4x5 Velvia.

Started 3 weeks ago | Discussions thread
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Barry Twycross Veteran Member • Posts: 3,976
4x5 Velvia.

My father in law wanted to take photos like Ansel Adam, it seems. He had a 4x5 camera he’d take to national parks. The camera he had was a Graflex Crown Graphic. That’s the cousin to the well known Speed Graphic press camera, the difference is the Crown had no focal plane shutter, just the leaf shutter in the lens. He had a Kodak standard “8 inch” 203mm Kodak lens, and a Scheider Kreuznach 135mm wide angle lens.

I'd guess the camera was around $350 when he bought it around 1958, which is about $3,200 today.

He shot black and white negative film, just like Ansel Adams, I’ve found a box of Plus-X dated 1969 in his equipment box. My wife doesn’t remember the camera ever being used after about 1972.

After he passed in 1998, the camera passed to my wife, she got it CLA’d but otherwise it sat largely undisturbed for many years. A couple of years ago there was a challenge to use antique lenses , and I hatched the idea to press the Crown Graphic into service. I taped a small micro-4/3rds camera onto a film holder, and used the camera just as a lens. My wife was quite happy to see the old camera get some use.

Last year I got a Fuji GFX 50R, and one of the accessories available for that is a Graflok adapter to attach the GFX to the back of the Crown Graphic. As I'm cheap I didn’t buy the Fuji accessory for $400, but a third party version was available for $150. After fixing issues with that and flare, I’ve used it to take 130Mpix composites of a 3.3x1.7 or 3.8x1.3 crop out of the 4x5 frame.

I had more or less vowed never to use film again after I got a digicam in 2002, but I was intrigued by the idea of a 4x5 film frame. I broke my vow and ran a couple of 135 rolls through my old SLR, in preparation for another challenge. So I started to wonder about putting some film in the Crown Graphic. I’ve never been into B&W much, and after deciding I much preferred the look of positive film, I decided to try putting some Velvia in it.

First thing is 4x5 film is bloody expensive. A box of 20 sheets from B&H cost $99.99, ie $5 a shot. My regular lab advertises 4x5 development as well, so I thought I’d use them, they charge $5 a sheet for developing. So you’re already up to $10 a shot. I have previously developed E-6 myself, but I didn’t feel like going to the hassle of setting it up for just a few shots.

Next is using 4x5 film is very fiddly. In complete darkness, you have to load up the film holders. That involves threading the sheets under some guide rails on the holder, and then sliding the dark slide into place. Each film holder holds two sheets, one on either side. I had to look up a YouTube video to work out how to do that, and then practice on some of the old sheets which were still in the holders.

Film holder

Once you have your film loaded, you need find something to photograph which is worthy of using $10 a shot. I decided on the California coast, as it’s handy and quite pretty. We had one weekend afternoon which was not successful, then spent most of a week at a hotel for a break, with photography as a major activity.

Next you need to focus the camera. This is not too trivial in itself. This is the sort of view you get on the ground glass screen.

The view while focussing.

I found the magnifier function of the iPhone to be quite handy here. Then you need an exposure, I took to metering with my micro-4/3rds camera and taking a test bracket and selecting the best one. I was using a lens with the same field of view (20mm), so I could compare the results later, and you get some exif data which is almost relevant. As this is 4x5, you have to be careful of depth of field, it can be extremely thin. Ansel Adams was in the f/64 club for 8x10 exposures, so I reckoned the equivalent aperture for 4x5 would be f/16. That made for reasonable exposures by the sunny-16 rule, the shutter only goes up to 1/500.

At one of the stops I also used the GF adapter and took a series of shots with the GFX for comparison.

Taking a picture involves cocking the shutter so the shutter stays open. There’s a button on the lens to stop the shutter closing when you trip it for this reason. Then with the shutter open, you focus on the ground glass, at the open aperture. Once focussed, you:

  • Release the shutter and recock.
  • Stop the lens down to the working aperture.
  • Slide a film holder infront of the ground glass.
  • Pull out the dark slide from the film holder.
  • Trip the shutter.
  • Put the dark slide back, reversed to show it's exposed.
  • Remove the film holder.

That’s pretty fiddly at the best of times, but I also found I hadn’t loaded a lot of the film holders properly, and when you slide the dark slide back, you find the sheet either jams or ends up on the outside of the dark slide, which you need a darkroom to recover from. I think the issue was I didn’t quite get the film under both guides, I did some more practice and if you can move the film significantly, it’s not loaded right and you need to try again.

So far, I’ve shot 14 frames. 3 were ruined straight off by the film being not in the holder after the shot. A few were tricky, and the slide didn’t want to go back, a few of them are suffering from stray light. I have 7 shots which look reasonable. At least one of those is suffering focus issues, probably because the sheet wasn’t in the holder properly, so not at the right plane of focus.

I got them developed (at $5 each) and scanned (another $5 each), so I’d have some idea of what they looked like, as I wasn’t sure I could come up with a decent copy myself. The I set about trying to scan them myself. I’m trying to get a digital copy which looks like the actual transparency, which is challenging, and I haven’t totally managed it.


I only have a V550 (cheap) scanner which only does 120 film, so I set about scanning the sheets in two halves, and stitching them back together. I found a cheap film holder designed for 122x57mm, and performed a little surgery on it, so the sheet could fit. The sheets themselves are 124x100mm, and the film holder exposes 120x95mm. I haven’t fiddled very much with it, but I’m having trouble getting decent colours off of it. The scanner can resolve about 1300dpi, so it should be able to resolve about 34Mpix off the film.

Scanner holder.

Fuji’s data sheet gives MTF curves which give it a resolution of somewhere between 10 and 100 cycles/mm. At that resolution, you’d be looking at between 4.5 and 450Mpix. Given there was the possibility of more information on the sheet, I thought I’d see if I could do a higher res scan. Using the GFX and an old manual focus 50mm macro lens, I scanned the film in a 5x5 mosaic to give me a 500MPix file. I wasn’t sure if the film or the lens ran out of resolution first, but I was only getting about 40Mpix out of those scans, so I took to taking shots of the complete frame, which gave me about 45Mpix without much bother. The rig to scan the film in the 5x5 mosaic is another story entirely. The lens on the Crown Graphic can actually resolve about 500Mpix, looking at the digital pics I took with it.

What helped was getting a Pixel-Latr film holder . Though that also need a little help to make it usable. A clip, some clamps, sticky tape, and a cutting board as a diffuser also helped. There’s a flash behind the diffuser pointing this way.

Copy setup

There were still some issues with the copies, so I also took a blank frame, with no film in it. That’s to give white balance and a vignette compensation. After putting that all together, I got something which looks not unlike the actual film, but if you look at them side by side, the Velvia is a bit different, maybe less blue, more green, but I haven’t had any luck in adjusting the file to make it look closer to the original.

I could process these to "correct" them, but at the moment my goal is to produce faithful copies.

Some results as 45Mpix.

Montara. This was the lower exposure bracket, but is focussed.

Montara. Lab scan.

Montara. Micro-4/3rds version.

84x44 crop using the GFX as a digital back for the Crown Graphic.

Watching the sunset


One thing, there's a lot of dust and hairs on the film. I think the inside of the Crown Graphic needs a good blow out.

 Barry Twycross's gear list:Barry Twycross's gear list
Panasonic GX850 Fujifilm GFX 50R Panasonic Lumix G Vario HD 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 Mega OIS Leica Nocticron 42.5mm Fujifilm GF 110mm F2 +9 more
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