In our current age of digital photography, it is of little wonder how the nostalgia towards film photography has rekindled interests among enthusiasts and I’ve indulged myself in 135 film with my favourite being Fujifilm Industrial 400, Kodak Portra 400 and of course, the beautiful Ektachrome e100 slides with my trustworthy Nikon 35Ti film camera, but this is still considered pretty ‘modern’ photography.
However recently I had the good fortune to experience large format film photography with a century old antique camera showing how photography was a long time ago.
Sam, a dear friend was kind enough to share on the workings of an antique large format film camera, the Burke & James 8×10 commercial view. He can be contacted at his IG account here or through his IG handle @sam1402
P.S. – the 8×10 here implies the size of the film in inches, a massive 20×25 centimetres. And when we talk large format, you are referring to the highest quality footage and images around. A digital full-frame sensor is well, 3.6×2.4 centimetres in comparison.
Admittingly, I know too little about large format film photography to do a legit discussion but I am keen to share what I understand in the hope that these gems in the history of photography don’t get lost in the passage of time.
In this article, for brevity sake, I will break down the info and experience through answering 3 key questions,
- history of the Burke & James large format film camera,
- the optics used,
- handling and a sample.
The Burke & James 8×10 View commercial – a background.
A first question to answer is probably some background about the camera. I discovered to my chagrin that any information available were scant and spotty but I understand that Burke & James Inc. of Chicago was a camera manufacturer and importer of cameras and lenses. The company was established in 1897 by founders Henry Burke and David James and was in business until around the 1970s (aka, they closed before I was even born).
Some of these 8×10 View commercial large format film cameras are factually century-old (yes, 100 years +) cameras and if you look hard enough, can still be found refurbished and through auctions. Most amazingly, they were so well built that if well-maintained, they still function as they were designed to a century ago. And this is inclusive of the original wooden frames they came with.
A second key question would be the optics used. Sam uses the Burke & James 8×10 with a set of Fujifilm optics, a Fujinon 250mm f5.6 large format lens (with Copal shutter) as seen in the photo above. This is a lens still quite easy to find and is known for its dreamy and smooth skin tones.
With adequate knowledge, one is able to adapt optics to the large format film camera in the same way we adapt non-native lenses to our digital cameras nowadays.
Of course using the century old camera was fully manual, with one having to set aperture, shutter speed and meter for the ambient light conditions.
Handling, processing and a sample
Large format cameras generally use sheet film instead of a roll of film. But obviously finding suitable film was not only difficult and likely to be expensive given how many film manufacturers have simply threw in the towel over the decades.
And I have to tip my hat off to Sam, for through reading up he has learnt that one can also use inexpensive X-ray films for the Burke & James 8×10. Yes, the same X-ray film we find in hospitals. The only catch(es) are that one will need to manage the shot at ISO 5 to 100 and X-rays films are orthochromatic (cannot see red).
Coming from 135 film, it was mind blowing for me to see the size of the film and its holder (that’s shown in the photo above) and what happens are usually two sheets are put into a film holder. Each holder contains ‘one shot’ on each side.
Every single time the subject moves, one will need to check focus again, and if fussy, recheck the light conditions. Like the good old movies, one is able to see the reflection of the subject on the focusing screen and the dark cloth is to allow one to be able to see the reflection clearly. (no, obviously there are no screen brightness adjustments available)
After viewing and focusing, the film holder is put in the back of the camera. A dark slide is lifted out. The shutter is fired and the exposure made. The dark slide is put back into the holder. The holder is then flipped over to use the other sheet of film which is exposed in the same way. Two photos can therefore be made with each holder and after which, the film is further processed into negatives and of course, one can then make a digital scan of it or even a print.
After processing the film, here is the digitally post-processed digital scan of the shot Sam took. Of course one could use say a 102 megapixels camera if you wish to go massive into the details but this really depends on the individual and Sam used a 12 megapixels Fujifilm X10 camera for this, giving a 2584×3280 pixels image – more than sufficient as a memento of how photography was during the World War 1 era.
The intricacies of the analog darkroom is still mostly beyond me but yes, it is an art form by itself and I hope I can learn more one day.
and before we end, a little bonus below – here is showing the original scan before post-processing was done.
Yes, the original is ‘blue’. In medical and industrial uses, blue was the most common base available supposedly to reduce eye fatigue in Radiology, and thus it is pretty common to find X-ray films in blue base.
*the digital scans were provided by Sam.
Thank you for reading.
and once again, you can find Sam at his IG handle @sam1402