This past weekend, I gave my fifteen year old son a photography lesson. He’s interested in video more than photography (he’s actually really good at video production), but he still didn’t know the basics of exposure- aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, etc. So I brought out my old Zone VI 4×5″ large format field camera, with its Schneider lens, to show him what it’s all about. It’s a lot easier to teach someone how a lens works when you can see the aperture opening up and set the shutter and aperture right on the lens, like you can on a large format lens. I haven’t taken a picture with the camera for a few years, but every time I get it out, I’m struck by how beautiful it is. I’ve owned more than thirty cameras and the Zone VI tops them all for sheer good looks. It even has gold plated fittings (a little tarnished now), and is made from Honduras Mahogany. And it was made in the USA (Vermont).
I bought the camera brand new in 1993; most people seem to think it’s a relic from the 1920’s or older. It’s a large format camera, which uses 4×5-inch sheet film. That’s twenty square inches of film. As a comparison, 35mm film measures a little over one square inch. Most consumer digital cameras have sensors measuring less than an inch. With a large format camera, you can make images with incredible resolution and sharpness. Ansel Adams often used 8×10 or even 11×14-inch large format cameras. There’s a 20×24-inch Polaroid camera you can still rent in NYC or SF, with film costing $200 a shot.
But film was never cheap, and it took some time to set up a large format camera like the Zone VI, so you had to plan your photography before you ran out and shot off your camera like a machine gun. If you planned well though, and conditions were right, you could create some of the sharpest prints you’ve ever seen. I first used this one on a trip to Colorado in June 1993, then brought it to England a year later. The last time I used it was for black and white portraits a few years ago. I have a box of 4×5 black and white film in the freezer; I’d love to shoot some more portraits again soon.
I had a digital camera lying around when I brought out the Zone VI this weekend, so I started taking pictures of the camera itself. Some were taken with a Canon 5DMk2, others with a Pentax 645Z medium format digital camera (with a macro lens). Hope you like the pics.
The Adventures of Mike’s Camera is the blog of freelance photographer, Mike Hudson. He is available for commercial photography assignments– marketing, corporate, editorial, annual reports, lifestyle, web page photography, and events. His clients have included many regional and national magazines and newspapers, several healthcare providers, colleges, hotels, architectural firms, small businesses and more. Visit MichaelHudsonPhotography.com to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.