Building a ULF 16×20 camera with a massive aerial lens and cardboard

A few years ago I built a ultra large format camera that is 24 inches by 24 inches. While it was a pretty huge camera, it was a simple build it was just two square standards, one for the front and one from the back which were connected by a big bellow.

There was no support base or focusing rails and I just support the two standards by using two tripoda so it was not the most stable camera. After a while I dismantled the whole setup and recycled the wood and the bellows so I thought that would be the end of my Ultra Large Format (ULF) camera building adventures but who knows a while back, my friend passed me a big lens and it got me thinking of rebuilding a ultra large format camera again.

Lens

The lens compared to a Nikon film SLR

The story was that my friend came across a camera collector near a local market during one of his walks and spotted this big lens. Money changed hands and he bought over the lens.

After some research, I discovered that it is a aerial lens. It was used in aerial camera mounted on aircraft for surveillance photos probably during World War 2 or later. The lens weighs eight kilograms and the focal length is 36 inches and has the biggest aperture at f6.3. However no brand or maker’s mark can be found on it. it may be one of the few lenses that were made by different companies during the war.

As the lens is so heavy so I built a wooden lens support for it. It is made with a few pieces of wood and cut some curves that will fit the front part of the lens. I also designed it so that there are two height adjustments as my camera design will be of a rectangular shape and there may be a need to mount the camera at different heights for landscape and portrait orientation.

Watch the video about the lens here :

Camera

As I do not have the space for for a ULF camera I decided to just make one from corrugated cardboard boxes. I opted for a sliding camera design but with a twist in the back design. It has 2 sleeves holes cut out at the sides so that I can put my hands inside to load the paper. The “dark slide” would be at the back of the camera covering up the ground glass when I need to load the photo paper and doing exposure. With no removable film holder, I would load the paper would by sticking it on the ground glass using magnets. I am not sure is this considered innovative but I must say I never come across similar design in other cameras.

Watch the video about the camera building here :

Shutter

Flap Shutter

While the camera has a working aperture, there is no shutter control for it. Initially I built a simple cardboard lens cap for it and use it to control the exposure. That is a ‘remove and place back’ the lens cap for exposure. This is a common method to control exposure in barrel lenses. However this method will not work if I were to take my own self portrait.

As the lens is so big (diameter ), it is hard to find a commercial shutter like the common Packard shutter for it . Again I built a flap shutter for it. The I just use rubber bands (or elastic bands for longer lasting elasticity) . I tied a long string to it so to open the shutter just pull the string to pull down the flap. When the string is released, the flap will be pull back by the elastic bands.

Watch the video about the shutter building here :

Conclusion

Overall this is a successful prototype build that help me to test

  1. the lens itself
  2. the camera design

Hopefully I will have the resources to build a more permanent ULF camera in the future.

Film Photography : Black and White Paper Reversal

This post is about black-and-white reversal  for paper. We are going to use this  expired 5×7 Ilford photo paper . We will need to trim it down for use inside this 4×5 film holder in the darkroom . 

We will use a Chamonix 4×5 large format camera to take the shot.

Youtube video

Exposure :

For shooting photo paper as a positive, we need to add 2-3 stops to what the meter is reading.

The light meter is giving a f5.6 aperture and the shutter speed now is 0.6 second . For photo paper if we are using it as a positive  we probably need to overexpose it by  2-3 stops

Chemicals

First Developer : the Ilford multigrade developer  (1+9)
Bleach : Part A – 1 g of potassium  permanganate and add up to 250 ml water 
Part B – 13.5g of sodium  bisulfate and add up to 250  ml of water. 
This will mix up to

Only mix the 2 parts to form the bleach when we are ready to use as this potassium permanganate based bleach does not keep well. Remember we always ADD ACID to Water so Always add the part B (which is a diluted sulphuric acid) to part A.

Second Developer : Reuse the Ilford multigrade developer used in first Developer
Fixer : Ilford Rapid Fixer

Processing steps
Based on Ilford Multigrade RC paper

  1. Process for 1 minute
  2. Wash for 1 minute
  3. Bleach for 5 minutes
  4. Wash for a minute
  5. Expose for maybe 30 seconds under a normal light or natural light
  6. Fix for a minutes
  7. Final wash for a minute

Sources for materials

1. Ilford Multigrade RC paper – https://amzn.to/3dOII33
2. Ilford Multigrade Paper Developer – https://amzn.to/365Oivt
3. Potassium Permanganate – https://amzn.to/2TcVIYF or if you are in Singapore, you can get them from pharmacies like Watson, Guardian , Unity 4. Sodim Bisulfate (PH Reducer) – something like this can be used https://amzn.to/2WACBK9 or source out at your local swimming pool maintenance companies
5. Ilford Rapid Fixer – https://amzn.to/2WACBK9 or source out at your local swimming pool maintenance companies

8×10 Large format shooting

 

Eastman no 8x10 camera

My Eastman no 8×10 camera

There is a rekindled interest in 8×10 photography after a few NEW sub-$1k 8×10 cameras appeared in the scene. The most notably would be the Intrepid 8×10. As of this writing, it has far exceeded its lowly set target  £18,000 goal with 255 backers. That would means there is going to be at least 220(less those who backed for non camera reward) 8×10 cameras out there. I guess that there maybe  150 new 8×10 cameras users while the rest are existing 8×10 users who are just buying another lighter and cheaper camera.

What does this means? This means there will be an increased demand for

  1. 8×10 lenses
  2. 8×10 film
  3. tripods and tripod heads
  4. processing equipment such as paper drums and tanks

Here i share my own experience in shooting in the 8×10 format.

8×10 lenses

The most important factor to look out for when looking for a 8×10 lens is the image circle. The minimum image circle to cover the 8×10 format is 12.8inches / 325mm (the diagonal of the film size). Ideally you should have a lens that has an image circle greater than 325mm if you intend to use movements which you normally would. After all, camera movement is a unique feature of a view camera.  Next up for consideration is the focal length of the lens. A 300mm lens will be about the standard lens for the 8×10.  A 210mm lens will be considered wide on the 8×10 lens. To get its estimated equivalent focal length in 35mm terms, simply divide the focal length by 8.

While there are vintage lenses or barrel lenses out there in the used market, I would suggest getting one with a modern Copal shutter for a start. There are some good old lenses with old shutters but most of these shutters are at least 50-60 years old and  many shutter mechanism in thet are worn out. Even the well know camera machinist shop , SK Grimes does not take in any more vintage shutters for repairs or CLA.  Whereas a good Copal shutter will last you many more years to come and still serviceable.

You will be glad to know that with a big negative like 8×10, you will need less demanding performance from the lens so 8×10 lens are relatively cheaper compared to a high performance 35mm lens. After all, for the same scene, the 8×10 lens would need to resolve less lines per mm. I use the Schneider G-Claron 355mm lens with a Copal 3 shutter.  The image circle of this lens is 444mm at f22 allowing quite a bit of movements on the 8×10.  I also have a cheap Seneca 305mm f7 lens which is using a old Betax No 4 shutter.

There are other ways to work with vintage or barrel lens such as using a Packard shutter or shooting with low ISO paper negative or wetplate. However if you are new to 8×10 or just shooting 8×10 film, go for a lens with a Copal shutter first. Other lens experiments can come later!

8×10 film

If we are talking about panchromatic silver gelatin film, you only have a few choices from these 3 manufacturers  Ilford,  FOMA and Shanghai.

FOMA Fomapan 8x10 fim

FOMA Fomapan 8×10 fim

I have been using FOMA 8×10 film for the past 6 months and have been happy with it. It is a good balance between price and performance. I have also used Shanghai 8×10 before but their supply has been a bit erratic after they shifted their factory but I see that they are back on the market again. For me, I will stick to FOMA film for now. Ilford 8×10 film is about double the price of a FOMA sheet so I have not used any Ilford 8×10 film before.

Another cheaper alternative is 8×10 Xray film such as those produced by Fuji. However it is an orthochromatic film ie it is not sensitive to red light and  is also of high contrast.  Most of the Xray film are coated on both sides and making it susceptible to scratches when wet. I have tried a box and must say they are quite cheap to use and very suitable for alternative printing where a high contrast negative is desirable.

Tripod & tripod head

First thing is to ditch your ball head no matter how big and strong it is. A 8×10 camera with its lens is a big camera and you do not want to the whole camera to drop off when you loosen the ball. Go for a 3 axis panning head such as the Manfrotto Junior 410 head or even better the Manfrotto 3263 deluxe geared head. Match it with a set of strong  tripod legs. Those who do not have a big budget can also look for the 2 axis Majestic tripod head. These heads are old, big and heavy and do not command a premium price on the used market, at least for now.

Do not be mislead into believing a lighter 8×10 camera means a smaller and lighter tripod. If you extend the bellows of the camera, it would turn into a sail or kite catching wind and before you know it, the whole camera and tripod will topple over.

Paper equipment such as paper drums and tanks

Last but not least would the film processing equipment, we have a few options for film processing

  1. Trays processing – just processing the film in trays in total darkness. This kind of setup would cost the less assuming you already have a darkroom or lightproof area. Just buy 3 12×16 trays and you would be good to go.
  2. Another kind of tray processing is using the Paterson Orbital processor where you will be processing one sheet at a time. It is a daylight tank where you load in the sheet in total darkness and then carry on the processing in daylight. These are hard to come by and are usually available as used in the UK ebay. Their prices have been increasing and will continue to do so.
  3. Rotating tanks like using Jobo paper drums or Expert drums.  The paper drums are cheaper as they are designed for paper development but can be easily used for film development.  You can either roll the drum by hand or build a rotary film development system

Overall any rotary system will use less chemicals than a stationary with inversion) system. I use about 250ml of chemicals for sheet for the Paterson Orbital processor and the Jobo paper drum system.

Lastly welcome to the big world of 8×10 photography.

Recommended Readings

Here are a few books that that personally recommended for your rccommends

1. The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James 

This is a heavy book of almost 900 pages. Being the 3rd edition, it has the latest updated information on the various alternative photographic process including a chapter on wetplate collodion photography.  The author shares the various formulas that are required for the various processes such as cyanotype printing , kallitype printing, salt printing etc.Buy it now on Amazon

 

 

2. Chemical Pictures The Wet Plate Collodion Book: Making Ambrotypes, Tintypes & Alumitypes
by Quinn B Jacobson (Author)

Quinn B Jacobson is considered to be one of the gurus in wetplate photography.  He hosted regularly a live talk show on  wetplate and other alternative photographic processes.  This book covers everything you need to know about wet-plate collodion photography. Quinn teaches you how to make direct positive images on glass and metal plates; Ambrotypes, Tintypes, and Alumitypes.Buy it now on Amazon

DIY Wet Plate Collodion Darkbox

For wet plate collodion process, the plate has to be developed before the collodion get dries up. Therefore an wet plate collodion darkbox is essential for outdoor shooting. There are many designs for a darkbox that can be found  online but  I opted for a briefcase design as you can see in the video below.

The dimensions of my darkbox when closed are 29″ x 22 ”  x 5.5″ making it a very compact size. It is constructed out of plywood and hardwood pieces without any fanciful woodworking joints. The wood pieces are simply joined together using screws.

Let me know if you have any questions.

 

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