Priorities. Because of tradeoffs, in choosing your first LF outfit, you will be giving up some benefits to get others. In working through tradeoffs, you will be less likely to be surprised or disappointed if you define your needs and preferences as clearly as possible, but often having little direct experience to guide you. Here are some questions that you can use to help establish specific needs and avoid gotchas:



Will a considerable part of your large format work involve carrying your equipment significant distances?

Shop for field cameras or lightweight monorails. This allows you to use lighter tripods.
Shop for light weight lenses, understanding the associated tradeoffs.
If you are backpacking, explore packs specifically designed for photo equipment.

Will you be doing both color and B&W? Older, less expensive lenses can be acceptable for B&W and sometimes color, particularly using the best of the older lenses. Color work benefits from modern multicoating and better lateral color correction.
Will you be shooting primarily landscapes? Arguably, landscapes less frequently require major movements, so a lighter, smaller technical or field camera can be used. Lenses with smaller coverage circles can also be used.
Will you be doing primarily portraits? You can use perspective control in portraiture and controlling the field of sharp focus is often important, particularly when using longer lenses and larger formats. Technical, field and monorails can be considered. Coverage needs will depend on the type and extent of movements. For studio work monorails provide the greatest flexibility; for mobile work a good technical model with back movements is more practical.You may also want to consider studio size, since longer lenses require greater camera to subject distances. While you may want to focus on ground glass for composition and critical focusing, adjustable rangefinders and viewfinders are convenient for checking final shots. Lenses in the 200-250mm range provide good feature modeling.
Will you be doing primarily exterior and interior architectural work? Architectural work has perhaps the most critical need for perspective control. A technical or field camera may provide enough movement, but this may be marginal; a monorail may be a better choice. The taller the structure, the greater the need for front standard rise and back standard movements. Lenses with large coverage circles are needed.
Will you be doing largely tabletop or small scale photography? Here again, you would want a camera that provided significant movements for perspective and focus control and also one with significant extension to provide close focusing. Again with movements, lens coverage is important. Weight and bulk would be of less importance, except perhaps if you are doing closeup nature photography.
Do you expect to use wide and very wide lenses? Bellows compression on many cameras limits movements and may even prohibit the use of short lenses. Consider getting a camera that can accept a swappable bag bellows.
Can you compose a picture viewing the image upside down and reversed right to left? That is the default viewing mode for groundglass composition. You are not likely to be able to answer that question until you've tried it for a while. If you think you are burning up too much perceptual energy doing mental flipflopping, you may find a reflex viewer--which does for large format groundglass viewing partly what a pentaprism does on an SLR--may free you to concentrate more on image composition.
Will you be working exclusively with 4 x 5 film, or 120 roll film, or do you want to use both? This will affect your selection of lenses and film backs. Refer back to the lens choice page for help in selecting lenses, remembering that both focal length and coverage are important when planning to use lenses with both formats. Removable focusing panels with Graflok or international type G backs will allow the greatest choice in roll backs, although there are rollfilm backs with film gates that are as thin as sheetfilm holders.
Do you expect to do a significant amount of wedding photography? Experienced wedding photographers have convince me that large format can't compete with digital as a single medium. Quick turnaround to the client, equipment mobility and discretion, compressed event schedules, film handling, image manipulation are all heavily in favor of digital. If your clients are two LF photographers getting hitched, maybe its reasonable to take a few shots with a Deardorf.


02/25/2009 3:55