Your top tips for a complete 4x5 virgin.

Camerashy

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I have been using 35mm and medium format cameras for quite a few years developing my own film and making prints. I have an Omega D2 4x5 enlarger that I am in the process of restoring. As a retirement present to myself I have purchased: a Chamonix F1, a 150mm lens, film holders, dark cloth, view camera book, a pack of Shanghi 100 to practice with and a pack of Foma 200. I am reading everything that I can about large format photography online, so how about sharing your top tips with me to help me get started. Any tips on using the F1 would be a bonus.
 

Ian Grant

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I'd recommended getting in touch with an lf user close to where you live. Get them to run through using movements etc, processing sheet filmand so on.

Ian
 

David M

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Ian's advice is good.
My own suggestion would be to get a toe in the water as soon as possible. It seems essential to make a few mistakes to become proficient. Everybody goes through this and everybody comes out the other side.
What I'm suggesting below can be done in any order, just as you please. If anyone goes you mere paleteable advice, take it.
Set up the camera a few times, so you're not intimidated by all that folding and adjusting. You don't need to be quick, just familiar and at ease with the machine.
Play with your lens in the hand, setting the shutter and firing it, adjusting the aperture, remembering which way things turn. Learn what different shutter speeds sound like.
If you don't have any spare negs, sacrifice a couple of the cheaper brand and get used to loading and unloading film in the holders. Some people find this intimidating, but it's a simple matter of familiarity. Do it first in the light, then progress to working out how to do it in darkness. (A small tip from my experience: don't close your eyes in the dark.) You need to evolve a reliable method of your own. Don't try to mix loading and unloading in the same session. Do all of one and then all of the other.
When you load film, be careful to get the actual slides the right way round. Kodak and Ansel Adams say that having the white side outwards will indicate unexposed, virginal film. You are free to change this, but you'll need to check, if you ever work with another photographer.
You may know this already: when you hold up a sheet of film in portrait mode, there will be a notch at the right hand side of the short top edge when the sensitive emulsion side is facing you. Obviously, you will load the film with the emulsion facing outward and it seems best to have the notch on the last side to enter so that you can, if needed, check it without unloading the whole sheet.
Now, whenever you have an idle moment, set up the camera and put the lens in place. Put your lens caps somewhere safe and attach the cable release. Stand in front of almost anything and focus the camera. Focus on different parts of what you see. Don't concern yourself with movements just yet, but just discover what an image in focus looks like. Stand in front of something else and do the same. You can be indoors or outdoors, depending on convenience and the Met Office. Try doing this in both bright and dim light. Learn to set the shutter while it's on the camera. You might choose to move it around on the lensboard to make it easier to see.
When you're used to looking at the ground glass, read up about movements. Don't read too hard or you will be reduced to despair. Save that for later. Learn to spell Shiem...Shimef...Schemf...
The easiest movement to understand is front rise. Park yourself in front of something tall and slide the lensboard upward while watching the ground glass. You will feel a bit clumsy, as we all do. You'll see the unwanted foreground (at the top) disappear and the tops of things come into view. Once you've seen how it works, you'll understand front fall and the cross movements, if your camera has them.
Tilt is a bit harder to visualise. It doesn't increase depth of field, but it does tilt the plane of sharp focus, so you can give the effect of greater depth. Find a scene with things in the foreground and in the background. Standing on a lawn facing your back door will do quite well. Follow the advice in your book until the grass (at the top of your screen) and your back door (at the bottom) are both sharp.
Almost certainly, your books will not have told you that this is an iterative process. You make an estimate of where to focus. You tilt and the focus changes. You adjust it and that means changing the tilt. In turn, the focus alters. And so on. This is normal. It may take some time to get it right, but this is all very good for learning. Every time you make an adjustment, you are learning something. Don't let yourself get frustrated. It's there same for everybody and you will get quicker.
Some scenes are so tricky that even an experienced photographer will have problems. See Joanna Carter's account of photographing down a steep hill, elsewhere on this forum.
Now load some film and go out to conquer the world.

You don't mention developing. I'll not go into that. Not now.
 

Joanna Carter

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Some scenes are so tricky that even an experienced photographer will have problems. See Joanna Carter's account of photographing down a steep hill, elsewhere on this forum.
 

Alan9940

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I think Ian G's suggestion is right on point. Once you've got the basics down of setting up and using the camera, my advice would be to really think about each step of the process as you make a photograph. There are many small details that need to be attended to and even experienced LF photographers will, on occasion, make a mistake and mess up a shot. Ask me how I know that after 40 years of LF photography! ;)
 

David M

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A google search produced this:


and this:

 

Camerashy

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Thank you for all the useful advice I shall endeavour to master the technical aspects of the camera and ultimately enjoy using it.
 

David M

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My father-in-law taught himself to sail by reading books. Then he had to get wet.
Don't spend too long on theory without getting out and defacing some film. Much of the theory becomes clearer after a few adventures with your new best friend.
On the other hand, don't stop reading either.
 

Neil t3

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The only thing I can say is practice and play around with the camera to get used to it and how any movements work .
In most use I use very little movements , typically a bit of forward tilt and maybe a bit of front rise .
I use Fomapan 200 as my main film and Rollei Infrared .
The Fomapan 200 film is best treated as ISO 100 rather than 200 and I develop in Rodinol .

My main tip for shooting is BEFORE removing the dark slide , make sure the shutter is shut !
I have wasted more than one piece of film because I forgot to close it off after focussing before removing it .
No doubt I'll do it again !

Only other thing is make sure your tripod is sturdy enough .
Large format cameras catch the breeze much more than 35mm and 120 .
You can but a tripod hammock that straps to the legs that you can put your gear or rocks on to add weight to aid stability .
 

Alan9940

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Some great advice in this thread! One other thing that I would add--and it may not be something you'd immediately think about--is to practice setting up the camera. I'm talking...take it out of the car, backpack, shoulder bag, etc, setup the tripod, mount the camera, open the camera, attach a lens, rough focus for infinity, etc; basically, everything you would do to take a shot. Do this a 100x or for as many times needed in order for it to become second nature to you. LF is not necessarily an "active sport", but there will be times when speed is necessary, and then you'll be glad you're fluid with the process.

Good luck and have fun!!
 

James T

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One thing that may be rather obvious. Find what works for you.
Just because Ansel Adams or <insert your favourite LF photographer here> did it that way isn't a reason to do it that way if it doesn't work for you. It is however a very good reason to investigate that way of doing things.
 

David M

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James is right, its a very good reason indeed, but it's worth bearing in mind that the techniques we use have been established by trial and error and through actual practice for a very long time. Always worth trying something new; always worth trying something old, too.
In the end (literally) LF is not about perfect technique; it's about making images.
 

Ian Grant

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It's important to learn the limitations of a camera and it's lenses and also the limitations of using LF as a whole.

Now a particular camera may be more limiting in some ways than other choices but have benefits they lack, so for instance a Pacemaker Speed or Crown Graphic has very little in terms of lens movements but are designed for hand held use as well as on a tripod. The Speed Graphic has a fast focal plane shutter up to 1/1000 which is great for shooting with barrel (shutter less) lenses and can allow faster shutter speeds than are possible with some leaf shutter, a Compound 3 has a top speed of 1/100, and a Copal #3 1/125. This is an issue I have using my 360mm f5.5 Tele Xenar or 240mm f5.6 Nikkor W when shooting moving subjects.

Those examples are extremes, I'm often shooting LF abroad where tripods are banned and the rigmarole of getting permission makes it far easier to just shoot LF (5x4) hand held. And one project includes moving subject matter.

You have to realise why we need movements, LF lenses even stopped down to f22 have limited DOF, so we overcome this with swings and tilts which quickly become second nature. Most common used is slight front or rear tilt with a touch of front fall to keep in the optimum part of the image circle. Here it's important to know the limitations of your lenses, While here in the UK I mostly use a 90mm Grandagon N which has a large image circle for wide angle work when abroad I use a 90mm f6.8 Angulon, very small and light but it only just covers 5x4 with little room for movements, but with care it's a great little lens.

I was lucky and found a Graflex Super Graphic at a bargain price, this has enough movements for my work abroad and most of my landscape work here in the UK. I often use movements when working hand held.

You won't have problems with the Chamonix they are nice cameras to use, when I finally retire my Wista 45DX which has had heavy use for 0over 30 years I'll probably buy a Chamonix or Shen Hao.

Ian
 

Alan9940

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Now a particular camera may be more limiting in some ways than other choices but have benefits they lack, so for instance a Pacemaker Speed or Crown Graphic has very little in terms of lens movements but are designed for hand held use as well as on a tripod.
And, many lenses can remain mounted on these Graflex cameras which is very convenient.
 
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