Angus Parker Photography: Blog en-us (C) Angus Parker Photography [email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) Tue, 05 Mar 2024 16:44:00 GMT Tue, 05 Mar 2024 16:44:00 GMT Angus Parker Photography: Blog 116 120 Culling the lens herd Large Format Lens CollectionA Lens CollectionA portion of Johan Biilmann's lenses I suspect that more than a few people reading this blog have a severe case of gear accumulation syndrome or GAS for short. I have to confess to a fairly acute case myself - my Excel spreadsheet of my lens “collection” has 32 rows. It got me thinking as to how I should go about "cull the herd" - a favourite phrase in our community. So first I reasoned with myself why I should even bother doing it. Then I wondered what criteria should I use. Here are my musing. Leave a comment if you have an approach that worked for you. I'd love to hear it.

Why bother reducing your lens collection

1. What happens when/if you die?

If you head over to the Large Format Photography Forum you’ll find a post on the ages of the forum’s members. Let’s just say that average age of large format enthusiasts isn't getting any younger. I'd count as a youngun at almost 50 years of age. So if you don't have a LF loving family member to inherit your lenses, chances are they they will be got rid of at ridiculously low prices or even, heaven forbid, thrown away. This seems such a waste for lenses that are not made any more and will probably hold their value or even increase in price in the years to come. 

2. Are you lenses getting the work-out they need?

Now I'm no expert in LF shutters but my guess is that the older shutter (Ilex, Alphax, Betax, Studio etc) probably don't take well to enforced idleness. Also if you live in a damp climate you may be growing mold that you are unaware about. So maybe you lenses are wasting away without your knowledge.

3. Is lens choice stifling your creativity?

It seems counterintuitive but having more lenses may act as a block to unleashing your creativity. Many aficionados believe that it is the limitations of LF that lends itself to producing great, or at least good, art. You are forced to pare down to the basics, to work within the confines of slow speed film, slow set-up, low numbers of exposures, specific focal lengths etc etc. The very narrowing of the range of possibilities helps you find your sweet spot and steers you away from gadgets and artifice. I'm sure you have heard people advise "start with only one lens". Perhaps we should also say to old timers "stick with only four lenses"?

4. Who else could be using those lenses?

Now its not as if all lenses are unusual or rare. You can buy a very good modern, multi-coated 4x5 lens for a few hundred dollars or less. But the rarer lenses, that are older soft focus, or super-wide, or super long, or have ULF coverage could be being used instead of gathering dust on your shelf. By owning and not sharing or selling a rare "heritage lens" you are depriving someone else the opportunity. This seems a shame, and sort of goes against the ethos of many in the community.

5. What could you do with the money?

Have I sold you yet? How about unlocking some cash? I would hate to tell my wife how much money is tied up in my lenses. That cash could be put to use going to a remote location you always wanted to photograph, buying some expensive film you always wanted to try, or setting up your own darkroom. The possibilities are endless.

So how should I go about "culling the herd"?

1. Think formats

I shoot 6x17 MF on a view camera, 4x5, 8x10, 11x14 and 14x17. I'm the first to admit that this is a bit crazy and a few of these cameras have been gathering dust lately while I'm away on an extended sabbatical. So perhaps you have a format that you haven’t been using for a while. Do you really need the lenses for that format? Are the too long / too heavy / too low in coverage to be useful in other formats? How many 8x10 lenses work practically on a 4x5 anyway?

2. Think focal lengths

Within a given format I bet that you have one or two favorite lenses simply because they hit that sweet focal length spot. For me that is 110mm and 180mm in 4x5, and 210mm and 360mm in 8x10. Then there are plenty of others that never get in the bag, or are brought along "just in case" but never or very rarely get used. For me that is anything shorter than 110mm or anything longer than 300mm in 4x5. So in reality I could very easily make do with a three lens set for 4x5 that includes 110mm/5.6, 180mm/9, and 300mm/9. But instead I have 12!

3. Think speed and character

Now I can hear some people saying, I need fast lenses for portrait work, or I work in dark forests, or I need soft focus lenses with particular characteristics. That may well be true but perhaps that's one or two lenses not a cohort! For me I don't do portraits in 4x5 so I really have no excuses. Could you get rid of some of your stranger, little used lenses? I know you keep them because you are convinced that when you retire with the body of a 20 year old Arnold Schwarzenegger you will carry those four 6lb lenses up a mountain range to get the perfect shot.... but really?

4. Think filter ring size

I'm a great believer in narrowing down to a few filter ring sizes to reduce the number of filters you need, or even to help me to remember not to forget that damn 58mm adapter for the Lee filter system (that I do every time). Also I hate, step-up rings - because that means I have to buy another lens cap, and the ring invariably gets attached to my filters and not my lens when I unscrew everything, and it just looks ugly. Call me pedantic. So perhaps while you are "culling the herd" you can get away from the 40.5mm, 58mm, and so on non-standard filters ring sizes in favor of 52mm, 67mm, or 77mm?

5. Letting go

Some lenses truly are special. For example, I reckon I'll be buried with my Fujinon 360/10 or one of my Port-Land lenses. But the truth is there are few lenses that would be really hard to replace down the road, especially at the same price you sold them for. I would be very suspicious of using the "special lens card" multiple times. Perhaps I'd allow myself one or two lens in this category. Learn to let go!


Finally, if you can't cull the herd at least take the first step to recover. Recognize you have a problem and don't make it any worse. For me that means for every lens I buy I have to sell at least one!

Photo credit: Johan Biilmann

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) how to lenses Tue, 28 Nov 2017 21:49:17 GMT
How to put a barrel lens in a shutter Shutters Options for Barrel LensesVarious Shutter Options for Barrel LensesLeft to Right: (1) Cut & Mount of 35" RDA in Compound #5, (2) Sinar Copal Shutter, (3) Packard Shutter

Many desirable lenses for large format, and especially ultra large format, never came with shutters or their shutters are so old they don't function. So how can you use them? Well there are a bunch of different options that vary in terms of price and efficiency:

Option 0. Don't buy the barrel!

Many barrel lenses seem very enticing but when you add in the cost of adapting them to a shutter (usually around $400 or more) then they aren't quite such a bargain. In fact, often for a few hundred more you could get a more modern lens that might be coated, apochromatic so you can use them with color film, and shuttered. Think hard about why you want to have that barrel, what are its properties that you couldn't find with a cheaper alternative.

Option 1. No shutter - no problem

You don't need a shutter if you have slow film (like paper or wet plate) or a small aperture. Just pop a lens cap or hat over the front element and make sure to reinsert the dark slide into you film holder. Of course this might not work in very bright light, or with a wide open aperture. Photography did just fine for decades without mechanical shutters!

Cost: Free

Best when: You have a slow lens or slow paper. When you don't need to use a flash, when the subject is stationary.

Option 2. No shutter - actually you're wrong there is one

Some lenses post-WWII were designed to fit a standard shutter size and thread pitch. It may be as simple as screwing in the lens elements to an older standard shutter like an Compound or Ilex or even a Copal. The key is finding a well functioning shutter preferably with the right aperture scale. But don't worry if you can't get the same aperture scale - SK Grimes and others can make them for you.

Cost: $50-$350 depending on the shutter. Many shutters are easier to buy with damaged lens elements that you can discard. $30 for custom aperture scales from SK Grimes.

Best when: Your lens elements simple screw into a standard shutter and are designed to sandwich a shutter.

Option 3. No shutter - cut and mount it in

This tends to be the most expensive option. First you need to source the right shutter to fit your barrel. Some shutters might constrain your maximum aperture size so you can loose a stop or two. It's really a trade off between max shutter speed, accuracy/age, and max aperture - looking at the largest sized shutters, the modern Copal 3 shutter is quite a bit smaller than the older Ilex 5 and even smaller than the older and much rarer Compound 5. SK Grimes has a list of commonly mounted barrels and what is their suggested shutter and whether that shutter will result in a loss of maximum aperture.

Cost: Total $400-$700: Shutter purchase $50-$350, Lens to Shutter mounting $300, Lensboard to Shutter mounting $30, Custom Aperture Scale $30, Lensboard $5-$40.

Best when: You have a barrel that isn't huge, when you need great accuracy and faster shutter speeds, or are using artificial strobe lighting, and when the barrel has elements that can be sandwiched around a barrel or front mounted on the shutter. You may want to give up your iris (if you have one) or keep it. Old irises tend to have more leaves and give better bokeh than modern shutters.

Option 4. No shutter - get one Copal Sinar Shutter for all your barrels!

The Sinar Copal shutter fits Sinar cameras (and some others that use the Sinar standard). The shutter sits between the camera front standard and a barrel lens which must be mounted entirely on the front side of the board. The great news is if you are planning to have a whole bunch of barrel lenses you can simply mount them on a Sinar board and then use the same shutter for all of them. Downside is the maximum shutter speed in 1/60 (which actually if quite fast compared to most of the other options).

Cost: Total: $400-$550 for the first lens, $30-$100 for each subsequent one: Sinar Copal shutter approximately $300-$400 used, Lensboard to Barrel mounting $30-$60, Flange if you don't have one around $50, Sinar style lensboard $5-$40 (if you want a genuine one).

Best when: You have multiple barrels to mount, and the barrels can all be mounted on the front of the lensboard.

Option 5. No shutter and huge lens - front mount a Packard

If you have an especially large barrel lens no Copal, Ilex or Compound shutter will work. You need a Packard shutter. They are still made today and are very simple pneumatic affairs that typically give you a max shutter speed of 1/25 sec. Usually they are mounted on the front of the barrel, and you can have filter threads made to sit between the lens and the shutter. Sometimes with older view cameras a Packard shutter is part of the front standard and works sort of like a Sinar Copal shutter. There are a number of similar simple mechanical shutters from defunct manufacturers like the ILEXPO but I'd stick with the Packard given the company is still in operation and a fair number of used ones come up for sale.

Cost: Varies: Packard shutters start with an opening of 1.5" all the way up to 9" and are priced from $150 to $1400 depending on features. I would suggest going for the regular No. 6 version with the "instantaneous" option included. Then you have to figure a way to attach it to the lens or fit it behind the front standard. Which can be as cheap as some cardboard tubing and tape, to a machined metal and rubber custom fitted option from SK Grimes.

Best when: You have a giant special barrel to shutter which will fit no other shutter, when that lens has a really nice iris that you want to keep, and when the barrel cannot be cut (e.g. Apo-Germinar 750mm f9) or the lens is very special and you don't want to cut it. The shutter works really well for longer exposures in "B" and "T" as well as the approximate 1/25 instant option.

Other considerations:

Filter rings: Barrel lenses, especially the older ones, don't always come with filter threads in the front element. If you are keen on using filters you may want to have a slip on filter ring custom made or some other fancy machining done. Try to keep to a "standard" filter size like 52mm, 67mm, 77mm, 95mm, 105mm, 122mm etc. Using step-up rings is a messy compromise best avoided.

Lens caps: Many barrel lenses had leather or some other style of lens caps. Often these are missing. Far better to find one from Schneider (they make about every size imaginable) or have one custom made during the shuttering process.

Some more resources:

Reinhold Schable's fast meniscus lenses for sale with shuttering options

14x17 ULF Lens Recommendations (some ideas from me on ULF lens options, many of which are barrel lens)

The Compound 5: a big shutter for big barrel lenses (a post by me on the biggest baddest shutter on the block)

Dan Fromm's list of large format lens resources that includes information on Apo-Artars, Apo-Nikkors, Apo-Ronars and G-Clarons etc.

Allen Rumme's extensive list of process lenses


Photo credits from top of post: Cut & Mount of 35" RDA by Angus Parker, Sinar Copal Shutter with barrel by Peter de Smidt, Front Mount Packard Shutter by Reinhold Schable

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) Barrel Lenses Equipment Review ULF Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:30:00 GMT
How to avoid Fix Exhaustion Recently I purchased some test strips to see how much dissolved silver was in the fix that I use for film developing and what was it's pH. The results shocked me. I had been using fix that had 2-3 times the recommended limits and certainly have not be fixing my film to archival standards for probably six months or more. So that got me to thinking how should I change my work flow so that I don't get into the same situation down the road. Besides testing the fix which is expensive and a pain, the simple answer is just to count the surface area of the film you are processing. The fix that I use is TF-4 Archival Fix from the Photographer's Formulary. You can also get it from Freestyle and B&H (store pick up only). What I like about TF-4 is that it is a non-hardening fixer which makes it excellent for prints that are to be toned or retouched. Moreover, it works great for stain developers like Pyrocat-HD. I use a Jobo to process my film so that pretty much means that I reuse a full liter of stock solution TF-4 (1+3) regardless of which format I'm processing. I develop 120, 4x5, 8x10, 11x14 and 14x17 formats so you can image keeping track of all this for the fix would be a nightmare. So I came up with a nifty laminated sheet where I just check off equivalent surface areas. I simple rule of thumb is that 1 roll of 35mm with 36 exposures, has roughly the same surface areas as 1 roll of 120mm Medium Format film, which has roughly the same surface areas as 1 sheet of 8x10 sheet film. 4x5 sheet film is a 1/4 of a sheet of 8x10, 11x14 roughly two times the surface area and 14x17 roughly three times. So if you keep track in equivalents you will exhaust your fix after 20 uses (or equivalents) of 1 litre of TF-4 stock solution (1+3). To be on the safe side I made it 19 for some margin of error (thinner or thicker negatives will affect the fix) although I imagine things would average out of that much film.

You can download a PDF of my sheet here.

Click here for PDF












Some other good rules to follow from a discussion on the Large Format Photography Forum:

  • Use separate batches of fix for film and prints. Permissible silver levels are higher for film than prints.
  • Use the Clip-test for film fix to determine exhaustion. When the clearing time reaches 2x that of fresh fix, discard the fixer.
  • Keeping track of throughput as per the manufacturers specifications.
  • Use a two-bath fixing for fiber base prints. If you use test strips, test the first bath and discard when dissolved silver reaches 1.5-2g/liter. Add to this tests for residual silver and hypo to confirm your workflow.
[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) darkroom Wed, 25 Jan 2017 06:17:37 GMT
Book Review: Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II Un-American by Richard Cahan & Michael Williams

Every once in a while a great photography book piques my interest, usually because I learn something about the medium and technique, sometimes because I get to simply enjoy the beauty of the images, and more rarely because I learn something about the people and time when the images were taken. This book has undeniably beautiful, if tragic, images but more importantly it speaks to a shameful period in U.S. history where mass hysteria against the "other" led to internment of legal residents and American citizens in incarceration camps. Unfortunately today history appears to be repeating itself and the "other" in this case, Muslims and Mexicans, are being targeted - so this book is even more timely in its message of tolerance and the need to be ever vigilant against hatred and bigotry.

In 1942, more than 109,000 Japanese Americans, including 70,000 US citizens, were sent to incarceration centers, most for the duration of the war. In a quirk of fate, the same U.S. Government that was committing this crime, was paying to document it, with a team of famous photographers including Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Clem Albers, Francis Stewart, Tom Parker, Charles Mace, and Hikaru Carl Iwasaki. Nearly 7,000 images in all, most 8x10 large format but some medium format, are now stored in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, and the Library of Congress in Wsahington, DC.

On February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order authorized the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans, German-Americans and Italian-Americans to internment camps.

On March 24, 1942 the "Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1" and others like it, were issued which gave Japanese Americans living on the West Coast just six days to settle their affairs and bring only what they could carry for transportation to one of 10 incarceration camps in remote parts of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Businesses and equipment were sold for pennies on the dollar, since white buyers knew the Japanese Americans had little choice but to accept their offers. Entire neighborhoods were simply erased and replaced as very few ever returned to their former homes.

The U.S. government allowed white farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl to work farms "abandoned" by Japanese Americans. After the war, many former owners just gave up their farms to these interlopers not having the stomach to try to regain their title. The Japanese Americans living in Terminal Island near a naval base, an airstrip and the Port of Los Angeles were given particularly harsh treatment. They were told to leave in 48 hours, their houses were condemned and bulldozed, and their fishing boats requisitioned as patrol vessels.

The camps had several things in common: guard towers, barbed wire fences, and armed soldiers. All but four of the 15 confinement sites had previously been racetracks or fairgrounds. The stables and livestock areas were cleaned out and hastily converted to living quarters for families of up to six. In addition, crews built standard 120-by-20 foot barracks. These went up in less than an hour, were made with shoddy construction per government order with green lumber that would shrink and leave gaps in the walls. Thin tarpaper didn't keep the wind out and insulation wasn't added until much later. The barracks were designed for soldiers in combat zones - hardly suitable housing for women, children and the elderly.

In many camps, the U.S. Government took advantage of literally captive labor and hired Japanese Americans incarcerated at the camps to make camouflage nets for the War Department. Pay was one tenth the going rate outside on the free market. Workers complained about the poor food, dust, fumes and long hours. Eventually, the factories were closed after resistance from many of the workers walking off the job.

Trying to recruit volunteers for the army, the US Government forced those incarcerated to answer a questionnaire to determine their loyalty. Questions 27: "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces on combat duty?" and Question 28: "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor?" were particularly problematic for many. Some second generation (Nisei) Japanese Americans thought it was inappropriate to ask such questions of U.S. citizens. 12,000 either refused to answer the questions or wrote "No". They became known as the "no-nos" and were sent to the now renamed higher security Tule Lake Segregation Center. To make room for the new arrivals, "loyal" inmates were set away to other camps. 34,500 of the "loyal" inmates were able to leave in 1943 and 1944 when they could prove they had a job or means of support in a community that was not antagonistic towards Japanese. At the end of the war, about 3,000 first generation (Issei) Japanese and 5,600 second generation (Nisei) inmates requested to be sent to Japan. In the end, 1300 people were deported.

The 170 images in the book show bewildered and tired Japanese Americans children, parents, and grandparents, assembling with their few belongings, camp life where inmates try to live as normal a life as possible given the circumstances, and some rare moments of genuine resistance. All in all, it's a portrait of dignified people behaving extraordinarily placidly in the face of a clearly illegal action to strip the rights under the US Constitution. In fact, so many rights were violated it would take too long to go into depth but you can read more here. In 1988 the U.S. government issued a formal apology to all former internees and paid $20,000 to each surviving internee. The text accompanying the images provides specific and general context to the images. While most of the images can stand on their own, the stories behind them really brings home the experience of the inmates and the impact on their lives. It wasn't just the inmates who were affected, many of the photographers also suffered physically because of what they saw and documented.

An interesting side story is how U.S. Census data was used to round up Japanese Americans. Although the Census Bureau was barred by law from providing specific information that could be linked to an individual, this protection was temporarily repealed under The Second War Powers Act of 1942. As Scientific American reported in 2007: "Despite decades of denials, government records confirm that the U.S. Census Bureau provided the U.S. Secret Service with names and addresses of Japanese-Americans during World War II." Might history be repeated with talk of a registry of Muslim Americans? I found it chilling to read one particular passage of the book which I will quote in full:

"You are kidding yourself if you think the same thing won't happen again," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of law students in 2014. He warned that camps similar to those opened in World War II might be built again. The government was wrong to force US Citizens into detention centers based on only suspicion, Scalia said, but he pointed to Roman philosopher Cicero, who cautioned: "In times of war, the laws fall silent."

Of course this being America, Scalia's words were used to support the entirely false proposition that President Obama was setting up FEMA Concentration Camps to intern or possible even murder loyal patriotic U.S. citizens!

On happier note, after the formal apologies and reparations by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and President George H.W. Bush in 1992, the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II was dedicated on the Washington Mall on November 9, 2000. Inscribed on its base are the words of Daniel K. Inouye, US Congressman, US Senator and Captain of 442nd Regional Combat Team:

"The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group."


You can buy the book from Amazon for $30. Worth every penny.

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 8x10 Ansel Adams Book Review Dorothea Lange Large Format Mon, 23 Jan 2017 08:11:57 GMT
My favorite black & white developers Over the past couple of years, I've tried a number of developers for B&W film. Here is my top three picks that each have their own role one of which might fit your needs:

Rodinal, an Adox product, is the longest continuously produced developer in existence having been patented in 1891! Why is it still so popular? As Ed Buffaloe says, Rodinal "produces little fog and no stain even at high temperatures, is relatively fast-working, is less temperature-dependent than other agents, can be mixed and stored in very high concentrations, and retains developing potential even at very high dilutions." It’s not a fine grain developer so best not used with 135 or 120 format.

Xtol, a Kodak Alaris product, is IMHO, the king of B&W developers. As Mark Covington says "Xtol is one of the few developers that do not contain hydroquinone. It uses derivatives of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and Phenidone as developing agents. Claimed advantages include low toxicity (important for environmental reasons as well as occupational safety), easy mixing (but see below), and an unusual combination of fine grain with high film speed (true shadow speed, not just push-processing)." Its a true fine grain developer and can be used with push or pull developing. The only pain is that it comes as two powders which have to be mixed with water (not so easy in fact) to make 5 liters of developer solution that then must be stored in airtight containers. I use 0.75l wine bottles with Vacu Vin wine stoppers to do the job.

Pyrocat-HD, "is a semi-compensating, high-definition developer, formulated by Sandy King. The advantages of formula include greater effective film speed, shorter development times, consistent staining action, lower toxicity, and no streaking or mottling with reduced agitation. Users have reported reduced printing times with UV light sources due to the different stain color, as well as reduced base plus fog density in rotary processors." If you plan to contact print your large format negatives in silver, as well as, platinum this is the go to choice. Silver development with visible light ignores the stain and gives a thinner negative. Platinum development with UV light recognizes the stain and gives a thicker negative needed for this kind of printing. Make sure to get the version with the B solution using Glycol. It's less toxic than alternatives. Pyrocat comes in many flavors, none of them drinkable! Pyrocat-HD is particularly good with rotary processors. Pyrocat-MC might be the other version to consider.

Now if you are stuck in some remote place and can't access regular developers why not mix up some Caffenol? I kid you not, you can develop film in instant coffee, baking soda and vitamin C!

B&W Developer Choices
  Rodinal / Adonal Xtol Pyrocat-HD  
  Rodinal_DeveloperRodinal_Developer XTOL_DeveloperXTOL_Developer Pyrocat_HD_DeveloperPyrocat_HD_Developer  
Fact sheet Here Here Here  
Price Low Very High Low  
Shelf Life when unmixed Long (years) As a powder - long (years) Unmixed liquids A and B - long (years)  
Shelf Life when mixed One shot - use right away When mixed and in airtight containers - months One shot - use right away  
Toxicity Low Low Medium - use nitrile gloves  
Features Some grain, best with large format Very fine grain, box speed, can be used with 135, 120 and large format Staining developer, can use the same negatives for Ag and Pt printing  
Where to buy Freestyle B&H, Freestyle Photographers' Formulary  


[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) Adonal B&W developer large format Pyrocat-HD Rodinal Xtol Sun, 08 Jan 2017 19:20:46 GMT
Good lenses for an 8x10 view camera Based on the 4x5 lens suggestions blog post that I made a while ago, I got a request to do the same for 8x10. Pretty much the same considerations play out for 8x10, do you want modern or old lenses, light weight for the field or you don't care for the studio, and the subject matter determining your preferred focal length and maximum aperture requirements. I won't repeat myself again, except to say that with 8x10 you should just double your favorite 4x5 focal lengths to get the equivalent. So a normal lens for 8x10 is somewhere between 300mm and 360mm.

Since I'm a field camera user, typically taking my super light weight Ritter 8x10 in a backpack with a few holders, I'm basically looking for the lightest lenses with the largest coverage that won't put pressure on my front standard and break my back. In that respect one manufacturer shines greater than all the others: Fujinon. For whatever reason, perhaps because Fuji was last to the party, the company produced some of the most unusual lenses that combine light weight, small fast shutters, and huge coverage. But if you are in a studio setting and/or working in really dark places such as interiors, dusk, dawn, dense forests, or night photography you might want to consider heavier, faster and often cheaper lenses. So I've put together two sets of lenses that meet the extremes of what someone might want in an 8x10 lens set. Then at the end I've got a section on unusual lenses to consider at the super-wide and super-long focal lengths.

Lenses for 8x10 Field Camera: Computar 210/9, Fujinon A 300/9, Fujinon A 360/10, Fujinon C 450/12Lenses for 8x10 Field CameraLeft to right: Computar 210/9, Fujinon A 300/9, Fujinon A 360/10, Fujinon C 450/12


Set 1: Field Camera / Good Light / More Expensive

Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Computar 210mm 9 313mm (actually more) MC 52mm 280g
Fujinon A 240mm 9 336mm MC 52mm 225g
Fujinon C 300mm 8.5 380mm MC 52mm 250g
Fujinon A 360mm 10 504mm MC 58mm 475g
Fujinon C 450mm 11.5 486mm MC 52mm 270g
Fujinon C 600mm 12 620mm MC 67mm 575g

This is my favorite set of lenses. You could say my Fujinon A 360/10 is practically glued onto the front of my camera I just take so many images with that lens. Unfortunately, it's also very hard to find and will cost you somewhere around $1,200. One alternative is the G-Claron 355/9 but it weighs 855g and takes a 77mm filter. There is also the lighter Apo-Ronar 360/9 which is usually a barrel but does sometimes show up in a Copal 3. Also if you want more coverage for the 300mm focal length, then the Fujinon A 300/9 with an image circle of 420mm and a weight of 410g is a nice alternative and a tad bit sharper. The cheaper alternative to the Fujinon C 300mm, and easier to find, is the Nikkor M 300mm f9 which is similar in size and aperture but has a smaller image circle at 325mm. Many people also like the G-Claron 305/9 with an image circle of 381mm and a weight of 420g. I should also give a shout-out to the Fujinon W 250/6.7 with lettering on the inside and a 67mm filter ring. While it is only a single coated lens in an older Copal 1 shutter, it usually can be had for $300 or so and it has 398mm of coverage!

To be honest I never take this full complement of lenses out altogether. The Computar 210/9 and the Fujinon A 360/10 suffice 90% of the time. I just don't like shooting super wide and things start to wobble in even the lightest breeze when my field camera is racked out beyond 600mm. All of these lenses have large to insane amounts of coverage, it's really hard to run out of room, and let's face it who wants to accidentally vignette an image when the film cost and processing is setting you back tens of dollars a sheet. None of them are poor performers in terms of sharpness.

Lenses for 8x10 Studio Camera: Fujinon W 210/5.6, Nikkor W 300/5.6, G-Claron 355/9, Nikkor M 450/9Lenses for 8x10 Studio CameraLeft to right: Fujinon W 210/5.6, Nikkor W 300/5.6, G-Claron 355/9, Nikkor M 450/9

Set 2: Studio Camera / Low Light / Cheaper

Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Fujinon W (Inside Lettering) 210mm 5.6 352mm SC 58mm 271g
Fujinon CM-W 300mm 5.6 412mm MC 77mm 965g
Schneider G Claron 355mm 9 444mm MC 77mm 855g
Nikkor M 450mm 9 440mm MC 67mm 640g
Goertz Red Dot Artar 610mm / 24" 11 518mm MC 67mm 1160g*

*Lens in brass without shutter. Can be mounted in an Ilex 5 or a Copal 3 shutter.

These lenses are faster, heavier, and have pretty large image circles. On the plus side most of them are fairly easy to find and on the cheaper side. The one exception is the Goertz RDA 24"/11 which is easy to find in a barrel but not so easy to find in a shutter. The Red Dot Artars were produced for a long time, first in brass and then in aluminum. The brass ones are very heavy. If you are going to the trouble of having a barrel mounted I'd go for a later aluminium one. An Ilex 5 will allow the maximum aperture for the lens, but a Copal 3 will shave off 1/3 of a stop. The Copal 3 is newer, has a faster max shutter speed, and is about the same weight as the Ilex 5 Plus it is much easier to find. Just make sure you get the black or silver "wide tooth" versions of the Copal 3 and not a Copal 3S which has a narrower maximum aperture. See my 14x17 lens post for an explanation of the differences. The Fujinon W 210/5.6 has to be the older version with the lettering inside the front element, not a later one with the lettering outside. The newer versions mechanically vignette the lens elements maximum performance so they don't cover 8x10. As it is the old version doesn't have much extra coverage on 8x10 so you need to be careful. Besides the Fujinon CM-W 300/5.6 there is also the similar and easier to find Nikkor W 300/5.6 but it takes 95mm filters and is another 300g heavier.

The Extras: Super-Wides and Super-Tele
Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Nikkor SW 120mm 8 312mm MC 77mm 610g
Nikkor SW 150mm 8 400mm MC 95mm 1050g
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 150mm 5.6 386mm MC 95mm 740g
Nikkor T ED 600mm 9 310mm MC 95mm 1650g
Nikkor T ED 800mm 12 310mm MC 95mm 1600g
Nikkor T ED 1200mm 18 310mm MC 95mm 1480g

At the wider end you can use the Nikkor SW 120/8 which just will cover 8x10 head on with no movements. Many 8x10 cameras simply can't handle such compressed bellows. The Nikkor SW 150/8 and Schneider Super-Symmar XL 150/5.6 are beautiful optics and also very wide on 8x10. The Nikkor makes a tele lens with ED glass and several different lens elements that take you from 600mm to 800mm to 1200mm. They cover 8x10 with a very little room for movements. 

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 8x10 Equipment Review Lenses Sat, 19 Nov 2016 05:44:02 GMT
Good Lenses for a 4x5 View Camera Good large format lenses for 4x5 photographyGood 4x5 LensesA few of my favorites: SSXL 80/5.6, SSXL 110/5.6, Fujinon CM-W 125/5.6, Sironar-S 150/5.6, Nikkor M 200/8, Nikkor M 300/9 Picking a good set of lenses for a 4x5 view camera can be a fun exercise if you are into gear and the technical aspects of large format photography. But for people who don't enjoy that side of things, I think it's worth sharing a couple of shortcuts to developing the best kit to suit your shooting style. The first decision to make is whether to buy modern multi-coated lenses in Copal shutters or go for something older, single coated, and in a non-Copal shutter. My advice, is simply to say that lenses are relative cheap on the second hand market and there is no reason to deny yourself a good set of modern lenses. Older shutters may not fire accurately, non-coated and single coated lenses may leave you with low contrast images with noticeable flare, and if you shoot color film you may find nasty color separation at the edge of objects if the lens is not color corrected i.e. apochromatic. I suppose if you want a certain "classic-look" and shoot b&w exclusively then you may want to go down that route but for most people that's not a wise choice.

Then the second choice is to consider your weight limitations. Are you going to backpack in the wilderness with your 4x5 in which case every gram or ounce will count. Or are you a driving to your subject or just staying put in a studio. In which case weight is less an issue. You will probably have already made a decision with the camera you are planning to use: a lightweight field camera is best with light weight lenses, while a studio monorail can take some very heavy lenses.

The third choice is the subject matter you intend to photograph. Do you take portraits? Do you take landscapes? Do you take shots of architecture? For portraits you need probably two focal lengths (135mm-150mm and 200mm-240mm) that will give you either a head shot or a torso /body shot. Smoothness rather sharpness will be your consideration. See more for this type of shooting here. For landscapes you probably want a wide angle (90mm-125mm)and a normal lens (150mm-180mm). For architecture you will want a wide angle lens with plenty of coverage for extreme movements to correct for parallax and get up close(80mm-110mm).

The fourth choice is you likely lighting situation. If you photograph in dim forests or at sunrise or sunset you will want faster lenses like f5.6 to help you compose and focus your image on the ground glass. If you are always in a studio setting with plenty of artificial light slower f9 lenses will suffice.

Finally you want to consider how many lenses you want to cover what range of focal lengths. Typically people new to 4x5 will extrapolate from their current format. So if you currently use 35mm film cameras or full-frame digital cameras you can multiply your current lens focal lengths by three to get the 4x5 equivalent. So a 28mm becomes approximately a 90mm, a 50mm becomes 150mm, and a 85mm becomes approximately 250mm. Remember your view camera will have a maximum and a minimum bellows length - so certain lenses most likely will be out of your reach at one extreme or the other. Then you may want to consider whether you want a 2, 3, or even 4 lens set. A simple rule of thumb is to start with you widest preferred lens focal length and multiple by 1.5x to get to the next lens in the set and so on. So a four lens set might be 90mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm. Or perhaps you just want a three lens set in which case multiplying by a factor of 1.66x would give you 90mm, 150mm, and 250mm. Or if you start a little longer something like 125mm, 180/200mm, and 300mm.

If you want to build your set slowly, start with a normal (150-180mm) or normal wide (125-135mm) lens and then work out from there. However, its a good idea to try and standardize on one, or at most two, filter ring sizes so you don't have to bother with step-up rings and many different sets of filter. When you get into step-up rings you have to buy new lens caps and unscrewing filters can often leave you with the step-up ring attached to the filter and not the lens. It's just a hassle best avoided if you can. Also if you are shooting E6 film like Velvia, you may want to buy a center filter which also makes a step-up ring impossible to use.

The most popular filter sizes in 4x5 are 52mm and 67mm. Sticking to one or the other or both is a good strategy. If you like super long lenses, i.e. anything over 300mm in 4x5, for a field camera it is probably best to use a telephoto design that will shorten your required bellows and reduce the 'windsock effect' thus leading to sharper images.

My list of suggested lenses is heavily populated by Nikkor and Fujinon lenses. It's not that the other two major modern brands, Rodenstock and Schneider, don't make excellent lenses, it's just that the other two brands tend to have offerings that are lighter, more compelling, and cheaper on the second hand market. Where either Rodenstock or Schneider have hit a sweet spot with a specific lens (low weight / large coverage / especially sharp) then I have added them. Also most lenses below have a 52mm or 67mm filter size. Where I have added a lens with a size different from those it's because the lens is particularly low weight or large coverage. As for mixing and matching to form your lens set from different brands I'd say go ahead. The truth is that there is as much variation in the look of different lines in one brand's lens lineup as there is between brands. 

Suggested Lenses
Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 80mm 5.6 212mm MC 67mm 271g
Nikkor SW 90mm 8 235mm MC 67mm 360g
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm 5.6 288mm MC 67mm 425g
Fujinon NW 125mm 5.6 198mm MC 52mm 265g*
Fujinon CM-W 125mm 5.6 204mm MC 67mm 265g
Fujinon NW 135mm 5.6 206mm MC 52mm 270g*
Fujinon CM-W 135mm 5.6 214mm MC 67mm 270g
Nikkor W 135mm 5.6 200mm MC 52mm 200g
Fujinon NW 150mm 5.6 224mm MC 52mm 280g*
Fujinon CM-W 150mm 5.6  223mm MC 67mm 280g
Nikkor W 150mm 5.6 210mm MC 52mm 230g
Rodenstock Apo-Sironar S 150mm 5.6 231mm MC 49mm 250g
Fujinon CM-W 180mm 5.6 260mm MC 67mm 405g
Nikkor W 180mm 5.6 253mm MC 67mm 380g
Fujinon A 180mm 9 252mm MC 46mm 170g
Nikkor M 200mm 8 210mm MC 52mm 180g
Fujinon A 240mm 9 336mm MC 52mm 225g
Fujinon CM-W 250mm 6.3 320mm MC 67mm 510g
Fujinon C  300mm 8 380mm MC 52mm 250g
Nikkor M 300mm 9 325mm MC 52mm 290g
Nikkor T ED 360mm 8 210mm MC 67mm 800g
Fujinon T 400mm 8 220mm MC 67mm 600g

* These lenses are from an older line and may be harder to find. I'm also estimating the weight from the newer line that followed. Confusingly, these lenses usually just have "W" on the outside of the front lens element. For more on the wonderful world of Fujinon look here.

For the minimalists out there who want only two lenses and are going to zoom with their feet, here are two alternative sets for you:

  1. Fujinon NW 125mm/5.6 (52mm filter/265g)
  2. Fujinon A 240mm/9 (52mm filter/225g)
  1. Nikkor SW 90mm/8 (67mm filter/360g)
  2. Nikkor W 180mm/5.6 (67mm filter/380g)

For a moderately wide and light set of three lenses with a single filter size I would suggest the following:

  1. Fujinon NW 125mm/5.6 (52mm filter/265g)
  2. Nikkor M 200mm/8 (52mm filter/180g)
  3. Fujinon C 300mm/8 (52mm/250g) or Nikkor M 300mm/9 (52mm filter/290g)

For a wider and still relatively light four lens set with only two filter sizes, I would suggest the following all Nikkor set:

  1. Nikkor SW 90mm/8 (67mm filter/360g) or Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm/5.6 (67mm filter/425g)
  2. Nikkor W 135mm/5.6 (52mm filter/200g)
  3. Nikkor M 200mm/f8 (52mm filter/180g)
  4. Nikkor M 300mm/f8 (52mm filter/290g)

For an even wider and faster set of five lenses with only one filter sizes, I would suggest the following:

  1. Schneider Super-Symmar XL 80mm/5.6 (67mm filter/271g)
  2. Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm/5.6 (67mm filter/425g)
  3. Fujinon CM-W 150mm/5.6 (67mm filter/280g)
  4. Fujinon CM-W 250mm/6.3 (67mm filter/510g)
  5. Nikkor T ED 360mm/8 (67mm filter/800g)

For more info on the fantastic large format lenses that are our there poke around Kerry Thalmann's excellent lens pages here. Also you can get deep into the numbers on Christopher Perez and Kerry Thalmann's lens test pages here.

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 4x5 Equipment Review Lenses Thu, 03 Mar 2016 16:46:51 GMT
What is the ULF format for you? ULF Camera by Darren SamuelsonULF Camera handmade by Darren SamuelsonCreative Commons Credit: Darren Samuelson, image cropped

About a year ago I went and took the plunge into Ultra Large Format, otherwise known as using a view camera with an area greater than 8x10. My format choice was driven by (1) shape (square versus panoramic) (2) finished output such as wetplate versus contact printing film (3) film availability and cost, (4) weight/portability, (5) the subject matter and whether you want to shoot wide, normal or long lenses, (6) camera cost and availability and (7) lens cost and availability.

But before you go down the ULF route, consider that any ULF negatives you make will most likely be contact printed and the sad truth is that image quality does not necessarily increase with the size of the negative. Film plane flatness, lens sharpness, and vignetting amongst other things are negatively correlated with size of the format. You may be better off just scanning a 4x5 or 8x10 negative and digitally enlarging it to create a new analog negative on Pictorico in a high end Epson inkjet printer. So you can sort of have your ULF negative cake and eat it without the ULF camera!

But for the brave souls who want to get into the world of ULF, let's take in turn each key characteristic to find your ULF sweet spot:

(1) Square versus Panoramic / Landscape versus Portrait  

People see usually in one shape or the other. While it is possible to use a reducing back to go from Square to Panoramic shape, the weight and cost penalty of carrying around half a camera you aren't using, an extra back, extra film holders, makes it unlikely you will do that. Square cameras can usually, although not always, switch from portrait to landscape orientation. But Panoramic cameras rarely can switch out of landscape orientation (with the exception of Richard Ritter's wonderful creations). A Square camera (e.g. 14x17") which shares the long dimension with a Panoramic camera (e.g. 7x17") is going to be much much heavier. So in a nutshell my advice is to stick with the shape you love. 

Alternatively you can shoot two panoramic images on a single sheet of film using a half dark slide. It's a relatively small weight penalty if less elegant than a reducing back.

(2) Finished Output 

Beside shape (square or panoramic), there is the overall size of the image you want to make. Most people move up from 8x10 because the contact prints are just to small for their liking. What do you want you final prints to be? If you are shooting film, do you have big enough trays and darkroom sink space for giant negatives and even bigger paper? One solution for limited space is to use a Jobo rotary processor - where you can both develop your negative and your prints in a limited space without the need for any trays. The largest Jobo drum can develop 16x20 paper, and combining some of the smaller drums you can easily develop 14x17 film. This approach also uses fewer chemicals.

But perhaps you want to produce a wet plate collodion, dry plate, daguerreotype, or other in-camera original image. In that case, you will need larger lens boards, 6x6 at minimum up to 9x9, and beefier front and back standards to take the heavy faster brass lenses and heavy plate holders. At at ULF sizes, you're also more likely to want a ground glass focusing screen panel that can swing out of the way, instead of requiring you to lift the plate back over your head to slide it in between the ground glass and the rear frame. Finally you need a well thought out plan on how to prepare and develop the plate on site.

While most people are using ULF to stay in the analog world and avoid digital post processing, a few people consider the maximum size they can scan a key criteria. Some fairly modern flatbed scanners go up to 11x14 and drum scanners max out around 14x17.

(3) Film availability and cost

You can see from Table 1: ULF Film by Format (February 2016) that 11x14 wins hands down for film availability. You will likely have film in that format for years to come. Other "Square" formats that have good film options are 14x17, 16x20, and 20x24. For Panoramic formats 7x17, 8x20 and 12x20 are well provided for. However, unless you cut down X-ray film to 7x17, the 11x14, and 14x17 formats are really the only other sizes that offer this cheap but high contrast film option. Film is generally priced on a per square inch basis so the smaller the area of the format the cheaper the film. This factor also favors 7x17 and 11x14, (and 14x17 but only if using X-ray film). If you make your own plates then any size in theory is possible!

Table 1: ULF Film by Format (February 2016)
Format Size Ilford FP4+ Ilford HP5+ Delta 100 Adox CHS 100 II Kodak Portra 160 (C41) Arista Ortho Litho X-Ray (Standard Sizes)  
7x17 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  
8x16 No Yes No No No No No  
8x20 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  
8.5x15 Yes No No Yes No No No  
9.45x12 No No No Yes No No No  
10x12 Yes Yes No No No No Yes  
10x14 No No No No No No Yes  
11x14 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes  
12x15 Yes Yes No No No No No  
12x16 No No No Yes No No No  
12x20 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  
14x17 Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes  
14x20 Yes No No No No No No  
14x36 No No No No No No Yes  
16x20 Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No  
20x24 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  

If you shoot film, it should be your main consideration when buying a ULF camera simply because it will be your main cost of ownership even if you only shoot 20 sheets a year for a couple of years. That is unless you use X-ray film where the price differential is a few dollars versus tens of dollars per sheet. You will probably be able to sell back your second hand lenses and second hand camera for approximately what you bought them for. Not so for new view cameras which often go for a significant price reduction on sale in the secondary market.

Remember to place your order for ULF film between early April and early June if you plan to use Ilford FP4+, HP5, or Delta 100. Make sure to order with a local dealer both to support your local store but also to make it easy to pick-up your film and assure that it doesn't get damaged in delivery.

For more on film choices see: The Search for the Perfect Film Format

(4 ) Weight and Portability & (5) Subject & Field of View

Panoramic cameras tend to be lighter because they have smaller standards and bellows than square formats. In addition, many panoramic cameras are older banquet style cameras - so named because they were used to photograph large groups of people with wide angle lenses at short ditances. As a result they have short bellows. If you like to shoot wide landscape images these might be the camera for you. 

If you are only thinking of doing portraits or still-life with minimal movements in a studio, then you might want to consider the a studio camera made around the turn of the 19th century. E Anthony (later E & HT Anthony / Anthony and Scovill / Ansco) and Burke & James made quite a few versions of 11x14 and 14x17 studio cameras some with bellows as long as 7 feet or 213cm!

Authenticity is important to some ULF shooters. You don't show up to an American Civil War re-enactment with a Carbon Fiber based Ritter camera, but rather an ancient contemporaneous camera complete with huge brass lens.

Its obvious to point out the larger the format the larger and heavier the lenses, film holders and tripod needed. Film holders in particular are amazingly heavy in ULF when compared to 4x5 or even 8x10 and will comprise a significant portion of the equipment weight if you have more than one or two.

(6) Cost of Cameras, Film Holders and Availability

Banquet cameras in 7x17, and to some extent 12x20 are quite common as are 11x14 format cameras. Especially Panoramic format cameras from 100 years ago tend to go for bargains but you may need to spring for new bellows. For other formats you may have to wait a while to find a well priced second hand camera. But also don't underestimate the time and cost to buy a new camera - they are almost always custom made and may take three months to a year and a half to manufacture. Rarely is any new ULF camera in stock, so you may be better off just waiting for a second hand camera.

Also note that film holders are not interchangeable between cameras because there were no standards for ULF, so absolutely buy your holders with the camera if you can. Even in 14x17" where there is an ANSI standard the film holders are still not interchangeable!

Finally, if you are handy in a wood shop you might want to consider building your own view camera. Some people start with acquiring film holders, either new or used, and build the camera around them.

(7) Lens Availability and Cost

The smaller the image circle for the format the more lenses are available and the cheaper they are to find. Plus those smaller IC lenses are more likely to be found multi-coated, and in a shutter. If you don't mind a barrel lenses many old process lenses will work well and can be quite cheap.

For more on lens choices see: 14x17" ULF Lens Recommendations

The Sweet Spot

So in summary I would say there are three clear sweet spots in ULF: 7x17, 11x14, and 14x17. The logic is explained below. If you want a list of possible ULF cameras to buy, both old and new, you can review this spreadsheet: ULF View Camera Specs (2016). Please add any missing information.

7x17 - Cheap available second hand cameras, portable, lots of B&W film choices with the option of cutting 14x17" X-ray film in half, with lots of lenses to choose from. But depending on the camera you may be limited to wide to wide-normal field of view and of course a panoramic landscape format.

Some Options:

Used: Folmer & Schwing (sturdy / short bellows), or Korona (less sturdy / long bellows)

New: Chamonix

11x14 - Moderately priced second hand cameras, somewhat portable, lots of B&W film choices, some X-ray film options, lots of lenses and usually with all fields of view - wide to long. Square with option to use half dark slide for panoramic images. Some studio cameras exist in this format size that are very heavy.

Some Options:

Used: For the Field: Rochester (Empire State), or Seneca (Improved View) but really there are so many choices

Used: For the Studio: Anthony (Climax Portrait), or Burke & James (Ingento Portrait)

New: Chamonix for film, Star Camera for wet-plate.

14x17 - Can be cheap camera if you find an old Rochester but more likely a custom build, B&W film costs are high but very cheap X-ray film is plentiful, quite a few lenses cover the format and fields of view are usually wide to long. Square with option to use half dark slide for panoramic images. Some studio cameras exist in this format size that are very heavy.

Some Options:

Used: For the Field: Rochester (Empire State)

Used: For the Studio: Anthony (Climax Portrait), or Burke & James (Ingento Portrait)

New: Chamonix for film, Star Camera for wet-plate

Some of the other popular formats you might want to consider are summarized below in Table 2: Decision Criteria for ULF

Table 2: Decision Matrix for ULF
Format Portability Camera Availability Camera Price B&W Film Availability X-Ray Film Availability Lens Selection Lens Cost
7x17 High High Low High Medium(2) High (3) Low
8x20 Medium Low-Medium Medium High None  High (3) Low
12x20 Low-Medium Medium Low High None  Medium (3) Medium
11x14 High High Low High Medium High Low
14x17 Low-Medium Low (1) Medium-High High High Medium Medium
16x20 Low  Low-Medium (1) Medium-High High None  Low  Medium-High
20x24 Low  Low-Medium (1) Medium-High High None  Low  Medium-High

Notes: (1) Made to Order, very few old ones (2) Cut 14x17 in half (3) Bellow limit use to shorter focal lengths for "Banquet" cameras

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 11x14 12x20 14x17 16x20 20x24 7x17 8x20 ULF Tue, 09 Feb 2016 17:15:19 GMT
Suggestions for a 21st Century Darkroom Pt/Pd Workspace in a DimroomPt/Pd Workspace in a DimroomConsider the alternatives before you jump into creating your own darkroom


Now I know everyone out there in analog film world has an opinion on the subject of darkrooms, but having come to this party after the digital revolution I think much of the advice offered on forums is out of date. I've recently gone through the process of setting up my darkroom and I think sharing my though process will be helpful for the next person coming down the same path. I know I would have liked to have read this post a few years ago!

First off, can I dissuade you from creating a darkroom at all? There are simply much more compelling alternatives available to be considered:

(a) Go ADD: Analog Input - Digital Post Process - Digital Output

By which I mean shoot and develop your analog film, but then scan the result into a digital workflow for post processing, and then output the results again digitally on a high end Inkjet printer. If you use a dark bag and tanks to develop your film you don't need a darkroom at all and limited amounts of chemicals to develop the film. Think no space / little mess. Scanning the results into a computer is quick and easy, digital post-process is much easier and more versatile than anything that can be done in the "dodging and burning" analog world, and then talk about simplicity of outputting multiple copies of the same image on a inkjet printer! The quality of a high end Inkjet is really breathtaking and very similar to Silver-Gelatin.

See Table 1. for my recommendations for a set-up like this.


(b) Go ADA: Analog Input - Digital Post Process - Analog Output through Platinum Process in a Dimroom

By which I mean shoot and develop your analog film, scan the result into a digital workflow for post processing, output the results as a digital negative on plastic sheets using a high end inkjet printer, and then contact print the "negative" with chemicals. But I'd go one step further in my recommendations - don't print using the silver gelatin process because then you will need a darkroom. Instead print in the beautiful Platinum/Paladium process which only needs a dimroom. Now I'm sure many people reading this will think I've gone off my meds, they will be saying isn't Platinum printing expensive, complicated, time consuming, and just plain arcane? The answer is no because:

  • Platinum is printed on cotton paper that you apply chemicals to in order to make it light sensitive - so you don't every need to buy photo paper, so you don't every have to worry about accidentally exposing the same stock of photo paper to light and fogging it, and you don't have to worry about expiration dates.
  • With Platinum printing you can easily produce an archival image that will last the ages, which is not so easy with Silver-Gelatin with the need for Selenium toning and incredibly long washing cycles for Fiber paper.
  • As mentioned above, Platinum printing only needs a dim room with a low wattage tungsten bulb. So you can see what you are doing in white light! No need for a light tight darkroom and red safelights at all!
  • Yes, the Platinum sensitizing chemicals are expensive but you don't use much and even with the fixing and washing chemicals, they take up almost no room and don't smell bad like Silver-Gelatin.

See Table 2. for my recommendations for a set-up like this.


(c) Go ADA with a Jobo

If you don't want to give up on Silver-Gelatin printing, but also don't want a large darkroom because of space or cost considerations, the Jobo Rotary Processor may be just the thing. Not only can you develop your film in a dark tank or drum but you can also develop your Silver-Gelatin prints in larger purpose sized tanks. You just need to find a way to contact print the paper and get it into the drum all in the dark. This may be doable in a well darkened bathroom used at night.


(e) Go DDA with a professional Film Negative

This is sort of a variation of option (b). You can capture the image digitally with your digital camera, post-process as you would normally digitally, reverse the image to make a negative, apply a curve to the negative for the analog printing process you want to use (this will be different for silver gelatin versus platinum for example), and then contact print that negative using a regular darkroom process. The advantages are you don't have to mess with capturing the image in an analog camera with its associated narrower dynamic range, you don't have to develop the film, or scan it, and you don't have to use an optical enlarger as that step can be done in a computer, and the negative you professionally outsource production of is not only on film but at a high 2400 DPI which turns out to be far superior to what can be achieved with a InkJet printer. Have a look at for pricing and the possibilities with digital film negatives.

(e) Rent a Darkroom

It's never been easier to find a darkroom for rent now that we have Ilford's Find Darkroom website. Generally you just bring your photo paper and the rest is all set-out ready to use. No clean-up, no need to worry about what to do with your chemicals like your fixer or selenium toner, no investment in a darkroom or enlarger. No need for a dedicated space in your house or apartment. In fact, you may not have the ceiling height necessary to house an analog optical enlarger for 4x5 or 8x10 film anyway. In San Francisco we are lucky enough to have two excellent public darkrooms, The Harvey Milk Photo Center and The Rayko Photo Center. But even if no public darkrooms are available may private ones may be just an introduction away through a local analog photo group - just check in your local area. 


So I couldn't dissuade you? You must have a full-on darkroom for Silver-Gelatin printing? In that case, I say be a circling vulture on the lookout. Old professional photographers are still dying leaving fully equipped darkrooms to be dealt with by their families. Photolabs are getting rid of old analog equipment. Schools are closing their analog darkrooms. Craigslist and to a lesser extent Ebay can be a treasure trove of information. Here are some pointers to help you stretch your dollars and get the right equipment for the long run:


  • Don't even think of color film development or color printing. Temperature control is demanding, the chemicals toxic, and the results not worth it given the time and the alternatives processes. Plus the suppliers are starting to fade out - so you may learn a complex process for nothing. Better off sending your color film out to be developed and then you can scan the results into a digital workflow. 
  • Look for an enlarger brand and model that has a large local/national user base with plenty of spare parts on Ebay. 
  • Prices for high-end enlargers tend to be binary - either very expensive or almost free! Shipping an enlarger anywhere is ridiculously expensive and they are quite fragile. If you are willing to drive and pick-up expect a good price! So go for quality and don't grab the first enlarger you come across. Good sinks can also be scavenged locally too - they are also less than portable!
  • Consider getting an analog color head for your enlarger because it makes printing on variable contrast B&W printing easier. Stay away from digital color heads with fancy electronics that will break and leave you stranded.
  • For the DIYers out there you can also make your own head using LEDs. I'd particularly recommend this route if you want to print 8x10 or even 11x14 negatives and enlargements. The power requirements of LEDs is minimal and hence very little heat is generated that might distort your film plane and damage your negative.
  • Consider getting an enlarger designed for the next format size up so you are upward compatible. Medium format instead of 35mm for example, or 4x5 instead of just Medium Format. There will be some size increase in the equipment but usually a jump in quality as well. Once you've set-up your darkroom it's usually almost impossible to bring in another even larger enlarger into the layout. 8x10 enlargers are generally too large for a home darkroom. Even if you have an industrial space 8x10 enlargers are huge and may have special power requirements.
  • Rotary processors like the Jobo CPP2 with Jobo Expert drums are a nice little luxury and allow for easily repeatable results for Large Format. 
  • Stick to one or two film types which are easily found - e.g. Ilford FP4+ (125 ISO i.e. medium speed, forgiving B&W film) and a higher speed film like Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400)

  • Pyrocat-HD in glycol is a staining film developer that can produce a single negative that has two densities for silver (visible light) or platinum (UV light) printing, plus it's quite cheap and lasts forever. The downside is that it is a little toxic so you need to wear gloves. Otherwise, I'd suggest Rodinal for a cheap and long-lasting developer.



Table 1: Analog-Digital-Digital Workflow Equipment
Analog Input: 
Medium Format Scanner: Plustek OpticFilm 120 for up to 6x12cm
Large Format Scanner: Epson Perfection V800 for 4x5 and 8x10 Film 
Digital Post-Processing:
Computer: Apple Mini
Software: Vuescan, Photoshop
Digital Output:
Printer: Epson Stylus Pro 3880, or the replacement Epson SureColor P800





Table 2: Analog-Digital-Analog Workflow Equipment

Analog Input: 
Medium Format Scanner: Plustek OpticFilm 120 for up to 6x12cm
Large Format Scanner: Epson Perfection V800 for 4x5 and 8x10 Film 
Digital Post-Processing:
Computer: Apple Mini
Software: VuescanPhotoshop
Analog Output:
Printer: Epson Stylus Pro 3880, or the replacement Epson SureColor P800 onto Pictorico OHP Transparency Film
Paper: Bergger Cot 320
Chemicals:  Sensitizer: Palladium Solution #3 Standard - 25ml, Platinum Solution #3 - 10 ml, Tween 20 10% sol - 25ml, Ferric Oxalate Sol. #1 - 100ml / Developer: Potassium Oxalate (1qt) / Wash: EDTA Tetra Sodium - 250gm, Citric acid - 1000 grams, Sodium sulfite (All can be purchased from Bostick & Sullivan)
Brushes: 2" (5cm) Sterling Watercolor Brush,  3" (7.5cm) Sterling Watercolor Brush (Can be purchased from Bostick & Sullivan)
Moisture Meter: General Tool & Instruments MMD4E
Contact Frame: 16x20" and 11x14" Custom Made by Douglas Kennedy
UV Lightsource: Aristo UV Lightsource
Ventilation: Eepjon Hoods and systems are great. Don't skim on ventilation when using chemicals with heavy metals. 
Gloves: Nitrile Gloves, 100 pack - Medium Size
Trays: Cescolite especially  dimpled version which is only available in certain sizes
Sink: Large enough for 5 trays side by side in your largest format size
Print Washer: Versalab are inexpensive but a little bit of a pain to put together, if you can get a 2nd hand premium clear plastic washer for cheap go with that.
[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) Contact Printing darkroom How to Platinum Printing workflow Thu, 28 Jan 2016 18:00:00 GMT
Old Saint Hillary's Chapel Ladders on Old St Hillary's ChapelLadders on Old St Hillary's ChapelFuji GF670 with Ilford XP2

Every photogenic old church in the Bay Area has had Ansel Adam's sublime treatment. Usually St Ansel's image is so superb that it puts you off going anywhere near the same territory he's already marked. Even worse, when he was photographing, the Bay Area was much less built up so he rarely had unsightly powerlines, encroaching houses and highways to deal with. So I count it as something of a coup that I have taken an image of an "Ansel" church that I'm proud of!

About a year and a half ago, during one of our hot dry summers I decided to go to Old Saint Hillary's Chapel in Tiburon st midday at the sun's harshest height. Fortunately for me, the church was being painted by a solitary man using several ladders. At times, he would head back to the utility shed behind the church to clean his brushes or get new materials. So in one of his absences, I captured the North side of the church with three ladders leaning up against the simple white structure. 

My tool of choice that day was one of my favorite medium format cameras the Fuji GF 670 paired with my favorite medium format B&W film - Ilford XP2 Super. Scanned at high resolution, slightly sharpened in post processing, and with the gamma level turned up a touch, the image really spoke to me with it's harsh shadows, and high contrast between the windows and the walls. The digital image really doesn't do the final printed photograph justice. I used Epson Velvet Fine Art paper to give a painterly quality that comes pretty close to the look of a silver gelatin print on matte paper. 

Maybe now I've satisfactorily taken one image of a former Ansel Adam's subject I'll reconsider staying away from remainder of his Bay Area subjects!

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) gf670 image sharing mf xp2 Mon, 25 Jan 2016 17:56:52 GMT
The search for the perfect film format Film FormatsFilm FormatsFrom 6x7cm to ULF what is the best format? In the past four years since I've returned to film photography I've used numerous medium and large formats. Initially I started with medium format 6x9 with a pair of Fuji GW690iii and GSW690iii, the so called Texas Leicas. I largely replaced these cameras with two modern 6x7 cameras with built in meters, namely the Fuji GF670 and GF670W, to reduce size and increase handheld portability. Then I moved to my first large format with a 4x5 Chamonix field camera, followed by a helical cone 4x5 point and shoot Fotoman 45SPS. Then I added the 6x12 and 6x17 panoramic formats with a Noblex 150UX swing lens camera and a Shen Hao PTB617 view camera. Finally I gave in to the lure of larger formats with a Ritter 8x10 and Chamonix 14x17. So in a way I've tried out many of the available formats in film world except returning to the 35mm of my childhood. So perhaps now it's time to reflect on the various formats I've used and rationalize down to a smaller sub-set if I can!

While you can divide these formats into medium or roll formats and large or sheet formats, in terms of functionality it's not quite so clear since some of the advantages of the format comes from the type of camera used, i.e. point and shoot camera, swing lens camera and view camera. You can and I do use a view camera with roll film, and you can and I've tried using a fixed lens point and shoot camera with sheet film. So instead I'll go through what I see as the benefits of each possible combination:

Point and shoot with roll film formats 6x4.5 through 6x9

I've used the Fuji GW690s and GF670s in this category. In my opinion, these cameras really shine when you are using a dye based film either E6 slide transparency or C41 color negative film, rather than traditional black & white because you get increased resolution which can really be pulled out in a good scan or analog optical enlarger. I especially include Ilford's wonderful XP2, a B&W film developed with the color negative C41 process. With those dye films you can enlarge to my preferred print size of 14x17 without any loss of detail. I've found that's not always the case with B&W film. But you may like their grainier authentic B&W film look. 

In my view you can either use two fixed lens cameras (one wide and one normal) or one interchangeable lens camera like the excellent Mamiya 6 or 7 cameras with two or more lenses. Either option gives you plenty of flexibility and relatively low weight / volume given the image quality possible. There is no movements possible unlike with a view camera but with helical mounts it's easy to shoot using depth of field markings or a coupled rangefinder as most cameras in this category have.

Point & shoot with roll formats 6x12 through 6x24

Beyond 6x7 or 6x9 formats it's possible to find 6x12, 6x17 or 6x24 panoramic cameras in this category. These cameras often have large heavy cones and use large format lenses rather than integrated leaf shutter lenses or proprietary lens mounts. Typically they don't come with rangefinders and rely on depth of field markings or ground glass focusing. While these cameras are rugged, they tend to be quite heavy, bulky and not very flexible given a single focal length and focusing limitations. In my opinion in most use cases you are better off using a view camera with roll film holder as described below. Having said that I haven't used or owned one of these cameras.

Point and shoot with 4x5 sheet film

I've used the Fotoman 45SPS in this category. It takes regular 4x5 sheet film in a regular film holder. The lens is parallel to the film plane although you can shift a small amount upwards. The main advantage is the larger negative but this negated by the weight of the camera and the size of the camera with its cone. It's really neither fish nor fowl: none of the advantages of the field view camera - movements and compactness, multiple focal lengths and none of the advantages of the fixed lens roll film camera - speed of use, light weight, multiple images etc. Also you are really restricted to one focal length unless you are willing to carry around another heavy cone and lens. Plus any cone over 90mm in length starts to be unwieldy. Really the sweet spot for this type of camera is when using a super-wide lens like the Schneider 47mm which has little or no movements anyway and gives you a very small and flat cone. In hindsight one of the older Cambo cameras with the 47mm lens would be the best option in this rather special use category. 

Swing lens with roll film in 6x12 or 6x17 

I've used the Noblex 150UX (6x12) and 175UX (6x17) in this category. These cameras have a small sharp fixed focal length lens that mechanically swings around focusing a portion of the image at a time on a curved film plane. They are moderately heavy and moderately bulky but have really sharp lenses and super wide field of view - so much so you have to be worried about getting your fingers in the picture on the sides! All focusing is by depth of field made by combining a three level distance setting with an aperture setting. It's simple to use and the results speak for themselves. But this is a really specialized setup with limited applications. Something to definitely consider if you love panoramic formats.

View camera with roll film in 6x9 through 6x17

I've used a dedicated Shen Hao PTB617 view camera with roll film back and a 4x5 view camera with 6x12 roll film back. These setups give you multiple focal lengths at relatively low weight, the important shift movements, and the relatively less important tilt movements. If you are a panoramic junkie, a dedicated camera like the Shen Hao is a no brainer, but if you are an occasional panoramic shooter and already own a 4x5 view camera then a roll film back makes more sense. Either way you'll get to use more film types than the limitations imposed on you by using sheet film.

View camera with 4x5 or 8x10 LF sheet film

I've used a Chamonix 45F1 and Ritter 8x10 in this category. View cameras have the functionality to make movements of the film relative to the lens plane. As such they are invaluable for architecture and certain still life subjects where converging verticals become a problem otherwise. Each sheet of film can be independently developed to allow for easier N+ or N- management. View cameras can use many different focal lengths and more flexible as a result. 4x5 film is really the sweet spot given the different types of film available, the size of the negative and the size of the camera. Its optimal for optical enlarging or digitally enlarging using a scanner. 8x10 becomes more unwieldy. While the negative is four times larger the resolution gains over 4x5 aren't really worth the extra weight of larger film holders, bigger lenses and bigger cameras. Where 8x10 might become attractive is in contact printing since 4x5 contact prints while nice really don't have the scale most people prefer.

View camera with 4x10, 7x17 or 8x20 Panoramic LF/ULF sheet film

I've not owned any camera in these formats. While I do like panoramas I'm not really attracted to them in large format because the cameras are so specialized in their use and the film is expensive, not easily available, and mostly limited to black & white. Contact printing is the most likely way you are going to be producing output or using an expensive drum scan. A high resolution scan of 120 roll film in pano format will get you equivalent quality output at large print size so I guess I don't really see the reason to tie myself up with one of these cameras. Plus most of the cameras in this format are turn of the 1900s banquet cameras designed for portraits of large groups and their bellows do not extend very far. Odds are you will have to be happy with a wide or wide-normal perspective. Wet-plate processes are where these cameras shine as a cheap way to get into historical photographic processes.

View camera with 11x14, 14x17, or 16x20 Square ULF sheet film

I own a Chamonix 14x17 camera in this format. Really what is there to say about ULF? It's the province of madness. Again you are pretty much restricted to contact printing unless you pay for a drum scan and have a very powerful computer able to post process such huge files. Lenses are large, cameras are huge and film holders gigantuan. You will probably need to upgrade your tripod/head, carrying cases and still need an assistant. In the smaller sizes wet-plate processes might be where these cameras shine. I don't know since I don't do wet plate. Putting the enormous film negatives on a light table is quite the rush.

In Summary....

So which combination is best? I think it's fairly easy to rule out Point & Shoot cameras in panoramic roll film formats and Point & Shoot helical cone based cameras using 4x5 or 8x10 sheet film. Otherwise, I would suggest it's basically a personal choice between a couple of sweet spot combinations: Point & Shoot in 6x7 or possibly 6x9 roll film formats, and a view camera in 4x5 sheet format. Besides that if you 'see' in panoramic format I highly recommend the Shen Hao PTB617 or Noblex 150UX. As mentioned before ULF is the realm of the mentally unfit - but it's such a nice asylum.

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 14x17 4x5 6x12 6x17 6x7 6x9 8x10 Chamonix14x17 Chamonix45F1 LF MF Noblex150UX Ritter8x10 ShenHaoPTB617 ULF Velvia50 XP2 Wed, 08 Jul 2015 22:57:30 GMT
The Compound 5: a big shutter for big barrel lenses 42 Artar in Compound 5 Shutter42" Artar in Compound 5 ShutterA great option for mounting large barrel lenses for ULF photography

The Compound 5 shutter is a great alternative for shutter mounting large barrel lenses for ULF photography. It has an appreciably larger aperture and cell mount than the Copal 3 or Ilex 5 alternatives - so it can avoid vignetting. The Compound shutter was developed in Germany in 1905 and stayed in production until the 1970s. It was prized for its reliability and unlike modern shutters uses a pneumatic cylinder to regular the exposure time. Care must be taken when undertaking a CLA of a Compound shutter since it has delicate workings which do not take to the typical cleaning approaches used with clockwork designs. SK Grimes has a list of lenses and suggested shutters for mounting them on which is a good place to start when considering barrel mounting. Strangely this list doesn't mention the Compound 5 which is certainly a better option for a 42" Artar for example.


Large Shutter Options for ULF
Shutter Aperture Lens Cell Mount Shutter to Board Mount Max Speed
Copal 3 45mm 58mm M 60mm x .75 1/125 second
Alphax 5 58mm 73.8mm 3.117 inches - 30 t.p.i. 1/50 second
Ilex 5 63mm 75mm 3.225 inches - 30 t.p.i. 1/50 second
Compound 5 64.5mm 82.8mm M 90mm x1 1/50 second
Sinar Copal 76.2 mm (3 inches) Mount rear of barrel to Sinar Board Part of system 1/60 second
Packard 88.9mm (3.5 inches) up to 203.2mm (8 inches) custom Custom front or rear of lens Custom 1/25 second


How to use the Compound Shutter

The Compound 5 shutter is similar but different to the modern Copal shutter. There is a Wheel (1) for setting the exposure time which goes from 1 second to 1/50 second. There is a Mode Setting (2) to switch between "T", "B" and "M" or manual (using the exposure time wheel). The is a Shutter Cock (3) for cocking the shutter - but this is only to be used in the "M" setting. Using the shutter cock when in "T" or "B" modes may damage the shutter. There is an Aperture Setting (4) ring for setting the f-stop. There is a manual Shutter Trigger (5) and a Cable Release opening (6) for taking the exposure. Apparently pneumatic shutters are more accurate if you pause briefly between cocking the shutter and taking the exposure to allow the cylinder pressure to equalize with the outside pressure. Note: The image below is of the Compound 4 shutter which is identical in all respects besides its size and fastest exposure time.

Compound Shutter LayoutCompound Shutter Layout(1) Time, (2) Mode Setting, (3) Shutter Cock, (4) Aperture Setting, (5) Manual Trigger, and (6) Cable Release


Useful resources:

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) Compound 5 Equipment Review How to ULF Sun, 28 Jun 2015 22:30:08 GMT
14x17" ULF Lens Recommendations Holy TrinityFrom left: Fujinon C 600mm f11.5, Nikor M 450 f9, G-Claron 355mm f9

Over the past year, I've been building a lens collection to use with my new Chamonix 14x17 view camera. Normal (being 560mm on this format) and wider lenses are relatively easy to find. But it's at the longer end of the spectrum that the choices become more varied and its harder to make a decision. So I started by buying what I call the ULF "Holy Trinity" of modern shuttered lenses that is just about in the arsenal of every serious ULF user shooting sizes above 11x14: G-Claron 355mm f9, Nikkor M 450mm f9, and Fujinon C 600 f11.5. They are relatively lightweight, small enough to fit on a Linhof Technica lensboard, have manageable filter sizes, and cast usable image circles far over what is quoted by their manufacturers. Of the three, only the Fujinon C 600mm is hard to find these days.

It's worth noting that many of these recommendations would work just as well for the 12x20 format with its 593mm image circle requirement being just a little more than the 560mm needed for 14x17.

The ULF "Holy Trinity" Lenses


Focal Length (mm)

Max Aperture

Image Circle (mm)


Filter Size (mm)

Wieght (g)

Market Price





Copal 3








Copal 3








Copal 3





Now if your budget won't allow for the "Holy Trinity" there is a "Second String" worth considering. The added bonus is these lenses are a little faster but they are heavier, need to be on Sinar or larger lensboards, have bigger filter rings and usually come in older Compound 5 or Ilex 5 shutters. The Symmar Convertible is particularly interesting since it can do double duty at 360mm and 620mm, potentially making it the only lens you will ever need - assuming your front standard can take almost 2kg or 4.2lbs of weight. The B&L lens is somewhat hard to find pre mounted in a shutter but more common as a barrel. Goerz Red Dot Artar 24", Apo-Nikkor 600mm or 610mm and Apo-Ronar 600mm are all pretty much interchangeable. I would pick up the first one you find in an Ilex 5 or Copal 3 shutter.


The "Second String" Lenses


Focal Length (mm)

Max Aperture

Image Circle (mm)


Barrel Mount

Wieght (g)

Market Price

Symmar Convertible




Compound 4




B&L 14x17 Series IIB



14x17" @ f6.3

20x24" @ f32

Compound 5




21 1/4" Kodak Copying Ektanon





3 15/16"







14x17" @ 1:10)

(24x30" @ 1:1)

Ilex 5








Ilex 5




Apo Nikkor




Ilex 5




Apo Nikkor




(1,030mm @ 1:1)

Ilex 5




Goerz Red Dot Artar 24"



(12x15@ 1:10)

(24x28" @ 1:1)

Ilex 5 / Copal 3*




* Misses maximum aperture by 1/3 stop

Now to get a real jump up from 600mm to make a difference in perspective I would suggest you want to go up to 30" or 760mm. Personally I looked for more modern lenses that could be found in a shutter or at least mounted in one. Many process lenses can be shutter mounted and made to work. Sometimes this results in a small loss of speed of 1-2 stops as the shutter constricts the aperture but its not usually material. Older process lenses can be made in brass and be extraordinarily heavy. Likewise, their sheer bulk can make it hard to mount on a smaller lensboard and fit on a 'modern' shutter like a Copal #3 or more likely an Ilex #5. So in practical terms if the lens can be shutter mounted it will fit on a Sinar board of 5.25" square or larger. Once you have found your barrel lens, you will need to buy a shutter, a flange and a lensboard.

Shutters are often easier to buy attached to a lens. The 375mm f6.3 Ilex-Calumet Caltar is a particularly unloved lens that comes in an Ilex #5. Remember that the Ilex 5 came in several flavors, starting from the left in the image below: Kodak branded (avoid due to smaller aperture and mount), Black (avoid, oldest version), Silver Older (look for this one), Silver Newer (this is the best). Then there is one more kind, the "Syncro Electronic" that can only be fired with an electronic voltage and is basically useless otherwise.

Left to right: Kodak Ilex#5, Black Ilex#5, Older Silver Ilex#5, Newer Silver Ilex#5 Ilex5Ilex #% Shutter VariationsLeft to right: Kodak Ilex#5, Black Ilex#5, Older Silver Ilex#5, Newer Silver Ilex#5


Similarly the Copal 3 comes in two sizes the 3 and the smaller 3S.  Avoid the 3S as it has a smaller maximum aperture size. The regular Copal 3 comes in three versions starting oldest first: small tooth rim in silver, wider smoother tooth rim in silver, and finally black. If possible go for the black version or second best silver with wider smoother tooth rim, avoid the the other two versions.

Front left to right: Copal 3S, Copal 3 Silver Small Teeth, Copal 3 Silver Big Smooth Teeth, Copal 3 Black

CopalCopal 3 Shutter VariationsFront left to right: Copal 3S, Copal3 Silver Small TeethSilver Big Teeth (S), Copal 3 (C) Copal 3 Big Teeth Black (B)


Then you need to get the barrel mounted to the shutter and lensboard by an machinist like SK Grimes which usually charges around $350-450 for the honor. At the same time as you have the mounting done, I recommend that you ask your machinist to put some threads on the lens front element (if there are none) and make you a new front lens cap. The reason being that most process lenses don't come with filter threads and it can be hard to find a good fitting cap for your custom set-up. Often you have the option of a small range of filter sizes - say about 5mm plus or minus. So if possible try and standardize on some favorite sizes - like 67mm, 77mm, 95mm or 105mm.

Left to right: Symmar Convertible 360/620 f5.6/12 in Compound 4, 30" Red Dot Artar f12 in Copal 3, and 35" Red Dot Artar f12 in Ilex #5

BannerLensVariety of shuttered ULF lensesLeft to right: Symmar Convertible 360/620 f5.6/12 in Compound 5, 30" Red Dot Artar f12 in Copal 3, and 35" Red Dot Artar f12 in Ilex #5


The most common lenses to shutter mount are the APO-Nikkor, Rodenstock Ronars and Goerz Red Dot Artars. The APO-Nikkors get huge after 760mm and can't reasonable be shutter mounted beyond that focal length. Rodenstock makes the regular APO-Ronar and a compact APO-Ronar-CL line of process lenses. After 760mm the most sensible lenses to choose are the Goerz Red Dot Artars but you really want an aluminum version from after the late 1960s not an older brass one because of the weight penalty. The weight penalty can be offset through shutter mounting since much of the brass barrel is discarded in the process. The Carl Ziess / Doctar Apo Germinar lenses in 750mm and 1000mm come in barrels and a native Copal 3 mount.  They are some of the most modern processes lenses available but they are apparently hard to cut out of the barrel and shutter mount on an Ilex #5. Then there is of course the Schneider 1100mm f14 Fine Art XXL which even if you had the $3-5k to buy it is hard to find. Many of the longer, and some of the shorter, lenses on this list are over 3 Kg and would put a real strain on most field cameras. So while they could be feasible mounted on a shutter you are probably better off with one of the sub-3 Kg options.

The "Shutter-Mountable Long Shots"


Focal Length (mm)

Max Aperture

Image Circle (mm) at Infinity


Barrel Mount (mm)

Filter Size (mm)

Weight (g)

Market Price

APO Germinar




(1,270 @ 1:1)

Ilex 5





APO Germinar




(1,230 @ 1:1)

Copal 3 (Native Mount)





APO Nikkor




(1,170mm @ 1:1)

Ilex 5


95mm x 1


$500 +Shutter and Mounting





Ilex 5




$400 +Shutter and Mounting

Goerz RD Artar 30"




(16x20 @ 1:10)

(1,290 @ 1:1)

Ilex 5/Copal 3*


67mm (custom filter thread)


$600 +Shutter and Mounting





Ilex 5*





Goerz RD Artar 35"




(18x22" @ 1:10)

(1,510 @ 1:1)

Ilex 5 / Copal 3*


95mm (custom filter thread)


$1,500 +Shutter and Mounting










APO Germinar




(1,590 @ 1:1)

Ilex 5





APO Germinar




(1,535 @ 1:1)

Copal 3 (Native Mount)


















Ilex 5*





Goerz RD Artar 42"



(22x27" @ 1:10)

(1,810 @ 1:1)

Ilex 5* / Compound 5 / Alpha 5 / Betax 5


95mm (custom filter thread)


$1,750 +Shutter and Mounting




1,000mm + (confirmed by an owner)

Ilex 5* / Compound 5 / Alpha 5 / Betax 5


90mm (front and back)



Schneider Fine Art XXL


f22 (f14 in barrel)


Copal 3 (Native Mount)





Goerz RD Artar 47.5"



(25x32" @ 1:10)

(2,050 @ 1:1)

Ilex 5* / Compound 5 / Alpha 5 / Betax 5




$2,000 +Shutter and Mounting




(40x50" @ 1:1)









(40x50" @ 1:1)






* Will lose 1 or more stops of speed when mounted. For example, a 35" Artar goes from max aperture f12.5 to f19 in a Copal 3.

Now if you are content to use a barrel lens without a shutter or have a Packard shutter of the right size lying around then you might want to consider the lenses in the "Super Long / Heavy / Big Barrels" list below. Most of the lenses are too big to mount on a Sinar board and weigh so much that they would put a real strain on just about any front standard, but hey, with lenses this size and the bellows requirements this long you are probably thinking of mounting it on the side or end of a delivery truck! Right?

The "Super Long / Heavy / Big Barrels"


Focal Length (mm)

Max Aperture

Image Circle (mm) at Infinity

Image Circle (mm) at 1:1

Barrel Mount / thread (mm)

Filter Size (mm)

Weight (g)

Market Price














































Goerz RD Artar 70"



(36x45" @ 1:10)

3,020 @ 1:1









2,500mm @ 1:1





Cheaper than the more modern process lenses list above, would be to use an old process lens from one of the former major lens makers. Allen Rumme's site has an extensive list of process lenses of which a bunch would work for 14x17 format. In particular look at the Ross Apo Process (coated) and Apochromat Xpres (coated) lenses from 21" to 48" and the Taylor Hobson Cooke Series IX Apochromatic (coated), Cooke Series Vb Process, and Cooke Process lenses also from 21" to 48". I wouldn't consider mounting these lenses on a shutter but simply using them in a barrel stopped way down to get long exposure times you can manually execute. 

By necessity this series of tables is incomplete in places. I don't own many of these lens myself. If you have any of the missing data please leave a comment below. It will be much appreciated and a big help to the 14x17" ULF community

[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 12x20 14x17 equipment review lenses ulf Sat, 14 Feb 2015 02:47:11 GMT
Arista UV Lightsource 20x24 review AristaUVAristaUV Ever since I have been getting into alternative processes it's been clear that I needed a UV source of my own. It seems there are a few different options, from cheap and cheerful to quite expensive:

  • Use the Sun - it's free but not particularly reliable in some places (like foggy San Francisco) or replicable for precise timing
  • Buy a Mercury vapor or metal halide bulb - cheap but you have to fashion some sort of frame to hold the bulb and this gets hot, coverage can be uneven
  • Make you own UV unit with tanning bulbs - not too hard to do, there are plenty of directions on the internet.
  • Make your own UV unit with UV LEDs - quite easy to do, here are some directions.
  • Buy a new purpose built UV unit made with UV bulbs - vary in price but since they are purpose built tend to work well.
  • Buy a used plate burner or graphic arts printer - can be hard to find, expensive and they are large units to install.

You can read an exhaustive review of the options here at the Unblinking Eye.

I decided that I didn't want the hassle of making my own unit and so searched around for something reasonable and robust. Fortunately, I found the Arista UV Lightsources available from Freestyle. It comes in two sizes 20x24 for $699 and 30x36 for $1,999. They are pizza oven style boxes made of aluminum with a front flap that lifts up to accept the contact printing frame. They use relatively little energy and with such a large heavy metal box, heat is well dissipated even after the unit has been on for several hours. My unit, the smaller of the two, appears to power up nice and quickly. The unit comes with a metal sheet that covers the bottom but once you put the box on a flat surface I don't think its really worth putting in place. I doubt this will cause any problems but I wouldn't place the unit on a nice wooden table! There is a 3/4" lip of metal around the bottom on all sides but the front. This could get in the way with larger 16x20 contact frames.

The internal dimensions of the box are 25" wide, 20 1/4" deep and 2 1/2" tall. You could actually use a frame that was 3 1/2" thick if it were 20x23" maximum external dimensions. My 23 3/4 by 19 3/4" frame (external dimension of the 16x20") fits but the pizza oven flap doesn't quite close completely. That's fine. I'm not planning on leaving my fingers around the opening to get a tan. I've had nothing but even exposures with both cyanotype and platinum prints.

Alternative UV printing boxes that are available tend to be made of wood and are a little pricier. I'm sure they work since they are sold by Bostick & Sullivan but I suspect that the Arista units are better value for money and appear to be more robust in design.


[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) Alternative Processes Equipment Review UV Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:30:00 GMT
My film choices FilmWideFilmWide Its been a little over three years since I started shooting film cameras again and working my way up the food chain from from medium format, to large format and now ultra large format. Sadly during that time some film types have been discontinued and my choices have become even more limited. What I would like to share in this post is my decision making process for deciding which films I would concentrate on for the future based on equipment, shooting style, workflow, preferred output sizes and judgement on which companies were likely to stay in the game. But ultimately if you love one film, I say buy lots of it and drop it in a freezer!

Medium Format Films (120)

I have a number of cameras providing 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, 6x12 and 6x17 formats. Regardless of the size of the negative, with 6x17 really approaching large format proportions, I've found that a traditional black and white film, even fine grained like Fuji Acros just doesn't have the detail I need to push my images up to 16x20". This is true even though I use a dedicated Medium Format scanner prior to digital post processing. Your mileage may vary especially if you are optically enlarging for silver gelatin prints. So much as I like to home develop my film, I've settle on using more modern dye based films for medium format. Since dyes don't have the same granular resolution limitations of traditional black and white films I find I can enlarge them much more and not suffer any consequences. Also film development is standardized to C41 (color negative) and E6 (slide transparency) so you get a more consistent result with a good lab. Film speed also becomes an issue when hand holding my smaller MF cameras or using them in poor light. So in the end the films I've settled on are the following:

Ilford XP2 Super - Data sheet - At ISO 400, this film has the speed for most hand held daylight photography. Unique among films developed with the C41 process, it is not a color negative film but rather a black & white negative film - so there is no added step to converting your images to black & white and you can freely use traditional black & white filters like #16 Yellow-Orange for contrast. Also unique among C41 films it has no orange color to interfere with scanning or optical enlarging, perhaps a faint magenta cast instead. Ilford is also the one film company right sized for the current market and is likely to be around for the long term. I only wish they made this film in sheets.

Fuji Velvia 50 - Data sheet - A slow, fine grained, highly color saturated color reversal or slide film. Wonderful for landscapes giving you amped up color. Potentially terrible for skin tones and anything that people "know" the color of! Processed using E6, it's getting harder and harder to find places to develop it. Fortunately for me, I live in San Francisco where a number of small outfits still provide the service. No hand holding the camera with this film, it's tripods and careful compositions. Dynamic range is somewhat limited and shadows can block up and get cool so you might need warming filters. Reciprocity failure is a worry for long exposures and needs to be well compensated for. On the upside, there is no messy conversion of a negative to a positive. What you see is what you get, so scanning the image is a delight. Looking at the slides on a light table is a complete rush.

Kodak Ektar 100 - Data sheet - Really the color negative counterpart to Velvia 50. Slow, fine grained but not as vivid. Again reciprocity failure is an issue for exposures more than a few seconds. With the likely discontinuation of Velvia 50 in the coming years, Ektar 100 may be our only choice for super high quality color film for landscapes.

Kodak Portra 160 / 400 / 800 - Data sheet 160 / 400 - For more accurate colors for portraiture and faster speed this series of films offers many advantages. Again since they are C41 films they are easy to get processed. Fuji offers similar products in ISO 160 and 400 but not 800. But on the whole, I think that Kodak's film business, now owned by a spin off called Kodak Alaris, is likely to continue for a good number of years, while Fuji seems quite happy to discontinue emulsions abruptly and with little communication to its customers. On the other hand, Kodak's film division will suffer as the movie industry completes it's transition to digital.

Large Format Films (4x5" and 8x10")

For sheet film, the resolution limitations of black & white film really don't matter with such enormous negatives. Enlarging a 4x5" or 8x10" image up four or five times is certainly feasible both digitally or the old fashioned analog way. Contact printing may lead you to ever larger film sizes but if you want to do post processing on a computer you are basically limited to 8x10 and an Epson V750, or sending your work out for a profession drum scan. One alternative to consider is generating digital negatives from the analog original to get a larger size for contact printing and alternative processes. Many of the same films I use for Medium Format are available in Large Format and they are also worth using in the right circumstances.

Ilford FP4+ - Data Sheet - For 4x5" and larger it really doesn't matter that this film is a traditional film with medium grain size as there is plenty of detail. The advantage of FP4+ is that it is very forgiving to over exposure unlike more fine grained options like Delta 100 or Acros 100. Receprocity failure starts to set in at 1/2 second, which can be a serious constraint with Large Format. You can develop this film in just about anything. Ilford offers its own chemicals. I personally am partial to XTOL, that brings out the best in just about any black & white film, has low toxicity, and keeps well in sealed bottles once mixed. Or Pyrocat-HD if you want to take on an alternative process or two.

Acros 100 - Data Sheet - Still available in 4x5 in the US, and in 8x10 but only from Japan, this is a modern fine grained film with more unforgiving exposure latitude but excellent reciprocity characteristics. Fuji says no need to make any adjustments for reciprocity until 120 seconds which is a lot better than 1/2 second! I'm not sure how long Fuji will keep offering this film. It's definitely something to salt away in the deep freeze if you like photographing gloomy redwood forests.

Kodak Ektar 100 - Data sheet - As above. Great for landscapes.

Fuji Velvia 100 - Data sheet - I would say Velvia 50 for 8x10 but at the moment its getting very hard to buy and only from Japan. Clearly Fuji is pushing Velvia 100 as the alternative. Not quite as saturated but still an excellent performer for landscapes.

Kodak Portra 160 / 400 - Data sheet 160 / 400 - As above, but ISO 800 is not available in sheet film sizes. Great for portraits and skin tones.

Ultra Large Format Films (14x17")

When you get up to Ultra Large Format, in other words anything above 8x10" the options really start to narrow. No color film and precious few black & white options exist and those that do are very pricey ($16-20/sheet). Then there are orthochromatic X-ray fiims for medical uses that are remarkable cheap but prone to scratching and very high contrast.

Ilford FP4+ - Data Sheet - Quite expensive at $20 a sheet in this size. Available from relatively few outlets during the Ilford special order window which in 2014 was between May 6 and June 27. With negatives this size the grain is basically invisible, especially when contact printing - and I haven't seen too many 14x17 enlargers out there. The digital route is always a possibility if you can find someone who can scan your negative. I've got a Screen Cezanne flatbed to get up and running that can scan negatives this size.

Adox CHS 100 II - Data Sheet - If you look at the data sheet you can see a slight dip in sensitivity between blue and green which some people like since it separates and differentiates between lips/face, clouds/sky, and water/land. The film is on a PET base and I have seen very slight effect of light leakage onto the bottom edge of the film. It's not enough to be a real issue and hasn't bled into the image area itself. This is the cheapest 'real' film available in ULF. In 14x17 you can get 10 sheets for €100 from Fotoimpex in Germany. They tend to have cheaper prices even with shipping than the US alternative which is Freestyle where it would probably be a special order.

Kodak Ektascan B/RA - A medium speed, single coated, tabular grain, orthochromatic medical x-ray film for photography of cathode-ray (CRT) tubes. It is single sided coated on a blue, 7-mil blue-tinted polyester with anti-halation protection. The film base is really thick and sturdy! Read my review on how I use it and where to buy it. Costs are in the $1.5/sheet range (for a 500 sheet pack) which makes it possible to really burn film in a ULF camera and since the film gives high contrast results many people prefer it for alternative processes. But the truth is that with the cost of film holders, time and difficulties to set up the camera and compose the image, and the time to process the film its unlikely anyone would get through very much.

Wet plate - make your own photosensitive surface and no longer worry about film availability!



[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 120 14x17 4x5 8x10 Adox CHS 100 II Ektar 100 Ektascan FP4+ Portra Velvia 100 Velvia 50 XP2 Thu, 05 Feb 2015 20:25:31 GMT
Kodak Ektascan B/RA film review Calla Lily Leaves Mt. Tamalpais, Marin, CA. 8x10 Ektascan B/RA With my newly acquired 14x17" ultra large format (ULF) view camera, a strange hybrid of Fatif monorail and Richard Ritter back, I knew that I would have to start venturing into the world of X-ray film - simply to keep costs down and allow for experimentation. Once you go above 8x10" in size, film options become limited and expensive. Really the only reliable choices in 14x17" are Ilford's yearly special order of FP4+ / HP5+ or ADOX's CHS 100 running at $20 and $16 a sheet respectively! So the quest was on for an alternative.

Remember the old days when you had a chest X-ray and they actually used a large piece of film in a big cassette. Well in some parts of the world they still do it that way and the film they use is 14x17". The X-rays go through your body (some absorbed by bone) and comes out the other side to hit a layer of phosphorescent material on the front side of the cassette. The phosphorous glows when irradiated which exposes the film which is usually sensitive to either green or blue light.

This all sounds peachy except that regular X-ray film has a number of downsides:

  • It's orthochromatic, meaning it doesn't respond to red light. Remember all those old photos pre-1900, sometimes they look a little funny. Panchromatic film only came into being in 1906.
  • It's has double sided emulsion, I guess so that an operator doesn't have to remember which side to load the film. This means you use twice the developer and possibly have slightly fuzzier images.
  • The emulsion is really thin and prone to scratching. Even loading and unloading the stuff into film holders can give you nice long scratches.

But it's one upside is that it is super cheap! In 8x10" it's 35¢ a sheet and in 14x17" about $1.06 a sheet. Well I couldn't do much about the first issue, the film being orthochromatic, but it turns out there is an X-ray film that deals with the other two issues rather well. It's called Caresteam / Kodak Ektascan B/RA and "is a medium speed, single coated, tabular grain, orthochromatic medical x-ray film for photography of cathode-ray (CRT) tubes. It is coated on a blue, 7-mil blue-tinted polyester support with a dyed pelloid backing which affords anti-halation protection. The film orientation is that the emulsion side is up when the notch is at the right-hand side of the top edge of the film." So in translation, its thick and hardy and only has one side of emulsion! This film is quite easy to find in 8x10" at about 80¢ a sheet in a 100 sheet pack. 14x17" is another matter and at the moment its only found in 500 sheet units (five 100 sheet boxes in a pack) at Z&Z Medical. Cost is $920.00 a box or $1.84 a sheet. Ask them to wrap it in bubble wrap and put it in an additional box to protect the product as its heavy and easy to damage. Also since there are always people looking to try out cheaper films for their ULF cameras you will probably find others happy to take several of the 100 sheet boxes off you for cost and shipping - about $200/box. That just what I did on the Large Format Photography Forum.

Once you have the film, the fun begins. But I would suggest considering starting with the 8x10" size first because the film is half the cost of 14x17" and a lot easier and cheaper to process at home. So far I've found the best way to develop the film as follows in my Jobo rotary processor:

  • Expose the film at an ISO of 80 - slightly overexposed due to the high contrast of the film
  • Develop the film in Adonal (1+40) for 7 minutes at 20C - slight underdevelopment to reduce contrast.
  • Water stop bath 3 minutes
  • Fix 8 minutes
  • Hypo Clear 2 minutes
  • Final Wash 10 minutes

If you are using 8x10 film and plan to do post processing in Photoshop/Lightroom I highly recommend playing around with the Gamma settings to tame the contrast of the film and get a good black and white image. Contact printing Ektascan B/RA in 14x17" size will be my next challenge both in silver gelatin and platinum alternative processes. I look forward to writing another blog post to share what I learn at that time.


[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 14x17 8x10 Adonal Ektascan Equipment Review Kodak Wed, 18 Jun 2014 21:05:38 GMT
New55 Kickstarter effort announced

If you never had the pleasure of working with Polaroid 55 type film, you will be happy to hear that a modern day and improved alternative is now in the works and being crowdfunded at Kickstarter. Unlike traditional 55 type film where you could choose to correctly expose either the positive image or the negative, New55 will allow an even exposure of both. The fundraising goal for the project is an ambitious $400,000 but what an historic opportunity to bring back a wonderful tool from the golden age of analogue photography. Please join the Kickstarter campaign and read more about the project on the FAQ.


Update: The Kickstarter effort has been a success - looking forward to New55!





[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) New55 Tue, 25 Mar 2014 16:13:50 GMT
The Hercules The Hercules, San Francisco, CAThe Hercules, San Francisco, CAHercules is a 1907-built steam tugboat that is now preserved at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

Ritter, 8x10, Fujinon 210/5.6, FP4+

Image not for sale due to NPS restrictions

The Hercules is a wonderful steam tug built in 1904, lovingly restored in the seventies and eighties and now moored at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. On my most recent visit I went with several other large format photographers so we made a conspicuous bunch, but fortunately visitation was light in the middle of January. I thought the perfect camera for the job was my Ritter 8x10, a light weight large format camera which can take very wide (120mm) and very long (800mm) lenses. Perched on the bobbing back decks of the ferryboat Eureka I just managed to take this picture of the fair Hercules. There was some vignetting of the image at the bottom so I went with the flow and gave the image a vintage look in post processing.

Taking the vintage look another step, I decided to print the image using the Platinum / Palladium process using a digital negative. In fact, I ended up making 20 more copies of the print for a folio exchange on the Large Format Photography Forum. This gave be a great chance to get used to my new Arista UV Lightsource - 20"x24", a really excellent unit and quite reasonable at $699.00. I'll probably write up an equipment review of the box fairly soon.



[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 8x10 fp4+ image sharing ritter8x10 Thu, 20 Mar 2014 23:59:27 GMT
Review of Shen Hao PTB 617 Shen Hao PTB 617(c) Badger Graphic Sales

I've had my Shen Hao PTB 617 for about a year. It's a view camera specifically designed for taking panoramic 6x17 images with 120 also known as medium format roll film. There really isn't much out on the web about this unusual camera so I thought I would write up my thoughts about it and where and when it might fit into a photographer's arsenal. It's one of my favorites: small, versatile and able to take stunning images.

Price: $1699.99 from Badger Graphics
Image Format: 6x17 on 120 roll film (actual image size is 168mm x 55mm)
Bellows draw: 65mm - 310mm
Front: Rise 40mm, Fall 14mm, Shift ±38mm, Swing ±45°, Tilt ±25°
Rear Swing ±40°, Tilt ±30°
Weight: 1.5kg
Dimensions: 145 x 240 x 90mm
Instruction book: amusing Chinglish (Chinese English) but mostly comprehensible

Camera Set-Up:
The design is very similar to the many current wooden field cameras based off of a Phillips design. It starts with a flat base plate, a folding rear and front standard and a worm-screw focus gear on top of the base plate. Since the overall depth of the base plate is so small (145 mm) there are only two holes to screw the front standard into on the focusing worm screw mechanism. Simple, but not very flexible in reality, since for most focal lengths that means you have to move the rear standard forward or backward to get the correct bellows distance. Fortunately the rear standard has letters (A, B, C etc) carved into each side which will make mounting lenses easier overtime if you remember previous settings.

The front standard has a wide degree of movements, none of which are particularly "precise" since there are no real presets for zero positions. Shift is simple to achieve with two screws loosening / tightening and a scale on one standard in mm. Tilt is hard to do since it is constrained by a groove in the standard and has to be pushed out - this appears to be based on an Ebony design - and not very easy to use. Swing is simple.

The rear standard is hinged to the plate so there is no rise or fall movement, only Swing and Tilt. Again setting zero positions isn't the easiest especially if you have to move the standard back or forth to get the right bellows distance but the letters in the track help.

Mounting a lens is simple - two semi-circle latches turn to hold the plate in. However, you may need to adjust the tension on these plates by turning the screw that holds them in place a half turn one way or the other. Mine were too tight. Also a small piece of metal that holds the lens board in place at the base of the front standard will not permit boards that have no notches on the bottom - some more simple lensboards will like those from Chamonix will not fit. A simple work around is to unscrew this metal plate and reverse it with the two metal curved parts facing out rather than inwards. Build quality of the view camera is adequate to good but not excellent - the Chamonix is superior in this regard as would be any of the non-Chinese makers of 4x5 cameras.

Roll-film back:
A specific Shen Hao roll film back (NSH-617) comes with the view camera. It is a work of art - lightweight and simple in the extreme. One part houses the film spools and the tension plate, the other part is a cover with a dark slide. Insert the film in left side with the film coming from behind (the opposite of usual), run it across the dark slide and spool into the take up reel on the right side, twist the take up reel once around and put the cover back on. Next open the small red glass window on the back and wind the film to the number "3" position. Close the window. Future shots will at the 6, 9, and 12 positions. Film comes out sharp and evenly spaced with plenty of room between exposures and at the beginning and end of the roll. When you have shot you last of the four exposures keep winding a few more turns after you feel the tension go slack.

Focusing / Mounting Roll-Film back / Taking Exposure:
Once the bellows are the right extension, focusing is as simple as twisting a single worm screw. I opted for an optional Fresnel on the ground glass and this set-up is very bright with an f5.6 lens in the daytime, and only a little harder to see with a wide angle f8. Once the image is in focus you simply twist two latches up to drop the ground glass screen down on hinges to make way for the 6 x 17 custom roll film back. The roll-back has two slots on the bottom which hook into corresponding teeth on the view camera and two grooves at the top for the latches. The fit is snug - you will need to gently push the roll film back into the hole to get a seal and allow a latch. Select you f stop and shutter speed, cock your shutter, remove the nice metal dark slide and take your exposure. The only difference compared with a regular view camera is that since this is roll film you more easily forget whether you have wound on the film and / or removed the dark slide - but sticking with a regular routine / checklist will help avoid missing and double exposures. The camera is sturdy in the wind - I've used a 90mm to 400mm telephoto lens on it with no issues - and it's light enough that a small to mid-sized ball head and light-weight tripod will suffice.

So what are the pros and cons of this camera versus some of the alternatives? I've laid them out as best I can figure below. While I haven't used all the camera options described, I have a fair amount of experience will 4x5, 4x5 roll film backs, and Medium Format cameras of the 6x6 - 6x17 variety.

4x5 view camera with 6x17 back vs. Shen Hao PTB 617

Pros (versus PTB 617)

  • Cheaper (if you already have a 4x5!) - approx $500
  • Not another camera to own
  • Less overall weight than two cameras, but heavier than just carrying the PTB 617

Cons (versus PTB 617)

  • Pain to mount ground glass, focus, unmount, and then mount roll film back
  • Vignetting at longer focal lengths (around 180mm or more)
  • May have issues focusing very short focal lengths due to bellows compression
  • Heavy unit that sticks out back of 4x5 - not very stable on light field cameras

Summary: Best option when you are on a budget, already own a sturdy 4x5 view camera and where you only want to shoot 6 x 17 occasionally and only with 90-180mm focal lengths.

5x7 view camera (with or without roll film back)

Pros (versus PTB 617)

  • Cheaper - a used 5x7 can be cheaper if you simply use 5x7 film and subsequently crop your image but you are limited to B&W film. Or about the same price with the Canham 6x17 Roll Film Back since it is rare on the used market and costs $1,195 new.

Cons (versus PTB 617)

  • Heavier - especially with the roll film back
  • Mounting Canham roll film back easier than mounting a 6x17 back on a 4x5 but certainly not easier than PTB 617

Summary: Best option when you really want to buy or already own a 5x7 camera and don't mind shooting B&W (that is if you don't go for a roll film back)

Dedicated 6x17 Medium Format camera (like Fotoman 617, Gaoersi 617 shift, Fuji G617/GX 617 etc)

Pros (versus PTB 617)

  • Faster set-up
  • More robust physically
  • Allows landscape and portrait orientation
  • Hyper focal focusing - no need for ground glass
  • Can take extreme wide angle lenses (<65mm)

Cons (versus PTB 617)

  • More expensive - each lens has to have a helical mount and costs grow even with a cheaper body
  • Can't share lenses easily with your 4x5 or 5x7
  • Heavier - especially if you have more than one lens
  • Bulky - cones start to look ridiculous at longer than 90mm focal length
  • Focusing between exposures on ground glass usually not possible
  • Lack of movements - but some of these cameras have limited shift capability which to be honest is much more important for roll-film than tilt / swing etc.

Summary: Best option when you want simplicity and robustness - i.e. one lens, little or no movements (shift only), a wide angle (90mm or less), like to use hyper focal focusing rather than a ground glass, and may encounter extreme weather conditions.

So why would you get the Shen Hao PTB 617? I would say if you are comfortable using a view camera, want the view camera movements and significant shift, already own a number of Large Format lenses with good coverage, want to use focal lengths in excess of 180mm, and are not contemplating climbing Mt Everest you would do well to get it. In the long run, as sheet film, especially non B&W sheet film, becomes more expensive and limited in range, this kind of "roll-film-centeric" view camera may increase in popularity.

Here is a video explaining the camera from the Canadian dealer for Shen Hao:


[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 120 6x17 Equipment Review ShenHaoPTB617 viewcamera Thu, 09 Jan 2014 22:10:56 GMT
A Bay Area Primordial Forest Primordial ForestTomales Bay State Park, CA October 2013, 6x17 Velvia 50


In the Bay Area we have a Mediterranean climate which means it rains a great deal but only for a few months in the winter. The rest of the year, the forests and hills slowly dry up into golden and browns hues. Fortunately, for someone like me who grew up in England, there are a few places that stay moist and damp year round. One of these is Tomales Bay State Park, part of the wider Point Reyes area. Its quite different from the rest of the Pt. Reyes peninsular of wide open pastures. Instead, there are dark forested hills deep in shade and often smothered by marine fog.

As you can see from the image above, this is land of ferns and moss covered tree limbs, primordial in nature. But its very difficult to photograph due to the wide exposure range. In fact, I think the only way to have success here is on an overcast day with flat light. I am still waiting to take my definitive image from this location. Using Velvia 50 slide film probably is not helping my cause due to the films well know limited exposure range but I do so love the rich colors that tI can capture this way. In the months ahead I hope to get out there again in a variety of conditions with a variety of film types. I believe part of what make a good photographer is persistence - going back to the same places and trying to get just the right light and composition, learning from all your previous attempts. Fortunately, few places present such a challenge as this one or I think I might go quite mad.

For those of you who are interested in the technical aspects of my images, this picture was taken with a Shen Hao PTB 617 medium format view camera. I used a Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm lens set to f16 with Fuji Velvia 50 film.


[email protected] (Angus Parker Photography) 120 6x17 image sharing ptreyes shenhaoptb617 velvia50 Thu, 09 Jan 2014 21:51:25 GMT