Large Format Questions

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    So, in my continuing pursuit of low-budget alternatives, I’ve been thinking quite a while about Tilt/Shift. Quite frankly, there’s no easy/cheap way to go about it until I get an aluminum-capable CNC mill (once I do, though, I have the details already worked out for an f-mount T/S adapter that will let you use any mamiya RZ67 lens as a T/S).

    Then I realized that when working with a cheap alternative to $1200+ lenses, cheap is really a relative term. So I started looking at bellows cameras and options that way. I decided on 4×5 large format so that I could also expand outward from there.

    I picked up a 60’s-era Kodak Master View (predecessor to the Calumet Cambo, rail system) 4×5 for $50. My intentions for the short term is to make two lens boards, one with a male Nikon F mount, that when combined with an extension tube, will mount up to my dslr. The other, holding the LF lens of choice to play with the schemfluge (sp -2) principal to hearts content.

    Initially I’m leaning towards a cheap 4×5 lens with copal shutter (available on the bay $15-40 depending on focal length). This is because the shutter is cheap, already attached to the lens, and will suffice as my first shutter when I graduate to film with it.

    So, question number one: Does anyone have any advice or experience with dSLR-backing a LF camera?

    Eventually (as I budget for things / Kestrana allows), I’m going to get a couple of backs (other than the ground glass it comes with). I’m leaning towards a roll-film back first, in either 6×9 or 70mm square, and eventually an actual 4×5 sheetfilm back with quick-change sleeves. Maybe a polaroid back, but maybe not.

    Then come the lenses and higher quality shutters. Nothing rediculous for a couple years, but enough to have options to play with.

    Herein question the second: Does anyone have any large format experience or advice at all? I’m not above used equipment, or even engineer-rigging things to work beyond their intended abilities so any kind of tips or tricks would be appreciated.

    What I’ve gotten so far from the intertubes (may or may not be true):
    -Any lens made after 1960 in good shape will still outperform damn near anything on a dslr.
    -shutter speeds on the old mechanicals are guesses at best
    -Ansel Adams believed bracketing was for amateurs and wasted time and film under rapidly changing light conditions
    -solid tripod and remote trigger is a must
    -using a curtain or bag over your ground glass helps with contrast while focusing
    -using a jewlers loupe with the ground glass can help focus even sharper
    -photography is an expensive addicti…… errr….. hobby

    Thanks in advance


    A “linen counter” is probably a cheaper alternative to a loupe. You can just add some black felt to light-tent it.


    I’ve done a little bit of Large Format, but not with a DSLR. It’s a lot of fun in some ways, but a giant PITA in others (unless you’re a big fan of slow and heavy…)

    Mouting a DSLR in a view camera is something people are doing though, you can actually buy dedicated systems to do it e.g. from Sinar (but not cheaply – you’re talking significant $$). They’re probably mostly used for studio product work I imagine.

    LF lenses don’t dramatically outperform 35mm ones in pure resolution terms inch for inch, the advantage you get using LF is mostly coming from the huge film area. I wouldn’t expect to see any significant improvement (and quite possibly the opposite) using vintage LF glass on a DSLR.

    You probably want a lens in the 80-100mm range for tilt-shift work w/ a SLR (wider might even be better, but you’d need to know the minimum workable bellows draw of your camera), so you might actually be better off looking for something like an enlarging lens or one from a medium format system to attach to the front rather than a wide angle 4×5 lens (those tend to be expensive). You don’t need a shutter on the lens if you’re using an SLR, the camera’s one will do a better job anyways.


    I’ve never shot large format but living where I live, I see people working with it quite a bit. The best advice I can give is be prepared to work slowly, have Kestrana there to shoo people out of the way* while you work and invest in a back brace. I watched a guy a week or so ago shooting large format at a parade of all things, he would pick his rig up to move it…it looked painful.

    *Like me who stood there gawking at the guy, trying to get a peak at his rig.


    One of my occasional Gedankenexperimenten is the idea of an 8×10 view camera with a scanner mounted on the film plane. Slow, yes, but interesting, to me, anyway.

    I’ve even thought that one could build a proto-view camera with just a scanner in a cardboard box, suitably modified, with an appropriate lens… No shutter needed, just a variable aperture (and a laptop to drive the scanner).


    i have a crown graphic and a bunch of film holders, roll film backs etc. i haven’t used it in years and might be talked into selling the whole setup.

    re tripod and remote i have both but i’ve hand held it with a lot of success. keep in mind the old photo journalists shot with this rig for years. a head/ground glass cover really helps. never used a jewelers loop and never needed it. ansel adams was probably right, the turn around between exposes is anything but quick. exposure as a function of aperture shutter speed seemed ok and the meter(s) were good too. i shot mostly tri-x professional and some kodak color slides. the slide film was slow slow slow but on a bright day produced really nice results.

    rather that write a novella here if you have questions email in profile.

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