View Poll Results: Is an ULF camera a good way to enter into Large Format?

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  • YES, go for it!

    25 35.21%
  • NO, you're in for a big mistake.

    46 64.79%
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Thread: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

  1. #1
    alec4444's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    New York City

    Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    Hi all,

    I'm really super interested in getting into Large Format Photography and I've been doing a lot of reading about how people got into it. One common theme I've been seeing is the transition to the format. Everyone appears to have started with 35mm, then medium format (6x6, 6x7, etc) then 4x5, then 8x10, etc.

    I'm already at the medium format stage and I want to try large format. Given what I've read, I believe there is a 99.8% chance I will be enthralled with it. So, to cut down on the expense of upgrade after upgrade, I'm toying with the idea of getting an 11x14 as my first large format camera.

    Is this a serious mistake? It seems that the processes are exactly the same, with the differnce being that one has to take a bit more care in all of the operations. I think I'd be doing that naturally at about $7 per shot. If you have advice or experience with this same dilemma, I'd be interested in your conclusions.


  2. #2
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    My first LF camera was 8x10", and I thought that was a good place to start. It's big enough to see what's happening clearly on the groundglass and to make decent contact prints, but not so hard to get film and holders for, and an 8x10" lens kit lets you move up or down and you'll likely have lenses for other formats you might want to try. 8x10" also gives you the option of Polaroid (hang onto your wallet, though).

    If you always print to 11x14" and that's been your ideal print size for a long time, I wouldn't rule out starting with 11x14", but it does add a fair amount of complication compared to a more standard size like 4x5", 5x7" or 8x10", if you're just learning to do LF.
    Last edited by David A. Goldfarb; 22-Jun-2006 at 21:45.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    You should get that 11x14 if you find a good one at a good price. But getting a relatively inexpensive 4x5 set-up to do your first practice with movements, handling film holders, and all the other stuff involved will pay for itself in saved wrecked 11x14 film. And it may also help you understand what you want for an 11x14 camera and lens.

    FWIW, a lot of us didn't progress linearly with photographic formats.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    Hi Alec. I have been shooting 4x5 for just over a year now, and have recently aquired a 5x7 as well, confirming the trend.

    11x14 entails a much larger initial investment than 4x5, more expensive lenses, filmholders, camera, and you can only shoot near a car.

    If you buy used, which is fairly easy, especially if you are not in a hurry, you can always resell without much of a loss, and you only need invest in one lens and one filmholder to begin. On the other hand, to be certain, you could always rent a view camera for a weekend to get a feel for it and see if it is really for you.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?


    If you want to spend all your time making great B&W portraits, maybe some landscapes close to the car, alternative process contacts and you've got lots and lots of money thats burning a hole in your pocket, its not a mistake, in fact few formats come even close to being as pleasing as 11x14 IMHO :-)

    Its the money part and lack of mobility that is the issue. An 11x14 isn't much diferent than a 4x5 but it'll take a lot more work to load those big sheets of films. Many would council yo to start with 4x5 but if what you want is bigger negatives you might as well start with a camera that will provide.

    There are some good reasons why that first camera shouldn't be an 11x14 however.

    1) Limited film---its going to be B&W all the way. If someone is making color 11x14 film I sure haven't heard about it (and if they are, it'll be so expensive it will take all the fun out of it IMHO)

    2) Horribly expensive film holders--even used ones---$200+ bucks each. With a modest 3 holder kit, thats over $600 just in holders and don't count on them all being good. With used holders there'll always a chance of a leaker in the works.

    3) It'll be a big camera to haul around, requiring a big tripod and the film holder will be big and heavy (oh yeah, you'll need a big dark room for those huge trays and if yu want an enlarger---lets not even go there!) Just fine for studio use however, but quite frankly if I were going to take it out to the woods, my 12x20 is about as user friendly.


    1) try an 8x10--plenty of film to choose from, even color if you need it (and can afford it) I can still get B&W for well under $2 a sheet.

    2) Used holders are a lot less expensive---like maybe six or seven for the price of one 11x14 holder.

    3) The size is a lot more manageable---I can even hike and ski with it (with the right pack) The tripod is still awkward though, but if mountain troops can ski with a trench mortar then a wimpy ol' wood tripod isn't so bad a load.

    If you don't like the square-er format of 8x10 theres still another option---5x7 which is very close in proportions to 11x14

    1) Film is even cheaper than 8x10 and yes, color too.

    2) Ditto

    3) Even more ditto.

    When building your kit, you can save $$ when you do feel like moving up to an 11x14 later by selecting lenses that will also provide good coverage for the larger format. A 450 Nikkor M, 305 G-Claron, or 19" Artar etc...

    I don't mean to sound discouraging however. I'm just pointing out my observations having owned an 11x14 B&J YMMV of course!

    Best wishes!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  6. #6
    Is that a Hassleblad? Brian Vuillemenot's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Marin County, California

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    "Everyone appears to have started with 35mm, then medium format (6x6, 6x7, etc) then 4x5, then 8x10, etc."

    Actually, that's not true. A lot of people stop at 4X5, because for them it represents the "sweet spot" between portability, convenience, quality, expense, and availabilty of film and equipment. Others try large format, even into ULF, and then go back to 35 mm and/or MF. Everyone is different. Your situation is unique, so only you can figure out what your goals and aspirations are for trying ULF. I think a lot of the current fascination with ULF has to do with the old "bigger is better" mentality. In many instances, bigger is better. But a lot of people get into the bigger cameras because at some level they feel like it will make them cooler or more of a man or people will take them more seriously- no different from why someone buys a huge SUV or powerful sports car or ultra fast motorcycle. You don't see too many women using LF cameras...
    Brian Vuillemenot

  7. #7
    All metric sizes to 24x30 Ole Tjugen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    I started with 5x7" after 35mm and MF. Then got 4x5", 8x10", 9.5x12", 12x16"...

    I still use 5x7" most. It's big enough that you can really see what's going on on the ground glass, yet small enough that you can see the entire ground glass in one glance. Many 4x5" lenses will cover the format, which means far more available lenses than in 8x10" - not to mention 11x14"! Film availability is surprisingly good, especially with a few 13x18cm holders: Lots of films are available in that size but not in 5x7".

    The cameras are only slightly larger than equivalent 4x5" cameras, and far more portable than 8x10".

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    God's Country

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    My first LF camera was a 4x5. Then, I went 5x7 and now... it's 8x10!

    The incremental costs going from 4x5 to 5x7 wasn't too, too bad. However, going to 8x10 represents a huge cost increase from 4x5.

    I can only imagine what going to 11x14 is going to set you back. And, if you're just learning the ins and outs of LF (as a newbie)... I hope you've got LOTS and LOTS of buckeroos! It isn't going to be inexpensive!

    Good luck on the decision though.

    Life in the fast lane!

  9. #9
    Geert's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    Begin with 4x5 of 5x7 (I like the latter better) and enjoy the learning curve. Then move up if you still feel tempted.
    Please don't skip the smaller formats as the portability and lower cost won't discourage you in the quest.

    I have a 5x7 for contacts with a 4x5 reducing back for negatives to enlarge. Very soon, 7x17 will be added to the list.
    Last edited by Geert; 23-Jun-2006 at 02:28.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Dec 2001

    Re: Starting LF Photography with ULF Camera?

    alec4444, what size of MF are you shooting? I ask because in his lovely book A. A. Blaker makes the point that going up in format is worth the trouble only if both sides of the negative are at least doubled in size. By this rule, the next step up from 6x4.5 is 4x5, from 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9 is 5x7. So there are your lower bounds.

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