Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Large Format

When I was in high school learning Photography I had the chance to use a 4x5 View Camera. I loved it but it wasn't available to me as much as I would have liked. I love the idea of a view camera with the nostalgia and yes even the 'film'.

What would a 4x5 Camera offer nowadays. Well, apart from the nostalgia, view cameras still have a lot to offer. There is of course the Tilt & Shift features these cameras are noted for that make them specially suited to Landscape and more notably Architectural Photography. But, the big reason is still the whole issue of quality, view cameras have always offered better quality based simply on the shear size of the negative. But how does this compare to modern day digital cameras.

A new Canon 5D Mk II offers 21 mega pixels. What would a 4x5 camera offer. Simple basic Drum Scans of 4x5 negatives can be done at 2,000 or 4,000 dpi. High end scans of between 8,000 and 11,000 dpi are available. These levels of resolution are not available on typical "Flatbed" scanners but they usually go to 4,800 dpi optical resolution.

At 4,800 dpi a 4x5 inch negative would yield a 460,800,000 pixel image or rather a 460 megapixel image. At a full 11,000 dpi drum scan we would have a 2,420 mega pixel image, or rather a 2.4 terapixel image. Wow!

Recent advancements in mid sized digital camera sensors have already brought us a 50 megapixel camera in the way of the Hasselblad H3DII-50 camera and 56 megapixels in the Leaf AFi-II-10 camera. Both companies have already announced higher resolution cameras up to 90 megapixels that should be available by the Fall of this year and RED has announced a 100+ megapixel camera that should be out in late 2010. Hasselblad's 60 megapixel should be out any day now.

Now arguments can be made that the 'digital' images are cleaner than the scanned negatives and such but all in all they still do not compare. Another area they do not compare in the the cost. The 50 MP Hasselblad sells for about $27,000 U.S. street price without a lens. The Leaf sells for more and the RED camera system with 100 MP back should run about $50,000 U.S.

On the other hand I just purchased a magnificent looking Zone VI 4x5 View camera in natural Black Walnut wood. OK, it is a used camera as it is no longer manufactured but still a mint condition camera without a lens for about $650 U.S. If you are not so picky about the looks of your view camera you can pick up a nice used Toyo or Horseman for about $250 U.S.

Zone VI Black Walnut 4x4 View Camera

I just purchased a great lens also in mint condition for about $540 U.S. I splurged here and bought a very high quality lens in the 135mm f/5.6 Apo-Sironar-S with a Copal #O Shutter. Some nice lenses are available for about $350 U.S.

I also bought a few lens mounting boards and 4x5 Sheet film trays for another $110 U.S. and recently purchased a great used Wood Zone VI Tripod for $40 Canadian which is a spectacular deal as they sell on eBay for about $250 U.S.

All in all I have set myself up with a nice large format camera for a total of approximately $1340 U.S. A nice used system could go for about $600 or $700 U.S. with everything you need.

Now before you go out and buy yourself a view camera, make sure you read my warnings in my next blog!

© 2009 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.21 - April 2009)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux