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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Transforming Large Format

Landscape master Jack Dykinga’s new “secret” view camera is in the form of a modern DSLR

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Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, Calif. This image was shot with the full moon providing the main illumination and starlight providing background. Dykinga used ISO 1600 on the Nikon D3 and a 24mm Nikkor PC. The result is a composite of five images.

Jack Dykinga doesn’t treat his newest camera as a state secret, although it would be understandable if he did. After all, he calls it a “secret large-format camera.” And it’s made by Nikon. No, Dykinga doesn’t literally have a Nikon view camera. What he has are the same D3 and D3X as many other professional photographers. But through his ingenuity, Dykinga has developed a technique that he says rivals the results he long has achieved with 4x5 film. That’s especially remarkable coming from someone who practically swore off digital cameras.

“My issue with digital in the past,” Dykinga explains, “has always been that I’m going to stay with film until digital is better, or equal. And what’s happened now is that equalization. When you do three across, when I get that file size bumping into 300-plus megabytes, then I’ve got to ask myself. I’ve already made prints for a show at Mountain Light Gallery, of bristlecone pines at starlight, a 24x30 print, and you’d be really hard pressed to tell the difference between that and all the 4x5 shots hanging next to it. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Atacama Desert, Valle de la Luna, Chile. The final image was created from 12 images shot vertically that were stitched together.
Reinvention and transformation are nothing new to Dykinga, who began his career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the Chicago Sun-Times. The next phase of life saw him working almost exclusively with 4x5 transparency film, shooting landscapes in the tradition of Ansel Adams for publications such as National Geographic, Arizona Highways and Outdoor Photographer. That conservationist photographer phase really made Dykinga famous, especially to OP readers and especially because of his work with large format. So it may come as a surprise to many that he has all but retired his view camera. That he has done it in favor of working with a DSLR is even more surprising.

“The ‘why’ is Nikon’s 24-megapixel camera,” he says, “combined with tilt-shift lenses for a seamless stitch, getting me into the 300-megabyte range—which is a pretty good file size. Considering that none of that information is wasted on grain, it’s a lot of bang for your buck.”


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