Large format cameras – a timeline

My use of large format cameras coincided with the beginning of my beach series – Since 1994 I have built my whole career on it. I worked both with 8x10 and 11x14 film cameras, and more recently, large-format digital backs that give me the same amount of detail as film did, as well as different ease and cost-effectiveness of work.

My relationship with large-format cameras began in the early 1990s because of some strange sign of fate. I was taking some commercial photos and, when I stopped for a lunch break, some thieves stole my equipment from the car, except for an 8×10 camera that remained in a suitcase. I had hardly ever shot with that camera, it was big and bulky and not easy to use except at a certain height. So I thought I had to find a way to use it, I built my own scaffolding, headed to the nearest beach, and… you know the rest – that’s how it all started.
My first large format camera was Deardorff 8×10, later joined by a Deardorff 11×14 and a Canham 8×10. Then it was the turn of a Phillips 8×10, which was very fashionable at one point because it’s light, and finally a Gibellini 11×14.

“the ALPA XYZ allows two shift movements on x and y axes and a tilt movement that allows better focus control”

It was only in 2010 that I decided to switch to digital, when the cameras reached a certain degree of resolution for my purposes and allowed me to print in large formats.
So, I slowly got rid of the bulky equipment with very delicate film sheets, I bought an ALPA 12 XYZ camera with a P65+ Phase One digital back, and started testing it. The particularity of the ALPA XYZ is that it allows two shift movements on x and y axes and a tilt movement that allows better focus control. It wasn’t that easy at the beginning and it took me maybe three years to get a good digital picture. For a while, I shot both analog and digital before finally switching to digital (read more on this topic in one of my early blog posts).1

In more than 10 years, I have tried several Phase One backs always upgrading to the latest model with the highest resolution, from the P65+, the IQ180, IQ280, IQ3 100, IQ3 100 trichromatic, up to what I am using now, IQ4 with 150MP.
Now I can finally say I am satisfied with the result, mostly because the digital file is easier to work with and offers better control over highlights and shadows. Over the years I’ve always looked for the simplest and most effective method in photography, as I’m more interested in conveying my idea rather than getting caught up in technical details.

Read here my interview highlighted in ALPA camera’s latest newsletter.

1. Alessandro Romanini, “Digital vs. Analog”, in Il passo sospeso. Esplorazioni del limite, catalog of the exhibition at the Ragghianti Foundation in Lucca. June 24 – September 3, 2017.

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