Backpacking and Large Format Cameras.

2:25 p.m. on February 19, 2012 (EST)
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Whenever I spend a good bit of time in the backcountry backpacking I almost always bring a good bit of photo equipment. I would even go so far as to say that sometimes the only reason I go out into the backcountry is for photographic purposes. My girlfriend (who is a photographer) really likes working with film and has a few large format cameras. We have been considering doing some classic glass plate photography out there but it is a major logistical problem to make it work. There have been a number of good photography threads on here and I figured I  could pitch this one to yall.

Does anyone have any experience doing this or have any advice on how I could get into this?

2:43 p.m. on February 19, 2012 (EST)
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Too bad Ansel Adam's is'nt alive, he was the master of nature photography. Maybe there is a website that explains how he managed.

5:51 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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I'm presuming you know that "large format" is typically meant as 4x5 and larger.

And you know that this requires a tripod, film holders and a boat load of misc equipment.

Are both of you physically able to hump your packs AND have both hands full of equipment?

It would require numerous friends to help carry your camera, your camping gear and their camera gear.

I couldn't do it. Ain't no way.

 

But....I suppose if your willing to spend the $$$$$ or have a stars' reputation (like Ansel),  anything is possible.

Helicopter drop!

9:59 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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My understanding of glass plate negative is they require onsite preparation.  That would entail too much bulk and weight to consider doing backpacking, unless you can enlist additional backs to carry a portion of the load.

Ed

10:05 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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So in the interest of education. What is required to bring one large format camera? I am talking about the photo stuff only, not the trail gear....

11:00 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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Pentax and Hasselblad (spelling) make/made 4x5 cameras that were much easier than the plateglass box cameras.

12:17 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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What is required to bring one large format camera? I am talking about the photo stuff only, not the trail gear....

 

bare necessities for 1 large format camera:

camera/lens combination in a case

film holders (each holder contains 2 sheets of film)

cable release

tripod

box of film (if you take a minimum of film holders)

changing bag (portable darkroom)

light meter (depending on your experience)

dark cloth (changing bag can be used)

1:21 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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That is a lot of gear. But doesn't seem undo-able for two people. Of course, I don't know the size of all the stuff...but just because something is heavy is no reason to ditch the plan....unless altitude is an issue. I think it just takes more time and planning and work.

2:03 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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A lot of gear to take on top of even the minimulist of camping gear! If one wanted to carry all the camping gear and food,water, etc and the other the camera stuff it might work out.

3:44 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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It gets easier the more people you have. Typically, even with 35 format, it will take another person. A couple of bodies, an assortment of lenses and a decent set of stix and the weight really starts to creep up.

Using a field camera requires different, but not a lot more weight, though it depends on film holders. As field cameras take time to compose and are pretty bulky, you are not going to be taking thousands, or hundreds of exposures. 15 or 20 over the course of a week end is what you may get. You probably won't be taking more than a couple of lenses, so you don't need to worry about that. And you'll trim some weight off the 35 by not having batteries to worry about, or an extra body, or that big fat 600mm lens. You will have a bigger camera, but it will generally not weigh too much. You need a good tripod, but what you might use with a 600mm lens in 35 would be adequate.

So, for two people, hauling a large format field camera and the accessories is going to be fine. You'll want to avoid taking your other photo gear though.

In the case of AA, he had more backs and often used equines to help.

One item you want is a large golf umbrella. It can be clamped onto the tripod with a mafer clamp if it isn't windy, or a lightweight aluminum light stand if it is. Umbrellas are good for keeping the camera dry if it is raining, and shading it from the sun if you are enjoying good weather. A spot meter and an incident meter are also important and remember to bring batteries for those. A neutral gray card is also a good thing. If you have a polaroid back, that is really helpful.

A couple of sand bags are also a good item. I'm not talking about filled ones, but the ones that have a velcroed opening. You can use rocks or sand. This will be helpful for longer exposures and for holding the umbrella steady. Mathews makes good ones.

Enough dust off in case it is windy. If you are using a mattebox, a plastic shower cap works to keep dust out of the bellows and off the filters.

As far as lenses and filters, use the KISS method. Bring enough, but don't over pack. Have an idea of the sort of stuff you are looking to get and bring a couple of extra.

If you have the time, it can be helpful to go out first with a point and shoot and shoot and pick you locations and your shots.

6:46 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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On any given backpacking trip me and my lady friend go on we carry one of her DSLRs, tripods, my go pro, a 35mm film camera, film and a whole lot of lenses. We generally have about 15-30pounds of camera equipment. I generally carry most of the heavy stuff. It has been getting so bad lately with all the gear that I am purchasing an external frame pack. I personally have not been too big on the ultra light craze. If im saving weight its to bring something else. For the past 2 years ive been averaging a 60pd pack. Im actually currently training for a big desert trip where I will have to carry at least 40pds of water (im super stoked.... not) One more thing on the weight issue, my girlfriend, aside from being a photographer, is a horse trainer.  So the use of equines is very possible at some point. So the point of this paragraph is that the weight isn't an issue.

I also already have most of the equipment. the dark bag for developing ,all the chemicals ,we do have an old large format that is 4x5 I think she may have a 8X10 too and we have the tripods. 

I think the first place we were going to try it was at Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We went there last september ad came up on the bald shortly after a storm that created the most sublime fog below the mountain.

Good advice guys. Thanks

mg

8:55 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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Even though weight is not a big issue, having a compact camera does make sense to me. Though the Arca-Swiss monorail is great and has a good range of movement, something like a Toyo is more compact. A true field camera, because of the limited range of movement dictated by the flat bed, has more restrictions, it will suffice for most landscape work.

Are you planning on processing in the field? Then you are really entering the 19th century!

9:25 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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GaryPalmer said:

 

Pentax and Hasselblad (spelling) make/made 4x5 cameras that were much easier than the plateglass box cameras.

 Pentax and Hasselblad have never made large format cameras. Their largest were and are what are classified as "medium format", larger than 35mm film (24x36mm frame size) but smaller than 4x5 inches. Usually this means 70 mm film, or rolls in the 120 and 220 size. There are digital backs for a number of the Mamiya, Pentax, and Hasselblad cameras. Rollei made some fine twin-lens reflexes. I used one quite a bit for several years. I always liked the Hasselblads better, but they were (and are!!) so much more expensive.

9:52 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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On the OP's original question, Ed G's equipment list is close to what I have backpacked when I was doing a lot of view camera work. But I always had my two favorite lenses with me (still have everything), my Schneider 180mm and my Super Angulon 90mm. I also always had my Polaroid back (for test photos, plus using Polaroid P/N film, as I was taught by AA) and my Pentax Spot meter (it had the zone markings right on the computer dial). The Pentax used a battery that seems to be obsolete, but I now use a Sekonic that acts as a spot meter, incident light meter, and flash meter all in one (and yes, I often use it even though my DSLRs have built-in meters - best way to get a properly distributed histogram). Red, yellow, and green glass and gel filters, as well as the standard UV (required at altitude) and polarizing filters (linear, of course, since you don't need the circular polarizers that digital sensors require).

Yeah, digital is a lot lighter, though I make up for that with the Sekonic meter and second camera plus an assortment of extra lenses (12-24 on the wide angle end, 85 micro for those tight-in flower shots, 400 and sometimes a 1000 for the long telephoto shots, with the 18-200 for the all-in-one lens. And I often have the flash unit along (built-in slaving - some modern wonders are actually helpful, though I more commonly use a mylar sheet for a fill reflector, just as I did with the view camera.

5:37 a.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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just to clarify for some...

 

the changing bag (portable darkroom) is for loading/unloading the film holders - NOT developing film in the field.

  It's just a multi layered, light proof, cloth bag with a zipper on one end and two arm holes in the other end. 

 

Can't imagine developing in the field, but that's just me - Although, I once had a 4x5 light proof developing tank where you loaded it up, put on the lid and went thru each developing/agitating step without any "dippin' and dunkin'".

Worked just like the tanks for roll film.

10:42 a.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Bill, questions for you.....

1. What enlarger did AA use?  Omega 8x10?

2. was it a condenser head or a cold light?

12:36 p.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Bill, I remember those Pentax spots. They had a a little motor that whirred when the trigger was pressed. Most of us in motion pictures went to the Minolta. If you need your Sekonic calibrated or possibly batteries for the Pentax, you might try Quality Light Metric in LA. I hope they're still in business. They did all the calibration on my Spectras and repairs on my electronic meters.

3:06 p.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Ed G said:

Bill, questions for you.....

1. What enlarger did AA use?  Omega 8x10?

2. was it a condenser head or a cold light?

 You actually believe that I can remember details like that from 40-50 years ago? Jeez, these days I can barely remember my own name these days. There were several enlargers in both the Carmel and Yosemite darkrooms. The only one I recall at all clearly was the custom-built one for large negatives, and mainly because it was horizontal.

4:07 p.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Try one of these instead of a changing bag (the thought of which just makes me shudder):

Calumet Changing Room

4:11 p.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Why does the robot B9 from Lost in Space come to mind when I look at the link in Pathloser's post lol. 

Danger Trailspacers, Danger Danger...

12:46 a.m. on February 22, 2012 (EST)
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I have a changing bag very similar to the Calumet, and most 1st ACs have gone to the tent style over the loose changing bag. There are a lot of advantages, key is that you are not dealing with folds of fabric that can get trapped between things like magazine doors. Being reflective, when you are in a hot environment, you aren't sweating all over the inside of the bag and film. They are also much easier to keep clean, a real plus in the field. Why do you shudder, Pathloser?

12:49 a.m. on February 22, 2012 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

My understanding of glass plate negative is they require onsite preparation...

Good God!  I am sorry it seems I misunderstood you.  When you said plate glass photography I thought you were referening to using the collodion process.

I have schelped 4X5 flatbed and rail cameras over hill and dale, solo.  If you are used to carrying a photo bug’s SLR and myriad odd lenses, the weight is not much different.  But I never took more than two lenses anywhere.

I found the biggest hassle was setting up and taking down the camera after each stop.  The problem is the gear is ususally packed in a protective position, such a lenses being stashed in the sleeping bag, and the camera body deep inside the pack.  You end up unpacking and repacking your pack with every stop.  Eventually I made lightweight carrying cases tallored for each lenses that consisted of a tube fashioned from masonite lined with open cell foam.  The lense cases were equiped with D-rings that permitted lashing them to the outside of the pack.  The various kit of changing bag, dual spot/incident meter, cleaning equipment, film carriers, etc were carried in a separate day pack, usually lashed to the top of my external frame pack.  (Good luck doing this with an internal frame pack.)  If I was using a flat bed, It was placed in a foam envelope, and that was placed inside stuff sack equiped with D-rings, then lashed to the outside of the pack, usually underneath the day pack.  If I was using a rail camera, it was transported using a clamp attached to the top cross bar of my pack that had a camera mount.  (be careful of low hanging obstructions).  I carried no tripod; instead the transport mount I just described was utilized, with my pack and walking staff serving as the tripod legs.  The mass of the loaded pack actually made this a very steady camera stance.

I found little need for the additional adjustment flexiobilities a rail camera has over a flat bed.  Most of my wilderness shots were sweeping landscapes; and any perspective corrections I required were fully facilitated by the flatbed.  But if you are into close ups and hyper angle stuff you may need the greater lattitude a rail offers.  Filter availabilty of your chosen work horse may also affect your descision, as to which camera body type you bring along.

Ed

4:21 a.m. on February 22, 2012 (EST)
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Why do you shudder, Pathloser?

At the thought of using a bag, not a pop up tent, which I have now. Even so, I have spent many an hour trying to spool film with my arms inside the changing tent, sweat ruining everything, so I would hate to have to use a bag in hot weather. The fact that the fabric falls over your hands and gear is another issue (you could make a cardboard box to fit inside a bag?).

There are other, more elaborate and expensive, changing tents out there but the Calumet one does the job, I find.

Hey, Rick: I think it looks like a great 'foot tent', for people who hate getting their feet wet or if your friends tell you your feet stink.

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