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Bigger is better


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Bigger is better

12 Jun 2020 8:23AM   Views : 409 Unique : 291


People seem to like it when I write about old cameras: so here goes with one that’s a bit of a beast. Absolutely no chance that a Gorillapod will be of use.

It’s actually quite a modern camera, and makes extensive use of plastic: a basic model, with a basic lens. But it does the same things as far more elaborate and beautiful cameras made with wood and brass.


It’s a Cambo Explorer, designed to provide a simple and cheap introduction to large format photography. By fitting different lenses, you can use any focal length at all: the lens fits in a flat panel which is removable. Standard for 5”x4” is a 150mm lens, and wideangles go down to around 65mm, while telephotos reach 300mm.

The Explorer is a monorail: that means that rather than having a body with the lens attached, the lens and film are held in separate units mounted on a single rail, and with adjustments in all sorts of directions. A classic plate camera has the lens mounted on a board that folds down from the body, and is less versatile, though easier to use! Have a look at a few examples of the amazingly lovely Gandolfi cameras on the web - made in Peckham Rye by three brothers.


Everything seems odd: but all of it works the same way as your MFT digital. Almost. There’s an extra lever on the lens, which switches the shutter from normal operation to open, for focussing. You have to remember to switch back before you put the film in!

Film: you load single sheets of film (really! 5” by 4”) into a film holder, and once the camera is set up and focussed, you push the darkslide down behind the focussing screen which pantographs outwards to allow the film to sit exactly where the ground glass screen was for focussing.


But I’m dodging around, and method is your friend when you use a large-format camera. You set it up on a tripod, open the lens, focus (with the aid of a magnifier and a yard-square cloth over your head), close the lens, set the aperture and shutter speed, **** the shutter, put the filmholder in, pull out the darkslide that covers the film, expose, replace the darkslide, and remove the filmholder.
Simples? Once you get the feel for it, maybe.


For all this inconvenience (and cost: the film is a bit over £1-50 a sheet), you get the potential for superb quality. Think about it: a contact print that is big enough to use, and the ability to correct perspective and distortion with the extensive lens and back movements that a monorail allows. But perhaps that’s the subject of another article tomorrow…


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bluesandtwos Avatar
bluesandtwos 13 544 1 England
12 Jun 2020 9:23AM
And people think my fountain pen is a faff!!!

At £1.50 a pop it's way beyond my meagre budget. GrinGrinGrin

chase Avatar
chase Plus
18 2.5k 682 England
12 Jun 2020 9:26AM
A lovely looking camera John but I don't think I could cope with the upside down view, I am far too old to be standing on my head ! Wink
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
12 Jun 2020 11:16AM
I recall a suggestion that looking at an image upside down gave one a clearer view of composition...

But it is hard work.

Fun, though, very occasionally.
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
12 Jun 2020 12:08PM
The more time consuming approach to image capture means you should, in theory, end up with better results as content, lighting and composition are more carefully considered.

And on another note, a good big un will always beat a good littl'un. True today as it was years ago. Possibly something for you to consider for a future blog. I would do that myself but I only have one format of camera.

I remember an article in a photo magazine (it would have to be mid eighties to mid nineties) that said a good medium format transparency was nearly as good as a 5x4 and that a good 35 mm transparency on slow film was nearly as good as medium format.
Od course, that was coming from a technical point of view rather than image content, something rather lost on the 'technial buffs' and perhaps even more so on their modern equivalent the 'digital bores'.
Using those arguments, you'd be saying that a 10x8 sheet film was almost as good as 110 film (some will need to google what those are!).
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
12 Jun 2020 12:31PM
Good thinking, Keith - and I can do that. I actually have a couple of 110 cameras in the house, and most sizes in between... Thank you!
mistere Avatar
mistere Plus
10 36 8 England
12 Jun 2020 3:26PM
Definitely an Iconograph for the 'enthusiast' John. Like the one at click Away.. I'd be happy to take a
photo of it, but not sure i'd cope taking one with it.
I'm sure it was, and probably still is, a wonderful bit of kit....Not something i'll be e-baying though Smile.

Can it handle the recent adaption of using three imps with different coloured goggles to achieve coloured images ? SmileSmile
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
12 Jun 2020 8:49PM
It can indeed, Dave.

Though they often run short of pink paint, as I recall.

A significant plus is that when it's in front of you, you can see, very clearly indeed, just how any camera works.

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