Format – What Size?

Working with film is still a joy for me.  Like many photographers, I started with 35mm, then came roll film (aka medium format) and finally large format (first for me was 4×5). 

My preferred method of printing is contact printing.  Coating a nice piece of paper with platinum and palladium (with some ferric oxalate), allowing it to dry and then making a contact print is something I enjoy.  It leaves me with the feeling I have put more of myself into the print, but that is for another ramble.

Large format film (and cameras) come in many different sizes.  Most common are 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10 (inches BTW) – these are considered the common Large Format (LF) sizes.  Next would be the Ultra Large Format (ULF) sizes, 7×17, 8×20, 11×14, 14×17, 12×20 ,16×20 and 20×24 (yeah they still make these big old cameras and film for them – think about it 20×24 inches or 480 sq/in of film).  The next group has been placed in either LF or ULF, until recently.  Michael Mutmansky used the term Exotic Large Format in an article in View Camera, earlier this year.  I like the term, it describes the following formats very well.  ELF formats would be 5×8, 4×10, 5×12, 7×11, 10×12 and I am certain there are others.  One thing to note about the ELF formats is they tend to be 1/2 of some other format 5×8 and 4×10 both come from 8×10, 5×12 is half of a 10×12, 7×11 is half of 11×14 and even 10×12 is half of 12×20.

So why have all these different film formats?  It has as much to do with how we all ‘see’ when we photograph.  Some people like a nice panoramic format like 4×10, 5×12, 7×17 or 8×20.  Other’s like a format that has a ratio much like the ‘golden mean’ like 5×7, 5×8, 7×11 or 12×20.  The 4×5 and 8×10 formats are more square (and are easily cropped that way) for those who wish to print a square format.  The pano formats remind us of those old photographs we used to see in our grandparents home of soldiers, or perhaps of the entire school that a relative went to, or one the shows the entire town from end to end.

So there is no right or wrong size, many digital photographers have taken to stitching multiple images to make a panoramic print, or crop to a given size for printing – it is how they ‘see’ the world.  Why, not sure that is something that can be articulated, but is often times something that is felt – a comfort level if you will.

Parking Garage No. 1
Parking Garage No. 1

My favorite formats? Well much of the work I have done over the past few years has been with 5×7, 8×10 and 7×11 (I really like this format).  Speaking of 7×11, check back in the near future, I should have a Ritter 7×11 in soon and will post some photos and give my first impression on this new camera.


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