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3c. In the Field - Camera

Hunts Creek, 2010

Cameras: When it comes to landscape photography and film, there's no substitute for negative size! So all images on this site were taken with either medium format or large format cameras.

Earlier images were taken on medium format cameras: either a 6x6 Rolleicord or a Mamiya 645 Super. Both these cameras use 120 film, and provide negatives that are 6cm x 6cm or 6cm x 4.5cm in size respectively. By way of reference, a 6cm x 4.5cm negative contains roughly 3.1 times the image area of the typical 35mm negative, while a 6cm x 6cm negative contains roughly 4 times the image area of a 35mm negative. That extra real estate on the negative translates directly to better quality in the finished print in two ways:

  • Firstly, the larger negative allows the recording medium (film) to capture more data, making for (among other benefits) smoother tonal gradations and less visible grain.
  • Secondly, each negative does not need to be magnified as much to make a given size print.

More latterly, my images have been taken exclusively on a "large format" camera that takes sheets of film instead of rolls. Each sheet measures 4 x 5 inches in size. That's roughly 3.5 times the area of a 6cm x 6cm negative - or a whopping 14.6 times the area of a 35mm negative.

The use of sheet film also confers an additional major benefit over roll film: it allows development to be tailored to the peculiarities of each individual image, rather than requiring the use of an "average" that may or may not be optimal for individual images on the roll (more on this in my dark pages below).

In the quest for better and better quality, some photographers take things even further - using cameras that take sheets of film measuring 5x7 inches, 8x10 inches or even 20x24 inches! There is no doubting the technical quality of the negatives, but the trade-offs in size and weight of equipment, availability of equipment and film - not to mention cost - mean that for me 4x5 inch is the "sweet spot" that represents the best balance between quality, portability and cost.

Having said all that, I also have a film back that allows me to produce 6x7cm images on 120 roll film on my large format camera. This back is usually loaded with colour positive (slide) film - just for recording purposes...

My large format camera of choice is the Linhof Technika:

c. 1960 Linhof Super Technika IV s/no 76076 shown with Schneider-Kreuznach Apo-Symmar MC 150mm f5.6 lens

Now if Leica and Rollei are the "Mercedes-Benz" of 35mm and medium format cameras respectively, then the Linhof Technika is the equivalent in 5x4. Simply put, nobody does precision engineering and manufacturing better than the Germans, and this is German precision engineering and manufacturing at its best. According to the factory website, the basic design of the Technika dates back to 1934, and while various aspects of the design have been periodically refined over the years, it is still being manufactured in recognisibly the same form today! One of my examples (s/no 76076) dates from about 1960. It is therefore older than I am. Arguably, it is also in better condition than I am.

As with many LF cameras, the Technika's design includes a bellows that allows the front standard (the bit holding the lens) to move independently of the rear standard (the bit holding the film). These "movements" provide the ability to correct distortions (e.g. converging verticals etc) and maximise depth of field. This capability is worth a whole section in itself - perhaps one day...

I've never used any other 4x5 camera - which tells you two things: firstly, if I were to compare the Technika to other 5x4 cameras then I wouldn't know what I was talking about and secondly, the Technika works so well for me that I've never felt the need to try anything else. But if its good enough for the likes of John Sexton, Bruce Barnbaum, David Muench and Peter Dombrovskis (all Technika users) then its good enough for me...

Things I like most about the Technika:

  • Quick and easy to set-up. Drop the bed, extend the front standard and you're ready to go. No messing around with centering or squaring things up.
  • Precision and solidity of movements. Once you lock down the movements on a well adjusted Technika they stay put. End of story.
  • It closes into a small, robust metal case for transport. Great for tossing into a backpack.
  • With only a little care and attention it'll outlast me - no plastic, batteries or electronics.

Things I like least about the Technika:

  • All that metal means its heavy... (mind you, have you seen the size and weight of some of those modern digital SLR cameras and lenses???)
  • It can be a bit fiddly to use with a 90mm lens with the back in "portrait/vertical" orientation - to keep the front of the camera bed out of the image it needs to be dropped and the front standard raised and tilted back. Even wider lenses are even more difficult to use, requiring either expensive accessories or work arounds such as mounting the camera on its side. (Later models have rectified this handling issue. I get round it by not using any lenses wider than 90mm.)
  • Metal plus precision engineering plus low production volumes equals co$t. But then again, amortise the cost over a 50 to 80 year anticipated life-span of the camera and the annual cost is not excessive. Although to make sure you get the best value for your money you do need to buy them while you're young and live a long time. (Disclaimer: Only some of these arguments have worked on my wife.)

I have two examples of the Super Technika IV. There are some interesting differences between them and a bit of a dating conundrum. You can read more about it here: A Tale of Two Technikas.

As with most (all?) LF cameras, the Technika does not include a built-in light-meter. That means carrying a separate meter. In my case, light readings are obtained by attaching a 135mm Zuiko lens to my Olympus OM-4 and using the sophisticated spot meter in that camera. Settings are then manually transferred to the Technika.

Other items rounding out the camera bag include a Manfrotto tripod and head; a Rodenstock 4x loupe; sundry Hoya filters, lenshood, darkcloth and other accessories. Dare I say it, but a Canon A590is digital camera has also recently been found lurking there - primarily for "recording" purposes and as a back-up lightmeter.

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