Film Backs
. Choosing the 4 x 5 format maximizes flexibility in the choice of film materials and availability of processing likely to be the most attractive to first time LF users. Often with larger cameras, reducing backs are available to allow the use of smaller formats, so a 4 x 5 camera, in addition to supporting 4 x 5 sheetfilm will typically also allow you to use 120 rollfilm adapters and Polaroid backs. An important issue here is to identify which type of back a target camera has--an international G back (previously known as a Graflok back) or a proprietary back. Proprietary backs may accept rollholders with a different design or may be limited to 4x5 holders. The G back has a removable ground glass focusing frame and sliding bars used to attach alternative film backs. Many other backs, particularly those on many woodfield cameras, for example, do not have a removable focusing panel. Film holders must slide in between the focusing panel and the camera case and only a limited number or rollholders will fit in this space, sometimes called the "gape." Occasionally designs for non-removable backs appear that have specially designed bales that allow them to be pulled back to allow even "fat" rollfilm adapters. Even if your camera doesn't have a removeable GG frame, there are several "thin" bodied rollholders whose film gate section is no thicker than a sheetfilm holder.

Most emulsions are available in 4 x 5 sheet film, readyloads and 120, but the film cost and processing of 4 x 5 color is much higher per shot. You may eventually feel that the increased definition of the larger images is worth the additional cost, but when learning and for later experimentation, it is very convenient to have the choice.

Film Stock. Both 120 rollfilm and 4 x 5 sheetfilm are available in a wide choice of emulsions. Holders for both types provide flexibility in switching emulsions as conditions require, though sheetfilm provides the ultimate in flexible processing of individual shots. Sheetfilm is available in boxes of individual sheets or readyloads--preloaded film holders. There are pluses and minuses to using each format:

  • Less expensive per frame
  • Color emulsions are more accessible
  • Broader range of emulsions
  • Smaller image size
  • Thinner base stock
  • Potential negative curl at edges
  • Easier to load
  • Faster to use for multiple shots
  • More available lab processing


  • More expensive per frame
  • Larger image size
  • Thicker base stock
  • Improved film flatness
  • Harder to load
  • Self-loading may create dust problems
  • More flexibility for self processing

(Readyloads are more expensive than sheetfilm, but greatly reduce dust problems and are more convenient)

Polaroid backs are available for many cameras. This medium is useful for quick feedback, a benefit recognized by many photographers who have used digital equipment, Polaroid is often chosen as an end-use medium and Polaroid shots can be the nicest way to say "thanks" to a volunteer model.

Rollfilm adapters have been and are made by many different camera manufacturers--Graflex, Wista, Horseman, Linhof and others. Common sizes have been: 4.5x6cm, 6x6cm, 6x7cm and 6x9cm. Recently there has been a growing market for panoramic formats and there are 6x12cm holders that are extended versions of the 6x9cm models and 6x17cm models that include an extension back with custom GG panel as well as the rollholder itself. You will find a wide selection of designs and qualities among manufacturers. An important issue is film flatness. The longer formats tend to have more problems with film cupping, so exploring the reputation of different rollfilm adapters for flatness is useful. Also be sure that the rollholder you intend to buy will correctly fit your camera. The small sizes--6x6 through 6x9 are made in models that fit 6x9 cameras and also fit the sliding/rotating accessory backs for 4x5. These smaller image sizes are also made in RHs that fit 4 x 5 G backs. The 6x12cm and 6x17cm sizes fit only 4 x 5 backs.



02/27/2009 13:00