Acrylic and Aluminum Homemade Large Format Camera: Preview

Elizabeth Graves provides a preview of her recent large format camera-building experiments.

A black and white camera prototype

A homemade large format camera prototype

As the winter holidays approached in late December and my office colleagues discussed their holiday vacation plans, they turned to me to ask how I planned to spend my time off work.

“I’ll visit my parents, and then I’ll build a large format camera – and possibly an ULTRA large format camera!” I exclaimed, as if that was the most normal thing in the world to say.

They let me know that was NOT a normal thing to say (or do) moments later.

I had already created a mock-up of an ultra large format (ULF) camera after Thanksgiving, designing cautiously around a heavy process lens I’d purchased on the Internet with a focal length of about 64 cm (25 inches).  My ULF  is going to be a long camera, capable of making very  large wet collodion plates (perhaps more than 70cm wide).  I don’t want it to be an unusually heavy camera, however, even with its 1 kg lens, and so I’ve been sketching out designs that involve lightweight aluminum, dark cloth… and very little else.

It will be many months before I have a chance to complete all of that work, including some tricky construction of experimental ULF field developing equipment and plate holder designs.  To tide myself over and get some practice with the aluminum and experimental kit ideas, I decided to build a smaller camera with the same materials.

My first holiday and New Year project is a field camera which is merely large format (LF).  I’ll be using it to make the “cabinet view” sized plates I already make (6″ x 8″ – about 15 cm x 20 cm), plus perhaps some larger square plates.  (Yes, when you make your own equipment, you can make plates in any size you like!)  I need a new LF camera anyway: the paper-based camera I described in Against all good advice: how to build a large format camera for wet collodion work at home is difficult to use when it is damp – the sliding box extension swells up and sticks if the fog lingers through the day!

The photo above is a preview shot of the prototype as it currently exists, which is the third iteration of my first idea for this camera.  It will surely change again before I am satisfied with it.

When this camera (or some variation of it) and its field equipment is in active use, I’ll post additional details about how I made this camera with cut-to-order materials, so that the only tool I needed to use regularly was a screwdriver.  If I learn what I need to learn from this camera, the ULF will follow later in the year, along with gloriously large (and difficult to handle) plates.

Wish me luck!


5 Comments

  1. Gordon Holtslander
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    where do you get the aluminum rails and connectors?

  2. Brian Hensler
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I’m wondering if there will be any toxicity or adverse chemical reaction between the chemicals and the aluminium?

  3. aegraves
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Gordon, I’ll write about my material choices in detail in later articles, but I’m using OpenBeam (openbeamusa.com). You can also find different aluminum extrusion designs with different screw sizes and a broad range of other connector styles) over at the Adafruit Industries website (adafruit.com).

    Brian, contemporary wet collodion plates are made of aluminum with a factory-enamel on one side: if the plates can handle the chemistry, the camera certainly can! It’s actually a big improvement in camera materials, since many large format cameras are made of wood and brass (and brass corrodes spectacularly when exposed to the chemistry).

  4. Posted February 5, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I really with you well with this. People I know who build their own gear learn about their medium very quickly and deeply. I hope this works for you as well

  5. Posted December 13, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Hi Great design, I congratulate you on your accomplishments and goals. I have built all the pieces to shoot 12×20 and 12×12 plates in the field. so I know what your up to. I have just built a new 4×5 on the premise of the polaroid 110 concept and with the back design I came up with it might make a great ulf design. I will keep tabs on your progress with anticipation. keep up the great work.
    David

One Trackback

  1. […] Openbeam is very handy and can be used for all kinds of projects….  Elizabeth Graves used it to build a Large Format Camera. […]

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