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How To Build A Large Format Camera


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Interesting video indeed - however the tools required for this sort of precision would be hard to justify for a one-off. To design something like that on the fly and end up with the result he has certainly shows that he already possesses a high level of wood-working and turning proficiency, aside from the well-equipped workshop. :) 


On the other hand, armed with hobbyist hand tools one can certainly restore existing old cameras to working condition without much more of an investment than time and patience and a very reasonable amount of money. Old late-19th and early 20th Century wooden cameras are very cleverly designed and skilfully put together with light weight and portability heading the list of requirements, and by using now near-impossible to acquire Honduran Mahogany they were extremely strong despite their usually svelte proportions.


Of the six such cameras I've given a second life to in the past couple of years (a man's got to do something whilst house-bound during a pandemic 😉 ), I'll note that the wood in all of them was still in fine condition structurally and took very little effort to get back into showroom condition, and that it was generally the metal fittings and the ground glass that needed the most work or even re-fabricating to get the things looking and working properly again.


Working on such items also gives one a new appreciation of just how we nowadays underestimate the abilities and handiwork of the craftsmen who built the cameras back then using pretty basic tools and equipment; in fact I often found myself feeling rather stupid and clumsy in trying (and mostly failing) to match the quality of their craftsmanship.


That said, I don't for a moment regret undertaking these projects, because there really is nothing like taking large format negatives on whatever sensitised material one wishes (film, photographic paper, or even one of the original 19th Century processes such as collodion plates, ambrotypes or daguerreotypes), as by being able to copy or scan the negatives and therefore make inkjet prints of them (after setting them up and retouching out dust and any dirt in Photoshop etc), one doesn't even need a full darkroom setup or large-format enlarger - which are without exception huge and heavy pieces of machinery - to make first-class enlarged prints in B&W - or even colour, which of course these old cameras rarely, if ever, dealt with in their original working lives.


Four of the cameras I worked on came from either the rubbish tip or by being intercepted before actually being thrown out, whilst two cost me a few hundred dollars in total (they were both in working condition and just needed  some bellows repairs and a good clean-up).


Whether you choose to build from scratch, restore junkers as I did, or purchase more modern view cameras of the sort that still proliferate on ebay at anything from one to several thousand dollars, I highly recommend giving this sort of photography a go - it brought back to me the enjoyment of actually crafting an image before even loading the camera with film, taking just one or two images and coming back with 100% keepers, instead of being a machine-gun camera operator blasting away and then spending tedious hours sifting through hundreds, or even thousands of images trying to find the best ones, or even manipulate them into something they weren't, all some time after the event. The feeling of satisfaction and of achievement of the former far outweighs the latter, I reckon.



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Yes, you definitely need a lot of skill to be able to build something like this (as well as restore, as we've seen from your examples, Alan). I unfortunately have neither skillset! :D 

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Nice clip Dallas.  Once you start adding a full complement of tilts, shifts, and rises/falls etc the whole project gets rather complicated. Without these it would not be too bad - that is if the bellows creation did not put one off.  Love that wood he was using.

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