What I'm Reading: Drums, Flatbeds, & Giant Negatives

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

We've all seen an old western where at some point, the viewer finds themselves in a dusty prairie town overrun with drunkards and violence. In said town, there will live a mustache-wielding, vest-wearing, proper gentleman, who owns a studio where photographs are made. In this parlor, there are a few props, few clients, and one BEHEMOTH of a camera. This gentleman is using a large format camera which takes HUGE sheet film, typically 4"x5" or larger. For reference, a traditional 35mm film measures 35mmx24mm (1.4"x0.94"), roughly 1/15th the size of a 4"x5" film or 1/60th the size of an even larger 8"x10" sheet film. What does all this mean? Colonel's extra-crispy-chicken-level crispy images. Detail you never imagined obtainable in a picture. More detail than literally meets the eye.

Having neither the time nor patience...nor money for shooting large format film, I live vicariously through individuals like Alex Burke and Michael Strickland, both of whom not only shoots large format film, but shoot it very, very well. As if his photographic genius wasn't enough, each has taken scanning to another level. Rather than using a flatbed scanner like most enthusiasts, they have opted for a 550lb Heidelberg Tango drum scanner. When compared to a traditional flatbed scanner, there are marked improvements in image tonality, shadow detail, and sharpness. To prove this last point, Alex shows the product of a 4"x5" scan, which can easily produce a 5 FOOT print with no degradation in image quality. What's even more interesting...this machine was produced in the 1990's! Although we've come a long way with digital photography in recent years, it is amazing to see what an "outdated machine" and "outdated medium" are capable of. Click the image below to access the original article written by Alex Burke.

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