Using Large Format Cameras
Photography using large format cameras is popular among professional landscape, architectural, and still photographers who demand the high resolution, greater flexibility, and increased tonal range of large format film. These cameras are also called view cameras or field cameras. While medium format film cameras typically use 120 or 220 size roll film, large format view cameras take sheet film in various sizes, including 4 x 5, 5 x 7, and 8 x 10 inches.
What Are Large Format Film Cameras?
A large format camera has three components: body, lens, and film back. The body has a bellows, not unlike that used by folding cameras, with a lensboard for mounting the lens. You attach a viewing screen to the rear of the camera body to compose photographs, before inserting a film holder. The bellows is on slides for focusing, and has a mechanism for tilting the lens to correct perspective distortion and for adjusting the focal plane.
A 4 x 5 camera uses a 150mm lens to provide roughly the same angle of view as a 50mm lens on a full-frame DSLR. Lenses include a manual shutter and aperture ring, although some are separate units. A sturdy tripod prevents camera movement during composing and shooting.
Choosing Lenses for View Cameras
There are a wide variety of lenses for large format cameras. Standard large format lenses mount on lensboards, although several manufacturers also make lenses and adapters that effectively convert digital cameras into view cameras. Consider the size of the image circle, angle of view, and the recommended image size. If you use a tilt function, you need a lens with a wider angle of view (larger image circle). Apertures typically vary between f/5.6 and f/45, while shutter speeds range from 1/500 to 1 second.
A ground glass screen viewer attaches to the rear of the camera. Some are plain, while others incorporate a grid to aid leveling and adjusting for parallax. Fresnel view screens provide a brighter view. Most have clipped corners to help detect vignetting. Useful viewfinders and accessories include loupes and magnifiers for checking focus.
Film Backs for Field Cameras
Film backs are largely standardized, and fit most cameras. Choose the right size and ensure it fits snugly to prevent light leakage. Each holds two sheets of unexposed film or negative. It's also possible to buy roll film holders for 120 and 220 film that fit 4 x 5 camera backs. A pinhole camera uses identical film backs.
Assemble your large format camera from a selection of camera bodies, lenses, and film backs. For advice on the right equipment, speak to a photography expert at B&H Photo and Video.