© Ben Anderson
Recently a friend of mine looking to take up large format photography asked my advice on what they should do, I wrote a lengthy e-mail to him which distilled all the knowledge I’d accumulated. Much of this knowledge was either very hard to find or required speaking directly to those in the know, so it may be useful for others…
A Little Theory
Before we can begin to describe what equipment you’ll need it’s probably a good idea to delve into a little theory and background, I hope this doesn’t put you to sleep.
The three most amenable formats are 5×4, 5×7, & 10×8 – for some curious reason the Americans describe the two outer formats with the figures reversed, so 4×5 & 8×10.
5×4 has a focal length equivalence roughly 3x that of 35mm (full frame) cameras, so a 90mm lens on a 5×4 camera has a field of view roughly equivalent to 30mm on a 35mm camera – although 5×4′s aspect ratio is different to that of 35mm so the resultant image is taller. 5×7 is approximately 4.5 times that of 35mm, and 10×8 is around 6 times that of 35mm.
Those are the 3 ‘standard’ formats, I say standard because people do shoot larger and also cut down versions of these for speciality photography, for example 20*24 Ultra Large Format, or 4*10 panoramic. Of the three, 5×4 is BY FAR the most readily available in terms of film and equipment, it is also the easiest to shoot due to its smaller size.
Just about any large format lens can be used on any large format camera, the important thing to remember is that not every lens will be suitable for the format you are shooting. This is typically because the lens only produces an image circle large enough to cover a particular format – the bigger the image circle the more expensive the lens tends to be. The wider that a lens is, the smaller its image circle usually is.
Another benefit of large format photography which relies on the size of the image circle is the ability to employ movements. Of which there are, Rise/Fall, Shift, Tilt, & Swing:
Of course this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of what the movements can be used to achieve but it does give us some ideas. Naturally, the movements can all be used at the same time to achieve complex results.
What You’ll Need
Lenses, Shutters, Lens Boards, Focusing Cloth, Film Holders, Film, Changing Bag, Tripod, Bags, Light Meter
Loupe, Pack Film, Convertibles, Developing Tank, A Lab
Shooting large format equipment is costly, time consuming, space wasting, and challenging, but in my opinion the benefits in terms of depth of field and movements far outweigh all of these negatives. Hopefully this less than comprehensive introduction may have helped to clarify some of the more mystical aspects of the pursuit for you.
My thanks go out to the Large Format Photography Forum which has been an invaluable resource