About the 4x10 format and film holders

By Kerry Thalmann for largeformatphotography.info (compiled by QTL)

The 4x10 format

I shoot 4x10 and love the format. I shoot color transparency film in two different fashions. The first is "true 4x10" - meaning I cut the film in half in the dark prior to exposure, load it into 4x10 holders and shoot it with a 4x10 camera. The second is to shoot two 4x10 images on a single sheet of 8x10 film using conventional 8x10 holders, a split darkslide, and an older 8x10 camera (Eastman Commercial All-Metal).

I like the aspect ratio of the format, and I also like the fact that many lenses I already had covered the format. It's possible to assemble a very wide range of lenses that cover this format, and still avoid the heavy, bulky #3 shutter necessary for many 8x10 lenses (much like 5x7 in this regard). Like I said above, there are many very good, reasonably compact lenses, both new and old, that barely or don't quite cover 8x10. These make wonderful choices for use on the 4x10 format.

For prints, I "enlarge" to either 8x20 or 12x30 digitally using a flatbed scanner and an Epson 2200 printer. One nice thing about the 4x10 format is that you can get rather large prints using a relatively affordable desktop inkjet printer. On the other hand, I've seen a number of 4x10 contact prints from other photographers. With the right subject and materials, the results can be exquisite. A print doesn't always have to be huge to hold one's attention.

Drawbacks: with light leaks (see next section), a lack of a market for my stock images (6x17 is BY FAR the preferred format for panoramic stock sales), a lack of supporting products (4x10 transparency sleeves, Quickmounts, etc.), at one point I gave up on the format in favor of 6x17.

4x10 "sees" the same way that 8x10 does. David Fokos. That is to say, if you use a 210mm. lens for 8x10 (I use a Rodenstock Sironar-S, which just barely covers), your 4x10 shots will have the same wide-angle perspective. A 90mm lens would be *incredibly* wide-angle on the 4x10, roughly the equivalent of a 45mm lens on a 4x5. David Fokos

David makes a very good point. I bought the 115mm Grandagon specifically for 4x10 (even before I bought the camera). This decision was made based on the mentality prevelant on many panaorama cameras: stick the widest lens on the camera that will cover the film format and call it a panorama. Once I actually started using the camera, I found that in most situations, the 115mm on 4x10 was just too wide for my tastes. Although in some situations, it was the only lens that would work (when you need it, you NEED it). A 115mm or 120mm would probably be a good 4x10 focal length for architectural interiors or large group photos in the banquet tradition, but I found that I didn't use it as much as I thought I would for 4x10 landscapes.

On a related note, compositionally, 4x10 (or any panoramic format) is much different than the traditional 4x5 or 8x10 formats. In 4x5, I like to use wide angle lenses (75mm or 90mm) to emphasize the foreground to draw the viewer into the photograph. This is especially effective in vertical compositions. In 4x10, the main compositional elements tend to lie in middle third vertically acrossed the entire 10" width of the film. In my experience, strong leading foregrounds just don't work well in a panoramic format. Therefore, I found myself using the ultrawide focal lengths less that I do in 4x5, and found myself using the less radical wide angles (165mm and 210mm) along with the more normal 300mm focal length. The 450mm focal length was especially interesting. I use my 210mm lens a lot on 4x5 (probably my most used focal length in that format along with the 135mm). The 450 gave similar horizontal coverage in the panoramic format. It provided some interesting compositions in 4x10, but I didn't rely on it as much as I do the 210mm in 4x5. It is interesting to note that if I was limited to one focal length in the 4x10 format I would choose the 210mm, the same focal length I would choose for 4x5. Although the 210mm Nikkor W I had for 4x5 was adaquate for 4x10, I would recommend something with a larger image circle (210mm Super Symmar HM, 210mm Sironar W if you can afford it, 210mm Fujinon W, 210mm Angulon or 210mm f9 Computar or even 190mm Wide Field Ektar if you are on a more modest budget) if you plan to shoot a lot of 4x10.

4x10 is a wonderful, neglected format. Unfortunately, there are two competing standards for the film holders and that adds to the confusion (can you imagine what it would be like if different brands of 4x5 or 8x10 cameras required custom made holders of differing dimensions). There aren't a lot of us out there shooting in this beautiful size - so you can consider yourself part of an exclusive, elite group of photographers determined to do something just a little bit different than most.

4x10 vs split 8x10 vs 4x5 stitched

8x10 holders and a lot easier to find and cheaper than 4x10 holders. There are plenty of used 8x10 holders available on eBay at reasonable prices. To me, that's the key to shooting 4x10 is getting holders. The Canham 4x10 holders are well made and the most reasonably priced new holders (about $95 each). For comparison, new 8x10 Fidelity holders are about $60 each - and you only need half as many for the same number of shots. Of course, if you can get an ultralight 8x10, like the Phillips Explorer, you can have the best of both worlds - a lightweight camera and affordable holders.

Split darkslides are sold by Bender and Toho, but it is easy to make it yourself.

The procedure would be more lengthy but not more complicated than normal:
For image 1:

For image 2:
This way you get two 4x10 exposures on each 8x10 sheet of film (both will likely be processed the same, though you could cut the film after exposure and before processing). A single holder gives you 4 exposures. All equipment is standard except for the extra homemade cut darkslide. Sandor. Todd Caudle (spliting 4x5 into 2x5), recommends rotating the back instead.

Deardorff also made 4x10 slider boards for their 8x10 camera backs. In fact, that's how I got started shooting 4x10. When I sold my Deardorff, I kept the 4x10 slider board. I still have it. It also fits some 8x10 Kodak backs. It's a very simple piece of wood, painted black with a simple rabbet joint on each end, and two recessed "thumb holes" (not really holes, as they don't go all the way through the board) for sliding it back and forth. If you have a Deardorff camera and are even slightly handy, you could make one yourself. If I remember correctly, the grooves for the 4x10 slider are offset from the grooves for the 5x8 slider. This would allow using one of each to shoot four 4x5 images (minus margins) on a single sheet of 8x10 film. Kind of a poor man's reducing back.

I found two minor, but irritating problem with this method. First, 8x10 cameras ARE bigger, bulkier and heavier. Granted the Deardorff at about 13 - 14 lbs. isn't exacty a lightweight 8x10, but still, given comparable designs, a 4x10 camera will save you a few pounds and a fair amount of bulk. The dedicated 4x10 I had was a Wisner Technical. The basic chassis was the same as a 4x5 Technical (actually, I bought the camera as a 4x5 Technical and bought the 4x10 back/bellows as an accessory). Again, the Wisner Technical isn't exactly a lightweight 4x5 by current standards, but in the 4x10 configuration weighed about 7 lbs. I believe Wisner now has 4x10 converstion kits for his lighter weight models (Expedition and/or Pocket expedition). These models, in 4x10 configuration should be a couple pounds lighter than a 4x10 Technical (the Technical is Wisner's heaviest 4x5). By building around a 4x5 base, and having a back that's 1/2 the size, a 4x10 camera can be significantly smaller and lighter than an 8x10. Not important for everyone, but an issue for those who hike (I ONCE did a 23 mile day hike with my 4x10 Wisner, big heavy tripod, holders, lenses, etc. It was hard enough with the 4x10, I wouldn't wanted to attempt it with an 8x10).

The second issue I had was that it was necessary to shift the lens up and down to center the image on the 1/2 of the 8x10 film I was using. This then limits the amount of effective front rise you have left. If you have lenses with huge coverage, you can probably just shoot both halves with the lens in its normal neutral position. Or, if you have a camera with gobs of front rise, this isn't an issue. I was using lenses that didn't quite, or just barely, covered 8x10 (115mm Granadgon-N, 165mm Angulon, 210mm Nikkor W, 300mm Nikkor M), so it was always important that I recentered the lens for each shot to avoid vignetting. Not a show stopper, just a little convenient.

In spite of these issues, for me, the dedicated 4x10 solution was even more of a hassle. At the time, the only 4x10 film holders I could get to fit my Wisner were the Mido II type. These were small and light, but were very prone to light leaks (some operator induced, most due to manufacturing defects in the holders). I sent my holders back twice to have them repaired/replaced. Each time the problem got better, but was still unacceptable. Cutting my own film was a hassle I was prepared to live with, but cutting my own film and then having 1/2 the exposures ruined by light leaks, was not. Of course, now there are better 4x10 holders on the market, so this is probably a non-issue for anyone entering this format these days. BTW, the 4x10 Wisner was a fine camera, it was just the hodlers I disliked. The Canham 4x10 holders were MUCH better, but bulkier and heavier. The current wooden Wisner holders should be much better than the old Mido IIs I was using.

Finally, cutting the film WAS a hassle. Not impossible, not even difficult, just tedious. And, it exposed the film to a much greater likelyhood that dust would settle on it during the cutting, notching, loading process. At the time I entered the 4x10 format, Ilford sold pre-cut FP4 and HP5 film, but I was shooting color transparencies, so I had to cut my own Velvia. When I bought my camera, I was hopeful that 4x10 was an emerging standard (Wisner had just entered the market as the second major manufacturer to offer a 4x10 camera, Ilford was selling precut 4x10 film...). I hoped the format would catch on and Fuji, Kodak, etc, would start offering precut 4x10 film. Well, history tells us I was naively optimistic in this regard. I don't believe Ilford still offers precut film in the 4x10 size (or maybe they do, but it's special order only). If not, and you don't want to cut your own, Photo Warehouse will do it for you at prices that are quite reasonable (at least they are in other oddball sizes like 6 1/2 x 8 1/2).

I've done stiched panoramas before, and they are fun. The main problem is ensuring that the pivot point is centered on the nodal point of the lens. Not too many view cameras have a mounting point below the lens. If this isn't done, close objects in the scene will not stich together well. If the camera has rear shift, this would be a better option, assuming the lens can cover the new virtual format. George Steward

When I contemplated getting back into 4x10, I seriously considered this method. As I already had a 4x5 camera with rear shifts and a number of lenses that cover 4x10. The initial investment would be relatively small (the cost of the stitching SW, and either a new desktop scanner - which I'll probably get anyway - or the price of paying someone else to do the scans). However, I happened to get a great deal on some slightly used 4x10 holders. I then assembled my own hybrid 4x10 camera from bits and pieces I picked up from a number of sources. So, the method of using rear shift and stitching got put on the back burner. George's reply jogged my memory and got me thinking (always dangerous) about this again.

Although I have a 4x10 camera and holders, there are times when I want to go lighter (backpacking). My 4x10 camera and lenses are reasonably light, but the weight and bulk of the holders can add up quickly compared to 4x5 Quickloads or Readyloads. For that reason, I have considered using rear shift to shoot two 4x5 images and stitch them together to produce something close to a 4x10 image (maybe 4x9 with the overlap between the two frames). This would allow me to carry an ultralight camera, like the Toho, leave the 4x10 holders at home and use Quick/Readyloads. This would be the ideal set-up for backpacking. I could also use this same method with my ARCA-SWISS if I'm out in the field and don't have any 4x10 holders with me (or run out of loaded holders and don't have time to reload).

You need to use lenses capable of covering 4x10, but I have a number of reasonably lightweight lenses with ample coverage. One possible issue I see is asymmetric light fall-off when using wide angle lenses. If this does show up, I assume it can be evened out in SW. Anybody have any experience they can share?

Also, since there should be little distortion using this method (compared to rotating the camera), I would think the amount of overlap between the two frames would be small. In general, I prefer working with a camera in my intended format. I prefer composing the entire image on the ground glass and exposing it on a single sheet of film. There are certainly advantages to this method. However, for times when it's impractical or impossible, using rear shift and stitching two images together seems to be a viable alternative. As my interest in 4x10 has been rekindled, I'll probably give it a try in the next couple months and see how well it works. In the mean time, if anybody else has tried it, please share what you've learned.

Holder standards

I highly recommend you consider the holders first. IMHO, in non-mainstream formats, the availability of affordable (or at least attainable) holders is of paramount importance. For me, while choosing a camera may be more exciting, getting the holders is far more important. I learned that the hard way the first time I tried 4x10. The second time around, I bought the holders first, before I even started looking for a camera. The most beautiful camera in the world is useless without holders for your film.

BTW, in 4x10, there are TWO different "standard" sizes for the holders. The Wisner 4x10 cameras use holders based on the older 4x10 X-Ray holders (made by Lisco, Fidelity and Kodak more than 30 years ago). It can be REAL hard to find holders in this size. The most common are the Mido II holders (that are not the best holders ever made) that were sold for the Wisner cameras about 10 years ago. While the concept is good, the quality of construction wasn't the best and light leaks can be a big problem (I speak from experience). The Mido holders were discontinued several years ago after the death of their maker. Ron Wisner does have 4x10 wooden holders listed on his website, but I haven't seen any in person, nor have I talked to anybody who has. So, I can't comment on the quality or availability.

All the other commercially available 4x10 cameras (Canham, Lotus and Altview) use holders that are wider than the Wisner X-Ray style holders. Holders in this size are readily available from Keith Canham (as mentioned above ~$95 each and very well made) and Lotus (wooden, beautiful, well-made and expensive), AWB Alan Brubaker (check out Alan's web site for some nice photos of his holders in various sizes) and S&S (Sandy King and Sam Wang) will custom make wooden holders in a variety of formats. Such custom made holders are justifiably expensive (the labor involved in making 4x10 or 5x12 holders is the nearly the same as making 11x14 or 12x20 holders). I was fortunate to purchase several used Lotus 4x10 holders at a very reasonable price. If I was looking to buy new holders today, I'd buy the Canham holders as they are readily available and represent the best value.

More on options available to Wisner camera owners

4x10 Fidelity/Kodak/Lisco X-Ray Holders - Evidently these were popular at one time in the ancient past for x-raying animal paws and infant limbs. The medical/veterinary industry switched to a different style x-ray cassette decades ago. I spent YEARS trying to track some of these down, calling all my local vets, x-ray supply houses, manufacturers, begging another photographer to sell me his, etc. Finally, someone at Fidelity searched through some old catalogs and said they'd discontinued their 4x10 x-ray holders over 30 years ago. In over 14 years of looking, I've only seen three of these for sale (4x10 Lisco X-Ray Holders). Unfortunately, this was the standard Ron Wisner chose to use when he introduced his 4x10 camera. As you are aware, this makes the Wisner 4x10 cameras uniquely incompatible with the Canham style holders that everybody else uses.

4x10 Mido II Holders and Clamshell - When I bought my 4x10 Wisner Technical Field in early 1992, these were the holders Wisner was selling with the camera. I bought the camera, five holders and a clamshell. The holders leaked light like a sieve. I was losing more shots to light leaks than not. I sent the holders back to Mido multiple times to be reworked/repaired/replaced. Each time they came back, there were incremental improvements in the failure rate - but it was still too high to be acceptable. Mr. Mido seemed determined to make the holders work. His concept was a good one, but quality and consistency of the construction of the holders was lacking. In August 1996, I gave up and sold my entire 4x10 outfit (4x5/4x10 Wisner Tech Field, Mido holders and several lenses). The Mido II holders do occasionally show up on the used market. They may have improved the quality after I sold mine, or with some patience and skill, it may be possible to rework the holders and/or clamshell to improve the success rate. Unfortunately, I learned a year or two after selling my camera that Mr. Mido had become ill and eventually passed away.

Oddly, B&H still lists 4x10 Mido holders and clamshells on their web site. They are listed as a special order item. I wonder if that means there are some new, old stock 4x10 Mido holders still in existence somewhere, or if they have just neglected to update their web site in the last six or seven years. They list the clamshell (focus spacer) with one holder at $159.95 and additional holders at $79.95. I've been curious what would happen if someone attempted to order some 4x10 Mido holders from B&H (but not curious enough to try placing an order as I no longer have the Wisner 4x10 camera).

4x10 Lotus Holders (Wisner Form Factor or Canham form factor) - I sold my 4x10 Wisner outfit to a gentleman from Austria named Burkhardt Kiegeland. He immediately shared my frustration with the Mido II holders. Mr Kiegeland had the resources and commitment to do something about it. He had a craftsman make some 4x10 holders to fit the Wisner camera and formed a new company, Lotus View Camera to manufacture and sell these holders. Lotus immediately became a supplier of holders to Wisner. In November, 1996 I saw one of these Lotus 4x10 holders at a Wisner dealer in Sacramento. The quality appeared to be quite good. and at $95 the price was competitive. Lotus also began manufacturing 4x10 holders in the Canham form factor, as well as other banquet and ULF sizes. Soon thereafter, Lotus also introduced their own line of cameras from 4x5 - 20x24. I'm not sure when the official Lotus/Wisner holder relationship dissolved, but if you can find some of the Lotus holders in the Wisner size, they should serve you well. Lotus will still custom make 4x10 holders in the Wisner form factor, but the price is considerably more than the original $95 retail price. The dollar is much weaker now than it was in the late 1990s, and this would now be considered a special custom made item, not something normally in stock.

Wisner 4x10 Holders - I have not used any of the Wisner wooden holders, but the ones I've seen did not look nearly as well made at the wooden holders I've seen from S&S, Lotus or AWB (Alan Brubaker). Of course, thay also cost a LOT less. The Wisner holders have the advantage of being, by far, the least expensive of the wooden 4x10 holders. If Emile can get them for you without delay at $95 each, it may be worth a try. As I haven't used them, I can't specifically recommend them one way or the other. Perhaps somebody who has used Wisner holders could chime in with their experience.

Custom Made Holders - As I mentioned above, Lotus will still custom make 4x10 holders in the Wisner form factor. As they were once an official supplier to Wisner, you are assured the holders will fit your camera properly. I haven't used any 4x10 Lotus holders in the Wisner size, but I am fortunate to have fifteen of their holders in the Canham form factor and can attest that they are light tight, beautifully made, and smooth to operate. Others have mentioned the S&S holders supplied by Sandy King and Sam Wang. I have seen these holders in person, but not used them. They appear to be of excellent quality, and other photographers I know who've used them are very satisfied. The nice thing about S&S is they seem very willing to make custom made holders in any size you desire at a reasonble (for custom made holders) price. I have also not used the AWB holders, but they also come highly recommended.

If you do get custom made holders, I'd recommend getting them made in the Canham form factor and getting your camera modified to match. The Canham standard is the more common of the two. In addition to the Canham 4x10 camera, cameras in this format from Lotus and Patrick Alt also use the Canham style holders. Holders in this size are more readily available, both new and used. The cost of getting your Wisner camera back modified will be, IMHO money well spent. The REAL key to shooting a non-mainstream format, like 4x10, is the availability and cost of holders. Getting your Wisner modified to accept Canham style holders will increase your options.

4x10 Canham Holders - This is probably the most practical option. Canham holders are made from parts he gets from Fidelity. They look and feel just like regular Fidelity holders. At $95 each, they cost considerably more than standard, off-the-shelf 8x10 Fidelity holders, but in the oddball world that is 4x10, they are a relative bargain. I have never heard of any problems with light leaks from anybody using 4x10 Canham holders. If you're looking for the lowest cost, least hassle option, this would be the way to go. Some people may prefer the elegant look and feel of fine wooden holders over the plastic and aluminum of the Canham holders. I can't say I blame them - like a fine wooden camera, fine wooden holders are pleasing to the eye and to the touch. However, if you're just looking for holders that are reliable, attainable, durable and affordable, it's tough to beat the Canhams. I have no idea what it would cost today, but 8 years ago before I sold my 4x10 Wisner, Keith Canham quoted me a price of $100 to modify my Wisner camera to accept his holders. Even if the price has tripled in the last 8 years, I still think it would be worth it in the long run.

I'm now on my second go around with 4x10. My first attempt ended in frustration over the lack of quality holders to fit my camera. I got tired of sending my holders back to Mido for "tune-up", wating a few weeks for them to come back and still losing a large percentage of my best shots to light leaks. It just wasn't worth it. In hindsight, I should have taken Keith Canham up on his offer to modify my camera, bought five or ten of his holders and gone happily about my business. Rather than face the same frustration, this time around, I bought the holders FIRST, before I even started looking for a 4x10 camera. I told myself I didn't care what camera they fit, I was going to snap up the first quality 4x10 holders I found at a reasonable price, and then buy a camera to match. This strategy worked much better. I was fortunate to find fifteen 4x10 Lotus holders at an extremely agreeable price. I snapped them up, and haven't looked back. They happened to be the Canham form factor - all the better. If I need additional holders to fit my camera at some time in the future, I know I can get them from Canham at a reasonable price.

When I owned my 4x10 Wisner Tech Field, I never had a single complaint about the quality or usability of the camera. It was actually a beautiful camera that was a joy to use (except for the Mido holders). It is also the most affordable of the full-featured 4x10 cameras - by a fair margin. Don't let the holder situation scare you off. Bite the bullet and get some good holders (even if it means modifying the back of your camera). You'll be glad you did. Welcome to the 4x10 format.

More info and comments

This article was put together by QTL using Kerry Thalmann's replies in the following Q&A threads with minor editing: