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Digital back for 4x5 Graflex?

Peter Lowe , Jul 04, 2007; 03:41 a.m.

I have a well-functioning Graflex 4x5 workhorse with several good Schneider lenses that I am reluctant to use as paperweights, but finding and processing film is becoming more difficult. What are my digital options, if I want to keep working in LF without spending a fortune?

Invest in a preloved digital back? Any suggestions for the most economical digital back that can go on a 4x5 revolving Graflof back and is fast enough to make portraits?

Swap my old Graflek for a different camera body that goes better with a digital back? But isn't Graflex hard to beat in terms of endurability, weight, price, etc.?

Use my good LF lenses on some other digital camera solution? Or is this just science fiction?


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Brian Yarvin , Jul 04, 2007; 08:45 a.m.

From an emotional point of veiw, the digital soloution that fits best is an older scanning back. Look for a PhaseOne or Dicomed. None can be used for portraits, but fit spirit of the project perfectly.

I'm going to let other people tell you about current hardware, suggest you buy a cannon/nikon, etc... I'm sure they'll have plenty to say.

Bill Mitchell , Jul 04, 2007; 09:34 a.m.

What have you been smoking? Do you want to do LF photography or not? If you aren't already doing your own darkroom work now is the time to start. It is by far the most cost-effective means to LF (if you don't count the value of your time).

Michael Briggs , Jul 04, 2007; 11:10 a.m.

Finding film doesn't seem hard to me. There are several large retailers that you can call or order via the internet, e.g., B&H, Calumet and Freestyle. From the major companies Fuji, Ilford and Kodak there is a choice of more than 20 types of 4x5 films, then there more choices from the smaller companies Berger, Efke, Rollei, ..... For processing, you can process yourself, take it to a lab, or if your city doesn't have a quality lab that does 4x5, use the mail. For a pro, the turn around time of mailing for processing might be a big problem, but I don't see a problem for an amateur. Try LF digital if you want, but don't think that you are forced to.

Peter Lowe , Jul 04, 2007; 11:18 a.m.

What would Linnaeues Tripe do?

You are right that nothing beats the real thing. But the main problem that concerns me is not processing LF color neg. film, or printing, but getting hold of the stuff (LF film, I mean), since big US firms like B&H and Calumet no longer recommend shipping LF color neg. film orders overseas (due to risk of fog damage by airport security scanning equipment), even FedEX has not given me a straight reply on this, and I am working in Asia, where so far I have not found a good supplier of Kodak 4x5 sheet film. So it is not a question of jumping to digital - but being pushed. What would Linnaues Tripe do? Probably make his own film - but there has to be an easier solution. The obvious one is the plethora of Canons and Nikons but none of them come near LF in terms of detail, color, or even good old-fashioned dpi. Hence my interest in exploring digital backs for LF. Unless there is some other option I have not yet considered - like water color?

Kelly Flanigan , Jul 04, 2007; 11:47 a.m.

Here my 35 and 50 megapixel phase one scan backs are really not the proper choice for a portrait; unless one wants to go back a century where one had folks heads wired/clamped in a chair! Scan times are abit long.

Gene E. McCluney , Jul 04, 2007; 12:01 p.m.

The easiest solution is a scanning back such as currently made by Betterlight, and previously by Dicomed. These backs resemble polaroid film holders. You compose your scene on the ground glass, then insert the back just like a film holder. Because of this, they will work with ALL 4x5 cameras. The back is connected by a thick cable to a control box, which is connected by a SCSI or Firewire (depending on model) cable to a computer. You operate the back from a software program on the computer. The back "scans" the image over a period of a minute to several minutes depending on your resolution choice or amount of light you have available. The image is written to a hard-disc contained within the control box, and then is transferred to the computer for final saving.

These scanning backs, while not the only digital backs that can be adapted to 4x5 cameras, are the only type of digital backs that give you almost the full image area of a 4x5 negative. Their image area is about the same as a polaroid test.

Gene E. McCluney , Jul 04, 2007; 12:04 p.m.

You are working in Asia. I would think that Fuji b/w filmstocks or color film stocks could be easily mail-ordered from Japan or Hong Kong. Fuji makes some of the finest films in the world. There are many people here in the USA that order Fuji materials directly from Asian countries and have no X-ray issues. None at all.

Peter Lowe , Jul 04, 2007; 01:26 p.m.

Going japanese

Thanks Gene. This is what I love about the forum: Somebody is smart enough to tell you what you should already know, but had never thought about, and polite enough to do it without pointing this out, and you can find a good answer to a question about film by asking about cameras.

No wonder I am confused, even though I have not been smoking anything apart from vehicle emissions for years.

My LF work was weaned on Kodak film and don't ask me why but I have never considered Fuji (like Coke and Pepsi, I guess), so all the searches that I have done on line for 4x5 suppliers in Asia started with "kodak 4x5 ...."

So now I start googling, and also post an email on the "film and processing" forum asking for input about suppliers of Fuji 4x5 color negative film in Japan or Hong Kong, and expect as a result that I may get a good response there about digital backs for my 4x5... What a world. But hey - it sometimes works out right!

But I have a gnawing feeling that sooner or later I will have to "bite the (digital) back" though hopefully with your advice about sourcing film in Japan or Hong Kong this can be done more gradually than I had started to fear may be necessary.

Bill Mitchell , Jul 04, 2007; 01:33 p.m.

While I agree that 5x7 is wonderful for B&W, I gotta confess that IMO Digital is better for color (you're now hearing from a guy who has shot and processed his own color for over 50 years, including Dye Transfer). I can do things easily in digital that were impossible in a wet lab -- I note that even Ctein has made the switch. Don't be stubborn just to convince yourself that you can do it; it ain't worth the effort.

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