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Thread: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2020

    Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    Thanks for reading!

    Back story: I'm an occasional Nikon DSLR shooter with an interest in film photography, a goal of shooting mainly portraits and religious architecture, and an opportunity to buy a good camera. An older friend has passed away, and I have the opportunity to buy either...

    his Nikon F2 35mm and many accessories/lenses, or...

    his Linhof Kardan 4x5 with 210mm Rodenstock (and possibly another lens).

    I'm hoping to use my film camera occasionally now and often in the next 5-25+ years.

    I have two sets of questions.

    1) Which (if any) film, chemistry, etc. do you expect to be available for 4x5 cameras 10+ years from now?

    2) Are the current digital conversion units for these any good? How much should I expect them to improve in the next few years?

    I also appreciate any advice/opinions you can share. I know this is a little like choosing between a terrier and a St. Bernard!Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Tin Can's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    Don't convert any film camera to digital, a waste of time and money with poor results

    I expect film to outlast digital the way things are going

  3. #3
    Small town, South Carolina, US
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    South Carolina, USA

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    In discussions of a few years ago it seems that sheet film in black and white would be the last to go. That said, I would choose which ever you would rather use film for. Both sheet and 35mm film will be around for longer than 25 years. As to film - my money is on Tri-x and HP5. Chemicals to make various developers and fixers
    will always be available.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    New Jersey

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    If you look at the camera as a tool, you need to decide which is the better tool for what you want to do. The 35mm will clearly be easier to carry around, and is the better camera for moving subjects. The 4x5 is the better camera for architecture, although many of the in-camera corrections you make with a view camera (i.e. swings and tilts to maintain verticals and choose your plane of focus) can now be replicated in PhotoShop. For portraits I think it is something of an even tie, since the ability to take numerous quick variations on a portrait with the 35mm is balanced against the "formality" of a view camera portrait (a bad way to express it, but the 4x5 process itself yields a different kind of portrait). In the end it depends on how you like to work: if you are quick and intuitive, the 35mm wins out, and if you value precision and thoughtfulness over speed, the 4x5 may be your new friend.

    I suspect that film and chemistry will continue to be available for both, and digital backs for 4x5 cameras are very expensive and probably not worth considering. They also have smaller sensors than 4x5, so they make any lens on the view camera seem "longer", similar to the way APS and other smaller sensor digitals change 35mm lenses from their FF characteristics.

  5. #5
    Drew Bedo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Houston Texas

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    Umm . . .I am using an 8x10 camera hat is within a decade of being 100 years old. I have a period lens for it. The lenses I use with it for shooting are 1980s vintage but if I chose to spend the money, I could put any of the "modern" or current APO lenses on it. My 4x5 , made in 1985, is no more technologically advanced in materials; Wood, brass leather etc.Film for them in traditional emulsions is still available. Glass dry plates cannow be bought and used as well. Any LF camera you buy now, vintage or modern, will still be usable for the rest of your lifetime.

    In the next 50-100 years, I am sure (in my heart,) that digital technology will be just as quaint perhaps even "alternative" as Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes or Tintypes are today. But I am thinking that a digital camera bought today will be unmaintainable going forward. Think of any 1990s era lap-top computer. In 1839, Talbot and Daguerre could not possibly imagine the imaging technology of 1939 ; think Kodachrome and talking motion pictures.
    Drew Bedo

    There are only three types of mounting flanges; too big, too small and wrong thread!

  6. #6
    jp's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    If you like grain from film and a large volume of photos, perhaps the 35mm gear. If you have hundreds of thousands of digital photos under you belt and don't want a step down in image quality and are tired of being overwhelmed with quantities of images, perhaps slowing down and using the 4x5 for a smaller number of photos per outing would be ideal. Perhaps if portraits are your thing, warm the subject up with some dslr work, then switch to 4x5 and see if the sitter can slow down and be ready for that. I used to do 35mm B&W before the days of digital. Now, I use digital for 35mm systems and use film for 120 format and large formats. You might find that you like the light weight of 35mm and want more image quality and would trade up to a medium format film camera at some point.

    I expect options for B&W film and chemicals will remain for a quite a while. Digital options for 4x5 are practically speaking, a film scanner like the Epson V800/V850 or photographing the processed film with a macro lens on a light table with DSLR. The tech is changing very little.

  7. #7
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    SF Bay area, CA

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    I wouldn't want to speculate on exactly which films will be available twenty years from now, because the exact selection of such things has periodically changed all along; but it's very likely that a good selection of both 35mm and 4x5 will remain. Most black and white chemicals can easily be mixed from scratch in your own darkroom. Color darkroom chemicals are harder to predict, but are readily available now. Forget about digital backs for 4x5 unless you have a lot of money to spend, and can amortize the significant equipment expense within a few years, because anything digital goes obsolete rather fast as newer options arise. 75 year-old lenses and film cameras, along with home darkrooms, will probably be around after every scanner on the planet has stopped working, with replacement parts nowhere to be found. The other Drew expressed it well in a previous thread. But life is short too, so follow your heart.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    South Dakota

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    I suspect all film types available today will be available in ten years. I think black & white film will be around for the next 25 years at least. Some thoughts:

    1. Nikon F2. Solid camera but no parts except from donor cameras. Can only use lenses in Nikon mount. Small and portable for trips.

    2. 4x5. Simpler and easier to repair. Much better for architecture, better for portraits because of the wide selection of lenses. (You can use lenses from hundreds of manufacturers going back to 1840.) As for film, 4x5 film is widely available and I expect little change in that for the next 15 years. Even if they completely quit making film you can still make your own plates and shoot those.

    Kent in SD
    Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
    miserere nobis.

  9. #9
    Pieter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2018

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    Shooting 4x5 is a totally different experience than shooting 35 or full-frame digital. You need to set-up, meter and even the process of focusing, inserting the film back, pulling the slide, etc. takes way more time and effort than a roll-film camera or DSLR. The 4x5 will give you more control over perspective and depth of focus for landscape and architecture, and the portrait process yields different results because the portrait is less candid, the photographer is not hidden behind the camera: you are standing face-to-face with the subject. 4x5 involves hauling around a lot more weight and bulk--tripod, camera, lens(es), dark cloth, film holders but you usually end up with a more thoughtful final image--partly because of the effort involved.

    As pointed out by others, 4x5 cameras are mechanically much simpler, more easily repaired and will take just about any lens, so a functioning camera and lens is pretty much guaranteed for the 10-year window you're considering. Color film and processing might be an issue in 10 years, depending on where you live and if you are also willing to do that yourself (the processing).

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Madisonville, LA

    Re: Choosing a film camera for the future... (35mm vs 4x5!)

    If you can swing it, I'd get both if the price is right. That way, you can try both for an extended period of time and either keep both, or get rid of the one you don't like.

    Good Luck!

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