Going Big V: The 4x5 Itch and film cost

I've had a moderate case of The 4x5 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 4x5 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 4x5 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 4x5 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 4x5 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.

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