View Full Version : Building my first camera...

7-Apr-2012, 21:21
Well, as some people know already, I'm starting to build my first camera..

Here is the plan.

4x5 point and shoot based around my 75/4.5 Rodenstock Grandagon-N

The Story...

Well, I got into LF about 6 months ago, I rushed into the purchase of a Linhof Kardan Super Colour ST. Being a Linhof, I trusted that it would be a good quality camera, and by all means it is. The problem is that I am landscape shooter, and a 2ft long 6lb+ metal camera is not fun on long walks into the wilderness.. In an attempt to lighten it up a bit I modified it by cutting the rail in half. Its now suited for lenses between 58~65 and around 180mm.

I've used it a few times since shortening it and I must say its much nicer to use, but the size and weight are still restrictive.

I have a jewellery box here that is 6x6x2.5" I have the revolving back off the Kardan I can use.. So basically if I light tight the box, add about 12~15mm to the depth of the box and stick the revolving back onto it, its pretty much a done deal...

My other thought was to make a relatively fixed focus 4x5.. In short, a U shaped aluminium bracket that attaches to my tripod head that I can bolt the front and rear standards of the kardan attached (including bellows.) If I held the front standard in a slot so it can move forward and backwards for basic focus. I would also be able to easily add front tilt to the camera. That would probably be the easiest option. Although a point and shoot (for the type of photography I do) would be favorable.

Anyone who has made a P&S with a 75mm lens, could you please let me know how you went with hyperfocalality. I find with my lens on the monorail, I can only get 100% hyperfocality (1m to horizon) either at f/32 with a slight front tilt or at f/45. I do not particularly want to shoot at f/45, and it would be near impossible to accurately add a fixed front tilt to a P&S.

Would I be better waiting until I have the money to buy something wider, a 58 or 47 XL for example..

I did consider making this as a 6x12 or 6x17, but I have the feeling a 4x5 will be much easier to make..

I've read a lot of the threads in here, and seen many of the cameras in the "show us your home made camera" thread... Impressive work from everyone. and its given me many ideas..

I will add to this thread as I progress. Hopefully I will have a prototype in a week or two. Prototype will be made out of treated pine. Once I have something workable, I will make it out of teak or oak.

I'll be back to post some pics in a few days with some raw materials and hopefully the start of construction.

Oh, what do people recommend for strength and light tight boxes, half lap or box join? Or is it more a matter of aesthetics. I dont care what mine looks like as long as it doesnt leak light..

7-Apr-2012, 23:11
Do you know anybody with 4x5 that you could put the lens on then focus on something at the hyper-focal distance. Then just measure the distance from the film plane to the back of the len board. You just build the camera to that measurement. Alternative some here could do that with there own lens (the same as yours) and post the measurement.
If your making a prototype just make it 75mm from lens board to film and just start packing it out until its right.

7-Apr-2012, 23:46
Yeah well I have my Kardan super colour 4x5 and the 75/4.5 in question, I know the distance to make the box already, as I've measured it all up.. It would be easy enough to do I am just trying to think if the 75mm is wide enough for fixed focus point and shoot.. Testing it on my 4x5 monorail I think maybe not.. but then I suppose until I try it, I wont know if it suits me or not...

8-Apr-2012, 02:56
Cannot see it being a problem, I have a 90mm on 6x17 which is built that way so a 75mm wouldn't be a problem getting the DOF

Michael Roberts
8-Apr-2012, 10:35
wicked....great job

have to add, though, that I have a stripped down Crown Graphic that weighs the same and can take lenses from 75-300mm. a dot of gold paint on the rails marks the default focus point for each lens and a wire frame view finder makes it workable as a point 'n shoot for each lens

10-Apr-2012, 12:52
I spoke to a local industrial plastics supplier and a CNC workshop and I think I'm going to get my camera machined out of ABS plastic or Delrin. Its light, rigid, solid black, easily machined and best of all... Cheap..

I'm just drawing up plans now but given the price, it would be only too easy to have the camera body made, and then have interchangable lens blocks that fit onto it. I will make a block to suit the 75/4.5 maybe one to suit either a 65, 58 or 47 too...

I will mock it up first using wood to make sure of the distances etc, but once its worked out I'll be sending off the template to the machine shop along with a hearty slab of Delrin.. If my plunge router went 12mm deeper I could probably do it at home.

11-Apr-2012, 14:00
Well, A few phone calls and some quick sketches and the plans are currently at a CNC workshop along with a big slab of ABS plastic. I've basically made a 7x7" box that is 71mm deep, Its largely hollowed out (for weight purposes) asside from some gusseting on the front end to support the lens. It has a copal 0 hole so the lens mounts directly to the camera as opposed to using lensboards (and as such, limiting light leaks)

The graflok back will be mounted in the rear, and the main base of it will be recessed 1mm (again, to limit the chances of light leaks.)

with all the measurements being correct, this should be hyperfocal from about 3.2ft to infinity. Given the density of ABS plastic, it should come in at under 800g for the body alone, so maybe 1.3~1.5 with 75/4.5 and the graflock back.

I'm having a 3/8 and 1/4in thread tapped into the bottom for tripods, a bubble level and a cold shoe will be fitted, as I intend to add a finder in the future.. For the time being, I will just compose on the GG as per usual.. I should have a firm quote sometime today and all things going to plan, they've said maximum of 2hrs between when I place the order and when the camera is ready for a test..

As for testing. I will be shooting some 4x5 black and white (just cheap stuff off ebay) and developing it straight away. If anything, the camera will be a fraction of a hair too short (meaning close focus could be compromised a touch) but I have a series of shims for the lens incase that happens..

Very excited at this point. I was given a rough estimate on price, and if the final quote is close to that, I'll be getting another made to suit a 47XL, and one for a 58XL for a friend...

As for add-ons after its made, I will definitely be adding a pair of cupboard doorhandle lens protectors, possibly an anatomical grip (home made) Although, the grip might not happen, as it will make the camera heavier (by a fair bit) and much larger.. I'm building this camera primarily because I do alot of long walks into the bush with the camera. Saving size and weight is the key. I might make a removable anatomical grip on a L bracket that could be held on by two M6 bolts (threaded directly into the camera body). Allowing me to bolt it onto the camera for hand held use or for times when I'm not going far with the camera and would like the grip, or leaving it off to save space and weight for long walks.

I might paint it some wacky bright colour.. I havent decided yet... Bright red or Yellow would be very... Different. Black would obviously look the most professional.

Theres the current progress as it stands... I will let you all know how the quote goes and if production begins. Failing the CNC plastic route, the same design will be built this weekend out of pine, all the joints will be felt lined to block light... I would MUCH prefer it be made from plastic than wood, but if the price is too restrictive, then wood might be the only option.

18-Apr-2012, 01:15
(First post for me! :))

I'm looking into building my first LF camera as well, and have the same ideas as you - A compact P&S with a 75mm. So I'd really like to know how your project comes along, especially with the plastic CNC. I thought about making mine in aluminium, but it would probably end up being a bit too heavy. Plus I'd have to have it anodized afterwards. So plastic sounds like a great route to go! But I'm scared it would look cheap and be flimsy...? So if you have any info in the future, please keep us updated!

18-Apr-2012, 12:17
Welcome to the forums zthee.

P+S 4x5 is the way to start I reckon. Having movements and all that other crazy stuff while learing how to load film and the correct process to exposing film just makes life hard... This sort of camera really simplifies things and lets you focus (pun, wether intended or otherwise I'll leave up to your imagination) on Loading, exposing and unloading film. It also allows large format photography in situations where a field camera or monorail camera might be a little difficult. Once you really have the hang of loading, exposing and unloading sheets and can do so without worry then playing with movements and a more technical camera might be worth it (says the guy who started LF with a fully featured monorail camera with more movements than any of his lenses can handle..)

I got a final pricing back from the CNC shop and they want $585 to do 2 hours of CNC work on a block of ABS plastic... Thats not going to happen YET!

I have constructed my camera out of wood (waiting for the glue to cure at the moment) As soon as I have all the construction complete including staining, light seals etc I'll post all the pics up.. At this stage the wooden version will do, if the wooden one works perfectly, then I will probably go and have the plastic one built..

As for cheap and flimsy, ABS plastic is pretty darn tough. The walls were going to be over 1cm (1/2") thick, and this is the same stuff kitchen chopping boards are made of.... It would be practically unbreakable..

The wooden one will still come in at under 1kg I would imagine, and be fairly resilliant. It may lack the finer quality of CNC construction though.

19-Apr-2012, 11:39
Thank you!

The biggest problem for me is that I can't start with just "easy" stuff. I always make it harder than it has to be. It's runs in the family.
My first plan was to just build a wooden box, strap a lens to it and go! But then I revised the idea, and again, and again... and now I'm doing 3D sketches and hoping I can find a CNC machine that can do 3D stuff for me.

It started out as just a small project to go explore 4x5! And now I'm stuck with this massive project! 2 cm shift up and down, plus a helical for focusing..

$585! That's a bit too expensive IMHO. If it isn't a really complicated design?
And chopping board plastic sounds like a great thing! I'll have to ask around and see if anyone has it available...

I guess I should start making mine in wood as well.

Thank you for you time and input! I really appreciate it. I'm really new to both LF and DIY in LF, so honestly I have like two hundred questions that I wanna ask. But I'll google some more and hopefully I can make sense of everything from ground glass thickness to flange back distance!

I'd love to see pictures once you've gotten it all together! :)


19-Apr-2012, 15:14
Cool design.. Very complex compared to mine. When I was planning on CNC plastics, I planned 10mm rise and 10mm fall but alas, doing that with wood (and my limited skills) would be difficult.

The plastics you should look into are ABS and Acetal (Delrin)

19-Apr-2012, 15:47
cool ... bookmarked this thread :)

I once tried to build one myself to. I gave up when I couldn't figured out how to build a durable back. My back was a crude slip-on/clip-on thing. I could buy a graflok/spring back but that's kinda defeat the DIY spirit.

I found this (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ezzie0304/4676126084/)in the rangefinderforum, the owner did a really nice job. Hope it gives you some ideas.

good luck with yours.

20-Apr-2012, 12:25
The design looks very neat, waiting to see where this goes!

21-Apr-2012, 07:57
I've been tempted to build a LF before, and that thread over att rangefinderforum made me think about it again. And then I found the Show us your home made camera... (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?45775-Show-us-your-home-made-camera) over here, and then I realized I just have to do it - Such sweet builds, the temptation level just went through the roof!

I got a tip from my CNC friend who told me about a company in Holland which 3D prints stuff in really strong plastic. I'm gonna try it out. Have to save up a bit first, since making all 8 parts cost about 500 euros...

I can't see the Classifields in this forum yet (Account younger than 30 days), so it might be a good idea to wait before ordering a lens from ebay? Or is $450 good for a 75mm Fujinon?

Helical and ground glass has been ordered though!

21-Apr-2012, 19:18
450 for the 75 fujinon is good (providing its F/4.5 or F/5.6)

I paid about that for my Rodenstock 75mm F/4.5...

I will tell you this though.. Making a LF P+S has awakened me to one fact. 75mm isn't really wide enough. Hyperfocality issues mean that to get EVERYTHING in focus from 38" through to the horizon I need to shoot at F/32... I would of preferred to stay F/22... I think I would really prefer to be doing this with a 58 or 65mm lens... Alas, the 75 is what I have to work with, so its what I'm using... All up this camera is going to cost me a total of about $50 to make out of wood.. I have the film back and lens board I need, I had all the tools so its so cheap that to buy a lens specifically for it would be a little daft.... :)

Emmanuel BIGLER
22-Apr-2012, 02:34
Hello from France !

The article quoted below is in French but you can have a look at this work done by Gilles Barbier (France).
A hand-held fixed-focus camera for the 5x7" - 13x18 cm format, where Gilles is happy to get "round images", i.e. more than 100% of the avalaible image circle of his faithful 90 mm Schneider-Kreuznach Angulon !

http ://www.galerie-photo.com/barbier-hybis-90.html (http://www.galerie-photo.com/barbier-hybis-90.html)

Gilles had asked me for the proper hyperfocal value. Well, Gilles has chosen to place the film about 3 mm beyond the position of the focal point, as specified in Schneider's technical data sheet. Look for "flange focal distance" or "back focal length";

If I had to fabricate a similar fixed-focus hand-held camera, I would simply allow the lens to slide by one centimeter or so around a "theoretical position" specified by the manufacturer's flange-focal distance.
Then I would check on a ground glass if the image is OK and screw something to set a fixed focus position. Fixed position but eventually adjustable later if the results are not sastisfactory.

When you design a hand-held LF camera with fixed focus, you definitely do not want to get a headache computing and simulating ! The small calculation is there to tell you that the proper position is to be set within a few millimetres, not a few centimetres !
So ground glass + take your time to look at the image + some ways to adjust the fixed focus later, and here we go !!

23-Apr-2012, 13:09
I will tell you this though.. Making a LF P+S has awakened me to one fact. 75mm isn't really wide enough. Hyperfocality issues mean that to get EVERYTHING in focus from 38" through to the horizon I need to shoot at F/32... I would of preferred to stay F/22... I think I would really prefer to be doing this with a 58 or 65mm lens... Alas, the 75 is what I have to work with, so its what I'm using...

As this is my entry to LF, I'm just gonna have to buy the lenses that I "need". The problem I see is that if I get a 75, I'm not going to buy a 58 or 65 later? But I figured I could always start here, and see what I can make of it. I've been drooling over the 72mm super angulon xl, but it's too expensive.

The reason I want to go LF is because when I've been shooting wide, it feels that the photos would benefit from having the possibility of rise and fall. And since I don't have a Flexbody in my Hasselblad setup, I have to take another route. With 58/65 the rise and fall would be minimal (But perhaps it's enough?), and with the 75 I get 2 cm in each direction. Which I hope will be enough, but I'm not sure since I've never used a LF(!).

So this is possibly a project were I will spend money and end up with a lump of plastic that isn't working. But I figured it would be worth the ride (And I will have everything to build a new camera if this one fails..).

If it works though, I will build more cameras. I already have loads of ideas!

All up this camera is going to cost me a total of about $50 to make out of wood.. I have the film back and lens board I need, I had all the tools so its so cheap that to buy a lens specifically for it would be a little daft.... :)

$50 for a LF P&S sounds great! :)

One day I hope to have it all as well, so I can just whip something up and just go out and shoot... Ah, dreams...

27-Apr-2012, 11:12
http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8142/7119141359_d3e05230cd_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/zthee/7119141359/in/photostream/lightbox/)

I've built a "camera" of cardboard and tape!
It's just a test, hence the "camera" - But now I understand more about flange back and fun stuff like that.

How's the wooden camera coming along? :)

Steve Smith
27-Apr-2012, 11:56
The biggest problem for me is that I can't start with just "easy" stuff. I always make it harder than it has to be.

I'm the same. When I built my first guitar, the usual advice was to start simple and build a nylon strung Spanish guitar. But I didn't want one of those. I wanted a Selmer Maccaferri..... so I built one.

I have just started on my second 5x4 camera. Some pictures attached:

72774 72775 72776 72777


28-Apr-2012, 02:36
Steve - Beautiful front and rear standards. I considered making a monorail sort of setup to allow me to focus my home made camera.

Zthee - Prototype is made. I don't have a spare graflock back to finish it and whilst I am confident in the new camera, I have fitted a lens and spaced the ground glass to the right distance to check it and at F/32 we've got total sharpness from about 90cm through to infinity.... Having said that I'm just not ready to hack my Linhof up to scavenge the back off it.. I might make up something myself.. I've been looking around to buy a back for it but the prices are ridiculous... I've seen one go for $380...

Jim Jones
28-Apr-2012, 05:05
Alex -- A Graflock back would be the logical choice for such an elegant camera as you are designing, but a spring back may easier to find and certainly easier to build. A major advantage of the Graflock back is for using roll film. If the same size prints are planned from both roll and sheet film, the DOF calculations and lens to film spacing will be slightly different.

28-Apr-2012, 05:38
I pretty much exclusively shoot roll film. I was almost inclined to make this camera a 6x12.. Just find a way of attaching my 6x12 holder directly to it.. that would have cut the size and weight down a fair bit.. DOF wise, I've set it up for the 6x12, all things being equal, if its hyperfocal at F/32 on 612, it will be hyperfocal on 4x5.

Steve Smith
28-Apr-2012, 09:01
I was almost inclined to make this camera a 6x12.

I have built one of those too. See link below.


29-Apr-2012, 02:38
I've seen your 612 before and thats one of the reasons I wanted to build one. I would however use a modified graflock 6x12 holder so I could use a ground glass... I don't like using view finders because I use a lot of grad filters and what not... Without the ability to view through the lens, it would be near on impossible to align grads (unless your regularly place your horizon line dead center in the image..

I have plenty of wood left over from camera #1. (Glue is curing nicely... should be ready for test shots in a couple of days...) So I might make a small 6x12 camera. I would like to build a fixed focus 6x17 with my 90mm F/8 too.. That will come later as I don't quite know how I'd go about it just yet.

29-Apr-2012, 08:03
http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8142/7119141359_d3e05230cd_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/zthee/7119141359/in/photostream/lightbox/)

I've built a "camera" of cardboard and tape!
It's just a test, hence the "camera" - But now I understand more about flange back and fun stuff like that.

How's the wooden camera coming along? :)


I gotta try this.

3-May-2012, 03:26
Got the helical yesterday. Looks and feels nice! Now just waiting for the grounding glass.

Think I'll build a wood version before spending loads of money on 3D printing. Or just something that hold together better than cardboard and tape! :)

3-May-2012, 12:36
Is that one of the ebay helicals? I was considering implementing one of those in my design to fix the whole "HFD" issue. I'm pretty sure that my camera is the right width now. I am waiting on the laquer to cure at the moment, then painting the interior black and it should be ready for a film test.