Musings on Photography

Large Format, current thinking

Posted in equipment, process by Paul Butzi on March 19, 2007

Not long ago, I realized that the price of the my large format film of preference (Tmax-100 in Readyloads) has jumped up to about $60 per package.  Because when using large format I routinely expose at least one in camera duplicate negative, this raises the price of large format work by about 35 percent over the last time I bought a pile of film.  Each setup would now cost me $6 in film costs alone.  To that, you have to add the costs of processing, the TIME for processing, the time for scanning, spotting, etc.  If had made as many setups with the large format gear as I made with the digital gear last year(assuming I were working LF instead of digitally, essentially) the cost of film and processing would have been larger than the cost of a EOS 1-ds Mk II.  Including sales tax.  And there would have been money left over, quite a bit of money.  And I would have spent a staggering amount of time processing and scanning film, tasks for which I have, ahem, a finite appetite.

All of this is doubtless part of the reason why my large format gear has been sitting idle, unused for the better part of six months (and mostly idle for the 8 preceding that).  It seems a waste, really, to have the gear and not use it.  But when the urge to photograph strikes me, it’s now the 5d that I end up reaching for.  If I had an M8, it might be the M8 I grabbed, but so far I’ve resisted buying one although I confess the temptation is strong.  I really do like that EOS-5d.  And if the rumors of the next round of the EOS-1ds are substantiated, I suspect I’ll pop for one of those.

So it’s very tempting to sell off all the film gear, the Linhof and the lenses and the enlarger and lenses and the Jobo, and roll the money forward into Canon lenses (and maybe an M8), and eventually into whatever the next top of the line body Canon introduces.

I’m just saying.

11 Responses

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  1. paul said, on March 20, 2007 at 2:24 am

    I did the same thing about a year ago. I had a nice 4×5 setup, which, like yours entirely unused. When I bought my D2x, I knew that it was over for the view camera. I sold it all ala carte, on eBay, took the money and bought lenses.

    It was one of those bittersweet moments. I was happy to sell it, but still had some attachment to it. I’ve been breaking attachments to material things and I like it. Every once in a while I still ‘miss’ it, especially when I start looking at some of the Velvia that I shoot with it. However, all I have to do is think about how much time, effort, and money it costs, ongoing expenses especially, and I get over it quickly! 🙂

  2. Colin Jago said, on March 20, 2007 at 2:52 am

    How many years before the phrase ‘large format’ refers exclusively to the size of printer that you use?

  3. Ed Richards said, on March 20, 2007 at 5:41 am

    There is more to large format than just pushing the button and shooting, especially if you use movements. There is a contemplative way of working that is impossible with digital because you cannot see squat through the viewfinder, so you just have to keep pushing the shutter and hoping. There are times when that is going to give you the best picture, but times when it cannot.

    Keep the 4×5 stuff so you will have a low opportunity cost if you start feeling that digital is not working. Buy some poloroid to make the 4×5 more instant, type 55 is a great way to shoot, and you can sell the JOBO. For some, digital is the answer, but when art is a verb, just easing the process of accumulating images might not satisfy in the long run.

  4. Chantal said, on March 20, 2007 at 6:02 am

    I recently spent just spent a small fortune upgrading my equipment to all digital. I’ve been working on a project, and becoming increasingly frustrated with my own lack of understanding of all the new toys. So I pulled out my old TLR that I bought for $10 at a garage sale, and some expired film that cost me $1 a roll. Looking through that old tinted glass gave me a fresh perspective, but now I’m trying to figure out where I can inexpensively have the film processed.

  5. StephaneB said, on March 20, 2007 at 7:19 am

    I sold my Arca-Swiss 6×9 and accompanying kit last october. Coming from a view camera, I wanted to keep movements. That meant a 5D with TS-E lenses. All in all it works. Some drawbacks, like the tiny viewfinder, but more fun and more time outside because of less work back at home. It has little influence on the number of times I press the button, though. I often come back home with less than 10 files.

  6. Kurt said, on March 20, 2007 at 9:21 am

    As Ed alluded to, comparing your digital output to possible LF output is really an apples to oranges comparison. I’d be willing to bet that if you gave the medium the slow, contemplative time it demands, not only would you shoot much less than digital (making the money a non-issue), but your “winners” or “keepers” ratio would go exponentially up. So, looking at it from a “cost-per-quality image” perspective, I’m not sure digital would actually come out more cost-effective.

  7. Christoph Hammann said, on March 20, 2007 at 12:02 pm


    I seem to be the only one going the opposite way from you gals and guys. Sold my 1DsMII plus too much lenses to carry last July and built a 4×5 kit for subjective b&w nature photography. Last piece was a Durst Laborator 1000 enlager to reactivate my darkroom that lay dormant for decades.
    And you know what? I don’t miss the old digital way of working at all. My prints have become much better, I’m being told by people who should know.
    For me, large format and silver halide based photography have turned out to be a step forward artistically.

  8. Bob Moore said, on March 20, 2007 at 2:50 pm


    You have reached the point where the return from the 45 system may not
    be worth the effort involved for the majority of your work…if Charles Cramer and Bill Atkinson have moved to digital and like the end printed
    result then we are at the cusp of that new era. Your work reflects the lessons learned from the craft of large format visualization and printing even in your 5D pictures. The small viewfinder is not the limitation…more important is the pre-visualization and actual attempt to find a modicum of that vision in your print.

    I do think that the M8 has gorgeous files…from a really flawed first attempt at a D rangefinder from Leica. But having said that I finally bought one as it does much with the great nonAA Kodak CCD chip.
    The price of Medium format Digital Backs on the used market is coming
    down…how about 16 – 22 mp without AA in a CCD at 36×36, 33×43 or 39×47 on a Cambo wide or a Horseman and another viewfinder camera for the long end.

    I think that if its in the closet it ceases to be of much value…while there is a window in the market for it you may have a better return on its initial cost to you.

  9. Ed Richards said, on March 20, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    > I seem to be the only one going the opposite way from you gals and guys.

    Not the only one – I moved from digital back to 4×5 about 2 years ago.

  10. Jamie Robertson said, on March 20, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    Charlie Rose has an interview with Taryn Simon ( that is very interesting (saw the link at Conscientious). She gives a non-economic, non cost-benefit analysis that makes a persuasive apology for large format that resonates with me. The idea as I see it is not to get as many “captures” as it is possible to make but as Ms. Simon explains to make truly subversive images that seduce the viewer into a contemplation of a reality that he or she might have thought impossible before seeing the image.

  11. Dirk said, on March 21, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    –>Every once in a while I still ‘miss’ it, especially when I start looking at some of the Velvia that I shoot with it. However, all I have to do is think about how much time, effort, and money it costs, ongoing expenses especially, and I get over it quickly!

    So you are missing it when looking at results, but console yourself by rationally reflecting that it is cheaper, easier and less effort. I bet your artistic work is just as uncompromising.

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