Friday, 8 February 2013

Does size matter?

I'm referring here to negative size - what else? - does it make a difference to the final image? Well to an extent that obviously depends on what the final image is going to be - a print or an electronic image on the web for example and if a print what size of print. Mentioning digital photography for a moment (Sorry!) there is a huge feeling that more and more mega pixels are necessary for a good image but the same criteria apply as for film. If you are only going to post a photo on Facebook any size sensor from about 3mg upwards would be more than adequate. If you want a quality 20 x 16 print to hang on the wall then yes 16mp upwards might be necessary although I have a terrific canvas portrait of my wife measuring 30 x 24 hanging on the wall which was taken with my original Canon digital camera of 3mp.

Anyway I digress, back to film negative size. The difference it can make was brought home to me last Saturday when I had a day in Norwich shooting with a large format camera. For those of you who don't know, large format negatives start at 5" x 4" and go up from there to 10" x 8" and larger. The camera I was shooting with was what is known as a field camera in that it is easy to carry (compared to other types of LF cameras) and use out and about. The camera itself weighed about 3 kg and the tripod another 2.5kg and then there were the negative holders, lens etc so its not really a pocket job.

We started off at a coffee shop and Paul ran through the controls on the camera and instructed me on how to put the film in the holders and we went to Norwich Cathedral to put it into practise. Its not photography for when you are in a hurry. First choosing the subject, then putting up the tripod, fitting the black cloth and diving under it to frame the shot (which is complicated by the fact that not only is the image reversed left to right which I'm used to on my Bronica but upside down which does take a bit of getting used to). Then its a question to focusing it with the help of a loupe to magnify the image on the ground glass screen. Then with a separate light meter taking the readings and setting the speed and aperture. then  putting the film holder in, taking out the dark slide and firing the shutter, replacing the dark slide and removing the holder from the camera. All done!

We spent several hours wandering around Norwich and I have to say that if you like talking to people about photography carrying a large format camera and tripod are a great way to attract attention! We even had our photograph taken at least twice whilst photographing in the Royal Arcade.

By the end of the day I had decided that I had really enjoyed the experience but was not convinced that it held enough attraction for me to actually buy one. That all changed when I saw the developed images! Paulgave me the film I had shot and I managed to develop them in my tank which is really designed for roll film. Then after drying them I managed to scan them in in slices with my flatbed scanner and stitch the pieces together in photoshop. Not exactly the best way to get the best image quality but what I saw on my screen blew me away. The depth of detail and the tonal range need to be seen to be believed. I'm posting an example below but I don't think that the web image really does the result justice.

So am I going to buy a large format camera? Possibly, although there are two major obstacles. One is my back and carrying that sort of weight around Norwich has reactivated my back problem and the other is that a lot of my shooting is done whilst I am walking the dogs and although they are patient I think it might be stretching it a bit to expect them to sit around for 20 minutes or so every time I want to take a shot. So I'm going to use the 6 x 9 Kodak on a tripod for a bit and see if I can cope with the speed of working. Its not a totally direct comparison but it will give me an idea and after an experiment I did last Monday (see next post) I'm keen to use that format more.

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