You Get Four Shots: Patience and Payoff When Hiking With a Large Format Camera

Large format photography is its own beast, with all sorts of considerations and technical know-how needed to pull it off successfully, not the least of which being that the equipment is often simply unwieldy. Nonetheless, that extra work is not without a payoff, as the resultant images can be full of gorgeous detail. This neat video takes a look at a different way of going about landscape images.

Coming to you from Steve O'Nions, this video follows him on a day spent hiking with a 4x5 camera. Because large format film holders are appreciably heavy, he only carries eight sheets of film with him, which equates to four total shots (he doubles up) for the hike, creating a markedly different shooting process in which every shot is carefully considered and O'Nions waits until the light is just perfect. Despite the added weight of the film holders and the constraints imposed by having such a limited number of available shots, he comes away with some lovely images, the details of which are astounding, as one would expect with such large negatives. It's definitely a different way of going about shooting, but I think both the process and results are rewarding. 

Log in or register to post comments

26 Comments

There's definitely something about large format black & white that you just can't replicate with digital.

Agree wholeheartedly though I shoot 99% digital nowadays. Something that will absolutely blow digital out of the water is a large format ortho film reverse processed by dr5. Stunning.

Only because there are no large format sensors. The closest to large format cameras are scanning large format cameras, which is similar to a flatbed scanner mounted to a large format camera. If one really wanted to exceed the image quality of large format in digital then they could stitch together multiple exposures to create a final image with much greater resolution than even the largest film format. In time I'm sure proper large format digital cameras will enter the market.

Planes are faster than cars only because cars can't fly, too. So what? Creating a mosaic of digital images works if the scene doesn't change appreciably in the time it takes to do that. Sometimes it does.

It's important to address the distinction I brought up because for many film shooters they wrongly think the same applies to smaller formats.

"Creating a mosaic of digital images works if the scene doesn't change appreciably in the time it takes to do that."

Of course.

...since we were discussing the inherent pros and cons. :-)

Maybe it's because I haven't eaten yet but you lost me Sam. I think I'll make some chocolate coffee while I wait on the food.

Chocolate coffee?? I don't drink coffee. Since my cousin told me about raspberry hot chocolate, I've been looking for some to try.

Yeah, usually called cafe mocha, or some other similarly pretentious name. It's just coffee and chocolate together. Good combination.

The idea about film holders being too heavy is a bit mis-guided. It is called "changing bag", or if you want more luxury there used to be (I still have one somewhere) a film changing tent. One of those, a couple of empty film boxes to store your exposed images, and you are set for the whole day.

Peter Mabli's picture

His weight restriction comment regarding film holders raised my eyebrows as well. I think a changing bag could be a good answer to this issue, although I could also understand his possible reluctance to change sheets in the field for fear of exposure. With my own luck, I could imagine snagging the bag on a bush and ripping it open mid-change!

Sander van der Veen's picture

Why wait two hours, you can see on any phone these days when the sun hits that spot and where.
A bit of planning upfront couldn't hurt.

There's no way to know exactly where the light will be or how it will look relative to the elements of your chosen composition.

romain vernede's picture

and maybe it's a good way to slow down and a good excuse to be outside...that already a very good benefit IMHO :)
(but complaining about the weight of 2 4x5 holders makes me laugh a bit...)

Why would you need to do such a thing to slow down if you really care about getting good photos? Why would you need to carry a bulky and heavy camera and gear as an excuse to be outside?

romain vernede's picture

Try to get out with a "4 photo only memory card" and you'll find why you need to slow everything down, it's what the process implies.
Because when you wait for the good light to come, you're differently open to the surroundings, if you just come, set up , click and go back to your car, I think it's not the same thing.

I'm well passed middle age so I've done the film thing and I don't need to engage in tricks in order to be motivated to get the best possible image.

romain vernede's picture

great! so why comment on film dedicated thread?

Read again what I wrote.

Carrying a 4x5 camera, lenses and tripod is heavy, but saying one is limited because of the weight of film holders doesn't make sense. A box of a hundred sheets of film and a change bag weighs about or a little more than a film holder. The real reason for taking only a few film holders might be that given the cost, set up time and other limitations, being conservative on film use does make sense.

For the record I do appreciate O'Nions videos. Wish I had the patience to use my 4x5 more often.

Alex Cooke's picture

Eh, it's different for everyone. I think Steve's point was that he wanted to not exceed a certain overall weight, and after having the essentials (camera, tripod, and at least one film holder), the only thing adding more weight was additional film holders, and he felt he was at his limit.

Alex that argument makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Looking at the video, he is carting about a mechanical night-mare of a wood laminate camera (plywood) which is not lightweight. Since the "demise" of film, there have been endless possibilities to pick up large format gear for a song on eBay. If he was truly concerned about weight he long ago would have opted for a toyo field, either the 45a or the 45cf. Even a sinar f1 or f2 would weigh less, though not quite as portable. Any of those offerings are far more versatile than that thing he is using, and quicker to set-up / take down. At today's prices any of them would be less than say $500-800 investment. Hell, you can easily get a sinar p2 in excellent shape for less than $2,000 (once a $12,000 plus camera, though not a field camera).

No, he has set himself a questionable limit for what he does, but that is his right.

I think most of us who are commenting would like to hear from him why that limit, and his justification. It makes absolutely no sense at all.

Alex Cooke's picture

There could be any number of reasons he kept that camera from the sentimental to being what he can afford at the time. Whatever the reason, he's a very competent photographer, so I'm sure he has a reason. Not sure why you're down-voting me, though; don't shoot the messenger. ;) Speaking of Sinar, I have an f2 myself. Fun camera.

Delete

I understand your hesitation about used gear, but most large format equipment has been "babied" (can't think of a better word), well looked after by people who need a good piece of kit, so, as I said, there are a multitude of bargains out there.

I have never sold any of my sinar gear . . . I have enough bits and pieces for an f1 and a p2. Used it for nearly twenty plus years to earn me a handsome living. Shooting roll with a vario and a zoom, a lot of 4x5, and the occasional 8x10 (rented standard for that one) . . . I love shooting 8x10 . . . it is a nightmare and hideously expensive, but . . . WOW!

Today, it's value on the open market is extremely low . . . mainly because a lot of wannabees spend their whole day drooling over the advertising crap that is fed to them about megapixels and af. I shoot almost exclusively digital nowadays.

Will I get rid of my gear? Should have a long time ago when I might have made some money, BUT, they have been with me through a large part of my career and I am loathe to part with them because of the market.

Probably, I hope sometime soon, I will take the time to drag them out and take a walk in the woods like mister O'Nions, and perhaps find some peace as he seems to have.

I still don't understand his film restriction (4 sheets) . . . it makes no sense.

Peter Mabli's picture

Tim do you have an Intrepid 4x5? I've been considering one, but I'm concerned with the build quality (not that I've necessarily read any issues with it, but for the price it seems a little too good to be true).