I have about 20 4x5 negative holders, Fidelity Elite and Riteway models. I have realized recently that there is about 2mm of play in the negative's positioning along the 4" axis inside the holder, meaning despite any tripod leveling precision, my horizons are often off-kilter, tilted because the negative was tilted in the negative holder. The edge of the image is at an angle to the edge of the negative.

How do folks avoid this?

Example negative.

enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ You must adjust the tripod head to level the camera. Put an accurate level on the camera (or film back in the case of a large format film camera) to verify the set-up. It is unlikely the film holder is responsible for your tilted results as the angular play is less than 0.9022° which you couldn't measure never mind see. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 3:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Stan I can see the film in the negative holder can easily be tilted enough to explain the problems I'm seeing. \$\endgroup\$
    – steel
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please post a worst-case example of the amount of tilt due to film/film holder "play" to further asses the issue. At this point, a description is not sufficient. How much of your image you will reproduce in your prints? \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 22:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @stan pic of example negative added. \$\endgroup\$
    – steel
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 12:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @stan Huh. Like this? ebay.com/itm/… \$\endgroup\$
    – steel
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 0:02

2 Answers 2


Cut film holders have a bit of "play" to allow the film to slide into the holder with the minimum of force. They are engineered this way.

After the holder is loaded, the end-flap on the holder is closed which holds the film securely along the short edge.

The dark slide is then inserted which holds everything securely in place.

When the film holder is put into the camera back and the slide is withdrawn for the exposure, the end-flap is then held closed by the camera back which, in-turn, clamps the sheet of film in place.

After the exposure is made and the dark-slide is re-inserted, the holder can be removed from the camera back with the dark-slide holding the end-flap tightly closed.

This is normally sufficient. The clearance is slightly less than the thickness of the film. A vice-like grip isn't necessary.

What you might try is a consistent practice of loading your holders.

For example: Very lightly tap the holder to ensure the film has smoothly dropped into the holder. When the sheet is squarely seated, close the end-flap to hold the film sheet in place.

When it is more of an issue, such as for technical requirements, a vacuum-back is used which sucks the air out of the space pulling the sheet of film flush with the film holder back so there is no gap.

EDIT: Here's how to diagnose the source of the alignment problem:
Examine a problem negative.

If the clear film holder guide marks are parallel to the cut edge of the film as shown in example 1, it indicates that the film was in the holder correctly. It also implies that the holder, camera back, camera, etc. was not parallel.
Your set-up was problematic rather than the film position due to film-holder tolerance. film holder guide marks
If the camera was set up level and perpendicular to the horizon, the film holder marks will be parallel to the horizon in the image because the film holder and the camera back were also level and perpendicular. The clear edges along the edge of the film will not be parallel to the cut edge of the film as shown in example 2.

Consequently, the problem is as you suspected and despite the alignment of the film-holder marks along the edges of the image itself, the horizon will appear slightly tilted by the same amount due to misalignment of the film in the holder.

My opinion is that it will not be so severe that it will compromise your product adversely.

  • \$\begingroup\$ We may be talking about different axes. I'm talking about the 4" axis. A vacuum back would not solve this issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – steel
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 21:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @steel Regardless of the axis, unless the film holder moves violently during the exposure, image position on the sheet of film is of minimal consequence. I've added some more details on the film holder construction. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 22:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If the film is 'square' (all of the angles are 90°) and the 5" side is lined up square with the holder the 4" side will also be lined up square with the holder. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Stan I like the idea of the "tap" during loading. I didn't realize the end flap held the negative in place, I'll work with that, thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – steel
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @stan I just read your edits. The image is tilted in the negative, as in your example 2. It compromises my product adversely because I frame to use the entire negative. When there is no blank edge to grasp, it is difficult to properly sit the negative in the enlarger. \$\endgroup\$
    – steel
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 12:36

I've seen the type of 'skewing' that is in your negative on occasion with some of the older film holders I have. You can lightly tap the bottom of the the film holder a couple of times before sliding the holder into the camera. This ensures that the film is seated in the holder in a level manner. Ideally you'd be loading the film in straight and the holder keeps it that way, but older holders might not be holding on to the film as tightly as they once did.

If this is an issue with a few particular holders letting the film slide around a bit inside, you should consider just replacing them. You've got enough things to worry about when you're shooting, you don't want to have to worry about if your equipment needs to be babied along.


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