There are many branches of photography and specialist equipment for each, photographers select the equipment that best suits their specialisms and style. As an architectural photographer I’m concerned with perspectives and the control of distortion, to do this there is a range of equipment available all of which is based around a tilt and shift capability at the lens.

35mm Digital SLR and medium format tilt and shift lenses, large format camera with medium format digital back or large format film all have a similar effect. The advantages of large format start with the level of optical control afforded. The large focusing screen at the back of the camera makes focusing on the texture of building materials possible, 4″ x 5″ film has a screen of the same size. When a medium format digital back is attached the screen reduces to around 54mm x 40mm, making focussing less easy. Looking straight through the lens produces an inverted image on the focusing screen which assists critically evaluating the composition of the image.

Despite the cost per shot of film, processing chemicals and scanning, overall costs are comparable with high end digital solutions. In fact as images can be scanned at the resolution that suits the final use of the image, costs can be controlled in ways that digital imaging cannot.

Optical control continues through what is known as the optical bench, both the lens and film holders can move horizontally and vertically as well as tilt and swing. The tilt and shift lenses available for medium and small format (35mm) cameras, typically offer less movement. Shifting the lens vertically allows a tall building to be photographed without appearing to taper. By sliding the back of the camera horizontally and taking two shots a perfect panorama can be created without any distortion. Tilting and swinging controls the sharp and out of focus areas in a photograph and is more relevant in landscape photography.

The final advantage of large format film is image quality, darkroom printing techniques involved using an enlarger, the larger the piece of film to start with the more detail could be retained in the printed image and the larger the print that could be produced.

Digital printing largely follows the same principle, a 24 mega pixel digital SLR with a 24mm x 36mm sensor won’t be able to produce as big a print as a 60 mega pixel medium format digital with a 40mm x 54mm sensor at the same quality. Depending on the scanner used and the resolution set, 4″ x 5″ film can produce up to 320 mega pixels, sufficient for a 60″ x 75″ print at 266.67 dpi. Labs charge for scanning by the megabyte, few clients will need or want a 6′ 3″ print, scans are therefore produced at a resolution and cost to suit customer requirements. For comparison around 18 mega pixels are required to produce an A3 borderless print at 300 dpi resolution, 180 mega pixels produces a 40″ x 50″ print at 300 dpi.

To conclude, the large format film camera enables control of distortion and perspective, permits sharper focusing and allows massive prints at fine art resolutions, whilst keeping photographic costs under control. The obvious disadvantage is the longer turnaround time on images. By using large format film and digital SLR I feel I am in a position to offer my clients the optimal combination of quality and price.

The images above show the large format camera, clockwise from top left: inverted image on focusing screen, detail of camera front and manual adjustments on lens, front view and side view with graduated filter, lens hood and focusing cloth attached.

Original post may be found on LinkedIn