Before we get into the technical reasons lets start with some history. Photography for me was a way to escape from the static digital world that I lived in for my career. I would head out with my 35mm camera loaded with Velvia and immerse myself in the chaotic world of nature. It was a way to recharge and get as far away from a computer as possible. That time out in nature is what I truly enjoyed, being an observer of the show.
Once I was hooked on photography as an escape along came digital cameras and it changed everything. While the resolution of these early DSLR’s was not great the ability to see the results immediately was an incredible advantage. Add to that the fact that pixels are free so you could shoot as much as you wanted and just delete what didn’t work. For a time I did fall for the new high MegaPixel DSLR’s on the market. They are awfully tempting after all so I had sold off a couple of lenses in order to purchase a Nikon D800 when it was released. If I could get this high of quality with the ease of digital what more could I ask for? Over the next couple of years I set my large format camera aside and went out with only my digital camera and did capture some shots I was happy with but there was just something missing. Even though I was taking a lot more shots with the digital camera I didn’t end up with any more good images. The biggest problem, however, came when I got the images back home. Once there I had to import the hundreds of images and cull them down to the few good ones and start to process them in Photoshop. I started spending hours upon hours in PhotoShop editing the photos to make them look the way I remember seeing the actual scene. This was the exact thing I was trying to get away from when I started photography, I was spending more time in front of a computer than ever before. Around this time I fell into a photography rut, the joy was gone. To try to snap myself out of this rut I decided to take my 4×5 along on my next photo trip. During that trip, I hardly even touched the digital camera and fell back in love with the process of photography. Since that trip, my primary camera has been a 4×5 once again.
Now for the technical reasons for shooting large format. First and foremost is the size of the film itself. Below is an image showing the actual size difference between a sheet of 4×5 film and both full and cropped DSLR sensor sizes. The 4×5 sheet film dwarfs medium format 6×4.5 film which in turn is much larger than the Full Frame 35mm and ASP-C sensor sizes. The amount of detail that can be captured on a sheet of film this size is amazing and shows even when printed extremely large.
Another major benefit for me is using the camera movements of large format cameras to give have the flexibility to create an image, not just capture what you see. By using rear tilt the size of the foreground or background elements change and can be increased or decreased based on the desired outcome.
Finally not a technical reason but a workflow benefit for me. With large format you don’t just set up the camera and start firing away. With the cost of each exposure around $5.00 depending on the film you are using you don’t want to rush which results in a more thoughtful exposure. You take your time and make sure you are factoring in all of the elements before clicking the shutter. This also forces you to walk around and get to know the scene before even taking the camera out of the bag. Even when you do get the camera on the tripod the entire process is manual so every step needs to be thought out ahead of time to help create the image you see in your mind.
My goal has always been to get the image correct or as correct as possible in the field so I could spend as little time as possible in Photoshop. Don’t get me wrong Photoshop is a great tool it’s just not how I want to spend my time. I enjoy photography not editing, I enjoy my time in the field not behind the computer screen.