When film returns from the lab, I always get a few surprises to enjoy. In this particular case, the surprises came from the fact that the damaged Linhof 6×7 Super Rollex back actually exposed the film inside it, and it did a pretty good job for being broken – I only hope its replacement does an equal job. The negatives themselves are not the most exciting subjects possible – flowers and candles – but the nature of my space is that due to the high ceilings light is hard to come by without setting up the lights. It makes for perfect studio situations but terrible candid shots. Since V. was not home, I went with the flowers on the table and the candles on the counter.
What I like best about the flowers photograph is that it holds a very specific depth of field – almost a slice of focus – between the foreground and the background. The Kodak T-max 100 film has a nice grain that lends a painterly effect to the shot. Unfortunately, the back only exposed the top part of this negative as it was the first negative on the roll, and the counter was what was broken. Despite this, the Schneider Kreuznach APO Symar 210mm f.5.6 does well to bring out a beautiful tonal balance and sharpness without becoming harsh. Using the lens was quite easy once you remember that the shutter is closed to shoot, unlike my Hasselblad 501CM where the shutter is open because the mirror needs to come up to expose the film. you will need a shutter release cable to trigger the release, but only a regular mechanical one.
The second subject was two candles, a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of wine on the kitchen countertop. What I wanted to see was how the view camera dealt with candlelight. Candles are difficult to shoot because they tend to be far brighter than the surrounding scene, so you need to meter on the candle flames to accurately expose the shot. As I believed the roll to be damaged anyway, I decided to shoot a series of exposures to see what the effect would be. The shot above was properly metered based on the flame, while the shot that follows is closer to metering for the surroundings.
The shot above holds a nice focus on the immediate plane of the flame. The surroundings are dark to black, and that darkness does pull the viewer in slightly. The composition is terrible as are the props, but the point is that it worked and that the 6x7cm negative still holds a lot of detail. The quality of the negative is at least as good as the Hasselblad with Zeiss glass, but the Schneider Kreuznach lens should be as good if not better, so this is no surprise.
The bottom shot is overexposed slightly, the candle flicker creates a wide blur, and it feels average. I decided to include the image though because it does show how the rise/fall/tilt/shift can appear in a properly illuminated photograph, which is the main attraction of a view camera. The control that the rises and shifts provide really made me consider how the camera might work for my product photography if I could mount the Canon body to the Linhof back. It might provide me with a decent digital image, but the shifts would be limited by the size of the sensor. Regardless, using 120 roll film did allow for enough play for us to begin to understand how to use the camera.
The first experiment means that V. and I can perform a second experiment soon with an actual series of still life photographs and maybe some portraits. The Linhof is the most master-based camera in the studio, and we are hoping that it will be used for black and white portraits in studio. As one reader noted, buying a view camera is much more involved than any other type of photography. You need to buy a body [Linhof Color 45s], a lens [Schneider Kreuznach 120mm f.5.6.], a lensboard for each lens [a Linhof 35 and a Linhof 34 recessed for the future], film sheet holders [Riteway 4x5s] and a roll film holder if you want to use 120 film, too [Linhof Super-Rollex 56×72]. My final cost has been a little over $1000 thus far, and all of the pieces have been purchased from keh.com. For $1000 I could have bought a low end dlsr with a zoom lens and a memory card that would take great photos and video out of the box, but it will be defunct in three years as technology becomes faster and faster.
Why large format film? Why now? Certainly film and supplies are getting harder and harder to procure, I will need to develop my own negatives and the cost per photograph will be at least $3. However, I am buying into equipment that is in beautiful condition and should last me a lifetime. The lenses are superb and on par with cheap digital slr zooms. I am learning about how photography actually works; there is no automatic button. 4×5 negatives make alternative process photography more reasonable to consider, and I am in love with that idea. V.’s photography might also blend in nicely with the Linhof for landscapes, and when we get back we will have more of a chance to test the camera out.
Photography is a journey, and every purchase you make should lead you to a new creative discovery and mastery of the techniques before. Gear that never is used will not make you a better photographer. Trying to use a view camera before learning how to meter and expose film could only prove frustrating and expensive to a new photographer, but then again, mistakes can prove beautiful. I can only wonder how bassist for Motley Crue, Nikki Sixx, became such a compelling large format photographer, but artists tend to be able to move from one format to another. It never hurts to have models and circus performers hanging out at the homestead, I guess.
All I know is that I do love taking pictures. Dragging gear through Chicago, New York and Milwaukee was not my idea of rest, so I left most of it in the hotel safe most of the time. Taking snapshots with my iPhone 4 was fun, and kept my eyes open to the world around me. When I knew that I would get a shot, like under the Brooklyn Bridge or at Wrigley Field, I took my cameras and found my photographs.
The image above is an outtake from my most recent Paderno session for steak knife packaging. Using a Hasselblad 120mm makro lens on the Canon EOS 1DmkIII via a Fotodiox adapter provides me with a different look than the Canon lenses [which are sharper and faster to focus]. That piece of organic t-bone from The Healthy Butcher was on of the best pieces of meat I have eaten.
We have less than two weeks before we head to Spain and Morocco. The heat will be blistering, the mood should be adventurous, and the photography should be compelling. V. has her Canon and Diana cameras to shoot film and digital, and I think I am going to leave the digital at home. I would hate to damage the camera I use for my paying photography, and frankly…I am kind of annoying to travel with if I have a digital camera: I will take thousands of shots, always be chimping for the selects and never really enjoy the world around me. At least if I have a Hasselblad I can only take 1 or 2 photos before moving on, I only have one lens to choose from, and I can enjoy the trip. Sometimes it is better to know one’s faults than to pretend to other people that one is without annoying traits.