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Thread: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

  1. #1

    Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    I've been thinking a lot on the recent revival of film-photography in the hands of enthusiasts. Film seems to be making a small comeback. We have phenomenon like LOMOgraphy. We have the impossible project making instant film. Blogs are popping up where people are writing about rediscovering a love for photography and ditching digital.

    Yet I feel the large format film hasn't seen an increase in use and popularity in proportion to this phenomenon. Why aren't people jumping to large format. It would seem to me that enthusiasts should love the quality and the benefits of a slower approach to shooting. I've been thinking about this a lot. Why haven't all of these people grabbing medium format TLRs and Hasselblads and Dianas and everything else under the sun... Why aren't they jumping to large format?

    I'm one of these new film-fanatics who got sick of the way digital cameras render things. Annoyed by the clipping of highlights in the sun because of the lack of dynamic range. So I picked up a cheap 35mm film camera and a dedicated 35mm scanner. And I loved it. And I wanted something even better. So came the medium format cameras. And better lenses. And then I wanted even more. I wanted large format. But I haven't jumped to your glorious large negatives. I have been planning it for a year, but I keep putting it off. What is stopping me? What is stopping all of these newcomers to film?

    I think it is the lack of a good format - a size that could be suitable for both contact printing and scanning, and still be small and light enough to be portable. As I looked at my options I kept thinking that 4x5 was too small for contact prints. "that's smaller than a common 4x6 print from a 35mm camera! Do I want to make all this investment for such small an image? That would be a waste", I thought to myself. if I went to 4x5 I wouldn't bother contact printing at all - I would buy a flatbed and just scan!) But do I really want to invest all that effort and time and money to jump to 4x5 if I wasn't going to see contact prints? If I was only going to see my images as flatbed scans, would it be worth it?

    8x10 on the other hand felt like a massive thing. Huge, heavy cameras. Expensive film. Would I use those? I could get contact prints and see the magic of large format - but how often would I drag it out? Hmm... What to do?

    Then it hit me. 5x8 would be perfect! Just large enough to contact print, but no larger! Not too heavy - people dragged those 5x7's around when they were still popular, didn't they? How much heavier could it be than 4x5? And the aspect ratio! 5x8 is the same as 10x16, and that's 1:1.6! So close to the golden ratio! And it could be made by just cutting 8x10 in half - expensive, but possible.

    Now that I've come across this elusive 5x8 idea - an idea so elusive that I can only find one company that even makes such cameras - I can't seem to let it go.

    So, I'm here to ask you wiser and more experienced folks: am I being silly? Should I just get that 4x5 or 8x10 and forget this dream of a perfect format that continues to haunt me? Could it be sensible to have a 5x8 camera built instead? And perhaps could Ilford or Fuji or Kodak be convinced to make it a real format?

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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular


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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    5x7" is a beautiful format, with used cameras, film holders, and film easily avalaible. Why don't you start there an try if it works for you. Your reasoning is right on the money - 4x5" is too small for contact prints and 8x10" is big and expensive. 5x8" enlargements from 4x5" (or 9x12cm) negatives are precious little jewels, too. Shooting large format doesn't always have to result in huge prints.

    Michael

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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael E View Post
    5x7" is a beautiful format, with used cameras, film holders, and film easily avalaible. Why don't you start there an try if it works for you. Your reasoning is right on the money - 4x5" is too small for contact prints and 8x10" is big and expensive. 5x8" enlargements from 4x5" (or 9x12cm) negatives are precious little jewels, too. Shooting large format doesn't always have to result in huge prints.

    Michael
    Yes, 5x7 is a lovely format and it is probably what I would go for if I could just manage to find color negatives for it. Plenty of black and white, but no one seems to be making color 5x7 negatives.

    Why did we end up with 5x7 anyway? 5x8, at exactly half-way between 4x5 and 8x10 seems so obvious to me. Such a lovely ratio too...

    It is a real shame Kodak, Fuji or Ilford haven't realized how great it is and brought it to production. I keep waiting for it to happen...

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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    Kodak makes 5x7 color neg so spend some time searching before you post. They'll make 5x8 if you have the $$$& too. Canhamcameras.com

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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    Quote Originally Posted by vinny View Post
    Kodak makes 5x7 color neg so spend some time searching before you post. They'll make 5x8 if you have the $$$& too. Canhamcameras.com
    Really? Kodak makes a 5x7 colour negatives? I checked all the Portras and the Ektar before I posted and those didn't list 5x7. Perhaps I was mistaken. Which film did you mean?

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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    I just quickly did a search, and never found any 5x7 Kodak in stock, so you may be right there.
    However Fuji Velvia is around, which in my opinion usually has nicer colours.

    I went from digital, to 35mm straight to 4x5 pretty much skipping med format when a friend of mine was selling a camera for $300.00 complete.
    Although 5x7 or 8x10 is next on my list I'm in no big hurry to upgrade yet.
    I have so much to learn about B&W I haven't even looked at colour films yet.

    For me, the big thing now is to research any lens I buy (which doesn't happen all that often with LF, and ensure it will cover 8x10 with at least some movements.

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    adelorenzo's Avatar
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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    You can stick a roll of 120 Portra in your Holga or Hasselblad, shoot it, drop it off at your local lab and get amazing images and scans back without too much fuss. Or run a pack of FP-100C through an old Land Camera and get some cool shots and 'scan' them with your iPhone. I guess my point is that's not such a huge jump from shooting digital and that is how people are making the jump into film.

    The way I see it, it's a really big jump to move up to all the gear and knowledge required to shoot large format, especially if you plan on printing. I love shooting large format but I would never recommend it to someone who wanted to get into (or back into) shooting film. Especially as most people are just posting stuff online anyways, with maybe the odd print here and there.

    With respect to 5x8 film, with all of the slowly dying film formats out there in the world it's sounds like a tough sell to advocate for a new one.

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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    I started photography about 4.5 yrs ago & followed a similar path..digital- medium format- large format.

    I think for the typical individual who wants to experiment with film after starting digitally would not move past medium format. There is still a convenience level with MF appeals to them. LF will be isolated to the "hardcore" user who really enjoys the process.

    I own two monorails..a 4x5 Horseman & 5x7 Cambo. Actually the Cambo is lighter in total weight but slightly larger in physical size. IMO, 5x7 has a "shoot-ability" factor much closer to 4x5 then 8x10. I am able to use all of my lenses on both cameras. I tend to shoot more in the 2/3 aspect ratio, so 5x7 works out better for me. The only downside is fewer films to choose between. I haven't gotten into cutting down 8x10 film, so Portra is the only color option. Also, I do a lot of night photography & the B&W films suffer from poor reciprocity characteristics. Acros is only available in 4x5 here in the US.

    I personally only scan & print digitally. If I could only pick one camera, I would go with the 5x7. It's a nice size negative & still works for contact printing possibilities.

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    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Some thoughts on large format in general and 5x8 in particular

    Quote Originally Posted by Apostrophe View Post
    Then it hit me. 5x8 would be perfect!
    Yep. I came to that conclusion about five years ago. Just couldn't justify it for what I wanted to do. I do my own drum scanning, and I can pull enough image information out of a 5x4 negative to make a print that's 89.5 x 145 cm (yes, that's the Golden Ratio, so I threw away some information from the top and bottom of the negative). That's around 35.2 x 57.1 inches. The widest print I can fit in my car is 90cm. I've also found that around 12x enlargement is my personal limit. But 160Portra enlarged 12x is nice and sharp, and just beginning to show grain if you put your nose on the print. I could go a little higher with 400Tmax, but what's the point? I can't print that big, and if I could I wouldn't be able to bring it home from the framer's without renting a truck!

    So, I don't see a lot of gain going to a format bigger than 5x4 if you're going to scan. Nearly all of the advantage is in contact printing.

    And that advantage comes at too high a cost for me. Bigger camera, bigger lenses (some hard to find, like something in the 160mm range that will cover 8x5), bigger tripod, bigger filmholders (and much more expensive, when you can find them). What I like to do is hike with my camera. And I'm not a big guy, so my 5x4 kit is skewed toward light weight already. Adding weight to my kit would limit my destinations even more than LF has already limited them.

    Film at least is somewhat easier than 7x5, because with 8x5 you can at least make a single cut to cut down 10x8 film, with no waste. But it's still considerably more expensive than 5x4.

    So... I never made the leap. Don't feel particularly bad about it either. But I do know where you are coming from.

    I did study this thing from all the angles I could think of. And it does look to me that 8x5 (or even 7x5) is the sweet spot of LF. So if you're leaning that way, you have my encouragement to follow through. If you like contact printing enough, it might be just the ticket.

    Bruce Watson

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