7 Cameras That Make 35mm Digital Cameras Look Like a Toy

Chris Gampat 20x24 Polaroid camera studios (16 of 17)

While 35mm full frame digital cameras are very much the standard amongst many professionals and enthusiasts, the format was originally created to satisfy the everyday man. Many moons ago (and some even today) professional photographers shot with large and medium format cameras. These cameras were capable of taking photos that the smaller formats weren’t able to.

Some of these cameras are still in use today by folks all across the world. Here are just a few.

Before you continue on, you should first check out this video that is an introduction to large format shooting. You’ll see what a photographer needs to do in order to get the photos that they want.

Old School Film Enlarger

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Photographer Chuck Baker has gone to garage sales for years and collected loads and loads of old school photography gear. One day though, he got the idea to use an old film enlarger and turn it into a camera. The device shoots 5×7 photos, but Mr. Baker also owns a 20×24 camera that shoots monstrous images.

Focusing something this large is very tough, but it will give you images that no 35mm full frame DSLR can deliver unless there is a lot of panoramic stitching involved.

“The camera was actually intended for use with an ortho film that I use that I’ve rated at ISO 6. When shooting the first paper negative, which is technically rated ISO 25, I “mistakenly” metered for ISO 6 and got a good result. I have found that when using this camera in difficult light situations that bracketing, starting at ISO 6 up to ISO 25 in full stops, yields good results. I tend to lean towards the slower ISO in addition to using a 1.5 multigrade filter while shooting to maintain detail in the final shadow areas without highlights being completely blown out. This way I can burn in the highlight detail while keeping the shadow detail when printing the final.”

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20 x 24 Polaroid Camera

Chris Gampat 20x24 Polaroid camera studios (7 of 17)

A photo studio in NYC still specializes in large format Polaroid film. They’re called 20×24 studios and they use a special 20×24 Polaroid camera. These are very hard to find and there are only a few left in the world. It shoots at a very large format positive image and like many large scale cameras, focuses with a bellows system.

These cameras are tough to master and someone will need to shoot down to a very narrow aperture to get anything in focus with something this size.

“Since the format is so large, the photos need to be shot at anywhere between F/11 to F/90. Exposures can vary and high powered flashes help to gain a greater depth of field. Once again, this camera shoots 20 inch x 24 inch exposures and creates a contact print (i.e no loss of information) within the Polaroid process. Though that size of exposure isn’t shown in the chart above, one can only imagine just how much larger it is vs 35mm film. Trust me, it’s gigantic.”

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Large Format Instant Film

Photographer Steven Litster shared a video on Youtube a while back where he went around photographing subjects with a large format Instant film camera. The work that goes into taking a single image is quite a bit and involves using ground glass, a shade cover etc. The reactions from folks who see their photos are priceless.

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This Homemade 6×17 Camera

Eirik Russel Roberts DIY 6x17 Camera

One of the panoramic medium format ratios is 6×9 and 6×12–but not many people shoot 6×19. Photographer Eirik Russell Roberts decided to build one himself after seeing images shot with something of this size.  In our post, we state:

“While technically working, this camera — which took him roughly 40 hours to build — was far from perfect. For one, due to the raised viewfinder, parallax was enormous. Then, a light leak was ruining most of the pictures of the first test roll. But most importantly, Eirik was not able to achieve correct focus, due to the lens not being at the correct distance from the film plane. Eventually, he was able to eliminate all the issues and came up with a fully functional, versatile and ergonomic 4×5/6×12 camera.”

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A 16 x 20 Pinhole Camera

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When we saw the images that came out from this 16×20 pinhole camera, we were really awe-struck. Designed Roger Cline decided to make one and shoots out in the West Coast of America with it.

“The aperture is at around 290 something using an aluminum can and I use Ilford MG Satin finish for my negatives. For a single exposure it takes about 6 minutes worth of sunlight (at high noon) and as with most pinhole cameras, you get one shot. Once I process my exposed negative, I create a contact print using a soft white incandescent light bulb.”

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Shoe Box Pinhole Camera

Who would have thought that a shoe box could actually create an awesome camera. Indeed, this pinhole camera is a shoebox and uses massive film to capture the world that it sees through a very narrow aperture of f90.

“The goal of this project was to create the most simple camera of the world. A shoebox, a small lens, black paint and photo paper. No viewfinder, no adjustment, no shutter (only a piece of scoth tape over the lens.) Just a black box.”

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4 x 5 Custom Built Rangefinder

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By far, one of the coolest cameras that we’ve seen is this homemade rangefinder camera that shoots 4×5 film. 4×5 is considered large format and it focuses with a rangefinder: which can be tough to find. But photographer Dale Rothenberg created one using parts from three other Polaroid cameras.

“I used parts from three polaroid cameras in total. I found some basic instructions online, and was able to talk with someone who builds these cameras professionally, so I had some help. Still, parts of the camera like the lens board, the back of the camera, and the integrated cable release were completely original and involved a lot of trial and error.”

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