Going Big V: The 4×5 Itch and film cost

I’ve had a moderate case of The 4×5 Itch for a few months now. This affliction is known to strike small and medium format photographers at some time in their photographic career. You may get confused or itchier after reading largeformatphotography.info for a few hours. Don’t worry, this itch can be cured in an economical fashion:

  1. Rent a 4×5 camera. Calumet in San Francisco rents a Zone VI field camera with a lens and film holders for $45/day. Pickup on Friday and dropoff on Monday for a one day rental fee. Buy a 25 sheet box of Tri-X for $25, develop the negs yourself, and you’ve scratched the itch for well under $100.
  2. Buy an inexpensive 4×5 camera if you want more time to experiment. A used Graflex Crown Graphic or Speed Graphic is $300-400. Tachihara and Shen Hao make brand new field cameras for about $600. Badger Graphic sells both. If the itch goes away, you can resell the camera without taking more than a $100 hit.

I need more time than a weekend to ponder these things, so I picked up a Super Graphic on eBay. The Super has quite extensive movements on the front standard including rise, swing, tilt and shift. Cameraquest has a great article about the Super Graphic. The previous owner pulled out the electronics to make the camera lighter, recovered the exterior, and added an excellent Fotoman viewfinder that covers lenses from 90-210. You can’t make good images without a good lens — this camera has a 135mm Schneider Xenar, which is about a 40mm equivalent in 35mm terms.

The per exposure cost of shooting 4×5 can range from $1-8 per image. Consider the high cost per shot an ointment to sooth your itch. Here’s how the cost breaks down with a few of my favorite films. Film prices are from B&H Photo, and are rounded up to include shipping expenses. Do it yourself (DIY) developing prices are rounded up slightly to account for darkroom chemicals and equipment cost.


Black and White

Lab prices are from Photolab in Berkeley. Dip and dunk processing in XTOL. Highly recommended.

  • Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film: $85 / 20 sheets. No darkroom required. Just wash in sulfite or permawash and hang up to dry. Love those funky edges. There’s a lot of Type 55 info online including a great article by George DeWolfe on Polaroid’s website. An easy way to get into 4×5 black and white. $4.50 per shot.
  • Kodak Tri-X: $25 / 20 sheets. Load your own film holders. An economical choice with a classic look. $1.25 DIY / $5 lab.
  • Fuji Acros: A lovely, fine grained film that’s great for night photography due to excellent reciprocity characteristics. Quickloads only. $62 / 20 sheets. $3.50 DIY / $7 lab.
  • Note: I don’t use Kodak TMX, but it’s about the same price as Acros in readyloads.

Color

I recommend New Lab in San Francisco for E-6 processing. $3/sheet, or $4/sheet for quickload/readyload.

  • Fuji Velvia 100 Professional (not 100-F): $135 / 50 sheets. Load your own. $6 per shot.
  • Kodak E100VS: $105 / 50 sheets. Load your own. $5.50 per shot.
  • Kodak E100VS: $75 / 20 sheets of readyload. $8 per shot.
  • Fuji Astia is about the same price as E100VS, for both load your own and quickloads.

I’ll be shooting some Type 55 over the next few weeks, and will keep you posted on how things work out.

10 thoughts on “Going Big V: The 4×5 Itch and film cost

  1. the Super Graphic is a great little camera

    did it come with the cam for the lens?

    I have a repair manual if you find you need some info…

    and the actual manual is online here (pretty minimal)

    http://www.cameraeccentric.com/html/info/supergraphic/supergraphic.html

    http://www.cameraeccentric.com/html/info.html

    (btw – I find framing a shot with the wire sports finder easier than using an optical viewer – though I mainly used mine with a tripod and the ground glass)

    when I did use mine handheld I bought a linhof technika grip off ebay and bolted it to the side…

  2. That’s an interesting perspective on film and development prices for 4×5 in the US you’ve posted here. I’d be discouraged from taking as much as 10 photographs a week as is my habit now. In Europe, you can get sheet film and chemicals much cheaper (but don’t even think of having your film developped commercially). Here, per sheet with DIY developing for B&W goes from 80 Eurocents for Wephota in Perceptol to 2 Euros for Acros in Prescysol.
    And, by the way, Acros should be available in boxes of 20 loose sheet films in the US as well, not only as Quickloads. I get mine through Megaperls.

    Christoph

  3. Hey Joe,
    In my own experience, I’m able to squeeze approx. a 1$/sheet by diluting developer and buying it in bulk. D-76 powder is nice, because you can only mix whatever you use and save the rest for later. Even though it’s recommended to use a proper stop bath, I find water to work fine, and fixer can be re-used.

    Buy a uniroller and related print drum and you’ve got a daylight processor that does four sheets of 4×5 with only 200ml of developer and fixer for each cycle. That gives you approx. 4 cycles and 4 sheets/cycle.

    Unirollers are nice, too, because you can set your stop watch and let the motor do the work for you while you’re scanning negs or doing the dishes.

  4. Tim – My Graphic has the cam for the 135mm lens. After years of shooting with Leicas, the rangefinder on the Graphic is not so stellar. The Fotoman viewfinder is quite clear and bright and is a close match to the actual view on the ground glass for approximate framing. I am using this camera on a tripod.

    Christoph – Acros was previously unavailable at all in the U.S. in 4×5, and now apparently only available in Quickloads. Tri-X is a lot cheaper here, but I prefer shooting Acros. 2 Euros is about $2.75 in U.S. dollars.

    Jon – Sounds like you’ve got a good, econo setup. I’d like to check it out sometime!

    Cheers,

    Joe

  5. Definitely. Thanks for the photolab link. I wasn’t aware that there was a closer lab than the one I was going to for color processing.

    Cheers,
    J

  6. Jon – Photolab does black and white in-house, and sends E-6 to New Lab in San Francisco. For those who live further East, Looking Glass Photo sends black and white to Photolab, and color to the New Lab.

    Cheers,

    Joe

  7. Wow — I can’t believe Calypso is only $1.30 per sheet of 4×5 for E-6. That takes the E-6 total price down to $3.50 for load your own, and $5.25 for readyloads. Thanks, Jon!

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