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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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Horseshoe Bend, near Page, Ariz.—A composite of five images.
It’s thanks to these DSLR advances—massive resolution, low noise at high-ISO sensitivities and phenomenal optics—that Dykinga was able to even consider setting aside his 4x5, but the technical qualities of the equipment are only part of the equation. The remainder comes from the photographer’s knack for building a better mousetrap, which he has done to re-create the resolution of a 4x5 film image by stitching multiple digital captures together. Stitching is nothing new, but Dykinga’s technique is unique. He’s not just stitching to create high-resolution or panoramic images; he’s stitching to more accurately mimic large-format photography. He relies on perspective-control lenses to laterally move the image-to-sensor relationship without ever changing the camera position or the plane of focus. This makes use of the entire circle of light that a lens provides, turning a 35mm-sized sensor into something akin to medium format.

Laguna Amarga, Patagonia, Chile—Five images across stitched together; the 24mm Nikkor PC was slightly tilted.
“I’m maximizing the image circle,” Dykinga explains. “Nikon’s perspective-control lenses are like medium-format lenses in their scope of coverage. All I’m doing is moving the sensor around to capture all that the lens can provide. I take a picture and shift, take a picture and shift, in a very fast time—six seconds real time. I shift the lens to one side to check the corner on one side of the composition and then take it across to the other side. In Live View, I watch it and make sure I’ve got a really nicely composed image, and then I just maneuver the adjustment knobs and shoot with considerable overlap. Three frames across for each vertical. And, of course, therein is the seamlessness of it.”

Lago Grey, Patagonia, Chile
—Calved icebergs and small ice formations on shore with lenticular clouds; five images across, stitched together.

Dykinga usually makes five or six exposures, with the camera oriented vertically, to create a horizontal finished image. “That, coincidentally, comes out to almost a 4x5 ratio when I’m using either the 45mm, the 24mm or the 85mm PC [perspective-control] lenses,” he says. “And besides those, I’m mixing and matching, doing whatever the subject demands. Some of them I’ve gone as far as 17 across, and actually rotating the camera, producing these really wide panoramas.”

Dykinga’s technique should be familiar to large-format photographers because he’s essentially applying the same techniques he has refined over years of working with a 4x5 view camera. He composes in much the same way, and he can even tilt the lens to move the plane of focus for near-far compositional effects.

“It’s like a secret large-format camera,” he says. “I actually can previsualize pretty well. Maybe that’s part of the secret—my background as a 4x5 photographer. I compose on the corners. So I would do the left side and then the right side and just keep moving it back and forth with the lens’ adjustment controls until I get what I think is going to be right, and then when the light is great I just blaze away. Sometimes I may have to tighten it up in cropping, but not often. I’m actually able to hit it pretty much most of the time.”


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