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Thread: Is there any real utility to ULF?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    Let me start by saying that I would love to have an ULF camera, especially a 12x20 or 7x17 or any of the Cirkut cameras. However, Iím having a hard time justifying the cost of the camera plus additional lenses, film, processing, etcÖ and Iím curious to know why those who use ULF are using them. I know that some people use ULF because they want to print with processes that require contact prints. However, it seems that inkjet negatives are becoming a real alternative for contact printing, and this process should only get better. Also, some will say that they just canít live with anything less than the detail and sharpness they get with ULF. But I'm not sure that I believe that enlarging, or scanning, a 4x5 negative, even if it's cropped, to any of the ULF contact print sizes is enough of a loss to worry about. And some will say that they like the slower, more thoughtful pace of working with ULF. But I can do this with a 2 megapixel digital camera if I choose to. So what am I missing here? Is there any real utility to ULF? I guess Iím attracted to ULF because Iím fascinated by the cameras themselves and especially the historical aspect of the older cameras and processes. (Iím starting to think that coated glass plate negatives would be fun.) But what do I tell my wife, other than there's a fine line between a hobby and insanity, to justify spending this much money on yet another camera? Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. #2

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    Greetings Tom,

    While it is true that you can create a digital negative for contact printing and get a good, even very good print, there is a difference between that print and one created from an in camera negative. This is a hard thing to quantify in words and you certainly can't do it on a computer monitor. Go to a venu like APIS (it wont be in the US until next year) where you have the chance to see first hand prints made both ways and judge for yourself. After looking at hundreds of prints I can see a difference.

    I use multiple formats up to 11x14 and I do own a digital camera. I look at my cameras as tools and chose the one for the job at hand. I pick the one that will give me the desired output, though these days I generally pick the 8x10. If you're just looking for a "print," then you are probably correct, but if you're looking to express yourself and you're looking for the ultimate a process can deliver, then IMHO there's no contest. A properly executed in camera neg will win evevry time.

    My 6x7 film camera with 400 speed film will run circles around my 3.3MP digital camera, so I doubt that you could do serious work with your 2 MP camera. Good luck!

    Regards, Pete

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Seattle, Washington

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    Hi Tom. I think the short answer to your question is that there is no rational justification for using ULF, or LF for that matter, and maybe even film. In fact, it can be hard to justify photography at all unless it's your livelihood. There are many less expensive, less time consuming hobbies that one could pursue. How do you justify the equipment that you already own? I practice photography because I enjoy it, and don't try to justify it. Why do I use ULF equipment? Because I like big negatives for contact printing. Why do I use MF? Because I like to shoot handheld, but want the biggest negative I can get, which is also why I'm shopping for a Graflex 4x5 SLR. Do I need another camera? Certainly not. Can I justify the price? Definitely not. Will I buy one anyway? Without question. In my business life, I have to justify every decision I make on a profit basis, and live with my decisions, right or wrong. In my creative life, I make no such demands of myself. If you're drawn to ULF, why deny yourself? If it's a practical consideration, stick with what's already paid for.

  4. #4
    Steve Sherman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Central Connecticut

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    It's real easy fellas, "Real photographs are born wet"

    Real photographs are born wet !

  5. #5
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    Digitally enlarged negatives aren't really adding much new to this question, as conventionally enlarged negatives have always been an option. Weston did it routinely to make 8x10" prints from the negs from his Graflex SLR.

    When you change format, the characteristic look of the lenses change and DOF characteristics change. The texture of the image changes due to differences in grain, resolution, and local contrast. Adding an additional generation by scanning or using an interpositive/internegative process will have an effect on the tonality of the final image. Excellent images can be made with conventionally or digitally enlarged negatives, but they won't look like contact prints directly from a large negative. In some respects they may be worse and in some they may be better and in some they will just be different. There is no issue of "utility" here--it's how you want the final image to look.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Alberta, Canada

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    I currently work with 4x5 and 8x10, but also dream of getting a 12x20. Why? I agree with Pete above about the quality of the end product produced by an in camera negative can not be equalled by any other process, and I'm a perfectionist. The idea of working by traditional processes appeals to me. My last reason is the integrity of my work - in my opinion, any image that enters the digital realm (such as a digitally enlarged negative) looses it's claim to credibility. I know many will disagree on that last point. It's just too easy (and too common) to produce digitally altered images. See for that artist's statement on the integrity of his work. On that website you will also find a link to a National Geographic statement along the same lines.

  7. #7

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    I completely concur with Pete. However, given the fact that you will engender as much opinion on either side of this fence depending upon the person responding, the only way to sequester your inner desire to see if there truly is a difference is to take you digital camera and make some digital negatives and the best possible ULF contact prints that you can with these negatives. If you don't have all of the necessary digital equipment, find a company in your area that specializes in this work and have them do it for you.

    Then find a venue where you will have the opportunity to compare your prints to conventional ULF negative prints from seasoned artists and determine for yourself (or with your wife) if there is a difference. I can promise you that unless you are truly an uncompromising person and accept nothing less than visual perfection in its purest form, the odds are that you will have significant difficulty coming to grips with the sizeable investment required for a ULF package no matter how fascinated you may be in the history or the utilization of these cameras.


  8. #8

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Is there any real utility to ULF?


    Its different. IMHO, any large format camera is a very different animal from what nearly everyone else is using(digital & 35mm, maybe MF approaches this LF difference, especially when used in panoramic cameras or roll film backs on 4x5s)...I think it comes down to if you think you'll enjoy this difference(many walk away from LF after trying it, so there are lots of good deals to be had on used equipment!)

    Its true that working with LF will slow you down---though its surprising how fast you can get with a speed graphic (or even a wooden view camera if, for instance, you're loosing the light at the end of the day) To compare digital to traditional photography in order to come to some measureable result that will crown one process the "winner" and the other "looser" is missing the point entirely. While you can certainly "take" one process as far as you'd like, then switch to the other for whatever reason(and that is certainly a legitimate way to go about it, if thats what you want to do) they are different processes and need to be appreciated as such. Why compare a digitally captured and printed image to LF? Or even more absurd, why compare an Ebony or Linhof with a multi-megapixel Canon or Nikon? It would be like comparing a sculpture in marble to a sculpture cast in bronze. Both are artistic visions, but are created in very different materials and techniques, each with unique limitations.

    Perhaps it all comes down to You. Is the mastery of 19th century alchemy and quirky equipment in order to create art a satisfying challenge? If its not something you really want to do, then its probably not for you---even more so in the rarified atmosphere of ULF!

    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.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Nov 2003

    Is there any real utility to ULF?


    If it is at all possible, try to see original albumen prints by the great western landscape photographer Carleton Watkins. Watkins made many images with his 18x22 inch view camera and the resulting contact prints are extraordinary. After seeing a large show of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art three years ago, I was convinced that an ULF camera was in my future. I recently aquired a 12x20 Wisner for a project I am doing on the New Hampshire landscape. If you find Watkins work as great a visual experience as I did you will find a way to justify the aquisition of an ULF camera.


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Jun 2001

    Is there any real utility to ULF?

    ULF is a lotta work but it is also a whole lotta fun I like the big screen of a 12x20 there is nothing to compare with it. I am also consistantly amazed with the tonality of the contact print, esp. the incredible depth of the white and darker textures. I used to hate the problems associated with blocked up whites in enlargements but presto.... that problem just dissapears with the 12x20 contact print. The higher textures are exaulted.The big wooden cameras are fun to deal with much like an musical instrument instead of a computer. You have to be physical with it.And the camera has a real personality as well as the photos it takes. There can be big problems with ULF but there are big rewards too. The rewards outweigh the downers and that is why you see more people going this way. Seeing the 12x20 negs hanging in the bathroom drying is a thrill. Hell, I just loaded my filmholders and even enjoyed that as I know I will put them to good use while the mystery of what will be on that big piece of film stimulates my mind like an empty canvas ready to be painted. Also I feel privilaged to be able to use a camera of this size in this whacky day and age. Happy that B&W is alive and well in ULF. PS..if this interests you and you dont mind working with a Wisner I have a new 12x20 and a new 7x17 coming in next week for sale for the spring season. To be fair I might end up keeping the 7x17 (it's so small and cute...only 10lbs) but the 12x20 is definately available. This type of photography grows on you. It has really taken me places that the smaller formats wouldn't and couldn't.

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