My favorite black & white developers

January 08, 2017  •  2 Comments

Over the past couple of years, I've tried a number of developers for B&W film. Here is my top three picks that each have their own role one of which might fit your needs:

Rodinal, an Adox product, is the longest continuously produced developer in existence having been patented in 1891! Why is it still so popular? As Ed Buffaloe says, Rodinal "produces little fog and no stain even at high temperatures, is relatively fast-working, is less temperature-dependent than other agents, can be mixed and stored in very high concentrations, and retains developing potential even at very high dilutions." It’s not a fine grain developer so best not used with 135 or 120 format.

Xtol, a Kodak Alaris product, is IMHO, the king of B&W developers. As Mark Covington says "Xtol is one of the few developers that do not contain hydroquinone. It uses derivatives of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and Phenidone as developing agents. Claimed advantages include low toxicity (important for environmental reasons as well as occupational safety), easy mixing (but see below), and an unusual combination of fine grain with high film speed (true shadow speed, not just push-processing)." Its a true fine grain developer and can be used with push or pull developing. The only pain is that it comes as two powders which have to be mixed with water (not so easy in fact) to make 5 liters of developer solution that then must be stored in airtight containers. I use 0.75l wine bottles with Vacu Vin wine stoppers to do the job.

Pyrocat-HD, "is a semi-compensating, high-definition developer, formulated by Sandy King. The advantages of formula include greater effective film speed, shorter development times, consistent staining action, lower toxicity, and no streaking or mottling with reduced agitation. Users have reported reduced printing times with UV light sources due to the different stain color, as well as reduced base plus fog density in rotary processors." If you plan to contact print your large format negatives in silver, as well as, platinum this is the go to choice. Silver development with visible light ignores the stain and gives a thinner negative. Platinum development with UV light recognizes the stain and gives a thicker negative needed for this kind of printing. Make sure to get the version with the B solution using Glycol. It's less toxic than alternatives. Pyrocat comes in many flavors, none of them drinkable! Pyrocat-HD is particularly good with rotary processors. Pyrocat-MC might be the other version to consider.

Now if you are stuck in some remote place and can't access regular developers why not mix up some Caffenol? I kid you not, you can develop film in instant coffee, baking soda and vitamin C!

B&W Developer Choices
  Rodinal / Adonal Xtol Pyrocat-HD  
  Rodinal_DeveloperRodinal_Developer XTOL_DeveloperXTOL_Developer Pyrocat_HD_DeveloperPyrocat_HD_Developer  
Fact sheet Here Here Here  
Price Low Very High Low  
Shelf Life when unmixed Long (years) As a powder - long (years) Unmixed liquids A and B - long (years)  
Shelf Life when mixed One shot - use right away When mixed and in airtight containers - months One shot - use right away  
Toxicity Low Low Medium - use nitrile gloves  
Features Some grain, best with large format Very fine grain, box speed, can be used with 135, 120 and large format Staining developer, can use the same negatives for Ag and Pt printing  
Where to buy Freestyle B&H, Freestyle Photographers' Formulary  


Good lenses for an 8x10 view camera

November 18, 2016  •  11 Comments

Based on the 4x5 lens suggestions blog post that I made a while ago, I got a request to do the same for 8x10. Pretty much the same considerations play out for 8x10, do you want modern or old lenses, light weight for the field or you don't care for the studio, and the subject matter determining your preferred focal length and maximum aperture requirements. I won't repeat myself again, except to say that with 8x10 you should just double your favorite 4x5 focal lengths to get the equivalent. So a normal lens for 8x10 is somewhere between 300mm and 360mm.

Since I'm a field camera user, typically taking my super light weight Ritter 8x10 in a backpack with a few holders, I'm basically looking for the lightest lenses with the largest coverage that won't put pressure on my front standard and break my back. In that respect one manufacturer shines greater than all the others: Fujinon. For whatever reason, perhaps because Fuji was last to the party, the company produced some of the most unusual lenses that combine light weight, small fast shutters, and huge coverage. But if you are in a studio setting and/or working in really dark places such as interiors, dusk, dawn, dense forests, or night photography you might want to consider heavier, faster and often cheaper lenses. So I've put together two sets of lenses that meet the extremes of what someone might want in an 8x10 lens set. Then at the end I've got a section on unusual lenses to consider at the super-wide and super-long focal lengths.

Lenses for 8x10 Field Camera: Computar 210/9, Fujinon A 300/9, Fujinon A 360/10, Fujinon C 450/12Lenses for 8x10 Field CameraLeft to right: Computar 210/9, Fujinon A 300/9, Fujinon A 360/10, Fujinon C 450/12


Set 1: Field Camera / Good Light / More Expensive

Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Computar 210mm 9 313mm (actually more) MC 52mm 280g
Fujinon W 250mm 6.7 398mm SC 67mm  
Fujinon C 300mm 8.5 380mm MC 52mm 250g
Fujinon A 360mm 10 504mm MC 58mm 475g
Fujinon C 450mm 11.5 486mm MC 52mm 270g
Fujinon C 600mm 12 620mm MC 67mm 575g

This is my favorite set of lenses. You could say my Fujinon A 360/10 is practically glued on to the front of my camera I just take so many images with that lens. Unfortunately, its also very hard to find and will cost you somewhere around $1,200. One alternative is the G-Claron 355/9 but it weights 855g and takes a 77mm filter. There is as well the lighter Apo-Ronar 360/9 which is usually a barrel but does sometimes show up in a Copal 3. Also if you want more coverage for the 300mm focal length, then the Fujinon A 300/9 with an image circle of 420mm and a weight of 410g is a nice alternative and a tad bit sharper. Many people also like the G-Claron 305/9 with an image circle of 381mm and a weight of 420g. I should also give a shout out to the Fujinon W 250/6.7 with lettering on the inside and a 67mm filter ring. While it is only a single coated lens in an older Copal 1 shutter, it usually can be had for $300 or so and it has 398mm of coverage!

To be honest I never take this full complement of lenses out all together. The Computar 210/9 and the Fujinon A 360/10 suffice 90% of the time. I just don't like shooting super wide and things start to wobble in even the lightest breeze when my field camera is racked out beyond 600mm. All of these lenses have large to insane amounts of coverage, its really hard to run out of room, and let's face it who wants to accidentally vignette an image when the film cost and processing is setting you back tens of dollars a sheet. None of them are poor performers in terms of sharpness.

Lenses for 8x10 Studio Camera: Fujinon W 210/5.6, Nikkor W 300/5.6, G-Claron 355/9, Nikkor M 450/9Lenses for 8x10 Studio CameraLeft to right: Fujinon W 210/5.6, Nikkor W 300/5.6, G-Claron 355/9, Nikkor M 450/9

Set 2: Studio Camera / Low Light / Cheaper

Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Fujinon W (Inside Lettering) 210mm 5.6 352mm SC 58mm 271g
Fujinon CM-W 300mm 5.6 412mm MC 77mm 965g
Schneider G Claron 355mm 9 444mm MC 77mm 855g
Nikkor M 450mm 9 440mm MC 67mm 640g
Goertz Red Dot Artar 610mm / 24" 11 518mm MC 67mm 1160g*

*Lens in brass without shutter. Can be mounted in an Ilex 5 or a Copal 3 shutter.

These lenses are faster, heavier and have pretty large image circles. On the plus side most of them are fairly easy to find and on the cheaper side. The one exception is the Goertz RDA 24"/11 which is easy to find in a barrel but not so easy to find in a shutter. The Red Dot Artars were produced for a long time, first in brass and then in aluminium. The brass ones are very heavy. If you are going to the trouble of having a barrel mounted I'd go for a later aluminium one. An Ilex 5 will allow the maximum aperture for the lens, but a Copal 3 will shave off 1/3 of a stop. The Copal 3 is newer, has a faster max shutter speed, and is about the same weight as the Ilex 5 plus it is much easier to find. Just make sure you get the black or silver "wide tooth" versions of the Copal 3 and not a Copal 3S which has a narrower maximum aperture. See my 14x17 lens post for an explanation of the differences. The Fujinon W 210/5.6 has to be the older version with the lettering inside the front element, not a later one with the lettering outside. The newer versions mechanically vignette the lens elements maximum performance so they don't cover 8x10. As it is the old version don't have much extra coverage on 8x10 so you need to be careful. Besides the Fujinon CM-W 300/5.6 there is also the similar and easier to find Nikkor W 300/5.6 but it takes 95mm filters and is another 300g heavier.

The Extras: Super-Wides and Super-Tele
Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Nikkor SW 120mm 8 312mm MC 77mm 610g
Nikkor SW 150mm 8 400mm MC 95mm 1050g
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 150mm 5.6 386mm MC 95mm 740g
Nikkor T ED 600mm 9 310mm MC 95mm 1650g
Nikkor T ED 800mm 12 310mm MC 95mm 1600g
Nikkor T ED 1200mm 18 310mm MC 95mm 1480g

At the wider end you can use the Nikkor SW 120/8 which just will cover 8x10 head on with no movements. Many 8x10 cameras simply can't handle such compressed bellows. The Nikkor SW 150/8 and Schneider Super-Symmar XL 150/5.6 are beautiful optics and also very wide on 8x10. The Nikkor makes a tele lens with ED glass and several different lens elements that take you from 600mm to 800mm to 1200mm. They cover 8x10 with a very little room for movements. 

Good Lenses for a 4x5 View Camera

March 03, 2016  •  1 Comment

Good large format lenses for 4x5 photographyGood 4x5 LensesA few of my favorites: SSXL 80/5.6, SSXL 110/5.6, Fujinon CM-W 125/5.6, Sironar-S 150/5.6, Nikkor M 200/8, Nikkor M 300/9 Picking a good set of lenses for a 4x5 view camera can be a fun exercise if you are into gear and the technical aspects of large format photography. But for people who don't enjoy that side of things, I think it's worth sharing a couple of shortcuts to developing the best kit to suit your shooting style. The first decision to make is whether to buy modern multi-coated lenses in Copal shutters or go for something older, single coated, and in a non-Copal shutter. My advice, is simply to say that lenses are relative cheap on the second hand market and there is no reason to deny yourself a good set of modern lenses. Older shutters may not fire accurately, non-coated and single coated lenses may leave you with low contrast images with noticeable flare, and if you shoot color film you may find nasty color separation at the edge of objects if the lens is not color corrected i.e. apochromatic. I suppose if you want a certain "classic-look" and shoot b&w exclusively then you may want to go down that route but for most people that's not a wise choice.

Then the second choice is to consider your weight limitations. Are you going to backpack in the wilderness with your 4x5 in which case every gram or ounce will count. Or are you a driving to your subject or just staying put in a studio. In which case weight is less an issue. You will probably have already made a decision with the camera you are planning to use: a lightweight field camera is best with light weight lenses, while a studio monorail can take some very heavy lenses.

The third choice is the subject matter you intend to photograph. Do you take portraits? Do you take landscapes? Do you take shots of architecture? For portraits you need probably two focal lengths (135mm-150mm and 200mm-240mm) that will give you either a head shot or a torso /body shot. Smoothness rather sharpness will be your consideration. See more for this type of shooting here. For landscapes you probably want a wide angle (90mm-125mm)and a normal lens (150mm-180mm). For architecture you will want a wide angle lens with plenty of coverage for extreme movements to correct for parallax and get up close(80mm-110mm).

The fourth choice is you likely lighting situation. If you photograph in dim forests or at sunrise or sunset you will want faster lenses like f5.6 to help you compose and focus your image on the ground glass. If you are always in a studio setting with plenty of artificial light slower f9 lenses will suffice.

Finally you want to consider how many lenses you want to cover what range of focal lengths. Typically people new to 4x5 will extrapolate from their current format. So if you currently use 35mm film cameras or full-frame digital cameras you can multiply your current lens focal lengths by three to get the 4x5 equivalent. So a 28mm becomes approximately a 90mm, a 50mm becomes 150mm, and a 85mm becomes approximately 250mm. Remember your view camera will have a maximum and a minimum bellows length - so certain lenses most likely will be out of your reach at one extreme or the other. Then you may want to consider whether you want a 2, 3, or even 4 lens set. A simple rule of thumb is to start with you widest preferred lens focal length and multiple by 1.5x to get to the next lens in the set and so on. So a four lens set might be 90mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm. Or perhaps you just want a three lens set in which case multiplying by a factor of 1.66x would give you 90mm, 150mm, and 250mm. Or if you start a little longer something like 125mm, 180/200mm, and 300mm.

If you want to build your set slowly, start with a normal (150-180mm) or normal wide (125-135mm) lens and then work out from there. However, its a good idea to try and standardize on one, or at most two, filter ring sizes so you don't have to bother with step-up rings and many different sets of filter. When you get into step-up rings you have to buy new lens caps and unscrewing filters can often leave you with the step-up ring attached to the filter and not the lens. It's just a hassle best avoided if you can. Also if you are shooting E6 film like Velvia, you may want to buy a center filter which also makes a step-up ring impossible to use.

The most popular filter sizes in 4x5 are 52mm and 67mm. Sticking to one or the other or both is a good strategy. If you like super long lenses, i.e. anything over 300mm in 4x5, for a field camera it is probably best to use a telephoto design that will shorten your required bellows and reduce the 'windsock effect' thus leading to sharper images.

My list of suggested lenses is heavily populated by Nikkor and Fujinon lenses. It's not that the other two major modern brands, Rodenstock and Schneider, don't make excellent lenses, it's just that the other two brands tend to have offerings that are lighter, more compelling, and cheaper on the second hand market. Where either Rodenstock or Schneider have hit a sweet spot with a specific lens (low weight / large coverage / especially sharp) then I have added them. Also most lenses below have a 52mm or 67mm filter size. Where I have added a lens with a size different from those it's because the lens is particularly low weight or large coverage. As for mixing and matching to form your lens set from different brands I'd say go ahead. The truth is that there is as much variation in the look of different lines in one brand's lens lineup as there is between brands. 

Suggested Lenses
Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 80mm 5.6 212mm MC 67mm 271g
Nikkor SW 90mm 8 235mm MC 67mm 360g
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm 5.6 288mm MC 67mm 425g
Fujinon NW 125mm 5.6 198mm MC 52mm 265g*
Fujinon CM-W 125mm 5.6 204mm MC 67mm 265g
Fujinon NW 135mm 5.6 206mm MC 52mm 270g*
Fujinon CM-W 135mm 5.6 214mm MC 67mm 270g
Nikkor W 135mm 5.6 200mm MC 52mm 200g
Fujinon NW 150mm 5.6 224mm MC 52mm 280g*
Fujinon CM-W 150mm 5.6  223mm MC 67mm 280g
Nikkor W 150mm 5.6 210mm MC 52mm 230g
Rodenstock Apo-Sironar S 150mm 5.6 231mm MC 49mm 250g
Fujinon CM-W 180mm 5.6 260mm MC 67mm 405g
Nikkor W 180mm 5.6 253mm MC 67mm 380g
Fujinon A 180mm 9 252mm MC 46mm 170g
Nikkor M 200mm 8 210mm MC 52mm 180g
Fujinon A 240mm 9 336mm MC 52mm 225g
Fujinon CM-W 250mm 6.3 320mm MC 67mm 510g
Fujinon C  300mm 8 380mm MC 52mm 250g
Nikkor M 300mm 9 325mm MC 52mm 290g
Nikkor T ED 360mm 8 210mm MC 67mm 800g
Fujinon T 400mm 8 220mm MC 67mm 600g

* These lenses are from an older line and may be harder to find. I'm also estimating the weight from the newer line that followed. Confusingly, these lenses usually just have "W" on the outside of the front lens element. For more on the wonderful world of Fujinon look here.

For the minimalists out there who want only two lenses and are going to zoom with their feet, here are two alternative sets for you:

  1. Fujinon NW 125mm/5.6 (52mm filter/265g)
  2. Fujinon A 240mm/9 (52mm filter/225g)
  1. Nikkor SW 90mm/8 (67mm filter/360g)
  2. Nikkor W 180mm/5.6 (67mm filter/380g)

For a moderately wide and light set of three lenses with a single filter size I would suggest the following:

  1. Fujinon NW 125mm/5.6 (52mm filter/265g)
  2. Nikkor M 200mm/8 (52mm filter/180g)
  3. Fujinon C 300mm/8 (52mm/250g) or Nikkor M 300mm/9 (52mm filter/290g)

For a wider and still relatively light four lens set with only two filter sizes, I would suggest the following all Nikkor set:

  1. Nikkor SW 90mm/8 (67mm filter/360g) or Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm/5.6 (67mm filter/425g)
  2. Nikkor W 135mm/5.6 (52mm filter/200g)
  3. Nikkor M 200mm/f8 (52mm filter/180g)
  4. Nikkor M 300mm/f8 (52mm filter/290g)

For an even wider and faster set of five lenses with only one filter sizes, I would suggest the following:

  1. Schneider Super-Symmar XL 80mm/5.6 (67mm filter/271g)
  2. Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm/5.6 (67mm filter/425g)
  3. Fujinon CM-W 150mm/5.6 (67mm filter/280g)
  4. Fujinon CM-W 250mm/6.3 (67mm filter/510g)
  5. Nikkor T ED 360mm/8 (67mm filter/800g)

For more info on the fantastic large format lenses that are our there poke around Kerry Thalmann's excellent lens pages here. Also you can get deep into the numbers on Christopher Perez and Kerry Thalmann's lens test pages here.

What is the ULF format for you?

February 09, 2016  •  5 Comments

ULF Camera by Darren SamuelsonULF Camera handmade by Darren SamuelsonCreative Commons Credit: Darren Samuelson, image cropped

About a year ago I went and took the plunge into Ultra Large Format, otherwise known as using a view camera with an area greater than 8x10. My format choice was driven by (1) shape (square versus panoramic) (2) finished output such as wetplate versus contact printing film (3) film availability and cost, (4) weight/portability, (5) the subject matter and whether you want to shoot wide, normal or long lenses, (6) camera cost and availability and (7) lens cost and availability.

But before you go down the ULF route, consider that any ULF negatives you make will most likely be contact printed and the sad truth is that image quality does not necessarily increase with the size of the negative. Film plane flatness, lens sharpness, and vignetting amongst other things are negatively correlated with size of the format. You may be better off just scanning a 4x5 or 8x10 negative and digitally enlarging it to create a new analog negative on Pictorico in a high end Epson inkjet printer. So you can sort of have your ULF negative cake and eat it without the ULF camera!

But for the brave souls who want to get into the world of ULF, let's take in turn each key characteristic to find your ULF sweet spot:

(1) Square versus Panoramic / Landscape versus Portrait  

People see usually in one shape or the other. While it is possible to use a reducing back to go from Square to Panoramic shape, the weight and cost penalty of carrying around half a camera you aren't using, an extra back, extra film holders, makes it unlikely you will do that. Square cameras can usually, although not always, switch from portrait to landscape orientation. But Panoramic cameras rarely can switch out of landscape orientation (with the exception of Richard Ritter's wonderful creations). A Square camera (e.g. 14x17") which shares the long dimension with a Panoramic camera (e.g. 7x17") is going to be much much heavier. So in a nutshell my advice is to stick with the shape you love. 

Alternatively you can shoot two panoramic images on a single sheet of film using a half dark slide. It's a relatively small weight penalty if less elegant than a reducing back.

(2) Finished Output 

Beside shape (square or panoramic), there is the overall size of the image you want to make. Most people move up from 8x10 because the contact prints are just to small for their liking. What do you want you final prints to be? If you are shooting film, do you have big enough trays and darkroom sink space for giant negatives and even bigger paper? One solution for limited space is to use a Jobo rotary processor - where you can both develop your negative and your prints in a limited space without the need for any trays. The largest Jobo drum can develop 16x20 paper, and combining some of the smaller drums you can easily develop 14x17 film. This approach also uses fewer chemicals.

But perhaps you want to produce a wet plate collodion, dry plate, daguerreotype, or other in-camera original image. In that case, you will need larger lens boards, 6x6 at minimum up to 9x9, and beefier front and back standards to take the heavy faster brass lenses and heavy plate holders. At at ULF sizes, you're also more likely to want a ground glass focusing screen panel that can swing out of the way, instead of requiring you to lift the plate back over your head to slide it in between the ground glass and the rear frame. Finally you need a well thought out plan on how to prepare and develop the plate on site.

While most people are using ULF to stay in the analog world and avoid digital post processing, a few people consider the maximum size they can scan a key criteria. Some fairly modern flatbed scanners go up to 11x14 and drum scanners max out around 14x17.

(3) Film availability and cost

You can see from Table 1: ULF Film by Format (February 2016) that 11x14 wins hands down for film availability. You will likely have film in that format for years to come. Other "Square" formats that have good film options are 14x17, 16x20, and 20x24. For Panoramic formats 7x17, 8x20 and 12x20 are well provided for. However, unless you cut down X-ray film to 7x17, the 11x14, and 14x17 formats are really the only other sizes that offer this cheap but high contrast film option. Film is generally priced on a per square inch basis so the smaller the area of the format the cheaper the film. This factor also favors 7x17 and 11x14, (and 14x17 but only if using X-ray film). If you make your own plates then any size in theory is possible!

Table 1: ULF Film by Format (February 2016)
Format Size Ilford FP4+ Ilford HP5+ Delta 100 Adox CHS 100 II Kodak Portra 160 (C41) Arista Ortho Litho X-Ray (Standard Sizes)  
7x17 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  
8x16 No Yes No No No No No  
8x20 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  
8.5x15 Yes No No Yes No No No  
9.45x12 No No No Yes No No No  
10x12 Yes Yes No No No No Yes  
10x14 No No No No No No Yes  
11x14 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes  
12x15 Yes Yes No No No No No  
12x16 No No No Yes No No No  
12x20 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  
14x17 Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes  
14x20 Yes No No No No No No  
14x36 No No No No No No Yes  
16x20 Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No  
20x24 Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No  

If you shoot film, it should be your main consideration when buying a ULF camera simply because it will be your main cost of ownership even if you only shoot 20 sheets a year for a couple of years. That is unless you use X-ray film where the price differential is a few dollars versus tens of dollars per sheet. You will probably be able to sell back your second hand lenses and second hand camera for approximately what you bought them for. Not so for new view cameras which often go for a significant price reduction on sale in the secondary market.

Remember to place your order for ULF film between early April and early June if you plan to use Ilford FP4+, HP5, or Delta 100. Make sure to order with a local dealer both to support your local store but also to make it easy to pick-up your film and assure that it doesn't get damaged in delivery.

For more on film choices see: The Search for the Perfect Film Format

(4 ) Weight and Portability & (5) Subject & Field of View

Panoramic cameras tend to be lighter because they have smaller standards and bellows than square formats. In addition, many panoramic cameras are older banquet style cameras - so named because they were used to photograph large groups of people with wide angle lenses at short ditances. As a result they have short bellows. If you like to shoot wide landscape images these might be the camera for you. 

If you are only thinking of doing portraits or still-life with minimal movements in a studio, then you might want to consider the a studio camera made around the turn of the 19th century. E Anthony (later E & HT Anthony / Anthony and Scovill / Ansco) and Burke & James made quite a few versions of 11x14 and 14x17 studio cameras some with bellows as long as 7 feet or 213cm!

Authenticity is important to some ULF shooters. You don't show up to an American Civil War re-enactment with a Carbon Fiber based Ritter camera, but rather an ancient contemporaneous camera complete with huge brass lens.

Its obvious to point out the larger the format the larger and heavier the lenses, film holders and tripod needed. Film holders in particular are amazingly heavy in ULF when compared to 4x5 or even 8x10 and will comprise a significant portion of the equipment weight if you have more than one or two.

(6) Cost of Cameras, Film Holders and Availability

Banquet cameras in 7x17, and to some extent 12x20 are quite common as are 11x14 format cameras. Especially Panoramic format cameras from 100 years ago tend to go for bargains but you may need to spring for new bellows. For other formats you may have to wait a while to find a well priced second hand camera. But also don't underestimate the time and cost to buy a new camera - they are almost always custom made and may take three months to a year and a half to manufacture. Rarely is any new ULF camera in stock, so you may be better off just waiting for a second hand camera.

Also note that film holders are not interchangeable between cameras because there were no standards for ULF, so absolutely buy your holders with the camera if you can. Even in 14x17" where there is an ANSI standard the film holders are still not interchangeable!

Finally, if you are handy in a wood shop you might want to consider building your own view camera. Some people start with acquiring film holders, either new or used, and build the camera around them.

(7) Lens Availability and Cost

The smaller the image circle for the format the more lenses are available and the cheaper they are to find. Plus those smaller IC lenses are more likely to be found multi-coated, and in a shutter. If you don't mind a barrel lenses many old process lenses will work well and can be quite cheap.

For more on lens choices see: 14x17" ULF Lens Recommendations

The Sweet Spot

So in summary I would say there are three clear sweet spots in ULF: 7x17, 11x14, and 14x17. The logic is explained below. If you want a list of possible ULF cameras to buy, both old and new, you can review this spreadsheet: ULF View Camera Specs (2016). Please add any missing information.

7x17 - Cheap available second hand cameras, portable, lots of B&W film choices with the option of cutting 14x17" X-ray film in half, with lots of lenses to choose from. But depending on the camera you may be limited to wide to wide-normal field of view and of course a panoramic landscape format.

Some Options:

Used: Folmer & Schwing (sturdy / short bellows), or Korona (less sturdy / long bellows)

New: Chamonix

11x14 - Moderately priced second hand cameras, somewhat portable, lots of B&W film choices, some X-ray film options, lots of lenses and usually with all fields of view - wide to long. Square with option to use half dark slide for panoramic images. Some studio cameras exist in this format size that are very heavy.

Some Options:

Used: For the Field: Rochester (Empire State), or Seneca (Improved View) but really there are so many choices

Used: For the Studio: Anthony (Climax Portrait), or Burke & James (Ingento Portrait)

New: Chamonix for film, Star Camera for wet-plate.

14x17 - Can be cheap camera if you find an old Rochester but more likely a custom build, B&W film costs are high but very cheap X-ray film is plentiful, quite a few lenses cover the format and fields of view are usually wide to long. Square with option to use half dark slide for panoramic images. Some studio cameras exist in this format size that are very heavy.

Some Options:

Used: For the Field: Rochester (Empire State)

Used: For the Studio: Anthony (Climax Portrait), or Burke & James (Ingento Portrait)

New: Chamonix for film, Star Camera for wet-plate

Some of the other popular formats you might want to consider are summarized below in Table 2: Decision Criteria for ULF

Table 2: Decision Matrix for ULF
Format Portability Camera Availability Camera Price B&W Film Availability X-Ray Film Availability Lens Selection Lens Cost
7x17 High High Low High Medium(2) High (3) Low
8x20 Medium Low-Medium Medium High None  High (3) Low
12x20 Low-Medium Medium Low High None  Medium (3) Medium
11x14 High High Low High Medium High Low
14x17 Low-Medium Low (1) Medium-High High High Medium Medium
16x20 Low  Low-Medium (1) Medium-High High None  Low  Medium-High
20x24 Low  Low-Medium (1) Medium-High High None  Low  Medium-High

Notes: (1) Made to Order, very few old ones (2) Cut 14x17 in half (3) Bellow limit use to shorter focal lengths for "Banquet" cameras


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