Large Format Q&AWe have had an abundance of questions coming in recently about different aspects of large format photography and equipment. Naturally, we thought it would be best to compile some of these questions and answer them for all of you interested in the format. Keep in mind that in many cases, these are basic answers and could have a lot more details to the answer if you want to get into the nitty gritty of it. Answers are also based on the opinion and knowledge of one LF shooter and camera technician. If you're a LF fanatic and have other suggestions to add, feel free to leave them in the comments.
|a Horseman 2x3|
Q: How can I ease into large format as affordably as possible?
A: Make sure that you want to venture into it first. Taking a class with some instruction and hands-on experience is always a good idea to make sure that you like the process before spending a lot of money on equipment just to find out that you don't like it. Or, if you have a friend that does it, ask if you can tag along during their process. As far as buying gear goes, start simple with the basics (one camera, one lens, etc.) and buy used! Check out our article: Introduction to Large Format Cameras for a list of accessories you will need, a good starter camera suggestion, and lots more info.
Q: How do I find compatible parts?
A: First and for the most part, stay within the same brand as your camera. If you have a Horseman camera, you will want to search for Horseman accessories. Unless you have extensive knowledge about what exact parts you need, then purchasing from a seller who lists exactly what type of camera the parts go with is also essential. For example, we will list what camera brand and model a part will fit. This is one of our descriptions- ARCA SWISS COMPENDIUM SHADE (F-M LINE) #111001 SHADE. That tells you that this shade is for an Arca Swiss camera, and any camera that falls into either the F or M line of Arca Swiss. It also tells you what the part number is, which some people may want to do further research or helps to find a specific part that they may be looking for.
Q: What kind of bag or case would you recommend for a large format camera?
A: Depends on what type of LF camera you have. If you have a monorail for example, your options are limited and you will most likely need a large hard sided case that will specifically hold a monorail. If you have a field camera however, you have a lot more options. Our recommendation for one of these cameras since they fold up but can still be heavy is a backpack. Almost any type of Tamrac, Lowepro, or Tenba large backpack will work, since they have the moveable sections in them that you can configure for your gear.
Q: What are your recommendations for tripods?
A: It depends on the size of the camera. The larger the camera, the larger and heavier the tripod must be. You want a substantial tripod for stability. Metal tripods in common brands like Bogen or Gitzo that are heavier work fine. The important thing is to pay attention to the tripods weight ratings. Wood tripods are also good options because the wood absorbs vibrations and is more forgiving and stable.
Q: I have a Schnieder 90mm 6.8 lens for my 4x5. Can I just screw another lens into that shutter?
A: Sort of. Another lens may physically fit into your shutter, but you will run into multiple problems. 1- If the other lens is not a 6.8, then the aperture scale will be off, so you would also need to swap out the aperture scale. 2- If you are going for a longer lens, then a Copal 0 (which is what you might have now?) is going to be too small to support the large lens. A Copal 1 shutter is needed for larger lenses.
Also worth noting, we don't sell the lens elements without a shutter- it all comes together, sometimes with and sometimes without a lens board (although we do sell some shutters by themselves).
Q: Can I mount any lens to my current lens board?
A: No, the lens mount size needs to match the lens board hole or it won't fit properly. So for example, a “42 mount” needs a “42 hole”.
Q: Are the light meters in our digital cameras accurate enough to use for light meter readings in large format?
A: Yes. You can either do an average reading, or set your camera on spot meter mode for more detailed readings. As long as the ISO is set in camera to that of the film you're using, it should be fine. You will want to set your view camera up where you want to take the shot, and then meter in the areas that will be captured. The best way to ensure that you don't loose detail in your highlights and shadows is to measure the scene in different areas with the spot meter. It's important to note that digital is more forgiving with exposure than film is, so metering accurately is very important so you don't loose any detail.
Q: What is the shooting work-flow like?
A: It's a much slower process then digital or 35mm. The basics are: Previsualization and planning come first. Be sure to load your film holders in complete darkness before you head out to shoot, or have a way to do so out in the field. Then set up your camera, meter, focus (Check under a dark cloth with a loupe. The shutter must be open to do this), close the shutter and insert your film holder, pull the dark slide, take your shot, and then put the dark slide back in the holder (often turned around so that you know that you shot that piece of film).
Interested in more Large Format information for beginners? Start with an Introduction to Large Format Cameras.
If you're interested in wood LF cameras, follow up with Identifying Wood Types for Large Format Cameras.
Looking to purchase LF cameras and accessories? Find the entire category HERE on keh.com.