View Full Version : documentary 4x5 or Full frame digital camera(+tripod?)

29-Jun-2010, 00:41

I could use a little insight if a 4x5 field camera would be something for me. I know it takes time to setup, however lately I have been inspired by photo series shot in large format. One example is: http://www.whatisamericanpower.com/#/photo/33 (not just that one, all of them basically. It looks very calm and serene, life brought to a halt in a very nice and natural way.) The reason I liked this series too, is that it contains a mix of subjects, not just landscapes, but also portraits, architecture etc, I guess you could call it documentary still-lifes or so!
Film has a textural feel I like too, digital looks a bit to smooth to me. I also found a shot involving moving people: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3281/2737771386_3fcc02ac50_o.jpg

Since my last vacations I really enjoyed working with prime lenses instead of zoom lenses, however everything is shot handheld (with high shutterspeed however) with a budget digitial Nikon camera.
I compiled a series here: http://www.matthijsmeerman.com/marokko/
It contains a fair share of landscapes, but also some basic street scenes (where a high shutterspeed is required, I guess) and some portraiture, however it doesn't have this natural elegance and serenity yet which LF has. I feel most of my shots are decent but not enough to keep you looking at it for a longer period of time. The author from the first link has shown it is possible to make a documentary like series with LF, and the end result is very rewarding. Could many of my shots be translated to a large format, workflow wise? Would the pictures involving people only be possible with LF if I asked the subject to pose, or if I used a wide aperture?

29-Jun-2010, 09:11
"Documentary" does not necessarily mean "candid," as the series you linked to demonstrates.

You could try to do candid with a handheld LF camera of some sort--the Polaroid conversion rangefinders, or a Speed Graphic or a Linhoff. But in the end, the single-shot, laborious nature argues against candid work that by nature entails "misses."

Of course, there are extremely skilled users who want and can get great handhelds and candids from 4x5, but if you start out with LF, I wouldn't count on becoming one, and it'll be a LOT of work before you eventually find out you're not, between more laborious shooting, and expensive film and processing. And a significantly more bulky, unwieldy kit to carry in most cases. (Even if you're using a Razzle or something, you have all those film holders to load and carry...six holders giving 12 shots doesn't exactly fit in the pocket like a roll of 120 film.)

Why not start somewhere with film that gives you a little more of a taste of film before you buy a LF cake? Use your current camera on a tripod and see if you like the way it handles compared to hand-held. Then, if you want to switch to film, a good-quality 35mm or (even better) medium format camera would be perfect and give you the versatility to use handheld or tripod-mounted as you choose.

A Rolleiflex, a Hasselblad...? Reasonably priced these days, very versatile, and can unarguably produce images of astounding quality. No, they're not the biggest negatives out there, but they may allow you to produce images that you couldn't get with LF.

Try a Mamiya twin-lens, a Pentacon 6 or Kiev if you really need a bargain. Or try rangefinder if you're more inclined towards the candid end of things, with the 6x4.5-6x9 Fuji cameras available at good prices. The Mamiya rangefinders if you've got more cash to blow.

That said, you could get a smaller 4x5 or 2x3 and use rollfilm backs as well as sheet film, but they're significantly more awkward to use than a dedicated MF camera with a waist- or eye-level finder..

And if you like shooting cultural/travel stuff, as it seems from your large format camera, consider the spectacle you'll be when you start setting up for a shot. You will become the center of attention in any crowded marketplace, and you'll be hard-pressed to put your head under the dark cloth while keeping possession of your camera gear, wallet, and possibly your health.

Also, you can carry a Rollei or something while you're on vacation. When you're carrying large format, the trip is most likely going to revolve around photography, with any other activity as an added bonus. (Believe me...I know; I dragged an 8x10 around Europe for months back when I was a college student, and the effort to take it out and set it up either precluded a lot of other activity, or dissuaded me from taking the shot.)

I know I'm supposed to be pushing large format on a large format website, but it seems a little far-reaching to recommend it as an entree to film in your case...

29-Jun-2010, 09:20
Hi. Thanks for your answer.

A medium format camera seems like a good choice, something handheld.
I played around with 35mm film cameras for a while but my digital camera ended up looking better though.
Handheld seems the best choice for travel in crowded areas for now

David Higgs
29-Jun-2010, 09:32
I have a Digi 4/3 (ex Nikon DSLR user), 2 medium format Fuji Range finders and a Linhof technika 4x5

they all have very different jobs, I can't see myself using the Linhof in anything other than a very considered and composed manner. The MF will get you what you are after regarding candid/street/travel shots and so will your present DSLR. Remember you have to factor in processing film, scanning it or printing it before taking the leap.

I'd be tempted to use your present Nikon lenses on an old 35mm body, they are cheap as chips and see if you like the workflow before commiting.

LF isn't easy, hand held I imagine you have to have superhuman powers to get consistantly good shots. The DOF at hand held speeds would be tiny and framing would be difficult.

Darren H
29-Jun-2010, 11:16
AgentX and Dave both have some good advice.

Every camera has strengths and weaknesses. My Arca-Swiss would not be a good choice as it is too cumberson for that urban work. My Panasonic LX-3 is pretty nice as a pocket cam but might not be right either.

For candid,street, handheld work a MF would give you a film look and work. Old Yashicamat's (or Mamiya or Rollei, or a new Seagull are similar) are pretty cheap and the square6x6 format so no need to turn the camera. Since you look down and not through an eyepiece, you can probably be more discreet.

Go B+W for a timeless look and have fun.

If you dont like it, you can sell it for close to what you paid for it.

A Crown/Speed Graphic would a good LF camera. Can be used handheld-its what the newsmen all use in old movies. Also reasonably cheap. With just one lens and a couple of film holders you are good for a day.

Good luck and let us see what you do!

29-Jun-2010, 12:02
The answer is Chamonix Saber...although there's a long queue ahead of you...



I could use a little insight if a 4x5 field camera would be something for me. I know it takes time to setup, however lately I have been inspired by photo series shot in large format. One example is: ....

29-Jun-2010, 12:10
LF for B&W, Digital for color. What's your pleasure?

29-Jun-2010, 13:12
The answer is Chamonix Saber...although there's a long queue ahead of you...


That could indeed be an answer. By making a small series of "specialized" cameras Chamonix is starting a new marketing strategy which has its potential. Chamonix is up to something here. Definitely something to keep an eye on!