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Thread: Future of ULF

  1. #1

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    Future of ULF

    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.

  2. #2

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    Future of ULF

    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!

  3. #3
    Clay
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    Future of ULF

    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.

  4. #4

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    Future of ULF

    Jim,

    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!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  5. #5

    Future of ULF

    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!

  6. #6
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Future of ULF

    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.

  7. #7
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
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    Future of ULF

    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.

  8. #8
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Future of ULF

    True, but what was once maybe a dozen crazy guys out there with ridiculous cameras is now enough to constitute a small, identifiable market.

  9. #9

    Future of ULF

    Greetings,

    "...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

  10. #10

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    Future of ULF

    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.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

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