Hiking in Santa Fe with the Intrepid 4×5

Earlier this month I went with a group of close friends out to Santa Fe for a multi-day hike and decided I really really wanted to take the Intrepid 4×5. It ended up being about 8-10lbs worth of gear including 2 film holders, changing bag, 3 filters, my Fujinon 150mm 5.6 lens, the Intrepid 4×5, a tripod, a lightmeter, and a loupe. I’m probably missing a few things there. The goal was to see what it’s like traveling with the Intrepid. 10lbs isn’t small but compared to bringing my Bronica SQ (which is a heavy camera), it ended up being roughly the same. My thought was, if I’m going all the way out there, I really should try to capture these amazing landscapes in the best way possible. That and large format photography is sooo damn fun!

So the trip itself, there were times when it was some hard hiking. The snow was melting being the shoulder season but we encountered quite a bit of it at times, getting up to our knees in it. That required quite a bit of soul searching. But the results were so worth it. Our first stop were these two twin lakes up in the mountains, both of which were mostly still iced over (but melting). We then went to Hidden Lake which was completely free of ice, though still had snow on some of its banks. Unfortunately some of the shots I had wanted were along the main trail in and out and there wasn’t any time to stop for those. So getting some photographs of flowing water proved elusive. But the landscapes I did get – well, the results honestly weren’t super amazing, but they were still worth the experience and I learned quite a bit! Of note on the way back we stopped at Palo Duro so I managed to get 2 shots from the scenic point there (although I was in a rush so the focus was a tad soft and the exposures not perfect). I also took my X-700 35mm film camera for the non-hiking parts of the trip although all the photos here are from the Intrepid.

Anyways, here they are!

Every photo was a lesson really. While FP4 served me pretty well in Colorado, my results here didn’t quite match what I had hoped. I’m not sure why though I think part of it was the development process (XTOL 1:1) and part of it the film. In hindsight I should have brought HP5, though I didn’t plan on doing any pushing/pulling for the trip anyway as I haven’t worked out how best to track that with only 2 film boxes. Still it seems to have better tone than the results I got.

Likewise the color negative and slide film weren’t super amazing. For one, scanning 4×5 color (slide and negative) was way more of a chore than I expected given my experience with 35mm and 120. I’m not sure why but I had to do a lot more manual work to get the colors right, which surprised me. The sharpness also initially seemed off to me but I actually think it’s now a bit of lighting and composition. My main issue is I was trying to photograph big landscapes and trying to include the mountains, lake, and all in between but I didn’t have a wide angle lens for that (150mm in 4×5 is roughly 50mm in the 35mm format) and tried to make it work. Instead I perhaps should have focused more on isolated shots and detail.

The one surprise was the night sky. I took 4 sheets of HP5 with me specifically to shoot the night sky but ended up using just 1 sheet of Ektar. That ended up producing a super thin negative and, in fact, at first, I thought it was totally blank. But upon close inspection there were faint indications something was there. And oh man did that turn out. It took quite a bit of work to get the final result – more than I typically would do shooting film, but I think given the subject that’s ok. Sure did turn out cool!

Some takeaways from the experience – I need to slow down even more and maybe adopt a checklist so I’m not fumbling around as much. Making sure to weigh down the lightweight tripod is likely super important. Don’t force a photo but if you see a composition (and time permits) take it. You can’t always be in the right place at the right time so use what you have. Large format photography isn’t easy and failure is ok – because it’s not failure, it’s learning. That last one is a nod to the fact that some of the compositions may have been ok but the time of day just wasn’t right. At first that bothered me but in reality that should have empowered me to find cool compositions. They needn’t be of the lake, after all. Oh and also, get better at the zone system…oh and also the V700 4×5 scanner holder will scratch the hell out of your negative if you don’t load it right (ask me how I know :/)

I’m so looking forward to next time! Not just hiking but for using the 4×5 in general. It is just soo fun to use! Easily the most fun I’ve had shooting photography. Granted the Bronica SQ comes close (waist level finders are very fun) but large format – it takes skill and patience but the technical yet simplistic way of using the camera, it’s just so freeing.