The Snowdonia files, Part 4 .. or “Go Large or Go Medium ?”

Cwm Idwal is a fascinating valley formed by glaciers, complete with a lake (Llyn Idwal), rugged mountains, and some photogenic boulders left behind by the glacier. A short walk from the car park at Idwal Cottage brings you to this wonderland and there’s a handy snack bar in the car park too.

All of these images were taken using an Intrepid 4×5 camera, but some were taken on 4×5 Ilford FP4+ film and some were taken on medium format 6x7cm Ilford HP5+ film. I’ve deliberately left off any indication of which are large format and which are medium format, because I don’t think you can tell the difference with web viewing at this size.

If I can’t tell the difference between a 6x7cm image and a 4×5 inch image, at the sizes that I usually present those images, then it does beg the question of whether it’s worth the effort of using large format …

There’s actually two different issues:

– Is it worth using a view camera, with movements and a ground glass ?

– Is it worth using a 4×5 inch or larger negative ?

When I attach a roll film holder to the Intrepid camera, it’s still a view camera, but no longer a large format camera. Most of the images above had either a shift or a tilt, or both, applied on the front standard. If I’d taken, say, my Mamiya RZ67, I would have lost the ability to use those movements. I still would have been able to take some worthwhile images, but perhaps not exactly the same images. It would have been faster to set up and use the RZ, although there would have been more weight to carry. The RZ would be less problematic in a strong wind.

If the subject had been architecture rather than landscape, then the advantages of the Intrepid over the RZ would have been more clear, even if only using roll film in the Intrepid. The ability to straighten verticals would be sufficiently important to overcome the additional effort involved in using a large format camera.

As for the advantage of a larger negative, I haven’t yet experienced the situation where a 6×7 negative doesn’t provide enough resolution, but a 4×5 negative does the trick. The largest images I have printed have been 12*16 inch if I remember correctly, and 12*16 prints from 6x7cms negatives look fine to me.

I’m still at the stage where using large format can be a bit of a struggle. I’m determined to get enough practice to get more confident and proficient, so I have no intention of giving up. I also have about 80 sheets of 4*5 film left – mostly FP4+ with some TMax – so there’s no immediate need to ration it’s use.

But I don’t know how much of a role large format will play in my photography in, say, 2 years time. If I get to that more confident stage that I aspire to, I might be more selective in when I get out the large format kit, and might use medium format more on outings which don’t really require large format.

In the meantime, I’ve used up my supply of large format colour film, and don’t intend to buy any more in the foreseeable future. I’ve messed up quite a few sheets of Portra and Provia. I’ve also messed up quite a few sheets of FP4, but that’s much less expensive. So for the time being, colour will be used as roll film in the Intrepid, or in medium format cameras.

The downside of using roll film with the Intrepid, is that it’s hard to get a very wide angle field of view. The lenses I have are 150mm and 90mm; the 90mm is wide enough for me when used with 4×5 film, but with 6x7cm film it’s only “slightly wider than normal”.

The widest lens that can be used with the Intrepid is 75mm, and that requires a recessed lens board to allow much in the way of movements. I don’t think I want one enough to justify the expense of another lens.


  1. Well Kevin, I certainly can’t tell which was LF and which was MF! In fact I suspect if you’d thrown a 135 shot in there, cropped appropriately, it would still be hard to tell (as long as it was a fine grained film).

    I’ve more or less skipped MF, as 135 does well enough in terms of image quality for me (IQ depending more on my erratic photography skills than the film format), and doesn’t suffer from the weight penalty. I am trying LF, mainly because the movements do offer something really different.

    I’ve heard a bit about roll-film backs, but I’m having a hard time working out who they would, well, work! I wondered if you’d consider a blog post on the workflow using a rollfilm back on your Intrepid?



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