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Does the Camera Matter?

What camera do you use? This innocent question has long been ridiculed among photographers. Obviously, cameras do not “see” or compose photographs, the photographer using them does that. But, the kind of camera a photographer uses can, in fact, have a significant impact on the resulting body of work.

I work with several kinds of view cameras and
4 in. x 5 in. sheets of film. Because the cameras need to be on heavy tripods and use bulky film holders and single focal length lenses, even the minimum of equipment quickly gets heavy.

How does this affect my landscape photography? There are pictures I see but can't get to. Relatively lengthy set up requires me to edit in the field. I take 100 photographs in my head and then one in the camera.

Set up time also can mean a brief shaft of light or other ephemeral scene will likely be missed. The advantage is that I often stay in a location for quite a while, studying the light, details, views. I may make a photograph, or I may decide that I have enjoyed the pause and move on.


view camera

Film carrier and film

In addition to the contemplative nature of view camera field photography, the size of the negative allows the capture of details—blades of grass and grains of sand—that the human eye takes for granted.

I prefer black and white sheet film for its abstract qualities. Although I have worked in color, creating both landscape and still life images, color can be a distraction when looking at light, forms, lines, and textures.

In the words of noted black and white photographer Clyde Butcher, “Color says, ‘I'm a picture’.”

David Vestal said it another way: "Certain oversimplifications express this sort of thing in question-and-answer form:
   Q: Why is radio better than television?
   A: Because the pictures are better.
   Q: Why are black-and-white photos better         than color ones?
   A: Because the colors are better."

["Vestal at Large", Photo Techniques, July/August 2006, p.10]

© 2006-2018 Jan Bender