New Tachihara 4 x 5" camera and 50-year-old 150 mm lens. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links to get your stuff from the same places I do when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.
View Camera Movements 10 April 2008
"The 4 x 5 view camera remains unsurpassed for landscape photography"
"Digital still can’t touch large-format film for the full-page reproductions that have made Arizona Highways famous"
Peter Ensengerger, Arizona Highways Director of Photography, November 2005 here.
My personal photo life was changed forever when I got back my first few sheets of 4 x 5" film from my first crummy 60-year-old Graflex with a dented, scratched lens in 1991. The results were so far beyond anything I had ever gotten got with all my brand new Pro Nikon gear I was an instant convert.
Your camera store wants to sell you a new digital camera. I couldn't care less what you buy; I'm just trying to help you with what I've learned over time. A 4 x 5 will cost a lot less than digital, even throwing in a film scanner, and will give far better results. It just takes a lot more concentration and patience.
Spend less than $2,000 and you can get a brand new 4x5 camera system and scanner which can run rings around any digital system. It just takes a lot more patience.
4x5 excels in not just resolution, but because it can force the plane of best focus to match your subject (no need for depth of field), as well as its native perspective correction and exaggeration abilities.
The best references for this are Ansel Adams' book one, "The Camera" and Steve Simmons "The View Camera." Most libraries carry these or you can just buy them. I found them so helpful after borrowing them I bought them. Also I subscribe to View Camera Magazine. The first two books explain everything you need to know about how to use these cameras of the masters. The magazine keeps you current with gear and other artists' work.
4 x 5" cameras have been around for over a hundred years. There is tons of great equipment available used and cheap.
4 x 5" is the most popular size. 8 x 10" is also popular in some limited applications. Honestly 4 x 5" gives all the quality needed, 8 x 10" is overkill for anything I've done. 5 x 7" is even less popular. There was a good roundup of currently available 5 x 7 cameras in the September/October 2003 issue of View Camera Magazine.
4 x 5 costs LESS than any other format. I paid $150 for my used enlarger complete with several lenses for all formats 35mm, 120 and 4 x 5. I paid $300 for my first 4 x 5 camera including lens. This $300 camera made half the photos you see on my site! This $300 used 4 x 5 is sharper than a new $3,000 Hasselblad and worlds beyond a $5,000 Leica, Contax, Canon or Nikon. 4 x 5 film is also CHEAP. Sure, it costs $3 per shot instead of $0.50 for 35mm, but you never shoot as much 4 x 5. I can blow off a few hundred dollars worth of 35mm film in an afternoon, but I still haven't finished off the $70 box of 4x5 film I bought 5 years ago. 4 x 5 is so far beyond 35mm that you just won't appreciate it until you shoot it.
I personally prefer light, folding 4 x 5 cameras for field use. Today I use a Tachihara, the cheapest and lightest one around, which sells for about $700 from Adorama. It weighs only 4 pounds, takes all my lenses and has all the movements I need. You will need lenses for it of course. There are loads of great used lenses out there.
If you are on a tighter budget, look for a 1950s Crown Graphic. It's what you see used by dapper newspapermen in the 1940s and 1950s. You can get these for a couple of hundred dollars WITH a perfectly fine lens. An old $200 Crown Graphic will completely eclipse any Nikon, Hasselblad or Leica camera for technical quality because of the huge film size and movements. I started out in 4 x 5 with a Crown Graphic.
Read the books I suggest for the whole scoop on buying 50 year old used cameras. The basic points are to:
1.) Check the shutter speeds with a shutter tester. A repair shop can do that.
2.) Check the focus between the ground glass and your film: if a bonehead assembled the camera wrong you may have bad focus on film. You test that by shooting wide open and making sure your film is as sharp as what you had on the ground glass.
3.) Check for light leaks in a darkroom with a flashlight jammed inside the bellows.
Avoid the heavier Speed Graphic with the focal plane shutter, just because it's heavier and you don't need the FP shutter.
I prefer the Tachihara over the Graphics because the Graphics are not intended to make it easy to get all the movements you'll want to use. The Graphics are a very cheap way to get extraordinary results. A lot of the art on this site was made with my Crown Graphic.
Press cameras like the Graphic and even the expensive Linhof Technika can be used hand-held. That's exactly what news and sports photographers did up until the 1960s. They not only have conventional viewfinders and wire sights, but also have rangefinders for focusing without ground glass. You pop in film holders and shoot handheld. For faster work you can use a Graphmatic back, which allows six shots as fast as you can jam the mechanism back and forth, or a rollfilm holder.
If you are on a budget and need to buy new (pretty silly, really) then you can buy a new Calumet Cadet 4 x 5 monorail camera for $349.99. Heck, I wouldn't buy new, but if you insist you can buy the Cadet camera with a brand new lens from Calumet for $599.99 as a kit. Monorails are very flexible if you only work in a studio, but awful if you ever intend to take it anyplace outdoors. Forget monorail cameras for use in nature. As you'll see at the Calumet site, this is a big clunky camera.
If you have unlimited budget you will be tempted by Sinar. Sinars are great for studios, but since they are monorail cameras they are awful for carrying around outdoors. Others like these because they do fold up for backpacking, but honestly, the light waits for no one and they take too long to set up.
You also will be tempted by the Linhof Technika. I also use one of these. It is a precision brick of metal. It has been made and improved continuously since 1904, and all the ones made since 1958 are compatible with the same lens boards and accessories made today. You are welcome to buy a brand new one for several thousand dollars, or just get a used one for around $500-1,500. You want at least a Technika IV, introduced in 1958, to have lensboards compatible with modern cameras. The Tachihara camera takes the same lensboards. The more recent Technikas have a hinged top to allow rise with very short lenses. I use a 75mm lens on my Technika IV on a deeply recessed board, but 65mm or shorter lenses allow no rise and are mounted at the back of the camera. Using wide angle lenses on a Technika starts to get complicated.
What do I use? I use the very light weight Tachiharas, which are hard to find. I bought mine from Adorama.com for $700. The same camera is sold by Calumet as their "Wood Field" and others, too, as the Osaka camera, but they are all the same.
FOCUSING THE VIEW CAMERA (Click)
See the lens section in Ansel Adams' book "The Camera" or just be confident that any decent lens made since 1950 should be far better than you'd ever dream if all you've ever shot is digital or 35mm. The 4 x 5 camera has been in use for over 100 years, so old gear is fine. I regularly use lenses from the 1950s and 1960s, and you've seen low-resolution scans on my gallery pages. The best photos on my site come from these old lenses, and the worst photos are made with the new Nikon digital SLR gear.
NEW: Rodenstock 45mm f/4.5 APO-Grandagon 13 March 2008
Schneider 47mm f/5.6 XL 16 November 2005
Manufacturing dates for all Schneider lenses based on serial numbers:
Schneider Optics (lenses)
Manufacturing dates for Rodenstock lenses based on serial numbers:
(From "View Camera" magazine, Sep/Oct 2002. You should subscribe to this as I do!)
Large Format Lenses (Nikon UK)
Catalog of Nikon Large Format lenses (in Japanese, sorry)
You use the same film (Tri-X, Velvia, etc.) that you use in any other format. Usually you load each sheet by hand into a special film holder in a darkroom as it has been done for a hundred years. Each holder weighs about 8 oz (4x5) and holds two sheets of film.
You also can buy film already packaged into paper sleeves that can be used right from the box in broad daylight with a Polaroid film holder. Kodak and Fuji call these systems "Readyload" and "Quickload." The film costs two to three times as much per sheet for the convenience.
In addition to the Polaroid holder, Kodak and Fuji both make dedicated holders for these films. I prefer the Polaroid holder since it works with Fuji, Polaroid and Kodak. The Kodak or Fuji holders only work with that brand.
The quickload systems save you from having to load holders yourself in your darkroom (or motel bathroom the night before). They also allow you to pack a lot more loaded film since each sheet is in a paper sleeve instead of half of an eight ounce holder. Of course the lightest way to carry 4 x 5" film is unloaded in the box as raw sheets, however you can't shoot that unless you load them in the dark.
Film Holder Flatness
Flatness only matters if you are shooting at larger apertures; like f/16 and bigger. If the film is not flat the focus goes off a little for different part of the image.
I always get great results with conventional holders. I can shoot at f/5.6 and get perfect sharpness edge to edge. This presumes your camera is well adjusted. If your ground glass is improperly positioned you may get poor results regardless of holder.
The fast load systems have to claim great flatness since they don't usually have it.
I get great and consistent results with the Kodak holder and 2-sheet Kodak packages.
I get varying results with the single-sheet Fuji sheets. I get the best results with the Polaroid holder. The inch of film closest to the loading slot on the Fuji or Polaroid holder sometimes will move a little bit, moving the focus on film for that part of the image. If you experiment you sometimes can use this to your advantage depending on the shape of your subject.
I try to shoot at f/32 with the Fuji system to eliminate any film flatness issues. Sometimes the film is held flat, sometimes not. Few people see this since most people shoot 4 x 5 at f/32 or smaller; with my work for ultimate sharpness following these principles I try to shoot at bigger apertures to eliminate diffraction. Try it yourself and see. I tend to see things that most people don't, so don't worry about this if you can't see any problems with focus. Also sometimes the fast load systems work great, too.
The fast load systems may be better for night work since they use pressure plates to keep the film from moving around over the course of a long exposure, unfortunately since you'll want larger apertures the focus may sting you. Try it and see. That's how I learn all this stuff.
I use both systems depending on how cheap (conventional) or lazy (quickload) I am for any given project.
Dust is sometimes a problem. You have to load your film yourself. It's not spooled in a clean room. Occasionally I'd get a speck on my film, which is then a permanent dust spot. These would be an obvious single speck, not zillions of tiny ones.
My lab made a suggestion and ever since I've had no problems. They suggested I tap the edge of each sheet on the table just before loading to dislodge any dust. It's worked, although I think I've been lucky.
Of course today dust isn't a problem since color work is printed electronically. You just spot the scan. B/W is best printed optically and you spot prints. Excellent retouchers, many of whom are probably gone, can paint a dust spot back onto a negative so it's gone forever. Dust is less of a problem in printing than on smaller formats.
Be careful. I vacuum my holders with a Shop-Vac if I'm home.
Most every city has professional labs that run 4 x 5 film. Camera stores are not professional labs; check your Yellow Pages or ask an old-school pro where they are.
I use Chrome in San Diego for all my E6 (Velvia). They do mail-order if you have no place locally.
For 4x5 black-and-white see my film page here.
I don't shoot C41, but hear that Mesa Photo, also in San Diego, processes 4x5 C41 color negatives.
Tell them I sent you.
I made my own dark cloth. I put Velcro on the edges and camera to keep it on in the wind. Visit any fabric store and try the different fabrics by putting them over your head to see how dark they are. I used a soft fabric and folded it over for double thickness.
I use a 4x, rubber-bumpered, extended Toyo. It's intended for use under dark cloths or hoods on ground glass screens. I got it here.
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