View Full Version : New article by Paul Owen: Black Jacket focus cloth

QT Luong
20-Jul-2005, 11:52
A new article by Paul Owen has been posted:
Black Jacket focus cloth - User review (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/black-jacket.html). Please feel free to leave any constructive comments in this thread.

Eric Leppanen
20-Jul-2005, 13:47
Sandy King has also reviewed the Blackjacket (www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=12022&highlight=blackjacket (http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=12022&highlight=blackjacket)) and concurs that this is the best focusing cloth on the market.

I've been using an 8x10 Original Blackjacket for the last six months, and it has been a joy to use. Lightweight, easy to apply and remove, extremely wind resistant, and no more light leaks!

It's always fun reading Paul's equipment reviews, both for his experiences and his anecdotes!

Doug Dolde
20-Jul-2005, 14:40
I like using a black Polar Fleece sweater...and old one that I no longer wear. The neck hole fits nicely over that 4x5 back !

steve simmons
20-Jul-2005, 14:46
View Camera reviewed this several months ago. I think it was the jan/Feb 05 issue.

steve simmons

David A. Goldfarb
20-Jul-2005, 15:07
I just e-mailed them about getting one for 11x14", and was informed that indeed, ULF versions are in the design and testing phase.

Daniel Geiger
20-Jul-2005, 17:03
Saw the article in View Camera magazine, ordered one, love it for my Arca 4x5.

20-Jul-2005, 17:29
What kind of money are we talking about here? I would be interested. The only thing out here that I know of for ULFer's are custom-built.

Ellen Stoune Duralia
20-Jul-2005, 18:03
I think I paid $75 for mine and I'd do it again in a heartbeat! It's that good. Oh yeah, I tried all the "other" varieties out there and I really had to talk myself into plunking down that much coin for a DARK CLOTH but once you've tried it, you will wish you had had it sooner and you'll vow to never again settle for anything but the best, the awesome BlackJacket!

20-Jul-2005, 18:06
I see no advantage over the BTZS focusing cloth.

tim atherton
20-Jul-2005, 19:28
BTZS cloth doesn't work in cold weather, is much heavier/bulkier and you have to try and sneak your hand up inside one way or another with the loupe - among other things (like quality - mine also started unravelling after six months)

CP Goerz
20-Jul-2005, 19:38
For many years I used a 'darkcloth' that was a full length mink coat but due to political correction I gave it up. It was very handy for those Sierra sunrise shots too.

CP Goerz

Richard Schlesinger
20-Jul-2005, 20:33
This sounds wonderful - but can I obtain a picture of one and possibly purchase one?

tim atherton
20-Jul-2005, 21:00

Alex Hawley
20-Jul-2005, 22:18
My BlackJacket arrived last week. I got the 8x10 Breathable version. Like Paul says in the article, can't say enough good about it. Its one of those things that you wonder how you ever did without it.

20-Jul-2005, 22:23
Ok , I fail to see how high tech a dark cloth has to be. Answer me this ( pardon my literary prowess). But what is stopping me from going somewhere like Joann Fabrics and buying a piece of black silk and another piece of tight weaved white cloth and having someone sew them together in a double seam with a couple of flat quarter size flat- sinkers out of the tackle box sewn into two corners and in the opposite corners a couple of strips of velcro? This way I can make it 6x6ft. or 7x7( what have you)at a cost of peanuts in comparison to an Ebony cloth. I mean anyone that can turn on a sewning machine can sew 4 straight lines can't they? And with any knowledge about sewning you could use a waterproof material for the outer half. Am I missing something here? Is the Ebony Dark cloth with a simple flag holder attached the magic bullet?.......If it is please enlighten me because I fail to see it.

20-Jul-2005, 22:53
And while you're at it ....teach me how to spell.....(sewning?)

paul owen
21-Jul-2005, 01:38
Hi Robert. The reason I mention the Ebony cloth is that I also use one - although, as I said, I had to modify it. There is absolutely nothing to stop you making your own - but some of us prefer "off the shelf" - you should see the state of my sewing! In my opinion the BLACKJACKET is almost the magic bullet - not the Ebony.

Neil Miller
21-Jul-2005, 02:36
Robert - that's exactly what I did. thin black inner, lightweight rubberised outer, four seams on a sewing machine. Cost a few pounds. Doubles as a waterproof throw-over for the camera if (when - UK!) the weather gets bad. I'm thinking of cutting a couple of holes into one of the thicker seams and threading a drawstring through it - mkII coming up!


jose angel
21-Jul-2005, 03:28
Very useful and interesting article: thank you Paul & Quan.

Quan, just a little suggestion (... my excuses if I´m unaware of or missing something...): I enjoy very much articles from your web page; I find them of the best class, but some of them have a hard black over white "first look" or force to the readers to search for an image. What about to add a single image on top if not more? As you knows this would give to the reader a snapshot to get him/her directly to the subject. (Richard, I also missed the image!). Thanks.

21-Jul-2005, 06:47
$75 is too expensive - $45 is reasonable.

Brian Ellis
21-Jul-2005, 07:44
I've used the BTZS dark cloth for years and like it o.k. but I was open to something better so I tried a friend's Black Jacket. The Black Jacket kept the ground glass a little darker inside because it doesn't have the opening slit that BTZS has. The downside was that to avoid the slit Black Jacket has two sleeves through which your arms are inserted much like a changing tent. Each time you get in and out from under the Black Jacket you have to get these sleeves on and off your arms, which I thought was a major PITA. So it was very easy for me to see why I ever did without it and will continue to do without it.

21-Jul-2005, 08:39
Brian, That is my take on just seeing this design. I would be fumbling around trying to get my arms in and out of the sleeves. If I wanted to see the GG better I think I would opt for a higher resolution GG. There are some on the market that claim to be 2 stops brighter but then again I've never had any problem with my stock GG. My only problem is finding a cloth big enough for the ULF sizes. This is being taken care of as we speak with a little help from the Mother-in-law and her sewing machine.

Darin Cozine
21-Jul-2005, 12:21
For those of you who have the 'breathable' version... how well does it breathe?
I rarely use a thick dark cloth, mainly due to problems with overheating, but I've also shot in the snow before and had a terrible time keeping the gg from getting fogged.

Darin Cozine
21-Jul-2005, 12:38
Robert: I made my own dark cloth similar to what you have said. Though I used an iron-on adhesive called 'stichery'. Advantage is that I made it fit perfectly around the Busch Pressman I owned at the time. Disadvantage is that it was a pain in the a to make. The velcro strips kept coming off. And the wind blows it off my hjead sometimes.

I had the chance to try out the blackjaket at the view camera conference a couple years ago. Outstanding product. A little thick for my taste (I am just using a black t-shirt right now).
But then most of my lenses are pretty bright right now. (xenar f4.5, etc) The blackjaket really sealed out the light well. For slower lenses it is great. And I dont know why people complain about the price.. I think it took me about 3 hours to make a darkcloth, including planning, trip to the fabric store, cutting and hemming, adding the velcro tabs.

David Mark
21-Jul-2005, 12:40
I bought the original blackjacket and like it very much, but for me it had two problems: My view camera is the Canham DLC45. Because of the design of the rear standard, even with the blackjacket, stray ligth cannot be blocked off entirely. Let me add, though, that in this respect the blackjacket was still better than what I had been using. Also -- and this was a more serious problem for me -- I found that under the nonbreathable fabric of the original blackjacket I got very hot very quickly in any kind of warm weather.

The breathable version of the blackjacket probably fixes this problem; but instead of buying a second blackjacket, I got the GnassGear dark cloth, and this had become my favorite. It is light; breathable, sturdy, and by means of snaps, velcro, and elastic edging, can be made about as light-tight on my Canham as the blackjacket. I would recommend the GnassGear dark cloth to anyone who wants a well-designed darkcloth, but would prefer to do without the sleeves of the blackjacket.

John Z.
21-Jul-2005, 13:12
I have never found a dark cloth I have liked; they slip off, leak light, don't fit properly, etc. If the black jacket is made in 11x14 size, I will definitely try one.

21-Jul-2005, 15:32
Darin, That's why I would stick with good old fashion needle and thread. That iron on stuff may be ok for a quick fix but if I was going to make one I'd sew it. That includes sewing the velcro strips on. If it blows off of your head you made it to small and that is why I suggested sewing two flat lead sinkers or something similar in the two corners opposite of the velcro strips this is weight that will hold it down on your back in breezy situations. Also if anyone needs total light tightness while focusing I would suggest ( like I said before) buy a higher resolution ground glass. But if you like the blackjacket then by all means buy it. I just don't think I would like fumbling with the sleeves. Also if it rains I don't need a rain coat for myself as much as I would need to cover my camera.

21-Jul-2005, 17:02
Gortex may be something to consider for one side of the cloth. I know the gortex rain suits that most pro shops sell are lightweight and that type of material might work well against a black silk material for the inside.

David A. Goldfarb
21-Jul-2005, 17:46
John Zdral--I asked precisely about an 11x14" version, and he says it's coming.

21-Jul-2005, 22:04
There is no dark cloth that can satisfy every requirement so we must compromise, based on format and camera controls.

My own favorites at this moment are, for the reasons cited and not in priority order, as follows.

1. Magic Steve’s big horse blanket type dark cloth distributed by Photographer’s Formulary. Black cloth on inside, white outside. Yes, you can sew your own but this one can be ordered with either Velcro or magnets to hold it in place fore and aft. A bit on the heavy side so works best with sturdy cameras like Deardorff, Ebony, Shen-Hao, etc. And you can have your name embroidered!

The advantage of the blanket type cloth is that you have free access to all camera controls. The disadvantage is that it not easy to block all extraneous light.

2. BTZS cloth. Silver metallic on outside, black on inside. Recent models are lighter than the one I purchased several years, a definite + with big cameras that do not lock down tight. (Sorry, we folks who use 12X20 know which ones apply without mentioning brand!). Depending on design of camera most extraneous light is excluded, but there is very limited access to controls on rear of camera.

3. The Black Jacket. Several materials available. Silver metallic on outside, black inside. Great advantage over BTZS is access through hand pockets to controls on rear of camera. Hand controls also allow use of loupe to inspect image on GG in almost complete darkness.

To this point my favorite for 5X7 is the Black Jacket. For ULF I like about equally well the Formulary blanket and the BTZS hood. Looking forward to testing the Black Jacket in ULF size.

Keith S. Walklet
21-Jul-2005, 23:23
Been following this thread with interest. I appreciate the frank discussion and always seem to learn something.

It is clear that the gap beneath the rear standard of most field cameras, and around the rail on monorail cameras is a common source of irritation in an otherwise, nice, dark environment. This is true even for me (I use a Toyo metal field camera) and in between my own photographic efforts, I've been noodling over various strategies to solve the issue. In the mean time, I devised a work-around that isn't too painful.

It is natural to place the neck of the BLACKJACKET(TM) around the entire rear standard, but this includes the above mentioned gaps. If one is not working in a really windy situation where keeping the device attached to the camera is of utmost importance, the gap can be eliminated by placing the neck on the camera obliquely (an illustration of this method is used on the website for the 8x10). The top edge just barely hangs over the leading edge of the top of the rear standard and the bottom of the neck is stretched across just beneath the film holder, which excludes the gap. In this configuration, the adjustable elastic still does a good job of grasping the camera.

But, one must exercise care in this situation not to have fabric from the neck sneak in between the film holder if the device is left in place when inserting film holders and making an exposure, otherwise it works well.

That doesn't mean I have given up on finding a solution that can be built into the device, it is just that I've not settled on one that I am satisfied with. The products have evolved quite a bit in a short time based on feedback and while the evolutionary slope is not as steep as it once was, I don't expect that process to stop anytime soon.
So, thanks to all the fans, and to those folks who still don't think it solves all the problems, necessity is the mother of invention.

And yes, the other sizes are almost here, I just need a few more hours in the day and a couple clones.

And I just looked at the clock. It is a least 1 a.m. in Greenville when Sandy posted his note, so somehow I don't feel as tired as I did a moment ago.

23-Jul-2005, 10:26
I have found a lightweight Gortex fabric that is white on one side and black on the other. I ordered a piece 90" x 58" as the bolts of material are 58" wide. I have also ordered the ribbing and velcro enclosures along with the thread that is used for sewing Gortex. I also ordered black china silk a very dense opaque material for the inner liner. Cost of the materials was about 80.00. I'll post some pics as soon as the little women works her magic with the sewing machine. Time to run down to the local tackle shop for some flat lead sinkers to use as corner weights. Who knows this may just lead to a new product line...lol...I know from the Gortex garments that I wear it is very tough, breathable, and waterproof. not to mention lightweight. Hey it works on the old Rocky Boots, why not for the dark cloth.

23-Jul-2005, 10:44
I would also like to add I'm mulling over a simple light trap design to block the light entering from between the bed and the camera back. I think this could be as simple as a piece of fabric of the same makeup of the dark cloth that would attach with velcro to both sides of the inner dark cloth. By making the velcro strips longer inside of the dark cloth you could adjust to what ever height you need to accommodate what ever size back your working with or what ever format be it vertical or horizontal. But then again this is in the "lets-kick -it-around" stage

23-Jul-2005, 10:47
I'm thinking this light trap strip would be around 4" wide to allow for good coverage of this gap

Keith S. Walklet
23-Jul-2005, 11:13

The concept of the light trap is exactly what I have been discussing with my fabricator. I try to avoid the use of Velcro on my products, especially for aspects that require constant fiddling, as it snags on my wool gloves and everything else, and eventually becomes so gummed up it is useless for anything except as a curiosity. There is some Velcro on the 8x10 to 4x5 adapator, but it has a flap that folds over on itself so snagging is not a problem when it is not in use. Paul's solution of stuffing the excess fabric in the gap works in a pinch, but is not the elegant solution that I envision. But, alas, I am leaning in the direction of Velcro since the varying sizes of camera cabinets all but demands something that is adjustable. There is a newer style Velcro that is supposedly less snag prone. Perhaps that will do the trick.

I believe one user made something very simple that attached to his camera. A couple velcro strips, a piece of fabric that hung on the strips to cover the gap and he was good to go. And maybe in the end, that is the simplest solution. I've just been determined to build it into the actual product so people don't have to glue Velcro all over their beautiful cameras.

BTW, I have heard that those lead weights can be lethal in windy situations. You be careful out there.

23-Jul-2005, 12:15
Kieth, I also thought about applying a removable piece to the camera and I for one would much rather have it built into the dark cloth. I feel nothing would look worse on a new, walnut Canham or an Ebony than a couple of pieces of ugly velcro. If the strip would go to the same position every time it was used you could easily sew it to one side and use a snap fastener for the other side. What I was trying to do was make it somewhat adjustable so it could be used with more than one format. For instance for the guy who has the 12x20 conversion for his 11x14. He could easily use it for both formats. In those windy conditions I'm much more worried about my bellows moving than I am my dark cloth and if it gets to windy I'll just tuck the dark cloth down the back of my pants...lol..... hey it works. Now you have me thinking magnetic. They do make thin pliable magnetic strips that could be sewn into the fabric. Two magnets on the ends of the light trap and you have it. It would be fast to set up and take down also. Just something else to think about. I spent 25 years solving bridge construction problems in the field so I get a kick out of this sort of thing. Keep up the good work, everyone loves your jacket.

23-Jul-2005, 12:19
Kieth, My apologies for the misspelling of your name

23-Jul-2005, 12:21
damit I give up! . It's that i before e except after c thing, Keith

23-Jul-2005, 12:55
Keith, Check out Zip- Grip Flexible magnet strips. This idea is looking better all the time. To be honest the idea came as I was going to the fridge for a beer. A few of the fridge magnets are made from something similar but I think not as pliable as the Zip- Grip magnet material. Granted it won't hold as tight as velcro but how tight of a hold does it have to be to hold a strip of fabric. There won't be much tension on it. I'm just kicking around a few ideas.

Keith S. Walklet
23-Jul-2005, 13:14
Yes, we thought of magnetic as well. But magnets aren't attracted to wood, or aluminum for that matter. And some cameras, the controls for shift and telephoto extension are located in that gap, so it definitely needs to be something that isn't a PITA to push out of the way when you need access. You keep kicking those ideas around. My friends know I was complaining about my old darkcloth for at least two years before I had the eureka moment to incorporate sleeves. Interestingly, I was just trying to keep my medium format camera dry while photographing a waterfall when it came to me.

-- Kieth ;-)

23-Jul-2005, 13:47
What if, A piece of this flat, pliable, magnetic strip - say an inch wide was sewn along the leading edge of your dark cloth . Now it would require two pieces hanging vertically along the edge that hangs down near your camera bed and straddling your ribbed area. In other words put a piece of ribbing in the middle and on each side a little further out two strips of magnetic material. Now since field cameras are built out of wood and non-ferrous metal there would be no worry of the cloth adhereing to spots that you didn't want it to. Then you would simply put two thin sheet metal strips on the ends of the light trap material that would adhere to the magnet that is sewn into the dark cloth. This would be so much easier to explain if I could just draw you a picture....lol

Keith S. Walklet
23-Jul-2005, 14:11
Yeah... I think a picture would help, and a few beers. ;-)

25-Jul-2005, 12:17
Just received the black china silk for the liner on the new gortex dark cloth. This is a very elegant silk and very opaque. Still waiting on the gortex fabric for the outer shell. I will keep updating and once construction starts I'll try to keep a pictorial update for those interested. The wife ( who is also the seamstress) already has commented that I'm over designing this so I'll try and resort to the K.I.S.S. method and keep in mind practical application.

Keith S. Walklet
25-Jul-2005, 14:06
"black china silk for the liner on the new gortex dark cloth. This is a very elegant silk and very opaque."

Robert, you last name isn't Verdi is it? ;-)


25-Jul-2005, 14:47
You can just call me Giuseppe. :-)

23-Aug-2005, 15:13
On my 3rd DIY cloth. I use metal snap-studs instead of velcro for the reasons noted above (the 4th version will use plastic studs if I can get them...). Cloth is two layers of lightweight breathable, waterproof fabric with a soft finish. Can't remember what it's called, but I bought it from a company that sells fabric for outdoor wear. In practice, the "breathable" part of the description is a bit irrelevant given there are two layers back to back... The whole thing is narrower at the camera end and uses adjustable elasticated cord to fix to the back. The snaps hold the bottom closed where wanted with a 3" overlap to help keep the dark in.

Keith S. Walklet
9-Jan-2006, 18:41
New news on this old post. As I had mentioned here, I was working on solutions to deal with eliminating the niggling light leak that occurs due to the gap below the rear standard of most cameras. The idea arrived some time ago, but materials, testing and getting the production end up to speed has only recently been completed.

The concept actually is multi-functional: a storage sack that doubles as a curtain that can be attached to the neck of all new 32", 40" and 46" BLACKJACKET(TM)s. Click here (http://www.quietworks.com/FRAMES_FILES/BJ_SPECIFICATIONS/BJ_BLACKBAG_FRAME_.htm) to see the description and demo on our website.

I had all inventory retrofitted and began shipping just before the holidays and expect to have an 8x10 version in the near future.

Clay Turtle
9-Apr-2006, 21:40
I am surprised that so many respond to such matters? A focusing cloth came with the first LF, a bender kit which I still use but I do admit, I found a set of (clothes pin style) wood clamps from the hardware section were better than than the clamps (baggie) from the grocery store. Of course, in a pinch I have been known to use the dark bag I carry (for emergency sake) to work quite well.

Doug Dolde
7-Jun-2006, 17:10
I like my black sweater. The neck stretches nicely over the 4x5 back. A bonus is I can wear it when it gets cold.

Keith S. Walklet
8-Jun-2006, 16:58
I'm all for fashionable photo gear Doug, (see the last frame of the demos on my website), but what if it is cold and you want to photograph? Or hot for that matter? Is the sweater comfy when the lizards run for cover? ;-)