Blog by Mat Marrash
If you’re thinking about getting into 8×10 film photography you might ask yourself, “How do I select a camera?” I hope this blog will be helpful as a primer for 8×10!
There are a lot of factors that go into selecting an 8×10 camera that can have an effect on price. Depending on your needs and how you plan on shooting the camera, you can spend as little as $400 or as much as $10,000.
This beginning resource page on LargeFormatPhotography.info serves as a great primer:
Generally speaking, the less you pay for an 8×10 camera on the used market, the more limitations it will impose on your workflow. Typical cameras in the sub-$1000 range are old non-folding field cameras and monorail cameras. If you don’t plan on hauling them around for long distances outside, you can save a few bucks for your lenses and other accessories listed in the above article. Between the two cameras in that category, monorails will have greater functionality at the cost of bulk. Cameras to snag in this category are: Calumet C1’s, Eastman Commercial A (wooden) or B (metal, the one I have), Cambo Legend (monorail), and Sinar P (monorail).
As your camera budget expands to the sub-$2000 range, you’ll have access to a lot of nice field cameras which have a wide range of use as well as are lightweight. Nice folding field cameras to look for in this category are: Tachihara, Wista, Shen-Hao, Deardorff V8, and Toyo 810M. At the end of the day, selecting a large format camera is a personal choice. I tend to lean towards a portable field camera, since most of my work occurs outside a studio environment.
You mentioned lenses in your question, the good news here is lenses are, for the most part, independent of your camera choice. So long as your camera has the bellows range to focus the lens, you can mix and match whichever lenses you choose to use on your camera. The most important factor in selecting a large format lens is coverage. A majority of large format lenses available on the market are made for 4×5″ cameras, with a minority of those providing adequate image circle to cover a sheet of 8×10″ film. The key thing here is to see if the lens provides an image circle of > 300mm. The greater this image circle, the more room for movements you have (aka, more wiggle room to play with rise, fall, tilts, and shifts).
Finally, the ability to use different films in 8×10 cameras, much like lenses, is independent of the camera choice. To shoot standard sheet films, you’ll need 8×10 film holders. They come in two basic flavors, wood and plastic. The plastic holders are a little younger, and easier to load and maintain. For instant films such as expired Polaroid or the new Impossible PQ films, you’ll need Polaroid 8×10 holders and a matching processor. Here’s a quick primer on 8×10 instant from back in 2012:
All of the details that go into it can be overwhelming, my best advice is to take it one topic at a time. If you have the chance, work with someone one-on-one in large format to see if it’s something you like before laying down a lot of money on a new camera system. A well-done workshop can save you months even years of hassling around, and leave you with the right impression of the format.
One place I highly recommend checking out often is the Large Format Photography Forum:
If you have any other questions, please feel free to let us know!
Best, Mat Marrash
Mat is a co-host of the Film Photography Podcast and is currently employed by the MPEX – Mid-West Photo Exchange. Mat on the web – http://matmarrash.com/