View Full Version : Hello, Im new to LF and plan of build a camera

Jake Middleton
17-May-2009, 15:27
Hello, I am 18 and will be off to uni in september to study fine art photography and want to build a camera during the summer.

I have not experianced large format photography before but I do have darkroom experiance. The reason I want to make a LF camera is because I am very interested in many of the altenative processes (eg cyanotypes) that require a full sized neg. and maybe one day would like to try collodion. (some day) But plan to start with ortho film.

What I am planning is an 8x10 field camera of the tailboard sort, my reason for wanting to make a tailboard is because it seems to me to be a reletively simple type.

I have acess to a good woodworking facility at my college. Also patterns of how to make bellows

Ok so what I have so far: 8x10 lens says "J.H.Dallmeyers - London" and goes from f6 to f32 and a kodac double sided 8x10 film holder (pictureed at bottom)

I have some questions: but any advice is very welcome

Basicly I have been lead to believe that the focal length of an 8x10 lens is 12 inches - does this mean my bellows only need to be 12 inches? Some have said that I would need 24 inches (wouldent that mean id nead a really long tailboard) - I am confused, what i do know is I want to be able to focus reasonably close e.g someones face filling 8x10. I have seen pictures of 8x10 cameras with short bellows and with long... can anyone fill me in on how this works - How long do the bellows need to be for a close focus?

look at this: http://dpicg.com/collection/cameras/anthony.html that one doesent have very long bellows - would that be able to focus very close?

Thanks very much in advance anyone who replys:)

Jim Michael
17-May-2009, 18:04
Here's an article that should get you started on focal length - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focal_length

The short answer is that the focal length of the lens is stated for infinity focus and the lens to film distance increases as the subject gets closer. At a 1:1 ratio of image size to subject size (e.g. a coin on the film is the same size as the coin being photographed) the lens to film distance is about twice the focal length of the lens.

17-May-2009, 18:18
you'll have to experiment to determine the focal length-
there are scientific methods,
but if you can find a darkened room with a distant view through a window,
you can project an image on the wall,
and measure from there to the middle of the lens-
that will give a good indication of the length.

As Jim said, double that length will be your bellows extension,
to get a face to fill an 8x10 frame.

Approximately 20% longer than that will be the dimension of your unfolded bellows,
maybe a bit more, if you plan on shooting longer lengths rather than shorter-

It's a good project, hope you enjoy making it-

Nice looking lens too-


Glenn Thoreson
17-May-2009, 18:19
If you can make your bellows to extend twice the focal length of your lens, you'll be in business. Double extension capability is something you'll never regret. The only alternative for close up work is to use a shorter focal length. Not the best idea for full face portraits. It makes the nose look too big. Your subjects may be pretty unhappy about that.

17-May-2009, 18:27
Are you using plans, copying a camera, or doing it from scratch?

I think the harder parts will be
a) A focusing mechanism
b) making the bellows
c) making the film holder/ground glass assembly. The tolerances here will probably need to be around .5 to .25mm at the very most.

Kirk Fry
17-May-2009, 20:50
Building a camera is harder than it looks especially if you have never used a view camera and don't appreciate the number of things that can and will go wrong. I would recommend borrowing, buying or renting an 8X10 and learn to use it if you are really into making pictures, on the other hand if you are into precision woodworking and bellows folding have at making one. If you build one, buy a standard film holder first and build it around that. Ansco, Korona and Kodak D2's are good tail board cameras that can be purchased in the $300-500 range. I just bought a Korona that needs some work for $75. Anyway good luck on whatever way you go.


17-May-2009, 20:52
Buy a large format 8X10 kit to start. It's not easy to built without a blue print and skill. Hope you join us. I use 8X10 Agfa Ansco, 1926-1930.

Joanna Carter
18-May-2009, 00:58
Bulldog Cameras, www.bulldogcameras.com here in the UK, sell a very inexpensive kit which could be a good starting point for a venture into LF If I were you, I would not attempt to build your own camera until you get enough experience to know what features you do or don't want on the camera; a cheap kit like the Bulldog will give you low-cost experience.

18-May-2009, 01:40
Bulldog Cameras, www.bulldogcameras.com here in the UK, sell a very inexpensive kit which could be a good starting point for a venture into LF If I were you, I would not attempt to build your own camera until you get enough experience to know what features you do or don't want on the camera; a cheap kit like the Bulldog will give you low-cost experience.

I'd second Joanna's suggestion, as well as the two that precede it.

I wanted to move to LF by building my camera, but in fact the first LF camera I used was a folding I bought (and still own). The time to spend on building on's camera is easy to underestimate, and mistkaes can be numerous.

If you finally decide to build it anyway, I'd recommend getting a set of plans (see Jon Grepstad's site for this, his plans are very usable), but be careful that changing dimensions can bring a cascade of changes (I had to redraw half of the planbs based on the timber I could find here)

Frank Petronio
18-May-2009, 04:35
Restoring an older camera might be more practical and satisfying because you could actually use it properly to shoot before the end of the Summer. Once you find a good candidate, you'll want to order a bellows ASAP so it can be made while you do the refinishing.

If someone got good at refinishing 2Ds and Century 8x10s they could probably make a business out of refurbishing them.

Colin Graham
18-May-2009, 06:08
Welcome to the forum. Making a camera is a great project. I recorded a log of a recent camera build on my website here- http://www.colinflanarygraham.com/cameralog.html. Mainly it's to help me remember certain details for future projects, but it may be of some use.

18-May-2009, 06:41
Fabulous camera Colin,
beautifully made and put together,
looks like a great design too-


18-May-2009, 09:04
The cool thing about being 18 is that you can just do it without agonizing over every little thing- ahh what I usta could do back when I didn't know better.
Here's some free advice worth every penny
You can keep it really simple for the first pass- a box camera with the lens set at its hyperfocal distance- or set it at a distance you know [think you know] you will be working at and let DOF at small aperture do the rest. [my first pass was with a 6x24 panoramic using 120 film in a Kodak !A that I stretched into a box]. That gets you going with a back and groundglass to build, plus a light tite box- you can use the back on model two.
Model two involves the bellows and focusing- do a monorail or other scheme that doesn't require rack and pinion, just a locking thingy OR
use parts from any other junker that will provide the focus mechanism.
To start, you don't need all the movements, and you'll probly see which ones you wish you had, and others you don't give a fig to have.

And never build a camera unless you have already built one.- I got my several-years project - the Bahnhof No1 selfcasing 8x10 Poco done a coupla weeks ago and proved it works with a couple of 5x7 sheets- and immediately discovered what has to change.
I thought I would have to start over- I already knew the bellows I made was obviously UGLY- but it is lite tight and long enough, so another try can wait.
Now I have a plan how to modify the camera to do all the things I wanted it to do [and it will do more], to become the Bahnhof No1A selfcasing 8x10 Poco . [ although the 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 backs all fit my 2D, I neglected to note that their thicknesses outside the pins are not the same, until I tried the 8x10 back on the Bahnhof]. Other mods include widening the side door so I can get my hamfist all the way inside to grasp a 4x5 holder, adding a top door on top so I can reverse the backs and actually use some more of the front movements I have and changing the back door to include a folding hood.

Best wishes- go for it, and don't let best be the enemy of good enough.

18-May-2009, 09:16
Awesome Colin
Thanks for sharing.
BTW I got some plastic "ground glass" from the Surplus Shed and found it to be reasonable in my test shots- It is probably lighter than glass and I wanted it for it's robustness when I fall down in the field.

18-May-2009, 18:27
I will second the others when I'll say don't underestimate the amount of work that goes in building a folder. I am building right now a prototype, and I'm using a CNC machine which cuts to a precision of 0.001", professional 3D design packages and it's still a lot more work then one would've guessed.

I don't want to discourage you from building a camera from scratch. Just know that it requires A LOT of work, especially when you are not proficient at using all the tools in a shop (assuming you have access to them, as you stated).

I briefly owned an 8x10 and while seeing a chrome on a light table is amazing, schlepping around the camera, lens, lens holders and a tripod able to hold it all steady was more then what I was willing to do. So, before investing yourself in this, you may consider buying a camera on ebay and then selling it if a) you decide is not for you or 2) you built your camera. The advantage is also that you have something to look at to get your inspiration for your design.

19-May-2009, 01:51
Jake, have a look at Rayment Kirby's website (http://www.raymentkirbycameras.co.uk) he makes his own cameras. Look at his workshop section.

Don't let others put you off, if you have the skills go for it build your own, but first handle a few 10x8 cameras, see what you really need.


19-May-2009, 02:01
I'd second that-
A tailboard camera isn't a folder,
and need only be as complicated as you decide to make it.

Saying that, I don't think the op has been back,
so it's a bit like talking into a vacuum here...

Jake Middleton
19-May-2009, 14:23
Hello, sorry about being away for a while - quite buysy at college atm, I have been
reading what you guys have said and thank you all for being so helpfull. I think in light of what has been said here and also in what i have been thinking about away from the forums I think i like the idea of perhapse starting out less ambitious by perhapse concidering building something of a sliding box camera such as shown in the picture at the bottom - it would have limited focussing capabilities but I would have a lot of fun eh? Another option would be to buy this ebay item no: 190307097453 camera

The camera looks like it might get expensive and remember your talking to a student here :D I am quite taken with the idea of the sliding box camera tbh - infact I am rather a fan of box cameras, I have several brownies that I have lots of fun with.

As I said I have read what you have all said and your all being realy helpfull, btw how much do you think that camera on ebay will go for eh? looks pretty fancy despite not having a lens.


Dan Fromm
19-May-2009, 15:14
Jake, not to discourage you about thinking about making a sliding box or perhaps (bravely) a tailboard camera, and not to discourage you from finding inspiration in eBay listing 190307097453, but that thing seems to use a very non-standard size of plate. Plates for general photography aren't made anymore, but film can be put in a a sheath (search around for advice on how to make) in a plate holder. What you have in mind to make or buy will be much easier and less expensive to use, though, if it accepts a standard size of film.

Good luck, have fun, make haste slowly,


Jake Middleton
20-May-2009, 05:23
ah you recon that one uses some weird old plate size? might give it a miss then... I know the film holder i have accepts 8x10 film - i tested it with an 8x10 piece of photo paper and gives a good fit - i also now know the holder is light tight - looks like its the sliding box camera for me. I believe the Star camera company makes a similar sort of thing they call it the "English Style Daguerreotype Camera"

thanks for the advice on that ebay item

Tim Meisburger
20-May-2009, 06:42
Yes, a sliding box camera of the type in your illustration would be easy to make. But a lot depends on the focal length of your lens.

20-May-2009, 18:15
Bender sells kit for 8X10 all you do is finish work http://www.benderphoto.com/

21-May-2009, 09:49
What? Finals ? shoot, where are your priorities ?

If you can find old issues of Photodarkroom Techniques- perhaps bound in the collitch library, there was, several years ago, an article about building an 8x10 fixed focus camera from cardboard - essentially a cardboard or foam-core box. Also included was explanation of hyperfocal distance so that a double sliding box was not necessary, nor, after setting the film plane at the selected foacus, a ground glass.
A quick and inexpensive way to make some 8x10 landscape negs and get the excitement level increased for when you face some of the challenges to come.