As an afterword on Guest Blogger George Goodroe's series on Large Format, I'd like to address rock-bottom, inexpensive ways to get a taste of large format. All of which involve compromises, some quite significant, but allow different entry points.
The camera: By giving up the sharpness and literal realism, movements, rise and fall (perspective controls) and more, the price of a LF camera can come down to $56.00 used. Yes, fifty-six dollars. You can buy a pinhole 4x5 camera (which have their own charms) for that used here: [Link]. Maybe splurge, and get a shiny new one for $58.00 [Link], [Link], or bling out & opt for teak for $159 [Link].
All use standard 4x5 film holders available here [Link].
Each holder holds two sheets of film. You use one, flip it over (after
replacing the slide) and use the 2nd. Learn more about these cameras [Link], History and lots of info [Link].
Or go to 8x10 for less than $250 new [Link]. With 8x10 you can make contact prints from your negatives. It worked well for Edward Weston, so it could work for you. They even come in wide-angle versions. The film and holders become much more expensive with 8x10.
Pinhole cameras make magnifying loupes, ground glass and dark cloths unnecessary. The pinhole doesn't let enough light in to make a ground glass useful. They also have no finders, so you have to develop a pinhole wizard's eye for imagining what the camera is seeing (though if you do this, let me know and I will tell you how to make a somewhat useful finder). and work intuitively. It ends up being an XXL point and shoot.
Film: You can get 4x5 B&W film locally at North Tampa Photography [Link], which they keep refrigerated, and you might be able to find some out of date film on occasion. Walk all the way around the counter, they're usually in small cardboard boxes. There's always B&H.
Light Meter: Do you have a point and shoot with different kinds of metering available? One that lets you select your f/stop? You can use this for a meter, though you will have to figure out how many less f/stops of light will be falling on your film thanks to the minimal pinhole f/stop. It's less complicated than it sounds.
You can get 4x5 developing trays, thongs, and darkroom chemicals at North Tampa Phtography as well and develop your film in a well-sealed bathroom with ventilation. If, like most of us, you have a flatbed scanner, you can scan your negatives, process them digitally and print them out on your own printer, or take the file to CVS and have them do it for cheap. Yes, you'll be giving up megapixels, and a lot of other LF advantages, but you'll get your foot in the LF door for a pittance of the going price of admission. And, you can send your negatives through a custom lab, get big scans and still make large custom prints.
Tripod: Scour the cameras for sale section of the St Pete Times read it early in the AM, and if you find something, call early. Good tripods come and go with regularity. Last week there were two Gitzos for 50-75 each (!). Otherwise, pop for a new Tilt-All tripod. Heavy, classic and amply sturdy. Heavy enough to build character. Gearheads will tell you there's better, and there is, but not for $110 new, and you can use it with all your other cameras. [Link]
Software: Can't afford Photoshop? Try GIMP. In spite of the glamorous name, it has a great rep and will do everything you need and more. [Link] or for global tweaks, Irfanview [Link]. Did I mention they're free? They will also work with all your digital camera pictures. Be sure to download all the plug-ins.
I am not in any way countering or undermining the suggestions in George Goodroe's LF series, or suggesting anyone do this, only supplying a alternate, far lower cost route to Large Format, which, as I remarked at the outset, has its limitations.