February 20, 2021

The salad shooter, an 8x10 point and shoot

I’ve been building custom cameras for over twenty years and in that time I have been wanting to build an 8x10 camera but the parts and opportunity never presented itself. Recently, a friend reached out with a bunch of miscellaneous gear he was sorting through and asked if I would be interested in any of it.  Low and behold, part of the haul was an orphaned Deardorff 8x10 back and I just couldn’t say no. 

While a custom built, one off 8x10 that is as sleek, classy and simplistic as the Globuscope 4x5 may be beyond my skills, I set out to create something equally as functional while looking better than using a dresser drawer.

Almost all of my recent cameras are designed to streamline the use of sheet film (or roll film for panocameras) with the understanding or idea that whatever film format I’m shooting, it will most likely be alongside and in addition to a modern digital system. 
Several of my point and shoot style 4x5 cameras do not even have a permanently mounted ground-glass, just springs to hold the film holder in place. A removable ground-glass can slide in if needed but really keeps the camera smaller and more straightforward to operate. While it works out quite well for 4x5 but I can’t imagine being comfortable shooting too much 8x10 without a ground-glass for the majority of shooting.
I tested several focal lengths before settling on a 210mm which gives a field of view similar to a 28mm lens on a full frame digital or 35mm film camera. In the beginning, I was looking at something longer, like a 250mm which is closer to a 35mm angle of view but went with the 210mm to keep the camera as small as possible and the extra width should help in DOF and ultimately help the user have a better overall experience. 
Similar to my 120 pano cameras and 4x5 camera, I set out to make it handhold-able from the get go, but again, going back to both the size and expense, the reality is the camera will most likely find itself on sticks more than in someone’s hands. Like pretty much everything I use and build, the camera requires an Arca Swiss receiver clamp on your tripod to be used. I mounted two different arca plates on the camera, a larger PU-150 plate that is just short of six inches long and is mounted perpendicularly the camera. This helps give some protection to the focusing helical when storing the camera. 
A second arca plate, a four inch PU-100, is mounted on the side of the camera for vertical shots. The side mounted Arca Swiss plate doubles as the handgrip mount. Both plate locations are on the balance point of the camera which explains why the bottom one is a bit off center as it is making up for the weight of the handgrip and rangefinder. By ensuring the plates are smack dab at the balance point, the camera does not require an over-sized tripod and head to lock it in position even for long exposures.
The hand grip is a grip borrowed from the motion picture industry, a comfy and solid 
RedRockMicro to be exact. It has been spaced out about an inch from the Arca Swiss Clamp allowing for a perfect grip of the camera. Loosening the Arca Swiss clamp that’s mounted on the grip allows you to slide the entire assembly off the camera exposing the side mounted Arca Swiss plate for vertical orientation on a tripod. 
Both the vertical and horizontal Arca Plates are reinforced on the inside of the body with large aluminum plates to disperse the stress on the cameras wooden frame. Before mounting the back on the camera the inside was flocked with several coats of truck bed liner to keep any internal reflections down.
After an embarrassing amount of time searching the Internet, I settled on a 58mm finder from the Koni Omega Rapid system. Using a Voightlander finder would be too small for this particular camera. It would make an already large body look even bigger. The Koni Omega finder both matches the angle of view quite well and it looks quite comfortable atop the camera. 
The finder gives a clean and large unobstructed image and if you tip your head down just a tad the torpedo level is visible. This finder really worked out well for this build. 

To the left of finder is a removable Telex rangefinder (that has been cleaned internally, repainted and re-leathered). You transfer the distance measurement from the rangefinder to the indexed measurements on the helical. 


The lens dome and helical are permanently mounted, someone asked if interchangeable lenses would be possible, and while I agree it would be cool as I mentioned above, my goal with this particular camera was to make shooting 8x10 a bit easier and less cumbersome than it usually is. Perhaps encourage someone new to the format to give it a whirl.  Whether you are a seasoned large format shooter or a first time shooter, I’m hoping this camera might find an eager user who will enjoy its simplicity. 


This camera is joined by my other custom cameras on my Flickr page here.
I regularly post my work and cameras on Instagram @dirkfletcher and my website is www.dirkfletcher.com.


May 27, 2020

Lightweight 4x5 that shares a lens with 6x12

I’ve always loved the look and feel of the 65mm on a 4x5 camera as well as the 65mm on 6x12. The ratio of the 4x5 camera gives approximately 85 degree field of view, similar the the 20mm lens on a 35mm camera but for some reason it has a completely different look and feel on 4x5.  
I’ve build several 65mm wide cameras over the years, the first was a super solid shooter, built on a Cambo passport camera that is quite similar to the original Cambo wide camera. My next 65mm camera used a rotating back and the same (heavy) first generation Schneider helical. The most recent camera used the super cool ultralight Harmon 4x5 pinhole camera which was designed and built by large format composite camera builder extraordinaire Mike Walker of Walker Cameras.

After finally putting the finishing touches on a lightweight 65mm 6x12 travel camera a couple weeks ago, I realized I could spin off the light weight eBay helical and use the same lens and focusing mount combo on another camera... Even though I have been wanting to wind down the midnight cutting, grinding and building sessions, I thought this could be too cool of a project not to pursue. 

Having a lightweight 6x12 pano AND 4x5 point-and-shoot that share a lens and focus mount might be the perfect little travel camera combination for an ADD film shooter who was always thinking about changing things up.

Before getting into the camera mods, I need to add a little disclaimer. I’m usually not a huge fan of 3D printed cameras. Having shot with a Linhof Super Technika III for so many years, I just love the rock solid build and precise feel of the movements and German engineering. As much creativity and flexibility (and accessibility) that 3D printed cameras afford us, they’ll never feel as solid as a precision metal camera body. But there are an awful lot of super cool printed cameras out there that are making large format and pano camera accessible to the masses. This is a fantastic thing.

After devising my plan and looking at a bunch of available options I found the WillTravel4x5 designed by Morton Kolve and it looked like it would be a perfect candidate. Not having a printer myself, I sent the links to my brother who printed several bodies and commented about how good the design was and how well it was printing. After receiving the body, I do what I normally do, which is partially assemble it, play with it, look at it for a couple days (or weeks...or even months) before figuring out how I want to proceed.  

Having just figured out a ground-glass less metal spring back for my Polaroid 250 conversion, a similar back would be ideal on this camera. 

I tend to shoot both quickly and hand held so being able to quickly load and reload with one hand adds so much functionality. 

Mounting springs from Neilson frames to 1 1/2 angled aluminum you get the perfect amount of pressure on the film holder while its loaded in the camera. The aluminum was notched on the top to fit into the three accessory shoe slots on the top of the camera. They were bolted in place and finished with a dab of black caulk to keep it tight and vibration free over time. I added a spring clip from a holster to the top bracket which serves as a dark slide holder. This makes it easier to trip the shutter off of the lens if you aren’t juggling the dark slide too.

On an earlier camera I figured out that shrink tubing a piece of aluminum pipe makes a fantastic little lightweight handle that is quite ‘gripable’. The permanently mounted grip goes more on the front of the camera than on the side which helps keep the overall size down. Permanently mounted to the bottom of the camera is a 70mm Arca Swiss quick release plate mounted long side so the camera sits flat and with out putting pressure on the helical. 

The biggest change to the design was the removal of the front of the printed helical thread and replacement with the metal flange that allowed the smaller metal helical to easily screw on and off.  With the help of lasers, levels and a Dremel, the front was evenly removed which left a perfect place to mount the threaded flange. 
The camera is topped off with a finder from a 20mm Russian Russar lens and I’ve got a fantastic little sawed off ‘Chicago street sweeper’ as the movie gangsters would say.  

It so cool to be able to get two cameras out of one.

Thanks for reading!

April 19, 2020

Here is one from the: ‘wait....you can you what...??... file...

As long as I’ve been building cameras and lurking around camera builder groups and boards, it was only in the last year or so that I realized that Bronica lenses could be easily converted for use in custom cameras. Being a regular follower of fellow camera builder Oscar Oweson and his growing fleet of super cool printed cameras, his lens choice didn’t really click until recently.  

Bronica 6x6 SQ and 645 ETR lenses are constructed with a front and rear optics group that screw into an electronic Copal 0 shutter just like a large format lens. You can find a lens with a faulty shutter, spend a half hour or so on your workbench and strip the lens down retrieving the self contained lens groups and screw them into a mechanical Copal shutter and you are off to the races. This gives you several very worthy options including two different 40mm f/4, one for 6x6 and a smaller more affordable 645 version, a 50mm f/2.8 and if you need a bit more coverage an f/3.5 version for 6x6 and many other options. 

Wanting to give this an try, my Holgawide knew its days were numbered. It was the second Holgawide that I made (hacked) from a Nimslo from the 80s. It was a 35mm camera that shot 4 frames simultaneously and yielded a 3D ‘lenticular’ print after sending the film to a special lab. 

After Dremeling out the back of the Nimslo you get a film gate of 24mm x 74mm or just a shade shorter than three inches wide. Perfect for the 40mm f/ from the 645 system. What’s even better it has traditional film advance that only needs one throw to bring up the next frame. 

Scanning through boards and eBay I found a first generation 40mm f/4 from the 645 ETR system with a bad shutter that was $99.00 delivered, I was hoping to find one around $75.00 but thought this was close enough to give it a try. The front optics group came out without too much hassle, although it much more work then I was expecting. The rear group almost didn’t come out. I got to the point where I thought that I have nothing to loose so I ended up using a large pair of channel locks and after a bit of grunting and elbow grease was able to remove it from the shutter assembly.  Holding my breath, I grabbed a Seiko 0 shutter and low and behold, both optical groups screwed in just like a Super Angulon would!!

After making some measurements, I ended up using a 17mm helical that was mounted to the camera with a 1/4 piece of hobby ply in as a spacer. In order to keep the camera small, I did not add any additional shim material to spacer so you need to watch your focus as the helical will focus much past infinity. Just before the international COVID-19 lockdown I had just secured a local vender who could engrave the footage scale on the helical for me. Hopefully once this all clears up I will be able to have the scale properly engraved. 

To finish off the camera, I added a 25mm Voigtlander finder which has been masked down to match the field of view of the camera. Almost everything I build uses Arca plates and this would be no different. I did have to drill the plate out so you can depress the film rewind button.

I do miss owning an XPan, it is a very cool camera with amazing optics but the reality is once the 5DmkIII and even the 6D came around I sold it off. I could not justify it as a photographic tool or even as a gorgeous piece of shelf art as I just wasn’t using it.  

Even starting from scratch, you should be able to build one for less then 500 bucks if you have the wherewithal and some time at the workbench. Here are a couple shots from my very first test to see if the lens would cover and if I had calibrated the focus properly. There was a tiny light leak in these shots that has been corrected. I have much better test shots that need to be processed but Covid is slowing down my DD-X delivery! I’ll post more shots to Instagram once I can process and dupe them. 

I already had a bunch of what I needed but was curious to see what one from scratch would cost if you needed everything:
Nimslo 3D donor body                                         $ 150.00
40mm f/4 ETR lens                                             $ 100.00
Seiko 0 shutter                                                   $   75.00
Voigtlander 25mm finder                                    $ 125.00
focusing mount and hardware                             $  45.00
100mm PU-100 Arca plate                                   $  10.00
Hardware, caulk, paint and leather                    $  25.00
                                                                        $ 530.00

Alright, after adding it all up I gotta say I’m a tad surprised. Was hoping it would be around 300 for everything you needed. If you look at completed auctions on eBay they are going for much less than the $200-300 asking prices, if you are patient (we all have time right) these can be found for much less then the current asking prices.

You can certainly save some money by using a cheaper finder, there are some super cheap metal 20/21mm finders on eBay that look terrific on the outside but are heinous to look through, it’s almost as if they tried to make the optics painful to look through,  the bright side they will only set you back 50 bucks or so.  

You can also build a simple frame finder but I really like the Voigtlander finders. For the money they can’t be beat, I’d put them up against a comparable Leica and Zeiss at least three times more the price.

Thanks for reading, stay safe everyone!

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.

September 14, 2017

Panoramic Comparison

For some time now, I have been curious too see how modern digital ‘stitched pans’ using tilt/shift lenses compare to traditional 6x12 and 6x17 film formats.
While the mental approach to shooting and stitching can be debated, I wanna see what I get at the end of the road and what each approach offers.
So here is what I did: I compared 3 tilt/shift lenses, two wide angle zooms, a prime, two traditional panoramic film formats and just for good measure, I threw in a 35mm Russian swing lens camera (two actually) and shot a couple sheets with a 65mm lens on 4x5.
The first three panos from the top were made by combining or stitching three pictures together from tilt shift lenses. For the first picture, the lens was shifted as far to the left as it could go (+/-12mm for the 17mm and 24mm, +/-11mm for the 45mm). The second shot, the lens was centered and the third was shifted all the way to the right. The three individual frames were then stitched together in Lightroom yielding a 6x15.079 pano.  The three lenses were the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L, 24mm f/3.5L II and the 45mm f/2.8. 
The next three shots were made with super wide-angle lenses and cropped the same 6x15.079 ratio of the tilt shift panos. These lenses were the Canon 14mm f/2.8L vII, the new 16-35mm f/2.8L III (on a 5D mkIV body) and my favorite little travel companion the EF-M 11-22mm on a mirrorless Canon M6 body.
The next two shots were made with traditional panoramic (film) camera formats, a 6x12 camera with a 65mm f/5.6 Super Angulon and a probably the most traditional or classic panoramic format, a 6x17 with a 90mm Super Angulon.
And just because I was interested to see how it would size up,  I shot with a couple Russian Horizon swing lens cameras and shot a couple sheets of 4x5 with my ultralight wide camera with a 65mm f/8 Super Angulon.
While the 6x12 and 6x17 cameras are a joy to use, the quality and precision that is afforded with modern tools just can't be beat.
It also should be mentioned that I knew exactly how the digital pans looked without heading to the post office to Priority Mail the film to the lab, waiting a day to drive to into the city to (pay money) get the film, bring it home to scan it and put it all together. Ironically, the film wasn't actually scanned, I used the same camera body to shoot a digital file of the film.  Full circle?

November 6, 2016

Lightweight 4x5

I had been struggling with this camera for a little bit, but it recently turned a corner and I really like how it came togetherIt looks great and it's function should be quick and precise which checks off all my initial objectives.  To complement the 65mm superwide point-and-shoot,  I have been wanting a similar lightweight camera in the normal lens realm with some movements but still compact and quick enough to conveniently expose a sheet here and there while shooting digitally.

Several earlier iterations (i.e. fails) were smaller folding cameras but lacked the ability for quick and accurate scale focusingA couple attempts were cool though, my favorite was a Hasselblad bellows lens shade mounted backwards to the composite rear standard of the Ilford Titan pinhole camera.  While it was super lightweight and small, even the lightweight 125mm was wobbly.
My next attempt was a lightweight 4x5 shooter very similar to James Godman's genius 'binder clip' method of converting a Polaroid 110a for 4x5 use. You end up with a nice lightweight folding solution with a coupled rangefinderI'm not a huge fan of the Rodenstock 127mm.  It is compact and reasonably sharp but my bigger concern was having to forgo movements. Ultimately the images would not be much different than just shooting with a full frame Canon with the compact 40mm f/2.8 Canon.

So I was back to a more traditional field camera only not foldingThis is the second camera I've built using the brilliant composite rear standard made by master camera builder Mike Walker of the United Kingdom based Walker CamerasI coupled it to the front standard of a 2x3 Graflex which I've also used several times with great success. The movements are very positive and quite solid and with the metal construction and compact size, very rigidI'd be loosing the ability to fold the camera, but ultimately it seemed like the best option.

I cut down some large rectangle aluminum tubing into a fork like platform to cradle the Crown Graphic bed and cup around the back the Titan rear standard.  The aluminum came from a local scrap yard but if you don't have one in your area you can easily find this and other useful cuts of aluminum on eBayIt did take a several days of cutting and grinding to fashion it into the final piece so pace yourself, but it will be worth it.

In my early days of camera building, I used metal epoxy for everything, it set up quick, was sandable and held like a tank but once it set up, it's was there for goodThat last couple of cameras I've worked on I've tried an opaque black adhesive silicone caulk that holds plenty tight without being permanentA bit of this caulk and four well placed screws and the Century Graphic bed and Titan rear standard are one.  

I'd really love to end up with something a tad more compact, I had a gorgeously mint model D Busch Pressman that was quite compact and full featured but heavy as a cinder blockThe thought of slipping it and a couple film holders in my bag on a digital shoot NEVER entered my mind, that's how heavy it was.  I also feel like the extra space this camera will take up in a bag is decent a trade off for quicker operation in the field. This it totally worth it to me.

I was really stuck on the bellows, first using the 2x3 bellows joined to a larger set of 4x5 Graflex bellows with angled supports holding them to the camera.  This added a lot of unnecessary mass and weight to the camera.  Instead, I fashioned a spacer from small aluminum hobby tubing and sheet plastic to mount the larger 4x5 bellows directly to the back of the 2x3 front standardAdhesive caulk was secure enough to mount the bellows inside the rear standard perfectly. 

After shooting a light leak test the need for a handle or grip was painfully evidentMy first attempt was a barbaric combination of aluminum tubing covered in shrink tube and mounted to the vertical tripod mountWhile it was effective, it was both massive and quite ugly, taking up way too much room in a camera bag.  Falling asleep one night I had the idea to bend some aluminum over a round sub-straight to make an ergonomic and attractive handleThe flywheel of a bike trainer was the perfect size for the handleA beefy 1/4 20 shoulder bolt attaches it to the camera very securely.  
Adding a compact dome style lens shade, a modern Fotoman rangefinder (with the base removed and velcroed in place to reduce the cameras profile), the super bright 21mm Voigtlander finder and the camera is eagerly awaiting the arrival of some 4x5 CineStill 800T.  Chartpak graphic arts defines a frame line for the 125mm lens and inside the full 65mm (21mm) frame line.  

All and all, I'm delighted with how it turned outAn added bonus was how perfectly the 65mm from my point and shoot couples with this camera. Both lenses, the camera and several film holders fit in a small Domke bag quite well.

If you have any questions about the build or want to do one yourselffeel free to shoot me an email.
Thanks for looking!