To answer the basic question of how well the adapter works to enable a digitalback we need to be clear that we are comparing the results with a 4×5 film camera, not for example, the digital medium format or full frame cameras. The point is that one can only go down the path of making a choice to use digital once the first decisions has been made: to use a large format camera. With that, then it is reasonable to discuss film vs. digital.
In terms of basics, it is possible to capture the same area digitally as with film.
To this point, the most significant differentiator I have come across is the need to take multiple (digital) images to one, with film. This clearly impacts the nature of photography one can take on.
A second consideration is the zooming effect caused by the adapter that limits how short a focal length one can use, which again has implications on the range of use cases.
If you have never worked with digital files from large format cameras, then another consideration is whether your computer has enough memory, compute power and disk space to handle massive files (anywhere from 100mb to 2-3gb) as well as the software to stitch individual images together.
There are some constants. Set up time with a large format camera is always long. What you add in terms of taking multiple images, you save in metering time. It remains a bulky, large format camera, requiring a tripod. It’s cumbersome and lacks easy portability.
Many who hold nostalgic the use of film: the handling, the look and feel. They resist the loss of traditional craftsmanship, that engenders a sense of satisfaction and because of the craftsmanship, the uniqueness of its results.
There are others who see the economics. Large format has always been the expensive option. An adapter can pay for itself within about 40 photographs :
- 50 sheets of Kodak T-Max ISO 100 4×5 $366.15 or $7.32 per sheet
- Developing $6 per sheet
- Total: $13.32 per sheet
- Cost of adapter $520.00
There are several use cases where a digital back would work, generally those where the subject is relatively stationary, or any movement forms part of the subject, such as:
- Architectural shots,
- Cityscapes, Landscapes,
- Still Life, including commercial and fine art photography,
- Long exposures.
A key argument in support of the digital approach over film lies in the immediacy of the results as well as the ability to experiment (which is a factor of both the immediacy of the results and the much lower cost).
If you’re sympathetic with the slow photography movement, and you have a large format camera collecting dust, and you feel guilty about not using it, but you don’t want to suffer the trials and tribulations of film, and you don’t mind spending a few hundred dollars on the adapter, this is an option. It doesn’t mean giving up completely on film; it is simply a partitioning of the field between film and digital. Forty shots is the breakeven point.
Richard Massey prepared a video of a similar exercise using a full-frame camera.
- Distortion, compression and DoF
- Tests with shift, tilt and other camera movements
- Use the Tachihara as a zoom