From 1991 until I stopped using film cameras in 2005, my main camera was always a large format camera. Also know as a view camera, a large format camera makes images on individual sheets of film (as opposed to 35mm and medium cameras, which use film formed into a long roll, with multiple exposures made on the roll before it is fully exposed).
4"x5” View Cameras
My first view camera was a Busch Pressman D, purchased in 1991. This camera worked well as an introduction to large format, and was a real workhorse, being a metal camera. I used this camera for much of my fine art work until 1994, when I purchased a Nikkor 210mm lens, only to discover it would not fit the camera. As a result, I bought a used 4"x5” Wista, a light wooden field camera with more movements then the Busch Pressman and almost half the weight. At the same time as I was focusing on working with the 4"x5” format, I purchased a used Burke and James 8"x10” camera, to start exploring the possibilities of a different format.
From 1994-1998, my main camera was the Wista; a light, flexible camera, this served to help me create many of the images that are the foundation of my current work. When, in 1998, this camera fell victim to an accident in a river, I had to replace it, upgrading it to an American-made Wisner 4x5 Traditional. The reason for selecting the Wisner was manifold - it had more bellows extension (21” as opposed to the 12” on the Wisner) which helps when working with longer focal length lenses and, as I was using more and more wide-angle lenses, the ability to use a bag-bellows on the Wisner was also particularly attractive. The bag bellows permits more flexibility when using wide angle lenses - the movements that are often needed with these lenses can kink bellows, or even be totally restricted by them, where the bag bellows permits almost total freedom of movement.
8"x10” View Cameras
After working with 4x5 for a decade, I started questioning if 4"x5” was the best format for my work in 2000. I started working with large format in 1991 as a reaction against the “machine-gun” approach of smaller formats. The larger negative (53 times larger than a 35mm negative) and cameras demanded more effort in the field and, in turn, placed more focus on the technical elements of photography, pushing up the exertion (both mentally and physically) required to make an image. By 2000, however,I was frequently making 30-60 images a day, where I had initially focused upon 12-18 images a day. I began reconsidering working with 8"x10” cameras, and in 2001 made the decision to purchase a 8"x10” Toyo 810G, to see if my hunch that this larger, more demanding format would better suit my workflow.
It was the Cassandra, the Nova Scotia Portfolio in 2001 that proved to me that stepping up to 8"x10” as my main camera was a positive evolution. Over the two weeks of working with Cassandra, I worked back and forth between 4"x5” and 8"x10”, and the over all conclusion was that the larger format worked better for my way of seeing; the pleasure of composing on the larger ground-glass, the extra discipline required when there can only be 12-18 images made a session, and the slowing down of the process that becomes inevitable when working with such a large camera all helped focus my work more clearly, and lead to very striking results. By the spring of 2002, I had sold all my 4"x5” equipment, and had begun refining my Toyo 8x10 equipment to better reflect my needs and desires as a photographer. I used the Toyo 810G for three years, making a little over 1200 images.
At the end of 2003, I purchased a Zone VI Ultralight 8"x10” camera to replace the Toyo 810G. The reason for the change to the Zone VI camera was weight - as a wooden field camera it weighs less than 5 kg - half the weight of the Toyo. Initially I had planned to keep the Toyo as a studio camera, but common sense prevailed, and I sold the Toyo 810G in early 2004. With the change to the Zone VI Ultralight, I finally managed to get the three lens system I had longed for; a 150mm, a 300mm, and a 450mm lens. I carried carry 10 film holders with me, permitting me to expose 20 sheets of film before reloading (which is not the easiest thing to do in the field).
Ultra-Large Format View Cameras
In 2001, I worked with a Korona 12"x20" camera, and over the summer made eighteen images with the camera; the possibilities were somewhat limited by the fact the camera only came with one lens, but after making the images, I knew that this was an approach I could get used to in time. Unfortunately, because of the prohibitive cost of ULF (ultra-large format) photography, which runs as much as $17 per photograph, this was my only experience with such cameras.
Over the seventeen years I worked with film, I owned numerous medium format cameras; a Mamiya 645 (1988-90), a Yashica 124MAT (1989-91), a Mamiya C330 (1990-93) and a Mamiya RB 67 (2002-2003). I have also worked with Hasselblad, Bronica, Pentax 67, and Mamiya RZ cameras.
Between 1997 and 1999 I used a 6x12 Cambo roll back on my 4"x5” camera, which gave me 6 images to a roll of 120 film.I really liked this aspect ratio, as it permitted me to crop slightly and produce truly “panoramic” images, or leave the image as a 1:2 ratio and have a strong horizontal or vertical image. It was very convenient to simply carry the roll-film back in my camera bag for when I needed a panoramic image.
From 2002-2003, for a year I had a near perfect system comprising of a Mamiya RB 67, which makes 10 exposures on a roll of 120, using interchangeable lenses. System consisted of 127mm and 50mm lenses, two backs (so I could shoot two kinds of film simultaneously) and a prism finder. It was a fabulous camera to use, though I constantly had the frustration of wishing it was a view-camera.
The last medium format camera I owned was a Fuji GSW 6x9. The camera is a rangefinder (rather like a Leica on steroids) which is a very different way for me to work, but the framing on the camera is very accurate, and its operation is very comfortable. Having a fixed lens would seem to be a negative factor, but it does have positive aspects. It gives me only one lens to learn, and limits the expense of the new system. I pretty much only use this camera outdoors, primarily for colour work, thereby dedicating each of my cameras to a different media (35mm to infrared, medium format for colour and Konica 750 infrared, and 4"x5” for traditional B&W).
My medium format film of preference was, for black and white, Agfa 100, and for colour, Agfa XPS 160, which has a wonderful colour pallet.
Medium Format Camera
When I used film, I always owned a medium format system in addition to 35mm and large format cameras, which served as my second-line system for images that couldn’t practically be made with the large format. This changed in 2003, when I replaced my Mamiya RB system and 35mm cameras with a digital SLR camera.
From I began photographing in 1987 until 2003, I always owned a 35mm camera. From 1995 to 2003, I used 35mm cameras almost exclusively for infrared film.
My first film camera was a 35mm Olympus ON-10, with a manual adaptor. This was a small, lightly built camera that was more then adequate to spark an interest which would grow to fill my life. That said, the body wasn’t quite up to the kind of use I would put it through, and in under three years, I had worn it out.
My next camera system was a Nikon system, built around a Nikon FM2. This system, and a variety of bodies (14 in all), would serve me from 1990 to 1998. In 1998, I switched from Nikon to Canon EOS (Electro Optical System) with an older EOS 650 body (though there were newer camera available, this was one of the few Canon EOS bodies which did not have an infrared advance). My EOS lenses included a 20mm, 50mm and 85mm lens. In 2001, I shifted back to Nikon, and eventually scaled down my 35mm system to a single body (an F3) and two lenses (20mm and 85mm).
I sold this equipment in 2003, to fund the purchase of my first digital SLR camera.