(Editor’s note: This post and the others in the series are a tour de force of technical photography using a view camera. Guest Contributor Steve Inglima is a life long participant in the photographic industry serving technical and management positions with, most notably, EPOI, Bronica medium format cameras and Canon where he managed the renowned Explorers of Light program. He is qualified with both film and digital cameras. Over the years I have had the privilege of experiencing his wisdom, his love of music and photography. His understanding of photographic processes, chemical, optical and digital makes him a valuable guest contributor to Photofocus. Yes, that’s me, Kevin Ames, with my view camera making a portrait of Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza.)


I love the view camera and love using one.

I also loved film, developing film, printing from film, and making silver halide based paper prints. My first experiences with photography involved a Brownie “Bullet” 127 roll film camera, making contact prints in a darkened kitchen and timing the exposure by counting out loud.

Now that I have gotten that age-telling admission out of the way, I also admit to loving digital photography as well. The trick for those in my condition of loving both film and digital is reconciling these two things–finding a way to keep the magic of the view camera alive without film (or even without a view camera if need be)…

The view camera

Needless to say, we live in one of the most exciting times in the history of photography. Never before do we have the options that we do today in terms of image capture and post processing power. The basic, fundamental reasons for loving photography and being a photographer still harken back to the first exposure made on tintypes, silver salts, and albumen coated paper. These images were captured using what we now call view cameras. The camera held a pin hole plate or lens on one stage. The other stage held the sensitized materials. The two stages were connected with a flexible, light tight bellows. I believe it’s important to grasp the elegant beauty of what a view camera was and for some, still is. Understanding how a view camera works and the features it offers helps us appreciate why we might want to import these attributes into our current DSLR world.

Ironically, the photographic world lost a lot of flexibility and malleability of images as the view camera was replaced with the convenience of the digital workflow. The view camera allowed for the independent positioning of the lens stage and the film (sensitized material, if you will,) stage. These movements made it possible to control the shape of objects within the frame, and the presentation of perspective as we CHOOSE to see it.

View camera users have frequently heard the term “correction” applied to swings, tilts, rises, and falls. These movements have never really been corrections. Rather, they create distortions allowing us to control the appearance of an image as we visualize how they ought to look. That is, in fact, more like the way we visualize them as humans.

Sinar P View camera from pinterest.

View camera components

Firstly, it might be appropriate for those who have yet to operate a view camera to offer a brief primer on the view camera, its movements, and what they accomplish. The components are simplicity itself: A lens holder stage (or standard); a bellows to make the camera light tight; an film or sensor holding standard; and a base to hold the whole thing together and allow focusing.

Focusing is accomplished by viewing the projected image upon a ground glass plate from the rear (meaning viewing the image upside down and horizontally reversed), and moving either then lens or image standards in opposition to each other. The ground glass holder is spring loaded to allow the insertion of the film in its place at the focus plane, or replaced by a sensor to then capture the image. When focused at infinity, the lens is at its closest to the film / sensor. One of the big pluses for the bellows is that the lens can be quite far from the film / sensor allowing for very close focusing.

Because the lens stage (or standard), and the sensitized material (film or a digital sensor) standard move independently of each other on several axises, it is easy to change the position and orientation of either, or both. Normally, the lens and image (film or sensor) planes of a camera are parallel, and the principal plane of focus is parallel to the lens and image planes. The subject area that is also parallel to the camera can be placed in focus as a plane. Anything else not in that plane-of-focus would be rendered sharp if only because of the inherent, or increased depth-of-field being employed. So far, in the lens stage parallel to film / sensor stage, the view camera works exactly like today’s DSLR cameras. 

The view on the ground glass at the light sensitive film / sensor stage is much different that the DSLR. It is upside down and backwards (reversed) from the scene we see with our eye. The view camera has no mirror and penta-prism to show the scene naturally.

In the next installment, Steve explains how moving the standards can increase the sharpness in a photograph made with the view camera.