View Full Version : LF future

12-Nov-2004, 12:14
What is the future of Large Format photography? Will there be film? Will there be supplies for darkrooms? What do we know about the future of films and supplies? Prefer knowledgable answers.

I am no cleaning out an area in my basement to build a dark room, 12' x 14' and plenty of room outside for mounting, framing etc. I dont want to waste my time if it will all dissapear. I am currently shooting meduim format but dusting off my 4x5, 8x10, and FINALLY the 14x17.

Michael Kadillak
12-Nov-2004, 12:56
Each of us with a positive attitude and a desire to continue conventional LF photography are a component of the future of this medium and the outlook is very robust. Dick Phillips will max out his production for 2005 shortly and 8x10 and larger camera makers are swamped with business. Since these users are the ones most directly in the line of possible restrictions of film in the future, one could easily argue that the optimism is overshadowing any doubts that we should be in great shape for years to come.

It is possible that more shake outs may happen in the corporate world with Kodak, Fuji and Ilford as they realign their workforces to the realities of the market as it is and not how they thought it would escalate to lofty proportions 5 or 10 years ago in their long range plans. That said, conservatives estimates I have read in the Wall Street Journal incidate that conventional film it is still a $700 million dollar market in the US alone. Many entities are busy to compete for as big a share of this market as they can get and that is good for LF shooters everywhere.

And newcomers like Efke are producing fabulous films in just about every size imaginable (I believe even 14x17) and I do not see them contemplating an exit strategy. If anything, they are probably contemplating plant upgrades and higher output.

Conclusion ? Digital is but another tool in the toolbox for folks to use and it is not the direct competitor to put film out of business. It is a niche market all by itself with its own supply and demand dynamics which is a far cry from the "Damn the torpedoes" mentality pervasive on this and other photography forums just a few years ago.

Complete your darkroom and have fun with your LF equipment. Good days are ahead of us all!


Ralph Barker
12-Nov-2004, 13:20
I agree with Michael's assessment. Very large manufacturers like Kodak are having to realign due to past miscalculations about the market. Kodak, in particular, plays to the Wall Street pundits who have no clue about the market, but for whom the newness of digital is the buzz. The larger 35mm camera manufacturers have also been stressing digital in their marketing messages, perhaps for the same reason. Plus, digital offers them far more rapid turn-over of their models with only minimal investment in additional technology. But, it was very interesting to see Nikon come out with the F6, in spite of the much-ballyhooed digital onslaught. Meanwhile, the small LF makers have been going great guns, as have the smaller, more-specialized film manufacturers.

Whether the big guys can re-align their marketing and manufacturing models quickly enough to avoid disaster is still an open question, I think. Ilford, for example, would probably be doing fine (even in a declining/realigning market) were it not for their heavy debt burden. Ilford's receivership might solve that problem for them. Kodak seems only to care about the short-term bottom line. Fuji, though, seems to have a longer-term view of things, and might well supplant Kodak as the leading color-film manufacturer in the future.

Bottom line, there are enough film enthusiasts, including LF, to keep film manufacturers with rational business plans profitable, and us well-supplied with product.

MIke Sherck
12-Nov-2004, 13:22
What do you mean by "knowledgable answers"? Since none of us have (working) crystal balls, any speculation as to what the future might hold will be just that -- speculation. Even informed speculation is probably beyond the scope of this forum, unless a product manager or executive from a manufacturer wants to contribute.

Ultimately, the best we can do is guess, which may easily be proved wrong by tomorrow's headlines. If you're looking for some sort of guarantee about the state of film photography 5, 10, or 20 years down the road, I'm afraid that you won't find it.

On the other hand, we can say that there is a market for these products and that there aren't many markets for which demand exists which have been completely abandoned by commerce. Some suppliers are motivated by profit, and they'll continue to supply the market as long as their profit exceeds the potential profit of other uses of their capital. Other suppliers may have a more emotional attachment and might continue to supply product to the market even if they could make more profit elsewhere. Who knows what decisions people might make next year or a decade from now? Not all decisions are rational, as much as economists might like to pretend they are.

Like most things in life, I personally regard this question as in some ways a matter of faith: I believe that the market is lively enough that I'll be able to continue to buy equipment and materials for the indefinite future. Prices may go up and some of my favorites may wither away, but I believe that at least for the remainder of my lifetime (and I'm not that old, even if today is my birthday!) I'll have no real trouble buying film and paper and, should that wonderful event ever actually happen, a new camera or an additional lens or two. In my opinion, if darkroom work is what you want to do then you should do it. If you love photography (and who else would be crazy enough to haul a great hulking 14x17 camera around?) then you should pursue it.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.


John Kasaian
12-Nov-2004, 13:48

I doubt if you'll have any less trouble finding supplies than the guy who originally bought your 14x17!

Unless you live somewhere like New York or L.A. , buying large format supplies is a "mail order" proposition. While this is inconvenient---you've got to keep stock on hand or risk running out and waiting for the mail to come through---you also have a greater source of suppliers to tap into than back when you could get any color you wanted as long as its kodak yellow.

In the worst case scenario you can get some plate holders and you'll be able to coat your own glass plates. You can also choose from a dozen or so "alternative" processes so you won't require enlarging papers for printing. What does that require? Glass? Watercolor paper? Common chemicals? A lot of people are doing that already!

Chill out! Enjoy!

karnak the magnificent
12-Nov-2004, 13:48
What is the future of Large Format photography?

It is in the future just as the past is in the past.

My prediction is that it will be here for at least three more weeks, and when you come to a fork in the road... take it.

Gem Singer
12-Nov-2004, 14:27
Hello Kreig,

Everyone who posts a question on this forum prefers to get "knowledgeable answers". Unfortunately, with that stipulation, your question cannot be answered by any mortal being, only God would know the answer to your query.

That said, large format photography seems to be alive and kicking. I talked it Jim, at Midwest Photo Supply, by phone, this morning. He is anxiously awaiting a large shipment of Ebony cameras in most models and sizes. Many of them are already spoken for. He cannot keep enough of these beautiful premium priced cameras in stock. Even 8x10's (at $4000, and up) seem to sell like hot cakes. From my observation, it doesn't look like large format photography is dead. It doesn't even appear to be dying.

That's as knowledgeable an answer as I am able to give at this time.

David Karp
12-Nov-2004, 14:33

I tried to call Jim today too. They said he was stuck to the phone, and not likely to be off for any length of time. I E-mailed him instead, and told him to say hi to you if you called today!

Gem Singer
12-Nov-2004, 14:48
Thanks Dave,

I called early and had to hang on" hold" for quite a while, but eventually Jim and I were able to have quite a lengthy conversation, with a minimum number of interruptions. I ordered a few items. I'll probably receive them on Monday, or Tuesday. However, Jim didn't mention your name. He probably hadn't read his e-mail, as yet.

Neal Shields
12-Nov-2004, 15:34
The photoprocessing industry is investing BILLIONS in photo processing machines like the Fuji Frontier that write digital images to triditional photo paper.

http://home.fujifilm.com/photokina2002/data/ct_pdf/lb_204e.pdf (http://home.fujifilm.com/photokina2002/data/ct_pdf/lb_204e.pdf)

As long as that is going on, I see no reason to expect paper or chemicals to go away.

Film is paper on a clear base.

12-Nov-2004, 15:43
As long as you stick with b&w, especially with your own darkroom, I think it's safe for a good while.

Personally I prefer to use a pro lab. Recently their price for printing from a negative larger than 4x5 went up 50%, not a good sign (I think they have to wheel the 8x10 enlarger out from the back, and it's not worth the bother to them). But they continue to maintain that film in general remains viable. I'm putting off re-setting up my darkroom for as long as possible, but I expect within the next decade to have to have my own, or at least go to a rental place.

bob carnie
12-Nov-2004, 16:00

presently supplys are available, take the plunge, buy enough material to last a few years and make some images, or get into epson.
Confidence in your abilitys to produce work is more important than what Kodak, Ilford, Fuji, Ekke,Agfa say or do.
I started a fibre lab when everyone said it was dying and I am happy and proud of the work produced . As others have said the future is not clear, but I for one am having a ball printing with traditional materials.

Mark Sawyer
12-Nov-2004, 16:14
Sorry Kreig, but these guys are leading you on. Large format is dead, and your equipment is worthless. But since I'm a nice guy, I'll give you fifty bucks for the 8x10 and the 14x17. If the lenses are good, I'll make it $75!

Jim Ewins
12-Nov-2004, 17:51
One lays out clean clothes at night with the expectation one would be alive the next day to wear them. Life is a gamble, one takes one's own chances. Only the government gambles with others money. Go for it and good speed. Jim

Andre Noble
12-Nov-2004, 19:04
Jim, rather than lay out clothes at night, I dig into the dirty clothes bin in the morning.

12-Nov-2004, 19:59
Thanks for your opinions. I hear nothing but positive statements and a lot of enthusiasm. I asked for knowledgable answers simply because i was hoping for comments from those close to the suppliers of soft goods, answers with some credibility behind the words. I will go ahead with my dark room and have a lot of fun for the next several years.

In regards to "hauling" around that 14x17, I have yet come up with a stable and SAFE way to mount this camera with out fear of it and falling. Still scratching my head. The problem is mounting the camera on tripod head or other mechanism.

Mark Sawyer, $75 for for both outfits? OK!! How about an extra$15 for my 300mm Voightlander/Apo Lanthar??? :-)


Jim Galli
12-Nov-2004, 20:47
There are more and better quality parts available for 1928-31 Model A Fords right now than there were 50 years ago. Ask yourself why? There's a bunch of knuckleheads that want to keep their rattly smoky crappy old Model A's on the road. That's why. It'll be exactly the same for us. Ford doesn't make any of those parts. Why would we expect Kodak to keep us serviced. But somebody else will.

Mark Sawyer
13-Nov-2004, 12:16
$15 for a crummy old Apo-Lanthar???!!! That's highway robbery!!! I'll give you $12... ;-)

Seriously, I think that since the technology and manufacturing capabilities already exist, film will stay available. There are already small manufacturers catering to large format and fine art photographers, and ***IF*** (very big "if" there) Kodak/Ilford/etc. get out of the biz, their equipment will be snapped up by the little guys. I'm already using weird Romainian 4x5 film for my high school students just because it's cheap. Stuff like that (and better) will be around.

Poetic Justice Department: NASA has people out hunting for really old computers because nothing modern is compatible with a lot of their old systems...

roger michel
15-Nov-2004, 13:42
i can absolutely guarantee that you will have all the tri-x you need for the next ten years -- provided you buy a ten year supply, place it in those nifty lead shield bags and drop it into a freezer in your basement. ten years is about the outer limit for tri-x in my experience; after that the fog base gets a little high.

the terrorists will be in charge in ten years anyway.

kidding aside, things happen suddenly (vide the ilford scare and what it did to film stocks at b&h et al). i really encourage people to keep a multiyear supply of film on hand. once the rumor hits the web -- "kodak to stop all film production other than 35mm" -- everybody will be sold out in a day.

and tri-x, properly stored, really will last ten years from production.

15-Nov-2004, 14:19
If you process B&W I wouldn't worry about chemicals. You might need to learn to mix your own but that's not very hard.

BTW glad I can get into Cuba legally-)

Bernard Languillier
17-Nov-2004, 03:31
Hi there,

I can say confidently that I am the future of LF. ..

Being a young amateur landscape photographer who decided to try LF after playing with a high res Kodak SLR/n DSLR, I am fully confident to be part of a new breed interested in what has always attracted people to LF:

- high quality, DOF and perspective control with a certain approach to photography,

Regarding film, I think that we will have resaonnably affordable large format digital sensors in the 50 MPixel range within 5-10 years. Film from at least Fuji will remain available until then, unless George W. decides to nuke the plants before.

Those ditigal backs will have been specially designed for GGless 2*3 or 4*5 LF and will make it possible to compose the image while looking at a huge TFT screen (or equivalent). We will also be able to control the color rendition on the screen to simulate the output on our favourite paper right from the field.

Other nice functions will include automatic detection of image circle clipping due to camera movements, correction of light fall off by in-sensor adjustement of gain at the image element level.

The price of the first version will be in the 20.000 Euro range and will remain high. A quick computation will however reveal that this represents only 4000 4*5 sheets (film cost and processing).

Best regards,

John Kasaian
17-Nov-2004, 09:28
But Bernard, will it make an image magically appear under the safelight? Will it provide the excuse to spend time in a dark room, away from everyone, listening to an inner voice and music from a circe 1960s GE table top radio set? Will it motivate the gray cells to learn ancillary arts like how to rewire a 70 year old enlarger or rebuild filmholders? Or mix delightfully stinky chemicals? Will the final print be a summation of the work of a passion that embraces the whole gamut of experiences from imagination to technical skills, or the passionless clicks of a mouse providing motion to an arrow on a laptop computer screen??

17-Nov-2004, 09:59
"20.000 Euro range and will remain high. A quick computation will however reveal that this represents only 4000 4*5 sheets (film cost and processing)."

Boy you're getting gouged. 5 Euros per sheet? Too bad the thing will only work a few years before it breaks or needs a new driver. BTW who is going to make such a thing for the relatively tiny LF market?

Emmanuel BIGLER
17-Nov-2004, 11:45
Let me support Bernard's idea about a LF image preview on a big TFT screen. Of course the screen would be environmentally-friendly and would not need batteries, even rechargeable ones ; a manually-operated auxiliary generator with a comfortable crank would provide enough electricity for one day of work at least. Moreover this would provide some healthy physical exercise to people who claim that not a single valuable LF picture can be found at a distance greater than 10 yards from their car.

The other advantage of a preview on an electronic display would be that by switching a 4-position knob, you could choose whatever direction top/down left/right symmetries for your own style of pre-visualisation.
Old-timers of LF photography who cannot live without the upside-down reversed image would chose setting #1 "the traditional" like on a traditional GG.
Newcomers to LF but still old-fashioned photographers coming from the Rollei-TLR world would chose setting #2, up would be up but and down would be down but right and left would be reversed like on a Rollei TLR GG.
New Newcomers would of course ignore settings #1 or #2 and would simply use their LF TFT screen like they are using routinely their digital point-and-shoot display screen, the right one : up is up, down is down, etc...
Eventually, some discerning photographers would insist on using setting #4, where up would be down and down would be up but right and left would be at the right place, somewhat like when you try to frame on the GG in vertical "portrait" mode with the 645 mask on a Rolleicord. They would argue that this strange setting forces them to more abstraction in their composition, so their LF images would be better.

Bernard Languillier
17-Nov-2004, 15:32


- you can probably simulate the appearance of the image uner the safelight by slowly turning on your screen in adarkened room? Besides, nothing prevents you from storing some half opened bottles of stinky chemicals right next to the PC...
- 5 Euro does include the price of Quickload Velvia 100F + processing here in Tokyo,
- Digital back have zero moving parts and should be able to survive for many years. Besides if it pays back for itself in, say 5 years, compared to film, what would be the problem with buying the 100 Mpixel successor then?
- Energywise, batteries will have also progressed a lot in 5-10 years from now. You will always get a lot more autonomy with digital than you currently do because of the bulk and weight of film sheets,
- I would also use #4!


Paul Butler
21-Dec-2004, 07:48
As someone who has a "day job" in the securities industry, I can't stress enough what a boom digital is to equipment manufacturers. The inherent obsolescence in virtually all digital equipment ensures them of a continuous future revenue source (people will be forced to replace their gear every 2 to 3 years as has long been the case in the desktop computer business). This also allows them to budget big bucks for research and development.

I say this as I lovingly gaze upon my 1946 Linhof Technika II 5x7 which has a stunningly well thought out design, all the movements I need, reasonable weight and size, silky smooth geared focusing, rise, and shift, the capacity to hold almost any modern 5x7 lens . . . it reflects a totally different philosophy on the part of the people who made it (like its Compur shutter and Voigtlander lens) that it would never need to be replaced, just repaired and maintained, throughout the career of the buyer. The same can be said of any Dierdorff and most modern LF gear.

I am totally committed to the "digital darkroom" and advances in image manipulation technology, and I don't see any contradiction between working in LF and embracing digital technology. However, I think it will be a long while before true LF digital sensors will have an appropriate "look" and also be cost-effective enough to replace film and scanning for the average LF photographer. Fortunately, I have enough 5x7 emulsions available to me that I can't quite manage to try them all, and I am quite satisfied with what is currently on the market. My only worry as I view the contemporary marketplace is that E-6 5x7 films may become scarce. No such worry with B/W.

Paul Butler