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16×20 Ultra large format

WHY 16×20 ULTRA LARGE FORMAT?

Each photographer would have to answer the question of why 16×20 large format for themselves; however, I will share some of my personal thoughts with you and if you would like me to update this section with your ideas, just send me your comments and suggestions. I am happy to post them here.

This is a new format for me, so I am actively creating a lot of new videos that are part of my Darkroom Diary on YouTube

First, I should mention that I love 8×10 contact prints, always have, and always will.  Maybe the thought of Weston making 8×10 prints in his simple, but highly effective darkroom is part of the mystique and romance. 

I got my first 11×14 camera in 2010 and I was astounded by how much bigger 11×14 was over 8×10.  I guess I didn’t realize that 11×14 is about 192% larger than 8×10.  An 8×10 negative has 80 square inches (8 * 10 = 80) and 11×14 has 154 square inches making 11×14 192% larger.  The 16×20 format is 4 times the size of 8×10!  

I know from making a lot of 16×20 silver gelatin prints in the darkroom over the years that I like to mount them with four-inch borders making for a 24″x28″ final piece of artwork. A 16×20 contact print is nothing short of impressive.  

I think the details in the 16×20 are even more impressive and the “x-factor” of these bigger contact prints is very impressive.

When I was marketing and selling my prints, this gave me a pathway to offer larger-sized contact prints which increased my revenues.  Both 8×10 and 11×14 contact prints are absolute gems and giving buyers and collectors two or more choices is usually a good thing.  It certainly worked out for me over the years.  I always wanted to go even bigger, but now I get to enjoy it and don’t have to worry about doing anything other than immersing myself in the experience and sharing it with good people like you. 

The 11×14 is the first step into ultra large format by most photographers’ definition, and I feel that it is as well. 

One of the things that I learned quickly is that everything from using the camera to developing the film and making the contact prints got exponentially more difficult.   If you are considering ultra large format, then make sure you adjust your expectations and plan on everything taking a lot more time. 

Making 11×14 contact prints really helped build my skills toward making even bigger contact prints.  Back in the day, 11×14 seemed like a big jump from 8×10.

I think the difficulty factor of ultra large format really helped me improve my overall skills and I highly recommend any 8×10 large format photographers take the step up to 11×14 if it makes sense and if the opportunity is available.  Going beyond 11×14 without having 8×10 experience is a tough road for most people and I don’t recommend it.  Make sure you have a good reason for going bigger and if your “why” is important enough to you, it will help you push through the difficult and irritating times that are sure to happen.

There are also plenty of other ULF formats such as 7×17, 8×20, and 12×20, if you prefer more of a pano look and more traditional formats would include 14×17, 16×20, and 20×24.

ULTRA LARGE FORMAT CONSIDERATIONS

Depending on your personal situation, you may find that you may actually spend less money overall on your hobby/passion when using ultra large format. 

It is expensive in the beginning, but you can use the same exact gear for your entire life and never need to replace it.  Modern digital photographers have no idea of this concept.

For example, if you use smaller formats and make enlargements, then you have all of that expense associated with that workflow.  Large format enlargers and the full range of tools and supplies are typically not a cheap endeavor.  But, if you only make ultra large format contact prints, then you can eliminate a lot of other gear and expenses and enjoy a very simple, but beautiful workflow.  Edward Weston’s contact printing was simple and I think it turned out just fine for him. 

Everyone comes to ultra large format with a variety of different needs and desires, so your mileage may vary on some of the considerations that I list in this section.

Depending on your physical ability to lug, transport, and haul your big camera around, this may be an issue for some people.  Make sure you understand the total size and weight of your future kit before making a purchase.  Some of the smaller lenses are relatively lightweight, but others are the size and weight of a small child!

Make sure you have a dark tent or other suitable means of loading your big film holders. 

If you are on the fence about getting an ultra large format camera, do everything you can to see if the new gear is what you are truly seeking.  For example, if you think your 11×14 contact prints will be better than your 8×10 prints, buy an 11×14 contact print from an accomplished photographer or maybe try and work out a print swap deal or something similar if money is tight.  If that doesn’t work for you, then consider visiting your local museum and ask to see some big contact prints. 

If you have the ability to make enlargements, make different sized enlargements, mount them, and pretend they are contact prints.  What size do you like the best?

Make sure you know how and are capable of doing ultra large format negative development in trays because this is most likely how you will be developing your negatives. 

If you don’t have a proven process for developing in trays, start with a smaller format and master that first because everything is much more difficult at full scale.  You could use a large Jobo drum to develop your film if you don’t have a proper darkroom. 

If you tend to fly by the seat of your pants, then ULF might not be for you.  You will need to plan just about everything from ordering your film once a year to doing extensive research if you plan to go out in the field with your kit.  Working with larger formats requires a lot of patience, planning, and willingness to work through a series of inevitable problems. 

I personally think the challenges are worth the end results and when you get to the point of making high-quality contact prints that bring a tear to your eyes, I think you will feel the same way.


LENSES FOR 16×20 ULF

A normal lens for 16×20 is considered to be about 600mm (24 in.) with a film diagonal rating of 610mm.

My personal lenses for 16×20 include the following:

Rodenstock APO Sironar W 300 F5.6 in Copal 3 Shutter (490).  This is the sharpest lens I have ever owned and I really like this focal length on 16×20 or even 8×20 too. 

Schneider G Claron 355mm F9 Barrel Mounted (444).  Same thoughts about this focal length as the Rodenstock APO Sironar and this lens is very affordable compared to the Rodenstock and often available via eBay and other places. 

Slightly Wide: Nikkor M 450mm F9 in Copal 3 Shutter (440).  This lens is about the smallest lens you will find in shutter for 16×20 and smaller formats.  It is not uncommon to find them on eBay, but the prices have really started to increase over the last few years.  

Soft Focus/Pictorialist lenses include the TT Signature Pictorial Barrel Lens 18 inches (457mm) F7.5 and 24 inches (609mm) F10, (DIY Meniscus 335mm F4.6 (510), DIY Meniscus 500mm F6.9 (810).  I have all of these and love them.  

Nikkor 480mm F9 APO Process Lens (Nikkor APO PDF) can be a suitable choice depending on your goals.  It is typically one of the cheaper lenses that will have no problem covering 16×20 and it is small and light compared to most other lenses.  

Special Use: I use a 150mm Nikkor SW F8 lens designed for 8×10 mounted in a Copal 1 shutter as a crazy wide closeup lens.  With 1050mm (~40 inches) of bellows draw on my 16×20 Chamonix camera, I can do some incredible 3:1, 4:1, and even 5:1 macro work. A lot of my other 8×10 lenses can also be used as closeup/macro lenses too like the Heliar 300mm F4.5, Cooke Series II 12 inch, B&L 20 inch Triplet, and many others.

MOST COMMON LENSES FOR 16×20

The most common lenses for 16×20 are the Schneider G Claron 355mm F9 IC 444mm 855g (~$600), Nikkor M 450mm F9 IC 440 640g (~$800), and Fujinon C 600mm F11.5 IC 620 575g ($2600-$4500).

All three of these lenses are typically found mounted in a Copal 3 shutter, but not always.    

For example, my Schneider G Claron 355mm F9 lens is in a barrel and I am okay with that because I shoot a lot of very slow emulsions and don’t need a shutter. 

My Nikkor M 450mm F9 lens is in mounted on a Copal 3 shutter and this is great when I want a sharp lens and need faster shutter speeds.  When I shoot faster films like HP5, having a shutter is always a good option.   

I sold my Fujinon C 600mm lens last year, but that was also mounted in a Copal 3 shutter as well and the price of this lens has risen to cult status.  

The prices listed above were confirmed via eBay in December 2020.  Note: IC indicates image circle at F22.

The rare and difficult to find Rodenstock APO Sironar W 300 F5.6 lens works on 16×20 as a wide angle lens with an image circle of 490mm.

I am fortunate enough to have bought this lens brand new which seemed expensive at the time, but now it is very expensive often going for $6,000 or more if you can even find one.

I personally use a slightly wide to normal lens on my camera and never had a personal need or desire for a longer lens.

The G Claron 355mm is the easiest and cheapest to find and considered to be a mid-range wide lens, and the Nikkor M 450mm is still considered to be little bit wide on 16×20 and it is the second easiest to find. 

The Fujinon C 600mm  is the most difficult to find and the most expensive. 

The price continues to change on these lenses over time.  Remember, they don’t make this stuff any more…

If you are into the 7×17 and 12×20 ULF formats, most of these and similar lenses will work as well.

The advantage of the three lenses listed above is their small size and weight.  With the camera already being huge and very heavy, toting around a small canon makes things even more difficult.

In the section below, I listed some additional lenses that you can consider over time depending on your style of photography. 

I believe the Gundlach Turner Reich 11×14 Triple Convertible F7.5 Series II No 6 lens will provide coverage at the 36″ length if you have enough bellows and the shorter 15 in and 21 in will be fine for closeup work.

The sequence for conversion is: both elements 15 in, rear only 24 in, move front to rear 36 in.

Don’t forget to use the proper f scale, there should be three, one for each focal length. It is recommended you use a filter behind the lens when converted, I use a yellow. It is also recommended you focus at the f/stop you will take the picture at with the filter in place (this can be tricky, my arms are not 48 in long) so stopping down as you watch the ground glass may necessitate a helper. In the non converted state it performs like any 5 pound lens would.  In general, the Turner Reich lenses are not regarded very highly but they were used extensively on all large formats. If you are contact printing I don’t think you will find a better performer for the money.

Vintage Soft Focus Lenses (Coverage Up To 16×20)

Crown Anastigmat Series I 23 1/4″ F4.5 (rarely on eBay)
Dallmeyer Patent Portrait Lens Series A No.6A 30 inch F4 (very rare and expensive)

Brand New TT Signature Pictorial Lens From Tri Tran (highly recommended, I own one)

16×20 General Purpose Lenses With Coverage Wide Open (Up To 16×20)

B&L Extra Rapid Universal Series D 22 3/4″ F6
B&L Special 30″ 700mm F6.3
Carl Zeiss APO-Planar 32″ 800mm (rare and expensive)
Carl Zeiss Protar 24″ 600mm F7.2 (rare and expensive)
Goerz (Berlin) Dragor Series III 30″ 750mm F7.7
Voightlander Collinear 24″ 600mm F6.3

APO Nikkor 600mm F9 (huge image circle up to 20×24, cheap $300 to $250, razor sharp, in barrel)

There are other lenses available that are bigger and heavier.

Symmar Convertible 360/620mm F5.6/F12 IC 500mm in Compound 4 Shutter 1910g (4.4 lbs)

APO Ronar CL 600mm F9 or F11 1563g/1547g

APO Nikkor 600mm F9 775g

Goerz Red Dot Artar 24″ (610mm) F11 ($1750 in shutter 7/2021, $1095 barrel lens 7/2021, $750 without mounting flange 11/2021)

Goerz Red Dot Artar 30″ 762mm F12.5 (longer than normal lens for 16×20)


NEGATIVE CHOICES

Buying 16×20 B&W film is a once-per-year event that will make you cry if you miss the annual Ilford ULF film order.  You don’t have to use film.  One good option is to use silver gelatin RC glossy paper as a negative medium.  In fact, it is one of my favorite negatives in the  larger cameras.  I have an entire video workshop dedicated to using silver gelatin darkroom paper as a large format negative.

To get you started in the right direction if you want to explore using silver gelatin darkroom paper as a negative, I highly recommend using an RC glossy paper.  The RC glossy paper produces an incredibly sharp negative and allows you to make very high-quality contact prints that are unlike film, wet plate, or dry plates.  Try ISO 3 as a place to start and adjust based on your results. 

An inexpensive way to get started with 16×20 is to use Arista EDU Ultra Glossy VC RC Glossy paper as your negative and then use the same paper to make your contact prints. 

It is only $85 for 25 sheets making the cost per negative relatively cheap when compared to any other negative type.


Finding a case for an ultra large format camera is never an easy task. I have typically had good luck with Gator cases that are intended to store and protect music equipment on the road.  I was very lucky to find a case that will hold the 16×20 camera and all four film holders!  Here is the link on Amazon for the case in case you want one for your camera. 

The dimensions of the Chamonix 16×20 camera are 24″ x 25.25″ x 6.75″ (610mm x 640mm x 170mm) and the dimensions of this case is 24″ x 30″ x 13″.  This allows me to store the camera and 4 film holders in the case all together along with lenses too.  I will take some photos of the system all packed and I plan on doing a video too.


ADDITIONAL ULF RESOURCES