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Saturday, 17 October 2020


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Footnote (asterisk)?

[Sorry. I've been under stress lately and seem to be making more mistakes. --Mike]

As things get bigger they get heavier and more expensive. Assuming film is sold by the square inch a 5x7 negative costs almost twice as much as a 4x5 and an 8x10 eight times as much as a 4x5.

Assuming that hardware prices are related to the volume of the camera a 5x7 would be priced at two and a half times a 4x5 and an 8x10 eight times. And of course weight would follow the volume calculation.

You pay for the camera once but the cost of film and the weight of the camera go on for ever.

An old press photographer told me years ago, that the 4X5 "hand camera" (i.e. Graflex, Linhoff, Busch, MPP), stayed entrenched in the news business for so long because:

1. The negative could be "read" easily before the print process because it was so large.

2. A contact print was, at the time, exactly the width of of two or three columns. Quick process, quick dry, quick contact print, and a quick metal screened "cut" of the image.

What was "gained" with the light weight and multiple uses of 35mm, was "lost" in having to wade through hundreds, sometimes thousands of tiny 35mm images. Even before digital, watching a press conference was like listening to movie cameras running at high speed. I don't think anyone waits for the 'decisive moment'.

Weston's inability to drive is traditionally presented as a charming quirk, but the reality is that Weston was one of those guys who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- do anything. He couldn't cook, either. Crackers, cheese, and hard liquor, ho ho ho, what a card ol' Ed was.

His skills were a) taking photos and b) talking people, often nubile young women, into doing all the boring work of actually living life freeing him up to drink and talk smart with his mates and his sons.

It's all very well to imagine Ed cadging rides in to town, but he cadged rides to Mexico City.

I don't think I would have liked Weston one bit, he seems to have been a genuinely objectionable guy. Good pictures, though.

Hilariously, Ansel Adams thought at one point to emulate his friend's libertine lifestyle and hired himself an attractive young assistant with whom his duly fell in love. However, when Adams asked *his* wife for a divorce, she just said No and that was the end of it.

I would be interested in knowing the resolution differences (and the "quality" if that can be somehow quantified) between a scanned 8x10 printed large (say 36") and a 47mp Nikon/Canon/Sony printed the same size. The underlying question, I guess, is that if you haul an 8x10 out in the woods, are you doing it for the quality, or simply because you're an 8x10 enthusiast, and you can.

For sure, 4x5 is the best large format camera compromise. It's not much heavier than the smaller format Pro cameras and have more scanning options than 8x10, or even 5x7. For example, while scanning an 8x10 with a flatbed is about the only viable prosumer option, you can scan 4x5 with a Hasselblad high end Flextight, which while it does cost an arm or a leg, but a used 848 (they are of course all used) costs less than a new digital Leica.

Comparing my 848 scanned 4x5s and Epson V700 scanned 8x10s, there are no noticeable differences except that the 8x10 negs have more room for tonal manipulations. In terms of sharpness, resolution, and details etc., the 4x5s do not lose in those regards.

In terms of usability, the 8x10 is obviously much heavier to carry and I don't use it more than 20 feet or so from a car, but generally it is much easier to use the movements on the 8x10.

Well, who knew that our Humble Editor had movie star good looks? You resemble Josh Brolin, except better looking. I know it’s always a bit of a back handed compliment when commenting on a person’s FORMER glory, but all the same, you were a dashing young man. The same good genetics were passed to Xander.

[Summer's lease hath all too short a date. --the Bard, Sonnet 18


Ilford B&W 4x5 films cost $47.95 for 25 sheets at B&H. Chances are, and with good composition and sufficient energy, one might shoot half a dozen in an inspired outing.

Dish developing by feel would be easy enough in the dark of the night, with small quantities of chemistry involved. If you divide up the D76 powder nicely, that should go a long way to save some shekels.

No need enlarger if you have a scanner ready. At least you have a film based image to start some bragging rights. Of course the next step would be a proper darkroom. No hurry.

What you need now is to find a nice lens for your new toy and some film. That will keep you happily inspired and occupied for the winter.

Dan K.

What a great photo of you, Mike! I like white borders on prints. To me, white borders says "snapshots", no borders says "images". (Though the quality of yours is certainly more "photograph" than snapshot.)

I like snapshots, especially with a scalloped edge, they feel like they're done!

Digital files that are not printed are not snapshots. They're like Vivian Maier's negatives, potentially photographs if anyone ever finds them, probably more likely no one finds them and they're gone forever. Lost on old phones or dead hard drives in computers that no longer boot up.

The only reason that you have that photo is because it's printed and was in a book or shoebox, the way snapshots are saved. I'm a working photographer, and I have a hard time finding digital photos from 10, 15 years ago.

I recently found snapshots of my father from when he was in the army in the mid-1950s that were a treat to see, and I don't believe that kids today will be able to find photos 65 years from now except if they're printed. Hopefully I'm wrong, but I can't see hundreds of thousands of files on stacks of hard drives exciting most people to sort through and retrieve them.

Glad you were able to save yours. It's a good photo of you!

I have used and owned all formats up to 4x5 and the negatives from the latter are just gorgeous. However that ship has long sailed, its 35mm FF digital for me now. I have looked back many times and thought about film, formats, processing and scanning. I must be crazy to consider these options, what makes me think it would be any fun. I’m sure we all started with our first 35mm film camera with a 50mm lens and perhaps KODACHROME 64. It was so much fun back then and now with digital being so darn good whether it’s APSC, 4/3 or full frame digital photography is fairly easy, portable and FUN. I think film is officially dead, just not buried yet, just manufacture a B&W digital camera and I’m set for life.

If he were alive today I'd ask him to do a print sale with us!

I’d welcome another print sale! Any on the horizon?

Just one point. It is a bit misleading to say that LF lenses are ‘shorter’ when talking about size and portability. Yes, 50mm full frame focal length is equivalent to 150mm or 300mm In large format, but a 300mm LF lens is physically about the same length as a 150mm LF lens and much shorter than, say, a 135mm full frame lens, let alone a 300.

[I was talking about focal length, not physical shortness. All I was saying is that with 4x5 you can use lenses of shorter focal length than if you're shooting 8x10. --Mike]

Not to be that guy, but a V600 actually can't scan 4x5 (or larger) in one pass (because the backlight for negatives is less than 4" wide), so you'd have to stitch. To scan a whole 4x5 sheet, you need a V800/850, which sucks because they're at least four times as expensive as a V600.

Then I see you mention Weston's practice of contact printing from 8 x 10 negatives. I visited his home south of Carmel and saw his darkroom. It would surprise a lot of folks — basically a very small space with a countertop, some shelves, and a simple box for doing contact prints.

Very low tech, especially by today's standards.

Another good thing about 4x5 is that so many lenses can be adapted to its relatively small 152mm diagonal. Just playing around I have currently five 4x5 cameras with various found lenses, everything from a 110mm single element Plastic lens fixed at infinity and stopped down to f45 or f64 to a 100mm f8.8 Kodak triplet from a 6x9 folder that almost covers (I narrowed the frame to 95x95mm and the lens covers quite well stopped down.)

Granted, not serious but lots of fun nonetheless and isn’t that the real reason for a hobby?

As a fervent LF shooter, until very recently using 10x8 and 5x4, there are some additional differences in the field that escape the attention of many casual observers, among them:
1. Achieving sufficient Depth of Field is far more facile with 5x4 than with 10x8,
2. With 5x4 it is usually possible to view the entire ground glass while making adjustments under the horse blanket, while the length of the arms is generally an impediment to setting head-room and ensuring you're not a member of the toe-cutter gang in a single glance,
3. Working with 10x8 for contact printing means a continuing size reference from start to finish — conception to production to presentation. In the field 10x8 is best described as 'roadside television',
4. Optical performance in extreme circumstances: shooting 4x5 architecture new scope came about with the Apo-Grandagon 35mm 1:4.5 lens on 6x12 centimetres but a very similar field of view was far easier to achieve with the Super -Angulon XL 73mm 1:5.6 on 4x10 inches.

If you want to get into DSLR scanning of your 4x5 negatives then get one of these:


One manufacturer, Intrepid from England, sells a kit of parts that will easily convert a 5x4 into an enlarger.

Although it was designed with their own products in mind, it attaches to the camera in the same way that a ground glass or sheet film holder does. As far as I know it will therefore fit many other 5x4's.

Just an FYI. I went through the process of reviewing my work in all formats back when I was trying to decide what to do in retirement; with an eye towards reducing equipment to a minimum and divesting myself of all the "junk". Unfortunately, I was ushered into retirement faster than I wanted, and I sit here in the pandemic, with a storage space full of stuff, that I can hopefully pare down before I turn 70!

I eliminated 35mm from the process, because I never was, nor do I want to be a "run and gun" shooter! As a pro commercial/ad guy, it was all heavily planned and executed. Wandering around and taking random snaps is not what I ever did, nor what I'm interested in today.

I thought heavily about 8 X 10, because I could lose all the darkroom accoutrements! You can process with a set of trays, and print in a contact frame. At 66 years old, it's tough to lift and walk with tho, and my poor Deardorff needs new bellows before I can use it outside, BUT, some of my favorite late era pics of my Dad, before his death, were taken on my Kodak Magnesium 8 X 10, and working with him to pose and get something "nice".

I always thought 4 X 5 would be the way to go, easier to haul than 8 X 10, all movements available, easier to use with people than 8 X 10, cheaper film, still "eye' readable...BUT...

I've always known that 6X7 120 can be easily as good looking in 11 X 14 prints as 4X5, and is way, way easier to shoot people! I maintain that if you get a tight, late series Mamiya RB, with a late series KL lens, the results are so fantastic, that compared to a "loose" worn 4 X 5, with old, worn film holders with a little bit of film movement in there; well, the 6 X 7 look might be superior!

This is still something I ponder all the time, as I own a bunch of each (except for the 8 X 10, I only own one!), I guess as I start selling, i'll have to choose! I'm still leaning towards a small 4 X 5, tho...

I use formats ranging from M4/3, APS-C, and full-frame digital through 11x14 large format film, but my favorite film camera size is 5x7.

For black and white photography, 5x7 fits nicely between relatively compact 4x5 and the awkward weight of an 8x10 outfit. 5x7 is the APS-C of large format film photography, almost as small, "convenient", and low-cost as 4x5, but with a 75% larger negative that's easy to scan and big enough for usable contact prints.

A sheet of 5x7 black and white film costs about 25% more than 4x5. BH sells 100 sheets of 4x5 Ilford Delta 100 for $169 while 100 sheets in 5x7 costs $219, despite the 75% larger negative area.

Many 5x7 cameras are only marginally larger and heavier than comparable 4x5 cameras and often come with a second 4x5 reducing back, increasing versatility.

Well-chosen 4x5 lenses routinely also cover 5x7 film unless you're into extreme-wide angles. 5x7-capable lenses are often smaller and lighter than many current full-frame digital lenses. At current Ebay mint-condition used prices, I can get roughly 3 top quality 5x7-capable Fujifilm or Nikon lenses for the cost of one decent M/43 lens for my Olympus.

Nearly all large format lenses made since the 1960s take standard screw-in filter sizes and fit any large format camera make or model, with the correct lenses board. Optical resolution of more recent lenses is often diffraction-limited - these were intended as professional gear.

The Epson V800/850 can do a high-resolution scan of a 5x7 negative in a single pass, particularly when making a wet-mount scan with Epson's inexpensive fluid-mount adapter. Normal 2400 dpi scanning produces about 200 MP resolution, which translates into a 40"x56" black and white print with native 300dpi non-interpolated print resolution.

5x7 is also the largest size that can be developed using normal stainless steel spiral reels and inversion tanks. I use the Chinese-made BW King 5x7 stainless steel tanks and they're well-made and reliable, differing surprisingly little from processing 35mm film.

As with all compromises, 5x7 has some drawbacks compared to 4x5. If you're doing traditional wet printing, a 5x7 enlarger is much bigger and is hard to find, as Mike notes. Epson does not make a 5x7 film holder for its scanners, so high-resolution scanning takes a bit more thought and effort.

Film photography, particularly large format, requires a level of knowledge, discipline, and hard-earned experience that may be too demanding for the casual photographer primarily familiar with automatic digital cameras.

There's no fresh 5x7 color film still on the market. 5x7's a black and white world although a 4x5 reducing back allows you to use 4x5 color films.

No one is currently making affordable new large format lenses, but there's a 70 year accumulation of modern high-quality lenses available on the Internet at very low prices. Fujifilm multicoated large format lenses, as an example, are reliably high quality and currently underpriced. With some care and a shutter clean-lube-adjust (CLA) every 10 to 20 years, large format lenses have decades of useful life left, and can be fit to virtually any large format camera.

Just took a look at linhof Technikas on eBay and was kind of shocked.
You can still find Master Technikas with eye watering prices but I also saw several nice looking Technikas with multi lens kits for under two grand.

re: the cost of a "prosumer" flat bed scanner, I imagine a used V750 Pro can be had for much less than the current V850. (The V750 can scan up to 8x10 in one pass.) I can't remember how much I paid for mine, but it does a good job, even if I'm not a pro at scanning.

As far as lenses go, Mike, you are welcome to try the ones I have any time you want. I'm not sure when the Fujinon 240A will arrive, but that one might take some time to be "available".

Minor correction to Speed's arithmetic. An 8x10 film sheet has four times the square inches of a 4x5, not eight times.

Using simple math as a theoretical comparison of large format costs doesn't work because actual prices are all over the map.

I checked actual prices on BH for many sizes and quantities of large format film and there's no mathematical consistency at all except that buying in larger quantities costs less per sheet - no surprise there. Some off-brand sheet films are more expensive than comparable Kodak and Ilford products.

Similarly, a no-brand knock-off of Kodak's excellent XTOL developer costs 6X as much per liter as the real deal.

You just need to do the market research and ascertain the facts.

Years ago I read that Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner insisted on top quality for his Playmate of the Month centerfolds, so they were shot on 8x10-inch sheet film. In color, of course.

One month, twin models were the featured Playmates. Photographing two women together doubled the chance that one of them would have a slightly wrong expression or pose. The photographer had to shoot more than 200 sheets of color 8x10 before he got one that Hefner approved. Even without the photographer's fee, that job must have cost thousands of dollars in film and processing alone.

Tom Halfhill: Somewhere along the line, I remember reading an article, in a photo magazine of course, comparing Playboys 8 X 10 centerfold pictures with Penthouses 120 based centerfold pictures! I remember the comments that quality level of retouching, color plate-making, and actual printing were a big, big impact on the final result.

Originally being from Chicago, and working there two different times in my career, I did know enough people to know of the Playboy process in the 70's, where most centerfolds had 16 X 20 (or larger) dye transfers made for extensive retouching, and then color plate separations made from that. We were getting our 16 X 20 dye transfers of "beer shots" for one of the breweries, made at the same place, prior to retouching.

Boy, I bet a lot of people have never seen a dye transfer!

[True, but a lot of people here have, because we've had several print sales of them. --Mike]

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