Ultra Large Format

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Ultra Large Format (ULF) photography refers to photography using cameras producing negatives larger than 8x10" (20x25cm).

The ULF photography 'movement' has known a revival in the last few years, and is still expanding, along with film photography which, despite the very large market share of digital photography, still has many practitioners. Black and white panchromatic film in the various ULF sizes is still being produced, Ilford and Adox are two such manufacturers.

Origins[edit]

In the 19th century and early 20th century, photographic materials were not sensitive enough to light to allow for enlarging. All prints were contact prints, which meant a large negative was needed if one wanted a large picture. This can only be achieved by using a large camera.

Advantages[edit]

  • The sheer size of the negative allows for very precise detail reproduction.
  • Large negatives can be used to make contact prints, which is a method used with many alternative photographic processes.
  • Images produced have a presence that is difficult to obtain through any other means - mostly the quality of a contact print instead of enlargement.
  • The view of the scene through such a huge ground glass is a remarkable experience, and allows much greater freedom in composition.
  • ULF offers the opportunity to practice in-camera shooting, where sensitive paper (as opposed to negative/positive film) is placed in the film holder. This can be done also with conventional large format cameras, but of course the overall result - given the much smaller size - is less impressive and satisfactory.

Trade-Offs[edit]

  • Very heavy and costly cameras, but there is a (small) used market where one can purchase modern ULF models at a significant discount. The keyword here is patience, however. A year or two may be necessary to land on a good opportunity.
  • Costly lenses with image coverage for large film sizes. Here again, one may consider lenses from the '20s and '30s. The resolution and flare prevention will not be comparable to those of modern lenses, but their cost can be drastically lower.
  • Film holders are custom built by fine wood workers - expensive.
  • High cost of film - most films must be special cut.
  • Cumbersome manipulation, which slows down the photographic process significantly
  • Logistics becomes a serious issue - everything is much bigger/bulkier.
  • Absence of international standards for film holders beyond 11" x 14" (30 cm x 40 cm) - this is rarely an issue as film holders are custom built to match cameras. An exception to this is 14" x 17" - the size of X-Ray and MRI films - which is indeed an international standard.

External links[edit]

  • APUG.ORG, an international community of like minded individuals devoted to traditional (non-digital) photographic processes. Site contains many discussion forums including an Ultra Large Format Forum.
  • Fotostudio-Arton, an experimental digital large format camera.
  • Going Ultra, the chronicle of a journey into contemporary ULF photography.
  • In The Land Of The Giants, an article on three modern lenses typically used in ULF Photography.
  • Roller Banners UK