|Traveling with a 4x5 Camera in North
Carolina's Outer Banks
by Chuck McKern
Usually when we go away on vacation, being into photography the way we are, we want to take great pictures to remember the trip by.
Years ago, 4x5 cameras provided the best quality images you could get. So serious enthusiasts would make room for the size and bulk of all the equipment one would need to support a 4x5 in the field whenever they traveled.
Today, 4x5 is a format that seems to be slowly fading away; in large part due to the constant improvement of 35mm films. So is there still a reason to take the big monster along?
To get some images for comparison I took both 35mm and 4x5 rigs to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The Outer Banks offer a nice variety of ways to relax as well as numerous picture taking opportunities. You have golf courses, plenty of gift shops (not just the typical tourist type gift shops, but several up-scale shops as well), wild life preserves, and lots of history.
One of the wild life preserves is home to wild horses, while another has numerous species of coastal wildlife. You can visit the largest "living" sand dune, Jockey's Ridge, where you can hang glide. If you are interested in nautical history, there are 4 historic lighthouses, and countless shipwrecks, several of which are visible without diving.
There is plenty of fishing and boating and miles of undeveloped beaches.
Did I mention food? There are countless restaurants in the small towns
of the Outer banks. Most offer fresh seafood (which personally, I love) and I have yet to have a bad meal
here. If you like the shore and haven't been to the Outer Banks, I strongly suggest going.
With my 4x5 camera, I prefer to use a heavier tripod than the Bogen I use for my 35mm and medium format. With such a large case you want to be sure to use any free space to your advantage. In the camera case, there is enough room on the end compartments, under the rail of the camera, to store some of the necessities. I usually store my film holders, Polaroid back and film, cable release, focusing cloth, and loupe (for fine focusing on the ground glass of the camera). I also carry a changing bag and an empty 4x5 film box in case I need to change film. If I am not taking along a smaller camera, I will also carry my light meter. Loading all this equipment into the camera case makes the case heavier, but it definitely saves a considerable amount of space.
If you think that this case sounds big - it is. It measures 18" tall, 12" wide, and 25" deep.
Then there's getting the camera to where you want to shoot. Lugging 4x5 equipment around is no easy thing. The case for the camera with all the needed accessories is not only large, it's heavy weighing about 20 pounds depending on how many other gadgets you are carrying.
Try carrying that and a full size, metal tripod over the dunes in the
deep, loose sand that makes up the North Carolina coast. It's difficult
enough to walk a long distance on a sandy beach - this adds a new level
pain. If you're not in good shape, you will definitely be feeling it the
Once you have everything set where you want them, it's time to focus. Focusing is done on the ground glass on the rear board. Once you have it focused visually, get the loupe out and check it again. With the detail in this format and the cost of the film and processing, you want to make sure the focus is correct. Be sure to use the focusing cloth over your head and ground glass, it will eliminate the glare on the glass and make it a lot easier to focus.
With the advancements in film today, 35mm negatives can be enlarged considerably more than they could have been a few years ago without
a major loss of detail because of the grain structure of the film. This has allowed the smaller formats to compete with the quality of 4x5.
In my opinion, 4x5 still has an advantage for big enlargements, especially if you want the highest degree of quality in poster size or wall size prints. In reality though, how often do we enlarge prints that big? Personally, I haven't printed any poster prints for a couple of years. Let's face it; it's most common for most of us blow our pictures up to 8x10s and the occasional 11x14s. 35mm definitely has the edge in ease of use and cost compared to 4x5.
I will still use my 4x5 camera - but I will continue to be selective as to when I take it out.
For more information on the Outer Banks check out:
Is there still a reason to take the big monster along?
Shooting with a 4x5 camera is also much slower than with the smaller formats
4x5 still has a major advantage for big
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