How a Large Format Plate Camera Works


Lens A lens admits light rays to the camera, and causes them to converge at the film plane and create the image. Lenses are interchangeable and come in a range of sizes. The lens has adjustable aperture and mechanical mechanism that works the speed of the shutter mechanism.

Cable Release A flexible piece of wire, the cable release is used to trigger the lens’ shutter mechanism and take the photograph.

Front Standard The front standard holds the lens, mounted on a lens board. It is designed to tilt, swing, or shift the lens into various positions.

Rear Standard The rear standard holds the film holder, and contains the ground glass. It is designed to tilt, swing, or shift the film into various positions.

Bellows The front and rear standards are connected by a lightproof bellows, designed to let the front and rear standards move independently. They allow the use of a range of focal lengths and allow for up or down lateral adjustments and twisting angular adjustments between film plane and the lens plane.

Ground Glass The rear standard holds a piece of ground glass, which has a matte, light-diffusing surface. The glass plate sits at the film plane when a film holder is not in the camera, the lens projects the image onto the plate upside down. The photographer composes and focuses the upside-down image on the ground glass, using the loupe to check the focus sharpness.

Film Plane Film plane is the place within the camera where the Ground Glass and film holder where the sheet of film alternately sit. Light coming into the lens is focused at the film plane, also called the focal plane.

Rail/Flatbed The front and rear standard are mounted on and move along a rail or flatbed. Rails offer more flexible movement, but flatbeds make the view camera more portable. The standards move independent backwards or forwards to allow the lens to focus on the glass plate.

Adjustment Locking Knobs The knobs when slackened allow standards to move, slide, rise, tilt and twist. The adjusters also allow the standards to travel forwards or backwards to allow the lens to focus on the glass plate.

Tripod A stable three-legged stand for holding the camera.

Hood/Dark Cloth The photographer puts the cloth over their head and the rear standard while composing and focusing the image on the glass plate, to block outside light from the ground glass.

Loupe A loupe is a small magnifying eyepiece used to see if the image is focused on the ground glass plate, before the film holder is inserted.

Film Holder Film holder is a lightproof box that holds two sheets of film, one on each side, protected by a dark slide. When a film holder is inserted in the camera, it occupies the position where the ground glass was, holding a sheet of film negative at the film plane.

Size of negative Comparison of negatives, large format 5×4 inch compared to 35mm film.


If you want to make a large print then ultimately you’ll get a better quality image from a 5×4 inch negative than you will from the smaller negatives of medium format and 35mm cameras.

How it works

The front and back panels (called ‘standards’) move independently of each other in a series of movements called rise, fall, shift, tilt and swing. This gives the photographer control over converging verticals, the plane of focus and depth of field within the image. Large format camera, the bellows allow tilt of the lens downwards, while keeping the back of the camera upright. This tilts the plane of focus downwards. Photographers use this technique to obtain landscape images with front to back sharpness of focus without having to stop all the way down to the narrowest aperture settings. The tilt of the lens upwards photographers can take photographs avoiding converging verticals lines for buildings and architectural photographs, and product or advertising photographers also use tilt to control the plane of focus and perspective of product photos.


The Lensbaby Spark lens and tilt-shift SLR lenses attempt to imitate this functionality



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