Specialist Technique & Process 3 – Using/Comparing a Toyo 5×4 Camera

15th October 2015

Equipment used:

Toyo 5×4 film camera (210mm lens)
Kodak Film sheets
Studio light set up (soft box)
Connector cable
Light meter

In this session we shot in the studio using the old Toyo 5×4 film camera. This was a new experience because it is quite different to using Medium Format. For instance, the sheets of film/negative are individual sheets instead of a roll of film, and they have to be put into a double sided neg holder in the dark which is slotted together (using metal sheets to cover the film – one side silver and one side black, to indicate when the film has been exposed) and then can be slotted into the camera itself. We had to take a meter reading first, and the sitter wasn’t allowed to move from their position once we had manually focussed the camera, so they stayed in focus. Then we had to close the shutter (the black button/lever at the side of the lens – push down), put the film slotter in, pull out the metal sheet, set the shutter (a silver lever on the left side of the camera that needs to be winded down), set the exposure – ISO, shutter speed and aperture, using the dials on the side and on the actual lens. Next, the camera is ready to go and the shutter is pressed!
Seen as their are 2 sides to the film slotter, once the shutter is pressed for one side, the metal slider has to be put back in with the top black side facing outwards to indicate it has been exposed. Then take the slotter out and turn it around so the opposite side is ready to be exposed. Pull the metal slide out, wind the shutter on, check the aperture and press the shutter again. Put the slider back in with the black side facing outwards. Finally pull the slotter out and take it to the darkroom to start the process.

As you can see the Toyo has large quality but the negatives seem quite dense/thick and it’s hard to see detail  to some extent. On the second image too there is a lot of disturbance on the negative e.g it looks smudged and a bit cloudy. This may have been due to the way it was scanned in (?) or maybe because the film was quite old. Although it is a good quality shot on a large format film camera, it isn’t as sharp as I imagined it to be (unless that’s my focussing!), however I do like the depth on it, and the aperture was at f22 & f32!

I might do an update on this blog post and see if there’s a different way of scanning in the negs so they are scanned in at full quality/already inverted (registered with the scanner as negatives)…

Compare these to images taken on my 5D mk iii…

As you can see here the digital images taken on a Canon camera are much sharper, however for the last 2 images I couldn’t go to f32 on my camera so had to compensate using the ISO at a lower rate.

Darkroom process for the 5×4 film:

(all in pitch black so not to fog the film)

  • Take up/off one slider and take the film piece out
  • Attach film piece to the clips attached to the metal neg holder
  • Put the neg holder in the metal rack
  • Do the same to the other side of the film slotter, taking out the film and attaching securely in metal neg holder & rack
  • Take the rack and put it in the Developer for 10 minutes – agitating (moving up and down) 4 times every minute
  • Put in the Fixer for 1 & 1/2 minutes
  • Put in the Stop for 4 minutes
  • Put in the wash (cold water) for 10 minutes
  • Finally hang in the drying rack until dry


Here I scanned the negatives in again but specifically ‘Film negative’ settings (see folder for this process). Now I scanned them in properly I can see more of the detail in the negatives especially the sharpness of the eyes and the contrast of the negatives (as before they seemed more cloudy). Although the negs still appear to have smudges on them, this is probably caused because they were old pieces of film, not because of the way they were scanned in.

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