I have shot all manner of cameras over the years, and have long had a love affair with Large Format photography, I’ve even built my own 4×5 cameras. I do admit to sometimes finding shooting with film as frustrating as it is rewarding. Which is especially true when using larger 4×5 cameras. I sometimes envy those that strap a phase one digital back to their Linhof or Tachihara cameras.
To ease that green eyed monster I decided to DIY a solution that also wouldn’t cripple my wallet or give the bank manager a heart attack.
What I decided to do was to take one of my spare Toyo field cameras and repurpose it. I have had one in bits for a while as it was in sore need of new bellows and some other TLC after buying it on impulse at a camera fair.
If you are reading this, I dare say the biggest question is “WHY?!!!” I could just say “Why not?” The real reason to shoot with large format cameras is having the complete freedom to move the lens and film plane about and incredible image detail on a large negative via sheet film.
There are various moves with a camera like this that allows you to move the focal plane about up and down, left and right and tilting and panning it too creating selective focus on a subject, or correcting perspective. I know people will roll their eyes and say “Lensbaby” but a lensbaby doesn’t have the incredible optics that some of these large format lenses have. I was hoping this would give me the same sort of freedom, but to a lesser cropped degree, as I’d be using a 35mm sized sensor, or so I planned.
Planning something like this out, meant having to create a solution that would allow me to fix a digital camera to the rear standard of the camera. To that end I removed the ground glass focussing screen from the back of the camera, to allow unfettered access to the inside of the camera body and most importantly to allow the large format lens to focus on the camera sensor. I did plan to use my Canon 5dmk3 for this, but that initial plan changed later on.
To allow the camera to sit on, or round about the focal plane of the Toyo 4×5 camera, I butchered a very shabby film holder. I cut a dirty great hole in it to allow the fixing of the Canon mount from a set of old macro extension tubes that was secured by screwing it in and then sandwiching it with another of the tubes on the other side. That way I was less likely to have a very expensive accident with the camera falling off.
As with all off the cuff DIY camera plans, things didn’t quite work out as planned. I found that the grip of the 5d was too tight a fit against the film holder. So I had a re think, a cup of tea, and another think. I dug out my Fuji XE3 and a focal reducer that allows you to use Canon glass and lose the crop factor.
The crop factor on the focal reducer is 0.72 so a it would allow me to fit the tiny Fuji camera to the adapted film holder and still get the same if not bigger image circle on the sensor as I would with a full frame camera.
It works as you can see here. It may not be on the same level as using a medium format digital back, but it was a fun project and I do get some incredibly cool images out of it. The only drawback is having to use a tripod all the time, but if I was shooting with 4×5 negatives I’d have this camera on sticks anyway. You can shoot hand held, but the weight can be a bit much after a while. It’s easy to do, is non-destructive to the cameras used and you get great results. Some caveats come in the form of occurrences of internal flare with the focal reducer when shooting in directly into strong light.
I used a 90mm Zeiss lens, with a copal 0 shutter, the 90mm is about equivalent to a 28mm lens in 35mm format when used with 4×5 film. But with the large crop factor compared with actual 4×5 negative film you, of course, won’t get that wide angle look. Next project may be to play with lens formulas, but that’s for another day.
A note from Hamish:
This post is one of the first of a new series here on 35mmc called “That time I shot a…” I’m looking for stories from a time you have shot something or somehow that is a little less than ordinary. This might be some sort of film shot in an odd way, a lens mounted on a camera it has no right to be mounted on, a camera that was broken or bodged to work in a way it wasn’t supposed to, or something else out of the ordinary. You might have discovered something wonderful, or it might have been a complete failure. As long as you have some sort of results, you can tell me what you did and why and how you did it, then please get in touch and let’s share some weird and wonderful photographic experiments with the world!