View Full Version : New guy needs help...please

13-Feb-2011, 17:04
Hey guys. I am new to the idea of large format photography. I have always been interested in it but I have never been into photography enough to want to have another piece of equipment around to collect dust. Recently however I have been doing alot more of it as some of my other hobbies got way to expensive to keep up with. I am still on a rather restrictive budget however due to being a poor college student. I was wondering if you guys had any suggestions on inexpensive equipment to get started with.

For the camera I would like to get something I can do film or dry plate if that is possible.

What other kind of equipment would I need. I know I will need to get a light meter because my old one doesnt work anymore. Is there anything else you would suggest.

Sorry if my questions seem ignorant. I have never dabbled in this and there is so much information out there I am yet to decipher.

13-Feb-2011, 17:45
Graflex Crown Graphic 4x5

Something like this: Ebay 270703339212 (no connection to me, just an example!)

With a Graphic you can do most things. Sure it has limitations, but when you really know what you need in a camera the Graphic will still be useful, or can be sold on without loss.

Ernest Purdum
13-Feb-2011, 18:59
You might start by reading some of the articles listed at the bottom of the home page. You'll need to scroll a little to find them.

13-Feb-2011, 20:27
as to a budget of a poor college student I would go with a Century graphic 23 Camera
& a Beseler 23C enlarger AS this can be gotten at a good price's

MIke Sherck
13-Feb-2011, 21:17
Cameras can be found relatively inexpensively, with patience. Old press cameras (Graphics, etc.) are often promoted but in looking over Ebay, I have always thought that a 50's or 60's monorail is less expensive. Calumet CC-400, Kodak, B&J: lots of companies made almost indestructible metal 4x5 monorails to sell to colleges. I used a Calumet CC-400 for a year or so and it wasn't the most convenient to carry but it was cheap and worked great.

Some lenses are less expensive than others. For 4x5, 135mm, 150mm and 210mm lenses have been recommended as a "standard" lens for so long they are plentiful and cheap. With patience you can likely find a coated 150mm lens in a working shutter for $125 or less, and 135mm or 210mm for less than $200. Any of these would make a fine first lens.

You will need film holders; three is the minimum you would want and six is better. I've bought good quality plastic Lisco or Fidelity holders for between $5 - $10 each and wouldn't pay more in today's market. If desperately short of money, perhaps $3 each for older wooden film holders. For film look through Freestyle Sales Co.'s online listings; their Arista branded products are re-branded films from major manufacturers at good savings.

You'll need a focusing cloth to help you see the image on the ground glass. A dark sweatshirt will do in a pinch but I've always made mine from a couple of yards of whatever cloth was on closeout at my local fabric store, a needle, and some thread. Gives you something to do on a windy Spring night when TV is more mindless than usual. :)

If you have another camera with a light meter you can use it to meter for your 4x5; if not, a cheap incident meter shouldn't cost much, much less than a spot meter. Lots of folks say that you need a spot meter but I'm not one of them: they're nice but not essential. If all else fails there's always the Sunny 16 rule. You'd be surprised how well that works.

You'll need a tripod for the camera. When it comes to tripods, more (weight, carrying capacity) is better but also more expensive. Get the best one you can afford. A used surveyor's tripod will do in many cases but it will be up to you to figure out how to fit a camera head to it. If you have a monorail like my old Calumet CC-400, it's mounted on a little do-hickey which will in a pinch do as a tripod head. You just have to figure out how to screw it to the tripod. A real honest to goodness photo tripod is desirable but you need to make sure it will handle a large format camera. A payload of eight to ten pounds would not be unusual, so make sure it can handle that.

In one period of extreme poverty I was fortunate enough to put together a kit consisting of the Calumet CC-400 camera, a Fujinon 150mm f/6.3 lens and half a dozen film holders for less than $100. I believe that with patience that price is still attainable, but it takes persistence and luck. Haunt E-bay, this forum, and APUG if you're a member.

Another idea is to make a basic 4x5 pinhole camera. Easy to do with information from the 'net and should cost you less than $20-$30. Design it to use ordinary film holders (mine are rubber-banded to the back,) and all you'll need is a tripod and some film, and the camera will be light enough that you won't need much of a tripod for use in calm conditions, anyway. Pinhole photography is wonderful; don't be too quick to dismiss it as a po' boy thing,

Good luck!


John Kasaian
13-Feb-2011, 22:23
Lots of good suggestions so far.
A 5x7 flatbed camera like an old Ansco or Burk and James will let you shoot 4x5 with a 4x5 back and open up the possibilities of contact printing or using plates (5x7 plate holders are perhaps the easiest to find) if thats your goal.
For something cheap to get started with, the Calumets and Graphics other have mentioned are great! :D

14-Feb-2011, 00:27
I'll second Mr. Sherck's suggestion of the Calumet CC-400. It's a beast, but it's cheap and will allow you to find out what you want/need in a large format camera before investing a lot of money. For the lens, a "normal" 4x5 focal length of 150mm is very versatile.

Jim Jones
14-Feb-2011, 07:57
I have 4x5 flatbed, monorail, and press cameras, but use the press camera most often for its convenience. Used press cameras often come with a lens that is suitable for basic photography. Newer multicoated lenses have some advantages over older lenses, but older lenses can be good enough. An efficient lens hood (which can be made from mat board) reduces their tendency to flare. A sturdy tripod is important. I prefer the classic Tiltall for its performance and modest cost. New imported Tiltalls may not be built as well. Since a good tripod should last a lifetime, don't skimp on it. 4x5 film holders are common. 4x5 plate holders are occasionally available on ebay. Roll film backs that fit many 4x5 cameras are also available.

Knowledge is power. Study large format photography with all available resources. Several books are available on view cameras. Graphic Graflex Photography is a fine resource on Speed Graphic cameras, although the earlier editions don't cover the later models. Several other brands of press cameras offer comparable performance. Research any specific camera before buying. Sometimes useful or necessary parts are missing, such as infinity stops on press cameras or the essential tripod block on some view cameras. Online sellers may not know about such matters, or may leave it up to potential buyers to avoid pitfalls. For online information on Graflex press cameras, go to www.graflex.org. Feel free to ask questions here. We all started out with little knowledge. The dumbest questions are the ones no one thinks to ask.

Robert Hughes
14-Feb-2011, 13:42
Newer multicoated lenses have some advantages over older lenses, but older lenses can be good enough.
In Ansel Adams' 'The Camera', he demonstrates how non-coated lenses can be of advantage in some lighting situations, as the lowered lens contrast brings shadows up to a level that they can register on the negative.

As for light meters, "Sunny 16" is your friend; it's a reliable sanity check when comparing against your meter. And if you shoot outdoors on sunny days, you can shoot properly exposed images without a meter.

I bought a Busch Pressman "D" off the Dreaded a few years back, it has been a reliable performer, and is my "go to" camera when I need that shot to be there.

MIke Sherck
14-Feb-2011, 18:18
There's a B&J 5x7 monorail with both 4x5 and 5x7 backs, lens, and a couple of film holders in the "For Sale" section right now for $200. I have the 8x10 version of this camera and it works fine. As long as the bellows are in good shape, this would get you up and running quickly at moderate cost, if it interests you. You would need a tripod, focusing cloth, and film to get started.

I have no interest in the camera and don't know the seller.


14-Feb-2011, 18:54
Thanks for all the info guys. This is becoming much less intimidating than i thought it was going to be. Im pretty excited to get started and as soon as this semester ends and I get back to a normal pay at work I am going to get started. Please keep the suggestions coming though. I enjoy reading it.
Can you suggest any good tutorials on making a pinhole camera. I will do some searching tonight but this sounds like it could be a fun project if nothing else. I assume it would be basically the same thing as the pinhole lens I made for my 35mm when I was in high school. It make some pretty cool pictures although rather blurry.

MIke Sherck
15-Feb-2011, 07:32
Probably not fashionable but well written: http://www.kodak.com/eknec/PageQuerier.jhtml?pq-path=11865&pq-locale=en_US&_requestid=17061

A very "dense" site in that there's a lot of information here. Scroll on down to the how to make a camera section: http://photo.net/learn/pinhole/pinhole

You still have time to get a camera built before World Pinhole Day: http://www.pinholeday.org/support/


Jim Jones
15-Feb-2011, 08:42
For much information on pinhole photography go to http://www.f295.org/. Perhaps the best pinhole diameter calculator is www.pinhole.cz/en/pinholedesigner/. Eric Renner has devoted much of his life to pinhole photography and creating the comprehensive book, Pinhole Photography. The physics of pinhole imaging is nicely described in http://inside.mines.edu/~mmyoung/PHCamera.pdf.