I had the opportunity to shoot recently with a 4×5 large format view camera. Fellow Princeton photographer Chiara was graciously willing to be the model for a couple of sessions at the Arts Council of Princeton.
The camera offers full control over the lens plane and the film plane, allowing some great combinations of tilt, shift, swing, and rise. With a regular single lens reflex camera, this would require special tilt/shift lenses, and even with those lenses, there wouldn’t be as much control. The main benefit of large format film photography is the incredible amount of detail captured in the negative.
Here’s a comparison of negative sizes:
The images are smaller than real life, but they are to scale.
35mm is the standard negative size for film SLR cameras; only professional digital SLR cameras create digital photographs that size. The middle negatives, 645, 6×6, and 6×7 are medium format. Below these medium format sizes in the image above is the 4 inches by 5 inches negative, one type of large format negative and the size I used recently with Chiara.
To shoot large format, each negative is on a separate sheet, not a roll of film. Each sheet must be loaded into film holders, and between each exposure, the exposed negative needs to be secured and the next needs to be arranged. Shooting large format film photography requires a lot of patience, especially on the part of any models involved.
Chiara was thankfully patient with me as I muddled my way through the equipment, making several mistakes during our two sessions. I’m happy with the results, even the accidental double exposure. (Did I say accidental? I meant intentional.)
The room we used had several large windows allowing natural sunlight to fill the space.
In a risky move, I added an aggressive tilt to the shots I lined up with Chiara using the 4×5 view camera. The intent was to throw almost all of the image out of focus except for her face; the result wasn’t quite perfect, but I’m still very happy with how everything turned out.
After shooting ten negatives of Ilford Delta 100 with the large format camera, I switched to my Mamiya RZ67 Professional II to shoot one roll (ten exposures) of medium format film, 6×7 format, Ilford Delta 400. Because the Mamiya is somewhat hand-holdable and uses roll film, it takes much less time to prepare the equipment between each shot. The medium format negative is still much larger than a standard 35mm negative, so although the detail doesn’t quite reach the depth of large format, it’s still much better than 35mm.
Scanning the negatives at 1200 dpi doesn’t do the negatives much justice. I printed one of the 4×5 negatives in the darkroom and it looks fantastic, much better than the scans.
Check out Chiara’s own photography, too.