are times when you just haven't the heart to crop.
Everything in the full negative seems to belong there.
Actually, the negative has several possibilities. The
yellowish slash marks the easiest climbing route to the
very top of Cascades in the Adirondacks.
Photos © 1999, Mike Matzkin, All Rights Reserved
The 6x7 negative or transparency
is considered the ideal format. Bigger is better. There's less
of a grain problem when you make big prints from fast film. In black
and white the bigger negative also means an expanded gray scale. It's
easier to dodge or burn in and you get that rich looking print with
less effort than with 35mm, lets say. Okay, I agree with all that to
a point, but after years of shooting with 21/4x21/4 I think its the
true ideal format.
The 21/4 square negatives are big enough to provide the expanded gray
scale, less worry about grain, and really great looking color--with
negative or transparency film. I still remember the first time I projected
a 21/4 square slide. It was a revelation. It had tremendous impact,
great color, and wonderful sharpness--and all that with film that doesn't
come close to the emulsions we have today. The square format also means
tremendous cropping freedom--vertical or horizontal. That's not
to denigrate other medium formats. For a great many photographers 6x7,
for example, meets their needs. It's simply that the square negative
fits my medium format needs.
the top part of the negative created panoramic effect. If
you anticipate a panoramic print, it might be a good idea
to use a tripod for maximum sharpness. However, often enough
the panoramic effect suggests itself after the negative
is processed and contact printed.
My first 21/4 was a Rolleiflex
with a Schneider Xenar lens, not considered as good as the Zeiss Tessar
on the more expensive model. It worked for me. While I do shoot 35mm and
even 4x5, I still return to the 21/4 format because of its flexibility.
These days I've added a Hassleblad to the two Rolleis I now own
and shoot with all three, but I certainly don't limit myself to
the square format. The square format is the basis for any format I choose.
For me the 21/4 squares spell freedom. It makes it possible to break loose
from the limitations of the conventional negative or transparency format.
In the darkroom or in cooperation with my custom color lab printer, Jim
Lammar, I've got a virtually unlimited format range--whether it's
the entire square format or whatever way I think the image will look best.
Just about every image has a print size and shape that works for it. I
let the image itself dictate the shape and print size. I have always rebelled
against the conventional paper sizes--black and white or color. They figuratively--and
literally--put you in a box. While a lot of my black and white prints
are full 8x10 or 11x14, there are times when I fill only a portion of
the paper to create the size and shape I want. It might mean using an
11x14" or 16x20 sheet of enlarging paper to make the print size.
The rest is trimmed away. Also, I usually shoot with total disregard for
what is considered good light and load with fast emulsions that meet the
exposure challenges of a wide variety of light. Fast films seem to have
more exposure latitude than slower emulsions. The 21/4 format is large
enough to make excessive grain a minor consideration with today's
finer grain film. You'll be able to make large prints--16x20 or
even larger--without much of a grain or sharpness problem even from relatively
small areas of the overall negative. For bigger prints and where the light
is good I may switch to slower emulsions to be on the safe side. I photograph
handheld or with a tripod. The tripod is insurance for really sharp images.
It also helps with getting the image you want. With any format the tripod-mounted
camera leads you into really studying the image carefully before you make
an exposure. It's a teacher and creativity tool that's especially
important if you plan on cropping the image.
a lot of unwanted detail surrounding the rock outcropping
on top of an Adirondack peak, the image was cropped tightly
to focus viewer attention.
I've made prints from
the center of a negative, cropping down to something only slightly larger
than 35mm. I own only one lens for the Hassleblad since I still haven't
won the lottery. The overall image size makes my one lens pretty flexible.
I crop tightly for close-ups and sections of an overall landscape. As
I said earlier, I feel restricted by conventional paper sizes and/or film
formats. The square format sets me free. I may decide on a horizontal
or vertical format when I make the exposure, or I look at the contact
sheet and try to decide the shape of the print. In the darkroom I follow
the crop as closely as possible. One negative might even yield two or
more print ideas. The square image itself may be the perfect format.
Fritz Henle, who shot almost exclusively with the twin lens Rolleiflex
and later with the single lens Rollei, used the square format extensively
in his prints--everything from landscapes to portraits to nude studies.
Panoramic images are making a strong comeback, but dedicated panoramic
cameras can be a bit pricey--even at the low end. The square format lends
itself neatly to making panoramic format images. The negative or transparency
is enough to allow tight, horizontal cropping for a 6x17 or 8x20"
or larger print size.
image could have been cropped as a vertical or horizontal.
The vertical cropping emphasized the Fall color and the
trail leading into the woods.
There are two obvious ways
to handle the paper for the final image size in printing a panoramic format
from a 21/4 square negative. You can print the entire negative and then
cut the image to size on your trimmer, or cut the paper to the desired
size before you make the print exposure. I use both systems. With the
first I may be searching for the image area I want to use and the exact
size of the final print. An Art Director taught me trimming board cropping.
Often I make the print and then start trimming until I see the image I
The second way is more economical and works when you know precisely how
the image is going to look. It does take a bit of practice to relate crop
marks on the contact sheet to the exact print size when you enlarge for
the panoramic format. I use a bladed enlarging easel and a borderless
easel when I need a bit more room. I also like the look of the borderless
print for many of my images no matter what the shape.
this image was photographed with a horizontal print in mind.
The contact print made other suggestions.
Getting started with the square
format can be expensive--but not necessarily. You never know what you'll
find on a camera store shelf. I walked into a local camera store and found
a used Hassleblad 500C for under $1000. Still not cheap except by comparison
to a newer much more costly model. TLRs can be a lot less expensive. In
addition to Rolleiflex, Minolta, Yashica, Mamiya, and others produced
pretty good TLRs. In fact, those TLRs were the first break from the Speed
Graphic. News photographers and photojournalists found themselves with
a camera that was faster, lighter, more maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive.
A little searching in the mail
order ads in this issue just might turn up a used camera bargain for under
$200. Shutter speed is limited to 1/300 sec, but for most photography
that shouldn't be a problem. I have no idea of the quality or how
sharp the lens, but the camera has been around for a long time. It might
work for you as an entry-level machine. As with all mail order buying,
find out about the return policy.
The square format opens up all sorts of creative possibilities and may
add another dimension to your photography. It can certainly set your imagination
free and provide a new way to look at image making.