Midwest Large Format Asylum

The largest, most active large format photography group in the country.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How did the Asylum get its name?
A: We were on a photo outing to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois in January.  It was about 20 degrees outside and there was a fresh dusting of snow covering the ground (and trails and the hundreds of stone stairs).  Someone asked the question on our home page; "If a group of birds is a flock and a group of cows is a herd what do you call a group of large format photographers?"  The answer was obvious and it became the "official" name for the group!

Q: What is large format photography?
A: Essentially it is photography using view cameras which make big negatives.  A more complete answer is here.

Q: How can I be a part of this amazing group?
A: Check out our Membership page!

Q: Why is large format photography better than 35mm (or digital or medium format or anything else)?
A: Good question! The question of which format is "better" depends on the subject matter. Most large format photographs are made of objects that don't move much, such as landscapes, buildings etc. For those subjects the advantages of large format are several. First the negative is much larger than 35mm or medium format. This means that bigger enlargements are possible, whether the enlargements are made optically with an enlarger or digitally with a scanner.

Second, especially in black and white, the photographer has complete control over how each individual negative is processed. That gives the photographer a degree of control not generally possible with other formats.

Third, most large format cameras have "movements". Movements mean that the "front standard" where the lens is mounted and the rear standard where the film is placed, can be moved or adjusted independently. That let the photographer control things like "plane of focus", perspective and the relation of the lens to the film. It really isn't as complicated as it sounds!

Q: Is large format photography more expensive than 35mm (or digital or medium format or anything else)?
A: If you are purchasing new large format equipment costs are on a par with professional digital and medium format cameras and equipment.  Large format film is more expensive per shot than 35mm or medium format film but because the pace of shooting is slower you will shoot many fewer images per day.  In addition your "hit rate", the number of good images you get per negative exposed is likely to go way up!

Q: What equipment do I need to get started in large format photography?
A: The minimum equipment would consist of a camera body, a lens, a dark cloth for focusing, a tripod, a light meter and a film holder.  You will need a place to load the film holder(s) which can be made absolutely, totally, completely dark.  Other handy items would be a cable release (for the shutter) and some type of bag or backpack to carry your equipment in.

Q: What is a "normal" lens in format photography?
A: That depends on the exact format since large format encompasses a range of film sizes.  However 4x5 inches is the most common large format size and a "normal" lens for 4x5 is about 150mm.  With the 8x10 format a lens of 210mm is considered normal.

Q: What is a good camera to start with in large format photography?
A: That depends on the type of photography you do.  If you shoot mostly in a studio then a monorail camera may be the best choice.  They typically have lots of "movements" and lots of bellows draw allowing them to use a huge range of lenses.  However they are generally large, heavy and can be a bit unwieldy.

If you shoot mostly outdoors then a "field" camera may be the best.  They generally have fewer movements and less bellows draw than monorail cameras but are much lighter and much more compact.  Therefore they are easier to carry in the field.

Q: What is the best way to get started?
A: I may be biased but I think joining a group like the Midwest Large Format Asylum is a great way to start.  You can talk to other members and find out what works for them and get recommendations on cameras and lenses.