Kenneth Lee Gallery
Large Format Photography

Shooting in Massachusetts with a 4x5 Sinar P

Note to Readers: As of 2020, I no longer own or use analog equipment but I hope you find this reference helpful.

Sinar P The Sinar P view camera: P stands for Perfection. The Sinar is what all the other view cameras would be... if they could. You can easily locate one on eBay, where there's an abundant supply of used Sinar equipment.

Everything is geared. Every adjustment is smooth and silky. There are very few locking mechanisms, since the gears are so well made, they just stay where you leave them. Made in Switzerland.

Sinar Yaw-Free MovementsThe Sinar has asymmetric or yaw-free movements. It stays in focus when you tilt, swing, rise and shift. With other view cameras, you have to tilt, refocus, then raise or lower the camera - over and over again. With the Sinar, you just focus and dial-in the adjustments until everything is right. It's heavenly !

The Sinar is a modular system camera. If you want to add or replace things, you can. Turn your 4x5 camera into a 5x7 or 8x10 camera ? No problem. Just replace the bellows and the back with a conversion kit, also called format change set, conversion set, etc. These kits are smaller, lighter and cheaper than cameras. Because Sinar was the workhorse of choice for so many professionals, there is plenty of used equipment to choose from, in excellent condition. Igor's Camera Exchange carries a lot of Sinar equipment and expertise.

Kodak 2D Another superb camera is the 5x7 Kodak 2D, a wooden field camera (left). I found mine at an auction and had a new bellows put on. It works fine again. On the left you can see what someone else's fully restored 2D looks like. It's the latest in 1920's technology !

The 5x7 Kodak's light weight and folding design makes it great for carrying around. Unlike most folding cameras, the Kodak hybrid design lets you leave a lens on the camera at all times, which makes things easy and fast when setting up.

TachiharaWhen maximum portability is required, consider the 4x5 Tachihara Wooden Field Camera (right). It's very light and folds quite small. With its red bellows and brass fittings, it attracts curiosity and draws onlookers like a magnet. Using a 200mm Nikkor M lens, it's a treat to walk around and shoot a wide variety of subjects. You can save time and economize space by leaving the lens on the camera, reversed.

If you would like to see what some other Large Format cameras look like, have a look at this thread entitled Show Off Your Camera on the Large Format Photography Forum. You may be surprised to see how many people use them - and how many different kinds of Large Format cameras exist.

View Camera Movements: the Real Deal

Ordinary cameras have lenses that are mounted straight ahead, so they look straight ahead only. That's fine for many subjects but view cameras let us adjust the plane of focus at the front and rear of the camera. We can focus along a complex plane and make photos that are either impossible or arduous with ordinary cameras.

Click here to see some photos that were made using view camera movements. Some of these adjustments can be created after image capture with editing tools but not all. View cameras allow us to explore and combine adjustments creatively, while composing the image: something quite different from repairing mistakes in post-processing.

With focus-stacking, depth of field can be simulated but not necessarily along an oblique plane. Tilt/shift lenses are available in limited focal lengths, for certain cameras only. Tilt/shift adapters let us adapt lenses designed for larger sensors or film, but to get more extensive (but limited) view camera functionality with a digital camera, see the Cambo Actus and the Arca Swiss Universalis.

Some Favorite Large Format Lenses

For a discussion of some favorite lenses for Large Format cameras, click here. We discuss vintage and barrel-mounted designs, portrait lenses, modern lenses for use in the field - as well as macro and process lenses, the Sinar Copal Shutter and a blur rendition or bokeh and a 4-way bokeh comparison of vintage and modern designs.

Included are sample image galleries for Rodenstock APO Sironar-S, Rodenstock Macro Sironar, Voigtlander Braunschweig Heliar, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar, Fujinon A, Fujinon C, Fujinon T, Fujinon SFS, Nikkor M, APO Nikkor and more. You can see that differences between them are often... exaggerated.

Sample Large Format Images

8x10 Here is a family portrait sized at 32x40 inches, made from a 4x5 negative.

Here is a photo made with a 1930's Kodak 2D: the detail available from a 5x7 negative is impressive. An 11x14 print is barely a 2x enlargement !

Of course, 5x7 still falls short of 8x10: here's an 8x10 sample image with detail section - made with an 8x10 wooden field camera. It puts the smaller formats to shame.

Scanning Tips (with EPSON and VueScan Software)

Go to Scanning TipsHere is a brief tutorial on Scanning Tips with Epson flatbed scanners but it applies to any scanner we use.

To make a digital image which looks as analog as possible - as smooth as possible - we need to work around some of the default settings provided by the scanning software.

With my consumer-grade Epson flatbed scanners, the green channel is slightly sharper than the red and blue channels. Read Scanning the Green Channel for Optimum Resolution to learn more.

Formulas for Bellows Extension

A 150mm lens needs 150mm of bellows draw - at infinity. As we focus closer, more bellows extension is required and more exposure is required. How much more ? For perfect exposure, we want to know. For a lens of given focal length and bellows with a specific maximum extension, how close can we get to the subject ?

If we want a certain degree of magnification (say 1:3) and we know the focal length of the lens, how much bellows extension do we need ? With a lens of given focal length and a bellows of known maximum extension, how much magnification can we get ? At 1:1 magnification, a 150mm lens requires 300mm of bellows extension. How do we compensate for exposure as bellows extension increases ?

Click here for a page which provides formulas for bellows extension.

Reciprocity Timer app

If you don't care to memorize the formulas for bellows extension and film reciprocity, consider this wonderful application for the iPhone: Reciprocity Timer by Pump Interactive. It really works !

Favorite Monochrome Sheet Films

Film You will love Kodak TMAX 100, TMAX 400 and Ilford FP4+ and HP5+ films. These films have long straight response curves, which means they give realistic detail throughout the tonal scale. They also have a very linear response to changes in development time, which makes them easy to use in both high and low contrast lighting. If you are familiar with the Zone System, this means that they are easy to "expand" and "contract" with changes in development. Ilford offers their film in a wider variety of sizes than Kodak and at lower prices too.

Tabular grain films like Kodak TMax and Ilford Delta have grain that is flat, or tabular - rather than round. The result is a cost savings for the manufacturer, because a thinner layer of Silver is required. Tabular films require more sensitizing dye and thus require longer washing times to remove the dye. Traditional films like Tri-X, Ilford FP4+ and HP5+ need less washing, because there is less dye to remove.

Very Simple Film Developer: D-23

The formula for D-23 developer has only 2 ingredients but produces clean negatives with fine grain, excellent tonal separation and good film speed. It's so simple, you can mix it fresh every time. There's no need for a stock solution - nothing to expire on the shelf and surprise you. Click here for additional photographs and more information about D-23 .

Ansel Adam's classic image "Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine, 1944" was developed in D-23. See Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs page 164 to read more about his lovely photograph.

D-23 is a one-bath developer. It is not the same as Divided D-23 which is a 2-bath formula. Divided D-23 is also known as DD-23. Are you looking for Divided D-23 ? See this article.

Odorless Stop Bath: Citric Acid

You can make your own Odorless Stop Bath using Citric Acid. The Kodak SB-8 formula calls for 15 grams per liter, or 1/2 oz per quart. Or you can also use plain water for stop bath if you like. Using an acid stop bath, development is stopped instantaneously. Using water, it is stopped also, just not as abruptly. You can use a weak solution of Citric Acid: 1 teaspoon per liter. Citric Acid is very cheap, harmless and... odorless. In the USA, a good source for materials is Artcraft Chemicals.

Favorite Fixer: Alkaline

Ingredient Stock Working
Ammonium Thiosulfite 800 ml 160 ml
Sodium Sulfite 60 g 12 g
Sodium Metaborate 5 g 1 g
Water to make 1 liter 1 liter
You can mix your own Fixer, using the traditional T-3 Alkaline Fixer formula. It has only 3 ingredients! Alkaline fixers require much less time to remove via washing and do not require a washing aid. They have much less odor too !

(If you use a Hypo-based fixer, you can easily make your own Washing Aid: just use a teaspoon of Sodium Sulfite per liter of water and toss it when you are done.)

According to Anchell and Troop, in The Film Developing Cookbook, Alkaline Fixers have the following advantages over more traditional Acidic formulas:

  1. Less danger of over-fixing
  2. Shorter washing times
  3. More archival
  4. Greater capacity
  5. More stable
  6. Can be formulated to have low odor.

The T-3 Alkaline Fixer formula is intended to be diluted 1+4. Instead of making stock, you can make a working solution by dividing the amounts by 5 (see table above).

It's fun - and far less expensive - to mix your own chemistry. Most classic formulas are available in books like The Darkroom Cookbook and online at In the USA, a good source for materials is Artcraft Chemicals.

Removing Magenta Stain from Kodak TMAX Films

Kodak adds a magenta sensitizing dye to its TMAX films. Depending on your water and other factors, that dye can be hard to remove with ordinary fixing and washing. Do not prolong the time in the fixer: that will not remove the stain. Instead, rinse your negatives briefly in water after fixing, then soak them in a 1% solution of Sodium Sulfite for around 10 minutes (1 teaspoon per liter of water). Then rinse and wash normally.

Sodium Sulfite is the active ingredient in Film and Paper Washing Aid: if you use an acid fixer, you will need that anyway. If you use an alkaline fixer a washing aid is not required but a soak in Sodium Sulfite will remove the magenta stain if necessary. In the USA, a good source for materials is Artcraft Chemicals.

Affordable Equipment for Film Development and Washing

Some people purchase expensive custom equipment to wash their film. Nowadays, you can construct your own washer out of inexpensive and widely available materials.

Dish Rack Film Washer A Dish Rack Film Washer costs only a few dollars. Your film just soaks, in a bunch of standing water. There is no need for a fancy syphon or drain system: Just let the film soak and replace the water now and then. Save the water and let diffusion do the work for you. You can use a similar technique to wash roll film too.

Storage Container Developing Trays Photo trays are great for developing prints but you can do things better - and cheaper - with items available almost anywhere. Plastic Food Containers are more affordable, use less chemistry, prevent scratches and require less room. Once you try them, you will wonder why you ever used traditional "Photo Trays".

Infra-Red Monocular: Seeing in the Darkroom

ATN ViperWith an infra red viewing device you can have a wonderful time developing, loading and unloading black and white film in the dark. You can see everything, without fogging the film. If you're cramped into a small space, there's no chance of knocking things over.

You can perform Development by Inspection (DBI), not in the old fashioned way (where you get only a brief peek under a dim green bulb) but throughout the entire process: development, stop bath, fix, etc. You can do tray development with ease, with far fewer scratches and with greater confidence that things are turning out right. This tool pays for itself - the first time you use it !

I previously used a monocular device called the ATN Viper but it is no longer manufactured.

Important Note: As development proceeds, the film looks darker and darker. If you examine only the emulsion side, you will get the erroneous impression that development has proceeded too far, too quickly. To determine development, do not judge the emulsion side. Examine the shiny side of the film. Be sure to practice before risking any important work and use your darkroom timer too.

How to Avoid Fingerprints on Sheet and Roll Film

If you handle film, wear gloves or make sure to keep your finger tips clean. It's easy and affordable to clean them with a bit of Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol on a clean cloth or paper towel. Clean your fingertips before loading sheet film. Clean them before unloading and developing. Clean them before hanging film to try. Clean them before scanning film. You'll be glad you did !

Affordable Scanner for Large Format

Epson V850 You can scan your negatives with an affordable flatbed scanner like the Epson V850 and the Epson drivers which ship with the scanner. A 4x5 inch negative, scanned at 2400 dpi (samples per inch), gives a 115 megapixel image. A 5x7 inch negative, scanned at the same resolution, gives a 200 megapixel file. Is that enough ?

At such high resolution, image fidelity is very good and the tones are... rich ! Tiny JPG files, viewed on the monitor, just can't convey the feeling. An 11x14 image made from one of these negatives is truly lovely.

Carry Your Gear on a Budget

GearSome photographers buy expensive cases and packs to carry their gear. I prefer a canvas bag and a beverage cooler. The Sinar P folds down small enough to go into the bag, upside down. The Sinar is built like a tank. The only thing it needs, is a carrying strap and that's what the bag is for. Everything else goes into the cooler, which has a nice sturdy strap to go over your shoulder.

The beverage cooler keeps the equipment cool in summer and warm in winter... How does it know ? Even more importantly, it looks like a beverage cooler, to anyone who might see it in the car. Some people like to flaunt the name of their camera, as a status symbol. I prefer the safety of my gear looking like nothing more than a case of soft-drinks.

Note the pipe insulation on the tripod legs, held on with duct tape. Pipe insulation is very light in terms of additional weight but vital when shooting in cold weather: it can keep your hands from freezing when you carry the tripod !

iPhone Shutter Speed App

Try this affordable and helpful Shutter Speed app for the iPhone. It listens to your mechanical shutter and measures the actual speed. It may not be as accurate as the (now discontinued) Calumet Shutter Tester mentioned below but it's accurate enough. If you want to purchase an add-on light sensor, it will give you very accurate results.

I tested my old #4 Alphax Shutter with this app. The shutter is very close to its old-fashioned speeds of 1/2, 1/5, 1/10 etc. That's good to know !

Calumet Shutter Tester Brochure

Thanks to Boston-based Architectural Photographer Peter Lewitt, you can see the manual for the Fidelity Calumet Digital Shutter Tester, which is no longer offered by Calumet Photo. The Shutter Tester allows you to test the shutters on a variety of cameras and lenses. Even though it is no longer sold, you can click here to read the manual. Perhaps you can purchase one on the used market.

If you like to control the visual quality of your photos and you acquire equipment from others, it's nice to know how close it is to the correct speed.

Polarizer+Yellow Filter for Natural Look

Corn FieldWhen shooting black and white film, it's common wisdom to use a red or orange filter to darken the sky and clear the haze. For certain subjects this works very nicely but red and orange filters not only remove blue light from the sky: they also darken the blue light in shadows and the green light in vegetation.

To avoid ink-black shadows and unnaturally dark vegetation, we can use a polarizer along with a yellow filter if required. Rotating a polarizer, we can control the amount of darkening in the sky according to taste, while maintaining a normal balance of colors in the rest of the scene. If we need even more richness in the sky and clouds, we can reach for a medium yellow or light orange filter and place it on top of the polarizer. That's how this image was made (on 8x10 film). Note the tones in the grass and the trees: the yellow filter has actually enhanced the details in the vegetation, not darkened them.