Using a Large Format Camera to Make Digital Photographs


We cannot be certain, but it is a fair bet that the folks who invented the modern digital cameras, be they DSLR or mirrorless, did not envision that they would be attached to large format view cameras. Can you do it? Yes. Does it work? Yes… I guess. Is it practical and easy? Nope. Should you do it? Maybe. Is it fun? Yes!

I will admit, I’ve never shot large format film. I have friends who shoot large format and it always looked super cool watching them adjust focus on a view camera and compose the scene from an inverted image on a beautiful ground glass (that is, if they weren’t shooting under the hood). As awesome as the process looked, and as stunning as their prints and scans were, I never felt the desire to pursue large format photography.

Then, at a Photo Plus Expo a few years ago, at the Shanghai ShenHao booth, I spotted a (what the heck is that?) 4 x 5 large format camera back with a FUJIFILM X mount on it. Whoa. What would you use that for? You can put an APS-C camera on the back of a 4 x 5 camera? Why? What is the point?

Well, it’s more than a year later and I still haven’t answered all of those questions, but I have had a lot of fun in the meantime. Do you want to join the fun? Here is how I did it…

Gotta Get a Back

The 4 x 5 FUJIFILM X back from ShenHao ended up in my kit before I really had formulated a plan for what to do with it or how to use it.

B&H sells a handful of similar backs as Digital & Film Back Adapters, and there are many more floating around the Internet, of course. Just make sure to match the back to the specific mount your digital camera has (FUJIFILM X in my case), and pay attention to the mounting interface, too—most of the time it will be Graflok, which is more than likely what you want for most 4 x 5 cameras.

Finding a 4 x 5 Camera

This isn’t going to devolve into a dissertation about the types of 4 x 5 film cameras, but I knew I wanted a view camera, and then had to decide between the two basic types: monorail cameras and field cameras. Monorail cameras are the larger, heavier, and clunkier of the two since the field cameras are, as the name implies, designed for photographing out in the field. While field cameras pack up tidier and tend to be more portable, monorail cameras offer more movements and general flexibility for focusing.

Believe it, or not, there are some brand new large format film cameras on the market if you like shiny and new! You will also need to add a lens board and lens. Of course, the used market is where you can find plenty of 4 x 5 large format cameras with life left in them—some with lenses included. The B&H Used Department always has a rotating collection of beauties here.

I decided to go with a new, but relatively inexpensive Standard 4 x 5 3D-printed camera that I assembled myself. It looks great and is super light, especially for a monorail camera. It was fun to build and simple to operate.

Finding a Lens

If you get a used large format camera that comes with a lens, then you are spared the search for a lens and compatible lens board. The lens board is the face of the camera on which the lens mounts and, yes, the lens board needs to be compatible with your camera—they come in different sizes and shapes. An Internet search will tell you what kind of lens board works with your camera; my Standard 4 x 5 uses a common Linhof-style lens board.

For those unfamiliar with large format photography, large format lenses tend to have external shutters, which are mounted on the lens and lens board. The lens itself separates in two and then sandwiches the shutter and lens board to form one unit. It’s also worth pointing out that shutters are available in different sizes, too, so make sure your lens board is sized to your specific shutter type; Copal #0 is a common size for 4 x 5 lenses, but you might occasionally run into Copal #1 or some other unique sizes for older lenses.

Now, to throw a wrench in my process, back when I was lens shopping for my 4 x 5 and APS-C system, I was soaking up the knowledge of the staff at the B&H Used Department. After listening to me describe my mission, one of them said, “You don’t need a large format lens with a shutter because you are using your digital camera’s shutter. You should just get an enlarging lens.”

Enlarging lenses, traditionally used in the darkroom (and sometimes with planetarium projectors), are large format-sized lenses without shutters. Many are available used for a song—especially considering how amazing their optics are. Of course, you can get a traditional large format lens with a shutter and lock it open or set it to bulb for your digital exposures. But if you are looking to save some scratch, an enlarging lens might be the ticket because many large format lenses are expensive.

This is where the project got really interesting, and a bit difficult—the lens search. Because I was able to try different lenses at the B&H Used Department, I determined that I could not compress my 4 x 5 camera’s front and rear standards enough to focus a wide-angle large format lens like a 70mm or 90mm at infinity. Even if I had swapped to a bellows that would allow the frames to get closer, I physically could not get the front and rear frames any closer to each other. As I was planning to attach my APS-C FUJIFILM camera to the Standard 4 x 5, I wanted to shoot as wide as I could—knowing I was dealing with a huge crop factor. The first focal length lens that worked turned out to be approximately 135mm. This focal length is close to the 150mm “normal” field of view for large format, but with my tiny APS-C sensor, it turned my rig into a telephoto large format camera.

With a full-frame or medium format camera on the back, or a different large format camera, you might have wider-angle lens options. Internet searches might help you find other crazy photographers who have “digitized” their large format cameras with (relatively) tiny sensor digital cameras and shared the gear they have used.

For my Standard 4 x 5, I ended up grabbing a beautiful Nikon EL-NIKKOR 135mm f/5.6 lens for well under $100.

Attaching the Lens to the Lens Board

Large format lenses attach to lens boards using retaining rings. My enlarging lens did not come with a ring, so I had the folks at Camera Doctor in New York City (not far from B&H Photo) help solve my mounting challenge. Their solution was to use a silicone glue to affix the lens to my Linhof-style board. A true “Franken-camera” was born:

  • 3D printed plastic Standard 4 x 5 camera
  • Metal Linhof-style lens board
  • Glued-on Nikon enlarging lens
  • ShenHao 4 x 5-to-FUJIFILM X back
  • FUJIFILM X-T3 camera.


Let’s be honest here. Shooting an APS-C camera on a view camera is the opposite of convenient and easy. It certainly slows the process of photography (sometimes a very good thing) and it is challenging and fun.

The monorail Standard 4 x 5 wasn’t really designed for precision focusing because there are no groves on the monorail to move through with geared knobs that would, if present, adjust the front and rear standards.

Other than the focusing, the process of photographing is pretty straightforward. It’s like using your trusty mirrorless camera on some crazy and cumbersome lens that has to be mounted on a tripod to work.

Why Do This?

“Why climb a mountain? Because it is there.”

Why shoot APS-C on a large format 4 x 5 view camera? Because it can be done!

It’s fun, different, and unique. Plus, you might end up making some really memorable photos with your large format camera and digital “back.” Also, there are a lot of cool 4 x 5s and beautiful enlarging lenses in the world that would love to be put into service again in a good home.

Want to join this craziness? Do you have questions? Let me know in the Comments section, below!



I have been shooting professionally for 35 years . Portraits and then food . 
i. Still got my Eista45 and would love to have an adaptable digital back on it . Same as my 6x9 film roll . Just clip on and shoot . 
is Phase One or another brand done it ? Second hand available ? 
  I don’t understand the point of sticking a 35mm camera on the back ?! It defy the purpose of shooting large format unless I missed something ? 
let me know as I would love to shoot again with my Asiata . Used to shoot lots on Polaroid 55.  Amazing beautiful 5x4 négative and Polaroid . Type55 is rare and expensive nowadays. 

Hi Jean,

Thanks for your comment!

If you are asking me if there is a point of putting a 35mm camera on the back of a large format camera, I would have to say that the only point is: fun!

Is it practical? No. Are the results amazing? Meh. Is it fun? Heck yeah. :)

There are several generic backs on the market that accept SLR and mirrorless cameras and there might be one that works for your gear, if you can handle the fun!

Thanks for reading!



This article is interesting. I own a Mamiya Universal 6 x 9 format film camera. I wonder if I can use the body of one of my DSLR's on that medium format body or buy a digital back for it?  My DSLR's are d90, d3100 and d5200. I througt about buying  a Mamiya RB67 but that is strictly 4 by 4 where as the Universal is both 4 by 4. and 6 by 9. Please set me in the direction to find out.

Unfortunately, there are no adapters to fit the Mamiya Universal 6 x 9 specifically to a DSLR camera. 

Hi, Sounds like a wonderful experiment. I have a hardly ever used 4x5 Fuji Field camera body and wonder if you could prescribe a way to put it  to good use. I own a Canon 5D Mark iv with lenses but don't know if this type of body can be used for this purpose. Appreciate any input. Thanks.


Used a Betterlight scanning back years ago, a little slow and

 they still cost more than a good digital slr body.  Thanks for the inspiration, can't part with the 4x5's...


Hey Ronald,

How did the scanning back work for you?

You are welcome for the inspiration! Thanks for reading!



Phase One put out a 4x5 digital back sensor for view cameras during the 90s, just wondering why was it taken off the market

Hey Leo,

I am not familiar with the Phase One product, and there could be a number of reasons it didn't stay on the market. Maybe the Phase One people sold so many of them that they decided to hand the company over to others and flew to Mustique for a retired life of luxury?

There are some on the used market that I found after a quick web search. Interesting!

Someday it will be possible to make a large format digital sensor that is reasonably priced...but will anyone buy it?

Thanks for stopping by again!



I missed using my oId view camera. I managed to attached my Nikon D750 on the back of my Horseman450 view camera by having another lens panel with copal shutter 0 machined to fit a spare lens mount. I used flat panel but would be better if I had used a recessed one, the reason being was the SLR body wouldn't mount to view camera so I end up using extension tube.

Hey Leo!

I knew there was at least one other person doing this! :)

Thanks for stopping by!



Hi Dale,

Great question!

I did attach bag bellows, but after I moved the standards onto one side of the center support, I was able to get what I needed with the bellows that came with the Standard 4x5.

It's not the most practical setup, but it works!

Thanks for reading Explora!



Todd, I can't believe you've never shot 4x5 film.  Also, why not use a full frame digital camera as that will give you more working room between the standards.  Still, I enjoyed the concept.  Tom Paiva

Hi Tom,

Ha! I didn't want to get into 4x5 and take all of the fun from you! :)

If I got a full-frame digital, I would have to get all new lenses...and switch brands...again! I enjoy my FUJFIILM system, so not feeling the gravitational pull of full-frame. But, I am feeling the pull of FUJIFLM medium format!

Thanks for reading!



Be careful with that FUJIFILM medium format.  It will be a slippery slope. LOL  I slipped up and bought a used GFX50R and slipped even more when I bought the Cambo Actus GFX from B&H last month.  Shooting it with Nikkor large format glass.  65mm f/4, 90mm f/4.5 and 135mm f/5.6.  Getting great results and full advantage of view camera movements.  I briefly tried using the GFX on a Wista 4x5, but like you found out, was extremely limited in movements.

All the best,


Hey George,

Thanks for the warning! :)

Let me know if you need to get off the slope and send me your GFX gear. :)

Thanks for reading Explora!