My first 4×5 negatives came back from Northern Artists lab today, and much to my surprise they were in relative focus and perfectly exposed. In fact, they were exactly as I had imagined the photographs in my mind. The challenge had stemmed from my inability to press the standards close enough with the Schneider-Keruznach 90mm f.8 lens; only after coming in from the blistering cold did I think to switch both standards to the same side of the mount.
The next questions are what do I see here and how did I achieve these photographs? I see the selective focus that draws me deeply to this format. Yes, I can create similar bokeh with a Lensbaby lens or even the 50mm 1.2 lens, but the overall quality is not there in the same way. I do not have perspective control built into the dslr lenses, and though few movements were available with the standards so tightly pressed, there was room for minor adjustments.
In the first photograph the focus is on the clock tower and creating a tilt backwards for the tower in relation to the building’s foundations. At f.16 and 1/15th exposure on Ilford Delta 100 film the details are extraordinary given how far out of my desired focus (infinity) I was.
The second photograph is an attempt to get at least something in focus from the shoot. I had spent my lunch hour focusing and freezing with the feeling that it was an absolute failure from a final product viewpoint. I aimed my focus at the closest window and hoped for the best. Again, the sweep is clean and the tones are consistent throughout the negative. I am uncertain as to whether either of these photographs could grace the cover of the yearbook I am producing for school, but I hope that the first photograph will hit the mark. The result is much, much closer than I had ever expected after the session.
What do I think of shooting 4×5 sheet film? The process is Zen. The challenges make it exciting to even load film in the bathroom in total darkness. The negatives are large and crisp with tonnes of dynamic range. The cost is about $8 an image [not for machine gunners]. You are limited to how many film holders you own [I own two for a total of 4 photographs]. Development time is about 2-3 days, and few labs do this type of work. C-41 is harder to find processing for than BW film. Still, I feel portraiture would be spectacular within a studio set-up wherein you proofed with a digital camera to ensure the lighting was accurate and then shot when with the 4×5 when the subject was at his or her best. If this is what can be achieved on my first attempt using the sheet film, then I can only imagine what V. and I can do after the next weeks ahead.