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Thread: ULF Tipping Point

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2017

    ULF Tipping Point

    I found the transition to 8x10 from MF (and s bit of 4x5) a big step up in complexity and cost. Practically everything needed to be replaced - naively I thought the camera and a lens was it. But then there were all manner of additional stuff - tripod, dark cloth, pack, dark room equipment for my Jobo.

    But now Iím having an itch to go larger again. 11x14 is perhaps the most obvious next step. But I keep imagining contact printed 20x24 or 16x20 portraits. Spare me!

    My question is how much of a jump is it from 8x10 to 11x14? I see film at least is available without special order! But what about the really big stuff, should I just forget it? Special order films, lens availability, tripods, weight and bulk etc etc.



  2. #2
    Tin Can's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    Each step up is big and expensive.

    8X10 to 11X14 for example. Film holders become way more money. Figure 500% over 8X10. Film is basicly the same per sq in for all off the shelf sizes. Custom orders rise in sq in $. Special order includes long waits for product.

    Weight is an issue past 8X10 in all parts. I have 14X17 film holders that are very heavy.

  3. #3
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Stuck inside of Tucson with the Eastern Seaboard Blues again...

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    What Randy said, and the step up to loading 11x4 after loading 8x10 is proportionally about the same as the step up from 4x5 to 8x10. And the filmholders get really expensive. I mean really. And there's no "tipping point". Like the first time on the high dive, you just hold your nose, yell "Geronimo!", and jump...
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    San Francisco, CA

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    11x14 is probably the easiest jump in into ULF in terms of gear/film. It was a standard at size in the US. Film and holders at relatively easy to find. Older wooden holders are not that expensive, I've recently picked up 3 clean holders for $150 each. So more like 300% of typical used 8x10 holders. You're probably not going to want as many holders anyway. They are heavy and bulky.

    The big Gitzo and Reis tripods will work for a variety of ULF formats.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jul 2008

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    Another aspect of ULF is that, except for 11x14, no ANSI standard exists for the film holders. So you need to buy your film holders 1st and then have the camera made according to the specifications of those film holders. Or buy your camera from somebody who also makes film holders for their cameras, like Richard Ritter or Chamonix, and have both made at the same time. And like everybody else says, it is expensive!

    I shoot a Richard Ritter 16x20, up from an Ebony 8x10 (I still shoot 8x10). In the time that it takes me to set up and compose 1 16x20 shot, I can set up and compose several shots in 8x10. So expect to take much fewer shots/compositions than with 8x10. And loading|unloading film holders also takes much more time (for me, at least 10 minutes to load|unload each 16x20 film holder).

    Regarding weight: the Richard Ritter 16x20 camera is about 17 pounds. With 2 lens and 2 film holders and the usual gear (dark cloth, lens blower, light meter, extra tripods-see next paragraph), the weight comes out around 35 pounds or so. Which is about the same as my 8x10 gear with several lenses and film holders. So for me personally the weight is not an issue. However, the bulkiness of ULF is a problem when hiking off trail. I have not tried rock scrambling with my 16x20 gear yet, but I suspect that it will be challenging.

    Regarding lenses: the Nikon NIKKOR-M 450mm f9 and Fuji FUJINON-C 600mm f11.5 lenses cover 16x20 from my experience. According to Sandy King, they also can cover 20x24 stopped down enough. And the Schneider G-CLARON 355mm f9 lens can cover these formats at 1:1 if you are inclined to shoot portraits or up to 12x20 at most distances stopped down sufficiently. After that, look for process lenses like the APO-NIKKORs (these tend to be relatively inexpensive-around $300-500, although they may not come in a shutter) and older Goerz lenses like the DAGORs (these lenses seem to be getting rarer and more expensive) and APO ARTARs. So you can find lenses that cover ULF for not too much money. You are much more likely to have, or find, lenses to cover 11x14 than 16x20 or 20x24.

    Another issue I have found when shooting is that I need extra tripods for the front and rear standards to prevent camera shake. EVEN IF your tripod supports the weight of your camera, you still need these extra tripods because the standards stick out so far from the camera body that they become wobbly every time you touch the camera, load/unload a film holder, set the aperture|shutter speed|open/close the shutter to focus. For lenses <600mm, I only need to support the front standard. But for lenses 600mm and longer, I need 2 extra tripods to support both the front and rear standards. And that is in addition to a tripod to support the camera itself. So buy a couple of extra carbon fiber tripods or expect to carry an extra 10 pounds or so of tripods. I use Gitzo carbon fiber tripods to minimize my weight. You can get a Gitzo GT4553S that will support up to 55 pounds, which will cover most ULF cameras. It is pricey (B&H lists it as around $1,000) or you can buy a Ries tripod and get more exercise.

    And I personally find vignetting from the bellows to be much more problematic than with 8x10. Bellows vignetting from the top due to the bellows sagging down into the scene is a problem with lenses 600mm and longer. Bellows vignetting from the bottom due to the bellows sticking in the lower back is a problem for lenses shorter than 600mm. Resolving bellows vignetting adds at least 10 minutes to each scene that I compose.

    If you make the leap, then I recommend getting a lot of X-Ray film to start. You will make a lot of mistakes before you get it right, and no sense making those mistakes with more expensive film. I went through 4 boxes of Ilford HP5+ before I started getting good exposures, and HP5+ in 16x20 size was around $545/box when I bought it in 2013. So that was over $2,000 wasted before I made any good exposures. I invite you to learn from my mistake.

    Regarding film: I encourage you to buy Ilford film during their annual ULF run and talk to Keith Canham about joining a Kodak special film order. I think that Keith is about to place a special order on some 20x24 film: check his FaceBook webpage about that.

    Bottom line: stepping up from 8x10 to ULF is an order of magnitude change in difficulty and expense.

    Good luck with your journey. I do enjoy looking at my 16x20 negs (the ones that come out good), so you will find that part of the experience intoxicating.


  6. #6
    8x20 8x10 John Jarosz's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Fairfax Iowa

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    Pick a ULF size format that uses existing x-ray film sizes so you can pratice with the x-ray stuff.

    Once you go past 11x14 analyze your darkroom to see if your sinks and trays will fit.

  7. #7
    LF/ULF Carbon Printer Jim Fitzgerald's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Vancouver Washington

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    I agree with what everyone has said here. I shoot 11x14 and 14x17. Of the two the 11x14 is easier all the way around. Now my 14x17 can actually do 20x24 horizontal due to the free bellows I was given to build the camera. I built a 14x17 reducing back for it to shoot 14x17 X-ray film. I did find some expired Bergger 200 to shoot as well. It is a challenge and expensive and of the two I prefer the 14x17 size. Once I saw my first good 14x17 carbon print I was sold. The print size just has more "presence" I feel. So choose wisely and most of all enjoy the journey. My 8x10 is now called my point and shoot!

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Mar 2007

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    11x14 is not hard to get into, but almost impossible to backpack. I use a roller cart to move it from my car to a location, and hiking is out of the question. With a 8x10, I could hike for hours in the national parks in Utah. The Fidelity 11x14 holder is 1500g ea, 2.5 times heavier than the 8x10 (600g). So I could never made it far from where I park.

  9. #9
    jp's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    14x17 has easily available xray film and of course by annual order from Ilford.

    Also consider your darkroom situation.. If you're developing in trays, do you have enough room to actually develop the size you want? Even three trays 16x20 take much space.. You want room around the edges developing film so the waves bouncing off the sides don't overdevelop the film along it's edges.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Apr 2017

    Re: ULF Tipping Point

    Thanks everybody. This is very helpful. I imagine using it mainly in studio or close to car. So I could go big.

    Do folks find 11x14 is a sufficient step beyond 8x10? I appreciate the negative is almost twice the area. But wonder if I should go bigger and have no regrets.

    Best. M

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