July 4, 2016

Ultra lightweight 4x5 point and shoot

A couple years back I was excited to hear about the new Travelwide 4x5 camera project.  I loved the concept just as much as I loved how it was making its way to the market. Unfortunately, the wait for it to materialize in my mailbox was excruciating! So I did what any half crazy camera builder does, I headed down to my workbench and started looking around. 

The lightweight plastic and composite construction of the Harman Titan pinhole camera (made by Walker Cameras) looked like it would be the perfect candidate for a donor camera. Upon closer examination, I found the distance from the end of the cone to the film plane was a perfect match for a 65mm f/8 Super Angulon. While there are sharper and faster options out there, the old school, single coated f/8 SA has a unique look that makes the extra effort of shooting sheet film again totally worth it. The perfect balance of sharpness and falloff, at f/22 this lightweight lens is gorgeous lens for a 4x5 wide angle point and shoot.

Since the camera would be primarily be shot hand held, I made a grip from some aluminum tubing that I covered with adhesive shrink tube for added grip. Two bolts secure the grip through the cone of the camera.  I added some black adhesive caulk to ensure a tight fit with the zero wobbling and finished it with a Canon hand strap. Since you load the film holders and operate the lens with your right hand the hand grip and strap on the left side is nice. 

Not planning on using a any of the interchangeable lens cones that are available for this camera, I used the black adhesive caulk to secure and strengthen its mount to the camera. Lastly, the entire inside of the lens cone was covered with the same paper backed flocking that I use on almost every camera I build. It helps keep the camera light tight but more importantly reduces internal reflections. 

To keep the camera from noseing over an 100mm Arca Swiss plate was mounted perpendicular to the camera.  

I found a beautifuly clean black late model single coated Super Angulon set in a 0 shutter. The only drawback to the larger 0 shutter (a double aught is a near perfect fit) is you will need to carve out the front of the lens cone for it to fit.  I was a little worried that it would weaken the front of the camera but it turned out to be quite rigid. The lens was finished with a Canon W-50 shade from the Canon 35mm f/1.5 LTM, that needed a good amount of work with the Dremel and a hand file to cut pedals into the sides but It's compact size is a good match for the camera.  

For my tests I used an older Russian 20mm finder but ultimately wanted a brighter and more contrasty finder. After some late night scouring of the web, I found a Zeiss finder from the Contax 21mm f/2.8 at Used Photo Pro, the fantastic used camera arm of Roberts Camera at an equally fantastic price. It had some scratches on its titanium finish but the glass was clean, after a bit of steel wool and a couple coats of satin black paint it looked like it was made for the camera.  As I've done on other cameras, I used a dab or two of the black adhesive caulk on the accessory shoe to make sure the finder stays affixed to the camera while it being stuffed in and out of bags and backpacks.  

To finish off the camera, an older wooden film holder was cut out and the center was replaced with a piece of ground glass to serve as a proper focusing screen. Mostly for times you were on sticks and wanted to compose your images more deliberately but to be 100% honest, the camera feels so good handheld, the ground glass adapter rarely gets used. It is nice to have the option if need be.

The entire conversion is pretty straightforward and you end up with a compact little camera that yields gorgeous 4x5s. So far I've mostly been using Provia but I'm super excited to get 25 sheets of CineStill 800T later this summer. If you wanna build one and have any questions feel free to reach out, I'll try to help however I can.  

I have a super lightweight 4x5 field camera with moments in the works, but it might be a while till its done and posted. With my new position with (the greatest camera company in the world) Canon USA this will be most likely be my last camera and my last post for a while. Canon is getting most of my attention these days.

Thanks for looking!


March 7, 2016

Finally, the perfect Leica Handgrip / M-Grip for the Leica

super compact and more functional version of the Leica Handgrip M or GMP M-Grip
Maybe it's that I'm getting older, I'd like to think that I'm getting wiser but recently (that's the last two years or so in my world) I've been working to make my gear (and my stuff) smaller and lighter while doing more.  I pulled the large battery grips off my full frame Canons in favor of smaller Arca Swiss mounts, I just finished a beautiful composite 4x5 point and shoot camera (I'll be posting it soon) and I'm working on what I hope will be the lightest full feature 4x5 camera out there.

Less is more. More slows you down, when you carry less you think more and shoot less too. If everything aligns properly you'll emerge with better, more compelling and more interesting images.  A group of fellow photographer/friends are doing a picture a day project throughout 2016 and someone who couldn't commit to the project said something that stuck with my, 'if your goal is to create interesting images...'  forget the rest, that statement really stuck with me and I suspect the others in the group.  Days have passed where I haven't shot a frame, then all at once, creativity flows through my veins and I'll shoot several images on my theme in a single day.  If I was carrying a large camera or a ton of gear, I this wouldn't be practical or even possible.  But downsizing everything has payed off big time.  Because I've stuck with an M6, I can carry it over my shoulder or in my backpack just about everywhere I go and it's at the ready when the situation presents itself.
even my backup 'trunk-tripod' has an Arca-Swiss clamp
Nice, I've downsized everything except my words, sorry...lets talk about the Leica grip.  A while back I bought into the Arca Swiss Quick release system, super fast, crazy solid and easier on my gear then wrenching it on and off the sticks all the time.

Which brings me the grip. I've always had a Leica or at least it seems that way, first got an M2 as a student at University of Missouri St. Louis, upgraded to an M4-2 when I was at Brooks, added an Abrahamsson Rapidwinder and used that combo for years before upgrading to a gorgeous M6 Panda, the same camera I'm using for my 2016 picture-a-day project.

Shooting film today is completely different then it was ten or fifteen years ago before digital was the norm. You shoot film slower, more methodically, it's precious...it's expensive! Motor drives really aren't as critical as they used to be, if you need to shoot quick, digital is better or more economical for sure. I still have a winder on my original F1, the electronic shutter release is smoother then the manual shutter release, I feel my images are sharper with the winder. While its nice to always have then next frame advanced, the added size and weight of the winder and 4 AA's is a downside, but sharper images makes it worthwhile.

I don't need the fast advance or added weight of the Rapidwinder so I picked up the Leica Handgrip #14405 (pictured above on the overpass) which is designed for most all Leica M film cameras except for the smaller CL or larger M5. Its a nice addition to the camera and ironically it will work with the Arca-Swiss system but not fantastically. The width is perfect allowing it to fit into the Arca clamp. It holds tight for horizontal shots and while I've used it for verticals, I'm constantly worried it will slip. Looking for a compact solution with both an Arca dove tail and handgrip, I was coming up dry. I found the original M-Grip from GMP products on eBay which I thought could be machined down but after a trip to the machine shop it wouldn't work.
the completed grip, Leica Handgrip M and the Really Right Stuff plate

My next idea was to remove the hand grip portion from the GMP grip and tap a Really Right Stuff B30 grip to accept the upright. The placement of the screws were off and in all honestly, I was surprised how big the B30 plate is. Being close to giving up, I thought I'd opt for a small Arca Plate and after some trolling I found beautiful and compact Acratech plate which additionally was less then $40.00!  The plate fits the bottom of the camera with half liner the protrusion of the Really Right Stuff and less height of the original M-Grip. Super small and rock solid on the tripod. I wish the 1/4-20 slot was not recessed but its the best plate out there by far.
it probably wont win a beauty contest but its a perfect match for the camera
Talking with friend, I noticed a grip for the Sony RX100 called a WAG-RX100 that's available on Amazon or eBay. It finally arrived a couple days ago and between my Dremel and a couple files, my M6 is FINALLY sitting pretty. I wish it looked more 'Leica' and less 'MacGyver', but it does exactly what I wanted, a grip that's smaller and lighter then anything commercially the is compatible with my Arca Swiss clamps. 
screws holding the handgrip between the plate and the Acratech plate 
You will need a couple cuts of sheet aluminum (available at the hobby store), stainless steel M2-4 (ironic right?) machine screws which are now available at Home Depot and you are in business.  
If you wanna build one and have specific questions just drop me a line.  In the meantime, I'll be emailing Scott Dordick, photographer, machinist and CEO of Acratech to see if can make a prettier version, you should too, here is the company email, I can't find a direct one for Scott: info@acratech.net

March 5, 2016

sad day for experimental camera builders :(

Yesterday Ric Globus, one third of the powerhouse known as the Globus Brothers, suddenly and unexpectedly passed while creating art in his Florida home. Many camera builders still look to the accomplishments that came from this powerhouse trio for inspiration. The SpinShot and Travelwide are just two recent examples that can be directly linked back to the Globus Brothers.
I was just getting to know Ric after he bought the Globuscope 4x5 that I refurbished and sold at the end of last year.  Through Facebook we chatted several times a week about cameras both new and old.  I regularly shared the cameras I was building with him and he was generous with support and encouragement. 

His passing is a loss for the photo and art community, may his creative curiosity and enthusiasm live on...

February 23, 2016

converting a classic Zeiss folder into a modern pano

Over the last year or so I've been working on this camera and it's finally (almost) done. I was reading a blog (I wish I can remember who's) and was surprised to learn that the D model Ikonta's had a film gate of almost five inches. Digging deeper I found lots of people cleaning up the lens and moding them into a 120 folder. Always having a crush on the 6x12 format, I thought it would be a perfect donor for a Linhof style 6x12 camera. Years ago, I built a 6x12 camera by grafting two 6x6 Graflex roll film backs together and putting a 65mm lens in a helical on the front, but its unwieldy stature and weight made it quite impractical, so it was never completed. 

The Ikon however, with film chambers next to the film gate (opposite the Graflex design where the rolls are behind the film gate) it could end up being much more like a traditional flat field panoramic camera in its look, feel and ultimately its usability.

Found an affordable camera with a damaged lens on eBay, I was off and running. Initially, I had planned to either Plasti Dip or paint the body with a textured satin black finish but after stripping away the 85 year old German leather and caustic adhesive, the aluminum body just looked too cool to be true. 
The first step was to shorten the 2 1/2 inch vertical opening to 2 1/4. Modern 120 film would need support to be flat when it was being exposed. Four custom aluminum brackets were mounted inside the former lens cavity to support two basswood strips that would be painted black.
Digging through one of my parts bins, I found what I think is a stage for an old MP4 Polaroid camera that looked like it might be a perfect lens mount. It was just millimeters short of the published hyperfocal distance for 47mm lens. Initially, I was going to use the lens in a helical but after finding this flange a point-and-shoot pano seemed inevitable. It turns out I needed less then a 1/16 of an inch, so a sheet of hobby store styrene was used to push the mounting out just a smidge. The savings in weight alone was exciting let alone not having to focus.

Once the lens was mounted to an aluminum bulkhead (that took forever to make), the body was sealed with black caulk, taped and covered in flat black paper Tuf-Flock/Velour available from Superior Seamless to minimize internal reflections.

Early 520/15's used 116 film but later models used 616. This camera had '616' engraved inside the door so I ordered a set of spool adapters from Holgamods but they did not fit. I shot Randy and email and he called see what was up. Being a huge photo geek as well, I sent him the camera and he called back indicating his 116 spool adapters were a perfect fit and the engraving was wrong. He makes adapters to use just about any film in any camera.  In addition, he makes a host of other Holga and Hawkeye mods, pinholes and a gorgeous Polaroid 110b conversion.

When I started thinking about this camera, I planned on using a Horseman lever advance mechanism from a 6x6 back for a fast and efficient film winding but the in all honesty, as the camera started to come together, I didn't want to mess up the super cool simplistic, steam punk look that was begining to emerge. And since you no longer needed to focus, using the red window to advance the film didn't seem like such a bad thing. The original red advance window didn't stand a chance against the high power paint striper the woman at Home Depot sold me, so I used a red film window from a Holga. The film spacing came from fellow camera hacker/builder Minh Nguyen (whom I've never met) but works perfectly:  3, 5 1/2, 8 1/2, 13, 15 1/2 and is dead on for six, perfectly spaced frames per roll...as long as you remember to advance after you shoot the picture ;)

Wanting a small and bright finder, I found an accessory shoe that would just clear the swing rear film door but not stick up as much as the locking Stroboframe accessory mount that is frequently used on similar cameras. The angle of view of the 47mm lens is very close to a 15mm lens on 35mm so a Voigtlander 15mm finder was siliconed to the accessory shoe. I like using clear or black silicone caulk to keep the finder put while still being fully reversible down the road. 

The cameras 1:2 format was masked on the finder with 1/16 inch black crepe paper tape by Chartpak. This or similar tape can be found as a decent art store or online.

With such a wide lens, almost any shade I tried was visible in the very corners of the frame.  Building the 4x5 Globuscope at the same time, I tried the clamp-on N
ikon HK-6 shade. It was perfect, giving a little bit of shading but more importantly giving the lens some physical protection while it's over my shoulder or in a camera bag. The HK-6 shade is made for a 20mm f/3.5 that's larger around then the 65mm SA so I made a shim by cutting away the inside of a Schneider push on lens cap to make up the difference.

The strap was custom made from some decent quality leather strap that was cut to size and terminated with black anodized screw posts. I got some shrink tubing from the electrical section of Menards and cut small pieces to just cover the brass screw post for two reasons: help the post from unscrewing and to keep the clanking down when the metal strap ends hit the metal camera body. Drawing inspiration from my dads favorite camera strap 'the Strapteer' I used a swiveling quick disconnect 'HOOK' from the German website leicagoodies.com for some additional functionality.

Two bubble levels from Geier-Bluhm were siliconed to the camera, the horizontal level is just below the finder so you can see it with the camera to your eye and a second level which serves as tilt and for both horizontal and vertical shots is siliconed in the groove of the Arca Swiss plate that juts out from the bottom of the camera.  The orientation of the Arca Swiss plate protects lens and keeps the camera from nosing over when it's placed on a flat surface. 

Lastly, I added a red ribbon to the rear lens cap to make it painfully obvious the cap was in place and similarly, I added a strip of red electrical tape to the front cap to help me not photograph the lens caps. 

I should mention that the actual horizon of the nuclear containment mound is curved, not the camera ;)
Sorry for the bad 'scratch scans' these are literally tests to check for focus and light leaks.  It's been a incredibly fun project and I'm super excited to start using the camera regularly. 

If you wanna build a similar camera and have any questions or hit any snags, feel free to drop me a line. More pictures of this camera and other cameras I've built or hacked can be seen on my Flickr page.

February 16, 2016

film vs. digital irl

This January a bunch of fellow photographers and I embarked on a year long 'picture-a-day project'. Its pretty simple, you just pick a topic or theme, a particular camera and (try to) shoot a single frame each day.  

I choose to shoot (loosely) on the theme of 'transportation' with a Leica and Agfa 'Vista 400' print film. I prefer the exaggerated color and saturation of amateur film vs Portra or Fuji PRO films. The film is sent to Richard Photo in LA for process and large Noritsu scans. 

On some outings (usually over weekend) I'll carry a 6D and shoot alongside my M6. Below are an interesting comparison between the two files. This is strictly an empirical test, I'm processing each file in Lightroom until I like it, I'm not trying to match the files in anyway whatsoever. Both the digital and film files are being shot at 160 for comparison purposes. The results are interesting.

Same debate, different world, here is a great article about famed director of photography Roger Deakins and take on film vs. digital: 

Check out some of Chicago native Ali Leroi's Los Angeles picture a day portraits:

January 21, 2016

Rebuilding Globoscope #74

If you aren't familiar with the 4x5 GlobuScope or the three (remarkable) Globus brothers behind this and the ground breaking GlobuScope360 (which has enjoyed a resurgence in pop culture as a scanner of some sort Art Museum Scene in Ghostbusters II), Globus Studios is certainly worth looking into.

While I can't do them justice here, I will tell you this: they are absolute pioneers in the photographic world. 
Any photo-geek worth their weight in D-76 should spend a little time reading about their contributions to the photographic world that range from developing several notable cameras to one of the brothers contributions to fixing the damaged Hubble Space Telescope.

Long being a fan of the 4x5 Globuscope as well as the look and feel of the 65mm f/8 Super Angulon, the Globuscope 4x5 has been the subject of many of my post conscious-family, nocturnal subterranean searches.  After a couple years of seeing camera bodies  come and go, internet lore will have us believe that 40 or so stainless camera bodies were discovered in the Globus studio in NY.  Regardless of the validity of claim, I was excited that a camera body might soon emerge in my price range.  

After some back and forth with a seller with two camera bodies, we struck a deal for Globuscope 4x5 #74, just about smack dab in the middle of 150 cameras that were made.  Oddly enough, and for you mathematicians out there, I am aware of the peculiar claim of #74 being one of the 40 recently discovered out of 150 made. I would have thought #110-150 or #1-40 would show back up, but who knows... Moving forward, I promise not to have as much coffee as I've had while having my 'happy light' on high mode for well over the recommended hour of AM exposure....but I digress (again...)

How do you take a stamped stainless frame and make it into a fully functioning camera that is ready for the field?  This post is how #74 came back to life. Before starting, I gave myself a couple of ground-rules, I wanted to respect the initial design of the camera, to me, this meant no cutting and drilling. Everything should be reversible.

perfect blend of form AND function

Lens and focus mount: 

The first order of business was getting a lens mounted and focusing.  Searches of the web show lots of different of solutions here ranging from functional to downright absurd. Digging through my boxes of parts, I located the second generation Schneider helical that was inscribed for the 65mm.  Score! In addition it was a perfect fit for the stainless steel opening.  Some of the cameras that I've seen still have the first stage of the Globus focusing mechanism intact. Holding my breath, I got out a dark cloth and a tape measure and measured off 12 feet and it was tack sharp on the ground glass and infinity was infinity!  Perfect. I had the option of pulling a set screw from the helical or filing a very small slot into the camera which will keep the helical from spinning if it ever became loose. I did file the slot and added a very thin bead of gaffers tape so the helical wasn't mounting metal to metal.  The second version of the helical is lighter, focuses easier and is inscribed in both english and metric on opposite sides. Depending on which measuring system you would like to use was which way you oriented the mount.

I do wish I could have found a Linhof Technika select version of the lens as that is (in theory) the very best 65mm f/8 available, but the 65mm I found tested beautifully. From an earlier camera I built, I knew I wanted to finish the lens with the Nikon HK-6 metal shade which was made for the Nikon 20mm f/3.5. The diamater of the Super Angulon to is too small for the shade to mount securely so I cut the center out of a push-on lens cap to serve as a shim.  If you leave the bead from the Schneider lens cap on and reverse it as you slide it over the lens, the shade fits PERFECTLY with a nice little trim bead behind the shade.  

Tripod mount:

both the arca plate and lens shade shim are visible
Everything I build and shoot uses an Arca Plate for quick and secure tripod mounting and I wanted this to be the same. Looking high and low for a 60mm QR plate that also has a female 1/4 20 (incase you ended up somewhere without an Arca mount) yielded nothing.  The camera comes with a pedestal that drops down from the body which I wanted to anchor or connect to the back of the camera.  This would reduce any flex that might incur with the camera mounted to a tripod while sliding holders in and out.  Wanting a solid connection without drilling any holes, I used black adhesive caulk between the camera and the back of the tripod plate.  It will come right off if you every needed to pull it off.  In addition, you could pull it off in the field w/out any tools if need be. 

Finder and finishing touches:

I went back and forth between a black or chrome circular bubble level, I was leaning towards a black anodized level, but my family vetoed, and I went with a chrome level from Geier & Bluhm out of New York.  Great suppliers of levels of all kind for just about any camera project you can dream up. Again, I used white adhesive caulk to adhere it to the top plate. Lastly, short of a Zeiss finder, the very best finders (at any price) are made by Voigtlander.  A black Voigtlander 21mm optical finder was calked onto the existing accessory shoe.   

That just about completes what I did to breath some light back into this beauty and here is the bitter sweet part: I placed the camera on several forums and eBay and went off to load some holders to take it out for a spin.  Before I knew it, the camera sold. And while I knew all along that I couldn't afford to keep it, I was surprised it sold so fast...until I saw who bought it and where it went.  

January 11, 2016

metering, irl

Properly metered and perfectly exposed 
Over exposure caused by in-camera 'reflected' metering
Cleaning out some hard drives I keep finding stuff I  had intended to blog about and just haven't yet.

Buckle up because I'm going to get caught up!

Several semesters ago, I got to teach our intro 101 class and I gotta tell you, I love teaching the very first class in the program.  The excitement and enthusiasm is second to none and putting the foundation of photography into action never gets old for me.

I had great students who were hungry for information so we got to cover a lot of ground.  More often then not, we end up in the studio or outside. We were talking about metering and discussing the pros and cons of in-camera vs. an incident or hand meter. Both have their place, both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Under exposure caused by in-camera metering
So here is the elevator pitch: Modern in-camera meters are good but limited in function.  It can look at a scene, a portion, or an average of a scene and can do only one thing, make it grey. Smack dab in the middle of black and white, it will make grey.

Just like in grade school art class, when you mix all your paint together you get mud, the in-camera meter can only see a scene and tell you to set the camera in the middle of black and white. It is known as middle grey or 18% grey. The in-camera meter can't tell if a shirt is white, grey or black, it only sees tonality.

If you need to create exacting color reproduction or you have specific ideas and expectations from your own work, using an incident meter will be the single fastest way to improve your work.

In film days, the wide exposure latitude of amateur color negative films allowed for fantastic results so long as you were within a stop or two of the proper exposure.

Professional photographers were required to shoot color transparencies, or slide film, in order for their images to be properly scanned, separated into CMYK plates and reproduced on a high speed four color press.

Properly metered, perfectly exposed 
This is what drew the line between professional and amateur photographers 20 years ago. The printing industry needed sharp, well exposed transparencies to make the photography pop off the page so professional photographers needed to carry a light meter and numerous color filters to insure the image that was created in camera would look its best by the time it made it to the printed page.

But whats different today? Nothing, well kinda.  Digital cameras are like more like transparency film then color negative film. The better quality your initial capture, the better your image will be on screen, in an ink-jet print or professionally (four color printed) printed in a book or magazine.

An incident meter, or hand meter isn't fooled by the color and tonality of the subject.


An incident meter is held in front of the subject and measures only the amount of light falling on the subject, NOT the light bouncing off your subject.

Think about these two scenes as an example:

Your subject is a polar bear, eating a vanilla ice cream cone while sitting on the hood of a white BMW...OK now a similar scene only this time you are photographing a black bear, eating chocolate ice cream cone while sitting on the hood of a black BMW.

Crazy right?? I thought bears were like dogs and had trouble digesting chocolate...anyway,  if you photograph each scene using only your in-camera meter (which makes everything middle gray, because that all it knows) then each picture you make will be muddy and grey because that all the camera knows.  If you photograph the same scene but measure how much light is falling on the subject instead of bouncing off of your subject (using your incident meter), the tonality will be perfect for each situation. The polar bear scene will be predominately white, white with detail and lighter greys while the black bear scene will be mostly dark greys and black...as they both should.
Properly metered, perfectly exposed 

My class looked at me a bit puzzle and while they kinda understood what I was saying, it really didn't make click.

So we took a break and met back in the studio and here is what we did:  We took the palest student in class and wrapped her in a roll of white toilet paper that was 'retrieved' from the bathroom put her on a white sweep. She was photographed using both the in-camera meter and an Sekonic incident meter.

Then we took the a student with the darkest complexion, put him in a dark jacket and put him on a black sweep and photographed both way as well.

Both situations and both metering examples are included and while each one of the shots are labeled so you know which is which, the results are so obvious they really don't need labels, its that clear.

in camera metering histograms, both too close to middle grey

June 23, 2015

Tornado damage

Tomorrow morning I'm heading to Coal City to photography the aftermath and the Red Cross aid efforts from last nights tornado.  It can be quite delicate to be asked to photograph after such a devastating event, I hope my images can help the town and the continued efforts of the Red Cross.  
damage from Fairdale Illinois F4 tornado