Large Format - Gotta love it!

I recently have been doing more developing in the darkroom. I am still a newbie at it, but it is more satisfying than downloading files. Even more recently, I dusted of my Crown Graphic. This type of camera, and its cousin, the more famous Speed Graphic, are pieces art. Speed graphic is a misnomer - nothing here is fast. The camera takes pictures on sheet film, and focusing is slow, although one can use scale focusing, a rangefinder or the ground glass in the back. The Crown graphic has a shutter in the lens, the Speed also adds a focal plane shutter. These cameras, not Leicas or the like, were the standard issue of press photographers until the 1960’s. They are currently undergoing little revival, e.g. in 2004 David Burnett shot the Kerry campaign with a Speed. My camera uses a 152 mm “normal” lens (the equivalent of a ~ 45mm focal length on a 35mm camera). The lens is interchangeable, but everything (focusing scale, rangefinder) is calibrated to it so I won’t bother.

I am just starting out. My first attempt at WeeGee like pictures at a party failed - somewhat. I miscalculated the flash and the focus was off on half the shots (I since then have adjusted the rangefinder). However, when it works, results are priceless:


TMAX 400, f/16 1/100 with Metz CL-4 flash, handheld, developed in X-Tol

The film this camera uses is 4x5 inches, which is ~ 10.2 by 12.7 cm, or 12,900 square mm - 15 times larger than a standard 35mm film. This means not only incredible detail (see below, whole picture and dtail), but also that the most I can develop at one time are 6 sheets, costing each half the price of a roll of 35mm film. Certainly, I won’t come back from an event with 400 shots!



Too Early for an Eulogy

Is film dead? If you go to online forums like photo.net, you get very different, and passionate opinions. The digital revolution has been amazing, and new cameras like the Nikon D3X or Canon 5D Mark II, even the D700 and the like, beat 35mm film by far - not only in resolution but also in light sensitivity. There are still some that will dispute that, but at least in my hands that is true. Furthermore, they approach the dynamic range of black and white film. But I sure hope film stick around. For one, unless you have $10,000 to $50,000 to spend on a digital medium format camera, taking 120 roll film and scanning it will still give you quality unsurpassed by digital any SLRs. You can get a professional medium format camera and a few lenses for $500, and for the remaining $9,500 you do not spend on a modest Mamiya 654ZD with a 22 MPix back, you can get and develop 1300 rolls of film, that is ~ 15,000 pictures, which a roll of film every day for the next 4 years. If you were to compare it to the $39,995 Hasselblad H3D, you probably could not shoot enough film in your lifetime.... Sure, the Digitals will get cheaper. But then there is Large Format. A 4x5 negative, scanned at 4800 dpi (that is what mot modern flatbed scanners are capable of) would give you a 460 (fourhundredandsixty) MPix image that you can print at high quailty over 6 by 7 feet! Good luck trying to prcess it on your home computer though...