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Alan7140

Nothing quite like the original...

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I admit to finding some amusement in many Facebook photography groups reading peoples' posts on their quests to obtain lenses with "classic bokeh" (for want of a better description) for their digital cameras,  and manufacturers responding with increasingly more pricey and exotic lens designs aimed at getting wider and wider apertures to obtain shallower and shallower depth of field and supposedly larger separation and greater out-of-focus backgrounds to replicate bokeh that was almost routinely achieved in 19th Century photographs with the large format wet plate cameras and relatively simple lens designs of the day.

 

If the escalating prices on the used market of those remaining antique lenses is any indication, many people are trying to recreate the visual image effects of those lenses by adapting them to their digital equipment, and are equally finding out that it doesn't really work like that.

 

Zenit even made a fortune by crowd-funding a recreation of the Petzval design in a focal length suitable for 135 format, and while this produced the "swirly bokeh" that seems to be so sought after to an almost overwhelming degree, the actual visual effect of a 240mm or 300mm Petzval lens in front of a whole-plate negative was unsurprisingly missing.

 

Which leads to the point of this post:

A while ago I received a box with a rather run-down Thornton-Pickard half-plate camera and a bunch of other old photographic junk as a thank-you for past photographic favours rendered. The Thornton-Pickard I restored and am happily using outdoors as I've posted earlier, but also in the box was a really beat-up and disassembled black-painted whole-plate camera chassis which was so primitively made and so basic that I thought it must be some sort of amateur effort. However, cleaning it up revealed a stamp "Scovill Manufacturing Co. New York" impressed in the wood, another with "American Optical Co." on the double plate holder, and an Internet search showed that the former had acquired the latter company in 1867, and that this example was the "lowest quality Box #2" model dating from the late 1860's to early 1870's. 

 

The bellows was almost disintegrating in the corners and fold seams, and the lens fitted to it was a trashed Thornton Pickard Rapid rectilinear model from the early 1900's from which the aperture blades and assembly had been completely removed. I put the lot aside while I was restoring the Thornton Pickard half-plate camera, although intermittently working on patching up the bellows of the Scovill from time to time.

 

ZeVtI5N.jpg

 

Also in the box was a large, unbranded but definitely Petzval-design lens with good glass, with an intact iris aperture and a rack & pinion focus mechanism, and which had a mounting ring but no camera. Internet searches show images of similar-looking lenses dating from around the 1870s-80s. To cut a hole at this size in the Scovill camera's lens board would have destroyed the maker's stamp, so I decided last week to make a new lens board for the lens to fit the Scovill, a new ground glass to fill the hole long since devoid of any viewing glass, and to finish the bellows if possible.

 

tsZQvnM.jpg

 

Much and all as all of this probably destroys its true "collectors value" quality, to me a camera is useless unless I am able to (and actually do) use it, so middle finger extended to collectors, I went ahead. Fortuitously the circular brass tripod socket with its stripped thread was an almost exact fit to be replaced by a similar chrome-plated brass tripod socket on one of my parts-only Pentacon Six TL bodies, the mounting screws being only the conversion from metric-Imperial off centre, but everything else was the same, and I now had a good mount for an Arca plate to fit my RRS tripod head.

 

MtK3Vq4.jpg

 

CFUBkTe.jpg

 

Which returns me to the heading of the article. 

I found a half-full box of 8½ x 6½" (i.e. Whole Plate) Ilford Multigrade paper in my darkroom, age unknown, so with a sheet loaded into the dark slide in front of an improvised aluminium pressure-plate to make up for the thickness of a glass plate, I grabbed a banjo off my guitar rack, placed it on a woodpile in the back yard, with the the background about 20 yards behind consisting of a shed, two water tanks and an oak tree, with a sunlit paddock further behind that, I took the following shot at 1 second, wide open. The lens has no f/stop markings, just the equally spaced numbers 1 through 5 on the aperture adjustment, presumably referring to what might have been the circular apertures cut into the more common Waterhouse stops of the day, so I was totally guessing the exposure as a consequence.

 

2HDHX63.jpg

 

The years of experience in this game must finally be paying off as the exposure was spot-on, and the result, as you can see, absolutely (and totally unsurprisingly) captures the 19th Century "look" of Petzval bokeh, field curvature/focus and brightness falloff as well as background separation to perfection. :) 
|t occurs to me that this is the first time I have ever taken a photo with 100% original and authentic mid-late 19th century equipment (with the exception of the actual negative material, of course, but the spectral colour sensitivity of the paper neg is similar to that of collodion plates).

 

 

*Just adding: I scanned this paper negative with my Epson V700 Photo scanner to save messing about with the copy stand, and set at a relatively modest 2400 dpi (the scanner supposedly has an optical resolution of 4800 x 9600 dpi @ 4.0 D-Max), the final file size was - ahem - 297 Megapixels.  ;) 

 

 

 

Edited by Alan7140
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I am in awe at this level of technical ingenuity and craftsmanship. Such a contrast to today's throwaway-and-replace culture.

The photographic results are amazing and must be a source of great satisfaction.

As a Leica user, I am frequently amused by the quest of Leica owners for lenses with the so-called "Leica Glow". This mythical property seems to have something to do with background separation. Leica have catered to this obsession by producing a lens with a maximum aperture of f./0.95. The fact that the depth of field of this lens at f./0.95 is razor-thin, thus rendering hand-held shooting very difficult, does not seem to worry the Leica faithful.

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Vivion, May I be a nosy old codger and ask you what lenses you have for the Leica CL?


Mike Gorman

 

Nikon Z6, Nikkor Z 24-70, 35, 85, FTZ adapter 

Lumix G9 , GX8 - Panasonic 15, 20, 25, - 8-18, 12-35, 12-60, 35-100

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Alan, your old Scovill camera has come up a treat and the image of the banjo really looks the part. Kudos to you! :)

 

Did you fold a new bellows, or were you able to fix the damaged corners and the fold line/seams in the original bellows?

 

 

 

 

Edited by Hugh_3170
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7 hours ago, Mike G said:

Vivion, May I be a nosy old codger and ask you what lenses you have for the Leica CL?

 

Mike, are you thinking of adding a third system??? 😮

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Dallas, the clue is in the question! My pocket certainly won’t run to a Leica system of any sort. You do realise I am a pensioner and the Z6 kit was bought with the assistance of one of those little plastic cards.

One of the reasons for my interest is because of the tie up between Panasonic and Leica, as the joint exercise producing the PLeica lenses has produced some very good optics, plus I’m interested(read nosy) as to what others use! 😊

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Mike Gorman

 

Nikon Z6, Nikkor Z 24-70, 35, 85, FTZ adapter 

Lumix G9 , GX8 - Panasonic 15, 20, 25, - 8-18, 12-35, 12-60, 35-100

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6 hours ago, Hugh_3170 said:

Alan, your old Scovill camera has come up a treat and the image of the banjo really looks the part. Kudos to you! :)

 

Did you fold a new bellows, or were you able to fix the damaged corners and the fold line/seams in the original bellows?

 

 

Hugh, I was looking at making new bellows, but before I went to the trouble of finding and procuring the things needed I went down the "may as well try to fix it and see:" route, used some cloth-backed black adhesive tape for the corners and liberally applied (via direct spray from the can and locally with a brush) many coats of Vinyl restore paint, with which I had previously fixes a very light-porous shutter curtain of an otherwise pristine old Pentacon F 35mm camera, which is still working fine with the paint not cracking up even after repeatedly being wound tightly on the feeder and pickup spindles of the shutter.

 

It might take a few further local applications later, particularly on the outside of the edge tapes which are not very resistant to the black coating flaking with flexing and which I would have preferred not to have used, but the folded corners, although they may not appear to be so in the photo, were completely shot.

 

The bellows material is cloth-backed cardboard inside, with some sort of coated material outside covering. It's not the traditional leather of the period,  but now is is well-coated inside and out with the flexible black paint, which I'll monitor for leaks while maybe making a new bellows in the interim - if I can get motivated. Doing so looks like it could be a bit tedious, though, even if these are the simplest bellows I've yet seen - usually there are many more smaller folds.

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13 hours ago, vivionm said:

I am in awe at this level of technical ingenuity and craftsmanship. Such a contrast to today's throwaway-and-replace culture.

The photographic results are amazing and must be a source of great satisfaction.

As a Leica user, I am frequently amused by the quest of Leica owners for lenses with the so-called "Leica Glow". This mythical property seems to have something to do with background separation. Leica have catered to this obsession by producing a lens with a maximum aperture of f./0.95. The fact that the depth of field of this lens at f./0.95 is razor-thin, thus rendering hand-held shooting very difficult, does not seem to worry the Leica faithful.

 

Thanks, Vivion.

 

Luckily such agricultural construction as this camera was easy to work on - everything is big, rough and crude, and looks more like something out of a high school woodworking class. :)

 

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11 hours ago, Mike G said:

Vivion, May I be a nosy old codger and ask you what lenses you have for the Leica CL?

 

Mike,

For now I have just one lens, the Leica Summicron-TL f./2, 23 mm.

I had a Leica Q up to recently, but gave it to Daughter #2, who is a better photographer than I am.

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Great restoration work, Alan!  The resulted image would look historically appropriate for the camera, if the banjo would be of a fretless minstrel type.  😀

Edited by Akira
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"The eye is blind if the mind is absent." - Confucius

http://www.flickr.com/photos/akiraphoto/

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1 hour ago, Akira said:

Great restoration work, Alan!  The resulted image would look historically appropriate for the camera, if the banjo would be of a fretless minstrel type.  😀

 

Thanks, Akira, I agree totally re:subject authenticity. I just needed something that was long enough to straddle the middle 2/3 of the frame to give an idea of field curvature along with focus falloff, and something that also had a circle roughly the size of a human head to see how that would fit into the acceptably sharp zone. The banjo was the obvious choice, both from sort-of looking the part and  being the right size, plus I don't think any of my acoustic or electric guitars would have suited the shot or size requirements at all. :D

 

 

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Alan, in relooking at your post and the description of how you brought this old timer back to life, I have started to wonder if there are plans out there to built a similar such camera from scratch?

 

OK, a camera with tilts, rotations, and shifts & lifts might be a little trickier, but the Scovill doesn't have these features, so the excercise should boil down to mainly woodwork with some metal work. 

 

Does anyone know of such plans?

 

 

 

 

Edited by Hugh_3170

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OK - I have been lazy.

 

Googling "large format camera plans" brings up a plethora of plans.

 

I liked this one:  https://petapixel.com/2017/10/24/building-8x10-large-format-camera-entirely-hand/

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16 hours ago, Hugh_3170 said:

OK - I have been lazy.

 

Googling "large format camera plans" brings up a plethora of plans.

 

I liked this one:  https://petapixel.com/2017/10/24/building-8x10-large-format-camera-entirely-hand/

 

 

Simple tailboard cameras are easy enough to make as is demonstrated by this old agricultural thing I've just got working again, but the bellows are just tedious to construct, and I reckon a lot of the time it's easier to buy an old field camera where you get factory machined parts and bellows as well as a reasonably comprehensive array of movements all included. There were quite a few whole plate field cameras on eBay towards the end of last year, and I almost bought into one of those, but commonsense (I thought at the time) got the better of me. As the Scovill didn't cost me cash money, it was worth trying to get it going with the Petzval lens adapted to it for effectively nothing, I thought.

 

That is, of course, until the Scovill introduced me to whole plate format, and with 6½ x 8½" paper still available from Ilford and fresh negative material being easy to come by, the size seems perfect to me. Surprisingly nowhere near as cumbersome as 8x10, but substantially larger than half plate, and to a degree that I hadn't thought would make much difference originally. I can honestly say that it seems to be just perfect for my uses, and I'll be on the lookout for a whole plate field camera to which I can fit this Petzval lens (it's too large for any Thornton Pickard front standard that I've seen, but the old Wista/Toyo Japanese field cameras seem to be big enough.

 

The main problem with whole plate cameras seems to be the film holders - many still have the fittings for the old wooden "book-type" double-dark holders, but rarely come with the correct holder which manufacturers seemed to make to exclusively fit their camera and no others.

 

Now I've just got to wait for a serviceable and well-priced one to come up for sale, preferably one that has a spring back and takes standard double dark slides. The counter-balancing good thing is of course that obsolete Japanese whole plate cameras are substantially cheaper than their current format counterparts.

 

The lenses are a different matter, but this old Petzval is an absolute corker, and delivers exactly the image characteristics I've been looking for, so I no longer need a new lens as well.

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Adding a side-note to the original post - I managed to get Vuescan to override whatever inbuilt and obsolete 30,000px limit that EpsonScan saddles its V700Photo with, and did a full resolution (4800dpi) scan of the above paper neg, and it reminds me once more just what we lost with film when speed became the overriding attributes and 25 ISO, and later 50 ISO B&W film ended up as the slowest available.

 

Scanning the paper neg, on the other hand, failed to reveal any discernible grain in the ~1.5 ISO paper emulsion, rather the texture of the pearl surface of the paper was the thing that became evident rather than grain (I'll be getting fresh gloss surface paper which should avoid this when my supplier re-opens after the holidays). At this resolution, the final image was just over 40,000 x 30,000px, or 1.225 Terrapixels.

 

And people are getting all excited by high-end digital cameras that now deliver a 'massive' 100 Megapixels. :D :D :D

 

So at the file's native resolution, and at Epson printer native resolution of 360dpi, this would deliver a 111.7" (283.8cm) x 84.6" (215cm) print at the same image quality as 100MP files printed at 30"x20" @ 360dpi, if my calculkations are correct. Totally impractical with today's printing hardware, but an interesting thing to contemplate all the same. The 16-bit grayscale Tiff file is 2.28GB, by the way. :) 

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Well things have progressed, and regressed, with the old Scovill. I'm still going to need experience in making bellows - the materials I've sourced were not ideal and I'll have to dig a bit deeper and get some proper book-binding leather and more appropriate stiffening board and internal lining material, but the three failed attempts with what I had were an "interesting" experience, to say the least. I'm still struggling with getting measurements exact enough to replace the original bellows with an identical copy, (the fit has to be exact) as the originals really are shot beyond salvation - completely rotted on all seams.

|In the interim I've used my initial failure (which was too large) as a sort of "exo-bellows) fitted over the original bellows, so at least the camera is now light tight. The double dark-slide, on the other hand, revealed that it has at least one light leak in a trial photo today  - at least it appears to be the dark-slide - I took two exposures and one had the leak, the other not, which would indicate that the problem lies with the film holder and not the camera.

 

The lens is interesting, I measure its FL at 180 mm, and as such  it vignettes as one approaches infinity focus, of course, but at a portrait distance it covers the whole frame whilst displaying a quite pleasing Petzval image softness and field of focus curvature, with an equally pleasing out-of-focus background rendering even at two "stops" down.

As for the stops, I'm guessing still at this stage, but I'm assuming the numbers 1 through 5 are in relation to Waterhouse stops, each diameter being half that of the preceding, rather than passing half the light, which therefore probably means each step is around two stops in the f/ scale, which appears to be borne out with my shots today - meter was 1.5 secs @ f/4.5, (stop #1), which translated to +4 f/ stops = 24 secs at "stop" # 3 (f/16-22), which returned an exposure that was bang on the money. :) The nice thing about using printing paper as the negative is that at these exposure times there is little need to be bothered about reciprocity failure, although I did factor in bellows extension.

Here's the shot I took with the whole-plate Scovill of my Thornton Pickard "Imperial" half-plate camera chillin' on the verandah:

aub0tDd.jpg

 

and the setup below with what has to be the ugliest camera ever as the active participant:

aAgwDnX.jpg

 

The stamp on the back (and the "American Optical Company" stamp on the accompanying dark-slide) in concert date the camera to mid-1880's, but before 1887, and it appears to be the most basic first tier "Waterbury" model of the Scovill lineup (tier two and three of quality meant varnished mahogany and bright brass fittings as standard as opposed to this rough, single-coat of black paint on a sycamore chassis).

The ground glass I made new from a glass off-cut and ground by hand in about 10 minutes using #400 silicone carbide powder, some water and a piece of glass glued to a cork sanding block as the grinding tool. The result is every bit as good as a commercial ground glass that would probably have cost a couple of hundred bucks.

71DEh95.jpg

 

Shown below is unbranded Petzval lens (probably mid-1870's - 80's) and my amateurish "exo"-bellows attempt, along with an in-front-of-lens shutter (inst., T & Open settings) that I've had since 1982, and which came with the 1920's Görlitzer Camera Works half plate studio camera I've used on and off over the years for portraiture. The evenly spaced "stop" markings on the barrel are the clue to the aperture being based on the Waterhouse stops.

I couldn't resist polishing what little brasswork there was on the camera, either, which had originally been painted black.

3ryrPQ8.jpg

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Kudos to you on your determination, Alan. I would have probably been sent for therapy by now if I had even attempted such a project. :) 

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Sent for therapy? By whom?

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