By Mike Chopra-Gant
These days it more and more people appear to be experimenting with large format photography, perhaps seeking to embrace the slower, more considered approach to photography that comes with using relatively large and technical camera, while retaining a level of image quality to which we have become accustomed with digital equipment.
But how do you get started? How do you find out if large format photography is for you without committing to the considerable expense that goes with much large format equipment? Perhaps the answer is provided by the Intrepid Camera Company.
Intrepid was formed in 2013/14, born from a desire to make large format photography more affordable. The company makes traditional 8×10 and 4×5 cameras using light, modern materials. The latter is now in its Mk3 iteration, although it is the Mk1 that is reviewed here.
Two things immediately strike you on first encountering the Intrepid; it folds up to a very small size and it is extremely light, particularly if you are used to using more conventional large format gear.
The camera consists of a birch plywood baseboard and folding backboard, together with a metal frame and birch ply front standard. The backboard folds for storage but is otherwise static.
The front standard has the full range of movements expected in this type of camera: rise/fall, shift (left/right), swing (lensboard turned along the vertical axis) and tilt (lensboard turned along the horizontal axis). While it may be somewhat limiting that the backboard does not move, in practice the limitation is unlikely to be a major issue for most users (and, if it is, the Mk3 version does have swing and tilt movements on the backboard).
Front and rear standards are connected by a reinforced fabric non-removable bellows with a minimum extension of 65mm. While, once again, most users will experience no issues resulting from this, the lack of an option to remove and replace the bellows with a bag makes the Intrepid unsuitable for use with very wide-angle lenses.
The Intrepid 4×5 uses standard double-sided film holders (not supplied) and either its own (not supplied) lensboard or a standard Linhof/Toyo board fitted, with any 75-300mm lens with a large enough image circle to cover the negative.
With all of the “business” parts of the camera the same as might be used with any 4×5 camera, the Intrepid produces results on a par with much more expensive large format gear. What it won’t give you are the backache and shoulder pain that too often accompany a long walk with a large format camera and tripod.
There are compromises, of course. The Intrepid is a little more fiddly and less precise in use than more expensive large format cameras. But with a bit of care and patience (essential qualities for any large format photographer), using the Intrepid 4×5 can be a pleasurable experience and a wonderful introduction to the world of large format.