Large format is where it’s at. It just is. When I first saw enlargements that my peers in college were doing with their 4x5 cameras, my brain basically exploded (thus explaining my GPA). When saw my first Alec Soth show at the Minneapolis Art Institute, I knew I was hooked. There is no conventional imaging medium that even comes close. Phase One can pack as many megapickles as they want into a 6x4.5 sensor, I’ll take a sheet of 4x5 film any day of the week.
But alas, the workflow totally sucks. The cameras are a bit…finicky, to put it mildly. It’s incredibly unforgiving. We used to have this stuff called Polaroid that allowed you to at least preview your shot, but they took that away from us. And labs want you to pay $20 bucks per sheet (!!!) for them to give you an Imacon scan of your mistakes.
No thank you, I think there is a better way.
This summer I embarked on an editorial project for Maine the Way, shooting 4x5 portraits on Provia 100F at a couple of Maine State Prison locations. These images were going to go into publication in a large magazine, sometimes requiring double page spreads. I knew I wanted scans that represented the image the way I would have printed 4x5 in the darkroom. That means all the edge material had to be intact. Imacon scanners can’t really do this. Flatbed scanners are laborious to use and often let you down, and drum scanners are prohibitively expensive.
I decided to try something new.
Using repro techniques that rely on high resolution camera capture, Nikkor macro lenses, and a high CRI Rosco light source, I can quickly and efficiently make high resolution scans of these films that are printable up to 20x25 without up-res’ing.
And now, you can too.
These scans come in at roughly 6063x4048 pixels, which translates to about 25mp. You can hit 20x25 by printing at 240ppi, or 16x20 at 300ppi. Careful upresing will push it even further. They’re incredibly detailed, the files have enormous latitude and potential in the editing process. For C41 the color conversions are based on Fuji Frontier color science, and thus meet the industry favorite profile you have come to expect from Portra & Ektar films (Fuji films being largely extinct in sheets save for their E6 stocks).
You might say, 25mp? That’s crazy, the scans I’m used to are measured in the hundreds of megapixels. That’s true! Traditional drum scans or even properly done flatbed scans are massive, and can be printed to mural sizes. These scans are not meant to compete with a drum scan. In fact, the great thing about film is that it can always be re-scanned when you go to exhibition or a book project. These scans are meant for your day-to-day project work with large format. Whether you be an enthusiast who just wants to try an old Speed Graphic, or you are in the midst of a long term documentary project on 4x5 and you need affordable scans to proof your ideas. These scans are perfect for that.
Inmate, Warren Facility
For this image, I lit the scene with a single strobe held over-head and behind. My inspiration was 1940s era Kodachromes of factory workers during WWII. Shooting 4x5 allowed me to instill a matter of fact visual style, that instantly gives the image the feel of a historical document.
Chamonix 45N-2 - Schneider 150/5.6 APO Symmar - Provia 100F
In fact, I might argue that they’re perfect for 95% of large format applications. If Gerhard Steidl calls you up on the phone and says “Yo Gutentag! We gotta go to press with these sweet photographic gems!” It may be time to order drum scans. Until that happens, these files will edit incredibly well, print large, and allow you to share or proof whatever you may be working on.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say, so I’ve included a couple full resolution JPGs of two scans I did while working on the project for Maine the Way. Check them out here.
4x5 Dev Scans are available now.