By Oren Grad
If the very idea of dragging a 4x5 view camera into the field makes you weary, spare a thought for Sandy King, who has just taken delivery of a brand new 20x24" camera built to an innovative design by Richard Ritter. An emeritus professor of languages at Clemson, Sandy is well known in the large format community as a practitioner and teacher of "alternate processes" such as carbon, platinum/palladium, kallitype and Van Dyke. Sandy's new camera has 48" of bellows draw, but folds down to a very compact 28x28x7" and weighs just under 23 lbs, which makes it an ultralight for the format. Really! Not only that, but Sandy got a 12x20 reducing back for the camera to boot.Congratulations to Sandy—we look forward to seeing where he'll go with this delicious new tool.
Featured Comment by Julie Heyward: "Who makes a lens that gives coverage for 20x24"? And what would be 'normal' focal length for that size? Just curious."
Oren replies: Normal is, of course, just the diagonal for the format. In this case, the diagonal is about 31.25", or 794mm. Actually, it will be just a bit less than that, to allow for the fact that the picture area on the negative is always a bit smaller than the nominal format size.
There are several lenses that will cover. ["Cover," for those unfamiliar with the term, simply means that the size of the aerial image circle cast by the lens is large enough that will fill the entire piece of film with "imaged objects"—i.e., the picture. —MJ.] Most of them are old process lenses originally designed for the graphic arts industry. The very longest of the classic Dagor and Protar Series V lenses will also cover, though these are scarce and tend to be very expensive. Among currently manufactured lenses, there are only three that I'm aware of that will cover—the Schneider Fine Art XXL 550mm and 1100mm lenses, which are designed for precisely this kind of use, cover with plenty of room for movements, while the 600mm Fujinon-C is said to just barely cover if you stop way down.
On the Large Format Photography Forum, Sandy mentioned that he has a few lenses that will work. He identified the two best as the 550mm Schneider Fine Art XXL, and an old 30" Goerz Red Dot Artar.
Here is a related discussion thread.
The best known 20x24 cameras are the famous Polaroid 20x24's:
Featured Comment by David A. Goldfarb: "People like Sandy (and myself sometimes) who use cameras larger than 8x10" are often using processes that require contact printing like carbon and platinum/palladium in Sandy's case, albumen in mine. The options are to make an enlarged negative from a smaller format or even a digital original using digital or conventional means, or using a bigger camera.
"The digital negative process has the attraction of being able to use digital controls while ending up with a handmade print with a traditional process that has its own distinctive look that can't be produced any other way, plus you can enlarge bigger than any camera you might want to use or take the kind of photograph that is only practical with a small camera and end up with a big print using a contact printing process.
"Personally, I think a contact print from a big negative straight from the camera has a kind of three-dimensional quality that enlarged negatives don't have, but this depends in part on the print medium, since not every handcoated process has enough resolution to show the difference between a camera negative and an enlarged negative, and resolution isn't everything.
"For portraits, a large camera can make the portrait session into something of an "event" that engages the portrait subject as well as the photographer. The camera is a large presence in the room. More lighting is needed, and/or more cooperation from the subject to hold still for the exposure. I usually switch places with the subject, so they can see what I'm looking at on the groundglass and understand what is happening and when they need to hold still, and they become more involved in the process."
Featured Comment by OC Clicker: "Is film still available for this format, or does Sandy have to
make his own glass plates?"'
Oren replies: Yes, film is available. Twenty by twenty-four has been cut under the Ilford and Kodak special order programs; Freestyle Photographic Supplies sometimes has panchromatic emulsions from Forte or Efke in stock in that size; and Fotoimpex will also cut some of the eastern European emulsions to order in any size.
Oh, yes—if you have a minimum of about $10,000 to burn, you can also get Kodak to cut color film.
Twenty by twenty-four HP5 Plus or FP4 Plus in this year's Ilford cut was roughly $24 per sheet. The TMY special cut was likely a bit higher than that, the Forte or Efke emulsions when you can get them probably a bit cheaper. Makes 11x14 look like a bargain.
Holders are also expensive. Alan Brubaker charges $850 for a 20x24 holder. Lotus is €945, which is $1350-$1400 at current exchange rates. Quality Camera doesn't show a price for a 20x24 S&S holder; I imagine it's a custom-build item.