Will Hopkins

4x5 Large Format


It was pretty much inevitable that I would try out a large format camera at least once. I’m not someone who has to use the biggest, nicest, sharpest gear, but I do like having a wide variety of unique experiences, and large format film is certainly unique.

Most people are used to shooting with an SLR or mirrorless camera, or maybe a rangefinder. Some discover the joy that is the ground glass of a TLR or medium format SLR, where the image is flipped. But a large format view camera is a whole different beast, and the image is flipped and upside down. It can really change your point-of-view on your photos.

My first large format camera

For my first large format camera, I bought a used and CLA’d Graflex Super Graphic from CatLabs, with a 135mm f/4.7 lens (since sold to @chrisnicpics). On 4x5, a 135mm lens is on the wider end of normal focal lengths. I also picked up a lot of film holders (since 4x5 sheet film doesn’t have its own canister, like 35mm, or backing paper like 120 film) from various eBay sellers.

I shot a few large format shots around the house, but the real test for the camera, and my interest in 4x5, came in August 2020 with a road trip to upstate New York with my family (in isolation, with Covid testing).

Two women stand together, the younger with her arm across the older's shoulder, looking at the camera. They are on a dock in a lake, with mountains behind them on a sunny day.

Mom and Anna

A light-skinned man seated in a chair, looking toward the upper corner of the frame. His hands rest in his lap, and the background is too dark to see.


A young woman sits on a dock in a lake on a sunny day, looking at the camera. Mountains are behind her.


Until now, I’d shot some Ektachrome (go big or go home) in a Toyo 45cx I got on reddit, but that was it for color 4x5 film until this point and I’d blown out the Ektachrome pretty badly by forgetting to stop down my lens. Undeterred, I packed a couple boxes of Portra 160 alongside some HP5+.

Notes on gear

Large format requires some more gear than most smaller formats. You almost definitely need a sturdy tripod (unless you’re Weegee) and cable release, a dark cloth or other thick cloth to aid in focusing, a loupe for focusing, and the aforementioned film and holders. You also need a way to load your film in complete darkness. My kit for this trip included:

  • Graflex Super Graphic
  • 5 film holders in a special pouch
  • 2 cable releases (because you always lose one)
  • Bogen tripod legs and Manfrotto ball head
  • Carson 10x loupe that I normally use when looking at film on a light table
  • Adorama dark tent (much better than a dark bag)

Naturally, I forgot my dark cloth and had to use my jacket instead. None other than Bryan Schutmaat uses a black t-shirt instead of a dark cloth, so I figured it was probably okay. Plus, the Super Graphic had a fold-out shade on the back to aid in focusing, but in full sunlight it was still tough to see.

Fourth Lake from the dock

The lighthouse in Eerie, PA

Fourth Lake


I learned quite a bit from the experience, mostly after the film was developed. Speaking of which, I used a now-closed mail-in lab in California for the developing and scanning, but at this point I have my own develop-and-scan setup at home for 4x5 film, even in color.

Most importantly, I love large format photography. Yes, it’s most definitely slower than other formats. Yes, it’s expensive. But the process, and using such an old camera, are very enjoyable to me. I don’t particularly feel the need to justify what I like to anybody, but if you want the “why”, that’s mine.

Almost as important, when photographing landscapes you have to get your horizons level, and DAMN that is hard on a ball head. I highly recommend a self-leveling or multi-axis tripod head for any large format work. Large format cameras, even the lightest ones, will be unwieldy and difficult to move small amounts while loosening and tightening a ball head. I’ve since upgraded to a Sirui four-way head that I like much better.

Portraits work really well on 4x5! Even when the subjects are standing (first image set, middle photograph). These portraits of my family are some of my favorites, and I have them printed and framed in my office as a triptych.

Landscapes also work well, but can be somewhat harder to expose correctly. Setting aside the relative compositional issues, the exposures are less accurate or well-metered, to my eye.

I also shot some HP5+, mostly in the woods, and home-developed it months later. I don’t have good scans, yet, and the photos are not my best. Again, I learned a lot from them, but I prefer to highlight what I feel are the more successful images.

The way forward

Since that first trip with the Graflex, I’ve continued to study, mostly on YouTube. I’ll write up a post on large format resources that have helped me along my journey.

I’m still shooting 4x5 large format. Even though I’ve since sold the Graflex, I did so because I bought an Intrepid 4x5 Mk4, which I quickly upgraded when I was able to buy a Linhof Technika IV and five lenses (two of which are convertible, for seven different focal lengths) that offered more accessible movements than the Graflex for more or less the same weight. The Linhof is pristine specimen, and a really well-made piece of kit. I shoot both architecture and portraits with it.

Why not keep the Intrepid? It’s certainly the lightest 4x5 camera I’ve used, and really quite nice. The problem for me was the lack of stops. Since I enjoy shooting architecture, never being certain my camera was square really bothered me, and made me question myself and reframe quite a lot. Upgrading to a more precise machine simply made sense. The Intrepid makes a lot of sense if you’ll be backpacking with it or otherwise need to prioritize portability, but for me that was less important than precision.

I don’t shoot large format every day. But each time I do take out the camera and perform what Mat Marrash calls “the dance”, it really feels like an experience worth savoring.

How I scan film


Scanning film is the great bugaboo of film photographers. I want to share my work on Instagram or Google Photos, so at some point I’m going to have to digitize it. Before I started developing my own film, I relied on my lab for scanning services, but now that I develop at home I need to do the scanning myself.

After investigating my options, I settled on DSLR scanning. Please note that this isn’t a terribly thorough how-to: there are plenty of those on the Internet already, so instead I’m going to recap the decisions and trade-offs I made, and link to the resources I used to arrive at this setup.


My only digital camera is a Nikon D3300 (using Nikon’s DX crop sensor), and while it’s not the newest model it works consistently well so I have no desire to upgrade. My laptop falls into the same category: it’s an aging-but-serviceable Chromebook Pixel 2 running GalliumOS, a Linux distribution built for Chromebooks. Both of those items limited my choices somewhat, since Lightroom (and by extension Negative Lab Pro) doesn’t run on Linux.

After some advice from my mentor, Renato, I purchased a Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 AI lens from KEH to use with the D3300. I discovered as soon as I received the lens that the D3300’s Live View function doesn’t support non-CPU lenses, so I started to investigate tethering options. Luckily for me, Entangle is a Linux program developed for exactly this need, and it supported live preview on my laptop out of the box. I have to manually set the exposure with the aperture and shutter speed, but once that’s set for a scanning session I can just advance the film, capture a frame, and move on.

In order to position the film, I use a Negative Supply 35mm carrier. It’s pricey, but works very well, and is vastly superior to flatbed scanning for 35mm film. I am not using their freshly-launched motor drive, but for now it’s fine for me to work manually. I use the full-frame guides, so I can capture the full, uncropped image.

Entangle also bypasses the camera’s local storage, so each time I capture a frame it’s stored directly on my laptop. From there, I open the raw files in darktable, my F/OSS image editing software of choice. I manually invert the curves and set the D.max based on the film base. I haven’t yet found any automation for inversion that I’m happy with, so it’s currently still a manual process. Finally, I export the images as JPG files and back them up to Google Photos and my other photo storage options.


  • I’m using a crop sensor camera, so I’m not getting the most possible resolution, but it’s more than good enough for my purposes, and properly archived negatives will be around for years for re-scanning or printing. Plus, I didn’t have to spend extra money on the camera.
  • The Negative Supply carrier is pretty pricey, as much as a DSLR and lens. It works well, but I’m sure there are almost-as-good options that would be less expensive.
  • I still send my color film out to a lab, and don’t have a good way to scan 120 film.
  • I have but haven’t tested the Negative Supply 4x5 frame.

Recommended Reading

Welcome to the darkroom

Hello and welcome to my site. Thanks for stopping by!

I’m a photographer who works primarily with film, and I’ll use the Words portion of my site to share some behind-the-scenes details of my photos, plus the occasional travelogue or interview.

Self portrait in Detroit

Once I finish building my darkroom (the details of which I’ll share here), I also plan to post some of my prints and explain how I made them and what I wanted to achieve.

What don’t I plan to write about? Reviews! I’m really not interested in being a reviewer. Rather, I look forward to sharing my photographic process (and, I hope, my photographic output) with you.

Using Format