DIY Remote Mechanical Cable Release

If you have been reading my blog or watching my YouTube channel you would know that I do mainly large format photography. I often take my own self portrait for using my pneumatic cable release that has a long cable and air bulb release.

However I have always been thinking on how to make a more modern kind of remote cable release and hence this project.

Research

I search the internet for ideas on how other have make their own cable release and see what are the different components they have used. Primarily they will make use of

  1. a microcontroller
  2. a linear actuator that will press the traditional cable release
  3. a trigger device to send signal to the microcontroller

So I decide to add my own flavor to my own remote cable release.

ESP32 development board

For the microcontroller I decided to use a Esp32 microcontroller development board. The ESP32 chip has been popular with iOT devices. It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. However for this project I will use the Bluetooth function to do the communication.

SG90 Micro Servo motor

For the linear actuator I found a 3D design on the Internet you may use of a small Servo motor (SG90 mini servo motor) and a 3D printed rack and pinion.  The linear rack will push a plunger of the mechanical cable release which in turn will trip the shutter on the lens/camera.

For the project case I modified it out of a project case template that I downloaded from this Andreas Spiess channel. I customize it to my needs : mainly to make some holes for the cable release , USB port of the ESP32 board, the mounting holes for the servo motor and the esp32 board.

Design

So here is the simple electronic design diagram of my remote cable release.

The connections are quite simple, we have the battery power
(4x AA batteries) to power both the servo motor and the esp32 board. A power switch will be used to turn on and off the circuit. The circuit should be off when not in use as the servo motor will also draw current when not moving.

The servo motor signal will be coming from a GPIO ouput pin from the esp32 board. The signal will have the motor rotate by a certain angle and in which direction. This will be translated into a linear movement using the rack and pinion.

Assembly

Once the parts are gathered, soldered and 3D printed, they are assembled together. The mechanical cable release is inserted into the case first otherwise it will be blocked by the other parts.

Remote Unit connected to a large format lens

I designed an mobile app that uses Bluetooth to communicate with the main unit. On the mobile app, there are four functions

  1. On mode – immediate trigger of the cable release (shutter speed set on lens/camera)
  2. Timer 10 secs Delay mode , the shutter will be trigger after 10 secs. This is best for self portrait shots.
  3. Manual Bulb mode – at the first press, the shutter will be triggered and release at the second press (shutter speed set to B mode)
  4. Time Bulb mode – set the duration in seconds and when the button is pressed, the shutter will be automatically triggered and released at the end of the time. (shutter speed set to B mode)

Coding

I use the Arduino platform to create the esp32 program and the MIT App Inventor to create the mobile app. As I am no professional programmer, I’m sure that they are a lot of improvements that can be made. I will share both codes on my github as open source for anyone who is interested to use or improve .

Conclusion

This is an interesting project that that allows me to develop my electronics and coding skills. There is a few issues that can be further improved on :

  1. make the unit even smaller
  2. have a way to mount this on a camera hotshoe/cold shoe
  3. a stronger servo motor
  4. a better rechargeable battery source
  5. a digital output to trigger some digital cameras

How I 3D printed a ground glass back for use with my Lomography 4×5 Instant Back

In one of my recent videos I share how I shot with the 4×5 instant back (Lomograflok ) from Lomography. In that video I shot with my Chamonix 4×5 camera and I mentioned that we need to use a spacer every time we compose a shot.

That is to take into account of the different film plane on this back. The Instax Wide film plane is further away by 19.4mm from the usual sheet film plane. Another point I mentioned is that if I were to mount this back on the camera, I would need to remove the ground glass frame. The Chamonix ground glass frame is easy to put back ( one hand to slide the frame in)but difficult to remove ( you need 2 hands to lift out the 2 spring arms) and that is kind of troublesome if you have to do that for every shot.

So I decided to 3D printed a ground glass frame that already has the spacer built in and it’s also much easier to remove and put back. The new ground glass frame that I 3D printed is very similar in size to the spacer that came with the back. The only difference is the height which is about four mm higher to take into into account where the ground glass should be. The other thing I added was the grooves along the long sides so that it can be locked down. In contrast, there is no groove on the original spacer because will be held in place when you insert it into the groundglass frame

3D Design in Fusion 360

The 3D design is done in Fusion 360, nothing too complicated as the shape is quite regular. It is a matter of measuring the original spacer and transferring the measurements into the design. One of the thing is I nearly missed out are the 2 raised bars on the right side of the frame. These are used to align the entire frame on the camera back to prevent it from being inserted too much or too little.

I 3D printed it using my Anycubic Mega S printer with the following specs (for reference):

Layer : 0.3mm
Infill density : 20%
Extruder temp : 230C
Support : Everywhere
Time Taken : 5hrs

Printing on my AnyCubic Mega S 3D printer

The STL files can be downloaded here ( DO note this is a Work in Progress project)

Ground Glass

Acrylic ground glass

Instead of making my own ground glass, I opted for a piece of 3mm acrylic that is frosted on one side. I have a piece lying around from my Afghan Box cameras build so I decided to use it. There are also four corners that I used to hold the ground glass in place. The 2 bottom pieces are glued to the main body using superglue while the other 2 are secured with screws. This will make it easier to swap ground glass in the future by unscrewing the top 2 pieces.

Test shoot

So what was left is to do a test shoot to make sure the ground glass image plane is the same as the Instax Wide back film plane. I chose a still life setup and focused on the label on the orange. The results shown the there is no shift in focus switching from ground glass to instant back.

Resultss


Improvements

The radial locks to catch the groove are not well aligned. Although the 3D frame is still held in place, it is something to look into.

Conclusion

While the 3D printed back is not perfect, it certainly make using the instant back easily with my Chamonix camera. Other 4×5 cameras may not require this if the back can be slotted under the ground glass.

DIY Photo Enlarger from an Afghan Box Camera

In my previous post, I shared how I converted my Afghan Box Camera into a slide projector. The principle of the slide projector involves putting a light source at the back whose light passes through some condenser lens. The light then goes through the slide and finally pass the projector lens and be projected big on the the projector screen.

Typical enlarger design Used under CC license

I thought that would be about the same principle as a photo enlarger in the dark room. In the enlarger we have also the light pass through some condenser lens (depending on the design) and it will pass through the negative, go through the lens and it will be projected big on the photo paper so I thought maybe I would try to use my Afghan Box Camera again to convert it into photo enlarger  in this case it will be horizontal enlarger where I will project the image horizontally onto the wall surface.

Negative Carrier

Negative Carrier

I decided to use my photo paper holder inside the Afghan Box Camera for this conversion. I taped up a 6x7cm window using some black PVC tape. If this is to be a more permanent setup, I would make a proper negative carrier for now. For now, this will do and I used some small pieces of masking tape to secure the 6×7 negative flat against the glass. To focus I would move the focusing rods per the usual way when using the Afghan Box Camera which move the negative towards or away from the lens.

Light Source

Unlike a light source for a slide projector, the enlargement is smaller so light source for this enlarger can be relatively less powerful. So I use a simple 11W warm color LED bulb. As I do not have a timer, I simply use the on/off switch for the bulb during printing to control the exposure time.

Lens

I do not have a dedicated enlarger lens so I use my trusty Fujinon 210mm lens as the enlarging lens. For a safe filter, I dug out an old Cokin red filter and a Cokin filter holder. I would just slip the filter and holder over the lens if I need to block the light from reaching the photo paper.

Paper


Arista Edu 5×7 inches Resin Coated paper

I use the Arista Edu 5×7 inches Resin Coated paper. Being a variable contrast paper, I could use the Ilford Multigrade Contrast filters to control the contrast of the print. Again, this is done simply by taping the filter on the rear element of the lens during printing.

Results

The results shown that the box camera can be easily turned into a photo enlarger by making a few changes to it

  • Add in a light source
  • Replace/convert the photo paper holder with/into a negative holder
  • Add in safelight filter and contrast filter

Improvements

Nevertheless,  a few improvements can be made

  • Better way of holding the paper on the wall instead of just using masking tape.
  • Some method to confirm the squareness of the enlarger to the photo paper
  • Better way to hold the safe filter and contrast filters

Conclusion

Vintage Solar based Horizontal Enlarger

Horizontal enlargers have been around for a long while and box camera users can consider turning their box camera int0 an photo enlarger if they need a quick print from a negative.

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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