View Full Version : Wanted: Plate Camera Design Information

C. D. Keth
5-Feb-2007, 22:05
I've been toying with the idea of building a plate camera to learn various historical processes with. The problem I have run into is that I have no clue how the backs of these cameras worked. I usually see backs with a hinged frame for the groundglass that swings out of the way. On this type of back, how does the plate holder (either wet or dry plates, though I would concentrate on wet) attach to the camera? Does it latch with the same hook that holds the groundglass frame tight on the back standard? If this is the case, what about the bottom of the holder?

I would GREATLY appreciate it if someone with knowledge of these cameras could help me out a bit, perhaps some good snaps could be arranged? I can't seem to find good, detailed photos of a plate camera back good enough that I could design my own by.

While we're on the subject, were plate holders standardized in any way? Would I be able to build to a standard or would I basically be making my own holders, too?

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
5-Feb-2007, 22:55
In general dry-plate cameras had the swing away ground glass and front loading plate-holders. Wet-plate and Daguerreotype cameras had removable ground glass, where the GG would slide out and a plate-holder would slide back in its place, and rear loading plate-holders. I have attached a few images as example.

C. D. Keth
5-Feb-2007, 23:36
OK, so the whole groundglass frame pulls out. That confounded me, too. I thought that a darkslide was built in for convenient exposures. I never connected that the darkslide-like-thing was right where the gg ought to be:o . Is that a cam era of yours? It's beautiful!

Thanks, Jason. So are wetplate holders made to any universal standard (or standards) or did companies standardize within themselves so people had to buy the "hometeam's" holders?

6-Feb-2007, 02:28
A little more modern than the Daguerre, but here are my two plate cameras, one half plate, one 10x8 (fullplate?):

The Perken Son&Rayment 10x8ish plate camera my mother owns uses a GG on a hinge. The GG is unlocked, swings up and over, resting on the top of the camera, and the film/plate holders slide into ridges to lock in place. The darkslide is then pulled out.

Here's a spring-back half plate camera.
The bookform plate holders slide in between the GG and frame, using tension to hold in place. I can provide more images of this (or the Perken) at your request)

Here's a close-up of the two types I've come across for wooden holders. Bookform on top, the lock-in type below.

And here's the 10x8 Perken,

6-Feb-2007, 02:29
Here are 4 more shots of the Perken


6-Feb-2007, 02:31
Both cameras use(d ) glass plates, hope that helps

6-Feb-2007, 03:19
this auction may also give you some ideas for the GG system http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/19th-CENTURY-PLATE-CAMERA-J-LANCASTER-INSTANTOGRAPH_W0QQitemZ190078731473QQihZ009QQcategoryZ11717QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item190078731473 (no affiliation)

Struan Gray
6-Feb-2007, 04:01
Ash, I have the 12x15 big brother of your Perken. Mine has a more field-like front standard, but the back and all the brass fittings are very similar.

It's worth noting that the 'lock-in' type of plate holder doesn't need to be slid in all the way. You can do that, but there is a recess in the protruding tongue on the side of the holder which allows you to lever the holder into place about two-thirds inserted, and then slide it home. You can see the missing bit of tongue next to the brass clamp that keeps the holder closed on the lower of Ash's two holders.

It is also worth noting that most of the larger plate holders I have seen have a way to fold the extended darkslide back behind the camera. Most of them have captive darkslides (i.e. unlike a modern 4x5 holder, the darkslide does not come right out), and the folding allows the slide to get out of the way and the wind. This is what the hinge is for in the middle of Jason's darkslide. My (leaky) holders have a louvred section backed by black canvas.

6-Feb-2007, 04:22
Struan, nice to hear you have a Perken - I've not seen another one! Mine (well...my mother's) is a Optimus, apparently the barrel lens is somewhere in the house, but I bought my own lenses for use on it..

Have you got any photo's of your larger Perken? Looking over the 10x8, I can see it's had a hard life. Surprising how many points of damage and it still feels strong and sturdy!

Struan Gray
6-Feb-2007, 06:19
Perken cameras and the branded lenses crop up occasionally on eBay, but there isn't much information about them online. One exception is the historiccamera website, which has scans of several contemporary Optimus advertisements. Mine is one of these:


Mine has a sheet of 1/2" plywood where the original baseboard and turntable fitting would have been. Otherwise the camera is in good condition, and the bellows is usable, despite being over a hundred years old. (It's the same colour and pleating as your mothers' camera, but conical).

Sadly my holders are leaky. The corners have sprung (no brass-bounding on these) and I haven't the heart or the nerve to try and seperate them for repair. It would be easy enough to fit a new back for modern holders, but for now I'm more interested in long lenses and hiking with my cameras so I'm unwilling to commit the funds and/or time. When I do (ho, ho, ho) I will be tempted to go for 15" square as the camera body and some of the lenses I have will accomodate that.

The holders are fantastic pieces of woodworking. A quite complex layered construction has been used to eliminate warping, and the louvres are neatly made and finished.

I'll see if I can find time and light to take some digipics. Don't hold your breath though, we're in "Gloomy f2" season here.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
6-Feb-2007, 06:54
So are wetplate holders made to any universal standard (or standards) or did companies standardize within themselves so people had to buy the "hometeam's" holders?

Wetplate holders were built to the camera, there was no standardization. Anyhow, with wetplate there was no point to having more than one holder. Multiple holders only became important following the availablity of commerically produced dry-plates.

C. D. Keth
6-Feb-2007, 10:20
This is excellent, guys. Thanks to all who contributed. I'm planning a wetplate camera of approximately the civil war era or a bit later. I'll let you guys know how I'm coming along.