View Full Version : To ULF or not to ULF? That is the question!

20-May-2008, 22:55
Until just recently I had decided upon selling some gear and upgrading to a Arca Swiss Field Camera. But, then in a flash of perhaps insane thought, I am now thinking, forget the Arca and go for something really big. A 11x14 or even perhaps 12x20. I have several lens that cover both formats and a tripod capable of handling those giant beasts. So basically at this point its the matter of a camera, film holders and film.

Am I just crazy for even considering this? I use mostly 4x5 and some 8x10, and while I like 8x10 contact prints they seem small sometimes.

Any thoughts? Should I just stick with the Arca or go a beast?



20-May-2008, 23:15

20-May-2008, 23:33
Why not?

Jorge Gasteazoro
20-May-2008, 23:54
As someone who uses both I would advice you to get the 8x10 and later when you can afford it or if you find a good deal you can go bigger. With an ULF you will find yourself very limited on subject matter, composition and it will be harder for you to get to the subject unless it is 100 feet from the car. I can hike with my 8x10 3 or 4 miles and get to a nice place to shoot, I would not even contemplate going further than a few hundred yards with my 12x20.

The panoramic formats 7x17, 8x20 and 12x20 are a little bit harder to compose than the "full frame" formats like 11x14, 16x20 and 20x24. If your heart is set on bypassing 8x10 I would recommend these, and probably the best would be 11x14 as it is less heavy and more easy to manage in the field.

Of course, if you plan to do studio work then stop dicking around and get a 20x24.. :)

John Kasaian
21-May-2008, 01:14
What Jorge says :)

21-May-2008, 04:03
Actually I already have 8x10, though I use my 4x5 more. I am just lusting for something bigger, though I am not sure going bigger is the best option. Thats the current dilemma. I am finding 8x10 contact prints are getting small, and thinking ULF would help. Though I could just enlarge 4x5 up to the same size.:confused:

Decisions, decisions!



Daniel Grenier
21-May-2008, 04:23
If you're getting old and decrepit, like me, an option might be to go to a more manageable format like 7x17. I have both an 8x10 and a 7x17 and find either one as hard as the other to work with (I'd have said "easy" years ago but over time both are hard work now). Managing an 11x14 or 12x20 in the field is something I could not possibly contemplate now although I hear some of the new cameras are pretty light... If I could, however, I'd definitely go for the 12x20. The proportions are near perfect, IMO.

Bruce Watson
21-May-2008, 04:41
ULF, to me, is about limiting your options. The main reason to do it is to pick the size of your contact prints. This implies that you aren't ever going to enlarge the negatives. Not that this is bad, it's just a limit.

This in turn limits how you work -- ULF is heavy and cumbersome. People rarely hike with ULF, it's typically limited to the 100-feet-from-the-car rule. Which of course limits your subject matter even more than LF already does.

Think of it like poetry. Some people like working in free verse -- they like the freedom of less structure and fewer rules. Some people like to set limits and work within a restrictive frame work and so compose their poetry in, say, iambic pentameter. It worked out pretty well for some pretty good poets in the past after all ;). Then there are those who work best with very tight restrictions -- like haiku.

How tight a set of restrictions are you looking for? Answering that question will perhaps give you a clue into whether or not ULF is what you really want.

Mike Castles
21-May-2008, 05:01
Aside from the good advice above, consider the processing side also. Would film/print processing a larger size cause any issues? When I was enlarging, 11x14 was my limit - tried 16x20 and just did not care for the size - because it was not a fit for my little darkroom.

On the other hand for contact printing, 5x7, 8x10 and 7x11 are a perfect fit for the space. Of course you could try to make an enlarged negative from one of the 4x5 or 8x10 - digital or traditional which ever you prefer to get a feel for the negative size and contact print one to see if that is the way you want to go.

If I thought my back (and back pocket) could stand it a Ritter 11x14 would be the way I would go.

21-May-2008, 05:44
I'm going to use mine as a weight loss program. I could do with losing a stone or two, so I reckon that carrying my Ritter 7x17 around will aid the weight loss and all the excess I've been carrying around to date has been good training in preparation..... ;-)

Michael Roberts
21-May-2008, 05:59
I went through this about a year and a half ago. Like you, 8x10 contacts just seemed a little smaller than I wanted. I found an 11x14 Empire State that needed work, bought it, tore it down, refinished it, bought a new bellows and finally managed to find a couple of film holders. Already had lenses to cover, but I've added a couple more in the last year. The camera, at 15 lbs, doesn't weigh much more than my 8x10 (12 lbs). I have not yet done a lot of shooting with the 11x14 mainly b/c I don't yet have my darkroom set up for the bigger equipment I need to process the film. However, I will in the near future get the dark room set up and will do a lot of work with the 11x14.
So far, I do have some experience with it in the field. I'm not so concerned with being limited to shooting near the car or with backpacking the camera--first, there are a lot of great locations I can drive close to; second, the total weight of my 11x14 gear is not much more than my 8x10 gear. The real limit is cost and availability of 11x14 filmholders. Unless you want to pay $350-500 each for new ones, that is. Even this is not a real limitation as I can live with making only 4 or fewer photographs per outing with the 11x14 for the time being in order to gain the bigger contact print size.

I am having to come up with some modifications to support the camera. Unlike my 8x10, the Empire State does not allow me to center the weight on the tripod so I have to be more careful that the head is tightened into position. I also had a fright last week when I set the 11x14 up in gusty winds. The whole rig was blown over by a sudden gust just as I reached for the film holder; I barely caught it before camera and all came crashing down on the rocks. So I learned to set the tripod up with legs extended wider than I do with the 8x10 and to set my camera bag down wind of the camera. Point is, the ULF is bigger, heavier (duh) and working with it will require a little more thought, learning, and patience. Again, to me, the bigger neg is worthwhile.

In fact, I skip the 8x10 format for bw; I use the 4x5 when I plan to enlarge and when I want something lightweight and easy to handle, and I use the 11x14 when I want to make contact prints.

To continue with the analogies (I liked the poetry one, Bruce), I look at ULF as having a sports car in the garage. It's a lot of fun to take out on occasion, and seasonally it might be your main vehicle, but it's probably not going to be your only vehicle or even your main one most of the time (unless you live in Southern Cal).

Hugo Zhang
21-May-2008, 06:01
ULF format has tons of challenges. But as you stated, the 8x10 contact prints are getting smaller and you are lusting for bigger ones. Well, I think you should go with your lust. We only live once. ULF are not that heavy after all.:)

Richard K.
21-May-2008, 06:28
What Hugo said....

BTW Hugo, is my 12x20 ready yet? :D And you're sure a sexagenarian can handle it? :)

steve simmons
21-May-2008, 06:55
FWIW I have enjoyed my experience with the 7x17.

steve simmons

Frank Petronio
21-May-2008, 07:01
If I were a landscape photographer living in the relatively flat Midwest, as I assume you do... then a wide ULF camera makes sense to me.

You can always get a cheap Crown Graphic or Graflex SLR and use that for 4x5 handheld or portraits if you feel the need.

21-May-2008, 07:46
If I were a landscape photographer living in the relatively flat Midwest, as I assume you do... then a wide ULF camera makes sense to me.
Or, in my case, Belgium. It's also relatively flat.


21-May-2008, 08:27
For me, 8x10 is a healthy option. There are plenty of films, holders and option on field of view in lenses... it's big enough as a contact print, small enough to be enlarged. Scanning is an easier option. Camera, field version at least, is compact enough to be carried/traveled easily over long distance whether it's driving, hiking, or flying. And the tripod required for it is not overly large and heavy...

Once you go beyond 8x10, all these options/factors become proportionally limiting. Just as other have said, if you can live/work within those parameters, there is nothing like going big. I forgot who said it here, it becomes a very slippery slope very quick:D

John Bowen
21-May-2008, 09:15
Most of these have already been mentioned, but....

1) Will your lenses cover your desired format?

2) Will your darkroom handle the larger films/prints?
Will you need larger trays/sinks/washers?

3) Have you priced out what your camera, lens, filmholders and film will set you back?

4) Will your tripod and tripod head support the larger camera?

5) Will your dark cloth fit your larger camera?

6) Will you need a contact printing frame or vacuum easel for your larger contact prints?

7) Will you need to reload holders in the field? If so how will you accomplish this? Will you need a larger changing tent?

I just "graduated" from 8x10 to 7x17 a little over a year ago, so most of these considerations are pretty fresh in my mind.

Good luck with your decision and if you decide to go ahead with it........Welcome to ULF.........You're gonna love it!

21-May-2008, 17:32
FWIW I have enjoyed my experience with the 7x17.

steve simmons


Actually, your series in VC is one of the things pushing me in this direction! So I guess its partially your fault. I won't tell the wife, so have no fear. You are quite safe.

Thank you.

steve simmons
21-May-2008, 17:53

Actually, your series in VC is one of the things pushing me in this direction! So I guess its partially your fault. I won't tell the wife, so have no fear. You are quite safe.

Thank you.

Thanks. I think:)


Richard M. Coda
21-May-2008, 18:16
I have an Arca Field 4x5 and an Arca 8x10 F Metric. I, too, have the ULF bug. I am having Keith Canham make me an 11x14 back for the 8x10. I can keep my AS cameras and now have the option, if the image warrants it, of going 11x14. I can't wait to make my first 11x14 contact print. BTW, if you want to see some really nice 11x14 contacts, visit my friend, Roger Palmenberg, at http://www.rpalmenberg.com

21-May-2008, 18:38
I am actually building an ULF format myself, so I say go for it. But another possible option is getting an 8x10 enlarger. You might be able to find one cheap, and although it's not a contact print they can look pretty close.

Just a thought


Wayne Crider
21-May-2008, 20:01
My question would be how high film prices are going to be once oil hits it's high and if there will be enough demand to produce in those sizes.

21-May-2008, 21:58
Well you are comparing panoramic with a different format at 11 x 14...so perhaps the 8 x 10 and a panoramic? I really like having both as some things I think are better in 8 x10 vs. 7 x 17....and vice versa...but I do love the tonality and tactile nature of contact prints....but, 11 x 14 is awfully nice too! tough decision, but I would definitely try one or the other, or BOTH! ...otherwise you might regret it! :)

Michael Roberts
22-May-2008, 15:42
How about 11x14 plus a couple of splitters to do 5.5x14 as well as 7x11?

Jim Fitzgerald
22-May-2008, 19:41
Blumie, do what I did. Build an 8x20 and an 11x14! I love both of the formats. You do look at things differently and are more selective in your work, I believe. For me the 8x20 format is easier to use. Sets up quicker and is not that much more difficult. The 11x14 is a different story. I do slow down with it. I recently finished it and I'm actually fine tuning it as we speak but I do love the format.There is something about an 11x14 Azo contact print that dwarfs my 8x10 Azo prints. So I guess you need to sell some stuff and get on with both of them. Trust me you will be glad you did when you see a print come up in the developer!