If you enjoyed my post on the zone system you may be interested in this. I’ve written a longer version for the Intrepid Camera Company, which includes some practical exercises. You can click on the Tweet above, or the button below.
The Intrepid Camera company is now selling a kit that converts their 5x4 camera into an enlarger. In their own words:
The Intrepid Enlarger is the ultimate DIY photography tool, converting your 4x5 camera into a darkroom enlarger to make prints from your 4x5, 120, and 35mm negatives. It’s so compact and lightweight it could fit in a coat pocket, use it in your bathroom, darkroom or anywhere you can squeeze into and make dark.
The light source fits to the back of the Intrepid 4x5 (or most other 4x5 cameras) and attaches using the Graflok clips. This plugs into the timer so you can control exposure times which plugs into the mains. Then by mounting the camera to a tripod or copy stand you have yourself a fully functioning darkroom enlarger. It’s that simple!
You can order yours by clicking on the button below. They are currently quoting a lead time of eight weeks.
Harman Direct Positive Paper is traditional fibre based paper with a special ability. When exposed to the light -- in a camera or pinhole camera -- it forms a positive image. This behaviour is precisely the opposite to that of standard darkroom paper, and is a boon for anyone seeking to make direct prints without the need for a negative, paper or otherwise.
I acquired a pack in 5x4” size last week and set about putting it through its paces. I worked in close proximity to the darkroom, which, as it turned out, was a sound decision. Moving from a still life setup to the darkroom and back again made getting a measure of the paper, of how it exposes, relatively easy. I made and corrected mistakes and began to see a glimpse of the delightful tonality the paper has to offer.
Paper is much slower than film and this paper is no different, being approximately ISO 1-3. This makes for relatively long exposures in all but the brightest conditions. Pinhole photographers will be familiar with this way of working (pinholes being very small apertures in themselves resulting in long exposures), but anyone wishing to use the paper in a conventional large format (or other) camera will have to weigh up the extra exposure time against their pictorial intentions. Sharp portraits, for instance, could well be a challenge for the sitter.
I resolved to test the paper in my trusty Intrepid Field Camera. My 150mm lens allows for relatively close focussing, albeit with significant bellows extension. The Intrepid was up to the task, and I was able to make the kind of floral composition I had in mind. The paper is luxuriously thick, as a baryta darkroom paper usually is, but this does provide a challenge to squeeze it into a film holder. At first I thought it might be a little too large in area, and so I trimmed the edges. This didn’t solve the issue, so the paper thickness certainly was to blame. Nevertheless it can be inserted with a little effort. Film holders are designed to hold film after all!
After some initial mistakes I began to make some pleasing images. An error I did make was to use window light. This surely added to the quality of light in the images, but as the winter day darkened I began to chase exposure changes and so made some errors. It didn’t help that sky also brightened intermittently.
The image shown above is a good representative sample of what the paper can do. I see a paper capable of subtle shifts in tonality that retains excellent detail. The paper is said to produce images of generous contrast, but I wouldn’t discount it for a wide and subtle tonal range. There is something exciting about making a one-off, original image in this manner. For sure, this may be precisely the reason some won’t like it, but if you enjoy alternative processes I wager you will.
I have waited some time to get hold of a box of this excellent product. Hopefully my getting hold of it means that it is becoming more available than it has been. If you’ve had your eye on it and haven’t so far been able to get any, now might be the time to look again. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
I can remember my excitement when I first saw the Intrepid 10x8 Field Camera on Kickstarter. I was already very familiar with Intrepid’s 5x4 model (see my review earlier in this blog), so I felt like I knew what to expect. Yet this wasn’t 5x4, it was no ‘small’ format, it was 10x8! I started to dream of 10x8 contact prints, and felt like a little boy wishing for Christmas. It was a camera I had to have.
I duly paid my Kickstarter pledge and waited for the camera to arrive. When it came, I was immediately struck by its size. The size of cameras is of course relative, as in all things, and what may be considered large by one person in one context can be quite small in another. The 5x4 model was still fresh in my mind and hands, and it was this that began to look positively miniature by comparison. The 10x8 was a big piece of wood. It’s worth pursuing this notion of ‘largeness’, because it plays into operational considerations of weight and bulk. It’s an aspect that properly belongs in a review written for the would-be purchaser, such as this one.
The camera is made mainly from birch plywood with anodised metal elements. It has a front standard with swing and tilt movements, and there is some back tilt to the rear. There is a ground glass with gridlines and a beautiful etched ‘Intrepid Camera’ logo. On the top of the camera is a useful, small spirit level, and the camera is finished off with a large logo on the bottom. At the time of writing the camera is available to order in blue, black, green and red bellows. I opted for blue as I already had red in the 5x4. (I am happy with my choice, although I do rather admire the black from afar.)
There are those who are wary of plywood as the primary material, but I can’t say that I am one. There is a context here, which is the existing market for traditionally-made 10x8 cameras. There are some truly beautiful models out there, usually constructed from woods that would not be out of place in high quality furniture. These are highly precise, hand crafted cameras that last a very long time (witness the large format second-hand market). They also come at a premium. The raison d'ȇtre for the Intrepid large format models is affordable and lightweight. I have used my 5x4 quite extensively and see no deterioration in the wood. I therefore have no reason to think there will be issues with the plywood on my 10x8 in the near future. Long-term may be a different question, but you will see I refer my thinking to the important context.
Operationally, the 10x8 Intrepid is very similar to the 5x4. The camera folds to something like an 8 cm deep, one foot square for transportation. It therefore needs to be unfolded and the front and rear standards tightened into place when in use. This can be done quite quickly, and I found the 10x8 no longer to set up than the 5x4. The lens board is inserted in a similar manner, and the mechanism for holding it (a metal part with two screws) the same. Focus is by means of a knob underneath the front standard, and a parallel knob allows the lens to be secured in place once focus has been achieved.
There is one important difference however, and this is a product of the design of ground glass and film holder receptacle. When the camera is first unpacked, the ground glass is in portrait orientation. In the 5x4 model it can simply be turned into landscape mode, a very convenient feature made possible by clever design and the miracle of magnets. Magnets are still present in the 10x8 version, but now the user must unscrew the back, take it off, and screw it back on in the alternative orientation.
When I first looked at this I thought the design was elegant enough and didn’t pay it too much attention. I must say that having used it for a time in the field, it isn’t quite as smooth as I’d like. On my copy of the camera, some fiddling is required to marry the screws to their receiving holes. Not a big issue, but for someone like myself who likes to change from portrait to landscape frequently, a small hurdle to very smooth operation. Indeed, when I first used the camera I tended to forget that the back needed to be returned to the portrait orientation before the camera can be collapsed. You can’t close it if the back is left in landscape mode. A quirk that you learn for sure, but worthy of mention here.
The critical reviewer of cameras sometimes treads a fine line, especially with something like this wooden camera where there may be variations between samples. I only have the one camera, paid for by my own money, and so the reader should be warned that some of what I write may apply only to my specific example. At any rate, I know that Intrepid are extremely receptive to feedback and already have a sound track record for improving their products (the 5x4 is currently on its third iteration). I write in the spirit of critical feedback and ongoing improvement.
When I first received my camera, the focusing was not very smooth. I applied a little extra machine grease to the mechanism and ‘exercised’ it a few times to loosen it up. There is no doubt that it works fine (because I have tested it in the field), but I do still have the impression of the teeth ‘missing’, at certain points, as the focus is turned. Perhaps there is scope to add more precise metal parts to this area, which does have to move a large section of wood (by contrast the 5x4 moves a very small panel and the plastic parts have no problem at all in providing a very smooth operation).
When I made my first exposure I realised I had a light leak. At first I thought it was an issue in the darkroom, but then it struck me that the shape on my negative pointed to light inside the camera. A quick check with a torch in total darkness confirmed what I suspected, and I resolved the problem with a little glue on the bellows. I have had no light leaks since, but the incident taught me early on to check for leaks before any substantial expeditions. This is an element of good practice with large format, although Intrepid may wish to give thought in the long-run to how their bellows are attached. Perhaps a mechanism other than glue will exceed the brief and price-point of the camera, I don’t know. Again it’s worth stressing that I’m writing about my copy and other Intrepids may not see this issue.
It is important to scrutinise the camera, but now I must write of pleasures. Of the pleasures of 10x8 as a format and of using this simple, wonderful camera that looks good on the eye and even smells pleasant! There was more to my desire to shoot 10x8 than camera envy, or a wish for capricious change; I have long wanted to shoot 10x8 so that I could make contact prints. Readers of this blog will be familiar with my obsessions with the print, and indeed with the aesthetics of film, so what could be more attractive for me than the promise of a film format that could potentially deliver prints of the very highest order.
This review has been some time in the making because I wanted to spend time with the camera - and to spend time printing and actually making work. This I have done, and so I feel like I can write with some sound experience and insight. I have had a lot to learn beginning 10x8, and have learnt a lot. I don’t want to go too much into this here, because the danger is I will stray into writing about the format rather than the camera. However, some points are relevant, again because they speak to Intrepid’s brief and what I consider to be their success.
If you are reading this review you may well have some sense of what might be required with 10x8, even if you have not yet tried it. 10x8 demands a commitment in planning, journeying, and physically carrying gear that other formats do not, and tolerates nothing less than impeccable craft. These are the source of its frustrations and its joys. When it is good, it is really good. Other than price, and therefore accessibility, the chief selling point of the Intrepid is its weight of 2.15 kg. A Chamonix 810V weighs 4.3 kg. (Although in fairness, they do produce a lightweight model, still heavier than the Intrepid at 2.46 kg.) I spent a long time searching for an appropriate bag / backpack (and my solution is worthy of review in its own right), but suffice it to say a good solution weighs 2kg itself. This makes a pack of roughly 4kg in weight with only a ‘standard’ focal length lens inside, and a large tripod to carry. As someone interested in landscape images, I have to wonder whether I could take 10x8 images at all with a traditional camera model. At any rate, some physical training and a re-evaluation of my sedentary ways may be in order.
When the Intrepid was first released there was a fair amount of discussion about its stability or lack thereof. I haven’t used the camera in any particularly challenging conditions, but I have made moderately long exposures outside and with some wind. My negatives show no evidence of camera shake. The front standard is very secure on my copy, and indeed I hadn’t thought to question its stability until I read the discussions. Perhaps for some users accustomed to heavier equipment, or who have need for longer exposures in adverse conditions, this may be more of a concern than it was to me. I am happy to report that I have made technically sound negatives with the camera, something on which I have been able to build (with no small excitement) in the darkroom.
When I began printing, I had in mind the old adage that the harder the format is to shoot, the easier it is to print. There is a certain amount of truth in this, although I have come to look somewhat suspiciously on the oft touted idea that contact printing is more straightforward than conventional enlargement. You can see where the logic lies: gone is the enlarging stage, with its limitations of lens quality and potential dust contamination. Perhaps it is the legend of Edward Weston making beautiful prints with nothing more than a contact print maker and a humble bulb that prevails. In point of fact, I encountered several technical issues, dodging and burning can be quite a challenge on the scale and with the room afforded, dust still accrues, and my desire to make a borderless image on a larger sheet of paper necessitated hours of difficult trials with different masking solutions.
Yet doubtless is the generous tonality and sheer visibility of the 10x8 negative. The Intrepid is a joy to compose and focus with, thanks to its bright and clear screen (limited however, it should be pointed, out by the maximum aperture of your lens). I felt I was much more in control of my image than I was with my 5x4 camera, simply because the flickering camera obscura projection is that much smaller on 5x4. This sense of control was magnified throughout the whole process: spot metering felt clearer and more decisive (I apply zone system control in processing for single images), negative inspection was a joy. I made but one studio portrait to see how the camera would function there, and the same advantages were apparent. I expect they would become even clearer with further use in the studio setting.
I write this review today at a time when my 10x8 work has really started to get going. I have shared images made with the camera on social media and offered my first 10x8 darkroom print for sale on my website. I am thoroughly embroiled with this imperious format and it is in no small part thanks to the existence of Intrepid’s camera. Whether or not you have the money and inclination to buy a 10x8 Intrepid is of course your decision. Finances, circumstances and needs vary. Is the camera ‘affordable’ in the context of the large format camera market? Absolutely. Does the camera function properly and promise a proportional and sensible period of service to an industrious photographer. Without question. Is it a ‘way into’ 10x8 that I can recommend? Without hesitation.
The critical comments I have made herein are in the spirit of improvement. I offer my support to Intrepid because I like what they are trying to do and have benefited from their products in my own photography. The challenges of making affordable equipment in traditional photographic markets should not be underestimated. Witness Intrepid’s own attempts, and for the time being failure, to make a complementary affordable film holder. To paraphrase Intrepid themselves, here the company has discovered that there is a reason why some photographic equipment is traditionally so expensive. They simply couldn’t engineer a working holder at the price they envisaged.
I wouldn’t bet against them one day succeeding with the film holders. For now we have a fabulous camera and new photographic adventures to enjoy. I have to say, thanks to the Intrepid 10x8 Field Camera, this little boy’s Christmas has well and truly come early.
As the sun beams down here in a positively Mediterranean England, it’s time to update you on my latest adventures in large format. Having taken possession of my lovely new Intrepid 10x8 camera (you may have seen my unboxing video in an earlier post), I’ve been steadily working away, and I’m now beginning to see some pleasing results.
I have been on several shoots, mainly in the beautiful wooded environs of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. I’ve also spent a lot of time in darkroom, both developing and printing. Some things about 10x8 are already familiar to me, such as camera craft and exposure, and I’ve been happy to continue to practise those. Indeed, I’m enjoying the very precise control that shooting one (large) sheet of film at a time brings. My spot meter is happy to get an outing.
Not everything has been straightforward (I had the same experience with 5x4, so that’s no surprise), and I’ve been learning at every stage. 10x8 is even more demanding than 5x4 physically (you carry more), and if image management is important in 5x4, it is at least as important, if not more so, with 10x8.
The old wisdom says that as the formats gets bigger it’s harder to shoot but easier to print. There’s something in this, and certainly interpreting the tones in big 10x8 contact prints has been a joy. Contact printing itself has, however, not been an easy process. I am starting to see why some darkroom workers still project a 10x8 negative, even to make a 10x8 print. It’s actually a slow and cumbersome process that poses some challenges whilst dodging and burning. The results are steadily appearing however, so I’m still optimistic and excited.
So what of the Intrepid 10x8 camera? I’d like to write a detailed report in the near future, so forgive me for being a little coy for now. Suffice it to say it has already produced some technically excellent negatives and has not let me down in the field (actually, there was one exception to that, on which I will say more later).
The second shot I made was a studio portrait. I wanted to test the camera in a studio situation too (much as I did with the 5x4 version). This was the first negative that revealed the sheer magic of 10x8 for me, although as I’m suggesting, more have followed. I’m going to keep shooting and printing, so as ever I’m working towards the best prints I can make. Watch this space for some new work, as well as that review on the impressive Intrepid Field Camera.
I’ve done enough street photography now that I routinely overcome my nerves, although there are times when that familiar flutter in the stomach returns. I recently heard a comedian say that nerves can be turned into a kind of positive energy. I think I do that these days when I remind myself that I’m doing a ‘job’ - the noble job of photography - and that street is a place where the work has to be done. It’s a little mantra and a form of self-permission and motivation. When I’ve captured some frames, my nerves settle down.
Being in China with the 5x4 Intrepid Field Camera, my nerves were very much present. In point of fact, not since my first forays in public with a camera in hand had my nerves been quite so evident. A discomfiting feeling for sure, but also a life-affirming one. My senses were alive and I was all the time reminding myself about what I’d decided to do. I had come to China. I was going to do 5x4.
My nerves were not helped by the proportional nervous and suspicious looks I received from Chinese security guards, at what felt like every ten or so yards. There are a lot of such workers in Shanghai. It helps you to feel safe, but you are being watched.
Looking back, it may have been something to do with my newly purchased plastic Nikon branded tripod. This I had bought over in China, solely for the purpose of shooting with the Intrepid. The plastic beast came with a convenient black carry-case. You know, a sort of roughly ‘gun’ sized case. A case carried by a conspicuous white man who had turned up in busy areas looking nervously at security guards, walkways, entrances, exits and the crowds. Eventually, I learned to bag the case and carry the tripod with some leg extension - so it looked like a tripod. Everybody relaxed.
I didn’t have long to shoot large format in China. I did a fair amount of scouting for locations whilst shooting 35mm, but probably did no more than the equivalent of a day with the Intrepid. I set the camera up fully on three occasions. Each time was quite magical; the locations, light and people around me each a contributing factor.
On the first occasion I drew some modest attention. One gentleman in particular was quite taken with my red-bellowed companion. He stood for some time watching me work, to the point where I began to give a silent tutorial on the shooting procedure. I know not if he wanted that, but it seemed the polite thing to do. The second time I set up the camera I was decidedly braver in my choice of location - I was in a back alley in the suburbs - but I was much more shocked by the reaction of passers-by. There simply was no reaction! I thought I was bound to be approached by the workers who came out of an adjacent building, but no, they walked around me as if I wasn’t there. I chuckled at my self-consciousness.
The last time, on a car park with derelict buildings, a car drove into my shot at the worst time possible. Just when I began my curses, he suddenly reversed away. I was back in the zone when I was interrupted again. This time a joyous ‘CAMERA!’ was shouted in my direction. It was the driver of the car as he triumphantly skipped by. We exchanged smiles and I thanked him silently for respecting the shot. Well, I like to think it was respect.
So what of my experience of using the Intrepid on this trip? And what have I to now add to my original review? Two important things stand out: one is the relative compactness of the camera; the other is that I really hardly noticed the camera at all.
I was conscious of weight and bulk on my trip, a factor that led me to equivocate over whether or not to take the Intrepid. Having solved the tripod issue, I further reduced my load by forsaking my usual Manfrotto backpack. For this generously padded pack, I substituted my thin branded urban rucksack, inside which I placed a light generic camera bag to protect the 5x4. The film holders and darkcloth sat neatly on top. While the fit was a little tight, it did provide the further benefit of being very inconspicuous. With that rucksack on my back, I was truly in urban mode.
To be able to carry a 5x4 camera in such a manner is a real testimony to the design of the Intrepid. My improvised arrangement for China has made me reconsider my normal backpack: I was left with the strong sense that I had previously been carrying more bag than camera. This was a huge plus for me working in an urban environment, but it is of even bigger benefit for those wanting to work in rural and remote locations. If you are not carrying around a lot of film holders or alternative lens choices, weight is not an issue at all.
Setting the camera up and down was a pleasure. I suppose I have now developed enough muscle memory that such actions are smooth and automatic. There really aren’t a lot of adjustments to contend with. For some large format photographers in some situations this will be a problem, but of course, it very much depends on the work you are doing. As I have written before, if you are starting out in 5x4, the Intrepid makes a forgiving companion. It’s a great ‘learning camera’.
This is what I mean by not noticing the camera. At each location I was fully immersed in making the image, and my control of the camera and exposure really did flow. I’m pleased with the images I made given the time I had. Interestingly, I think I was shooting 5x4 while still somewhat in a street photography mode. I elected more than once to include a passerby, chancing my arm with borderline shutter speeds and using my intuition somewhat for compositional placement (after all, you have gone ‘blind’ once the film holder is inserted). This may be suggestive of further personal work; crucially, for the Intrepid, it shows how it can be used quickly and with ease in public locations.
I have one small caveat. I find that the front standard doesn’t ‘lock down’ as fully as I’d like, and is prone to moving around its central tightening screw. I pondered in my original review whether the wooden bottom of the standard would be hard-wearing in the longer term. It’s not the wear that now strikes me as the issue so much as the movement.
Now, this movement might simply be a feature of my own copy of the camera, but my suspicion is that it isn’t. I have just taken possession of the new 10x8 model, and I’ve noticed an addition that solves the issue entirely. They’ve included some small grip pads on the standard’s bottom (think sandpaper stickers and that describes them well). I don’t know whether this is in response to feedback, or simply Intrepid’s ongoing commitment to design refinement at work. Either way, the change is welcome and points to an easy user modification to the smaller 5x4. The front standard on the 10x8 is very solid when tightened.
I certainly fulfilled a personal ambition by shooting 5x4 in China, and you will gather from the tenor of my report that I continue to recommend the Intrepid for such a task. I’m looking forward now to doing some work with the newly arrived 10x8, a whole different challenge again. It’s funny that I’ve been in the habit of referring to my 5x4 as ‘the big camera’. That mantle has been lifted from it by the newly arrived 10x8, a camera that dwarfs it by comparison. The 5x4 looks tiny now, but it isn’t just the size comparison that has left me with that feeling. Using it in China has made me realise just what a compact large format camera it really is.
I didn't set out to do unboxing videos on this website, but I think there is enough interest in this camera to warrant one. This is an unusual and 'niche' camera, which I'm really excited to receive, and it's a relatively affordable one to boot.
As the aeroplane edged ever closer to its destination in Shanghai, China, I looked across a misty vista of azure blue mountains stacked liked an Appia stage set. In my somewhat dreamy state, I turned over my photography plans and choices for the trip. How was I going to shoot in China? What equipment had I chosen to bring, and were these the right choices?
That I was going to do street photography was in no doubt, and I was resoundingly set on making black and white film shots. My Leica M6TTL rangefinder was a given, and, while I could probably have made the case for other emulsions, I was set on Ilford HP5 plus as a primary 35mm film. In the past I have proclaimed the virtues of travelling with familiar equipment and working methods, and I wasn’t about to turn my back on this principle in China. It is difficult to ignore colour in China, and for this task I planned to turn to my Sony A7II mirrorless camera. A mix of film and digital was an approach that had worked well for me in India, an equally far-away place in my world.
Somewhat less clear cut was my decision to bring my Intrepid 5x4 field camera. Initially I had thought to leave it behind, my substantial Manfrotto tripod being too bulky and heavy to take (the trip wasn’t entirely about photography, and books on so forth needed to be transported). However a certain mischievous Twitter acquaintance* gave me a tempting idea: simply buy a cheap tripod when in China and leave it behind if needs be.
So it was that my Intrepid came to be sitting snugly with my other equipment and film in the overhead locker. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to move stealthily with my Leica on the streets of Shanghai; I was even less sure what it would be like to stand with my red-bellowed wooden friend on Chinese streets meeting head-on the full rigours of 5x4. My thinking started to become a little extreme: a image of a Chinese policeman telling me to pack away my tripod came into my head. I was an obstruction, a danger to Chinese citizens going about their daily business….
I’d like to present, then, a modest three-part series of travelogues recounting my experiences in China. I want to show you my work, give you some insight into my thought processes and shooting choices, and provide what insight I can into doing photography in Shanghai (although, naturally this will be limited in the sense that my trip was but one week long). As the final instalment will be about the Intrepid Field Camera, I see this as an extension to my original detailed review of the camera, a sort of mid-term report, if you will, of the camera’s performance. Early impressions are one thing, but a much more informed (and sometimes different) picture emerges when an item has been used over an extended period. I will be posting some of my images on Twitter throughout this period, so please do look out for them, and I hope you enjoy the coming instalments.
The plan is thus:
Shanghai Travelogue Part 1: Street Photography in China
Shanghai Travelogue Part 2: Enter Ilford HP5+
Shanghai Travelogue Part 3: Using my Intrepid 5x4 Field Camera
*For those of you that know him, I need only say that his true identity is something of a mystery.