View Full Version : Future of ULF

Jim Chinn
21-Oct-2003, 10:18
I have read quite a few articles about the growing ability and ever decreasing cost of being able to take MF and 4x5 negs and digitally enhance and enlarge up to 16x20 for digitally produced negatives for contact printing.

With this in mind, is there a future for 11x14 and larger formats? Is it more cost effective to buy the digital gear or have the smaller negs enlarged by a lab? I always read that the quality is as good as an actual real size negative, but i find it hard to believe that you can enlarge a 4x5 or MF neg and retain the same quality in the final print.

I don't want this to turn into a digital vs. film debate, just wanting some opinions and discussion on the current and future state of ULF.

Mark Sampson
21-Oct-2003, 10:49
It's my guess that most ULF photographers use the big negative to make perfect contact prints as an art form. There's no advantage to using (say) a 12x20 camera for 99-44/100ths of commercial assignments. And that as long as film is made to fit, people will use ULF as a means of personal expression. Since new cameras are being made and sold, and photographers are using them, film will be available for a long time. Even if b/w paper became unavailable, people would coat their own. There's no one way to do things, and now there are more choices than ever. Digital hybrid operations will appeal to many people, and are capable of beautiful results. I usually enlarge fron 4x5 negs. But there's *something* about a contact print from a big negative that is unsurpassable in its emotional effect. People still make music on grand pianos, despite all the possibilities of a modern recording studio!

clay harmon
21-Oct-2003, 10:50
I do both. I shoot up to 12x20, and I have had imagesetter contact printing negatives generated up to 12x24. The quality of the imagesetter negs is quite good. I would say that it is comparable to what you might get if you enlarged the negative optically. On the other hand, the in-camera negative is still the gold standard, IMO. A well focused 12x20 contact print wins the 'presence' award hands down. You can take a loupe to your print and see detail in what would be a sea of dots on the digi-neg.

But the big in-camera neg may not always be the best choice. Obviously, a static subject and a tripod are necessary. Spontaneity is not a design attribute of a ULF camera. Also, the longer lenses necessary for the big chunks of film have very limited depth of field, and subjects that would require both near and far resolution might actually appear sharper if you shot it with a 4x5 and a shorter lens stopped down a ways, then scanned and digitally enlarged. Cramped interiors can be a real challenge with a ULF camera.

I don't see the issue as either/or, but rather one of using the right tool for the right job. If your shooting style and subjects are amenable to the restrictions of ULF cameras, then that is still probably the best in terms of print quality. Whether the typical print-viewer would be able to discern this quality is debatable, however. If you are a street shooter type, then the digital negative route is definitely viable.

John Kasaian
21-Oct-2003, 10:55

I recently got into ULF. FWIW, economically its not as expensive per sheet as I had originally thought. I view ULF as a B&W, contact print only knd of a thing. If original ULF prints are superior or inferior to digital generated prints I can't honestly say, as the most powerful loupe I have is 8x. If you find that simply messing about with a big ol' camera with a gg so big that looks like you could fall in if you're not careful, and then watching the image appear on a huge piece of film in the darkroom, then I think you'll be happy with ULF. I suppose its a matter of old equiptment and processes punching my creative buttons, while punching keys and looking at screen don't do it for me(but then, it might be the cat's meow for you!) Good Luck!

Michael Kadillak
21-Oct-2003, 11:26
You can look at this from another perspective. The market is currently very robust for ULF cameras with waiting periods for delivery of a year or longer for some makers. If you doubt this fact, just pick up the phone and call for yourself. Secondly, the secondary sellers of diverse offerings for ULF film has never been better and that is also happening because of simple economic demand. J&C is coming to the table with a whole new line of conventional ULF B&W film in November targeting the ULF shooter up to 20x24 I believe. Clearly the folks that are coughing up the serious cash to acquire these cameras are not using them as conversation pieces, but are exploring the alternative and the conventional contacting processes to go the extra mile with the final image being the determinant criteria. As a result, I feel that the future for ULF is only enhanced by digital capabilities and technological advances. If that were not the case, then the market in general would be trending away from the conventional, which clearly it is not.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and make a toast to all of our good fortunes in the ULF and large format community. Life for us has not been this good for a number of years. In spite of some setbacks from the corporate world domestically, our entrepreunerial brothers overseas are stepping up to the plate and filling the market with marvelous and diverse product lines for us to enjoy. Cheers!

David A. Goldfarb
21-Oct-2003, 11:26
ULF is experiencing a big revival right now. Many new cameras are being made, and smaller film producers are supplying film for them. People aren't buying new ULF cameras for the sake of efficiency or cost effectiveness. There is something specific to the look of a contact print that can't be matched any other way, and something about the process of working 1:1 like a painter, where the image on the groundglass is the same size with the same visual characteristics as the image that will be hanging on the wall, that cannot be replicated by any other process.

Ralph Barker
21-Oct-2003, 12:01
Although I agree with the points being made about ULF being a creative choice, I would point out that "robust market" and "big revival" are relative terms. My guess would be that the numbers of new ULF cameras being sold total in the dozens or low hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands that one would assume from "robust" in other market segments.

David A. Goldfarb
21-Oct-2003, 12:29
True, but what was once maybe a dozen crazy guys out there with ridiculous cameras is now enough to constitute a small, identifiable market.

Pete Caluori
21-Oct-2003, 17:16

"...is there a future for 11x14 and larger formats?" IMHO, as long as folks like us are using ULF there will be a supply. The question of which is better is subjective. Surely digital can accomplish a great deal, but it is not the same, nor are enlarged negatives. Attend a venu like APIS where you can see hundreds of prints made from conventional, digital and enlarged negatives and make up your own mind. Personally, I can see a difference. Sometimes it's a subtle difference, but when you see hundreds it becomes more apparent.

ULF and perhaps even LF will always be a niche market, so the big corporations may not find it profitable. That's fine, but as long as there is a demand, there will be a market and someone will supply it. J&C is one example of a supplier to a niche market.

Regards, Pete

Brian Ellis
21-Oct-2003, 18:01
The biggest camera I've ever used is 8x10 but I can tell you that one of the main reasons I used even that big a camera was the pure pleasure of composing the image on such a large ground glass. The difference between 4x5 and 8x10 was like the difference between a television set and a movie screen. I can only imagine what a blast it would be to be look at things on an 11x14 or larger ground glass. There's more to large format photography in all its forms than the technical quality of the photograph.

22-Oct-2003, 01:01
Jim, I've been working on using inkjet negs for contact printing. The problem is I have found it impossible to get rid of a faint 'dither' pattern which in turn shows on the print. I've also found it to be a really tricky affair. You need to do your own curves for your lightsource/paper/developer combo, and then get a good inkjet neg - not easy. You then need good BW developer chops. I've often heard people tout this as an 'easy' alternative but it isn't at all. The other thing to bear in mind is many folk contact print because of quality. Whilst you can do all the setup in Photoshop, the inkjet artefacts get in the way for me and you'd be better off enlarging smaller size film IMO than trying to emulate ULF. An 11x14 contact print blows your socks off. I'm still experimenting though and next month will be trying a 7600 equipped with studioprint rip and a number of dither options.

John Kasaian
22-Oct-2003, 11:40

One thing that appeals to me about ULF is its simplicity(no, really!) That was the driving reason behind switching to LF in the first place for me, as an amateur. I found all the toys that Nikon and Hasselblad offered with their systems got me too wrapped up in gizzmo-obsession and less in the practice of photography. Even 8x10 and smaller sheet formats have a lot of temptations, though I find with 12x20 I'm far more limited by neccesity. I've got two holders and one lens in a shutter with the light meter, cable release, tripod and filters borrowed from my 8x10 kit, thats it! When undertaking an expedition---and getting any ULF camera out of the house amounts to an expedition---I only have the photograph to think about. Its kind of refreshing, like using a Rolleiflex tlr only with the possibility of getting a hernia...(of course I do need to get a bigger dark cloth!)----------Cheers!

John D Gerndt
22-Oct-2003, 15:29
Jim, its all a matter of data. You can enlarge a medium format negative and then contact the result but the data are set before you start. There are only so many points available on the original and no more are created in the enlargement. This is good enough for many people. I take it that the cost is getting to be not too far from using ULF stuff, so it will shrink the marked for ULF to the extent that those who can be satisfied by the digital approximation will switch.

I think the long-range future of ULF is in question like the future of painting was in question when photography first came along. People still paint but it is not for commercial reasons. Paint is expensive but still made. I think we will loose many emulsions/chemistries but we’ll learn to make new. We are the few who can afford the time and have the great interest in making the unique images only obtainable by this one process.

By the way, I am having a hard time finding vinyl records for my record player lately… I miss that old sound. It has a presence that the new stuff doesn’t. I wonder what is the future of analog music?



David A. Goldfarb
22-Oct-2003, 15:38
I can make analog music on my analog trombone or my analog guitar any time I want, and I can even go out and hear analog music in concert halls and clubs all over the city any day of the week.

22-Oct-2003, 16:56
Once you go to 8x10 and work with it for even a few weeks, carry it up a few hills, it no longer seems so big. I'm ready for 11x14, once my budget catches up with me. That's the reason why I can't even see it in the future.

But as to ULF and it's future, I'm in high school now, and will gladly help lead my generation through LF anf ULF. I'm looking forward to it, and just hope that others are.

Sidney Cammeresi
22-Oct-2003, 17:20
Amen, Mr Antman. I'm 24, and I just bought an 11x14 camera. I'm glad I'm getting into ULF so young, so that I've got a life full of contact prints to which I can look forward. :)

Daniel Blakeslee
22-Oct-2003, 17:50
Sidney, at your age you can actually carry the thing, too!

John Kasaian
22-Oct-2003, 18:53
FWIW, I had an 11x14 some time ago, but left the format because of the cost of film holders and, well,...film. I love the format though. Photo Warehouse and J and C weren't around then or I'd still be shooting it. With 12x20, the cost, availability and variety of film available is really quite good and getting better. If you're shooting 8x20 there would also be the option of cutting down aerial roll film! BTW holders are still $$$$!

Michael Kadillak
22-Oct-2003, 20:53
Hey John, you never know when you might come across a Korona in the 11x14 format and rekindle a long lost relationship. One thing is for sure, nothing in a smaller format quite comes close to the real thing. If that were not the case, I would have to have my head examined for maintaining the desire to haul this creature to different shooting locations that are not within 5ft of my tailgate. And film holders are not as expensive as they used to be with Sandy and Sam putting out the S&S holders that can be found at Quality Camera. Nice thing is that quality has not been compromised one bit with these holders.


John Kasaian
22-Oct-2003, 21:45

I've heard nothing but great things about S&S holders. If I ever get another 11x14 again, I'll order some. My 12x20 is a Folmer & Schwing and I'm not too inclined to have the back milled to accept Korona style holders. One holder came with the Beast, I happened on the other by fluke(nobody else wanted it since it wasn't a Korona!)

FWIW, one really nice thing about 11x14 is that a contact print nicely matted looks right(to me, anyway) in most rooms in most homes. A matted 16x20, and even a 12x20 contact tends to overpower most rooms---again my opinion, but then I don't know anyone living in really big houses either.

Dick Roadnight
23-Oct-2003, 16:45
...and when they stop making the film,,, you can all start coating your own glass plates!

I thought that the market for ULF was theatrical props.

John Kasaian
24-Oct-2003, 00:35

If you're ever in the nieghborhood stop by and we'll take "the Beast" out so you can feel whats it like to get vertigo looking through a gg!;-) If you don't agree ULF is something special, I'll buy the krispy kremes and coffee.

Michael Kadillak
25-Oct-2003, 20:32

I would be willing to bet that Sandy can make you an S&S holder to your specifications whatever your camera registration. Nobody would want to have to pay for a modification. that would make your existing holders obsolete.

John Kasaian
25-Oct-2003, 22:56

Thanks! I'll probably do just that before too long.