Between today and June 28th, ultra large format (ULF) aficionados are special-ordering their year's supply of black-and-white film from Ilford Photo, for delivery by September.
Standard sizes of large format film are basically 4x5" and 8x10", with 5x7" sporadically available. But oddball sizes—4x10" and 7x17" panoramic, 8.5x6.5" whole plate, 11x14" and all the rest—are too rare to be stocked even by large mail-order dealers on a regular basis. So, once every year, Ilford makes its films in whatever size and quantity its customers want on a custom basis. (Some retailers do "order in" such sizes for sale throughout all or part of the coming year.)
A Shen-Hao 7x17" view camera (available new)
If you're not familiar with large format (LF), 4x5 was traditionally far and away the most popular size because 4x5 enlargers were (also by far) the most affordable, conveniently sized, and common. Now, with very few commercial uses of film left standing, contact printing is emerging as artistically just as important, even though many users still like to enlarge and 4x5 use is still widespread. Also, importantly, many alternative processes such as platinum-palladium are contact-print-only media.
(If I were starting out in LF today, I'd definitely plan to contact print.)
Worth noting is that many odd-sized large format cameras aren't standardized, so you must use the film holders specifically designed or designated for your particular camera. Don't buy an old view camera assuming you can get standard holders just anywhere (4x5, 5x7, and 8x10—at least—are all standardized).
You can read more about Ilford's program here. (Possibly a useless link, since everyone likely to order ULF film already knows all about this!)
There are several sites where the LF community is centered, mainly at the Large Format Photography Forum section of Q.T. Luong's largeformatphotography.info site. The Forum is very much worth visiting, even if only as a tourist, just to look at what people are up to. That's not to forget other sites such as the relevant sections of the Analog Photography Users Group (APUG).
(Thanks to Tom Kwas)
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Featured Comments from:
Paul Bass (partial comment): "Completely agree regarding contact printing. I got started with 4x5 in the mid '90s, and without means for, or access to, an enlarger, I made contact prints on Azo, when you could still get it. (Still have a couple of boxes of that around...) Eventually, after learning platinum/palladium printing, and wanting a larger negative, I found a 5x7 'expansion' back that fit that Osaka/Tachihara family of LF cameras. Odd looking thing, and limited what focal lengths one could use, but I was poor, relatively, and used that setup for years with only a 210mm Rodenstock Geronar and a 120mm Angulon (in Linhof shutter!). Man, that was fun. Develop film at night in trays in the bathtub, and print the next day in the sunshine! Here's some of that work, and some of these."
Mike replies: That's very nice work Paul. I especially like numbers 3–8 in the first set. Simple yet fresh. Brightened my morning. Thanks.