Olympic Athletes Photographed Using a Field Camera and 100-Year-Old Lens

Los Angeles Times Jay L. Clendenin spent four weeks leading up to the Olympics traveling around Souther California, making portraits of athletes on the US Olympic Team. While he certainly wasn’t the only one shooting the athletes, Clendenin chose an interesting way of capturing them: in addition to using Canon 5D Mark IIs for digital photos, he also used a 4×5-inch field camera and a 100+-year-old Petzval lens. When displayed side-by-side, the photos show an interesting contrast between “old” and “new”.

Regarding the process, Clendenin writes,

Each black-and-white portrait was exposed onto black-and-white photographic paper, processed in a darkroom and scanned into a computer.

[…] The process was cumbersome and filled with experimentation. I brought 23 film holders to every shoot, in addition to a bulky camera and tripod and two digital cameras and lenses. But shooting the large-format film was a relaxing and, most important, creatively rejuvenating experience. With no motor drive to capture three frames every second (as with my Canon 5d Mark II cameras), I was forced to slow down and think about each frame.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes video (via ISO 1200):

You can see more of these portraits over at the Los Angeles Times.

2012 Olympians [LA Times Framework]

Image credit: Photographs by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times and used with permission

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    love the 4×5 images of the volleyball team and rowing team

  • kyoshinikon

    Cool. I am a press Photog and often haul a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 sped graphlex along for the ride. Hand process the stuff and all. Pretty fun

  • will hall

    What’s the motor drive to do with anything? I’ve never herd of anyone useing the high speed drive during a portrait shoot.

  • LisaKoubou

    who processed the 4×5 film? the staining really degraded the true
    comparison here If you are going to compare digital to a 100 year old
    field camera at least use as good a technique when handling the film as
    you have with processing the digital files.

  • Nathaniel Dodson

    Lovin’ the volleyball team shot! The older lens is a cooler look in my opinion. :D

  • Fabrice Bacchella

    Nothing, it’s not supposed to make sense, it just a mantra that is used buy every one that is trying those kinds of things to look intelligent and cool. I’m not sure they really understand it.

  • stuken

    Agreed. I was quite dismayed to see he was just using paper negs. With all the processing artifacts all over the place i thought at first it might have been a wet plate. When did piss poor technique in film photography become acceptable as “cool”. He didn’t even put that last print into the developer all the way. I used to teach 9 year olds darkroom technique, and considering this was paper negs, I probably would have made them re do it.

  • Nick Nieto

    interesting series. I think my favorite image of the entire group is the men’s beach volleyball with the 4 x 5.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks! We’ve included it!

  • Tim

    I totally agree – i’ve seen some amazing images taken with a 4×5 field camera and most professional landscape photographers still use large format view cameras. The first print has some awful banding on it and the bokeh from the lens is terrible, he should probably have used a smaller aperture (think these lenses go to about f/32?). But i suspect he just wanted to have some fun with it. I doubt he’s an experienced film shooter.

  • Roger Benson

    It’s a giant non sequitur, motor drive means nothing with a digital camera. What is the motor drive supposed to drive anyway? Do you use it to push those bytes along a little quicker so you can shoot faster?

  • Brandon Fernandez

    The uneven processing is obviously intentional to mimic wet plate collodion. the main process of the 1850’s to the the 1870’s. As far as the f stop this lens has no iris, and looks to be a petzval design. Most of the bokeh of a lens is achieved wide open anyway. I think the photographer deserves credit for the extra time and patience.

  • ISO 1200 Magazine


  • seriously Lisa

    Lisa, I don’t mean to be rude, but your work is an encyclopedia of cliches and worn techniques wrapped in what can only be described as pretentious and unsupported self-praise. “Visual Rhythms”? Please, 1973 wants their OTT back. If you can’t find a better choice of words to criticize the work of others, why not keep your shutter closed?

  • Stukenup

    What a nasty way of putting it. Can you show us your brilliant technique then?

  • lol

    do you know what autofocus is?

  • Jeremiah J Pedro

    The only cliches I see being thrown around here are the ones coming from you. Awww did sum buddy get der lil feelers hurt?

  • facebook-561872772

    the “older” ones are awesome! the top one with the female basketball player it’s simply amazing, the dof & boke hmakes me wanna get a field camera

  • Ray Buckland

    is it me or am i the only asshole who thinks these older camera shots look cool. but then again I don’t have or need the current high society tastes either.

  • Mark Brooks

    I just got ahold of a Voigtlander Bessa I and a Leica M3 … can’t wait to play with them.

  • William Nichols

    yeah – autofocus though is achieved with a motor in the lens, not a motor drive in the body to advance film

  • Mr Brownie

    “I doubt he’s an experienced film shooter.” And now I’m sure you have no idea what your talking about

  • Paul

    Interesting. I think some of the modern digital versions suffer from too much fill lighting, creating a plastic feel but that’s personal preference. They’re all still nice captures.

  • Riot Nrrrd™

    “When did piss poor technique in film photography become acceptable as “cool”.”

    Guess someone’s never heard of Instagram.

  • Sporkguy

    “I was forced to slow down and think about each frame.” – you mean like most photographers do?

  • Bogov

    Pedro, do you know what cliche means? Your reply make no sense. I’m sure with your wisdom you can do better than that

  • Mark R

    @lol – motor drive is used to advance the film… A large format uses individual sheets of film, driven by your arm. Up to the mid-80s, all medium or small format cameras had crank driven advances, with pro bodies having motor drives as an option. The motor drive replaces the crank.

    Autofocus has nothing to do with it. Canon cameras don’t have an autofocus motor in them anyway – their lenses do instead.

  • Nate

    Why didn’t they just Instagram them?

  • Scott W. Baker

    Very Cool images from the 4×5 film camera. I recently shot an old Linhof 4×5 technica upstate and it does take you back and slow you down, in all the right ways, it forces you to look. These images are very contemplative and very cool!

  • Hombre

    …the draw to read this article stems from the idea of juxtaposing the technical quality of large format film to a pro level digital camera….at least that is how the article is presented on FB, where I saw it ( ‘how much difference 100 years makes’ ). It is entirely misleading in it’s representation of that, but instead intentionally shows the film looking primitive and the digital looking slick…..aside of one’s personal tastes concerning a particular ‘look’ or ‘style’, the represented photographs really say nothing about the abilities of either film nor digital.

  • whythenegativity

    I really don’t understand all of the negative comments about the film processing. If you had been the one to create these images, apparently you would have done them differently. However, it seems the artist who took the time to do this project the way he wanted to is satisfied with his work, & I for one find the images amazing. Especially the last print. The way they’re holding the paddles reminds me of torches, & the fact that in wasn’t completely developes looks to me like smoke. But hey, everyone sees something different when they look at art.

  • whythenegativity

    I agree with you Mr Brownie.

  • Ben Hood

    I like the setup of the film images better, and I pretty much hate daylight flash shoots. I prefer the film shots, but for more than just the fact that they’re on film.

  • Jay L. Clendenin

    BEST.COMMENT.E-V-E-R. thanks! jlc

  • Jay L. Clendenin

    keeping as short at a diptychs were a way to get more pics online! we pushed for BW ONLY,but bigger chose color for section fronts and BW spread inside!

  • Jay L. Clendenin

    I still shoot a lot of film, mostly 4×5, with “reg” lenses. No added manual degradation to paper negs, several were overexposed and scanner works harder to pull out image, some banding and lots of dust i ran out of energy to clone out! sorry! blast to shoot!

  • Steve Baker

    I initially thought the film shots had been double-exposed (or at least over-printed) If you’re after the “look” of an old camera, that’s fine – but the joy of a 4×5 is surely the absolute clarity they are capable of. I would agree that the “look” could as easily have been done with something like Silver Efex. Doesn’t stop me liking them, though ;-)

  • notaphotologist…

    It is funny to read all the backbiting comments from the camera-nerds…

    “I’m cooler than you…”
    “I know blackrooms better than you…”
    “I do not photograph, I MAKE ART…”
    blah blah blah…

    How about showing some respect and TACT… instead of “attacking” you can compare to how you would of done it…

  • Mike Blackburn

    Wow guys. Let’s take a step back from ourselves here. Either you like it or you don’t. Why make it personal?
    Me,I like the look. I think it is an interesting exercise. I have not got sufficient personal skill with film processing to comment further. Nice idea, well executed. IMHO

  • Eric Elsewhere

    if they used the same lighting, the same set up and the same composition it would have been interesting. now it’s not…

  • Volcs

    The thing that’s ruining this article is the predictability from pathetic film shooters who just have to degrade someone’s work for the sake of their own fucken ego. So sick of it tbh. I bet they’re fucken hipsters too who would rather love to been seen as film photographers than actually go out there and take photos.

  • Volcs

    Oh brilliant work BTW..just shows how contrived digital photography really is. Well done!

  • Ian

    Pure fakery, awful

  • Silent Street

    Can you provide the necessary technical appraisal to point out to the
    audience here how you think these photographs are actually real as
    opposed to the learned and very skilled analogue photographers amongst
    us who can spot silly dogs’ breakfast mash ups in Photoshop? Or would
    you rather resort of slagging people because you have absolutely no
    credible knowledge of photography?

  • kendon

    you all really have no idea what you are talking about. “motor drive” is an “old-school” term to express that a camera is able to capture (more or less) rapid sequences of images. “rapid” meaning more than one image every one or two minutes.
    nobody uses the quick drive mode during portraits, but a modern photographer fires quite some shots, opposing the few shots done with a field camera over a long time. if you read the article you will find out that he had exactly 23 exposures on large format for every shooting.

  • Jay L. Clendenin

    silent street, “silly dogs’ breakfast mash ups in Photoshop?” Is this a comment on MY work?! My, my, my, quite the supportive network of “analog” photographers taking precious time out of their creative days to slander another photographer! WOW! I think Voics’ comments were valid critiques of several of the nasty “critiques” here… take 2 mins to look me up in google, i have a history of film shooting and largely in large format… View Camera magazine just ran a portfolio of mine a few months back (not to boast, just giving you some “tangible” evidence of my film “credentials).

  • Evil Bert

    Maybe if he spent as much time trying to craft the picture using his digital they would have looked better. And maybe if he didn’t intentionally scrub the B&W shots to make them look “old timey” then they would have normally…this would maybe just show something.