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).
Unlike most nice film cameras, large format cameras can still be found at affordable prices. See the current price of a 4×5 camera on eBay (UK) (US).
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 –
4×5Film 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.
Magnifying Loop – I use a plastic 8x loop – See options on Amazon (UK) (US)
Spot Light Meter – I use a Sekonic L-758 light meter for large format photography. The current version is the Sekonic L-858 – See Amazon (UK) (US)
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
Film Changing Bag – Also known as darkroom bag. These are very useful for daylight film loading–See Amazon(UK)(US)
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)
4×5 MOD 54 insert – Amazing piece of kit. Fits inside a Paterson tank and lets you develop 6 sheets of 4×5 film without a darkroom –See Amazon(UK)(US)
B&W film developer – I use Kodak Xtol developer – See Amazon(UK) D-76 (US)
Colour film developer – I use Tetenal Colortec C-41 kit – See Amazon(UK)(US)
Film Scanner – I use an Epson Perfection v800 flatbed scanner for 4×5 film negatives (+ 35mm and 120 film) – 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.
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!
Intrepid 4×5 Camera Review (Large Format Film Camera)
Detailed Intrepid 4×5 camera review (large format film camera). Article covers 4×5 camera basics, common mistakes to avoid with 4×5 cameras, 4×5 camera checklist, how to load 4×5 film, 6×7, 6×9, 6×12 roll film backs, 4×5 portraits & more photos shot with the Intrepid.
Large format 4×5 Cameras
4×5 Photography Intro – My existing 4×5 film cameras
Although I haven’t used them enough I’ve owned a couple of 4×5 large format film cameras for a little while now. My first 4×5 camera was a modified 1940s Pacemaker Speedgraphic which I imported from the US. It is a custom build Speedgraphic with a Kodak Aero Ektar 178mm f2.5 lens attached and revolving cambo film back. My next large format film camera purchase was a 1980s Sinar F2 monorail camera. I bought the F2 as the Speedgraphic very has limited lens movements options (tilt and rise etc). Both of these 4×5 cameras are lovely but neither are very mobile/ portable. These cameras have rarely left the studio (a few occasions only) and neither have left the UK for overseas photoshoots.
I stumbled across some 4×5 film camera videos on YouTube last year when researching landscape photography ahead of my first cycling-photography trip to Fuertventura. Although I’m not a landscape photographer I am a big fan of some of the large format film photographer on YouTube. My favourites that come to mind are Nick Carver (brilliant and funny/ yet still techinical) and Ben Horne (Alan Brock is also a good guy).
Ben Horne landscape photographer
Ben shoots with 4×5 film cameras and more often 8×10 film cameras for his landscape photography. I appreciate more the film aspect of Ben’s work than the landscapes themselves but some of his images are truly stunning. (Why? I’m not a landscape photographer). On one of Ben’s videos he reviews a film camera called an Intrepid 4×5 camera (Mk2)(see the end of this review and I will link to Ben’s video).
A new 4×5 film camera!?
After watching Ben’s Intrepid camera video YouTube lead me to another bunch of Intrepid camera videos (as it always does!). Before I knew it I was on the official Intrepid Camera Co website. It turned out that the Intrepid Camera Co is a small startup company (at the time of buying my Intrepid camera) based in Brighton, UK and they specialize in making a very affordable very lightweight wooden 4×5 (*and now 8×10 also) folding film cameras. It sounded just what I “needed” and it was an exciting unplanned discovery for me.
Intrepid 4×5 Camera cost
The cost of the Intrepid 4×5 camera Mk3 (latest version – Dec 2018)(mine is the previous Mk2 version) new is less than the cost of most 4×5 camera lenses. The Intrepid camera is much more affordable than the more well known 4×5 camera brands such as the likes of Ebony, Toyo, Arca Swiss, Chamonix, Shen Hao and others.
You will also need a lens, film holders, tripod..
*Just as a note. The Intrepid 4×5 camera doesn’t come with a lens so that will be an additional cost. You will also need 4×5 film holders or a roll film back, a tripod and a few other essentials for 4×5 photography. Those “optional” (but most people have) extras include a magnifying loop, dark cloth and shutter release cable.
The latest Intrepid 4×5 camera (Mk3) spec can be reviewed (and purchased!) on the official Intrepid Camera Co website – £250. Once you start to research 4×5 camera lenses you will realise this is a bargain price for a brand new 4×5 camera! (I’m not being paid to say this it’s just fact!)
Intrepid 4×5 Mk3 vs Mk2
Since I bought my Intrepid 4×5 camera which was the Mk2 version the guys at Intrepid have now brought out the latest Intrepid 4×5 Mk3. The Intrepid 4×5 Mk3 is a more refined version of the Mk2. One of the key improvements that may tempt me to upgrade are the the tilt and swing movements on the back of the camera. On the Mk2 version the back of the camera can be tilted forward slightly but nothing else. The new Intrepid Mk3 is more similar to my Sinar F2 camera that allows for a lot of movement both at the front and the back of the camera. There is a sturdier base plate on the Mk3 but i’ve had no issues with my Mk2. The Mk3 has new improved double dials on the front of camera and a new improved low friction slider (I read). I have no complaints with the Mk2 but it is great to see that Intrepid continue to push forward striving for near perfection at a budget price.
Waiting patiently – Intrepid camera lead time
After placing my 4×5 camera order on the Intrepid camera Co website I then had to wait patiently wait for six week lead time to pass. (*Due to high demand I believe it is a now 6-8 weeks lead time). As soon as the package arrived I could tell the Intrepid 4×5 camera was going to be lightweight and compact. The box was not so big and very light considering there was a 4×5 camera inside!
Intrepid 4×5 camera – Arrival and first thoughts
Once my Intrepid 4×5 camera was unwrapped I was able to inspect it more closely. Being a Leica photographer and user of many different film camera brands I tend to know what I like and don’t like. I was really impressed by the simple Intrepid 4×5 (Mk2*) design, the light weight wooden construction and compact form when folded down. If you own other 4×5 cameras I think you really appreciate these portability aspects of the Intrepid. The small lightweight form of the Intrepid was the only reason to buy the camera for me as I already had my two other 4×5 cameras. Once I fitted a quick release tripod mount the Intrepid 4×5 was good to go and I shot a little teaser video for my Instagram feed. (If you’ve not seen it already it can be found in my Instagram saved “4×5” stories (@MrLeicaCom).
4×5 Intrepid lens boards
When I ordered the Intrepid camera I also purchased two Intrepid camera C1 lens boards. The 4×5 Intrepid lens boards are black anodized aluminium and come in 3 sizes to fit most lenses. C0, C1, C2. (The C# sizing relates to the size of the hole in the lens board. Larger lenses need a larger diameter hole in the lens board with C0 being the smallest). The Intrepid camera and lens board measure smaller than my existing Sinar F2 lens boards . (The Sinar F2 is a larger camera at the front end). I ordered two new Intrepid lens boards to mount my existing Sinar F2 4×5 lenses. As soon as the Intrepid arrived I transferred the Schneider Symmar-S 180mm f5.6 lens and Rodenstock Grandagon 90mm f5.6 lens from the larger Sinar F2 lens boards to the new smaller Intrepid lens boards. Now I was ready to shoot!
Intrepid camera 4×5 – main lens
The Schneider Symmar-S 180mm lens from a Sinar F2 monorail camera will be my go to lens for the Intrepid. It is small enough to travel light(ish) and has all the sensible/ standard controls like shutter, aperture and pc sync port (for flash). (This statement lasted a few weeks maximum! I will share a follow up post with the different lenses I now use on the Intrepid 4×5!)
More Intrepid 4×5 lens boards!
Soon after getting the 4×5 Intrepid camera I was beginning to plan my next overseas photography adventure. The plan was to take the 4×5 Intrepid camera as I had never owned a portable 4×5 film camera. I used this plan as an excuse to buy more 4×5 camera gear and in particular find a smaller lighter lens. (See follow up 4×5 lens post).
Once the new 4×5 lens arrived I noticed it didn’t fit the Intrepid C1 lens boards I had purchased. Even after owning two 4×5 cameras already I still had a lot to learn! The new lens was a smaller design and required a smaller diameter hole in the lens board. Smaller than my C1 size Intrepid boards. I spoke to the lovely guys at Intrepid and ordered some smaller diameter hole C0 Intrepid lens boards for the new lens.
4×5 Intrepid camera – Quick setup
The Intrepid 4×5 camera sets up very quickly from a folded position (such as when packed away in a backpack for transportation). Once the 4×5 lens is clipped into place on the front of the camera you will be able to start focusing and composing your shot. I use the Intrepid camera with standard 4×5 film backs (slotted between the camera back and the ground glass) and 120 roll film backs. The Horseman 6×7 back utilizes the Intrepid graflok back and clips into place once the ground glass has been removed. The Cambo 6×9 roll film back is slimline design so fits onto the Intrepid camera the same as a 4×5 sheet film holder. The latter means the ground glass can stay in place when the film is inserted and is slightly faster to use for me.
Intrepid 4×5 camera – Focusing / Ease of use
After using other 4×5 cameras previously I found focusing the Intrepid 4×5 camera via the ground glass very easy. Straight from the get go and usually without a dark cloth over my head I can get a subject into focus. With a portrait I can see every eye lash when working up close with a model which is much better than many 35mm and medium format cameras I use. To begin with I just focus by eye, viewing the ground glass at a slight distance. Once the focus is almost there I then use a 8x magnifying loop pressed against the ground glass. If there is no glare on the ground glass I can then fine tune the critical focusing without a dark cloth. Much of my 4×5 photography so far has been with models (and indoors) as that is what I photograph the most.
4×5 Intrepid camera – Blurry Photos
Talking from experience here are some of the reasons why I didn’t get sharp in focus photos using the Intrepid 4×5 camera
5 reasons for blurry Intrepid camera photos
Subject moves after focusing and before taking the photo (ie. models)
Camera moves after focusing – often when inserting film
Ground glass is not flat – ensure glass in flush to back of camera before focusing (my most common loss of images until I realised)
Motion blur – on a windy day a lightweight tripod can move if using slow shutter speeds
Tripod can move when forcefully inserting a roll film back behind the ground glass.
5 top tips to maximise the chance of sharp 4×5 photos
Use a large heavyweight sturdy tripod and ideally not fully extended
Lock down all the tripod dials and knobs once the photo is composed and in focus
Lock down all the camera dials and knobs (front and back) before taking a photo
Use a cable release to release the shutter/ take the photo to avoid touching the camera and introducing possible camera shake
Always double check the ground glass is flat before your begin to compose and focus an image (The elastic strings and metal clips can both get jammed between the glass and the back of the camera).
4×5 Intrepid camera – Common Mistakes
Again speaking from experience I think there are a few common mistake to try to avoid if you are new to large format photography. In addition to the how to avoid blurry images above my most frequent oversights have been –
Large format photography – Check list!
Is film loaded in the 4×5 film holder!? (Mark the film holders once they have film loaded)
Avoid double exposure images (Use the black/ white sided dark slide indicator to indicate if film is exposed or not (I use white side as unexposed / black side as exposed)
Close the shutter before removing the dark slide! (If you don’t the film will be blank (completely overexposed) from all the light hitting the film before you press the shutter to take the photo
Shutter doesn’t fire correctly (If you are using older 4×5 lenses it is worth test firing the lens before taking the actual photo)
Flash doesn’t fire (dry fire the lens before taking the photo to ensure the flash fires as desired)(flash is triggered from the lens pc sync port via a cable)(not an issue for most 4×5 photographers until you use flash like me!)(for portraits)
Testing the Intrepid 4×5 Camera
On the night the camera arrived I stayed up very late playing with my new “toy”. I opened my last pack of discontinued Fuji FP100C instant film to make a test shot. I used my Hasselblad camera as the first test subject but seem to have misplaced the resulting photo! (I used a 4×5 Polaroid film back which I use on the Speedgraphic and Sinar F2 cameras. The Intrepid 4×5 camera has a graflock back so accepts both Polaroid backs and roll film backs. Here is a later Intrepid 4×5 test photo using Fuji FP100C film –
4×5 Sheet Film
When I bought the Intrepid I already owned three 4×5 sheet film holders – Fidelity Elite and Fidelity Delux versions. Each holder is double sided so I can load six sheets of 4×5 film at a time for any one shoot without reloading. As you will see below that wasn’t enough for a good model photoshoot so I ordered another three Fidelity film backs so I can now load up to 12 sheets of film for a single shoot. My 4×5 film of choice based on the best value with pleasing results is black and white Fomapan 100 4×5 sheet film which I buy in boxes of 50 sheets.
See Fomapan film current prices on Amazon – UK / US
Large format film model photography
As my photography “matures” I find i’m getting more and more selective when it comes to shooting models. Multiple that ten-fold and that is how picky I am using medium format or in this case large format film with a model. If I can’t see myself using the final image in my portfolio (if it’s a keeper) then I won’t shoot film. 35mm is the middle ground between ‘disposable digital’ and medium format film for me. In addition to looking for nice models I also need a model that is suitable for film. Some models look lovely but if you ask them to hold a pose they tend to ignore you and keep moving in their own little world. Medium format film ideally needs a model to pause briefly while I take the shot, especially if using a wide aperture to blur the background.
Large format photography requires a model to keep still for perhaps 20 seconds while I focus the image on the ground glass on the back of the camera, then load film, open the dark slide and take the shot. Large format photography is certainly not for every model. Currently I shoot a lot less in the UK than I used to. Instead try to organise overseas models shoots every few months and shoot up to 5-6 girls a day while i’m there. (*Poland trip Dec18 to follow!)
For 4×5 portraits I try to work as fast as I can so not to keep the model waiting. The quicker I can focus and take the shot the better for me and the less chance the model will have moved.
6×7 Horseman 120 roll film back for 4×5
Soon after getting the Intrepid camera I managed to organise a shoot with Aneta. At the time I only had the three 4×5 film holders (giving 6 shots) so also packed my 4×5 Horseman roll film back. The Horseman 4×5 back lets me use standard 120 roll film to shoot 6×7 images on a 4×5 camera. It was the first time I had used the roll film back on the Intrepid so it doubled as a test run. I penciled the 6×7 crop markings on the 4×5 ground glass to help me compose the photos. Here are a few samples using the 4×5 roll film back on the Intrepid camera, loaded with 120 Fomapan 100 film.
6×7 Film back portraits
Cambo 6×9 roll film back for Intrepid
After starting out with the Horseman 6×7 roll film back I wanted something wider so I looked online for potential options. I found the Cambo 6×9 roll film back. The design is slightly different to the Horseman 6×7 film back as it can be inserted between the camera back and the ground glass like a regular 4×5 film holder. (The 6×7 Horseman roll film back requires the Intrepid ground glass to be removed to attach it). I’m loving the process of focusing a 4×5 camera but equally I enjoy the ease of shooting 120 roll film. Colour 4×5 sheet film is very expensive so shooting 120 film opens the doors to lots of exciting film stocks at more affordable prices!
6×9 Film Portraits
Some 6×9 film portraits shot in Poland recently –
4×5 Intrepid Portraits
As a comparison here are some 4×5 sheet film photos with Aneta using 4×5 Fomapan 100 when I first got the camera –
Intrepid 4×5 Camera First Thoughts – Summary
The Intrepid 4×5 camera very easy to setup from folded and once setup it is easy to focus. When photographing models I am focusing on the closest eye on the ground glass using a magnifying loop and I found it very easy to see each eye lash. The camera is very portable for a large format camera so I want to use it on location as much as possible going forward. It is early days but I’d like to think you will see much more 4×5 photography from me in 2019.
Below is a preview of my first 4×5 camera photo walk and getting to try the Intrepid camera on location for landscape photography.
Intrepid Camera Experience – Conclusion so far
As a guy who is already obsessed with photography and experimenting with lots of different analogue film cameras, I was quite surprised at how much I have taken to the 4×5 Intrepid camera. It has become my new favourite camera that I want to learn to master for almost every kind of photoshoot / genre of photography. I’ve even started photographing the occasional building which was unheard of for me before. I’ve done 4×5 macro, 4×5 still life, 4×5 portraits (in the studio and on location), and my wish list of other photo styles to try with the 4×5 Intrepid is equally as long again.
New 6×12 film back!
Quick preview shot of me trying out my new 6×12 roll film back!