Why analog large format photography?

Why analog large format photography when there are excellent digital cameras? I thought about this question for several months, and eventually, I decided to purchase a pre-owned but in mint state condition, the 4×5 inch Linhof Master Technika Classic. For two years I was dissatisfied the way I photographed with the Nikon D810, especially when capturing architecture. I had limited perspective control when shooting with the Nikon tilt-shift lens, the Nikkor PC-E 24mm F3.5D ED, where PC stands for perspective control. The lens is in my opinion too expensive (€1950.00!) for the performance you get. The specification of 11.5mm shift is a theoretical one. In practice, vignetting is very prominent when shifting the lens beyond 9mm. Another significant drawback of this lens is the sharpness fall-off at the borders of the image even at f7.1-16, for most lenses the optimal aperture range! A more subjective reason why I was interested in large format photography is my love for black and white portraiture, in particular, Richard Avedon’s and Irving Penn’s portraits captured with the large format Deardorff. Was it worth to take the step from full frame digital camera to analog large format photography? Yes, it was, and here you can read why.

The camera is never behind the times

The Master Technika is on the market since 1972, has since then not many significant modifications and is not behind the times at all. The camera doesn’t need an upgrade because of all specifications and camera movements are identical for several decades. These cameras last forever!

Loosen up

Using a large format camera is fantastic if you are not in a hurry, you have to loosen up. The photographer has to think carefully about how to capture the object and make an estimation of the light conditions. In most instances, I have 4-6 sheets with me and decide at home what film type (e.g., Fuji Acros vs. Ilford HP5 plus) to use. At the scene, you have to be patient, observe and learn to look more carefully because of the limited amount of film and the time-consuming camera setup. In contrast with the digital camera work, I am 1) more aware of the whole process, 2) have raised fulfillments and 3) loosen up when shooting with the analog large format camera.

A lot of information

A 4×5 inch film sheet contains an enormous amount of information, a broad tonality, and minimal grain even when I make big enlargements. Every single sheet can be developed the way you want with specific film developer combination for that particular scene. In 35mm or 120 films, this is impossible, assuming that you shoot different scenes under variable lighting conditions.

Camera movements for perspective corrections

Perspective corrections are no problem with the Linhof; large camera movements are available at the front and the rear and divided into two groups, i.e., shifts and pivots.

Shifts 

This group is divided into vertical (rise and fall) and lateral (right and left shift) movements. These movements are used to reposition the object within the borders of the ground glass or correct the convergence of parallel lines, e.g., when shooting architecture to adjust the backward leaning vertical contours of the building.
At the front, the Linhof has a rise of 55mm and a lateral shift of 40mm to either side! These are excellent and large numbers compared with the small 9mm with the Nikkor PC-E 24mm lens.

The Linhof's front lens at max rise (55mm) position

Pivots

These movements consist of swings and tilts at the front and the rear of the camera. However, the purpose of the pivots is different at the front compared with those at the rear.
At the front, the swing and tilt are employed to obtain sharp focus when the planes of the object and the film are not parallel. The Linhof has a lens center tilt 30º forward and backward and a swing of 15º.
At the rear, these movements are applied to control perspective and to vary image shape. The Linhof’s rear swing and tilts are 20º in all directions.
These large perspective correction movements on the Linhof and other large format cameras are very advantageous properties for architecture and product photography as well as for artistic use.

The Linhof's front lens at max lateral swing (15º) position

Summary

Large format photography is a different but incredibly challenging way of creating art with many technical and above all emotional advantages compared with digital photography. It makes me very happy and a much more satisfied photographer.

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