View Full Version : 4x5 LF appropriate for on-location group portraits? Can cheap LF cameras produce great prints?

Andrew Marshall
17-Sep-2003, 19:44
From a LF newcomer, Should I go LF (4x5)?

First of all I love this site, and your technical forums—allot of detailed info from some seemingly quite experienced folks. I currently shoot weddings (mostly) with a Nikon D100 digital SLR. I am particularly unhappy with the sharpness of prints 11 x 14 and larger. I would like to offer my clients very, very sharp enlargements (of their formals/ group shots at the alter) to print sizes up to 20 x 30. I can also see myself doing landscapes when I get time (If I ever get time). Digital scanning, image manipulation, and printing processes would be employed. I believe a LF 4x5 will meet or exceed my expectations. I believe a 16x20 print produced from a scanned LF 4x5 negative will be distincly sharper than that produced from a MF system. (Opions Please!)

However, I have reservations about speed/ease of use and adequate depth of field not so much for the large groups but for close-ups. And the over-all practicality of such an endeavor. Am I going to have to shoot at f/32 and blind everyone w/ maxed-out moonlights?

Assuming your answer to that drawn-out question is ,” yes go for it!”, I am at this time overwhelmed by the selection process—why the $160 – over $3000 price range? I’ve heard there’s really not much can go wrong with these cameras and all of them are capable of great pictures. Will I have trouble getting sharp images from a cheap camera?

At the present time I’m considering a CALUMET 45NXII 4X5—inexpensive, but quite nice in appearance to me, and going with a high quality used lens.

All suggestions are welcome

Doug Dolde
17-Sep-2003, 20:08
See "Film size versus print quality"


With regards to the camera, $750 is pretty cheap but personally I'd pick a field camera for landscapes as opposed to a monorail.

Alec Jones
17-Sep-2003, 20:26
Put your money in the lens, not the camera. The cheapest Calumet will take just as good photos as the most expensive Sinar using the same lens, provided it is steady.

ronald lamarsh
17-Sep-2003, 20:26
The only difference in $160 vs $3000 is one of usability. Considering you are doing pro work get the best tool you can afford. The Calumet is great. Speed of use? Once you are familiar with it you should be able to set up quickly enough. You'll be blown away by the print quality in 4x5 and if usuing film holders is too slow I would think a 6x9cm rollfilm back would work well and still give those 20x30 enlargements. Print quality is more dependent on the lens than the camera assuming the camear isn't so old that it shakes when you release the shutter.

Christian Olivet
17-Sep-2003, 21:09
If it were me, I would get an 11x14 camera and contact print the negatives. You want sharp, go big. If you feel that it will be too much for what you need , then get a 5x7 camera. Big enough for some contact prints, big enough to scan and enlarge, and it has nicer proportions for the portraits and landscapes than a 4x5. Also have in mind that focusing and composing on a larger glass is much easier than focusing in a tiny 4x5. You didn't say whether you are shooting Color or B&W. With color you can use small cameras, it will save you money. With B&W go big, it is cheap. Anyway you go get ready to get blown away.

Henry Ambrose
17-Sep-2003, 21:34
I would not pick not any kind of 4X5 for this work. I think for what you are doing you'd be much happier with a Mamiya RZ, Mamiya 7 or similar and a "normal" lens, an 80 or 90mm. Lots faster and much more convenient, cheaper to shoot, good for more things you might do as a wedding photographer and lots easier to pack around for landscapes. Medium format cameras can give you wonderful 16X20s for your wedding clients.

James Driscoll
17-Sep-2003, 21:53
I am going to get flamed but what the hell....

I don't think 4x5 is the answer....it is slow for your application (and experience- don't get offended) and with it comes more labor, time, and expense which gets passed on to your client.

I feel you should just either shoot medium format or step up to a better digital slr. A nikon d1x is going to give you much more quality than a D100. Yes it costs more, but it will make its money back easily. Plus the trade in value of your D100.

Since you are shooting digitally already, factor in the time and money spent on scanning, processing, the learning curve, and the added expense of 4x5 film. Also buying a camera is not your only expense, holders, a polaroid back, a decent tripod, lenses...all add up to money. Plus, carrying yet more equipment and having to either train or hire an assistant who is familar with large format. You cannot possibly get all of the shots done in time for a wedding by yourself if you are going to shoot digital AND 4x5 at the same time.

Since you already own nikon optics, and are familar with your workflow digitally- why change everything up, go with the D1x??? If you wish to become film based, I think your money will be better spent on a Mamiya than a Calumet 4x5. Time is money. Scanning, waiting for the lab, and having prints made in a wet darkroom add lots of time and more overhead which gets passed on to your cleint. If you were shooting film already, I feel the answer would be a lot differant, but your not.

When shooting for yourself, who cares. But when you earn a living, things are a little differant.

17-Sep-2003, 22:04
James Driscoll makes good sense. Or, I wonder if you might not be able to achieve your 16x20 print goals by a simple switch to Nikkor Prime lenses (instead of any zooms which you may be using now).

QT Luong
17-Sep-2003, 23:12
I've done a couple of group photos at weddings with LF, and even at size 8x10, the results were noticeably better than 35mm. Technically, outdoors it is not much of a problem at f32. But this was for friends, not clients. In general, for group photos, you need at least MF for good results. Would I recommend LF ? No. You just don't go LF just to make group photos. The stress on a wedding day is quite high, and even a seasoned LF photographer can easily make mistakes. I set up a group photo at my own wedding using LF ... turned out I forgot to pull out the dark slide in one of the shots.

Andrew Marshall
18-Sep-2003, 00:43
Thanks to all who have replied. i agree MF or better is needed. And I'm sure more practical than LF systems. But when "the best" is what you strive for every day, LF really caught my eye. Perhaps some of you may have misunderstood. I've made several large prints that look sensational, but they all have one thing in common -- the subjects are relatively large in the frame. When it comes to large group portraits with a 6MP camera (No matter the workflow, interpolation, sharpening . . .no matter the lens (Both the D1x series and D100 have CCD's less than the area of a 35mm negative. Optics must be precise. ) there just arent enough pixels to go around showing fine detail in everyone's face.

A side note about Digital SLR's to the gentleman who asked to be flamed:

D100 (Mine) Just over 6MP, $1700 D1x Just over 5MP, $4000 Canon 1N 8.9MP or so $8900 Kodak 14N 13MP or so was $13000 about six months ago maybe 10 now?

D1x is a photojournalism dream camera -- 1/500 flash sync speed, more advanced metering, quicker focus, much better write speeds than my D100. But when you're in a tripod with studio lighting, an incident meter -- well none of those pluses equal better sharpness of big formal prints, on the contrary...

The Canon and Kodak offer significant improvements (surpassing 35mm) but still lag behind MF a little (got this info from somewhere in the depths of the (Superb) NormanKoren.com website.

sorry about all the parenthesis

andrea milano
18-Sep-2003, 01:26
Hallo Andrew, well I read a lot o sensible advice, I'll add my opinion to it, if you can manage learning to use Large Format so that you are confident enough to work quickly and efficiently in front of a large group and you are prepared to shoot at the very least 4 shots if not more , then...... go for it. Groups have a life of their own and you only need one or two in the group doing something strange at the very moment you shoot to ruine it all. There is no doubt that large format will help you with the definition on prints. For practical reasons I would go either for 4x5 or , even better, for a rollfilm panorama camera choosing between 6x12 cm to 6x 17cm (these formats fit group photography better than 4x5). I would have a preference for the panorama since operating it is closer to the cameras you already have used and you don't need to learn any new skills. The Calumet-Cambo is a good and cheap camera, you can always use a rollfilm holder to go with it but it becomes very inpractical.

18-Sep-2003, 03:59
James, you are not going to get flamed - where do you think you are, Photo.net? ;-)

As a part-timer, I hesitate to give advice to a professional but.... Andrew, one Unique Selling Point for your business might be to go all the way to a 8x10 inch wooden camera. Those big rosewood & brass babies can look very impressive to people, making them feel better about stumping up so much for the prints....

If you are looking for fine detail in a large print, I do not think digital origination is going to rock your boat for several years at least.


Jim Rhoades
18-Sep-2003, 05:14
Gee; With all these guys saying how hard it is to shoot 4x5 at a wedding, I guess I date myself. I remember when wedding photographers used a Speed or Crown Graflex. f/8 and be there, huh Weegee? Of course you will blind the Bride. And you may forget to pull the slide, or put it back in. Or reverse the holder, or flip the slide, or cock the shutter, or load the film with notches on upper right or... Of course if you want really big prints, size does matter.

So does stress. That's why 30 years ago I gave up Professional Photography and went into Police Work, less stress.

Ed Pierce
18-Sep-2003, 06:17
A view camera gets people's attention and lends an air of importance to the event. With a group shot where you're using a tripod already, the 4x5 is just as fast as any other camera...just push the button.

One thing you can do with a view camera is 'fake' shots to warm them up; just don't pull the dark slide. Saves film.

I don't know enough about digital to contribute an opinion on that aspect

I do think that 4x5 is plenty big unless you're making contact prints, which you're not.

18-Sep-2003, 06:39
LOL, Jim Rhodes.

neil poulsen
18-Sep-2003, 07:49
I know first hand that one's more likely to make errors using large format! If doing this, I would want to pick a camera that keeps the process as simple as possible.

I'm wondering about using an older Linhof Technika III or IV. You don't have to worry about all the movements being on axis, etc. If you used the monocular reflex back, everything would be right side up. No fussing with a darkcloth. Can one achieve sharp focus with these things? If not, it's easy to make a quick check with a lupe. As soon as you start worrying about camera movements, using a darkcloth, and just general fiddling, the chances for making a serious error go up geometrically. You could have a case set up just for this camera, with the couple of lenses you would need for these shots, separate slots for exposed and unexposed film, for the back, etc. Keep everything simple and efficient.

Your idea is intriguing. I'm always for maximizing quality. This would do it.

Eric Rose
18-Sep-2003, 15:33
No one has mentioned the DOF concerns and how this translates into long exposures or monster flashes. If you are doing outdoor work you may find the exposures to long for people to realistically hold still for. Thus blurring your images. Kind of defeats the purpose of using LF.

I could be out to lunch on this one, but I feel it could be a concern.

Good luck!

Ellis Vener
18-Sep-2003, 22:22
D100 (Mine) Just over 6MP, $1700 D1x Just over 5MP, $4000 Canon 1N 8.9MP or so $8900 Kodak 14N 13MP or so was $13000 about six months ago maybe 10 now?

In the real world the prices are more like this: D100, about $1700 to $1600; D1x about $3500; Canon EOS 1Ds $8000; Kodak 14n $4800 approximately.
I have no idea what your settings are (JPEG? NEF?) ISO settings, or lenses are. A D1x using the Capture 3.5 or Capture 4.0 software from Nikon, produces a 10Mp image. It will do a fine 16'x20". I know because I've done it -- so will the 1Ds & 14N. At 11x14 you are starting to push the limits of a D100.

granted a lot depends on your post shoot image processing, but that is true of any photographic endeavor.

By next Spring you'll be seeing some very interesting digital backs to fit on a medium format camera like the Hasselblad H1 & Mamiya 645D that will be in the $6,000 range. They will produce better technical quality iamges than any medium format camera on the market today. They won't needto be tethered to a computer. Maybe the quality might be as good as 4x5 film is today (once the film is converted through scanningto a digital image). ifyou think you will need movements , there is the Cambo Ultima camera which is designed to be either a 4x5, use the "medium format" digital backs, use 6x9cm film or use a 35mm SLR like DSLR body as imaging device.

Outside of that, the four things you can do right to improve your image quality in big setups are:

Buy and use a really good tripod & head combination.

Light better.

Use better lenses, thef/2.8 AF-S Nikkor zooms are terrific, better than many single focal length lenses.

Shoot NEF files at a low ISO and use either Capture One DSLR, Nikon Capture 3.5 software or use the Adobe Camera Raw Photoshop plug-in for your NEF conversions.

Lars Åke Vinberg
19-Sep-2003, 16:20
I just shot a group portrait this summer, for friends & family. 8x10 Astia, 240mm, exp 1/2s at f32 around sunset, indirect light. Of about 40 people, two moved their heads. Almost everything else include two toddlers and a cat is sharp and crisp. Got the image scanned on an Imacon at about 1000dpi, around 200MB, printed as wide format 20" wide.

At the time of the shooting, my 8x10 got a lot of attention. People took the shoot very seriously (they still don't know that one of the two exposures made was on an empty film holder). This attention was needed, as it took me some five or ten minutes to get everyone in place and ready.

The resulting transparency is impressive. Details down to single hairs are clearly visible, it is possible to tell the difference in seconds between wrist watches. The scan is equally impressive, although at 1000dpi it does not at all capture the detail available on film. Very clean, lifelike scan, no grain whatsoever.

And this was on the five years outdated Astia for 59c from Freestyle.

Now, 4x5 can give equally impressive results at least up to a certain size. But it sure is easier to get the attention of the audience with an 8x10!

22-Sep-2003, 16:33
I'm a relative newcomer to LF (under a year) and even MF. But it occupies most of my free time (also in high school).

Once again, I'd suggest going with MF. My ETRS can surely do 11x14. If you shoot weddings, might as well get a Hassy. Why? Because they're good, and they're pretty much the standard. If you have the money, go for it, you won't be disappointed. As much as I don't like dissuading anyone from LF, for your purposes a good MF rig will work well, and will be easier to manage. Two other considerations with poritraits. One, with LF, you can't see the image anywhere near the moment of exposure. You need to insert film holder and stop down lens, which takes time. Number two, the setup time may annoy many of the subjects.

On the other hand, 4x5 will definately do it. Remember, a camera is just a box that holds lens and film. Put more money into the lens and lots of holders. You'll need lots of shots to defeat the sheer odds of closed eyes.

Also, consider the mechanics of using LF - bellows extension, field of view, image/subject distance. Make sure the camera and lens would work for your application.

I don't do portraits yet with LF, so I don't know what to say about that. But with landscapes, you might want to keep it light and use a field camera. I carry my Caulmet (Cambo) 810N into the field regularly (45+ lb pack with camera, accessories, food, water, tripod, ETRS). It limits travel distance quite a bit, and makes the hike a little less enjoyable, though allows much more pride.