Friday, November 14, 2014


The biggest enlargement ever made from a 35mm frame was a picture by Ernst Haas which was used for the Kodak Colorama at Grand Central Station in New York City.  That brings up the question of what the largest picture ever made might be.  A little research rendered the following result:

The largest picture ever was made with what is certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest camera in existence.  It is basically an old hangar building at the disused El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Southern California, which has been made light tight to ensure no light gets in except through a little pinhole in one side of the hangar. To create the image which is described as "The Great Picture", a huge sheet of made-to-order canvas was suspended inside the hangar and coated with 80 liters of a liquid photo emulsion made by Liquid Light.  This made the entire canvas photosensitive.

The Great Picture Hangar
The exposure time of the world's largest camera was set to approximately 35 minutes, after which the canvas was developed in a pool of 2300 liters of developer.  Needless to say, photography at this scale does not come cheap!  The world's largest photo was 313 square meters (3375 square feet) in size.  That compares to a standard 35mm film frame of 24 x 35 millimeters, which equals 8.64 square centimeters, or 0.00864 square meters.

While this is certainly a very impressive achievement, the camera is definitely quite limited in terms of subject matter.

In 1900, the Chicago & Alton Railway decided that they wanted a mural of their Alton Limited train to hang on the wall of their headquarters.  There was no suitable enlarging equipment available at this time.  Virtually all photographs were contact printed, meaning that the negative needed to be of the size of the final print.  To solve this problem, they hired the J. A. Anderson Company of Chicago to build what turned out to be the largest, portable camera ever.  The camera weighed 900 pounds and was designed to take photographs on an 8 x 4.5 foot photographic plate, which added another 500 pounds to the weight of the camera.  An exposure time of 2 ½ minutes was necessary to take the photograph.  This was the largest photograph ever until “The Great Picture” was taken many years later.


 The Alton Limited train picture taken with the Mammoth Camera

What does this have to do with Leica?  Basically nothing, but it is interesting to see what efforts have been taken by some to go into the opposite direction of Oskar Barnack when he designed the Leica.  It is interesting to note though that the railroad picture could easily have been taken with a Leica, considering that the Kodak Colorama image by Ernst Haas had a dimension of 18 x 60 feet, making the railroad picture of 8 x 4.5 feet rather small in comparison.  Of course the difference in camera size is much greater, and the first Leica was designed by Oskar Barnack just a scant 13 years after the Mammoth camera.


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