Home - Lon J. Overacker Photography

Why Large Format?

Zone VI 4x5
Some folks are interested in what type of equipment a photographer may use to capture images.  For some , having the best equipment should result in better picture taking.  However, Lon believes the camera, lens and film are simply tools; much like the brush is to a painter or a piano is to a pianist.  Images are visualized and created in our minds... only to be captured by whatever means the artist chooses; whether it's now digital, Black and White, color transparencies, 35mm or even a pinhole camera or a plastic Holga.  But one must understand that you need the right tool for the right job.  Shooting a wide-angle 75mm lens on 4x5 won't let you capture a Bald Eagle swooping down and snatching trout from a lake - for example.  

Much has been written and debated about the advantages and disadvantages of shooting film and large format.  The attempt here is not to debate the merits of one format over the other, but to simply explain why Lon has chosen 4x5.

Initially, Lon ventured into large format photography in the early 1990's at the advice of nature photographer Ron Sanford.  In today's market, nature and landscape photography is seemingly over saturated; and even twenty years ago, it was highly comptetive.  Ron was impressed with Lon's work and advised him to try 4x5 to be able to compete in the world of "pretty pictures."  It took a few years for Lon to be comfortable with the slow, bulky and manual process, but it soon became his primary and preferred method of capturing those beautiful images of nature and the great outdoors.

Technically, there are a number of reasons why large format makes sense for fine nature prints.  The following are the most commonly stated:

Image Area: 4x5 inch film has a surface area approximately 13 times greater than 35mm - or full-frame digital sensors.  This allows for much bigger enlargements, capturing and retaining more detail.  In all fairness, with today's digital techniques of stitching and processing, DSLRs can approach the image detail and quality of 4x5.  So here again, it becomes a matter of choice and the right tool for the right job.

Camera and Lens movements: It's really a myth that 4x5 and large format lenses get "better depth of field."  A better way to say it would be that the "plane of focus" can be adjusted so that the apparent depth of field appears greater.  In other words, even a wide-open lens can focus on a near, foreground object and infinity by tilting the lens and/or film plane.  Other formats, including 35mm, digital and medium format all have fixed planes of focus parallel to the film plane and must rely on small apertures to obtain good depth of field.  Yes, there are now T/S (tilt/shift) lenses for other formats so the gap is narrowing.  Tilting of the lens is not the only benefit.  Camera movements also have the ability to shift left and right, or rise and fall.  These movements can be used to keep the film plane parallel with the subject avoiding problems like "keystoning."  Architectural photography is a great example.  

The non-technical reasons are perhaps the most meaningful to this photographer:

Contemplative Process:  Perhaps a bit cliche'd and over-used, but it's true.  The simple truth is that the large format camera takes more time to set up, focus, meter and expose.  It's a completely manual process and yes, is tedious and at times can be quite frustrating.  And for many, this process helps force the photographer to slow down; consequently and perhaps surprisingly, concentrate on their vision and what they are actually attempting to create.  Let's be clear, the slow, contemplative process associated with large format photography can also apply to all formats, not just 4x5; it's just that the manual nature of large format simply helps emphasize the process and potentially help capture better images.  

Selective:  Similar to the slow process described above, being "selective" in image creation has it's advantages and disadvantages.  The obvious disadvantages are the number of images and the speed at which you can capture a scene; where fleeting moments and fast-changing light can be a challenge.  It is because of these limitations that turn a disadvantage in to perhaps an advantage.  Many times you only have one opportunity to capture a scene.  Planning and waiting become part of the equation; the photographer becomes more selective.  Being selective means taking more time in deciding whether or not to set up and press the shutter release.  It also means you don't have the advantage of immediate feedback; if you don't get it right in the field, you won't know for days or perhaps weeks.  Lastly, being selective is also a result of cost; for every sheet of film purchased, exposed and developed, costs upwards of about $3 per image.  

Upsidedown and Backwards:  Awkward and disorientating at first, the image on the ground glass takes some getting used to.  As a result of this orientation your mind is actually somewhat freed of the literal interpretation of the scene and can now "see" forms, shapes, lines, patters and composition.  

In the end, Lon simply enjoys the process and feels it helps him capture and produce beautiful nature images.  Yes, he gives up many of the increasing advantages of digital, but his passion for nature and the great outdoors seems well suited for his choice of format.  Which raises one final question.... Was Lon's style and vision a match for large format photography - or - was it large format photography that shaped Lon's style and vision......?
For those who are interested, here is listing of cameras, lenses, film and filters:
Current 4x5 Setup

Chamonix 4x5 045N-1
Nikkor-SW 75mm f/4.5
Fujinon-W 135mm f/5.6
Nikkor-W 210mm f/5.6
Nikkor-M 300mm f/9
Nikkor-M 450mm f/9

Previous LF equip used

Zone VI Studios 4x5 Ultralight
Zone VI Studios 4x5 Wood Field
4x5 Wista Field
4x5 Nagaoka Field
Bush Pressman
Nikkor SW 90mm f/5.6

Current Films

Fuji Velvia 100F
Fuji Velvia
Fuji Provia 100

Other film used:
Fuji Astia 100
Fuji Velvia 100
Fuji RFP 50
Kodachrome 100VS(35mm)
Kodachrome 100S(35mm)
Kodachrome25, 64 and 200(35mm)


81B (Primary filter)
Circular Polarizer
Singh-Ray 2stop soft
Singh-Ray 3stop hard


Nikon F4S
Nikon 8008S
Canon EOS 620(no longer have)
Nikon 20mm f/2.8
Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 macro
Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6
Nikon 28-80 f/3.5-4.5
Nikon 80-200 f/2.8
Tamron SP 300mm
Tamron 1.4X/2X

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