View Full Version : Novice 4x5 question

Greg Windle
10-Feb-2004, 08:06
I would love to hear any and all opinions on the following:

I work in the department that does photography for the company. Our photography is used for CD-ROM, Internet, Print Media (brochures) and wall graphics. I assist my manager who does the majority of the shooting.

We use a Cambo 4x5 camera for most photo shoots where we know the end use is a brochure or wall graphic. We also have a digital FUGIFILM FinePix S2 pro that we hoped would give us similar quality to our 4x5 shots – It hasn’t. What I would like to know is:

1. Are there any digital alternatives that anyone has had success with to our 4x5 camera that will give us comparable results? If so -- examples.

2. Our subjects are things like sterilizers (which are large metal boxes), surgical lights, operating tables etc. Is there a type of camera that is specifically good at shooting stainless steel and detailed machinery type shots?

3. Is 4x5 photography a dying art?

4. Does anyone know of any good resources on 4x5 photography? Websites, Books etc.

You can probably tell I am no expert. On photography, that is true. I am the poor sod who spends hours scanning, touching up in Photoshop, loading and unloading film etc. There has to be a better way!

Any responses are greatly appreciated.



matthew blais
10-Feb-2004, 08:56
Greg, I use a Fuji S2 for most my brochure and design work which I think is just fine (Full page magazine ads, annual reports and rack cards, etc.). I've seen large (30 x 48 inch) promo posters from Kodak taken with their pro 14N digital which are quite sharp, and that can now be purchased for under $4k. Check out their website to download some high res samples. A higher end digital may be what you're looking for, but a 4x5 tranny is hard to beat.

As far as machinery and metal objects, most highly reflective objetcs are difficult to shoot no matter what camera, as lighting is so critical.

This site is an excellent resource, but I'm sure others can steer you to other sources, as I'm a 4x5 novice as well.

Happy scanning!

steve simmons
10-Feb-2004, 09:16
Here are some resources

Using the View Camera that I wrote

User's Guide to the View Camera by Jim Stone

either/both books should be available from Amazon.com

View Camera magazine www.viewcamera.com

www.betterlight.com a high end scanning back for the 4x5 camera

The large format photo conference April 23-25, 2004 in Monterey, CA - Better Light will be an exhibitor

steve simmons

Leonard Evens
10-Feb-2004, 09:32
1. Your digital SLR is one of the higher quality digital cameras, and you are unlikely to do much better. Whether it will deliver equivalent results in terms of image resolution as your 4 x 5, after scanning, would depend on the quality of your film scanner. A high quality drum scanner or Imacon would provide you with more detail, but also with enormous files that might be hard to process. If you rely on camera movements with your 4 x 5, then your digital SLR of course won't be able to do that.

2. My guess is that with sufficient resolution, that might be more a matter of proper lighting than the camera you use.

3. NO!

4. The website where you found this forum: www.largeformatphotography.com. The standard reference is Stroebel's View Camera Technique. Steve Simmons's Using the View Camera is a good source for beginners. Also, View Camera Magazine often contains interesting articles.

Ernest Purdum
10-Feb-2004, 09:45
Assuming that you want your sterilizer pictures to look like the boxes they are, a digital camera won't do the job. To keep the vertical lines straight up and down you need the movements you have in your Cambo. A digital back for a view camera would work, but they are very expensive and I don't think they yet have enough advantages over film to justify the expense unless very high continuous use is expected.

Ralph Barker
10-Feb-2004, 09:50
Leonard pretty much "nailed" it, but let me add a couple of thoughts.

There are digital solutions for view camera photography, but they are still rather expensive. The Sinar digital, for example, produces excellent work, but the sensor is more medium-format size than LF. Proper studio use of the Sinar also requires that it be tethered to a fairly high-end desktop computer. There are also several digital backs that can be used with conventional view cameras, but generally in the same manner as the Sinar. Remember, a 4,000 DPI drum scan of a 4x5 is about 320 megapixels. So, it should be no surprize that a 12 megapixel camera might not produce the same detail. ;-)

The biggest issue with digital, I think, is the relatively limited dynamic range - it's very easy to blow out highlights with digital, particularly spectral highlights from subject matter such as that you're working with. Keeping the lighting within 3 1/2 to 4 stops is essential. But, that's the case with work destined to be printed anyway, so it's more a matter of watching the highlights with digital rather than the shadows, as one would do with film.

Brian Ellis
10-Feb-2004, 10:13
With respect to resources for large format photography, I'll echo Leonard in recommending Leslie Stroebel's book as the definitive resource. It isn't the most exciting book to read and certainly not something you'd casually read in one sitting but it's an extremely useful learning tool and also a valuable reference. I've been involved with large format photography for about ten years and I still occasionally check out something in that book. Other good resources include Ansel Adams' book "The Camera," Harvey Shaman's book "The View Camera," the Kodak publication "Book of Large Format Photography," and Jack Dykinga's book "Large Format Nature Photography."

I own these and have owned others in the past that I've since sold. The problem with buying anything other than Stroebel's book and possibly Adams' is that they are good at teaching you the basic techniques but not very useful after that. So rather than spending $30 or $40 on any book other than Stroebel and maybe Adams I'd suggest seeing what large format books you can check out of the library, read them, practice the techniques, then return them to the library. But Stroebel and maybe Adams you want to keep on your shelf for a long time so they're well worth buying IMHO.

Juergen Sattler
10-Feb-2004, 11:06
There is one more online forum that deals exclusively with large format photography - appropriately named f32: www.f32.net. The members of that forum have a wealth of knowledge and will certainly be able to help you out - also for future questions you might have.

I do agree with all the others who have already responded that you will not get the same results with any non-LF camera (digital or not) because of the lack of movements. I guess it is back to the Cambo and scanning those slides:-)


steve simmons
10-Feb-2004, 13:38
So rather than spending $30 or $40 on any book other than Stroebel

this was from Brian Ellis



Using the View Camera costs only 20-25.00. Whether or not spending 2+ hours going to and from the library to borrow and return this book it might be more efficient to buy it for your library. It is a personal call but I wanted to correct the inaccurate info posted about the cost of alternatives to Stroebel's book.

steve simmons

David Stark
10-Feb-2004, 14:26
Assuming you've spent the time and effort to light your product shots so that they're a shining, glimmering sight to behold, why don't you try a digital scanning back in your existing 4x5? I think for static product shots a Better Light Scanning Back will give you results beyond what 4x5 film is capable of yielding.

Brian Ellis
10-Feb-2004, 18:16
My point, of course, wasn't the specific price of any particular book, my point was spending any amount of money on a book that has a limited use, and thereafter will collect dust, if the book can be checked out of the library. The $30-$40 price was a generality. I thought the basic point was pretty obvious and I didn't realize someone would think I was actually quoting the price range of every single gook on large format photography. Obviously I was wrong, somebody did. But since we're speaking of correcting mistakes, it doesn't take everyone two hours to make a round trip to the library. I make it in about ten minutes each way and I'm sure there are others who don't live an hour away.

steve simmons
10-Feb-2004, 19:17
from Brian Ellis

My point, of course, wasn't the specific price of any particular book, my point was spending any amount of money on a book that has a limited use, and thereafter will collect dust, if the book can be checked out of the library. The $30-$40 price was a generality.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Not true. You stated that the books other than Stroebel cost between 30 and 40 dollars. ("So rather than spending $30 or $40 on any book other than Stroebel " is a direct quote)You were wrong and mislead people. Using the View Camera generally costs between 20 and 25 and probably less than this at Amazon.com. If you are going to come on and offer info to beginners lets make the info accurate. I am also surprised that you would consider a book to help people get started in lf to be of limited use. I have had many notes from people how the book has been helpful as a reference book for several years.

steve simmons

steve simmons

Brian Ellis
10-Feb-2004, 20:43
You actually think that when I said "rather than spending $30 or $40 on any book other than Stroebel" I was claiming that all large format books cost between $30 and $40? Steve, I was making a point - don't spend money on something that won't be useful once you've learned the basics and that can be obtained from a library. The $30 or $40 number was illustrative of the point, not a statement that all large format books cost between $30 and $40. You seem to be the only one who doesn't understand that. And while you're worrying about accuracy, take a look at your statement about two hour round trips to the library.

This has historically been a very nice, pleasant group filled mostly with knowledgeable people who don't have outsized egos and who have a genuine interest in large format photography. In the seven or eight years I've been participating here there have been very few petty arguments of the type you've created here. You're entitled to your opinions about the quality of your book and if you want to advertise its low price that's o.k. too. But please don't try to twist my statement into something it clearly was not and don't accuse me of misleading anyone.

steve simmons
10-Feb-2004, 21:29

What you said is what you said. I am willing to bet that you are aware tha Using the View Camera does not cost between 30 and 40 dollars yet you omitted that info from your comment. And, not everyone lives so close to a library that they can get to one in 10 minutes as you claim you can do.

I am only asking that if you make general statements about books other than Stroebel's that you make sure you indicate that some books are not in that price range. Otherwise you are giving misleading info. I'd like to believe that you are concerned about putting out complete and accurate info rather than incomplete and misleading statements. When I realized that you left out some importnat info I simply filled in the blanks.

Now people know there are a variety of choices. This has to be more helpful to them.

steve simmons

John Cook
11-Feb-2004, 12:49
Hi Greg,

I’d just like to make three simple points which you, as a “Novice” may not yet fully appreciate:

(1) Speaking very generally, large format film cameras are awkward to work with, but still tend to produce more detailed images than most affordable digital cameras. The quality gap is closing fast and prices are dropping even faster. It’s probably too late to make a big commercial investment in traditional film-based equipment, but too soon to put big money into digital which with wildly unstable technical advances will be obsolete before you finish paying for it. It’s best to sit tight on camera equipment for a while longer.

(2) The purpose of a camera, film or digital, is merely to record an image of the light striking your subject and being reflected off from it. In addition to quantity, light more importantly has quality and character. Subject beautification, contrary to ubiquitous advertising claims, is definitely not a camera function. A portrait sitter does not appear better looking when shot through a more expensive lens.

Chances are, if your pictures stink and require extensive retouching, it has nothing to do with the camera. The fault is almost certainly crummy lighting. Many years ago, an instructor and old friend of mine, the late Phil Cohen, gave me some wise advice. He said, “My son, when you get ready to start a studio, if you have only a thousand dollars, buy a hundred-dollar camera and nine-hundred-dollars’-worth of lighting equipment. Once the product is properly lighted, any fool with a snapshot camera can make an award-winning image of it.”

When I left art school I assisted one of the great product photographers in Hollywood. We would spend a very long day carefully arranging, propping and lighting the client’s product. Late in the evening when everyone was at long last finally satisfied with how everything looked, someone would get behind the camera and take a picture of what we had so painstakingly accomplished. Get your concentration out of the viewfinder and onto the tabletop set.

My second tidbit of advice is therefore to forget about your camera equipment and put your money into a few thousand-dollars’-worth of lighting equipment. And learn to use it. A few umbrellas, soft boxes, fresnel lenses and reflectors will turn your sow’s ear into a silk purse, worthy of hanging on a museum wall.

(3) Lastly, be careful of taking advice from strangers. Especially us old online amateur photographers. Many of us, like computer hackers, busy ourselves with tweaking another third-stop of speed out of a film/developer combination or another quarter-inch depth-of-field out of an old lens which has been out of manufacture for a hundred years. In so doing, we tend to make large format photography appear much more difficult and mystical than it really is. In short, photography is not anywhere near as complicated as our chatter would indicate. Don’t let us frighten you away.

Greg Windle
11-Feb-2004, 13:20
I wanted to thank everyone that contributed advice to my questions/comments.

As a multimedia programmer, I am a member of about 6 or 7 different internet forums. This forum has provided me with the most detailed, informative and helpful responses to my questions I have ever experienced.

Once again -- Thanks a bunch!


Brian Ellis
11-Feb-2004, 19:45
"I am willing to bet that you are aware that Using the View Camera does not cost between $30 and $40 yet you omitted that info from your comment."

You aren't serious, right? You don't actually think your book is of such importance that I walk around keeping its price in my head do you? Good grief, I don't even own the book, how would I know (and why would I care?) what it cost? And once again - the $30- 40 dollar amounts were illustrative of a point, I didn't purport to be providing a price list of any kind. If I say that someone shouldn't buy any car except a Mercedes for $60,000 or $70,000 I don't think anyone, except you I guess, would think I was saying all cars cost $60,000 or $70,000.

And of course I didn't say that everyone lives within ten minutes of a library.

In re-reading this thread I'm actually ashamed that I've even participated in in such an inane, not to mention juvenile, exchange of messages. It provided nothing of value to the person who asked the original question and involves the most petty B.S. imaginable. Your book costs $20 or $25, I referred to not paying $30 or $40 for "books" and you not only think the minor dolar difference is a big deal, you tell me I go around keeping the price of your book in my head but intentionally didn't provide the price. And I actually let myself get sucked into spending time responding to such paranoia.

steve simmons
13-Feb-2004, 14:26
So rather than spending $30 or $40 on any book other than Stroebel>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

This is a quote from your posting. If you want to provide incrrect info I will be happy to correct the record. I am not surprised that you won't acknowledge your error. My goal is simply to provide correct info which is the most helpful to the people asking questions. If you did not know the price of my book you should have checked rather than make a blanket and incorrect comment.

steve simmons www.viewcamera.com