June 16, 2018

Finally winding this thing down??!!

For some time now I've been saying that I'm done building cameras but somehow or another I find myself chopping something into an oblivion in the name of art and exploration.  I've also continued to wonder what I should do with this blog... Since I've started traveling for work, I'm building (and hacking) up a lot less gear but shooting a whole lot more. A trade off that I enjoy immensely!
While this blog is used mostly to share my custom and one off cameras, imagery from my travels can be found on Instagram @dirkfletcher and more detailed images of my custom cameras can be found on Flickr herehttps://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkfletcher/albums

After finishing my last 6x12 / 65mm pano camera (my favorite pano lens/format combo BTW) I've been wanting to see how small I could make a 6x12 camera in the hoped it could ride along on trips. I really like how compact my 6x17 turned out by hacking two 6x9 Zeiss Ikon bodies joined into a one, an idea inspired by the Longfellow which I found here on Magnorma's blog. 

Joining 120 Zeiss bodies makes the camera smaller in hight then if you used a single 116 or 616 camera. It's not as tall as you don't need to shim the 120 film into the larger 616 camera body. The other thing that I really like is having the feed and take up film spools next to the film gate and not behind the film gate. While this adds an inch or two to the total width of the camera, I'd rather have the extra width instead of adding an inch or two of depth to the camera.

I already had one of the two of the 6x6 Zeiss 515/16 Nettars that was needed (which is probably what got me thinking about building this camera in the first place). Once I found a second donor body with a jacked up lens on eBay the Dremel cut off wheels started spinning! 

While I love the look and speed of the 65mm f/5.6, I really wanted to make this camera as small as possible so I thought I'd pull the f/8 Super Angulon from my super lightweight 4x5 p/s camera, at least for now. For a hot second I was thinking about the f/4 and f/4.5 65's that will cover 6x12 but ultimately didn't want the size, weight or expense.

I spent a lot of time researching helicals and ultimately found a fantastically lightweight and really solid solution at a super affordable price.  

My normal preference is the gen 2 Schneider helical as it has a giant nut that screws to the back of the helical from the inside if the camera. It is lightweight with both imperial and metric markings and even a great little focus tab to hang onto while focusing. The modern Schneider, Rodenstock and even Fotoman helicals are wonderful units but are both expensive and have a flange that needs to be surface mounted to the front of the camera with a metric shit ton of small hardware. I'm not a fan of of this approach, I'd rather spend the time to get the hole size perfect and just spin the bolt on and be done with it. 

In the case of this camera, using a 'full priced' helicals wasn't an option though as it is just too big around for the 76mm height of the Zeiss cameras I am using.  That was also the case with some of the hundred dollar eBay helicals as well, they are too big and would overhang both top and bottom of the camera too much.
I had long wondered about the m42, m58 and m65mm helicals w/o markings that are pretty pervasive around the net. After looking at a bunch of them (and a bunch of custom cameras that use them) I ordered an m58 with the hopes that I can use either a Cokin 58mm filter adapter or even a 58mm metal lens hood for the rear mount and a 58mm filter stacker cap for the front lens board.  

Two versions of these helicals are available, one with brass threads and a 'really good quality....just not brass...' version. I opted for the brass one which was still only 23 bucks. I wasn't sure if the lens would rotate or not (which would not be good) or if my mounting schemes would even work. I was super excited when it arrived (from China, just under all the new tariffs and sanctions...shew) and the threading on both sides worked just as I hoped it would.  

While the 58mm Cokin adapter threaded in perfectly, I found a generic 58mm metal lens hood that I flipped backwards and mounted to the camera creating an almost perfect backfocus distance for the 65mm Super Angulon. The lens needed only a bit of shimming for the infinity focus to land perfectly with the helical fully retracted. Not real sure how the front lens mount would work, I ordered a 58mm - 34.5mm filter adapter and a 58mm stacker cap as options for the front lens board. The stacker cap turned out to be perfect after drilling out the 34mm hole which was needed to mount the Copal 0 shutter.
The two camera bodies were joined internally with 90 degree aluminum stock. I cut the middle down to make room for the lens to clear while leaving a flange for the lens/helical board to mount. This was the opening where the original lens would fold out of the Nettar. The two back door halves used a thinner angled aluminum stock to join them together into a single hinged back.

Not being particularly crazy about the finished steampunk look to the 6x17 camera back, I primed and painted these rails with satin black paint before bolting and epoxying them together, while it still looks a little hanky, it's nowhere as jarring as they are in silver...

As I have with other cameras, I've mounted an Arca Swiss plate perpendicular to the film plane. In addition to working with all my Arca style tripod heads, it keeps any weight and stress off of the helical when the camera sitting down. 

For the finder mount, I wanted the smallest (or lowest actually) cold shoe that I could find which turned out to be a really well machined part made by SmallRig. I had to do some finagling to get the door to close under it but it worked out real well and looks much more finished then the larger shoe with a big red knob.

After looking at 20/21mm finder options (which has the same angle of view as a 65mm lens on 6x12) I went with the Zeiss/Contax finder 21mm from my 4x5 point and shoot camera. I figured, I'd already swiped it's lens for this camera and even more importantly, it was already paid for!  If I didn't already own the Contax finder, I would have probably bought a Voigtlander 21mm finder. They are super bright and give a wonderfully clean image which is actually quite a bit brighter then the Contax finder. They are the best value in finders out there. 

After insuring the camera was light tight, I flocked the inside of the camera with paper backed felt to eliminate any internal reflections. 

Using a piece of (broken) ground glass I shimmed the lens out till I could see it was sharp at infinity with the helical fully compressed.  After shooting some transparency film to confirm the camera was focusing sharp at infinity, I was confident enough to index the helical for closer focus points using the same piece of ground glass.

I covered the lens board with some sticky back leather from HugoStudio and the camera is about done.

Weighing in at 885 grams, just under 2 pounds, it's a cool little camera that feels super solid, it's quick and easy to load and really fun to shoot. While it doesn't feel as small or light as I was hoping it would, it's a pound and a half lighter then the Horseman with a 45mm and a over two pounds lighter then the Linhof 6x12 Technorama. Also consider that the entire project was less then $500.00 out of pocket I really have nothing to complain about.

Thanks for reading, I hope this might inspire you or someone you know to try building one of your own.