First foray into large format

There’s something magical about film.  Maybe its the way it forces you to get it right in the camera with a more considered approach, the tactile nature of it, or the sense of connection to those early pioneers Fox Talbot and Neipce.

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The sinar F is a monorail-type large format camera taking 4 x 5 sheet film.  Fitted with a Rodenstock 150mm lens this is broadly equivalent to a standard 50mm lens on a normal camera.

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First things I noted:

  • Although not particularly fast at f5.6, the lens stops down to f64 for immense depth of field.  This feature of large format cameras gave its name to Ansel Adams’ famous ‘f64 Club’.
  • Film has to be loaded one sheet at a time in the darkroom at home then slotted into the camera one at a time.  In complete darkeness, it then has to be unloaded again for developing.
  • The camera is fully adjustable on all planes (tilt, swing and rise).  This allows depth of field and perspective to be manipulated in ways impossible for a normal camera.
  • Everything is slow.  Shutters have to be cocked, examining a ground glass under a black sheet is needed to focus the image.
  • Quality is astonishing.  It is impossible to visualise this on screen despite 40Mb scans.

Here’s the first two images I’ve taken, both at f64 with an exposure of 1 second at ISO 125 (Ilford FP4plus).  Notice how the perspective is shifted in the building to eliminate converging verticals by applying some tilt to the front standard / lens board.  No sharpening has been applied nor filters apart from a neutral density grad for the sky:

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First impressions:

  • The sense of achievement – of taking just a single photograph – is significant.  This is arguably lost from digital photography.  It takes a lot of forethought, planning and preparation to get an image
  • One slip, one error, and the work is ruined.  With colour film costing around £10 per photograph to buy a sheet of film and develop it (not print) any mistakes are costly.  Black and White is around £2 per sheet and can be developed at home (these were developed by Ilford Labs to provide a benchmark reference point).
  • Quality is outstanding.  There’s a hard to define tonal rendition.  On inspection there seems to be no end ot the detail held in the negatives.  Room-filling images are a possibility and way beyond even the 36megapixel digital camera I use normally.
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