Beginning 4X5 Large Format Field Camera Journey
While I am focusing (pun intended) on a journey with a 4X5 field camera at the moment, my hopes are that along the way you find some valuable information regardless of the type of camera you are using. Remember cameras are tools to create photographs, and no one camera does everything. We often need multiple tools to do many tasks. A good example is needing a flat head screw driver, a hex screwdriver, and a Phillips head screw driver. Different screws need different types of screw drivers, and the same is true with photography. The cameras that are good with fast action aren’t necessarily the same as a camera with file sizes big enough to print at billboard size.
Before jumping in and learning how to take images with the 4X5 field camera an understanding of the different parts of the camera is important. There are a lot of buttons, knobs, and stuff on a field camera, but there are 5 key features that I am going to share below that I feel are essential to know. It is important to note that a 4X5 field camera is considered a large format camera. There is a lot of information around the internet on camera formats and what that means so I won’t go into too much detail on it here.
The Lens And Lens Board
The lens board holds the lens in the camera for a lack of better way of saying it. With a camera like the 4X5 the lens is manual. it does not use a battery or anything of the sort to make it work. The lens has quite a few moving parts, and I will go into more detail on that in a later post. The lens will take a whole post by itself.
The bellows is light tight, meaning it does not allow light through it which would contaminate the film during exposure. The bellows are needed so the lens can be moved for focusing and putting the focus on a particular plane. More detail to come on this in future posts, but for now know that the bellows should not leak light. If you are thinking of purchasing a large format camera make sure to check that there are no light leaks.
The Ground Glass
The ground glass is where you look while you are composing and focusing before you actually take the shot. This is very interesting since the view will be upside down and move left to right in the opposite direction. That is opposite of the way you would expect it to be. Some of these have grids to aid with composition, and some do not because some find the grids distracting. It is very important that the ground glass is bright and easy to see through so focusing is possible. More to come on these topics especially when we get to composition.
The Tripod Mount
The tripod mount is very important for a 4X5 field camera. It is important for any type of large format film camera. A 4X5 film camera is heavy, therefore it takes heavy duty tripod set up to hold the camera steady. A lot of work goes into composing and focusing a shot well. Film is expensive, and it is important to take your time during this process and make sure the camera isn’t moving during an exposure. This is where a good steady tripod comes into the mix. Tripods and their importance is for a future post. Remember when looking at the tripod mount of a large format camera, you know what the thread size is. Unlike modern digital cameras, these older cameras didn’t always have a standard thread size. Therefore, you might need an adapter for your tripod setup.
The Film Holder
The film holder is not technically part of the 4X5 camera. Film holders are purchased separately from the 4X5 camera. It is important to know first thing that the more of them you have the less you need to change out film while out shooting. Changing the film outside of a blacked out room requires light tight bags and lots of patience. In a future post i will cover exactly how to load the film and more details on how to use them with the camera.
Up next is the difference between a 4X5 Field Camera vs. a 4X5 View Camera.
This is a lot of information for now and a great jumping off point. Don’t forget to look at the images on my site in the galleries starting at: https://mjvphoto.com/the-art/. Hopefully you find some of them inspirational for your own photography adventures, or maybe you find an image you want to call your own.
While I share this journey, I will attempt to keep explanations simple and easy for everyone to understand. Many of the questions I receive from friends are due to confusing information read on the internet. That said, if anyone has a question about something written here, please leave me a comment with the question. Maybe that will turn into a whole different post or maybe it will be a quick answer that clears it up.
Up next is learning how to load film into the film holder.