Shooting medium or large format film on view camera

I’d kinda like to try using a vintage view camera like a Graflex to shoot medium or large format film. The cameras and film can be had cheaply and I am just a huge lover of vintage-looking stuff, and few things look more coolly vintage than those old-fashioned bellows cameras.

Does anyone here have experience doing this? What are your tips? I assume you have to use an external light meter - do you know a good kind?

Can most photo shops develop and scan the film for me? How much does that cost? Just to get the scans, not necessarily to make prints.


I wanna bump this thread once…someone has to know.

I have no experience with large format film – the largest I ever used was 120 film (56x56 mm) on a twin-lens reflex camera. But one suggestion that I’d have is to use a digital camera as a light meter: find out what it exposure it uses for the scene, and adjust that for the ISO of the film that you are using. You probably already have a digital camera that you could use like that!

Yeah, I thought of that. But it might be cool just to use an old school light meter, just for the vintage factor to go along with the camera.

Problem with vintage light meters is that they take vintage batteries. There aren’t any great options for my [Gossen Luna Pro]( s) for example. Even if you can find a battery that has the correct voltage, the voltage over time drops off more quickly than the old mercury cells, so you end up with inaccurate readings. There are voltage controlled adapters that modern batteries fit into, but they’re not cheap. I generally use my modern light meter instead, even though I prefer my older one.

I have a late 40’s 4x5 Graflex Crown Graphic that I love. If you’re thinking about jumping in, read the FAQs at Lots of good info there.

Most photo shops will not be able to process the film, not having the equipment to handle sheet film any longer. I can get still my b/w stuff developed locally at one or two places, but I have to send the color transparencies off to a place in LA now. The last place in town to handle that stuff closed up a couple years ago. I would assume that many of the places that can handle large format can scan, but I handle that myself, so I don’t actually know.

If you wanted to split the difference, you can get a roll-film back and shoot 120 or 220 which local places can still handle. I have the 6x9cm back for my camera, but don’t mess with it much as you can’t use the roll film in conjunction with the ground glass.

Couple thoughts then I have to run:

The mechanical shutters on most of the cameras you’ll find aren’t really to be trusted until you have the speeds tested at a repair shop. The springs have weakened and the lube has gummed up over time. The indicated and actual shutter speeds can be quite far apart. There’s a woman in California somewhere that still rebuilds these old shutters affordably. I can look up her info if you need.

If you’re looking at Speeds and Crowns, try to find one with the side mounted range finder, not the top mounted model. The top mount Kalart requires parts that are virtually unobtainable if you need to adjust it or wish to ever swap lenses.

I’ll be glad to answer more questions, so fire away!
eta: not mine, but just like it…

Screwed up the link for the Luna Pro, try this:

$7-$10 a shot is cheap?

I figure you can do B/W for about 3 bucks a sheet, developed. E-6 color transparencies close to $7.

It’s the film holders that will kill you. Each hold two sheets of film, one on each side. Those will run about 40 bucks each new. Used ones can be hit or miss. So to fully load up a 20 sheet box of film requires about 400 bucks of film holders plus a changing bag.

Using a DSLR is just fine for light metering. If you want an incident meter/flash meter, then Sekonic and Gossen make quality modern meters.

If you buy a used Graflex camera on Ebay, you are likely to get several film holders with it. Used holders are generally fine in my experience. I have around 30, all bought used. You can get them for under $6 each, especially if you buy several at a time.

Film can be had fairly cheaply on the used market, and is not unreasonable new. New B&W film is about $1.50/sheet (less if you buy 50 or 100 sheet boxes), slide is about $3/sheet. If you are feeling a sticker shock about this, remember shooting a view camera is a painstaking and deliberate process. You might shoot 10 pictures in a day compared to 100 on 35mm or 1000 on digital.

I develop my own B&W, but slide film can be developed by mail order at
for $2 a sheet.

There are good forums at and where you might get additional info.

I don’t think this needs to be the case. A new user will probably be just fine with 5 holders, which you often get with the camera or else you can buy for $30-40.

A changing bag is not required if your house has a large closet or windowless bathroom where you can work at night.

I guess it is all a question of expectations. For a new user, ANY result is exciting. If your bargain film and old holders give a picture with some flaws (and they probably won’t really), then it is still a blast to see the picture you do get.

I guess so. I got about 25 of the older wood holders, and five or six had warped enough that they leaked a bit. Could have been just a fluke or poor storage conditions.

Ah, I use the plastic Fidelity style holders. The only thing that can really go wrong on those is the tape at the bottom (re-tape) or the felt light trap (harder to fix, but leaks there can be minimized with careful handling.)

Wow, thanks for all the replies! I’ll report back with results after I give it a shot.