It’s been three years since I gave up my large format camera, and I haven’t really missed it. Until, that is, last Saturday.
Because it takes so long to shoot a time-lapse sequence you have plenty of time to contemplate the landscape or go mooching about looking for traditional images. So whilst one camera was busy with the time-lapse I picked up the other and went for a wander. I found a potential image that really caught my eye but couldn’t make it work without the tilt and shift lens, which, of course, I’d left at home. This was when I realised that had I still been shooting large format I could have been happily engaged for the next half hour making what would’ve been a really good image.
I’m not one for getting sentimental about equipment. It is after all simply a means to an end, and I have only owned four camera systems in my entire photographic career; a Contax 35mm which I bought in 1978, a Mamiya RB 67 medium format which was bought in 1997, my LF system which I started in 1998, and my current Nikon system. Each has been sold in turn to pay for its successor. However, and I still believe this to this day, the large format camera is probably the camera best suited to traditional landscape photography.
I’m not going to eulogise to any great length about the attributes of a large format camera. That is adequately covered on myriad websites, and like any other camera system they do have their drawbacks. In any case it’s not necessarily the camera’s abilities which make it so good, it’s more the way in which it encourages an engagement with the landscape which I’ve never experienced with any other camera system. When you throw the dark cloth over your head and all the outside world distractions are minimised what you’re left with is just the image on the glass screen and your vision. You are encouraged to look deeper into the landscape and, ultimately, yourself.
One key attribute however are the movements. It is difficult to describe to somebody who has never used camera movements just what a fantastic tool they are, and not wanting to give up that kind of control I have the tilt and shift lenses from the Nikon system (24 mm, 45 mm, and 85 mm). They don’t have anywhere near the amount of flexibility you get with a large format camera but just the ability to align the plane of focus is a marvellous control to have. (Assuming you haven’t left them at home!)
In 2012 I realised that I had taken my large format camera on every trip that year without using it once. Consequently I made arrangements to sell it through a national retailer on a commission basis, but it took me three attempts to package it up, because for some reason I didn’t understand at the time I was reluctant let it go. I now realise that my reluctance was based on the fact that I’d had some brilliant experiences, made some of my best images, and gained some wonderful friends as a result spending time out in the landscape with that particular camera. So I wasn’t sentimental about the camera itself rather I was nostalgic for the times and experiences it afforded me.
Of course I’ve gone on to have good times, good experiences, and made new friends with my digital camera equipment. The digital camera has opened up new creative avenues for me, and allowed me to make images I could never have dreamt of making with a large format camera.
Having said all that I have recently found myself looking wistfully at adverts for 10 x 8 cameras! You know, for when I have a few hours to spare on a Saturday afternoon!