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Thread: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Mar 2013

    Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    Hello LF photographers

    I am just about to take the leap head first and in reverse from my digital SLR (Nikon D800) to a 4x5 camera. I recently purchased a Zone VI that is in great condition and included two lenses (a 90mm and 210mm) as well as some film holders, focus cloth, shutter release, etc.

    However, there is still a list of goodies that I need to procure in order to start shooting..... For the first time in recorded history, I, a woman, need help from the largely male population of a forum with shopping.

    Note: I have done alot of searching on this forum for this stuff, so please don't suggest search to answer my questions. I didn't find what I was looking for......

    Here is what I've determined I need:
    - A loupe for focusing. I'm young and have great eyesight, so is something like a 3-4x good enough? How about the Hoodman Loupe I already own (the only thread on that topic is several years old)?

    - A film holder bag. Logic would dictate the film holders, once they have been loaded, are more likely to stay light tight and sealed up if they are in a protective bag rather than free floating around in the camera bag. I'm envisioning a small bag that sits inside my backpack. Is this really a problem and if so, what do you guys like? B&H has an amazing number of choices.....

    - A mount for my tripod. I currently have a nice Gitzo tripod with an Arcatech ball head. I need an Arca-Swiss style plate that can screw onto the bottom of the camera. Does anyone else do this, and if so, do you suggest a longer or shorter plate? Does it matter?

    - A brush for removing dust from film holders. This is pretty straight forward....

    - A changing bag for film. I am a little woman with little woman arms. Are these bags going to be too loose on the arm holders? If so, how do I beat that problem? Is there a particular brand you guys favor over another? I assume it's better to get a large bag vs smaller bag?

    - A light table for reviewing negatives. Do you guys actually use this, or is the old lamp/sun method good enough? If so, what do you prefer that isn't going to break the bank or require too much space in my already overcrowded photo suite.

    - Film. Holy Sheet (har har har). There's a ton of great information about film on this forum, but I've read so much it's starting to confuse me. I'm thinking initially that I'll shot BW on one side of the film holder and color on the other of the same subject so I can practice both, but is there reason to start with one or the other? This might be a totally dumb question, but is some film more "forgiving" for incorrect exposures than other film brands? I wish B&H sold film grab bags like they sell paper sample kits for printer paper.

    - A light meter..... this one confuses me the most, probably because the only metering I have ever done has been via my dSLR. Let's say I'm shooting the Washington Monument at night, but I'm standing some distance away so I can fit the whole thing into my frame. If I'm standing 200 ft away, when I do a metering on the light where I'm standing, I am likely to get the wrong exposure (the monument is well lit but I could be standing in a darker area of the national mall). My dSLR meters based on what it's pointed at, but a hand hold meter is doing the ambient scene correct? Are you using the meter to get a rough guess and then using your brain the rest of the way? Does anyone use the meter in their dSLR to judge exposure on LF? The threads I've read on here about meters all make reference to brands and types I cant find for sale.... and even if I did I'm totally confused about what I really want. I need lots of help here....

    I know that's alot of questions, so I appreciate any help, even if it's just to answer one! Also, if you have suggestions for something I've overlooked that is a 'critical' piece of equipment that I'd need in order to start shooting, please let me know and I'll add it to the list!

    Thank you guys for the help you've provided thus far. This forum is full of fantastic information!
    Last edited by ScenicTraverse; 5-Mar-2013 at 22:33. Reason: typo

  2. #2
    C. D. Keth's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Salt Lake City, UT

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    I thought you were writing a book there for a second. Welcome to the fray, Kristen. You're going to love large format. Unless you hate it, that is.

    I'll give it a go:

    OK, loupe. A 3x or 4x is OK. A lot of people never go higher than that. I like a 6x or 8x because it's easier to see and focus wide lenses with a little more magnification. I have an 8x mamiya loupe that I absolutely love.

    My film holder bag is a gallon ziplock bag. I'm not big on padding everything I own. If I did that I would carry so much weight in padding I'd have to leave something useful at home. If you insist, I have seen a soft insulated lunchbox at target that is just the right size for 4x5 holders. It will hold ten of them and has a couple mesh pockets on the outside for a cable release or a notebook. I think they're about $10.

    I would get the longest plate that won't stick out from the base of the camera. My reasoning for this is macro work. It can be really handy to be able to slide the camera in or out a little bit

    A brush is OK. I like a little oil-free air compressor I bought at harbor freight. It was $50 and I have all the <100psi air I need for holders, film, scanner bed, and whatever else you might want it for.

    Having loaded millions of feet of film, a good changing tent is the thing on this list I feel strongest about. Just get a harrison changing tent. Don't even look at other designs. It's absolutely the best. It has good double elastic arms that are very tight on me so I think they'll be sufficiently tight on you, even if you're really tiny. If the sleeves are a little loose or the elastic wears out (mine is strong after several years, they're built well) you can slip a sport wristband over the sleeve to pinch it in better.

    Film is such a huge subject. I would just shoot B&W for a while, until you get the hang of large format. Mistakes on B&W are a buck or less a sheet rather than $6-9/sheet with color film plus processing. The only way to find what you like is to try some things. You might as well start cheap and get some arista EDU film from freestyle. It's repackaged fomapan and a lot of people like it, myself included. It used to have quality control issues but I haven't experienced anything like that myself in the last several years.

    Lightmeters are another preference kind of thing. Many modern meters or their older counterparts would serve you well. Not all handheld meters are incident meters, which are held st the subject and pointed back towards the camera position. You'll find most people here using and advocating spot meters, which measure light reflected off the subject like your DSLR meter. The difference is that your DSLR meter measures reflected light in the whole frame, often weighting the center in its calculation. A spotmeter measures a small spot- typically 1-degree- and tells you the exposure to render that spot as middle grey. With a little experience interpreting that reading, it really is the best no-guessing-involved way to meter a scene.

    There's a good article about meters, metering, and a bit about the zone system on the LF homepage here.

  3. #3
    lenser's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Tim from Missouri

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    Hi, Kristen.

    Not at all a lot of questions and they are all quite relevant. Keep in mind you are likely to get dozens of different opinions, each quite good and workable for the person who answers, so you may need to distill what we all say into what will actually work for you.

    Here goes on my opinions based on several decades of figuring things out as I go. By the way, I also shoot a Zone VI and love it.

    1: I am 63 with not so good eyes and I get along very well with a 3.6X Toyo loupe. They can often be found on the for sale section here and on ebay for around $40-$70.

    2: For film holder cases, look at at their cascading film holder and on Ebay for a good used Zone VI camera bag...the nylon one, not the vinyl one. The cascading film holder holds six at a time in zippered enclosures (with lots of other features) and hangs from your tripod. The Zone VI Case holds several film holders, several lenses, meter, loupe, filters, dark cloth and bag bellows (look into that bellows for your wide angle work), lens pen, notebook, etc. for easy transport, but may not be a field bag for you because it does accumulate a lot of weight once you add more items. Some people just keep their film holders in zip lock bags and do well with those.

    3: I'm highly prejudiced against ball heads. I just can't get them to level with any size camera and view cameras are the hardest. I use a Bogen/Manfrotto 410 geared head which gives three geared axis movements, both in gross movement and in fine micrometer movement. That's perfect for me since I shoot a lot of architecture and need very precise adjustments. It's also wonderful for nature work as it allows those very tiny refined movements to get your composition just perfect.

    4: A brush is a great idea. An anti static brush is all the better. Never a nylon brush as that would produce static.

    5: Avoid film changing bags as you are always fighting the collapsed fabric, a huge PITA. Calumet offers a film tent called the changing room, but it is just okay rather than great. Not enough room and curved sides limit that even more. The Harrison Film Tent from is really great and comes in three sizes. The middle size is terrific for 4x5 and even works well for 8x10. It has a footprint that allows for plenty of working room and is flat all the way out to the four corners. The gussets on the sleeves are quite tight and should give you no trouble with your arm size.

    6: When I had a portrait studio and we had to mount hundreds of negatives per day on lab printing cards, I built a 2x2 foot viewing table into one of my counters. It consisted of a shallow pan of wood, open at each end for ventilation and painted bright white. In that were two florescent tubes like you can get at any Walmart to fit under kitchen cabinets. It was finished with a counter sunk groove around the perimeter so that a sheet of white translucent plexiglass dropped into place and remained flush with the counter. It was a counter when needed and a light box when that was desired. However, you might check with your local hospital to see if the are trashing any x-ray viewers since even those are going fully digital nowadays. Those would hang on the wall and be out of your way when you don't need to use them. If you need portability, there are several 8x10 light box units available at art supply stores.

    7: I shoot both color transparency and black and white negative and use 100 speed films in each to keep things simple on exposure measurements. To avoid confusion in the camera bag, I color code all of my holders with nail polish on one edge with all holders stacked with that edge in one direction for instant differentiation. I use red for color and white for B&W. If I were to add color negative film, I would add a third color code for that and get a few new holders specifically dedicated to that film.

    If you want to shoot back to back in the same holder, I suggest you do the same, but use the coding colors on both sides of the edge of each holder so you know for certain which film is which. That may not sound important until you want to use a red filter to enhance the contrast in a black and white scene and suddenly realize that you don't know which type of film is on which side of the holder. Loading film might be a bit tricky, but I would just leave the dark slide all the way in on the color side and partially out on the B&W while you load black and white in the dark, then take them out and in the light. At that point don't touch the B&W slides while you pull the color dark slides out to the point where you can identify them by touch in the dark and then load those with the appropriate film back in the dark. In my dotage, I would never try to do both film types at the same time in the dark. I would have to separate the procedures as described. To unload, just stack the holders with all of one type up, or down and unload just those on the up sides into one "exposed" film box, then do the other after getting a separate box for that exposed film.

    8: You want a spot meter that reads only one degree of the scene! That can be as simple as an analog Pentax or Soligor II (black, not gray as the black are a newer version) which work beautifully and are relatively cheap (the Soligor often goes for under $100.00), or a Pentax digital, along with several other digital meters that either have spot attachments or built in spot systems. I have used both the Soligor and the Pentax analog meters for thirty years plus and see absolutely no need to change to the digital until those fail.

    The only thing I would add is to go back to my mention of a bag bellows. In case you are not familiar, those are what the name implies. Instead of the pleats, the bellows frames are connected by a loose bag which allows for the lens standard and the film back to move with huge flexibility. It's primary purpose is to allow for the use of very wide angle lenses (which require a lot of bellows compression) and still allow the ability to do extreme camera movements such as a lot of rise on the lens. You will find it useful even with the 90mm and absolutely needed with anything shorter, especially if you shoot a lot of taller buildings (ex. the Washington Monument) or verticals in nature with wider lenses. While these are no longer made for the Zone VI, they often show up on ebay and sometimes even here on the for sale section.

    Good luck and enjoy the heck of that camera and all your new adventures.

    "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude." Carl Sandburg

  4. #4
    Cogito, ergo sum
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Hanoi - Vietnam

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    For shooting, that seems to be enough. Just need to add a backpack.
    I recommend you use a Pentax digital spotmeter and a Harrison film changing tent.

    For developing, there are some ways to choose...
    Life = Love + Passion + Responsibility

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Hampton, VA

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    I would second the Harrison tent, especially if you travel. They are relatively expensive new, but worth it. They occasionally come up for sale used. Here they are at Badger - I think for 4x5 most folks would suggest the "Original Tent" rather than the "Pup Tent" for a little extra working room.

    You really do want a dedicated light table / light box rather than a plain old light. Here are some candidates from BH PhotoVideo - they can range all over the map in price and size: But assuming you are shooing 4x5, something on the size of 10x12 would be fine, but if space is a concern, they come in smaller sizes. I've got the Porta-Trace 10x12 two lamp model (second in the link) and have been happy with it.

    For a film holder bag, the one from Photobackpacker is great: Bruce, the owner is a member here and is very helpful and prompt. Lots of folks put the individual holders inside antistatic bags, which then go into the PB holder - helps cut down on dust. I use ones like these:


  6. #6

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    Dear Kristen,

    I am a newbie, I have not started using the system as much as I would like to, but thought I will nevertheless write this.

    1. Adding a clip-on fresnel to the ground glass did a world of good to the way I could use my Sinar! I am not sure if the Zone VI comes with one, but if it doesn't, it might be a very useful addition. (I am not sure if others would agree with me here, opinion might be divided, but just wanted to say it turned out to be great for me!)

    [BTW, I bought the Sinar Fresnel Frame and the Fresnel itself separately. The Fresnel arrived without pre-drilled holes to be screwed on the frame. I was not at all happy about drilling it myself - so I have used some tent-cloth adhesive to glue them both together. Works just fine for me!]

    2. Loupe : 3x - 6x seems ideal. I bought a 10x (newbie over-enthusiasm, what else!) and am looking for a 4x now.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Denmark, Europe

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    Another welcome to the fabulous world of LF !

    Regarding light meters... Everyone seems to suggest spotmeters. And they are probably very good - but have you seen the prices?
    You say that you're young, so I'm going to generalize and assume you have a smartphone. You can get a good - and free! - light meter app for your smartphone! I've compared it to my professional light meter and in most situations they agree on times/apertures. And when they don't, the difference isn't that big.

    And while I'm at the smartphones, you might consider some other apps too... Massive Dev Chart app (for developing of B/W film), Viewfinder app, Reciprocity timer app and Depth of Field app. These are the ones I use...

    I hope you have fun with your new camera
    Last edited by DavyG; 6-Mar-2013 at 03:22.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF


    Welcome to the asylum and group therapy.

    Well thought out relevant questions, and well articulated.

    As noted earlier, you will find a lot of opinions and personal preference, and you will need to sort out what is best for you.

    Now going through your list:

    Loupe - I have and use a good quality 6x and 8x loupe, but then my eyesight is not getting any better. I picked up a good second hand Schneider 6x loupe before Christmas for C$25, so they can be inexpensive.

    Film Holder Bag - There are different solutions, mine is zip locks.

    Mount for Tripod - I assume you mean a QR (quick release) mount. Certainly handy with the 4x5 format and generally doable. I have a Linhof one I use for 4x5 and pleased with it. I know Arca and Kirk have a good reputation as well, but I do not have personal experience with them. For the bigger formats (8x10 and ULF - Ultra Large Format e.g. 11x14, 8x20, 16x20, etc.), finding one robust enough is difficult. I too do not like ball heads for large format. OK for smaller cameras (e.g. digital, 35mm, medium format), but I am not fond of them for the big guys.

    "A brush for removing dust from film holders. This is pretty straight forward...." Nothing to add that has not been said.

    Change Bag for Film - Have one, do not use it. Great source for collecting dust, dirt, and other debris, and you may want to add retouching supplies to your list if you start using one. Change tents are another matter, but do not know much about them. I previously loaded and unloaded film in a bathroom with no window, with a towel at the bottom of the door, the lights in the room outside the bathroom turned off, and done a night. Currently have a windowless room in the basement with a table to load and unload film; very much a requirement for the 8x20.

    Light Table - I frequently see these going relatively cheap on the local Craigslist (approx $40), so a good idea. Use one myself.

    Film - Large format provides a great deal of flexibility in what one can do, including multiple creative ways to screw up. There are some informative and amusing threads on this site describing some. If you can get someone to mentor you, that would greatly help. However shooting, developing, and printing film will be one of your main methods of learning. You might want to get relatively inexpensive film (or use paper negatives) to learn the mechanics, and then find your favourite film as you progress. Next logical film question is local or mail order; I purchase local when I can.

    Light Meter - Two primary category with a number of sub categories. Incident light meters are used to measure the light falling upon the subject; reflective (unsurprisingly) measures light reflected from the subject. These can be further divided into ambient reading (available light) and flash reading. Spotmeters are a special class of light meters that only measure reflected light within a one degree spot. My preference is a spotmeter. The smartphone app is also doable and the one I have on the iPhone seems to work well. Not selling the Pentax digital just yet though... The DSLR can also be used as a meter, although it is much more bulky than a dedicated meter.

    You might find this will generate as many questions as it answers, and that is not uncommon. The group here is generally quite accommodating, especially where you have put some thought and research into it before hand, as it seems you have.

    Hope that helps and good luck on your journey,


  9. #9
    8x10, 5x7, 4x5, et al Leigh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Maryland, USA

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    Hi Kristen,

    - A loupe for focusing
    There is a sweet spot in the 3.5x to 4x range, where most folks find the best trade-off.
    If the loupe is too strong you'll see the grain of the ground glass rather than subject details.
    I have a nice Toyo 3.6x available. PM if interested.

    - A film holder bag
    f.64 makes a very nice film holder bag, holds six 4x5 holders. Here's the B&H link:
    I have three of these new; PM if interested.

    - Film
    You'll find as many film recommendations as there are shooters. I love Fuji Neopan Acros (100 ASA).
    It's a lovely film, with very wide exposure latitude. You can't blow the highlights if you try.
    It also has excellent reciprocity characteristics (no compensation up to 120 sec, only stop to 1000 sec).

    - A light meter
    I would highly recommend the Sekonic 558 (no longer in production). It does everything.
    It meters incident plus having a 1 spot meter. It will do flash, ambient, and any mix thereof.
    It has a built-in (optional) wireless trigger that works with the PocketWizard Plus II remotes.
    This model was replaced by the 758, which is $200 more and has lots of useless bells and whistles.
    I have a 558 with the wireless option available if you're interested.

    Good shooting.

    - Leigh
    If you believe you can, or you believe you can't... you're right.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Mar 2013

    Re: Help Me Shop! Everything (else) I need to shoot LF

    Wow! I am blown away by the responses....

    A few additional points of clarification then.....

    - Loupe: I read on several threads that the 6-8x magnifications would start to give you so much detail that you could actually start to see the grains in the ground glass, which sounded like it'd annoy the crapola out of me. Is 3-4x sometimes not enough magnification for a scene, or does it really depend on your eyesight? I just want to make sure that I understand that most folks who are using the larger magnifications don't have some secret reason besides eye age for selecting that magnification.

    - Film holder bag: Seems there are some very different schools of thought here. For the ziplock users- is the clear nature of the bag not un-nerving or problematic. I was assuming I wanted a dark bag, not that it'd be light tight per say, but for a little extra comfort in that department.

    - Changing bag: Thanks for the comments here. I'd really only been considering the bags for the size factor when traveling, but seems there are some strong opinions to support taking a little extra space for the tent.

    - Light meter: I do have an iPhone and was going to piddle with the various apps I've seen folks list here, but I've also read some mixed results. I will research spot meters later today and come back, I'm sure, with more questions!

    I have a trip to Alaska later this spring that I'm looking forward to and would like to bring the LF camera if I've figured out enough to be dangerous by then...... I will probably have more questions regarding travel soon. I appreciate all the time you guys took to respond and welcome any more thoughts or opinions!

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