The Perfect Large Format Film Format: 5×7

I have been interested in finding a 5×7 camera for some time. Why, when I already have 4×5 cameras and even a pair of 8x10s. What do I need a new format for? Well, it’s really quite simple. I saw Lewis Hines’ exhibit of underage factory workers from the early 1900s at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, and the exhibit was made up of contact prints of his work–5×7 prints on 8×10 paper.

The 5×7 photograph printed on 8×10 photo paper is the perfect size print for my work.

See, for me, 4×5 is an excellent format, it has lots of support in cameras and film and lenses. But it has one issue: It’s too small for contact prints. A 4×5 print just looks small. It needs to be enlarged to print.

The 8×10 doesn’t, but it almost needs to be printed on an 11×14 sheet of paper, as I like some border, some room around my prints. Also, the 8×10 camera is a bit unwieldy. Not terrible, but not nimble exactly. More difficult to compose because of the large size–a bit hard to see the whole frame in one view without moving your head around.

So, the 5×7! It’s certainly a format that’s not as popular. There are fewer cameras and less film stocks available in that size. But there is black and white film, which is what I’m interested in. 5×7 film is is a bit more expensive than 4×5 film, but not prohibitively so, not like 8×10, and it is almost twice the size in negative area. Plus I have a 3-100 boxes of 8×11.5 Kodak x-ray film, so I can create 600 negatives before I ever need to buy film–as it’s orthochromatic, not sensitive to red light, I can cut and load film holders in the dim light of my darkroom instead of absolute darkness like film.

5×7 cameras aren’t that much more cumbersome than the 4×5–the one I found and picked up, a Seneca Improved 5×7 Camera, weighs about the same–and the lenses I have already cover the 5×7 frame easily. My lens of choice is the Kodak 8 1/2″ f6.3 Commercial Ektar Lens, a beauty used by many studio photographers.

It’s not the most versatile camera regarding movements as it only has front rise and some back tilt, and not a lot of front movements, but then again, I’m a portrait and documentary photographer. It will be perfect for what I want to do with it.

The beauty of large format is you never have to wait to finish a roll. See a photo you want to make? Go make a frame or two and take it to the developing lab (aka in my case, the kitchen), see what you’ve got.

5×7 is making me excited to create more large format photographs. The camera folds up small in a simple backpack (not even a photo backpack just one I picked up at a thrift store).

Here’s the first photograph I made with it. It makes photography fun.

Made with a Seneca Improved 5×7 View Camera on Kodak x-ray Film (ISO 100) which is not sensitive to red light, with a 10 1/2” lens. The lens has no self-timer or even a place for a cable release, so I stopped the lens all the way down, hit the shutter and locked it open, ran into place, waited 10 seconds, then ran back to the camera to close the lens. Since I was only in the frame for a portion of the exposure, I’m ghost-like.

Since making that photograph, I’ve mounted the Kodak Ektar 8 1/2″ lens (215mm for you millimeter people) on the only lens board I have for it and it has a shutter with which and I can use a self-timer or cable release, thankfully.

Photography is for fun, to create. To make images that you conceive or that you find in your travels. But ultimately it’s fun. It’s a playground, a place to create.

What will I come up with next?

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Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

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