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Thread: Large Format Beginner Assistance

  1. #1

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    Large Format Beginner Assistance

    Hello, I'm Bob. I have shot 35mm and MF for 20+ years and have this developing obsession with LF. I have been shooting with a borrowed Toyo and just ordered a Shen Hao 45. I am trying to translate LF to 35mm and mentally for some reason its difficult so I thought I would ask everyone on here their opinions and recommendations.

    What I am going to shoot is AZ landscapes, architecture, and maybe some fashion / ad stuff (keep getting requests for poster sized prints lately )

    Reading as much as I can find I believe what I want to buy is a 90mm and a 120 (or 150mm) to start. I have been looking at the Grandagon 6.8 but I am concerned about the aperture. I am very used to 2.8 or faster lenses in 35mm so giving up a couple stops concerns me. For the 150mm I have been trying to find the true differences between Sironar S and N. I see the image circle comments to maximize movements. Since I doubt (I am in denial) that I will go with a 5x7 or 8x10 body at some point should I save the couple hundred bucks and buy the N?

    As a point of comparison most of my lenses are Canon L or Zeiss, would those lenses be in a similar group as far as contrast, color repro, etc...?

    Lastly, I haven't shot film in 3+ years. I used to shoot Fuji Provia, NPx, and some velvia. Has much changed as far as color? I prefer Provia overall and was thinking Ilford for Black and White. What are your thoughts on this. I am planning on using quickloads for color. Not sure if Acros competes with Ilford but it would be nice to be quickload across the board.

    Part 2 of the last question, Does a 545 Polaroid fit on a Shen Hao and is there a Color Polaroid 100 speed that is similar in color to Provia (I know this is asking for too much but am not up on type 55 either )

    Thanks in advance for all of your help.

  2. #2
    Ted Harris's Avatar
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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    Last question first. Yes, sort of, Poloaroid T79 but both it and T59 are fairly quirky shutter speed sensitive films so you may be better off using T54 for exposure and composition.

    Don't try and compare your 35mm and MF lenses to LF. The 90 f6.8 Grandagon is a fine medium wide lens and will serve you well. I would suggest 150 not 120 if you are going with a 90. The S series has slightly wider coverage and is a different formulation than the N series. I love the S series but the differences are small and subtle. Basically if you get current lenses from any of the big 4 (Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji and Nikon) you won't go wrong. Having said that you will see threads about the differences that go on forever. If you think you are going to do architectural work that will require extreme movements go for the S otherwise save the money.

  3. #3

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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    I'd go with the 90 and a 210. The 90 for architectural work and intimate landscapes, the 210 for the 'grand view' and everything else. My 2-cents anyway.
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  4. #4
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    One of the things that everybody fails to mention is to get familiar with the camera. Develop a routine, setting up the tripod, then the camera, open shutter, focus & adjust camera, close shutter, insert film holder, check meter reading, set lens, cock shutter, remove darkslide, CLICK!, and reinsert darkslide. Just go through it again and again until its reflex.

    THEN when you see the scene of your life, you'll be ready for it!

  5. #5

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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    Bob-


    For architecture it seems the 90mm is the most popular lens. That is also a good wide lens for landscapes too. 90mm is "about" a 28mm in 35mm terms. I say "about" since some here debate it might really be slightly different. But I think it would be a good choice to go with.

    Some will say 150 is the only way to start. I got a 125 (I like wide) and after a couple of weeks went right to a 75mm (my new favorite). I have no problem focusing it and it was very easy to use right from the start. So do not let anyone scare you away from any lens.

    Either a faster f/4.5 or a slower f/8 will work. The 4.5 will probably have more image circle, but is also much heavier, takes huge filters, and cost more. The f/8 models are much more field photographer friendly. The f/6.8 might be a nice compromise.

    Having said that, B+H is closing out it's Nikon lenses since Nikon has quit making LF glass. They had new f/4.5 90's for under $900.

    If you did get the 90 I would also agree with skipping the 120 and get something like a 150, 180, or 210 as a second lens. That gives you better spacing. And if you get the 120, then I would probably get a 210.

    I have a 75mm 4.5 Nikon myself (so a little wider than the 90), it has a 200mm image circle and I find it offers all the movement I need in landscape work since I find tilt more common than rise. But YMMV.

    Check the lens tables off the home page here and Kerry Thalmann's articles/website on lenses for future classics and other lens info.

    For film, I am a big Quickload fan. Costs more, but you buy ease of use, ease of carrying, and dust free. After a long day out in a National Park, I like not having to mess with film holders. Also a good way to start out in 4x5 and have a few less things you can screw up.

    All the major Fuji emulsions can be had in the Quickload format. You can often get shortdated Provia and Astia at a decent discount-check Eblay.

    There are a couple of modified flavors of Velvia and Fuji is about to reintro a newer version of Velvia 50 (think Coke classic after the New Coke gambit).

    Anyway, whatever you get will give you images. Go take pics and have fun!!!

  6. #6

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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    Thx for the advice everyone. I am kind of looking at the change of pace. Took 40,000 shots last year and the idea of taking 2-3 shots and enjoying the world more is appealing in addition to the large slides.

  7. #7
    Confidently Agnostic!
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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Bell View Post
    Reading as much as I can find I believe what I want to buy is a 90mm and a 120 (or 150mm) to start.
    90 and 120mm are very close in focal length (sort of like 24mm and 28mm lenses in 35mm format - there's a comparison chart with approximate 35mm equivalents here). Comparison to 35mm isn't totally straightfoward since the aspect ratio is different; if you compare the diagonal angle of view you get one answer, if you compare the longest edge you get another. I'd suggest 90mm and 150mm, or 90mm and 210mm, or 150mm and 210mm, as a two lens kit to start out with. I went with the 90 and the 210 myself, but I might put a 150mm lens in there at some point. I sort of like the limitations / simplification of just two lenses though - I'm overburdened with focal lengths in my digital SLR kit.

    I have been looking at the Grandagon 6.8 but I am concerned about the aperture.
    This is really only a factor for composing. You'll have to reconcile yourself to the fact that f/4.5 is about as fast as you can get in large format (there may be exceptions, or older lenses, that I don't know of). On the bright side, you can use faster films without as visible grain because of the lower enlargement.

    I have the 90mm grandagon f/6.8 and I really like it. (Actually mine is the Caltar-II N 90mm f/6.8 which is exactly the same lens, manufactured by Rodenstock in the same factory to the same standards, but it costs a few hundred dollars less on the used market because people want the Rodenstock engraving and/or are afraid it's a quality control reject (it isn't)).

    For the 150mm I have been trying to find the true differences between Sironar S and N.
    Look at the lens chart I linked to above. The main difference is image circle. You have to remember that lens sharpness is not as critical in large format because you aren't enlarging anywhere near the same extent as you are from a small format camera. A relatively cruddy-performing lens (by comparison to a top end Canon L prime, for example) will probably still out-do the L in terms of apparent sharpness because of the larger format. Aberrations aren't enlarged as much so they don't show up. I have a 210mm Sironar-N (again under the Caltar label to save a few hundred bucks) and I am absolutely floored by the detail and quality I get from scans of my 4x5 negatives. It makes the output from my L lens / digital SLR (or 35mm film) setup look like a cruddy disposable by comparison (a bit of hyperbole, the L lenses are pretty fine optics, but because you get so much more real estate with 4x5" film it wins the detail and resolution contest hands down).

    I see the image circle comments to maximize movements. Since I doubt (I am in denial) that I will go with a 5x7 or 8x10 body at some point should I save the couple hundred bucks and buy the N?
    You have to remember the limits of the Shen Hao, too. No point buying a lens with way more coverage than your camera provides unless you have clear plans to get a monorail with lots of movement in the immediate future. I can move outside of the image circle on my grandagon 90 (220mm circle) (with my shen hao), but it's a lot harder to do with my 210mm sironar N (300mm circle). Both provide plenty of movement for architecture, landscapes, funky selective focus with extreme tilts, etc. With either lens I can comfortably shoot a building with full perspective control in landscape or portrait orientation - like seen here.

    As a point of comparison most of my lenses are Canon L or Zeiss, would those lenses be in a similar group as far as contrast, color repro, etc...?
    Relatively cheap 4x5 lenses will give results on par with L and Zeiss by virtue of the format difference. As I said already, you need the extreme resolution of a Zeiss or L lens for the smaller formats because you are enlarging so much - poor resolution gets magnified an awful lot with those formats. A lens with less raw resolving power will still get you a better image on 4x5. The modern Grandagon and Sironar lenses are all multicoated and the two I have perform pretty well with backlighting - the 210 can flare, but only at a very specific angle with respect to the sun and in a way that could be corrected with a hood (ie, sun out of frame).

    I paid $200 for my 210mm f/5.6 Caltar-II N (sironar-N), and it gives corner to corner sharpness, a complete lack of distortion, and raw detail resolving power unlike anything I've ever encountered on small formats. The same is true with my 90mm ultra-wide angle (approx. a 20 to 24mm lens) - no barrel distortion, corner to corner sharpness, beautiful contrast. I paid $400 for my 90mm and it gives me way better results than anything I've ever seen from the ~$13,000 combo of the canon 1DsII and Zeiss 21mm distagon T* (not that I would complain if someone wanted to give me that setup).

    Oh, and welcome to the wondeful world of LF photography. I just got into this last October.

  8. #8

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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    Great info Walter. I am going to look for the Caltar II's.

  9. #9
    Sheldon N's Avatar
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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    To piggy back onto what Walter said about the drastic difference between 35mm and 4x5, I'll post a comparison crop from a test of my own that I did.

    Crop number 1 is an actual pixels crop uprezzed 30%, from my Canon EOS 3 and 35mm f/1.4 L at f/8 (about as good as Canon optics get, costs a grand), shot on Provia 100F from a tripod, scanned on a Minolta Scan Dual IV (a decent film scanner) at the maximum resolution and desaturated.

    Crop number 2 is an actual pixels crop downrezzed over 100%, from a 4x5 monorail and a 135mm Optar f/4.7 lens at f/16. The Optar lens is about as bottom of the barrel as you can get for optics, and was in very poor condition with all sorts of coating blemishes on both elements. It was something that the local used camera store gave me for free. If it were in perfect condition it would be worth maybe $50. The shot is on Tri-X 320 (much more grainy than Provia), and it was scanned on an Epson 4870 flatbed scanner at 2400dpi. The Epson is decent, but the Minolta is clearly the better scanner at resolving the maximum lp/mm from film.

    So - this is basically the high end of 35mm compared against the bottom end of 4x5.

    Judge the results for yourself.

  10. #10

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    Re: Large Format Beginner Assistance

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Bell View Post
    Hello, I'm Bob. I have shot 35mm and MF for 20+ years and have this developing obsession with LF.
    Sounds like the opening line at my last AA meeting.

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