LARGE formats: 12x20, 16x20? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Okay, it's a crazed idea. I know they're HEAVY and cumbersome. But I'm about to start a limited landscape project (20 photos in the end) and have always fantasized about making contact prints in this size. It seems this might be my best opportunity to try either a 16x20 or 12x20. I would like to hear from anyone who likes working in this range... advice, precautions, etc. Thanks

-- Mark Alan Wilson (, April 26, 1998


Mark, I too have asked a couple of questions on subjects relating to 12x20 in this forum. Things having to do with lenses, holders, availability of film types, etc. Unfortunately, I've had zero responses. I don't think anyone here is interested. I think we're both crazy!

Try: Or just do a search for "Alternative Photographic Processes FAQ"

I've come to the sad conclusion that the only ones interested in these LARGE formats are people doing very large contact prints in the alternative processes. The site mentioned is a good source of info, not only about alternative processes, but about the equipment used.

Good luck, Sergio.

-- Sergio Ortega (, April 26, 1998.

I dont think its because no one is interested, but no one has any experience. I think contact prints from this size negative would be a knockout! I bet the price for lenses with this kind of coverage would be a knockout too!

-- Ron Shaw (, April 27, 1998.

It is not that others aren't interested or without experience, it is just that you are asking the photographic equivalent of "what does sex feel like?" These cameras are big, heavy and cumbersome. Unless you are very committed few images will be taken more than 50 feet from the car or without an assistant near. Both inhibit creating good images. All the shortcomings of using an 8x10 are magnified many times and every processing error you have ever heard ot can crop up much more easily. Like paddling a canoe and then trying a battleship in your local lake. Some shoot in a more manageable format and then have digitally enlarged/duped negs made to size. but if you are going to shoot in the larger format get ahold of Ron Wisner & buy his camera and go to it. That way you will also get in touch with more who use the larger cameras and can pool together on getting film purchased.

-- Dan Smith (, April 30, 1998.

I won't go into huge detail unless people indicate they actually care, but allow me to do all I can to discourage you from trying ELF (extra-large format) and then you can see if you're still interested....

I haven't shot 12x20, but I've had three excellent modern 11x14 cameras (Wisner, Canham, Toyo/B&J) and have since left the format. I think most of my experiences with 11x14 apply to the larger ELF stuff, only more so. To wit:

First, four problems you've probably already heard about:

1. COST: Vintage ELF cameras (esp. larger than 11x14) can be had fairly cheaply, although there's a reason for this: operating costs are so high that the market for a rickety camera that uses hard-to-get film and film holders is extremely small. New cameras start around $5000; Wisner can get you one in a few months, Canham builds 2-3 11x14s per year. Vintage lenses can be had fairly cheaply, but modern lenses with enough coverage are pricey (my four main 11x14 lenses were the SuperAngulon 210 for wide, the Nikkor 360SW for wide-normal, the Fuji CS600 for long normal, and a Nikkor 1070mm in barrel for "long"--this last one is equal to about a 90mm in 35mm format--and combined they took the better part of my life savings). Film holders for 11x14 are $235 each; film stock is $5 per exposure, and $5 per sheet to process (I never processed my own), etc. You get the idea.

2. WEIGHT: Everything weighs a lot: Camera, tripod, lenses, holders, cases, you name it (each 11x14 film holder--Lisco/Fidelity--weighs 3.5 lbs, and I usually carried four or five in the field; most camera SYSTEMS weigh less than that). Even with that weight, by the way, most ELF cameras are far more loose and wobbly than their smaller counterparts unless you add significant, cumbersome external bracing.

3. SIZE: Everything is huge: traveling with this bulky stuff is a complete pain--forget about flying anywhere (although some people do). Size affects everything from problems with wind to shlepping it all to a spot you'd actually want to set up the tripod and invest in an exposure or two.

4. UNAVAILABILITY: Finding supplies and parts for everything from equipment to film to processing is a pain. It is available, yes, but you'll pay and you'll wait...

Now, for the stuff you may not have heard about, four things that are traditionally advantages of large-format photography but don't necessarily hold true in ELF:

5. DEPTH OF FIELD: Forget it. Remember, a NORMAL lens for ELF is in the 450-600mm range, and (for those who don't know) depth of field is the same for focal lengths across formats: a 600mm lens on an 11x14 has the same tiny depth of field as a 600mm lens in 35mm. Yes, you can stop down--get used to f32 as a minimum, and f64 as normal--and with a view camera you can increase the "apparent" depth of field by tilting the focus plane, but there's the problem of

6. TILTS: Unh-unh. Yes, you can tilt, a little bit, assuming you spent enough money to get lenses with sufficient covering power, but no, you can't see the effects of your tilting while you're tilting. In other words, unless you're a gorilla with 40-inch sleeves, you can't reach the front standard while looking through the ground glass: you have to look under the darkcloth, come out, go around to the front of the camera, change the tilt, go back under the darkcloth to check the effect, go back to the front of the camera, readjust the tilt, etc. By this time, the sun hasn't just gone behind the clouds; it has set.

7. RISE/FALL/SHIFT (this is usually limited to the front standard; on most ELF cameras the back standard is too large to remain sturdy if you build in any movements besides tilt): R/F/S is one of the main reasons to use a view camera, but with ELF lenses, the image circles just don't allow very much movement. It may SOUND like a lot--for example, the 210SA has an image circle around 500mm and the 600mm Fuji has around 600mm--but that 3 or 4 inches of movement is a small fraction of the size of the ELF negative; it would be like having 3 or 4 centimeters of movement on a 4x5.

8. CONTACT PRINTS: You will get very good at spotting (there's no way to get completely clean 150+ square inches of negative, times two sides) and you will learn to accept prints that have only minimal dodging and burning (which is far, far harder while contact printing than when enlarging, where you can put the implement between the negative and the paper). This one's a biggie, and I would seriously urge ANYONE considering ELF to tape together two or four 8x10 negs (to make a 10x16 or a 16x20) and try contact printing the result before spending a penny on equipment. Keep in mind, too, the sobering truth that 99 out of 100 viewers in the average exhibition cannot distinguish a 12x20 contact print from an enlargement made from an 8x10, except that the 8x10 will probably be more impressive in every respect from composition and focus to exposure and printing... (it's 100 for 100 if both images are published)

Bottom line: Like most people who try ELF, I grossly overestimated the gee-whiz factor (and I completely ignored the implications behind the fact that I couldn't find anyone who'd done much ELF work; if I'd been smart, I would have put two and two together....). Yes, people (photographers, anyway) are occasionally mildly impressed that you shoot ELF; no, nobody gives a rat's ass about it--especially viewers--relative to the quality of the photographs. In other words, you're going to miss an AWFUL lot of images that you could get with a smaller format (4x5, 5x7, 8x10) because you couldn't get there, or get there in time, or set up in time, or afford to bracket. Viewers will be MUCH more impressed by a better perspective, composition, lighting conditions, or exposure than by a slight improvement in sharpness and tonality.

Oops, I guess I did go into some detail. Sorry.

Good luck if you take the plunge. Anyone who wants to contact me for followup, here or offline, is more than welcome to do so....

-- Micah Marty (, April 30, 1998.

Two little corrections to my previous post, which was typed in haste: the wide-normal lens was the Nikkor 360 W, not SW, and most current ELF cameras do have rear swing, tilt, and shift; just no rise or fall.

-- Micah Marty (, May 01, 1998.

Mr. Marty's response shows the wisdom of experience! If after reading it your still interested, you might try contacting some other practitioners Dick Arentz, Michael Smith, Zoe Zimmerman, etc. They have all written in View Camera magazine and can be contacted by consulting that publications "creative resources" at the end of the issue in which their articles appear. Ken Hough who shoots a lot of trains and things in 8 X 20 and larger is on the net, and he also repairs Deardorff Cameras and film holders.

-- Sean yates (, September 18, 1998.

Yes, using anything larger than 8x10 is a little nuts, but I have been using larger cameras in the field consistently for longer than anyone else working today (8x20) and (18x22) and it is not so bad if you know what you are doing.

Micah Marty's response was in many respects correct, and he is right when he says the romance of it all blinded him to the difficulties, but it seems that he had expectations that were unrealistic. It IS hard work.

As far as 99% of the viewers not knowing what they are looking at, all I can say is that he showed his work to the wrong people. There are many out there who do know the difference--know it and respect it.

Silver printing is easy with Azo. Dodging and burning is easy, too. You just have to know what you are doing.

I'll be demonstrating some of this stuff at a workshop in Salt Lake City in July. See the last page of the current View Camera magazine for an announcement. It is being put on by a place called the Waterford Institute, I believe.

Or contact me, take a private one or two day workshop and I'll show you EVERYTHING you'll ever need to know about working with these extra-large cameras and making silver prints with them.

Good luck. With the big cameras, you WILL need it.

-- Michael A. Smith (, January 27, 1999.

Were I interested in Very Large Format (and I am!) I would pay attention to what Michael Smith has to say. I don't know him, but I've admired his work and read articles by him over the past few years (mostly in ViewCamera magazine) and he knows what he's talking about.

Mark - don't be disuaded from going to a VLF camera if that's what your muse is telling you to do. If it's just a whim then forget it, but if you're driven in that direction - go! I've been a view camera nut for several years now - built a Bender 4x5, etc, etc. One day maybe five or six years ago I was at a camera show and saw a REALLY large camera which just looked "right" to me. I talked to the owner and found out it was a 12x20. That was all it took. Ever since then I've been looking for the right one at the right price, and I recently found it. It's a Korona 12x20, and the lens is a Goerz 14" (360mm) f/7.7 Dagor. This focal length is perfect for what I want to do - my favorite landscape lens for 4x5 is a 90, and this has the same horizontal angle of view. I also like the aspect of the format (the 1 : 1 2/3 ratio looks good to me). The camera itself is pretty small and light (at least compared to a Wisner) but it is limited to "wide angle" as it only has about 24" of bellows draw. This sort of setup might be perfect for the landscape project you have in mind.

Here's the kicker - I've yet to take a picture with it. We just built a new place and (of course) the darkroom is lower on the priority list than trivialities like the kitchen and the bathroom (at least to my wife). BUT, I have set it up and composed images with it a number of times and using moderate tilts and smallish apertures it wasn;t hard to achieve the desired depth of field (remember, this is with a fairly short lens). Also, using rear tilts doesn't eat up your covering power like front tilts do (and I prefer the slight foreground exaggeration) so don't panic about that. If anyone is interested, I'll report back after making a couple of snaps.

Good luck on your quest! Mark Parsons

-- Mark Parsons (, March 28, 1999.

I have to second what Michael A. Smith said. The main reason is that I DID take the workshop in Sandy, Utah at The Waterford Institute this past summer. And, I will be on the staff at the next workshop this coming June. I wrote a review of the workshop on this forum, so look it up & read it. Ultra Large Format photography is doable and enjoyable both. Since the workshop I have been shooting 8x20 negs & processing them by hand, in the dark using the green safelight, just the way Paula Chamlee demonstrated. I haven't had problems with over or underdeveloped negs at all. Last week I did 19 in one session & found that when breaking them up into 4 groups that the first ones that looked good in about 8 minutes or so looked pretty much the same density as the last ones that took about 15 minutes. All by inspection. Paula & Michael both did an excellent job in the workshop. Others who took it had both more and less experience than myself. I have shot 8x10 before-commercially & some fine art B&W. But after the workshop, I do a lot more of it. We had some who had never even shot a 4x5 & they turned out good work. If you have questions, take this workshop-it is worth every penny.

-- Dan Smith (, November 11, 1999.

I have to second what Michael A. Smith said. The main reason is that I DID take the workshop in Sandy, Utah at The Waterford Institute this past summer. And, I will be on the staff at the next workshop this coming June. I wrote a review of the workshop on this forum, so look it up & read it. Ultra Large Format photography is doable and enjoyable both. Since the workshop I have been shooting 8x20 negs & processing them by hand, in the dark using the green safelight, just the way Paula Chamlee demonstrated. I haven't had problems with over or underdeveloped negs at all. Last week I did 19 in one session & found that when breaking them up into 4 groups that the first ones that looked good in about 8 minutes or so looked pretty much the same density as the last ones that took about 15 minutes. All by inspection. Paula & Michael both did an excellent job in the workshop. Others who took it had both more and less experience than myself. I have shot 8x10 before-commercially & some fine art B&W. But after the workshop, I do a lot more of it. We had some who had never even shot a 4x5 & they turned out good work. I took an informal poll of participants as we were in the darkrooms late at night & the concensus was that the workshop was a positive experience. I do know Michael & Paula will be back again this summer, better than ever. If you have ever wanted to try these giant cameras, this is the place to do it(and yes, I am prejudiced, but I did go into the first workshop with 8x10 the largest format I had worked with before). Did the workshop help? It did help me a lot in my smaller format work, 5x7 and 4x5. After shooting a 20x24 they seem so much easier, smaller & more intimate. Hardly "LF" any longer. The emphasis on quality helps a lot. Demonstrations by various teachers, on location photography in the surrounding Salt Lake area and hands on darkroom time with ALL materials supplied was great. Being able to shoot a Canham, a Wisner and a Lotus side by side in the same film sizes was a revelation. It quickly shows what you like & don't about a camera. All are good but we work differently. Having the makers there-not selling-but helping out was a great help. Everyone I talked with enjoyed it and a number were planning on shooting at least 8x10 after going home. It sure took the fear factor out of it as well as dispelling myths. If you have questions, take this workshop-it is worth every penny.

-- Dan Smith (, November 11, 1999.

Well, I guess I should follow up on this thread like I promised (almost two years later!). After two years of shooting with Ultra Large Format (12x20 in my case) I can state with some conviction that most of my earlier, optimistic beliefs were actually not so crazy after all. (If anything, the big camera is even more fun than I thought it would be.) And almost all of the depressingly negative comments of the former 11x14 user turned out to be mostly false, or easily overcome with a little effort. Some observations: The really big formats seem to lend themselves to wider lenses. You can't just scale up the focal lengths you like in 35mm or even 4x5 (and this may have been the source of trouble for the disgruntled user - when you get into those 600-1000mm lenses, your depth of field is very slender). I think the format is best for landscape, architecture, and group shots (which is why they're called "banquet cameras") and not typical portraits, although full length portraits and/or figure studies would work nicely. A similar mindset needs to be applied to apertures. For most outdoor shots f/64 will be your aperture of choice. So what? Don't worry about diffraction - you're going to be making contact prints. (And with a "wide angle" 360mm lens, f/64 is still an opening of almost 1/4". Don't be misled by those who claim that diffraction is only affected by the f-stop, regardless of actual aperture size. The wavelength of light is the same for 35mm as it is for 12x20. A quick thought experiment: Imagine a microscopic camera, so small that even with an f/2 aperture the opening was smaller than the wavelength of visible light. ALL image-forming light would be diffracted by the aperture and the image would be extremely degraded. But I digress...) And at f/64, your shutter speed will be in the 1/16th to 1 sec. range (outdoors) and longer indoors. No biggie - if the subject was moving you'd be using a hand camera anyway. And just to show you that even these guidelines can be broken with good results, I recently took an indoor portrait (using indirect window light) of two young kids. The exposure was 1 sec. at f/16. All the comments on the resulting print (on Ilford FB Warmtone) have been very positive, and no one has said "That sure looks like too long an exposure for a portrait". I guess the main thing that I want to get across is that using mammoth cameras is EASY and very enjoyable. Sure, the gear is bigger, but the actual composing and shooting is just like 4x5 except it's even easier, because you can see better. (Which is the easier TV to watch a ballgame on - a 5" portable or a 21" Trinitron? I rest my case...) Same thing with printing. The guy who was complaining about the torture of contact printing big negs was either doing something way off base or trying to rationalize his decision to bail on the format. (Look, he admits he never developed his own negatives. 'Nuff said.) Making big contacts is a fairly straightforward process. I use a simple homemade printer (1/4" plate glass and a piece of melamine) and typical papers, using an enlarger for a light source so I can easily control the contrast. Dodging and burning is similar to when you're making an enlargement. Not difficult for anyone who's spent any time in a darkroom. Developing big negs is also a piece of cake if you use the right process. (I use D-76 1:1 in trays, adding the water first for a 4 min. pre-soak before adding the D-76. Gives very even and consistent development.) Bottom line - I love this format! The comment that 99 out of 100 viewers can't tell the difference between a contact and an enlargement may or may not be true, but it has absolutely no bearing on my decision to use the format - I can tell the difference and that's enough for me. Also, the comment about "grossly overestimating the gee-whiz factor" of ULF is 180 degrees opposite from my experience. If anything, I underestimated it. When I first made the 12x20 purchase I had lingering doubts - should I have put the money into a better 4x5 instead, or perhaps more lenses? However, since I got the big camera my 4x5 has mostly been sitting on the shelf gathering dust and the larger format has almost completely taken over my photographic life. Caveats: ULF is obviously not for everyone. It's big, slow, and heavy. Film is not free, nor can it be had from the corner store. Or in color. Or in every emulsion under the sun. However, if you're dedicated to the b&w fine print and like to work in a contemplative, methodical fashion, I'd say ignore the naysayers and jump on in - the water's fine! Cheers, Mark Parsons

-- Mark Parsons (, February 01, 2001.

Mark, regarding your remark about diffraction not depending only on f-stop, see N Dhananjay's comment that I have quoted in

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, February 01, 2001.

(Tuan - Thanks for sending the link, I appreciate it.)

I usually avoid these sorts of discussions because: a) I approach photography primarily from an empirical standpoint, and b) they can lead to an affliction which Jeff Cooper has termed P.I.I. (Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments). However, in this instance I think there may be some practical reasons to discuss what seems like a purely theoretical circumstance.

Yes, the standard formula which N. Dhananjay was probably referring to (r=0.00061 f/number) does indeed seem to indicate that f-stop is all that matters. There are some caveats, however. The first is that the formula commonly thought of as "the diffraction formula" does not apply to the entire diffraction pattern, only the most significant part (the radius of the Airy disk in the center of the pattern). There are other components involved here - such as the rings around the Airy disk - which are usually ignored due to the fact that they are 12 times (3 1/2 stops) less bright. (* see pg. 68 of "Image Clarity - High Resolution Photography" by John B. Williams.) Nevertheless they are there and contribute to image degradation.

In a more practical vein, it may be more accurate to look at the correlation between diffraction and f-number as something analogous to a film curve. The majority of the graph is a straight line, with a constant correlation between image degradation and f-number. However, there is a definite "toe" to the curve, and - I posit - a "shoulder". For the toe you can refer to the thought experiment I described above (miniature camera such that even at f/2 the absolute size of the aperture is smaller than the wavelength of visible light and thus suffers from extreme image degradation due to diffraction.) For a more practical example of this, see the illustrations (Figures 1-3 [A] and [B]) on page 4 of Ansel's "The Camera". It shows a photo made with a 1/64" aperture (pinhole), then the same image made with a 1/100" aperture. This is only a 1-stop (approx.) reduction in aperture size, yet there is a HUGE loss of resolution with the smaller aperture, much more than you would typically see with "normal" aperture sizes. So, obviously at some point the absolute physical size of the aperture has an effect on diffraction, beyond simply the relative dimensions of aperture and focal length.

At the other end of the scale, I believe it is also important to look at the system as a whole (i.e. absolute physical size of aperture and image) and not just the ratio of opening to focal length. As the format increases (i.e. physical aperture and image size increase) diffraction becomes much less of an issue than many people would think by just looking at the standard diffraction-induced formula. Let's hear from someone far more knowledgeable than I on this subject: Leslie Stroebel. In Sec. 3 (Image Formation) of "View Camera Technique" (5th Ed.) he talks about avoiding apertures which can result in " objectionable loss of resolution". More interestingly, he talks about comparable f-numbers between formats which would result in similar diffraction-induced loss of resolution. He starts with something we are all familiar with; f/16 on 35mm. To get to even this point with 4x5, you have to stop down to f/64. On 8x10 it takes f/128. And to bring this whole thing full circle to what started it all (diffraction worries - and my cavalier lack thereof - on 12x20), Stroebel states that with 16x20 (close enough for me) you would have to stop down to f/256 to have a problem. 'Nuff said.


-- Mark Parsons (, February 03, 2001.

I wish I knew of some data to confirm or disconfirm these hypotheses.

A couple of points. It is probably defensible to say that the Airy disc is the most significant component of the diffraction pattern i.e., it is an order of magnitude brighter than the brightest ring that sorrounds it and as such is the only part of the pattern that is photographically important in its contribution to the spread function.

The argument about diffraction being a function of only f stop explains why a larger format does not gain lower diffraction as a function of a larger physical aperture. That is, larger formats have larger physical apertures but the beam of light has to travel a longer distance and the longer distance gives the angular spread more room to spread).

It is also worth noting that the degree of degradation due to diffraction varies with the proportion of diffracted light around the edge of the image beam to the undiffracted light in the center. Which explains why a larger physical aperture cuts down on diffraction losses (the undiffracted central AREA increases much more rapidly with increasing radius than the diffracted PERIMETER does). In other words, at small apertures, the diffracted light at the edge or perimeter of the beam is so large a part of the total light that it dominates in the exposure and becomes a visible part of image points. However, again, longer focal lengths will lend a longer linear distance over which the angular spread pattern will detreriorate further. There does not seem to be any way to get around these limits. I've done some macro work at 2-4 times life size and the degradation due to diffraction certainly looked a function of the effective aperture rather than the marked aperture (again illustrating that the physical size of the aperture is not the issue, it is a combination of the physical size coupled with the linear distance it has to spread over, which is the f stop for normal photography).

The idea of a 'toe' and a 'shoulder' is intuitively appealing (if only for the reason that such a curve turns up repeatedly in nature). However, I have not seen any data that would actually speak to this issue (that doesn't say that there is no such data, just that I haven't seen it). Stroebel's arguments pertain to prints made to the same size and they do explain why you can get away with stopping down further with larger formats. But its also worth keeping in mind that typically a move to larger formats is typically a commitment to a contact printing process (to eliminate a second optical system with enlarging and its inherent degradation). So I'm not sure how relevant Stroebel's arguments are in this light i.e., you are not going to enlarge the negative but will be contact printing them.

If you are contact printing, the diffraction pattern is probably a function of only the f stop. That means the diffraction at f/90 on 8x10 is the same as the diffraction at f/90 on 20x24 (and by extension, will be worse at f/256 on 20x24). I would venture that it probably does not matter because we view a 20x24 contact print from further away than we view a 8x10 contact print. That helps. However, I would argue that there is no magic breaking of diffraction chains.

I also have to agree that these are probably baroque worries (a.k.a. as P.I.I.) because, we are not talking of going to monster formats for enlargeability or for resolution figures alone. We typically contact print these formats (although it is not unheard of for enlargements to be made - the latest View Camera has an article on enlargements from 12x20). However, if the move to these larger formats is a function of a commitment to contact printing, the only way to get larger pictures is by starting with a larger negative. If you want to make Pt/Pd prints to large sizes like 20x24, you're probably going to have to work with ULF and work hard at dealing with the problems inherent to that format. Also, there are other gains which are very real such as increased microgradation - there is very little discussion about how these different things that make up "picture quality" interact with one another - who knows, maybe a drop in resolution from 25 lp/mm to 15 lp/mm is perfectly OK if microgradation increases. However, it is hard to make a case for larger formats based on resolution figures alone. I agree that it may not matter given that the picture size has increased and will be viewed from further back etc. Also given that f/256 will still deliver about 7 lp/mm and f/64 will deliver about 25 lp/mm, all of this does make for stuff not worth worrying.

Cheers, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (, February 05, 2001.

Of course if you are going after large negs for contact printing then it would be cheaper to just get an enlarged neg from a service bureau. Much easier too. The cost of the ULF equipment and materials, and schlepping the thing around is really something so why not just an enlarged neg from 6x7 or 4x5? I've seen work from enlarged negs and it is superb. James

-- lumberjack (, February 05, 2001.

D.J. - As usual, a well-reasoned response. The "toe" of the curve, at least, is fact and not theory (for the reasons expounded on above). And as for the shoulder, who knows, but consider that the effects of diffraction are reduced as the wavelength of the light is decreased (i.e. w/ UV, etc.). Then consider that, as you scale the entire photographic system up, the only factor NOT scaled up is the size of the light wavelength as it passes the edge of the aperture. But you're right - the discussion is mostly academic, except for the admonishment not to worry unduly about diffraction with the really big formats (where DOF is a MUCH more real problem). And I agree completely with your comments about micro-gradations: I've long thought that this aspect of LF was overlooked as an important quality.

James - You're right, you can get some superb images by enlarging negatives from 6x7 or 4x5 to 16x20, and then printing them. But it's not the same thing as a first generation contact print from a large negative. Without making value judgements, consider that - if nothing else - one way requires the image to be enlarged by a lens twice while with the other process the image only passes through a lens once. And also consider D.J.'s comments above regarding micro- gradation (which is limited by the original neg size and can't be improved on by enlarging). Again, both ways have their advantages (ex: you have another chance to manipulate/adjust the image when you make an enlarged negative from a small one) and I would not claim that one is "better" than the other, but they are not the same.


-- Mark Parsons (, February 06, 2001.

I meant a digitally enlarged negative. The old fashioned way makes a very nice and tack sharp enlarged negative. It has been done for years. I've seen some incredibly sharp (16x20 from 4x5 and 6x7)second gen negs and the prints from them for contact printing in Pt/Pl. But the negs from a digital platform are incredibly sharp and the interior gradations are superb. David Fokos and others are scanning negs down to 35mm and boosting them to 11x14 and larger with no degradation at all. As an old school backward kind of guy it took me awhile to accept the digital realm but after seeing so much work done with digitally enlarged negs I have come around. I'm setting up my system to scan my negs and enlarge them for contacting. Once scanned and manipulated to my liking I can have a bureau make an enlarged neg and just print it and have the same quality throughout the series. James

-- lumberjack (, February 06, 2001.

This isn't an answer...more of a "hey guess what, I'm crazy too" question kind of thing. I came to this page because I want to do very large pinhole camera stuff. I have a 1980 VW bus with a sliding side cargo door and I want to build a box that fits inside the cargo area with the pinhole pointing out the door so the distance from the lens to the paper will be in feet. And the paper will be large in feet. I've had a lot of fun with other pinhole cameras and wanted to knowif this idea of turning my VW bus into a camera sounds like something that may work. The other thing was...where could I get photo paper that's say...three foot by four foot? And would any careto guess what size my pinhole would be if the hole were say, three feet from the paper? Also how do I keep my wife from trying to kill me? Ha ha ha. Thanks! ( think I can already hear some or all of you laughing...I don't care, I have got to try this)

-- Daniel Loshbaugh (, May 17, 2001.

I had a typo in my e-mail address (not to mention all the ones in my post) on the last post so this is just to fix that.

-- Daniel Loshbaugh (, May 17, 2001.

Daniel, I think the car/van pinhole thing has been done it's really not that crazy. Especially compared to some of the other pinhole ideas out there, like hollowing out a tomato and using ortho film, or using your mouth...

Try getting some mural paper if you want something 3'x4'. 30"x40" is about the largest cut sheet size in paper. Sorry, can't help you with the hole size or distance, but I'm sure somebody out there knows the equations. I think your bigger problem will be in how to handle and process the paper out in your van.

-- DK Thompson (, May 17, 2001.

Glad to see this is working well for you. Finding what you love & then doing it is a lifelong dream of many but they never stay with something long enough to know if it works. For those advocating digital negatives, there is more to the final image than just technical consideration. The format itself. The romance of the wood & brass. The 'feel' and fit of the process and the perfection of the contact print. It is all part of the process of the photographer in fine tuning his or her creativity. Michael A. Smith has contributed to this thread and his comments are appreciated. Michaels vision is inextricably intertwined with the camera formats he uses. Change the format in any way and he gets different images. I know Michael believes as I do. The photographer is responsible for every square millimetre of the image. Corner to corner, edge to edge, top to bottom and side to side. He composes, as do many, within the bounds he chooses in the form of the ground glass in the format that gives him the greatest creative freedom. The bounds of the Mammoth Camera size he chooses are not limits. They are frames he uses to display his world and creativity.

Many 'see' the world with their own vision & choose the film format only after experience with what does not give them full flight in their creative pursuits. I have used many different formats as have many others. I have found what works for me. What I am comfortable with. As the subject matter varies, so does the format I use. I would no more shoot wildlife with my 8x10 than to vote for a Drunk Driver for President of the USA. Nor do I feel comfortable with much of my chosen subject matter in shooting 35mm. The 8x10, 5x7 or larger camera just 'feels right' as I view these small bits of my world through the ground glass. A feeling I do not get with the smaller cameras. With the larger ones I do subscribe to the idea that I get what I want on the ground glass & contact print or enlarge THAT image. Sometimes I do have to crop... but it is almost always done at the time of exposure. For some reason, technical or whatever, I can't get just what I want on film so I know I will crop later. It is planned from the start. Be it LF in the studio, in the field or 35mm wildlife, I try to fill that frame as I want it at the time of exposure, fully intending the final image to be as I imagine it when I trip the shutter. Even with a motor drive and a 600 f/4 following a quarterback on the football field. What I see and want on film is in that view, no matter the format. And if you think an 8x20 is cumbersome, you haven't been on the sideline in the NFL with a fullback coming at you on the sidelines and you have no where to run. Every format has limitations but these are also the creative possibilities that set us free if we learn to work with them. In the end quality is all that counts. In our vision and our images. Nothing less than the best is good enough even if we don't get it every time. We keep working at it. For those whose vision puts everything on film from the click of the shutter, there does not need to be anything else. Telling them to shoot and then digitize to make up for what they didn't do at the time is like telling Don Juan to quit the women and buy a blow up doll.

-- Dan Smith (, May 17, 2001.

Dan - GREAT POST! I couldn't agree more. Everyone has to find his/her own way, and telling someone dedicated to fine art b&w contact prints to digitally enlarge smaller negs is like telling dedicated jazz drummers to quit hauling all that gear around and just use a drum machine. Nothing *wrong* with it, but that's simply not why they're in the game. And again, without making value judgements, the results are not the same. (And even if they were, a large part of any experience is the process itself.)


-- Mark Parsons (, June 10, 2001.

I have thought of one way of doing very large format on a small budget. of course the lens will be the real cost. 1. buy a small square van , with lens carrier in the side of van. 2. an interior moving film holder , focus from inside van , by moving film holder towards or away from holder (you sit inside van to focus and take the photo.

I have been thinking of doing this for a photographic tour of the uk ,you would of course be limited to taking photos only where you can take the van. which in the uk is not sutch a limitation.

The only problem is ?? where can you get a standard lens for( 16 x 20 )?? I would be intrested in hearing from anyone who would be intrested in this idea.

-- mirek lawrowski (, July 01, 2001.

This gives new meaning to the term "camera vehicle." Also, to the old Weston addage, "You don't have to go 100 feet from the road to get good pictures."

-- Bill (, July 01, 2001.

Very large formats simpy have something that smaller formats don't. There is a quality to the image that, in my estimation, surpasses enlargements. But just wanted to let everyone know that direct enlargements from 8x20 & 12x20 negs are possible, and they are impressive if you have a good neg. I am opening my own private lab to outside work. I built it to handle my own banquet (12x20) and panoramic negs (swing-lens, not cirkut 10x20 & 12&20") If your interested in looking see

-- Thomas Yanul (, November 20, 2001.

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