Why Large Format, why a bigger camera and ....a Zenit 11....what?
Some of you may already be aware that I have recently acquired a 7x5 Camera system. This has added to my growing "arsenal" of large format cameras but is in no way any kind of Gear Acquisition Syndrome issue .....
A recent foray into Large Format Pinhole photography via Dave's Pinhole Camera World Tour 2021/22 has re-energised the love of film photography and film cameras !
Follow the exploits of Dave's pinhole here :
Depicted L-R : Intrepid 5x4 Mk 2 ( "The lady in Red" ), Kodak Model 2 Specialist ( "The beast of Dartmoor" ) and the Horseman 45FA Technical Field Camera ( "Brian Cooper" ).
I don't have these cameras because I want to collect as many as possible nor for any reason other than what they can do for me, although this is a complex argument.
The Horseman 45FA , was the first 5x4 camera I bought and it came with lenses and film holders and an assortment of accessories and I love it. It is precise and it is easy to use once practiced. Its limitations are it's bellows draw (286mm if I recall) which limits lenses to below that focal length unless they are telephoto lenses, (In my case a 300mm Fujinon T works really well with it). It has a limited opening on the front standard as well, so some lenses just won't go onto it as the rear element won't fit into the camera. It weighs somewhere around 2 kg I think.
The Intrepid 5x4 Mk 2. I bought this for a few reasons, not least of which was to support a company making large format cameras at affordable prices today ! It is light (somewhere around 1kg) , takes all my current lenses with ease and has all the "movements" of the Horseman and more. It is a little more difficult to set-up and get "square" before you start but is flexible and easy to use once you have used it for a while. This is a lightweight option and allows me to go out with light bag , 2 lenses and 6 sheets of film without breaking my back !
I had long considered getting a 10 x 8 system ; 4 x the film area of the 5x4s and a step up in the potential quality of the finished result. The main stopper being justifying the expense for the times I would be able to use it. Not only would I need the camera , but would also need the Film holders (I believe 3 is the legal minimum you need) and film......and..... not one of my lenses would be usable as the circle they project at the back of the camera is not big enough to cover the area of the film ! So it would be like starting again from scratch.
But why Large Format ? I hear you ask .....
First and foremost for me are the quality of the negative (when you get it right), the ability to manipulate the focal plane (awesome...when you get it right), the ability to manipulate image shape using movements (awesome .....when you get it right), and also, for me, the process is a big part of it. Using the cameras, using film, developing film, "the dance" when out in the field, the successes, the failures, the innovations you need to create for yourself to fix things, the frustrations and the satisfaction and pride of making a photograph from scratch and doing all the processes yourself. Not to mention the size of the negative and its potential for making big prints!
Rapids at Henllan, made in 2008 using the Horseman 45FA and a schneider 150mm lens which is a "standard lens" for this format.
So, a couple of weeks ago whilst searching for a camera renovation project.....I found a pre-renovated in 7 x 5 inch format and decided to take a look. Immediately I was interested in the camera, it had something I liked immediately (not just the red bellows!), it was rough around the edges .....and old.
It would come with a 180mm lens, so a little wider than the 150mm lens on a 5x4 system but not by much and I immediately set about looking up my current lenses to see if any of them would work at 7 x 5 ....and found that 3 of them do albeit with limited movements. (There is a pretty good resource for this here : https://www.largeformatphotography.info/lenses/ )
Kodak Specialist Model 2 7x5 Camera. Ok, so it weighs in at 5kg with a lens attached so wont be going on any long hikes, I don't think. Everything works and it appears to have no light leaks. It has new bellows and a new ground glass screen at the back. All the movements work on a geared system which are smooth and lovely. I have tested the process of focusing the camera many times now and the image on the ground glass is stunning! I have exposed film in 2 of the three holders and they appear to be light tight and work correctly after having a bit of furniture polish applied to make the darkslides a bit smoother! 1 of the film holders is a 7x5 glass plate holder with film inserts ......so 7x5 plates will be on the list in the future !
Front movements are :
Geared Rise and Fall - allowing the image to be moved up and down the ground glass without needing to tilt the camera and so preserving verticals as verticals
Geared Tilt - allowing the focal plane to be manipulated away from a vertical plane and "laid" into a plane that best fits the image intent and requirements.
All of these movements have oodles of scope with the 180mm lens that came with the camera but will be limited for the other 3 lenses that I already have .
Back Movements :
Geared swing - allowing to an extent control of the focal plane and also manipulation of the relative size of compositional elements.
Geared Tilt - allowing to an extent control of the focal plane and also manipulation of the relative size of compositional elements.
These movements on the back should be no issue for any of the lenses although only trying it out will tell !
I am excited to start using this camera and cant wait to get my first images on film through it ! I have 75 sheets of 7 x 5 film ready to go and 2 holders ....so 4 sheets at a time and to start with will be shooting duplicates (1 in each holder) to make sure there are no image plane adjustments that need to be corrected.
River Teifi, Upstream from Cenarth Bridge, August 2021 - made using the Intrepid 5x4
Next week a family holiday away in the UK beckons and zero chance for any serious photography due to a ban on serious cameras from being taken with me (understandable). I don't want to take my Sony with me as it will be left in the apartment for most of the day and I don't want to risk it. So ....what to do ?
Last weekend I chanced upon a Zenit 11 35mm SLR in a charity shop in town ....after checking it out, I donated to the charity and took it away with me. It is currently loaded with HP5+ Film and I have no idea what, if anything I will get from it. It is pretty much the polar opposite of the 7x5 from an aesthetics point of view but my plan is to make some images using it and process when I get back and see what I get. For the "holiday shots" I will use my iPhone which is more than capable of producing images for that purpose and indeed a couple of the "serious" images on my twitter feed have been made using it !
The folded-up for travel Kodak and the loaded Zenit side by side. The Zenit is no mini 35mm camera, it is quite chunky so the size comparison skewed somewhat by this !
Finally, if I load the Zenit with Fuji Velvia 50, I think it is capable of somewhere around a 30 Mp scan. I might try that when I get back just to see . If I did load the Zenit with Fuji Velvia 50.....it would double the value of the camera instantly, lol !
Finally finally, it really doesn't matter what camera you choose to use or why you choose to use it, or at least it shouldn't do to anybody else. There are many reasons why a photographer may choose a certain system or be forced to use a certain system, it really is what you create with it that is the most important thing.
I have images in my Twitter feed made with film cameras, Medium format cameras, large format cameras, Digital SLRs , mirrorless systems and my iPhone. I choose large format because I enjoy the process, I enjoy the results and the quality it is capable of and I also enjoy the challenge of what is not an easy path. But this is my chosen system and the reasons are personal and work for me and provide what I want from the pursuit.
And.......I do like cameras, but don't suffer G.A.S. .....honestly.
Thanks for reading as always and have a great week !