Large Format Photography – Beginner’s Guide!
Despite loving small 35mm Leica film cameras, I also enjoy large format photography. In this beginner’s guide I cover my three large format cameras that I purchased between 2014 and 2018. Intrepid 4×5, Sinar F2 and Pacemaker Speed Graphic. See my kit list below for getting started with large format photography and you can see a visual of the cameras and how they work on the YouTube video embedded below.
Getting Started: Large Format Photography Kit List
Large Format Camera
The most popular large format camera size is probably 4×5 followed by 8×10. I bought all 4×5 size as it is easier to process the film afterwards and you don’t need a dark room. Popular 4×5 cameras include those made by Intrepid, Sinar, Toyo, Linhof, Wista and Horseman (I probably missed a few others).
4×5 Large Format Lens
Unlike many 35mm film cameras and medium format film cameras, large format cameras usually don’t come with a lens. Once you have a camera the next thing you need is the lens. You need to make sure the lens will fit your camera. The easiest approach is to buy a lens on a lens board designed for your camera dimensions but if not you can buy a lens and a seperate lens board and take that route. (I did it both ways with my lenses).
Large Format lenses all sound like telephotos lenses as the numbers are bigger but this is due to the larger film format. For example, a 4×5 150mm lens equates to a normal or 50mm lens in 35mm film terms. I then use 75mm or 90mm as my wider lens and 240mm as a longer lens. See the price of 4×5 camera lenses on eBay (UK) (US).
More 4×5 Photography Essential Kit
Once you have your 4×5 camera and lens, before you can start you will also need the following –
4×5 Film Holders – You need at least 1 film holder (which gives to 2 photos) but I think the ideal is 3 or 6 holders. Three will give you 6 shots and that is enough to fill the 4×5 MOD 54 insert when you come to develop your film (see below).
Tripod – I use heavy duty and carbon fibre tripods but I find strong heavy duty ones made of aluminium are better for 4×5 film photography. Manfrotto are great and I use a Vanguard too for low level work. Search Amazon (UK) (US)
Tripod Head – It’s personal preference but most people use ball heads or 3-way heads on their tripods. These often come with the tripod legs. Tripod heads with spirit levels are useful to check your horizon is level!
Cable Release – These screw into the lens so that you can fire the shutter without touching the camera.
Dark Cloth – This will help you see to critically focus, especially in bright conditions. To begin with you can just try using a heavy coat as I did or perhaps a blanket to block the light.
4×5 Film – You will of course need some film! Black and white film is much more affordable thn colour and easy to develop. I use 4×5 Fomapan 100 sheet film.
Film Developing for 4×5 Photography
Paterson Developing Tank – The easiest way to develop your film at home and it means you don’t need a dark room. You need a 3 reel developing tank for 4×5 photography and then your need the MOD 54 insert – See Amazon (UK) (US)
I think that is everything! If I forgot something please let me know!
Large Format Photography YouTube Videos
I plan to do more large format photography YouTube videos soon as this is a topic less covered by most photographers.
Large Format Photography Workshops
If you buy your first large format camera but then struggle to get started we can cover large format photography during my photography workshops. I often teach 35mm photography as that is the most popular format (or digital), but i’m happy to bring a large format camera to the workshop instead of a Leica if that is your preference!
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