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!

Dirk