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20×24 Ultra Large Format Photography

My primary reason for investing in the 20×24 ULF camera is to make world-class ultra large format contact prints. 

Just like Edward Weston, we all know that large format contact prints have no equal in terms of that special x-factor, and while Weston worked with 8×10, 20×24 has the same special qualities, just 4 times larger! 

As contemporary large and ultra large format photographers, we have never had more creative options at any time in history.

While making digital negatives up to very large sizes is possible, I don’t find that to be a workflow I want to pursue.  The endless software and computer upgrades, not to mention the nightmares associated with maintaining large format inkjet printers, I don’t find any of this desirable.  I don’t have any opinions about how other people decide to work and have no judgments about any of it, I share my personal thoughts and opinions for my readers to enjoy and consider. 

I am focused on creating handmade artisan ultra large format analog contact prints.  My workflow is completely analog from beginning to end, making my heart sing.  I am passing my knowledge and experience down to Tim Jr., and he will be able to carry our methods forward. 

Very few people in the world are actively creating new fine artwork with 20×24 ultra large format cameras and so those of that are, we band together and help each other. 

If you are a photographer or interested in learning about analog photography, we have an Analog Photography Membership Community that is the only community of its kind where you can learn and explore analog photography in depth. I also have an extensive training library of video workshops and guidebooks if you prefer to download the videos and books for offline use.

WHY 20×24 ULTRA LARGE FORMAT?

Each photographer would have to answer the question of why 20×24 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, and I am happy to post them here.

First, I should mention that I love large and ultra large format contact prints, always have, and always will. Art buyers and collectors also appreciate handmade large and ultra large format contact prints too.  

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, I just knew it looked a lot more substantial once I had the print matted and framed. 

The details in these contact prints were even more impressive and the “x-factor” of these bigger contact prints became very special to me. The detail and overall feeling of the larger contact prints are nothing short of impressive with the correct subject.  Little did I know at that time that I would eventually work my way up to 20×24.

CONSIDERATIONS

Depending on your personal situation, you may find if you shoot ultra large format exclusively that you may actually spend less money overall on your hobby/passion.  This seems counterintuitive at first glance, but buying a never-ending series of digital gear and the supporting equipment over time is a very expensive proposition.  Once you buy a 20×24 camera, it is the only one you will ever need for your entire life and your workflow never has to change if you don’t want it to. 

For example, if you use smaller formats and make enlargements, you save all the expenses associated with that workflow.  Large format enlargers and the full range of tools and supplies is typically not a cheap endeavor.  But, if you only make ultra large format contact prints, you can eliminate a lot of other gear and expenses and simplify your workflow. Simple doesn’t mean inferior by any means; I would argue that simplicity helps fuel your creative output. 

Buying an ultra large format camera and lens is a lifelong purchase that never needs to be replaced or upgraded.  Compared to the rate of consumption of new gear for digital photographers, ultra large format may actually be cheaper in the long run for many photographers.

Everyone comes to ultra large format with various needs and desires, so your mileage may vary on some of the considerations 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 your future kit’s total size and weight before making a purchase.  Some of the smaller lenses are relatively lightweight, but others are the size and weight of a small child! 

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

If you are a photographer or interested in learning about analog photography, we have an Analog Photography Membership Community that is the only community of its kind where you can learn and explore analog photography in depth. I also have an extensive training library of video workshops and guidebooks if you prefer to download the videos and books for offline use.


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.

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.

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 like 11×14 and larger 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 ULF 20×24

A standard lens for 20×24 based on the film diagonal of 31.2 inches or 793mm

If you are a photographer or interested in learning about analog photography, we have an Analog Photography Membership Community that is the only community of its kind where you can learn and explore analog photography in depth. I also have an extensive training library of video workshops and guidebooks if you prefer to download the videos and books for offline use.

16×20 General Purpose Lenses With Coverage Wide Open

30-inch lenses and longer should all cover at infinity.  Keep in mind that wider lenses can be used for close-up or macro work.  I do this extensively with my shorter focal lengths. 

Gorez Red Dot Artar Lenses
24-inch (wide angle), 30-inch (standard), and 35-inch (tele) lenses all cover 20×24 and they are reasonably priced and generally available on eBay.  They are super sharp as well.  They are the first lenses that I typically suggest for ULF photographers. **

** I personally own all of the Gorez lenses above (and more) and I use them on my 16×20 as well as my 20×24.  I also have the very rare 47 1/2″ Goerz Red Dot Artar lens that was badged by Schneider.  My 35-inch lens is also a Schnieder badged Goerz lens too, which is very rare.  The 47 1/2″ lens requires 1206mm of bellows draw, so when I use it on my 16×20, I need to install my extension board, but it works natively on my 20×24.

450mm Nikkor M will barely cover if you stop down to f/45, but the image will be very soft on the corners, which is not always a bad thing. 

Zeiss Jena 450mm F9 copy lens (~$400 on eBay)

550 Schneider XXL (Expensive and wonderful if you can afford it)

Brand new Cooke Series XVa Triple Convertible (expensive $4k range in Copal 3)

Cooke XVa Focal lengths: 645mm (25″) (front cell only), 476mm (back cell only), 311mm (front + back)

The 645mm (25″) will cover 20×24, 476mm will cover 14×17 or use for closeup work, and 311mm (will cover 8×10 and also a great closeup/macro option) 

600mm Fujinon C will cover but not with very much movement and soft in corners.  These lenses are increasingly hard to find and the prices are sort of outrageous. 

600mm APO Nikkor will cover but not with very much movement and soft in corners

1000mm Germinar Single coated

750mm Germinar would also cover

750mm Nikkor Process lens (hard to find now)

30 inch Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear

Soft Focus/Pictorial Lenses

Tri-Tran 30-inch Signature Pictorial Lens (link)

Nikkor 480mm F9 APO Process Lens (Nikkor APO PDF)

20×24 Lens Guide Published by Wisner in 2007

LensFocal lengthMM ….InchesDegrees on 20×24Availability
Goerz/Zeiss Hypergon1506.0138.1very rare
Zeiss Series V Protar27510.8109.9very rare
Zeiss Series V Protar32512.8100.7very rare
Zeiss/B&L Series V, IV Protars39015.490.3rare
Goerz Am. Opt., Series III Dagors42016.586.1sometimes available
Goerz Dagors, Zeiss VII Protar48019.078.5sometimes available
Zeiss VII Protar59023.267.2available but can be $$$
Goerz American Optical Company Dagors61024.065.5rare
Zeiss Series V Protar63225.063.7rare
Zeiss VII Protar69027.259.2sometimes available
Goerz Apo Artar76030.054.6generally available
Goerz Apo Artar89035.047.6$1,000 on eBay 8/21
Turner Reich91536.046.4$884 on eBay 8/21

LENSES FOR ULF 16×20

Note: some of the 16×20 may work for 20×24, especially for closeup and macro work, but not at infinity.  Depending on your style and use case, I list these lenses here for your consideration because some of these lenses may work for you and may also be more available.

Vintage 16×20 Soft Focus Lenses

Crown Anastigmat Series I 23 1/4″ F4.5
Dallmeyer Patent Portrait Lens Series A No.6A 30 inch F4

16×20 General Purpose Lenses With Coverage Wide Open

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


NEGATIVE CHOICES

Buying 20×24 B&W film is a once-per-year event that will make you cry if you miss the annual Ilford ULF film order and even if you don’t miss the order window, you will cry when you look at your bank account.

You don’t have to use film… 

Paper negatives are a great option for negatives with no compromises in my opinion.  Also, all of my 20×24 negatives that I use for making my alternative prints for platinum/palladium and salt prints are made on Ortho Litho film which is cheaper than black and white sheet film for 8×10.  

If you are a photographer or interested in learning about analog photography, we have an Analog Photography Membership Community that is the only community of its kind where you can learn and explore analog photography in depth. I also have an extensive training library of video workshops and guidebooks if you prefer to download the videos and books for offline use.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES