Nearly 15 Times Bigger Than Full Frame and Considerably Cheaper: Fstoppers Reviews the Intrepid 4x5 MK4

Nearly 15 Times Bigger Than Full Frame and Considerably Cheaper: Fstoppers Reviews the Intrepid 4x5 MK4

Are you a film photographer who wants to explore the final (original?) modern frontier of film? Are you a digital photographer who wants a dramatically different experience? Say hello to the Intrepid.

The Intrepid MK4, to also include the black model, has built up quite a name for itself in the film photography community. Indeed, for many photographers, film or digital, that have never shot large format, the Intrepid may well be the only large format camera they know of. Why? Intrepid Camera Company has succeeded at one thing more than anything else – marketing. I’ll admit, I fell prey to their marketing too and eventually picked up one of their cameras over other large format camera companies. In fact, the Intrepid wasn’t even the first large format camera I’d ever used – I was borrowing an old press camera for a while and would occasionally use a friend’s really beautiful Takihara field camera. 

Of course, the biggest benefit to the Intrepid has nothing to do with the Intrepid camera itself but rather the 4x5 format and the tilt and shift capabilities which are common with view cameras. Firstly, 4x5 sheets have a surface area which is 14.9 times larger than 35mm film (known in the digital world as “full frame”) which means that the perceived resolution is through the roof compared with 35mm film. From another perspective, 35mm can pretty easily produce a wonderful and beautiful 8x10 print which to get a crop with no white space on the print requires increasing the surface area 71.7 times greater than that of the negative. A 4x5 negative is so large that an 8x10 print is only a pinch over 4 times larger. As you can imagine, needing to increase the printing surface area by 4 for 4x5 compared to more than 70 for 35mm results in a very dramatic difference in sharpness for an 8x10 print. Secondly, the tilt and shift capabilities of the Intrepid along with many other view cameras is next-level fun for those that have never used such functions in-camera. 

Build Quality

The build quality of the Intrepid is not bad per se, however, I would not call it good. Personally, I do not own their typical styled camera (made of wood) but I have seen a few copies of the camera and I know a couple of people that own this version. My camera is the black model which is made of 3D printed plastic instead of plywood. As such, it is actually lighter and, in my opinion, a much more handsome looking camera. I don’t really have any complaints about the individual components but the construction of the camera feels a bit flimsy. More specifically, the wheel on the back of my camera continued to fall off the camera until I super glued it to the camera. More generally, the way the front standard is set up makes it really difficult to make small, precise movements. Instead, the front standard tends to move in ways you don’t want if you’re trying to make even the smallest change. That is, if you’re trying to adjust the tilt, you may well accidentally adjust the rise/fall or even, in more extreme cases, the shift. Though super glue was able to fix one problem, the somewhat flimsiness of the camera can’t be fixed. 

This is the gear used to focus the camera that wouldn't stay put on my camera. I nearly lost it the first couple of times I took the camera out. 

Accessories

There are many accessories for the Intrepid which are general accessories for large format so that’s great. Even better are the couple of unique accessories which Intrepid makes. My favorite of their accessories lineup is their enlarger kit. I already have an old Beseler enlarger but I cannot make prints of 4x5 negatives. In addition, having an older enlarger takes up a ton of space so being able to have just a small piece of equipment that will get the job done is quite attractive. True, you would still want a copy stand for the setup but if you were interested in digitizing your film with a digital camera, the copy stand can pull double duty and work for that as well. The only other accessory that is unique to Intrepid is the camera wrap. True, Tenba wraps work great for the lenses but don’t come in a large enough size for the camera itself. 

Lens Offerings

This is simple and quick to address. Intrepid cameras can use most any lenses with a built-in shutter made for large format between 75mm and 300mm; this covers most commonly desired focal lengths from very wide to pretty long (about 100mm in full frame equivalence). I believe you could also use longer lenses which are proper telephoto lenses should you want to. If you’re planning to make wet plates, you could get away with using barrel lenses that don’t have a shutter built-in. Though, should you go this route, you may have to get creative about a lens board. I would suggest this video as a primer on barrel lenses and tips for getting or making a lens board.  

What I Like

  • Price — The Intrepid is, to my knowledge, the cheapest option for a brand new 4x5 camera. 
  • Weight — The 4x5 setup, particularly the black model, is very light and takes up space in a backpack without really adding any noticeable weight.

What I Don’t Like

  • Lack of sturdiness — I know that you get what you pay for so I shouldn’t be surprised that this camera acts like the cheapest option but admittedly I think it feels cheaper than it should, even considering the price. 
  • Lack of camera options — For the 4x5, Intrepid offers two models but it would be really nice to see them offer something a bit more high-end. Possibly something solid wood or carbon fiber.

Conclusion

If you were looking to get into 4x5 for the very first time and you have a very strict budget, I would suggest the Intrepid. The fact of the matter is that at the most basic level, it does the job that it needs to do – offers a light-tight box that can mount a lens on the front and film in the rear. Beyond that, it’s a little disappointing. If someone has ever shot 4x5 before, even with an inexpensive crown graphic, they may well be a bit disappointed with the lack of sturdiness and precision. If you have the money to spend just a touch more, you may find yourself a little happier with the Gibellini Proxima 45. If you don’t have the extra money, the Intrepid will still get the job done. I would also like for it to be noted that Mat Marrash with Large Format Friday YouTube channel, who I would definitely consider being the foremost large format expert I know of, has said in a previous Q&A session on his channel that if he were starting over, he would likely pick up an Intrepid. That, to me, says a lot.  
 

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8 Comments

Fra Kresch's picture

Well, it's definitely larger, but I would not call film (any film, even 135) cheaper, considering the cost of film, development and enlarging / contact printing and of course scanning. (Flatbed scanning may be good enough for large format - definitely not for smaller formats; and I am talking about Epson V850 - but that said... you are still probably losing a lot of the negative's potential and the scanning process is appalingly time consuming...)

Concerning large format, even the camera itself is not that cheap - because you need a lens (and the good ones are surprisingly expensive), a lens plate, a shutter release, some film holders, a rather sturdy tripod (not the kind people tend to buy these days), a light meter (perhaps including spot meter) etc...

Yet the whole process of shooting large format is definitely pleasantly liberating. (But definitely not cheaper than a second hand full frame DSLR with some decent lenses...)

kotlos kotlos's picture

Yep, the title should be 15 times larger, 15 times more fun & 15 times more pain in the b*tt.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

I find it confusing to read that this camera is "disappointing" yet still worth buying. It is clearly NOT inexpensive.

BTW, a quick search of the Used section of B&H will find much better options in the same price range. One of them is a Sinar P. Admittedly, the Sinar isn't a folding camera, but then neither is it flimsy.

Fra Kresch's picture

The Sinar is a studio, "rail" camera. Intrepid tries to make cheap field (meaning for "field usage") camera - i.e. folding. The thing is, while the "body" (which really means a light-tight space enabling you to use a lens a and a film holder and - that's the point - to move the lens according to your focusing and perspective needs...) is quite inexpensive, the whole process of using large format film is quite expensive indeed.

Concerning the "disappointing, yet worth buying" paradox, I think the article tries to point out that Intrepid is prety compromised (yet it's still used by great large format photographers to great results) but the process of shooting large format is simply worth triyng. Yet to compare it to using digital cameras is IMHO silly, as is any notion that film is cheaper.

Douglas Goodhill's picture

I have always used Sinar cameras in the field, first with a Norma, and now at 70, still lugging an F2 around the streets of Baltimore. I tried a wood folding camera but was unimpressed. Considering the weight of everything; tripod, holders, additional lens, meter, focusing lens & cloth - I'll carry the Sinar's 2 extra pounds

Kenneth Tanaka's picture

If that’s what gives you enjoyment then by all means, enjoy. But it’s pure cosplay.

Patrick Carosone's picture

I had multiple 4x5 Linhoffs, they served their purpose, but not good for anything other than contact printing. If was proven the 6 x7 format is much better and can sustain hugh blowups. Apparently tge estar base on 4x5 sheet fim doesnt lend itself to making good enlargements

William Salopek's picture

I can NOT believe prices weren't mentioned in the article, both for the camera and lenses, as well as the film and developing.

Plus the author hinted that a person will need to do their own developing and printing. I'm not against that, but that's a HUGE detail to leave out.