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.