First crack at 5x4

Speed Graphic, 127mm Ektar, Tmax 100, 1/25th @ f5.6

If you've got a long memory, you'll maybe recall that I bought a 5x4 Speed Graphic way back in May. Well, these are the first two pics from the camera and you've only had to wait five months for them! I won't go into all the reasons for the delay but Phil Rogers recently sent me some sheets of 5x4 so I no longer had a viable excuse.

Being the shy, retiring type, I didn't have the bottle to bolt the Speed Graphic to my tripod, throw it over my shoulder and go walking through town to the shore for some seascapes so I wimped out, jumped in the car and went inland instead for some peace and quiet.

The camera has a 127mm Kodak Ektar lens which is roughly equivalent to a 40mm on the 35mm format, an ideal focal length for me. I took my Nikon D700 along as an expensive exposure meter and to see what the scene would look like before committing a sheet of 5x4. And here's the thing: I only had two sheets with me. I only have the one double dark slide so I slipped Tmax 100 into it hoping that would do me. I suppose I could have taken a changing bag along and reloaded in the field but that sounded like too much bother and it was enough just getting into the LF routine.

I'm not a complete LF virgin. About 20 years ago I had a Speed Graphic but - a bit weird this - only ever exposed two sheets of film. Hope it's not the same this time round! Anyway, I can remember virtually nothing about the earlier camera or the shooting procedure so it was like starting over again. Taking Phil's advise, I drew up a numbered list for the shooting order in case I forgot something. What I forgot to add to the list was to give a bit extra exposure when shooting close-ups to make up for the bellows extension. Thankfully, when it came to shooting the photograph above, I somehow managed to remember.

Speed Graphic, 127mm Ektar, Tmax 100, 1/25th @ f16

My first exposure was the picture immediately above. It's quite a simple scene and I would't have bothered had the sun not been in the frame. It looks like it's only just made it into view here but that's because I cocked up the processing - more on that later. An infinity shot like this is nice and straightforward - no complications. Just stick to the shooting list.

The second was shot in the churchyard of an abandoned church. This is the shot that needed extra exposure to take account of the bellows extension. I couldn't remember what the rule of thumb is for this sort of thing so I just gave it an extra stop. This was taken at f5.6, just a half stop down from wide open, and the sharpness in the centre is very high. Focus was on the tiny feather on the gate lock. I used a wide aperture to throw the background ivy out of focus. The OOF areas are nice.

Both of these were scanned and given a levels correction in Lightroom where I also added the slight warm tone. The photographs were taken yesterday and developed today but I've run out of darkroom paper so I won't be able to print from them until I order some more.

And so onto the developing. From some research on the net and from speaking to Phil, developing the negatives one at a time in a tray two sizes bigger seems to be the safest and most reliable method. However, it means spending about half-an-hour in the dark shoogling trays which isn't the most appealing thing in the world. Another recommended method is to develop them one at a time in a Paterson tank. Leaving the central tube in place, you simply let the film curl around the inside of the tank emulsion side in. Processing is then just like 35mm or 120.

Not a bad way to spend a few hours.

I opted for the latter, using a tank that normally accommodates two 35mm reels. Since about 600ml would be enough for two 35mm rolls, I thought I'd be OK mixing up 600mls of Rodinal, 1+50. What a sublime moment of idiocy that was. It actually takes around 800mls to completely cover the 5x4 film. Of course, I should have checked but brainfarts come without warning, otherwise we'd never have them. Anyway, as I said to Phil, three quarters of the negative was fine! That explains why the sun is so near the top of the frame in the landscape shot: beyond it is a broad strip of featureless black!

There are also a few marks on the negative from careless handling but I'll get better. I used Rodinal at 1+50 for its compensating effect, given that the sun was in the shot. It did a good job in that regard but the negative is quite flat and would need a grade five exposure under the enlarger for the foreground. Fortunately, it will be easy enough to burn in the sky at a softer grade. The ivy and gate photograph was taken in full shade so I developed it at 1+25 for 20% longer than the recommended time on the massive dev chart. It's OK but would have benefitted from an extra 30%.

I think the key to success with large format is to restrict the variables. It's one slice of life where getting into a rut is a good thing. Pick a film, choose a versatile developer and a consistent processing method and stick to the shooting list until it becomes second nature. It's too early yet to say if I'm going to get the LF bug in a big way. It's a lot of trouble and I'd need to see something special in the prints to stick with it but you never know. At the moment, I'm using the pop out viewing hood on the 5x4 back but I might have to go all the way to the good old black cloth or t-shirt to give me a brighter and contrastier view of the focusing screen.

Since I promised to show my cock-ups as well as any successes on this website, below is the full frame scan of the landscape neg, processing error included. I could almost get away with that!


  1. Keep wanting to get a view camera. But every time I linger in that section of the used camera store my wife gets that certain "that thing does not enter our home" look in here eyes...

  2. shooting only medium format i'm also close to get a speed graphics. good job on the 2 first shots. regarding development i was considering getting the mod 54 ( processor for the paterson tank. sounds a good idea "on paper" but no idea how it will work.


  3. Hi Bruce - happy to have been of help, and very impressed with your picture of the gate! It looks like an LF photograph and has come out really well.
    As for the cock-up . . par for the course . . but at least you did manage to expose some film . . sometimes you get so caught up in the procedure that it becomes the last consideration.
    Looking forward to your next batch.

  4. Welcome to large format Bruce. When I first took up large format ( a toyo monorail ) I thought have I done the right thing is it really for me . Then I began to realise that returning home after shooting only six shots that five of those were keepers. Sometimes with camera on tripod I would spend 20 minutes in one spot looking for the best shot only to end up taking nothing and moving on. For developing I use the Taco method in a Paterson tank doing four negs at once using elastic hairbands. I make up 1 litre of dev (always use one pass dev) and use this to do 2 lots of 4 negs before ditching. It does become a smoother workflow with practice and a very satisfying way to produce images. Enjoy.

  5. Here's some advice, Jan-

    UNDERHAND: 1. Marked by or done in a deceptive, secret, or sly manner; dishonest and sneaky. See Synonyms at secret.

  6. Morris - Taco method? I have read a lot about LF and made a lot of images and never heard of it, so I had a wee look around and found this
    Gosh . . I think you may have saved me a large portion of my life . .THANKS!

  7. I'd always doubted the efficacy of the taco method. Yes, it gets four sheets done at one time but isn't one of the main benefits of LF the ability to develop each shot individually!

  8. Jeff,

    The Mod 54 seems to do its job very well indeed according to what I've read. But I've always thought it was a lot to pay for a wee bit of plastic.

  9. Hi Bruce, If it's of any interest the Paterson Orbital Print Tank works well with sheet film, using 150 to 200ml of solutions. However getting hold of one at a reasonable price is the problem as they're no longer available new. The tank needs to be modified slightly before use with sheet film. See Roger Hicks site here


  10. "Here's some advice, Jan-
    UNDERHAND: ..."

    "Big, ugly wooden camera thing? What big, ugly wooden camera thing? Ohh, that big, ugly wooden camera thing! No, sorry. I have no idea how that ended up in our apartment."

  11. Hee, hee! Can't you store it in an old camera bag at the bottom of a wardrobe or the boot of your car? Or in a garden shed (with plenty of silica gel). :)

  12. Not enough developer is a classic... I pulled that one once, too (with 35mm film). Luckily, I used a 3-second inversion rhythm. This is fast enough so that the lack of developer does no harm to the image.

  13. Nice work with the 4x5.. I'm still, like you, a big time noob to it. I have dedicated this year to 4x5 as I really really really want to get better at it, and honestly believe I will if I just keep doing it.

    Will have to start shooting even more than just 52-sheets. I have already shot 6 sheets already this year, and plan on shooting much more than that and much than just 52-sheets.
    Have to remember to take my big camera with me when I go to work, even if it I only get 20 or 30 minutes with it after work.
    Have fun!

  14. I just did the exact same thing about two weeks ago! It was my first go developing using the taco method. The rest of the negatives looked great though - so I must have done it somewhat right! As my friend said "Ah, an extreme crop"

  15. Here's how to make the Paterson Orbital Processor really work well with film and lets you do stand and semi-stand agitation for highlight control.


  16. I started out using the taco method, but had inconsistent results, especially if I was processing 4 sheets. After struggling with the cost of the Mod 54, I took the plunge, and I've not looked back. Sure its a bit pricey, but so is everything else about LF. The most expensive part of LF imo is the amount of time it takes to shoot each sheet. Anything I can use to increase my odds of success are worth the investment.

    I've used the Mod 54 for several years now and I love it. I get consistent development every time. It takes a bit of practice to load but it's not as difficult as some have reported. It will hold 6 sheets, but I've never loaded more that 4 at a time. Highly recommended.

  17. Clive Harrison19 July 2019 at 01:57

    Paterson Orbital works a treat for me - I was lucky enough to score one with all the original pegs and a motorised base. Best modification is to supaglue 5mm strips of film to the base (inside) this allows one to pick the film off the base easily (prevents it from vacuuming stuck...). 8x10 is also very doable :)