A few years ago I picked up a Kodak Master View 4X5 large format camera with a 8 1/2 4.5 Ilex Paragon Anastigmatic lens. I have always planned to go to a 4xX5 format one day and when the camera appeared on Etsy for a reasonable price, I decided to get it. Over the next year or so, I picked up a 4X5 development tank and a respectible number of film plates. Then, I when to BH Photo for film and chemicals to begin learning the intricacies of a camera with adjustable front and back planes. As this is an older camer (from the late 40s), I put myself in a corner when I realized I didn’t have a clue about it’s true film speed. I looked around for the best way to conduct film tests and before I knew it, two years had passed by and the film / chemicals are still where I stored them.
As the digital capabilities were advancing at a very rapid rate, I wondered if there was any possibility of using the 4X5 with a digital back. Well, long story short, there is, but oh my, the cost was shocking. I poked around various large format forums online and came across a reference to an adapter that you could use in place of the film plate holder and attach a DSLR, thereby converting your 4X5 to a digital view camera so to speak.
I finally located the adapter (Fotodiox Pro for Nikon), quickly put my order in and in a week or so, it arrived. I removed the film holder, inserted the adaptor, placed the D300 on the back and began playing. I quickly realized I needed to modify the Kodak to make the adapter work correctly. The was a lip on the right side of the film plate that needed to be filed down and two protuding “v” shaped pieces of metal at the top portion ot the film plate holder needed to be filed down.
With the modifications the adaptor works properly and today I took my first digital shot with the 4X5.
There’s a learning curve when using a DSLR on a 4X5 view camera that goes beyond the ability to adjust the back and front plane that I didn’t even realize when I started down this path.
View cameras are designed to be used with large format lens, with flat or recessed lens boards, and the right bellows. I am not a 4X5 expert by any means so if I’m incorrect in my description, please forgive me. With this setup, the camera is capable of near, medium, and infinity shots withint the parameters of the lens. As much as I have determined, lens for the 4×5 come in wide angle, medium range, and telephoto as well.
The 8 1/2 lens is, as best as I can determine, a workhorse lens, great for portraits and general photography, which, in all probablility was exactly what the Koday 4X5 was designed for.
Going digital upsets everything, from the lens choice to the magnification factor of the DSLR. The D300 has a 1.5 magnification factor and with the existing bellows and the 8 1/2 lens severly restricts how I shoot. I quickly realized that to get a “typical’ scenic shot, say with an equivalent 50mm on a DSLR is not possible with the 4X5 in the same manner. With the D300 and the 8 1/2 lens I would have to go back, wayyyyyyy back to get the same view as with 50 mm on a DLSR. It seems this particular setup allows me to shoot a subject as above (about 12-15 inches top to bottom) from about 12 -15 feet away but to shoot a small building I would have to go way, way, way back if I wanted to capture the whole building.
To be fair, the Fotodiox is designed to allow three shots of the same subject by moving the camera one “spot” at a time to allow an overlap. But, even then you’re only capturing a small “slice” which forces you to shoot multipe rows in sequence to capture the whole scene.
Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable challenge and I look forward to exploring it’s capabilities.