#1077. Large Format Look Supplement

By Paul Barclay | How-To

Jan 04

This article is inspired by Pascal’s article regarding the large format look. It is also partially because I am not satisfied with my comments to Pascal’s article.

Large format has a “look”, and as I mentioned in my comment, I am not sure that I really remember what that look is. So, I opened my film archives and scanned a few of my old large format images to share.

Unfortunately, many are not of the same artistic quality of Pascal’s images, particularly the B&W images. I scanned the originals as 2400 dpi TIFF files, and used Capture One to down sample them to present here.

As Pascal mentioned, part of the large format look comes from using longer focal length lenses to get an equivalent field of view. Ones aspect of the look that he did not mention is that longer focal length lenses tend to compress a scene and the depth of field rolls off very quickly.

I have annotated each image with the lens used, or most likely used, and the approximate equivalent field of view on full frame.  

For 4×5 originals:  

Schneider 72mm, 24mm equivalent  

Schneider 210mm, 70mm equivalent  

Rodenstock 135mm, 45mm equivalent  

Schneider 210mm, 70mm equivalent  

Schneider 72mm, 24mm equivalent  

Rodenstock 135mm, 45mm equivalent  

Schneider 72mm, 24mm equivalent  

Rodenstock 480mm, 180mm equivalent  

Rodenstock 135mm, 45mm equivalent  

Schneider 210mm, 70mm equivalent  

From 5×7 originals:  

Nikon 120mm, 18mm equivalent  

Schneider 72mm, 14mm equivalent  

Nikon 300mm, 60mm equivalent  


Of these images, the image of the rocks in the river, the grave marker, and the lighthouse (closeup) do the best job of showing the qualities of tonality, smoothness, clarity, and richness, that I think of when I think about the large format look.  

What qualities do you think or feel make up the large format look to you?


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Well for one thing, it reminds me a lot of the photos I used to take with 120 roll film folding cameras and an ancient creature that took postcard size negatives. Even “two and a quarter square” or 6cm saure to the present generation! Growing up in the 50s, you could often find a very good Zeiss Super Ikonta or Voigtlander Bessa II. Best of all was using Ektacolor roll film in them!

    The results from those were quite extraordinary. And yours, here, are the same “with knobs on” – 5×4 or 5×7 thumps practically anything people shoot with these days.

    Of course that’s before I rake up my great great uncles’ (plural – I had one on dad’s side, and one on mum’s side!), running around making their own collodion wet plates, in the wild. 10×12 and 12×16. Yikes!

    If you wanted to shoot f/64 and the camera could, too bad – you couldn’t, because the camera wouldn’t be able to compensate with shutter speed or a suitable film.

    So one of the things I DO notice, is limited DOF. It’s not a fault – it’s just a fact, and you learnwot live with it.

    It might even be why our ancestors started taking creamy looking waterfalls, and oceans without a wave in sight. They tried to convince me it was a better look – I hate it, I prefer a bit of sparkle in waterfalls and waves slamming into stuff, in the ocean.

    Another is a kind of HDR effect – detail in both highlights and shadows. Pascal’s Hassy does it – these shots of yours do it – most mainstream digi can’t

    Yet another is “perspective” – I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed it before with larger formats, but its pretty obvious in some of these photos

    FYI – I love the shot before your photos of the dilapidated bunkers.

    • PaulB says:


      Thanks for the comments. The bunker location is near by and was one of my favorite places to go practice and experiment, with a lot interesting things/places and not a lot of people around.

      But please don’t tempt me with tales of ultra large formats. Ever since I got over the fear of handling sheet film I have been tempted by ever larger formats when I would see images from one. At one time, after eBay became mainstream, someone had a Wisner 16×20 camera with tripod and Polaroid back listed for sale at a mere USD$6,000. I contemplated getting that camera everyday for over a month until it was (thankfully) no longer available.

      Two uncles that used wet plate collodian cameras! They were serious! Do you have an image from them?

      Those old processes defined the modern “creamy” look. They had too since their emulsions were so slow, even if they had an ISO scale they would be working at less than ISO 1 (one). So exposures were measured in seconds if not minutes. Plus, you had to take your darkroom with you to coat the glass plates.


      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        LOL – the whole world can access their photos – or at least the one from dad’s great uncle. Under the laws of the state where I lived as a kid, the State Archives had immediate access to “heritage properties” on the death of the owner, and could pretty well grab anything they wanted, if it contributed to preservation of the history of the state. And when they turned up and found his collection, they practically wet their pants – they simply couldn’t believe what they found – a photographic record of rural life in a vast area north of the state capital, spanning a period of roughly 50 years, from the 1850s to the end of the 19th century – hundreds upon hundreds of photos. Glass plates and prints. All carefully stored.

        Thankfully the Archives took them – by now, they’d be deteriorating anyway, otherwise – but they have professionals on hand, to ensure the survival of the images.

        The other collection sadly was less fortunate. I had a very unpleasant great-aunt who, when that property was going to be sold, went there to “clean it up”. Her idea of “clean up” was wanton destruction – pure vandalism. When she found his plate glass negatives, she smashed the lot. I was scarred by the experience. And hardly ever spoke to her again, after that.

        I don’t think I’d be too keen on a Polaroid back – my recollection of Polaroid images is pretty “negative” – LOL. You’re probably better off missing out on that one, although playing with a 16×20 would be fun. Largest I ever had was a Linhof 5×7 studio camera – which was AMAZING! I had a couple of friends from New York at one stage, who shot with Graflex 4×5 press cameras (they came from wealth NY families – dads making heaps of moneys, so these two could travel the world just taking photos – wish my dad had been equally obliging!) Their photos were sensational, as you might expect.

        Modern digi cameras have a lot going for them. But they can’t take away the magic of large format photography. Pascal is in love with his Hassy, and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I’m as jealous as hell, over the detail he gets in shadows and highlights. And I suspect he gets less noise in the shadows, too – noise in shadows being something of a feature of digi, but not one that any of us really wants in our images.

  • David A. Mack says:

    Interesting topic and review. I personally liked the Green forest with the large rock because greens are very difficult to get right and the sharpness and dynamic range were excellent. Of the b/w’s, I liked the white house set in the forest with clouds. Again dynamic range with the “feel” of detail. Thanks

  • Dave Massolo says:

    Hello Paul
    Enjoyed your large format photographs. LF photographs to me for the most part have a calming and meditative quality to them.
    Thanks for posting.

    • PaulB says:

      Thank you Dave.

      Practicing large format can have that effect on you too, because the process can be very slow.


  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    I agree with the comments above. As Pete and David Mack point out, there is indeed a high dynamic range effect, especially in the forest shots, but it is subtle and lovely and gently persuasive–“calming” as Dave Massalo said in the last post. It connotes a sense of presence, but it does so softly (even though with clarity and contrast). I’ve never shot large format film so I need more time to think about the qualities presented here, some of which seem also matters of film, but I really enjoyed these images. Thanks for posting them, Paul, and thanks, too, to Pascal for starting the large format topic.


  • PaulB says:

    This comment is intended as a post script to the article above. The reason I am adding this is, while the 3 images I mention, do the best job of showing what I think of when I think “Large Format Look”, they also fall short.

    Since, for me, the “look” is as much an emotional response as visual, I thought I would add some history of what I was using that gave me the look.

    In the later 1980’s, a member of a photography club I belonged to gave the opportunity to try a large format camera and lenses that he obtained will working overseas. For you camera buffs, this was a Linhof Super Technika IV Press camera with 3 matched Linhof branded Schneider lens with all of the accessories. Needless to say I took to the images and experience of using the camera “hook, line, and sinker.” The images made using Kodak Ektachrome 100 Plus (EPP) film and, this camera and lenses set the standard for the qualities I list above.

    Then, over time, I tried “newer/better” lenses, newer film, changed camera bodies (the Linhof suffered a great fall), and the look I was getting changed forever. :””(

    Looking back, the change came about because of one thing (in my mind), contrast. My original lenses were all made in the late 1950’s when the design criteria was centered around resolution. In the mid to late 1970’s the lens industry changed the criteria, deciding that “sharpness” was the combined effect of resolution and contrast. In addition, all of the film manufacturers jumped on the same band wagon and added new emulsions with increased contrast.

    With my modern lenses and lower contrast film emulsions, Kodak Ektachrome 100+ and Fuji Asia, I was getting images that have a similar look to what I remember. Which on digital today would be about 133 MP. But it is only similar, not the same.

    Today, the images I have seen that most remind me of the look I was getting, are provided by Pascal and his Hasselblad. Which tempts me every time he posts an article.


    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Moi aussi – but I’m stalling for the moment – I want to combine that pleasure with trying a Foveon sensor, when SIGMA finally roll out their large format Foveon camera. Will it be FF? – HF? – or just a dream?

      • PaulB says:


        I think I agree, a new/larger true color (Foveon) sensor would be a lot of fun to try. It would (or should) change our perceptions of an image by reducing the processing needed to convert it from digits.

        PS. I agree with your feeling about your Linhof 5×7 camera. Mine is a Sinar Alpina, and I feel the same way.


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