Published September 7th 2020

Large format revisited

My experience with my Intrepid 4x5 never really progressed beyond unpacking the camera. That's changing!

My new lens
I did buy a large format camera some years ago. My experience with the British Intrepid 4x5 never really progressed beyond unpacking the camera and playing around with it.

The thing is that the leap into the large format world not only includes a behemoth of a camera with all kinds of new, strange adjustments including tilt and shift, rise and fall, but also the need to acquire a lens, a shutter, film backs and sheet film. And once you have shot your images, you need to have them developed and if you want to see them in real life, you will need to print them or having them scanned. A scan will again produce obstacles in the form of potentially gigantic files.

So you can wave goodbye to convenience, especially compared to modern digital cameras.

But I honestly never even came near this inconvenient process, because my love affair with large format stopped rather abruptly once I had the camera in the house.
Of course I immediately started looking for a lens, but soon realized that lenses for 4x5 cameras are fairly rare, typically pretty expensive, and on top of that an entry into a whole new realm for me as a longtime 35mm SLR camera user.
I traversed eBay and local classifieds as well as listings from local camera shops. I soon realized that 4x5 lenses weren’t hanging on the trees. The ones I found were either very expensive or in very poor condition – sometimes even both.
The lenses that were approachable were in the UK, the US or in Japan. I found a ton of good looking and reasonable lenses in Japan, but was slightly reluctant to order from the other side of the globe. My search also introduced me to a bunch of new concepts and names, like Compur shutters, behind the lens shutters, Graphlex lens boards and a 90mm lens being a wideangle and much more. I wound up in limbo, and never ordered any lens.

Alongside my lens search, I also looked for film backs and film, as well as places to get sheet film developed, which in Copenhagen basically comes down to two or three possible places. Film holders aren’t expensive, but not easy to find in Denmark, and altogether my enthusiasm faded and my progress for the whole project slowly halted.
That was back in 2014, and it’s 2020 now, so my Intrepid 4x5 camera has been collecting dust for almost 6 years. Or not collecting dust, actually, because it’s been packed away safely.

But a couple of weeks ago I bumped into a video on YouTube, which rekindled my interest, and sent me on a shopping spree for accessories for my Intrepid camera.
The video showed how the owner of Fotodiox converted a 4x5 camera to record images using a small, battery driven flatbed scanner. The conversion wasn’t that complex and seemed approachable, and I kinda liked the gritty B/W result.

The video sent me on a quest to find the scanner that was used, and I found out that the small battery operated Flip Pal scanner had been discontinued and wasn’t sold anymore. After some more eBay’ing I managed to find a seller who’d ship a used scanner to Denmark, and now I was gaining large format momentum.
A few days after I found a lens, and finally ordered it. It was from Japan, but the whole process and the communication with the seller made me feel very confident that my lens will arrive safely and be in a good condition.
Last but not least I was tempted to preorder a Lomography LomoGraflok, which is an instant film back for a 4x5 camera. It uses the fairly widespread Fujifilm Instax Wide film, and enables you to shoot “Polaroids” with the large camera.
My next venture will be looking for a bunch of film holders. I will have to try to shoot film once I get the camera set up, and film holder are fairly cheap, so let’s see what I can do there.

The lens mounted

So now I’m waiting by the door for deliveries from Japan and the US. My instant film back won’t be there before April next year, so no reason to camp by the mailbox waiting for that.
I’ll probably also need a Fresnel lens large enough to cover the scanner plate, and I’ll probably order a couple of those ASAP. They’re pretty inexpensive.
The rest should be here within a couple of weeks, and then I’ll start modifying the scanner and trying to get some large format satisfaction… at last.

Jump back no more than a week from when this was started, and my lens is here! Wow!
From Japan to Denmark in less than a week, and way sooner than promised by the seller. Amazing!

The lens is a Schneider-Kreutznach Symmar 150mm f/5.6, and it’s in pristine condition, aperture and shutter working smoothly and the lens clean and unscratched. The lens is basically equivalent to a bright 50mm on a 35mm camera.
I mounted it on the large camera and fooled around with it a bit, just pointing it randomly and focusing on stuff. Very promising - although my Mk. 1 of the Intrepid Camera does lag in some aspects. I'll have to juggle my way around some of these issues once I get up and running.
I also got a message from the courier that my scanner has landed, and can be expected within days.

Stirred by my success with the lens, I also ordered 5 film holders from Japan, and with a little luck my whole 4x5 combo will be ready to shoot both grungy scanner images and stellar film ones in a couple of weeks.