Lockdown Adventures in Large Format Film

In Spring during our initial COVID-19 lockdown here in Scotland I decided I wanted to learn something new so I made an impulse purchase of an old Graflex Speed Graphic 4×5 camera. The Speed Graphic is specifically a press camera, this means it’s fairly restricted in terms of camera movements. It only has some front tilt and shift but nothing like you’d get on a traditional view camera, so perhaps not the best option for say a landscape photographer looking for front to back sharpness in their images.

“Rough Castle Trees” – Ilford HP5, Selenium Toned FB Print.

The main selling point for me was the focal plane shutter on the Speed Graphic. This opens up the ability to use old lenses that don’t have an internal shutter – like old brass Petzval lenses for example.

The lens I eventually decided to go with is the Kodak Aero Ektar 178mm. This is an old WW2 aerial photography lens, with slightly radioactive glass containing Thorium… but cutting a long story short, after enough research this didn’t bother me too much as I figured I wouldn’t be sleeping with it.

With a ridiculously shallow depth of field, the Aero Ektar is usually well regarded for portraiture work due to its f/2.5 aperture, and rightly so but it also has a beautiful pictorial quality which lends itself to the soft ethereal images I want to create. I shoot it wide open.

So to sum it up, I’ve basically sacrificed camera movements for greater lens choice.

Ilford HP5, 4X5. Sepia and Selenium toned print.
“A Forrest Walk” – Ilford HP5, Sepia/Selenium toned FB print.

I shoot Ilford HP5 pretty much exclusively and as I have a darkroom I am able to tray process my sheets in the dark using the same ID11 developer as I do with my roll film. It’s not as bad as it sounds and I’m pretty happy with the consistency of the results i’m getting. (I use a countdown voice timer app on my phone so I know how long I have to go and as soon as the sheets are in the stop bath the lights can go on!)

Ilford HP5, 4X5. Sepia and Selenium toned print.
“A Forest House” – Ilford HP5, Sepia/Selenium toned FB print.

I won’t be replacing my Hasselblad 500C/M and Flexbody with the Speed Graphic as I love the simplicity of the square format too much, but going into 2021 I hope I can combine the different formats but also maintain a consistent feel to my ongoing body of work.

Stay safe!

“Untitled Tree” – Ilford HP5, Sepia/Selenium toned FB print.

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