Through the last several months I have been considering purchase of a 4x5 field camera. However, I have been put off by the price tag of about $700US for the camera and about another $300 for the lens.
So I got to thinking. Is there another way? Could I build a useable box if I just purchased a lens?
Along with my friend Peter McDonald we toyed with the idea of building a fixed focus large format landscape camera and decided to give it a go. After a failed first attempt we finally got the focus sorted out and have now got three very useable working 90mm and 75mm cameras that produce excellent sharp images. Our first prototype with a small lens did not achieve the circle of coverage needed, it worked OK on a 6x12 but vignetted on a 4x5 negative (the trial and error try it and see learning curve). Lesson - when selecting a lens it is important to ensure that the lens has an image circle large enough to cover the 4x5 format.
We permanently set the cameras to a subject distance of 8 metres and use aperture to vary the depth of field. For example, at an aperture of f22, the depth of field extends from about 2 metres to infinity and at f64 the depth of field extends from a little over 1 metre to infinity. Good results have been obtained at f32 with exposures varying from 6 seconds to 1/8-1/15 of a second depending on lighting conditions.
As far as composing the photo goes, Peter has put a very fancy variable viewfinder on one of his cameras, while I just point the box using lines of sight as I would with a pinhole camera. Having said that, I have also ordered a basic 35mm viewfinder to do some testing with.
At the end of the day, I guess some enthusiasts will say that the camera is a bit limited in its flexibility. The real winner with the system is the ease of setup. Put it on the tripod, point the camera, measure and set for the light conditions and shoot. Additionally, while the cameras are designed for 4x5 large format double dark film holders, the system can also use 6x9 and 6x12 film backs for economy.
We are growing very attached to our fixed focal length cameras and pricing is similar to pinhole cameras (buyer to supply lens).