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Thread: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2017

    New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    Hi everyone,

    I'm a 35mm photographer looking to move into a larger format. I do almost purely landscapes and nature and am very interested in getting a camera with movements to try to achieve the effects which I can't with an SLR. I know nobody with any experience with large format and am kind of on my own, so I have been researching and learning as much as possible about the format and the available makes and models. At first, I was set on a 4x5, but have since been checking out the 2x3 technical cameras as well. I am having a hard time making a decision with no prior experience. I like the idea of a larger negative with 4x5, but I often hike deep into wilderness areas and camp and never get hotels or anything like that. So I'm a little concerned about loading sheet film with regard to finding a dark space to load them and keeping everything clean and dust/dirt free. I like that the 2x3's use roll film. I often travel on a budget but for very extended periods (months at a time). I also like the idea that 120/220 film is cheaper and the 2x3 cameras tend to be lighter in weight. However, I'm learning that they sometimes have restricted movements and problems with wide angle lenses? I have been considering the Horseman VH and VH-R and some of the Linhof 2x3's. Do these cameras have ample movements for landscape photography? Which movements will I not want to be without in the field? Are there any other 2x3 cameras I should consider for this type of work? Or any budget 4x5's for that matter (I guess the graflok system would allow me to shoot roll film on a 4x5)? Also, are the lenses for 4x5 and 2x3 interchangeable? Anything else I should be aware of? Any suggestions welcome and very much appreciated.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Oregon and Austria

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    Hi Ryan and welcome to the forum.

    This reply might get a bit long, but stick with it. I believe my experience will be valuable for you since my style of shooting and preferences seem very similar to yours.

    I am completely self-taught as a photographer and, at the risk of being less-than-humble, have achieved a rather high level of technical and artistic achievement on my own. Reading and practice and gleaning this forum and the other LF fora available ( leaps to mind) are a good way to start. Sure, having a class or a mentor would be great, but often difficult to find these days.

    Movements: Learning to use movements is not as difficult as many make it to be. I think it is better to start by understanding the basic underlying principles and then move to specifics. There are lots of good books available and you'll be able to get a lot of help here for your specific questions. However, to start, I'll recommend Ansel Adams' "The Camera." It is available digitally for not much and used in hardcover as well. I cut my teeth on the Ansel Adams Photography Series and it is still the best starting point I know.

    For landscape photography you likely won't need a lot of extreme movements. Still, learning how the tilts and swings work and what happens with the plane of sharp focus and perspective rendering when using them is important. These two things should be your major focus at first. Rise/fall and shift are simple to understand; you're just selecting a different portion of the image circle than the center. The Adams book above will address all of this.

    If you end up shooting architectural images or images in close spaces, you may find yourself needing more extreme movements. However, the principles are the same; you just find yourself more often at the mechanical limits of the system (lens coverage, bellows compression, etc.).

    I wrote an article for the now-defunct View Camera magazine some years ago on basic movements for field cameras. If you're interested, I can send you a pdf copy of it (complete with typos...).

    4x5 vs 2x3: This is my personal opinion, but valid here I think. A lightweight 4x5 field camera (think wooden folding camera) is not much bigger or heavier than a 2x3 camera and allows you to use both sheet and roll film (with a roll-film back). I carry my kit on extended day hikes that can be rather strenuous (hiking/climbing in rugged terrain) and on multi-day backpack trips. I have concentrated on putting together a lightweight kit. My wooden folder and five lenses weighs a whole lot less than a medium-format or even 35mm (or digicam) kit. The point here is that you can have the larger film size and still stay lightweight enough for the type of hiking you seem to want to do. For me, the 4x5 size is the perfect compromise between film size, camera movements and weight.

    2x3 view cameras generally have fewer movements and, these days, you are limited to roll film. I used roll-film backs a lot early on, and have a lot of 6x9cm negs that I still print from, but having the extra area and flexibility of a piece of 4x5 sheet film is a luxury I'm more than willing to carry a few extra ounces for (and I really mean ounces here, say 5-8oz more for a 4x5 kit). As for lens availability for 2x3: the real problem is at the very wide end of the spectrum where you'd need to find lenses in the 35-55mm range to have the same effect as lenses from 65-90mm on 4x5. So if like shooting wide, a 4x5 will have a lot more lens selection for that. Otherwise, any lens that will cover 4x5 can be used on a 2x3 camera, but some lenses designed for 2x3 cameras, especially in the 100mm and shorter range, do not have the coverage for 4x5. Learn to read lens specs and look for the circle of coverage size.

    Keeping things clean and dirt-free with sheet film: First, I find that I shoot a lot less film when using a view camera than I used to with a hand-held roll-film camera. My filmholders get loaded at home and go with me in ZipLoc-style bags. They stay dust-free at least till I shoot; after that, it's not really an issue. I try to anticipate what I need for a given trip and carry that many holders with me. However, I have reloaded film holders in a tent at night. The trick here is to bring along a clean surface to change film on. I use a large garbage bag that I've simply stored in a ZipLoc to keep it clean. I spread it out, get everything ready, blow out the candle and load. Keep in mind that for long trips you can always use a roll-film back and roll film, or use a combination of sheet and roll film. For my long photo-road trips I carry 50+ holders in a cooler in my car and change them out as needed. Sometimes I have to reload during a trip and then I'll find a cheap hotel room (I usually need a shower by then anyway ). At any rate, having a 4x5 camera doesn't exclude the possibility of using roll-film for everything, but a 2x3 camera will effectively keep you from using sheet film.

    As for a camera to fit your needs: The lightest-weight 4x5 cameras are wooden folding field cameras. I shoot Wista DX cameras and a Horseman Woodman. There are others, like the lightest Shen Hao, the Tachihara and the Chamonix cameras that are also very lightweight. The Chamonix and a couple others with a similar design offer very generous bellows extension coupled with lots of movements.

    My personal preferences for a camera: 4x5. Lightweight (3-4 lbs for the body). At least 300mm of bellows extension so I can use a 300mm lens on an extended lensboard. For movements, I need front swing, tilt and rise/fall, back swing and tilt and at least one standard with shift. There are cameras without the shift feature,j but they really don't even save a bit of weight. Personally, I can't live without shift, especially since I often use my lightweight cameras for architectural work as well as landscape. My favorite city camera is a Wista SW, which is basically a Wista DX with interchangeable bellows and allows me a lot of movements with wide-angle lenses. For packing, I carry a Wista DX with one lens folded up inside the camera. If I were buying new, I'd take a serious look at the Chamonix cameras.

    Be aware that there are a lot of heavier 4x5 cameras out there too that maybe you don't want. I had a really heavy Shen Hao and currently own a late-model Zone VI camera that are/were just too bulky and heavy for me to practically carry on hikes (my Zone VI lives in the car and gets used close to it). 2x3 metal cameras are often heavier than lightweight wood 4x5s. You just need to compare specs.

    Metal cameras are rugged but heavier. There are people who swear by metal cameras like Technikas, Toyo 45s etc., but for me, they are simply out-of-the-question due to their weight.

    4x5 lenses need not be heavy. There are a lot of really lightweight alternatives. Check out Kerry Thalmann's site on lightweight lenses: The whole site is worth perusing.

    What you need to do at this point is research the options and decide what's best for you. You've got my two-cents worth.

    Hope this helps a bit,


  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jul 2016

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    I think I can add little to what Doremus said with a lot of wisdom.

    Just let me add some points a learner like me found interesting to start.

    1) BW in Large format is very related to film development, you have the chance to make an special development for each particular sheet depending on scene, this is an important part of the creative process, so I'd suggest some books: "The Darkroom Cookbook" and "Beyond the Zone System" to start. Color development is usually very standard, like with SLRs. Problem with color is that sheets are very expensive compared to MF, so a good choice for color is a 4x5 camera with 120 adapter back. Note you also can reverse 4x5 BW film to obtain amazing BW slides to be enjoyed on a light table.

    2) Camera. Adding to Doremus suggestions, another possibility is to use a cheap&good metal monorail like Sinar Norma to start, it weights little more than a field camera, very compact, and it would allow to learn very well about movements, and it will provide you valuable information about the limitations you may want to allow in a field camera, like bellows extension and movement limits vs weight. With it you also will have the chance to play with extreme movements for arquitechture or even portraits.

    3) Lenses. Do not make the mistake to buy too expensive glass before knowing what you really want, I'd suggest one or 2 lenses, play with it and then decide. Lenses c 1980 are perfect to start with, multicoated Symmar-S, Rocenstock-N, Nikon W or Fujinon are more than perfect, even single coated lenses of the 1960s are very good.

    Here you have a list of lenses:

    Here you have tests, this is not a lab test but a practical one with some limitations, but still it shows that lp/mm ultimate performance (that is not the most important, most of the times) varies more from one sample to another than from one model to another, or between brands:

    4) Review a lot of LF photographs in this forum, in flickr, and in books. A lot photographs can be made with MF or even with an smartphone and having same practical result. Large Format adds a series of aesthetical resources of immense value, those resources need to be exploited to justify the great effort LF requires(IMHO). I'd suggest (this is not landscape...) to review Sally Mann photographs to see that LF culture is also beyond technical specifications.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jun 2015

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    4x5 will make everything easier in terms of using movements. Too many movements are just as restrictive as too few. As Doremus says, you don't need a huge, heavy camera - even a non folding Chamonix or Shen Hao is likely to be more camera than most people need unless you absolutely have to shoot with longer lenses.

    Regarding lenses, best to start with a focal length roughly equal to the long dimension of the film - ie 5". Translated, that means anything in the 120-135mm range with generous coverage for 4x5. If you want to add a second lens, I'd suggest a 90mm (approximately equal to the short dimension of the film). Alternatively, you might prefer to go longer - the 180-210mm range, though it really depends on what you want to shoot. Key point is that you need an image circle of 154mm to cover 4x5 with no movements & potentially quite a lot more if you want to turn the camera into a pretzel.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    St. Simons Island, Georgia

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    I’ll only add that 2x3 sheet film is still available from Ilford. That said, I’d still recommend 4x5 if for no other reason than you can see the image on the ground glass so much better.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    New Jersey

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    Excellent advice so far. On the LargeFormatPhotography home page, take a look at this article and links: It concerns large format lenses specifically for field work, and recommends lenses in various focal lengths with an emphasis on weight and portability.

    The only preceding comment that I personally would differ with is the recommendation of the Sinar Norma. It is a wonderful camera, and I have owned similar Sinar models (the original "F" Field). In terms of packability, no monorail will be as compact as a wooden folder, and while you can get close in weight, except for a couple of really obscure brands/models (the Gowland Pocket View, and I believe one other), they are still heavier. My own vote would be for one of the wooden folders in Doremus's excellent summary.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    May 2010
    St. Louis, Mo.

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    Ryan, you are definitely not on your own!

    I came from a 35mm and medium format background. While researching which first digital camera to buy, I ran across Ken Rockwell's site. He had articles on his site about 4x5 that I found interesting. In addition to my D200 purchase, I picked up an old 4x5 Cambo SC monorail. I then bought the Steve Simmon's book "Using the View Camera". There are other more comprehensive books out there but I found Mr. Simmon's book very easy to understand for the beginner. It also includes excellent pictures explaining camera movements.

    The best thing I found though was this website. You just found a great group of knowledgeable people who want to help you. You have also found some new friends! Welcome to the forum!


    P.S. Beware, you may find large format addicting. That cheap monorail I first bought has since morphed into an 8x10 field camera!

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    New York

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    Hello Ryan and welcome.
    You will get lots of support and opinions here !

    A 4x5 camera is more practical in the long run for many of the reasons given earlier. You can always use a roll film back with a 4x5 and have the great advantage of the 4x5 sheet film size.

    While roll film backs may be convenient and economical for color, the 4x5 BW negative quality is far better than 2x3, especially for landscape work. The larger ground glass of 4x5 is also far more desirable for ease of use and clarity of Vision.

    Further 4x5 sheet film Is far more convenient for zone system B&W photography (processing/development wise). Better than having to carry several 2x3 roll film backs relating to different development standards. I.e. N+1, N-1, etc.

    Those are just a few additional thoughts. Good wishes to you.
    I know just enough to be dangerous !

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Corvallis, OR

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    Hi Ryan,
    Regarding view camera movements: Fred Newman covers basics in an 8 minute video, which I recommend as a starting point. See:

    As for cameras, you don’t mention a budget limit, but I’m guessing you probably do have a limit. So, I will recommend an Intrepid View Camera, which is both inexpensive ($298 USD) and lightweight (just under 2 pounds, which does not include a film holder or lens, of course).

    But the big question is: what are your needs, really, and which format will best match your needs?
    A few points to frame this question:

    Will you find that loading and unloading 4x5 sheet film holders “in the wild” becomes too cumbersome and tedious for you? Compared to loading 120 roll film, I’d say that’s a possibility. I often shoot with an 8x10 Deardorff when I’m out traveling, and I always load film holders before the trip, and plan to have enough holders to cover my needs without unloading and reloading while out. Personally, I would not want to have to load film holders out in the field, if at all avoidable. Admittedly, 4x5 is far less cumbersome, so maybe you’re up for that. This might be something you will only be able to decide once you’ve actually done it yourself.

    Do you really need camera movements that a large format camera offers? I wonder. When working with a medium format camera, especially doing landscape work, it’s rare to actually need camera movements. When you work in larger formats like 4x5 and up, certain camera movements can become necessary to compensate for the decreased depth of field implicit in view camera work. Unless you feel it is imperative to correct perspective when doing your work, medium format roll film cameras might easily do what you need without doing more than simply closing down the aperture. I suggest you study Fred Newman’s video I linked to and decide if camera movements are truly requisite for your work style.

    How to compare image quality between 4x5 and 120 roll film formats? If you are shooting with a slower, fine grain film like Delta 100 in roll format, a 6x9 cm. negative will yield exceptionally detailed, nearly grainless images up to 16x20 inches. So you need to decide how large your final prints will be and factor that into the equation.

    How are your darkroom skills? Do you have a strategy for processing your film, be it 4x5 or 120 roll film? Sheet film requires special equipment for processing, or learning to process sheets in trays, in complete darkness (I choose the latter, myself. Many years of working in darkness feels comfortable to me, so I prefer to process in trays rather than acquire specific equipment for daylight processing) YMMV, of course.

    Finally, I get the distinct impression from your opening post that you are trying hard to lean towards a medium format solution for your needs, but your main hesitation is in regard to camera movements. The convenience factor of working with 120 roll film is clear, especially for someone who sometimes travels for months at a time between stops. If I had to make your choices, even though I much prefer doing landscapes with my 8x10 Deardorff, I would lean heavily towards a medium format camera for ease of use, convenience and flexibility. If you’re out in the wild for weeks at a time, you can do a lot more work if 120 roll film is your medium. If 4x5 is your choice, having a good dark bag for changing film/film holders is mandatory, and those things are a b*tch to work with at the best of times (IMO). I would avoid a scenario that made a changing bag necessary if at all possible. Dust will be an enemy you may find hard to defeat.

    So, you’ve had some excellent advise already, and perhaps I’ve added some useful points to your list of “should I?” questions.

    Finally, I would encourage you to find someone who does work in 4x5 who would be willing to go out on a day trip with you to show you what large format work is really like in practice. You don’t mention where you’re located - you might find there’s someone within miles of you whose willing to meet with you and share what they know, in person. I’m in Oregon, not far from where hwy 34 meets I-5, and I’d be happy to spend a day sharing what I know with someone interested in learning large format cameras. I expect there are others on this forum who’d be willing as well. Maybe you’d be interested? Let us know!


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    near Seattle, WA

    Re: New to Large Format Landscape Photography

    After a quick read of this thread I’ve not noticed some points that should be considered. Regardless whether you decide on roll film or sheet film formats, you’ll need an enlarger and an adequate tripod for the larger camera. You could start by contact printing the negatives, but many here feel that contact prints should be at least 5x7 inches. So you’ll likely be doing enlargements, in which case you’d need a 4x5 enlarger to print either 120 or 4x5 negatives. Enlargers can be found nowadays for not much cost; however, good quality inexpensive enlarging lenses for 4x5 (think 150mm) may be more difficult to find. There are a number of factors to consider in selecting an enlarger, but with your attitude you can handle it.

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