I've done pretty 11x14s out of 35mm.
Canon L lenses certainly aren't necessary although you do need a good lens. I've made incredibly sharp images from a cheap Nikkor 50mm f/2 lens that you can buy for $25.
The secrets to success:
1. Use a good quality film... the slower the better, generally.
2. Develop accurately. (You don't necessarily need to use a fine-grain developer, though. Such developers reduce sharpness, which is important in large prints.)
3. Shoot at middle apertures, which is generally where lenses are at their sharpest.
4. Use a tripod and a cable release.
5. Hold your breath while shooting. (Okay... I made that one up.)
With medium and large format, you have more latitude to abuse these rules and get good results, but they're useful there, too, because you'll maximize the enlargeability of your image.
Of course, sometimes other considerations exist (light conditions might require faster film, especially if handholding is necessary; depth of field considerations might prevent you from using a middle aperture).
I have made nice 11x14s out of film as fast and grainy as Ilford Delta 3200. I have one particularly gorgeous enlargement from FP4 Plus developed in PMK. Delicious, delicious. I'm sure it would be nicer if I'd used 120, but I still love it. (My avatar is of that image.)
35mm is far from optimal... but it is amazingly good if used well. (And if you fall in love with what 35mm can do... wait until you try 120.)
Jim MacKenzie - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
A bunch of Nikons; Feds, Zorkis and a Kiev; Pentax 67-II (inherited from my deceased father-in-law); Bronica SQ-A; and a nice Shen Hao 4x5 field camera with 3 decent lenses that needs to be taken outside more. Oh, and as of mid-2012, one of those bodies we don't talk about here.
Favourite film: do I need to pick only one?
Most of my experience with enlargements is with 35mm, usually from slow slide emulsions. I've had no problems with loss of detail making 11x14 enlargements, and even 16x20s are usually fine, if viewed from a distance of more than a couple of feet or so. Whenever this sort of discussion comes up, I'm reminded of a couple of personal observations and at least one simple fact.
The fact first: most feature films have been shot using 35mm film, but since the film passes through the camera (and projector) vertically, the width of the image is only 24mm, whereas the width of a 35mm still camera's image is 36mm. Yet, movie viewers don't complain about softness or grain when they're watching a movie on a screen dozens of feet across. I suspect that, since the image(es) are passing by at -- what, 28 frames/sec? -- that takes care of the grain issue, but not the softness issue.
Some years ago, a friend of mine handed me two B&W 8x10s and asked if I could tell which was shot with a 35mm and which was done with a 4x5. Now what was interesting about the two images was there was no difference in sharpness and the only way I could tell was the grain was somewhat more visible in one of the enlargements. So, I correctly chose that as the 35mm image. Now, I don't recall the view camera and lens he used for the 4x5 shot, but it was good equipment. The 35mm image was taken with a Leica IIIc screw-mount rangefinder and a prewar 50mm f/3.5 Elmar.
Back in about 1990 or so, I ran across a poster by Canon, extolling the virtues of their L lenses. The poster was poster size -- at least 20x24 inches -- and the image was taken with the a Canon F-1 and an FD 85mm f/1.2L. The sharpness was incredible and the grain was very fine, almost not visible. To this day I still have trouble believing that that image was taken with a 35mm camera, but I know what I saw.
I'm a bit more pragmatic when it comes to enlarging my own photos, however. I'll enlarge them to the extent that I feel is allowable. This depends mostly on the emulsion I used and the quality of the lens that was used. I can usually do 11x14s without surrendering too much to grain or softness, sometimes 16x20s. I haven't tried for anything larger than that. Yet.
Clearly, if one is into critical sharpness at large print sizes, however, medium or large format emulsions will give finer results, but sometimes not as finer as one might expect.
If you going to scan a 35mm or roll film 120 of ROLLEI ATP 1.1 negatives, then a good scanner will provide image files of an exorbitant high quality. Give it a try!
There is a lot of mileage in this one and what I want to say has already been said several times, and I haven't even read all the posts, but here goes. It depends entirely on the viewing distance. If it looks great at 10 x 8 held in the hand it will look great at 16 x 12 or 20 x 16 when up on the wall and viewed from several feet. I am lucky to have an understanding wife who thinks my pictures are terrific, and I am allowed a wall in the hall where are displayed 10 of my best efforts from the last 25 years (some from even longer ago have yellowed a bit and been relegated to the upstairs landing). You can't get close enough to see the grain though you certainly can see the grain if you peer closely enough. As each masterpiece emerges, on average once every couple of years, it goes up on the wall and the least favourite is relegated to the upstairs landing or the big box where the 'didn't-quite-make-its' go.
They are nicely framed and sometimes matted. But why oh why must they have glass in front? My wife ( or She who must be obeyed, as Rumpole had it) insists on this as a condition for the display; can anyone explain why?
I can think of a couple of reasons: the obvious one is to keep dust and/or fingerprints off the print -- most likely dust in your case. But there's also another good reason. Some of these glass coverings filter out UV rays, which I would guess help preserve an image's colors, and some of them are anti-reflective -- most are probably both.
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