View Full Version : Moving to a Larger Format

William Marderness
28-May-2000, 19:05
It seems that every year I move up to a larger format. I went from 35mm to 6x7 t o 4x5 to 8x10 in a few years. Each time I switched formats, I thought it would b e my last. When I went to 6x7, I thought large format would be too troublesome. When I went to 4x5, I thought 8x10 would be ridiculous. When I tried 8x10, howev er, I was happy I made the switch. Every time I moved up, I was always happy I d id. Now I wonder if 8x10 is the end of the line. Should I put out the money to t ry an 11x14? Have others enjoyed moving up in format, but found that more than 8 x10 was just too big?

28-May-2000, 19:47
William - I went to 12x20 a little while ago and I'm very happy I took the plunge. It feels "normal" to me, and really isn't any harder than the smaller formats. (A bit slower, perhaps, but not much more difficult). I think it depends on the temperament of the user. Some LF folks hate the mammoth formats (check out the earlier posts in the archives). And most 35mm shooters absolutely pale at the thought of having to shoot on 4x5, without their autofocus and motordrive. ("All that for ONE shot??", they exclaim when they see what it takes to set up, compose, and expose a sheet of film.)

I guess what I'm saying is that you have to try it and see if it fits the way you work. The fact that you enjoy 8x10 is a good indication that you may enjoy using a big camera. One question that might help you decide on a format - what size prints do you like to make? I personally like fairly large prints for most subjects, and I find 11x14 or 16x20 a little to square, so the wider aspect of 12x20 feels good to me. What seems right to you?

Also, Tillman Crane (I think) hosts a mammoth camera workshop in Utah in the summer - you might want to try that. Dan Smith posted a review of it elsewhere on this site. Sounded perfect for someone like you, trying to decide which way to go.


Ellis Vener
28-May-2000, 23:17
I once read a users account of working with a a 12x20 camera. What it boiled dow n to in practical terms was "If I have to work more than 50 yards from the car, the subject isn't photogenic."

But why let that stop you? Try renting Pol aroids 20x24 camera and see what you think.

Sergio Ortega
29-May-2000, 00:42

My father was a newspaperman and publisherall his life. From the time I was very young, I would hang around his newspaper, totally fascinated by the equipment, and, over the years, learned the various technical processes involved in putting out a daily newspaper. Mind you, this was during the time when newspapers were printed using the old "hot metal" process. How things have changed since those days.

Among other things, I learned to feed and operate the Linotype machines, helped the pressmen set up the massive Goss four color press for each day's run, and--my favorite part of all--worked in the darkrooms, and helped the camera operator run this huge, wooden process camera that literally took up an entire room.

I think this is when I first became interested in very large cameras; every format I've used since has somehow seemed like miniature equipment....just a toy.

When all the old equipment was finally replaced, I managed to salvage this huge old process camera/lens/arc lights, and a ton of other related equipment. I'm not sure what I intended to do with this stuff, but it's all been safely in storage for years.

Lately I've been toying with the idea of somehow resurrecting this old thing, and converting/adapting it into a super large view camera. I know....call me crazy!

So, I think I understand your interest in working with increasingly larger formats. I say go for it. Good luck. Sergio.

Carl Weese
29-May-2000, 20:52
I keep moving up in format as well, and now work routinely in 8x10/ 7x17/12x20. The main difference as the cameras get larger is the difficulty of setting up away from a vehicle, and the fact that you may have trouble getting your favorite films. Processing can be an issue as well, but these are all details that can be solved. In fact I'm working on an article about shooting ultra-large format for _PHOTO Techniques_ magazine, but it will be quite a while before it's published. What I'd say is that if you want larger prints than 8x10 and are in love with the contact print medium, a bigger camera makes perfect sense.---Carl

james mickelson
29-May-2000, 21:00
A discussion with Dan Smith would be invaluable for anything larger than 8x10. He is a fountain of knowlege and very free with the information too. Last year he was involved with Tillman Crane's Mammoth Camera Workshop. He has written extensively about it on his website. Give him a hooler. James

james mickelson
29-May-2000, 21:01
I think that is "holler". James

29-May-2000, 21:09

There is mention of the Mammoth Camera Workshop by a previous respondant. I am in a position similar to yourself right now, although it took me a little longer. Started in 35mm, got a 6x7, moved to 4x5, and got an 8x10 not too long ago.

I signed up for the Workshop (June 25 through July 1) several months ago. The main reason is to see if these cameras are really what I want to do with my photographic efforts. I feel that 8x10 is more intuitive to me than 4x5, and I suspect that I will feel better with a larger format.

The opportunity to use a variety of cameras from Phillips, Canham, Wisner, and also the 20x24 Polaroid seems invaluable to me. If I do decide on a larger format, the experience I gain will help me choose which format, and also which camera maker...

As for larger than 8x10 being too big, If you are doing contact printing, I don't believe there is any real practical reason why a larger camera would be "too big", unless you like to draw in a viewer with detail in a small print. I personally like the 8x10 size, but feel a 12x20 would be better for the landscape work I do.

I'm doing platinum, so the big issue with size is getting a good coating of platinum salts on a piece of paper large enough for the negative. I've just started with 8x10, and it's much harder than doing 4x5. I can only imagine how much harder a 12x20 would be.

You will run into film selection problems, unless you use Ilford already. Processing becomes harder if you are cramped for space, but I believe the interface of camera to photographer becomes much better as the size goes up. Since a variety of used mammoth cameras come up on ebay, I think the cost to try out a format isn't too high. If you don't like it, you can seel the camera back on ebay for about what you paid for it, and no harm is done.

Good luck on the quest. It may be a Grail Quest, but hopefully, you'll find a format that fits your personality and your artistic needs. In the meantime, enjoy the journey...


james norman
31-May-2000, 18:44
what a great thread - i am a huge fan of mammoth plate views, and have studied with great interest the works of 19th century masters such as carleton watkins, eduoard baldus, and a j russell. fortunately, at the oregon state archives next door, they have an original folio of "photographs of oregon and the columbia river" by carleton watkins from his visit here in 1867. the folio has an embossed, leather-bound wooden cover, with some type of sewn cloth signatures to which the pages are attached. a classic title page and some 60 or so albumen contact prints of his mammoth plate negatives are mounted to the pages. the contact prints are about 22x30", and are simply amazing considering what he went through to produce each image (pack in all the chemicals, equipment, glass plates, portable darkroom, etc., by mule and/or small boat - set up the darkroom at each location, prepare the chemicals and plates, expose the view, develop the plate, etc., and pack it all back to san francisco without breaking all the plates) - nothing short of a miracle.

anyway, a couple of you mention a 12x20 camera - does someone actually make a 12x20 camera and film holders, or did you guys custom build them? does someone make 12x20 film, or are you somehow cutting your own film? one of the most interesting things about mammoth plate work is how it affects your approach and composition. watkins understood this intuitively, and while many of his mammoth plate images look odd when reduced to fit the pages of a book, when you view them at the size he actually shot them at, they reveal themselves as true masterworks of photographic vision.

David A. Goldfarb
31-May-2000, 21:43
I was similarly impressed by the Carleton Watkins exhibit here in New York last year.

It seems that glass plates would have a big advantage in the way of flatness over film with really large format images (presuming you can get them to the location and back in one piece). Are photographic plates made any more? Does anyone coat their own?

1-Jun-2000, 01:19
J. Norman - Yes, they're still being made today. Wisner makes 12x20s, and others may also (Canham? Lotus?). Alan Brubaker (AWB) makes great holders, and Ilford makes both FP4+ and HP5+ in 12x20. Also, there are used models available (Korona, Folmer&Schwing) from the usual sources (Shutterbug, ebay). You might want to check out The View Camera Store for more info on all of the above.


1-Jun-2000, 05:07
Periodically I convince myself that one of these much larger formats is the way to go, and I am sure that I will take the plunge soon - it all depends on finding the right circumstances and the right bargain. However, what modern lenses will cover a format such as 12x20? By my reckoning, you would need an image circle of at least 595mm - the Nikkor 360mm only covers 494, I think, but the Fuji 600C covers 620. Is that the only choice among affordable modern lenses?

Bill Glickman
6-Jun-2000, 18:47
I have considered the jump from 8x10 to 11x14. I considered this 11x14 because Fuji still makes provia and Velvia. They used to at least.... I do not Contact print, however, when I took an 8x10 chrome and had a good lab make me a contact print and then an enlargement with the same chrome to 16x20, I could honestly say, I could not tell them apart. There seemed to be no difference to my discriminating eye. I asked others, and they could not see differences. So, my conclusion was, unless you were contact printing only, and wanted larger contact prints, I personaly saw no real benefits. Of course the jump to 20x24 would be a whole different game... Is my experience surprising to many of you experienced pros at this? This was the only comparison I had ever made.

Sal Santamaura
7-Jun-2000, 10:58
Bill, did that lab actually make an 8x10 contact print or, like most, did it simply provide you two different sizes printed using the same enlarger and lens? If so, and testing what many claim about the "undeniable superiority of a contact print" was your goal, the lab may have rendered your conslusion baseless.

Bill Glickman
8-Jun-2000, 05:26
Sal, good point... the lab told me no enlarger lens was used, therefore I concluded this was a contact print? Is that correct? If anyone makes color 8x10 contact prints, I would love to see one or pay for one of mine to be done by a real pro.

I wondered this same issue, I do hear many people rave over contact prints, but in most image galleries, only enlargements are shown.

Sal Santamaura
8-Jun-2000, 12:01
Bill, if no enlarger lens was used, and it wasn't the product of scanning and Lightjet or other output, then it surely was a contact print. Also, I promise to stop rushing these posts and thereby avoid making conclusions into conslusions.

Sean Billy Bob Boy yates
10-Jun-2000, 02:24
Everyone else has pretty well said everything worth saying but a "new to l.f." post started me thinking and brought me back here.

When I got my 8 X 10 I was surprised at how "easy" it was to use. It seemed that the jump from 4 X 5 / 5 X 7 wasn't as abrupt? shocking? whatever,

as the jump from 35mm to 4 X 5. Once you get the thing on the tripod (provided it's an adequate tripod) I really think 8 X 10 is easier to use. You can see EVERYTHING! and it's easier to see what effect the controls have and they are easier to get your hands on and manipulate without squinting and scrunching and so on.

I wish I had moved up to 8 X 10 sooner!

Right now I only shoot 8 X 10 (and I mean only - no M.F., no 35) and can only dream of the day that the economic clouds clear and I can buy a # 10 Cirkut or a 12 X 20. I am sure I will shoot less, but I know that each shot will be better.