If you have any interest in photography, then you should have seen pictures of photographers setting up huge cameras out in the field and covering themselves with a dark cloth to take a picture. If you don’t know already, those are large format cameras.
For a photographer, a large format camera is going to be an object of intrigue. Large format cameras can be a creative and fun way to explore photography. It can also be a way that is not for everyone to walk, and only a few photographers may stick to it after exploring.
A larger format camera relies on the mechanical aspect of photography. There is the light that needs to be trapped in a film, and all this is done by the photographer. There are no electronics or automatic settings. It is as far from point and shoot as it can get.
However, this lack of digital help creates an interesting shooting experience. Many photographers say that shooting with large format film is actually a lot simpler. Well, this can feel counterintuitive, but there isn’t a lot to master, only some physics considerations. Think of it as the meditation of the photography world.
Even if you take out the hobbyist perspective, there are some pragmatic gains that can come from large format cameras. The image quality is going to be a lot better. In fact, anything else is incomparable.
Large format cameras, unlike smaller formats, allow you to adjust and relocate the lens, giving you complete control over focus and perspective. The larger size also means better quality, as sheet film produces images with more depth and color than even the greatest digital cameras.
There are many large-format cameras in the market, however, they do not come by as easily as a Canon or a Nikon. And you’d be very lucky to find it in a mall.
When it comes to large format cameras, one thing to bear in mind is that they all provide excellent photographs; they all use the same light and the laws of physics, and there are no enhancements and proprietary technology to make your shot better.
The distinctions are in weight, the convenience of use, and rigidity. There is a delicate balance between these elements, with heavier cameras being the quickest to set up, while lighter models need more care.
But where do you buy large format cameras?
Most large format cameras are found in the secondhand market. And some new ones can be around the same price, if not cheaper than most secondhand alternatives. The new ones are lighter and more compact.
The benefits of buying a new large-format camera are that they will come with a warranty, easy access to compatible parts, and customer support.
Best large format cameras
We have scoured the internet to find the 10 best large format cameras that you can still find and go big with your photography.
We have included cameras that you can buy new, and the ones you will have to find on second hand selling websites like eBay. Make sure you go through the list and choose the one that best meets your needs.
1. The Intrepid 4×5 Hardwood Camera
Intrepid is one of the manufacturers that have built a good reputation in building large format cameras. If you want to buy a new large format camera then we think you should definitely check their website. They have a few models for you to choose from.
The Intrepid 4×5 Hardwood Camera is the company’s premium offering. All of the tried-and-tested features of its other models like the 4×5 MK4 and Black Edition are carried over to the Hardwood 4×5.
The camera has hand-folded black bellows made of water-resistant nylons. The base and front standard supports are made of anodized aluminum’s hardwood. Intrepid camera is one of the most compact large format cameras you can get in the 4×5 range. You will have complete control of the lens and the rear standard.
2. LargeSense LS911 8×10 large format camera
The LargeSense 8×10 large format camera is the digital version of a large format camera. It claims to be the world’s first 8×10 digital single shot camera for the commercial market.
However, it is unlikely that many photographers would buy this as the price is around 100,000 USD. The camera is equipped with a monochrome sensor, but the monochrome sensor can create color images of non-moving subjects through a built-in 3-shot system and color filters.
It also allows remote view and control through Wi-Fi. You will not be able to buy a firsthand from the company as the company is not selling the LS911 currently.
3. Graflex Crown Graphic 4×5 camera
The crown graphic 4×5 by Graflex is one of the most popular large format cameras. You will be able to find the camera on eBay, along with other equipment that you may need for shooting.
The camera is affordable and won’t cost you half your life’s savings. It can be a good starting point for anyone looking for a way to play with large format cameras. All these cameras are going to be old cameras. Find out more about the effort to preserve the use of Graflex cameras here.
4. Burke & James Press Camera
The B&J press camera was very popular with press photographers back in the day. They loved the portability and the ease of use of this camera. You cannot find a new one, of course, but you will find some cameras listed on eBay, or Etsy.
This was a very capable camera, and if you can find one today. Here is a remastered version of the user manual that explains how modern the camera is, albeit back in time.
5. Toyo Field 45A II
Toyo is a popular name in the large format camera world. It has been the camera choice for many professional photographers.
The Toyo Field 45A II is built well and is one of the quickest field cameras, it just pops open in seconds and you’re ready to mount a lens and get to work.
The rotating back is useful for quickly changing from landscape to portrait orientation. Toyos are still a great option on the used market.
6. Horseman 45FA
The first horseman camera was organically created for the Japanese police. Since then they have manufactured many cameras and accessories. The Horseman 45FA’s front movements include swing, shift and gear rise.
The back movement includes tilt, swing and a drop bed. The camera has a built-in folding viewing hood and a Graflok back. The camera back can easily be set up for vertical or horizontal position.
This is a great camera that is affordable to own and easy to use, only a little difficult to find but you should be able to find some on eBay.
7. Chamonix 45F-2
If you would rather want a new large format camera then, apart from Intrepid, Chamonix is a good option. Chamonix cameras were developed to meet the needs of modern photographers who want to shoot in large format.
These cameras are rigid enough for shooting in the worst conditions yet light enough to enjoy taking anywhere. The Chamonix 45F-2 is a perfect option; part wood, part carbon fiber, to get started on your adventure. The camera weighs only 1.6 Kg and everything is smooth and easy to use.
8. Shen Hao Cameras
Shen Hao Cameras is another option for you if you are looking to buy a new large format camera. While the build quality of these cameras can differ between models, they are easy to use and work well.
Your cameras will come all the way from Shanghai, and they have a good collection. You will get to choose from different format sizes, and will not be limited to choosing what you find on second hand selling websites. While you are checking Shen Hao, you should also check K. B. Canham cameras.
9. Linhof Master Technika 3000
Linhof is one of the oldest manufactures that still produce large format cameras. Though they do not have an online store, their website lists most of their cameras and their history. You will be able to find good condition cameras from Linhof on eBay and other similar websites.
The Master Technika 3000 is a 4×5 format technical field camera that is a refreshed version of their older camera. The camera allows camera movements to correct converging lines and to control the plane of sharp focus.
10. The Standard 4×5 1.0
Standard Cameras began as a personal project for a visual studies student. The company sells 3D printed large format cameras. This whole project is a poetic intersection of analogue and digital technologies. You can get the standard 4×5 camera, kit, or even download the 3D plans.
Whether you’re a beginner to large format cameras or have been photographing for many years, the Standard 4×5 has a lot to offer. It’s a straightforward camera with essential capabilities for photographers.
Ordering a kit and then assembling it yourself would allow you to really get in touch with the romance of larger format shooting. The camera is lightweight and sturdy, with anodized aluminum and 3D printed parts, while preserving the rigidity and motions you’d expect from a big format camera.
The camera body detaches from the rail, making it compact and portable. As the camera works with a variety of film and Graflok backs, you can experiment with shooting smaller formats, polaroid, and more.