View Full Version : Why 8" x 12"?

19-Jan-2019, 06:53
I picked up an 'ULF' camera which has a plate size of 12" x 8" (14.5" diagonal). It was made by a small Scottish 'photographic apparatus' manufacturer who seems to have been active in the 1880s (as ever records are scarce but from 1884 to at least 1890). Because it was cheap, in need of some work and with a simple back I have many ideas of what to use it for, however, I'm intrigued by the plate size which seems to have been far from standard as far as I can tell, even in the 1880s. I'm assuming that it was intended for use as a dry plate camera and so dry plates must have been available for it from manufacturers, but would they have been 'off the shelf' or built to order as bespoke plates? Just interested as I doubt it will be used for this format again and I have other plans for it (adapters to provide 'reducing back' as I have a few potential usable back).

Tin Can
19-Jan-2019, 06:54
Pics please

19-Jan-2019, 06:59
Will post pix as soon as I can clear enough space to take them - bit chaotic at the moment!

19-Jan-2019, 14:43
The thing to keep in mind was that before that high tech device the enlarger, every format was chosen based on what would be the finished print size... A slightly larger than normal print had the selling potential more than a photographer's competition, and could charge a premium for larger wall mounted works... This size might give the photographer an edge, and reducing backs for the smaller sizes...

Ask yourself what a 8X12 print of your work would look like hanging on your wall...

Steve K

Peter Gomena
20-Jan-2019, 22:19
Roughly the next step up in the quarter-plate, half-plate, full-plate series. Format sizes on the 3x4 aspect ratio rather than 4x5 aspect ratio. Back then, if you wanted a bigger print, you needed a bigger negative. There were 10x12, 14x17, and more. Today's standard sizes didn't really take hold until after WWI, and there were stragglers for decades after.

21-Jan-2019, 02:08
Interesting and it makes sense if contact printing. This still leaves the practicality though. As it used glass plates would I be correct in thinking that either manufacturers produced 8" x 12" plates as an off the shelf product size, or were simply amenable to making odd sizes upon request?

Tin Can
21-Jan-2019, 02:50
Right now Jason Lane Dry Glass Plates are available in any size.

Many make their own also.

23-Jan-2019, 17:49
What luck! the 8x12 aspect ratio is the same 2x3 ratio as "full-frame" 35mm - 24x36mm. Now your friends look at your contact prints and ask you "so, you can still get film for your Nikon/Canon/Minolta?" - enjoy - you have something a bit more "landscapey" than 8x10 and will get well-formatted contact prints.--alfredian

Michael Carter
2-Feb-2019, 21:48
I have a Vageeswari 8 1/2 inches x 12 inches glass dry plate camera with one book form plate holder that holds two plates, so now there are two.

3-Feb-2019, 11:29
It might have been intended for stereo plates? Given the context of the locale of its construction, the output of the Annan family, Valentine's or Washington Wilson's concerns may well have had some bearing on the format size choice. Who made it?

3-Feb-2019, 12:27
No indication mine was intended for stereo use. It was made by Birnie of Dundee - originally a cabinet maker who moved into photographic sales and seems to have made some cameras, although I can only find one other shown online.

3-Feb-2019, 14:25
There's a reference to 8x12 on a site related to photography in Edinburgh, as an adjunct to 8x6 Cabinet Size images. I suspect the additional width would have been ideal for landscapes, and banquet and group photos.


3-Feb-2019, 16:25
There's a reference to 8x12 on a site related to photography in Edinburgh, as an adjunct to 8x6 Cabinet Size images. I suspect the additional width would have been ideal for landscapes, and banquet and group photos.


Given the Dundee connection, would not be surprised if there was a connection to Valentine's output in one from or another - I doubt it had anything to do with DC Thomson & their publishing empire (it's too early). Dundee's not a big city, & the market for a machine like that cannot have been great - and until the 1930's Valentine's offices and works were not just on the same street as the known address of the camera maker, but were only a few minutes walking distance away.

And bit of digging around the edinphoto website does turn up some tantalising evidence about Valentine's format choices - and as 12x10 was not an uncommon camera format in that era, getting a camera made that more closely matched the desired aspect ratio might have been seen as a way to save on the 20% of image area being otherwise chopped off (and confirm prejudices about our nation at the same time...). For a major publisher like Valentine's, getting custom plates made would not have been a big deal - the minimum quantities needed were tiny in comparison to a few decades later.

If it does have a Valentine connection, the collection of relevant material is held at the University of St Andrews & answers might be found there. Dundee City also holds some material too.

Nodda Duma
3-Feb-2019, 17:34
8” x 12” was a standard size. They are listed in advertisements for plate makers in that time. The size was used for group photos or landscapes.

Of course, it wasn’t that common.


4-Feb-2019, 02:09
Thanks everyone. I've seen some photographs of Dundee (from the city council I think) which show Birnie's shop which was a reasonably sized establishment. I had assumed that being a small business they built equipment to order (as smaller makers often did) and it may well be that it was made for someone with a connection to Valentines one way or another. As its a sizeable camera and format I also assume that it would have been relatively expensive and more than likely a 'one-off'. Its well made but has some quirks which makes me think that it was not quite as well thought out, or even modified during build, as it could have been. The, obviously original, locking knob for rising front fouls the base so that it cannot fold up quite as well as it might have done so for example - an oddity! What is really nice is that the back removes very easily and will allow me to make up different format back or build simple adapters to use other backs without altering the Birnie camera in the slightest. Lastly, it came with two lens boards. One matches the camera perfectly so is almost certainly original, the other is a of 'ply' construction, consisting of two pieces of wood stuck together with their grain at right angles, and whilst undoubtedly quite old from its patina, isn't original. No lens came with it so I'm debating which to fit or whether to look for a contemporary (~1890) lens with decent coverage (I am unaware of any suitable lenses made in Scotland but if anyone knows of any I'd like to know).