Why Use 8×10 Film in a Digital Age?

Cedar-Creek-Grist-Mill-8x1November 2009. It’s 2:00 AM. I’m on the Burnside Bridge in Portland, Oregon. I have my Deardorff set up to photograph the city and it’s picturesque waterfront. It’s cold. I’m alone very near a bad part of town. The occasional pedestrian trudges past. I hope none of them are gang bangers or thieves. One short and stout man, possibly in his late 20’s, strolls up, and stops. He looks like he’s in a gang. I’m a little scared. He looks me and my camera up and down, and asks, “Do they still make film for those?”

I was so relieved that he asked a question, instead of mugging me, that I didn’t give the sarcastic answer. I told him, “Yes.” I showed him a few film holders. Two more young men stopped to watch what I was doing. I went about my work, talking to them about the process of using an 8×10 view camera. They asked a few more questions that I don’t recall, then one asked, “Why?”

The answer was so simple: Because I’m driven to.

I’ve told this story to many people over the years. I was fascinated with photography at an early age, but I didn’t get my first real camera (a Minolta XG1 ) until I went to Germany in 1983 with the US Army. I had no idea what I was doing back then, and I didn’t get very many good pictures. Disappointed, I put the camera down for a decade until I moved to Oregon. Once here, I found the Columbia Gorge to be a wonderful subject. I set out to teach myself photography. I bought books and magazines, and learned about light and pro films.

A name began working its way into my consciousness: Ansel Adams. I looked into his photograph, “Clearing Winter Storm” and my world changed. I could make out the needles on the trees. The picture was so sharp and dramatic. I decided to learn how to do it the way that Adams did. I moved up to medium format, bought a Hasselblad, and learned how to shoot black and white. When I was ready, I bought my first large format camera: a Linhof Technica. The learning curve was fairly steep, yet I soon found its limitations to be too problematic. I wanted tilt and shift. I bought a Calumet 4×5 monorail camera, and started my collection of lenses.

The next step was 8×10. I bought a clunky, old Calumet C-1. It turned out to be impossible to carry very far into the bush, so, when a Deardorff became available, I snatched it up, and haven’t looked back. 8×10 is the ultimate in sharpness. It’s not just the final image that matters. For the artist, it’s also the process used to get it.

Bonneville Dam at Sunset, October 2012

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This is from my new (very old) 5×7 Camera City View (by the Seneca Camera Co. of Rochester NY). The camera was made around 1906, but is on remarkably good shape. I will post a picture of the camera soon.

The film is Arista.edu 100.
The lens was a 180mm Caltar II.

The negative was stand developed in Agfa Rodinal 1:100 for 1 hour.

I took this picture on a Columbia Gorge trip with Gaia.  We had stopped at a few of the waterfalls, and ended our trip as the sun was setting at exit 41, just beyond the Bonneville Dam.  I had made an adapter lens board for the camera, and I wanted to see how light tight it was, so shooting directly into the sunset seemed like a good test.  One negative had a little flare on it, but I can’t yet attribute it to the lens board.  This negative turned out just fine.

The wind was blowing so hard that I had to pile equipment up around the tripod to keep it stable. I was left with the choice of whether to keep my shutter speed up, and accept some unwanted bokeh, or to attempt to get the entire image sharp, and add the risk of an entirely blurred negative. I split the difference. I opted for a little motion blur, and a little less Bokeh.

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