac varnish $27.50/250gm
lavendar oil ~$8/30ml
grain or denatured alcohol
collodion USP ~45/625ml
ethyl ether ~$ 50/500 ml

Of course, as you start making larger plates, you'll need more capacity and chemicals.

A converted film holder is all you need if you are careful not to let silver nitrate drip onto camera surfaces. Or as others have mentioned, a dedicated wetplate back and holder are better, and a Brownie camera will produce surprisingly good results if making images on metal plates rather than glass.

I've made ambrotypes to 10" x 12" in size and recently bought some electronic flash equipment to do wetplate indoors. 9600ws @ about 5 feet and f/8 is in the ballpark. Once I determined I could actually do wetplate with flash, I began to question why I might do so.

The whole process is so primitive that I'm now leaning towards shunning the more modern technology (e.g., flash, meters) and becoming more traditional with it. That entails shooting small ninth- or sixth- plates (2" x 2.5" and 2.75" x 3.25" respectively) instead of larger sizes that are standard and common today.

Holding a cased ninth-plate image in hand has its own intimate and special merit.

So, I might say 4x5 could actually be too large. :)

Check out my online article for more wetplate info.