I prefer using large format film cameras to any other type of camera, but I realise that for many film is an alien world, and large format cameras are even more so. At least 35mm is something many will have if not used at least heard of; and digital cameras are usually specified in terms of 35mm – sensors are “full frame” if the size of a 35mm film frame, and focal lengths of lenses are often given in “35mm equivalent” terms. So there is some sense of familiarity. Roll film is very similar, in that film is sold such that you get anywhere between 8 and 16 exposures on a single roll, unless you use a panoramic camera, when it might be only four exposures. Large format film comes in separate sheets, exposed and processed individually.
This means that sheets of film must be loaded into film holders before they can be used. 35mm and roll film cameras never need you to go into complete darkness to load the camera, but large format requires that for loading film holders. It’s a big departure from what you may be used to, unless you’ve processed your own 35mm or roll films, in which case loading a developing tank offers an analogous experience.
The cameras themselves are both extremely simple, and also complex, although the complexity can be as much or little as you want. It is possible to buy fixed focus point and shoot large format cameras, and press photographers not so long ago used large format cameras as a matter of daily routine.
The main areas that a beginner needs to know are;
- Why bother?
- Large format cameras
- Sheet film, holders and loading
- Lenses and shutters
- Processing options
- Making prints
I’ll take these in order, but feel free to jump to whatever interests you.