The Analog Camera



Digital capture has completely changed photography. The digital won, it is cheaper, quicker, and easier to work with, more accessible to everyone. There are almost no downsides when compared to traditional wet chemistry. For me however, there still is value to be gained from taking a craft and reducing it to the very simplest form, and shooting a view camera with large format film is kinda like that. The large format view camera is about as simple as a camera can be made. It is really not much more than a box that on one end holds a lens, and on the other end holds the film. You might think that tearing down your camera to the barebones basic might make operating it a little easier, and that the capability of the camera to make quality images would be less; but the exact opposite is what happens. Operating the camera becomes much more complex, and the larger negatives show even the slightest mistakes even more. The camera does nothing for you, except keep light off of the film. You have to focus and expose the image with no help for the camera. Tilt and shift further complicates the focus, and to make matters worse, trying to see an image on the glass can be incredibly difficult in bright daylight or dim situations. The camera itself is a quite large, heavy and generally awkward to set up and use. Completely dissembled and stored in my pack, it takes about 15-25 minutes to set up and get ready for a shot, so shooting in quickly changing light can be difficult. And at about $4-5 bucks per shot, you really need to make sure that what you are shooting is worthwhile and correct, all of this seems to be reasons why you would not want to shoot large format sheet film.

The ability of modern day digital workflow to shoot fast and loose, opting for a certain level of corrections in post have totally changed the way that I shoot. I am not saying that I shoot sloppy, but there are certainly times where it is easier to shoot and correct in post rather than stop and fix what ever it might be in camera. Since there is little cost with shooting more, I do tend to shoot more than I technically need. Shooting becomes take the image now, and we will sort it out in post. Sometimes this leads me down path that generates new ideas or such, but most often it just causes more work in post. With film, there is an entirely different relationship, having only 15-20 exposures in a roll will cause me to slow down and really think about burning a frame. It is not uncommon for me to go out with the 4×5 and only carry 6 fames. The much slower workflow and the limited number of exposures is a complete game changer for the photographer… Imagine going somewhere, spending a couple of hours scouting and setting up a shot and only having 6 frames to use. And most often, I would come back with a few frames left over. It makes you slow down and you spend more time looking – seeing- visualizing the final print. For me there is also a little bit of zen in the work of loading the film, setting the camera up for a shot and shooting. It is a completely different experience than that of shooting digital ( or even a roll film camera).

My workflow with the film equipment is not a total traditional approach. Generally, I shoot the film and process it like normal, then take the negatives that are produced and scan them. My film work is a blended approach. Film purists will be crying foul, declaring that the finished traditional print is far superior in quality and tone. There may be some merit in that argument, but I am able to achieve the tones that I want, that I can not acquire with a straight digital capture.


Covered Bridge in black and white
Large Format 4×5 scan. Scanned with an Epson V500. Ilford FP4.
Center crop of 4x5 negative
This is a crop of the bridge from the center of the frame of a 4×5 negative.


Creek near Kenloc Falls

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