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Format -or orientation in professional photography?

by Carl Koch

Let’s jump in at the deep end. 

Wide-angle effects are not the only means of photo­graphic impact. In fact this gimmick is sometimes be­coming a bore. Even converging verticals -however effective they may be on occasion -are not exactly a hallmark of impressive pictorialism. As a result of various technical requirements and restric­tions, televison has in this field produced a certain visual style of some impact for a mass medium. But its shooting limitations cannot in the long run make it a model for professional photography. In 1933 I studied at a leading photographic school. The current rage at the time was Oskar Barnack’s Leica idea. This new trend certainly fascinated our teacher. So over a period of two years we once (and once only) looked at the image of a building on the ground glass screen of a 9 x 12 cm camera. There was no mention of camera move­ments -they did not figure in our instructor’s style. I am not mentioning this to reminesce, but to point out that little has changed in some present-day professional photo schools. Like now, miniature camera enthusiasts 40 years ago -at that time still plagued by involved pro­cessing procedures -set enthusiastic conviction against the tradition of the “orthodox” photographer with his concertina-like camera. Our position today is not that different. In those days the miniature camera user thrived on his new freedom to transform what he saw as quickly and as simply as possible into a picture. The “orthodox” photographer sawblack for his profession when everyone could take pictures. Already then photographers started to make concessions -after all, they had to make a living. Thus if a traditional photographer didn’t want to miss wedding orders he willy-nilly adapted the new feature reporting style. Equally, the miniaturist had to find a way of rising above the mass of innumerable newly baked snap-shooters. For he soon found that professional photography involved not just fun in shooting where his fancy took him, but assignments ordered by clients to set specifications.Famous photographers of ourtime have gone through and survived this development -and learned from it. As a result they know how to utilise the advantages of both approaches.Such an experienced professional wouldn’t dream of tackling a real feature assignment with a large-format camera. But equally he would never attempt a carefully set up single shot, involving for instance controlled perspective and sharpness distribution, with a rigid hand camera and a tiny screen image.Today every photographer must equally realise that pro­fessional photography is not a simple question of format, but of producing the best possible pictorial result on each and every job. This involves an immensely greater creative and technical range than wide angle effects, con­verging verticals, flare spots and so on of the gimmick artist. Otherwise how could we stand out from the crowd? The attached evaluation test shows the special scope of the large-format camera.

Evaluation test: The large-format camera -when and why?

by Carl Koch

The question of the picture size is almost as old as profes­sional photography. Every now and again it comes into the limelight of critical comparison. Nevertheless there is still no standard picture format for the professional. For he selects whatever appears most suitable for the job in hand. The significance of the miniature and medium formats is widely known. Unfortunately this does not apply to the large-format camera. The best way of evaluating the caracteristics of the large format is to list typical performance features and assess these one by one. Below such features are listed in random order of impor­tance, for nearly every professional attaches a different weight to individual characteristics. You can however get a significant picture of your own approach by assessing the relative importance of such features for your own requirements. This also shows you clearly just what you expect from your view camera out­fit. If you have never worked with a large-format camera you may evaluate some features wrongly. In that case discuss your evaluation list with an experienced view camera photographer. For the assessment, weight each of the caracteristics listed by a number of points -0 for minimum importance up to 6 for maximum. Give features of equal importance an equal number of points. This is not thus a question of sequence, but of weighting the features you require. 

Main characteristics of large-format view cameras.

Mark here your
weighting in 1
to 6 points.

Modular construction unit system: Interchangeable bellows, extensible to any length; base rail of unlimited extension; interchangeable standards, camera backs, lens boards etc. -in other words a universal camera of widely adaptable scope to match requirements and assignments in hand.

Universal photo system: The modular construction unit system of the view camera extended to miniature and ­ medium size cameras.

Convertible basic camera outfit: Variable price and weight characteristics within the system.

Full control of perspective and sharpness distribution by swings and tilts of the camera back and/or
lens standard.

Full parallel displacements (rise, fall, cross, front and back): Correct reproduction of parallel lines, adjustment of image field, special effects.

Wide selection of lenses, including use of available lenses and lens components.

Large focusing screen for ideal viewing of the image and of sharpness, perspective, image proportion etc. control, working with mattes, accurate dimensional checks, without cumbersome prism finders or viewing hoods.

Two-eyed viewing of the ground glass screen image (even an upright image).

Brightness of the screen image: Right into the corners, especially when using parallel displacements, swings and tilts, also wide angle lenses.

Large film size: Greater focusing latitude, image less affected by dust and scratches, easy retouching, easy combination printing, wide range of emulsions including graphic arts materials, possibility of individual development, no intermediate negative needed for giant enlargements etc. -in other words image quality in general.

Large instant pictures: Single 4×5 inch prints or films, and film packs for eight 3¼x4¼ inch pictures.

Precise exposure spot readings (6 mm diameter reading area) anywhere within a large image area. Film plane measurement without calculation: provision for checking image contrast, creative tone control and special tone effects.

Special effects: With mirror, semi-reflecting mirror, bellows hood, matte box, multiple exposures, the latter also with micrometric displacement etc.

Better fees on the market for large-format pictures.

Large-format camera as exclusive professional tool, i.e. no competition from “amateurs”.

Once you have filled in this points table you have your own condensed evaluation of what large-format photography can do for you.

Improved films: A substitute for large image formats?

by Carl Koch

According to reports in photo journals, we’ll soon have greatly improved colour films of increased resolving power and better image quality. That’s good, of course. But how soon will these dev­elopments make large-format photography out of date? A valid question at first sight. But if we go a little deeper, the conclusions change radically. In fact, the special characteristics of large-format photo­graphy are not limited to image quality, though this remains a significant overall factor. The writer’s article “Evaluation test: The large-format camera – when and why?” gives an idea of the immense special scope and performance of large-format cameras, which goes far beyond any immediate link with film quality. These per­formance factors cannot be set aside. If we just look back a little, there was a time when black-and-white film materials improved as extensively as colour materials are doing today. But while resolving power and image quality got constantly better, the special performance advantages of large-format photography remained just as valid. An improved film quality obviously benefits all picture sizes. In fact, a larger picture format lends itself particularly well to making the most of in­creased emulsion speed. Significantly, however, an important requirement is to keep the technique of camera adjustments in step with improved film quality. This applies especially to focusing which is often still as primitive in operation as it was a couple of generations ago – under the black cloth. Equally, sharpness distribution control still tends to be a matter of trial and error. And the best emulsion can never save a badly set up or focused shot. Here – especially in focus­ing – large-format camera engineering must match film quality progress. This calls for modern and carefully designed aids. Such aids are available. They include for instance precise measurement of tilt angles to replace trial and error adjustment. There is the binocular focus­ing magnifier with complete screening against stray light. And there is the binocular reflex magnifier yielding an upright image. These aids to improved image adjustment must however show a clear bright image into the very corners and edges of the field even with camera move­ments and wide angle lenses. For we are concerned with perfect focusing. Equally important is depth of field control. This must be possible on the focusing screen at full aperture, and not on the dim image of a stopped-down lens. The new special depth of field scale, usable with all lenses, meets this requirement too. Hence the large-format camera will equally benefit from the improved quality of advanced emulsions, and with the new viewing and setting aids, it will perfectly match the requirements of modern trends toward a better picture quality. 

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