Tradeoffs. Most photographers have become consciously aware of a whole series of tradeoffs enforced by the physics and chemistry of photography. In most cases these apply to both film and digital cameras either directly or as analogs, though they are stated as they apply to film cameras. They often have different significance to large format photography. Understanding these differences is very useful when shopping for large format equipment.

  • As apertures become larger, depth-of-field diminishes; as they become smaller depth-of-field increases.
  • Large format lenses are proportionately longer and have proportionately less depth of field, requiring proportionately slower shutter speeds and tripods.

  • Auto focus control is nearly universal in 35mm and digital photography
  • Most focus control is done manually and usually by groundglass examination, though some LF cameras have rangefinders and viewfinders.
  • As shutter speeds decrease, movement of both the subject and the camera create more blur in the image
  • Large format lenses are used at smaller apertures and are usually designed to work best at taking apertures of /16 to f /32.
  • Most cameras are designed for default conditions in perspective control and control of the plane of focus.
  • LF photography are uniquely able to deal with prespective and zone-of-focus control. Equipment able to deal with extremes likely to be heavier and bulkier.
  • As film sensitivity (ISO rating) increases, grain becomes larger. This is typically a combination of emulsion and developer.
  • Since 4 x 5 images are so much larger, grain is seldom a problem in LF work. Faster films can sometimes be used.
  • Since movement is magnified by longer lenses and shutter speeds are slower, greater camera stability is required; most large format work is done on a tripod and tripod and head quality are considerations.
  • As negative size increases, size and weight of equipment increases
  • The size and weight of most large format equipment virtually prohibits hand-held shots--acknowledging that most photojournalism well into the 1950s was done with 4 x 5 press cameras.
  • Camera bodies that are lighter, are usually more fragile and tend to wear out faster
  • Most LF cameras are simpler, but lighter ones are usually not as durable.
  • LF equipment is much easier and cheaper to repair
  • Equipment size and weight is of less importance in studio work or in mobile work where equipment can be moved in vehicles; it is of much greater importance where the photographer must carry the equipment significant distances.
  • There is usually a direct relationship between increasing image quality and equipment weight and size
  • Through 4 x 5 equipment weight of LF may not be that much heavier than pro quality 35mm and digital. Beyond 4 x 5 improved quality/lb may be striking.
  • Equipment that provides greater capability to deal with a greater range of light conditions is usually heavier.
  • The rule holds for LF, but the need for speed isn't usually as dramatic. Most LF photography is fairly static.
  • Longer focal length lenses are usually heavier
  • 35mm and digital lenses are heavier because they are usually faster
  • Very old lenses can't be used because they are only single coated and 35mm and digital lenses must be multicoated because they have more elements.
  • Longer LF lenses may not be that much heavier because they don't usually have barrels.
  • Older lenses are typically much lighter than newer lenses and large format lenses are often lighter than 35mm and medium format lenses, in part because they are often much slower.
  • Older lenses are uncoated or single coated and are less expensive; newer lenses are multicoated and are more expensive.
  • Older lenses usually don't have the coverage (see below) of newer lenses and image brightness falls off more dramatically moving out from the center of the image.
  • Greater automation tends to lead to greater unreliability--mechanisms break, batteries go flat, batteries perform poorly in cold
  • Large format photography tends to rely on non-automated, manually powered equipment.
  • As production units of a camera or lens model increase, prices drop.
  • Unit production of large format equipment and lenses is small compared to production of 35mm and digital equipment, so prices are correspondingly higher for similar levels of quality.
  • Most digital and 35mm equipment is consciously designed to have a limited life--often one that is surprisingly short.
  • Because large format equipment is of simpler design and usually made of durable materials that are well-manufactured, equipment tends to last longer and, therefore, used equipment is more reliable. Shutters may be an exception to this rule.
  • Cost/image is low for digital. Cost/image is lower for 35mm than for MF/LF.
  • Unit production of film materials is small compared to 35mm and 120 roll film, so prices are proportionately higher.


05/19/2009 13:27