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Wednesday, 13 July 2011


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Dear Mike,

Should "rekindled" be the word of choice when we're talking about primarily wooden cameras?

pax / ever-helpful Ctein

Oooh, speaking of LF. How's it going with yours and when can we expect a post about it? :)

I hope that, despite being several times more complex than the latest Harley Davidson engine, those new Deardorffs are more reliable than the average hog.

...they're the kind of thing that the radar doesn't even detect

Never before have I thought of a view camera as a stealth camera.

That 4x5 Special is a nice camera. I want out shooting with a friend, and he brought another buddy along. His buddy had an old 4x5 special. The 4x5 rotating back is a very convenient feature. If you want to shoot 4x5 and 5x7 this is definitely a camera to consider. It sure is pretty too.

Actually you don't even need a dark room-much less a darkroom- to load sheet film. The changing bag I originally got to load 35mm cassettes from 100ft rolls of film worked just fine, and of course is much more portable. Of course doing so in the shade (e.g. inside the car) is much safer than in the bright sun.
Another useful trick is to calibrate a hand held meter to read directly from the ground glass.This is especially useful with extended bellows as in close ups, where 'external' meter reading/exposure need correction due to the long bellows.
Richard Newman

Nice, succinct explanation, of a fairly simple process, only complicated by it's very uncommonness now.

Bron, who in his youth, used to do things like this.

Andrea B may already know this, but if not, it's important to recognize that the image on the ground glass is upside down and reversed. To me, that's the most wonderful part about composing with a view camera.

I can't draw worth a darn, but even I can draw a portrait using one of the key exercises in the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," and that's drawing upside down. It's a great way to better understand two dimensional space.

...of course, I'm not upside down, just the image.

Large format....I get it, but I don't think I want it.

USING THE VIEW CAMERA by Steve Simmons is a great book for those interested in getting started with LF film photography.

Hmzzzz, Mike,

I use one of those camera's the GX680 and while shift is kinda obvious and organic, tilt is were the fun begins as mr. Scheimplugg raises his (hmmm, I have no clue) head. Great tip about the developing though. You could also refer her to:


by Q. Tuan Luong, which I think is well made and convers most things. I will move to New York soon since I have no idea were to develop E6 4x5 and larger in Holland, though you helped me with the send it in an old film box trick. I was wondering how to do that :-) but the obvious was of course the solution. So when I find a lab nothing stands in the way of a using a view camera (of course a Cambo wide in my case :-)).

Greetings, Ed

Thanks Mike, nice explanation. Not sure I'll try it - but I might :)

Dark slides: I had chronic problems with light flares cropping up during the insertion and re-insertion process. I ended up tossing a lot of (expensive) 4x5 negatives!

Too bad I didn't know at the time that 20 years in the future the flares were something that could be corrected in Photoshop.

Andrea B --

I'm a still a view camera neophyte, but I figured out how to operate my Graflex "Super Graphic" (albeit using only the 4x5 Fuji / Polaroid pack film) on my own after reading a very simple book from the local library -- Steve Simmons' "Using the View Camera," which is also available on Amazon and used book sites like abebooks.com. It's a very clearly written book, and you'll definitely get the basics of how to operate a view camera after reading it.

And then when I wanted more in-depth info, I bought the previous edition of what some say is the view camera "Bible" -- Leslie Stroebel's "View Camera Techniques." It's bit of a slog to get through, but well worth it.

Or ... you can just follow Mike's succinct instructions here!

Standing under a dark cloth, looking at a full-sized image on the ground glass is an experience you'll never get in a DSLR viewfinder..... Suddenly you can "see" what you are photographing.

Funny this has come up as I've been thinking about borrowing a friend's 4x5 special, the same camera I borrowed back in the 70's when I was starting out, and working with a true view camera again. This way, I won't have the pain and suffering of having a 2K or 3K camera sitting around doing nothing if the itch wears off, which from experience can happen. I still have a pair of Graflex Series C's I work with, with 4x5 Graflok backs on them, but they're not the same animal at all and intended for a different process. I don't miss the tedium of hauling big gear around, or the expense and time of film and processing, and the MF Imacon back I used to use was kind of a wash with 4x5... it's the taking process I miss. The aesthetic of a slow process of evaluation and execution that requires discipline,knowledge and practice to do well, working with an inverted ground glass image that informs in an entirely different way. It makes you practice waiting,
which I think is becoming the true lost art.

Hopefully, they'll be offering bellows replacement service...there's one zillion (not an exaggeration) Deardorffs out there that used to be in Chicago/Boston/NYC catalog houses, all needing new bellows (including mine), and no one can wait 6-12 months and pay over 500 bucks...I've been thinking of setting up a strictly bellows replacement service for years! Maybe they'll solve the problem!

You also have to allow for Mother's grabbing their Kids to get away from the strange person.

Or the reverse "Hey Mister What Ya' Doing" at just the wrong time.

4x5 & 5x7 are easy to do solo, with 8x10 a "Native Bearer" is very helpful.


Dear Mel,

You know, I am beginning to think there are (at least) two kinds of photographers whose brains are wired very differently. My experience with ground glass view cameras is exactly the opposite of yours (which mirrors that of many lovers of view cameras). For me it doesn't create a feeling intimacy and involvement with either the equipment or the photograph, it's just a royal pain in the ass that I have to put up with to be able to use the view camera.

I think it's like my friends who go running (or at least very serious jogging) and talk about the endorphin rush they get from it. Never happens for me. I just hurt.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I taught myself to shoot 4x5 with a Speed Graphic last year and 'graduated' to a Graphic View I this year. Eventually, I'll be looking at a nice one of these when I finally get good at it.

Shooting 4x5 is totally fun and unlike many large format photographers I actually do like talking with people about what I'm doing. It doesn't take long for me to make my composition and check exposure and then it is just waiting and while I'm waiting I have my hand ready to trip the shutter and I have no problems whatsoever talking with people about what I'm doing.

I see myself as an ambassador for an old art and if I can convince people that it's something worth trying -- something this blog is about -- then I think it's much more preferable than being that strange man with that strange contraption that children should be shoo-ed away from.

When I first got my 8x10 I shot a bunch of 8x10 polycontrast RC paper, it was a cheap way of learning the camera, actually got some neat abstract shots.

(Still waiting for a digital back for my 4x5 Graflex)

I think your starter instructions have most things covered ... but Velvia at 4x5 (and above) is an expensive way to start and can be difficult to expose correctly under many lighting conditions. A simpler and cheaper alternative (and what I now use) is a 6x12 rollfilm holder (Horseman etc). This has all the fun of shooting LF but with a loss of about 1/3 the film area. 120 film is cheaper/easier to get processed and scan.

Here's what it looks like, using a mask made of amberlith with a hole cut at the appropriate size. Camera is an Ebony 45S.

Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, of course, and everybody should do whatever makes them happy, but I would personally *never* recommend shooting rollfilm in a view camera. To my mind it's the worst of both worlds...all the hassle and limitations of using a view camera with none of the rewards.

That's just me, of course. And of course it's not to say you can't get great results shooting that way, or have good reasons for doing it. But I would never, ever suggest it to someone who just wants to get the view camera experience.


After some thirty years of using a view camera (on and off) I find the experience of using a rollfilm holder much the same. Instead of inserting a double-dark, the back flips off with the rollfilm holder attached in its place.

Shooting 120 is a practical and cost effective solution these days, especially for colour. The lab in the city near me that offered professional 4x5 and E6 closed down a few years ago but I can get 120 C41 processing done with 2 hour turnaround. With modern lenses, modern film and a pro scanner the results don't leave me wanting. I also find I quite like the 2:1 aspect ratio. And if I was shooting b&w film I wouldn't be using a 4x5 anyway.

Anyway, just suggesting an alternate approach rather than seeking consensus.

Holy Wow, Mike !!! Thank you very kindly for taking the time to write the excellent intro to the world of View Cameras. I have saved it and hope to have a trial run sometime this fall.

And thanks to the other folks who recommended the Simmons book.

" ... notches in the upper right corner ..." of the film holder.

I've always loaded holders in the vertical (protrait) position, but we had a customer in our camera store who loaded them in the horizonta (landscape) position. That, of course, put the film in upside down. He was most upset to have exposed his expensive photo vacation abroad through the base of the film.

Dear Stephen and Mike,

I think rollfilm backs on view cameras present one of those interesting glass-half-full/glass-half-empty situations. On the plus side, you get all the benefits of view camera movements plus the ability to use films that aren't available in sheet form. On the minus side you get a much smaller negative and (for a bunch of technical reasons I will not elaborate on) one that is only 1/2 to 1/3 as sharp as what a dedicated medium format cameras capable of.

So, depending on your priorities and preferences it's one of those compromises which can be either a win-win or lose-lose for you.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
=-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

On the minus side you get a much smaller negative ...

One thing I didn't mention is that, because my scanner focuses 8,000 pixels across the short side of the film, I actually get a larger file size from 6x12 (cms) than 4x5 (inches). Though more exacting, even at such large file sizes my scanner still isn't pulling in all the information from the film. Not that I care so much as maximum print size achievable isn't the motivation, it's the picture-taking experience and the intrinsic qualities (smoothness etc) of the results. I don't tend to print my own work particularly large.

An important consideration Mike didn't mention here is whether you're your shooting for digital output (information capture) or something that will easily translate to a print in the darkroom (contact prints). This will dictate format choice.

...I have to laugh about the film notch thing, yeah, I know it's tough for a beginner, but I've been loading sheet film for so long, I can actually feel the difference between the two sides of the film, I rarely even check the notches anymore...just goes to show you...something...

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