A return to view cameras .. an unpopular opinion and .. a 120 field camera and .... GAS (Part 1)
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
During #filmjune, I was forced to think about a few things that had been simmering away in the back of my mind for a while. Eventually a few questions came up that made me think about what works for me and what doesn't.
I had earlier in the year decided to make a concerted effort to use my large format view cameras more and examined why I had decided to do this.
This image was made about 15 minutes walk from my home and in a place where I thought I had exhausted all opportunities. One evening I had shot it on my mobile and played with it a bit and liked the black and white version although the original mobile image was a lot brighter and had more contrast than this one. I went back on a soft evening with drizzle falling and a stillness and silence that I loved. It took a long time to get to this ! Focus was a challenge and I wanted to get the best from my 210mm lens so wanted to shoot at F22. I laid the focus across the trunk in the foreground and the movements to do this brought some of the background into soft focus and for me gave me the mood that I felt. Soft quiet solitude and the sound of distant crows.
A Return to 4 x 5
I took my first tentative steps into Large Format photography around the turn of the century and loved it. I went for quite a few years only using a Horseman 45FA (nicknamed "Brian Cooper") and 4 lenses that became very familiar to me, those being a 90/150/210 and 300 mm set (so in this format from gentle wide to gentle long). I sometimes wish I could go wider and sometimes wish I could go longer, but you learn to "let go" of the images the system isn't capable of making.
After a foray into digital for a while and a recent attack of bad GAS where I have accumulated a number of 35mm and 120 cameras which I have had great fun using and continued to learn an amazing amount about the art and scientific process which is film photography. (I like to think that in reality I have saved for future generations, a plethora of working film camera equipment that will keep alive the traditions and processes for a thousand years or more.)
My nine year old son asked me only this week if he could have my cameras "upon my death", to which with great pride and excitement I agreed and started drawing up the paperwork. I offered him one or two now if he wanted to start getting to grips with them and asked him "what sort of things will you do with them ?" (I was thinking a couple of 35mm manual cameras to start with). "Probably put them on e-bay" came the reply "How much do you think I will get?"......Oh!
This leads to the revelation of the photographer's greatest fear. That in the event of our demise our precious collection of cameras will be sold-on for what we "said" we paid for them......
I paid a sum total of about £90 ("said") for these over the years .......er herm ( L-R: The Lady in Red (Now officially rehomed) , The Beast of Dartmoor and Brian Cooper)
I suppose where I am going with this really is the rationale as to why I have gone back to this view camera as much as possible again ?
The unpopular opinion...
"The camera is important (to me) and that's ok."
This is not said to diminish the need for creativity, ideas, technique , craft and all the other things that sit outside of what can be termed as the physical equipment, but for me the camera I use has turned out to be more important than I had previously imagined.
I use often anything from an iPhone, a selection of 35mm compacts, SLRs and rangefinders, 120 roll film cameras including a Zeiss Ikon, MPP Microcord and a Koni-Omega rangefinder....but still gravitate back to the Horseman 45FA, my first 4x5 field camera and miss it (yes, miss it) when I don't use it.
The obvious first which are no brainers for me :
Big negatives - means generally big files and big prints with plenty of detail when close up and the ability to crop ..... and still end up with a big print. This is one of the goals of the process for me and one I am still striving towards.
Ability to develop a negative specifically to get the best out of it - I use a simplified Zone System with my large format cameras and part of this includes amended development , where necessary, to get the best out of the negative. (Follow link to a post about this subject)
Enforced use of a finite set of lenses - Yep, I see this an advantage these days as it forces my mind to work in a more analytical way. The Horseman 45FA has limited bellows draw (it will accommodate a Fuji 300T only because it is a telephoto lens and needs about the same bellows draw as my Nikon 210mm). In addition, it is not particularly great with super-wides...... and possibly the reason I don't see and compose that way in the first place.
The process - This is the biggie for me . The act of setting up a view camera and all the steps , checks and balances contained within this are a big draw for me and indeed mostly assist in the processes that exist outside of the physical equipment. It slows me down, ensures I am not going out to simply "collect images" (although I do sometimes in any case) and ensures that the effort required to get to the releasing of the shutter have been done correctly and have been thought through. This methodology although somewhat convoluted has resulted for me in a much more satisfactory image (to me) as the end point more often than not. (Follow link for a post about the process)
I think there is an "investment of effort" aspect to these images also. As I look around me now I see some images I have made in the past with view cameras and it is staggering that I can recall so clearly the process I had to go through in the field with them. Wrestling with problems and choices and most of this done under a dark cloth and staring at an upside down, back to front image projected onto a piece of ground glass with absolutely no outside distractions. This works for me and is why I keep coming back to my field camera.
Birches, Newcastle Emlyn
An image made with the Intrepid 4x5 mk2. I visited this spot every day for a week waiting for stillness and light. The composition changed subtly each time as the light was never quite in the same place. I spent 3-4 hours in total under a dark cloth during the visits and was largely unaware of the passers-by unless I knew they had stopped. Most of the decisions made under the cloth can be said to be technical (what F Number?) but led to, or, came from, aesthetic decisions (how soft do I want the background trees to be?). Making these decisions with a view camera slows down my approach and leads to more thought-out aesthetic decisions. I hope it is more than an image of a tree.
Under the dark cloth reality is distilled.
My chosen and re-chosen slice of reality glows with an intensity I can't find anywhere else. It is abstracted and it is extracted and bent and shaped with movements and focal shifts. In the end it is not the reality of the world outside but it is my image glowing on a frosted glass screen, before it is made permanent in silver.............whether it is any good or not is another matter.
Over the last few months in particular I have rediscovered medium Format cameras and now have ...well a few. I have used them and been quite surprised by what I can get out of a scan on my flatbed. I love the Koni-Omega Rapid I have used recently ....but there was something missing. Image quality was excellent (particularly the FP4+ and PanF+ in Perceptol !) but the process left me feeling a little detached from the landscape and the final image on film.
The Tower in the Dunes
Believe it or not there was an idea here, but based on a book I was reading at the time which was both surreal and a bit sinister*. This image never made the light of day due to the terrible state of the negative.
*Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.
A 120 Field Camera
The culmination of this thinking goes :
I love the use of a view camera and I believe (and lets face it if I believe it then that's all that matters for me) that the use of a view camera makes me work in a different way and I produce images I pleased with........I need a way of making 120 film usage more viable for me as often I am away from home and space and weight of what I can take is at a premium.........hmmmm ...... use a 120 reducing back on my 45FA !!!! .....but my lenses would all be too long with currently 150 my shortest so would need two wider lenses and a back !!! So I did consider that but eventually found a Horseman 970 with 4 lenses and after 2 months of thinking about it decided to get it.
The Horseman 970 and 65mm, 105mm, 150mm and 180mm outfit lenses along with a 6x7cm (my favoured format) 120 roll film back. All clean, fully working and .....shiny shiny shiny and thus not GAS (see note at bottom)
This is due to accompany me to the Western Isles ....this weekend.
I have put a couple of rolls through it and everything is fine and working!
Ok, lets look at why this isn't GAS and assume that we start from a position where....it is GAS and work our way back to my logical and "unarguable" conclusion....that it isn't.
It's a field camera - so as stated above, I have a rational explanation for needing it to enable my process to be largely the same in both 120 and 4x5.
(Remaining GAS - 72%)
It's a Horseman - meaning my mounted 4x5 lenses would slot straight into the 970. (but not vice versa as the lens coverage of the 970 lenses is not sufficient for 4x5.....but I have 2 longer lenses in 4x5 that will give very long lens coverage on the 970).
(Remaining GAS - 47%)
It's also a Range Finder - As well as having a ground-glass for focussing, it has a viewfinder, a rangefinder and the cams for each of the lenses, tucked away in little slots in the camera body. So I could handhold and use in the same way as the Koni-Omega.
(Remaining GAS - 31%)
It's a back-up - It came with a 4x5 spring back attachment allowing it to become a back-up 4x5 in the event that my FA needs repair ....or a new set of scarlet bellows (That would be GAS of course)
(Remaining GAS - 12%)
I thought long and hard before buying it - I considered this purchase and the other options to convert my 4x5 version for nearly 2 months before buying it on impulse late one Friday night. But had already negotiated a price without 2 of the lenses as those focal lengths I already had in 4x5 (150mm and 180 mm). This consideration should be enough on its own to convince any right-minded reader of the lack of GAS in this transaction ! (See note at bottom)
(Remaining GAS - Big fat zero )
So there we have it. All the evidence, but no GAS to see here !
I hope this rather self-indulgent post was enjoyable in parts, but for me served to allow me to lay bare my thinking behind this acquisition.
Part 2 of this story will may well be "live" whilst on the Islands, but will have no shots I make until I get back.
Hope you all have great light !
The Note at the bottom.
I did negotiate the camera kit without 2 of the lenses, that much is true. But upon arrival , and having gone through the outfit which included all the items refenced above including calibration certificates for the lenses etc, an electric handle to attach for hand holding, a solenoid release, metal lens hoods, a Horseman cable release, a collapsible hood for the 4x5 spring-back and the fact that the lenses were very very shiny and lovely...................and there was a lovely Horseman leather carry case embossed on the top with a slot and place for everything.........including 2 empty slots ..... for 2 lenses .............. .and I realised I really needed them as well.
It isn't GAS if you really need it.