Introduction: DIY 6x17 Panoramic Film Camera

Picture of DIY 6x17 Panoramic Film Camera

One of the interesting things about 120 medium-format film is that there are a range of cameras which shoot varying size images with it. 35mm film cameras normally shoot a 24mm x 36mm frame size, but 120 can be 6cm x 4.5cm, 6cm x 6cm, 6cm x 9cm, or even 6cm x 12cm. Its a very versatile format. However, there's no reason you can't go even bigger than that! This Instructable shows you how to build a camera that uses a wide angle large-format lens to expose a 6cm x 17cm frame. That's an image with a nearly 3:1 image ratio, and a 100 degree view. At that size, it only gets four shots per roll!

This Instructable is to help you if you are interested in building our own 6x17 panoramic camera. The basis of this camera is pretty simple; a light-proof box that holds the lens the correct distance from the film, and a simple film transport system.

The lens I used is a Schneider Super-Angulon 90mm f8. This is a large format lens, which usually have an integrated shutter and aperture so this helps make the build process much simpler. Focal plane shutters are much more difficult to make large enough for a negative this size.

Head to the next step to see the design.

Step 1: Design

Picture of Design

The design uses a lot of sheet metal and wood, as these were easy materials for me to work with (I no longer have milling machines and laser cutters at my disposal) and I had a bunch of material sitting around getting rusty. Luckily I had access to some sheet metal tools so it made it easy to work with the 18 gauge steel. You could achieve similar results with a band-saw and belt sander if you don't have access to a metal shear and brake.

My design uses a Schneider Super-Angulon 90mm F8 lens/shutter/aperture combo intended for 4x5 large-format cameras. This lens has a coverage of 216mm at the focal distance, so this will cover a 6x17 frame without issue. According to Schneider the flange focal distance of this lens is 98.8mm, this means that the lens must be held in parallel with the film and the distance from the surface of the film to the front face of the lens mount must be 98.8mm for optimal infinity focus. This number is a little bit flexible and I will admit that mine is not perfect. The image is slightly out of focus at f8, but the depth of field at f22 is high enough to make it a non-issue. My lens is probably pretty close to the hyperfocal distance of this lens, which is a good thing.

This camera opts for a simplified fixed-focus design, as I intend to use it for landscape and architecture photography only. At f22, the nearest object in focus will be about 10 feet away, which is perfectly fine for my purposes.

The film transport mechanism is just two knobs which turn a metal key that sticks into the top of a 120 film spool. The film is pulled from the supplying spool and rolled onto the receiving spool after each shot. Having two knobs makes it easier to roll because you can relieve the tension on the film by turning the supply spool and pull the film using the receiving spool. If you advance the film too far, you can always roll it backwards, too.

120 film uses a paper back which has numbers printed on it to tell the user what frame they are on. This camera uses the 6cm x 4.5cm markings but uses every fourth number only, starting with 2. Since the images are so wide the camera only gets 4 shots per roll, at markings 2, 6, 10, 14. I included extra windows to see the markings for 6cm x 6cm and 6cm x 9cm as well, in case I ever want to make a mask and use a smaller frame size in the camera. Many old 120 cameras had this feature built in.

Since the camera has a very wide angle view, I used a peephole from a door as a viewfinder. The finder is masked with some dark stickers to match the image frame.

Step 2: Using a Different Lens

Picture of Using a Different Lens

If you have a lens already and want to make a camera that can use it, or you find the Schneider I used is too expensive or hard to find, that's no problem, but you're going to have to be prepared to do some design work.

Any lens can be used if you adjust the distance between the lens mount and the film plane to match the flange focal distance of the lens you have. The only crucial piece in designing a camera like this is that the film and lens are parallel to each other, and the correct distance apart. The rest can be done however works.

You don't have to make a camera from scratch, either. If you can find a suitable box you can use that to make it from.

If you have a lens and want to know more about it, the giant lens chart of modern lenses might help you out. Also take a look at the 6x17-specific lens chart. If you don't have a lens in mind, it might also help you select one to buy.

Step 3: Making the Steel Parts

Picture of Making the Steel Parts

The majority of the camera is made from 18 gauge steel sheet. Aluminum can be a substitute if you're looking to save weight and make the work easier. Most of the pieces are flat and pretty simple. The film plane piece is the most difficult, it has some fairly complex bends and needs to be fairly precise, otherwise the film and lens won't be parallel. Many of the holes are countersunk to make the screw holes flush with the surface, which is crucial around the lens and the screws that go below the grips.

By printing the templates on the Design step, its pretty straightforward to layout and make these pieces.

Step 4: Wood Pieces

Picture of Wood Pieces

I cut the bevels on the wood pieces using a table saw with the blade tilted 45 degrees. The holes in the edge are easily done by clamping the wood between the top and bottom plates, using them as a template. Some clearance was required for the rear element of the lens, this was done using a drum sander attachment for a drill press.

Once those holes are done the steel plates can be countersunk so the heads of the screws are flush with the surface.

Step 5: Test Assembly

Picture of Test Assembly

Before doing any surface finishing, now would be a good time to test that the camera is going to work properly. Assemble the main body parts and attach the lens, then put some strips of scotch tape across the film plane. With the shutter and aperture open on a bright day you should be able to see an image projected onto the tape. This is just like the ground glass in a large-format camera.

Step 6: Painting

Picture of Painting

The steel pieces are cleaned of rust and painted with flat black paint all over, and then a hammered finish black on the outside surfaces for durability and a nice appearance. The flat black will help minimize light reflections inside the camera which could cause anomalies in the image.

The wood was stained and sprayed with clear lacquer on the outside surfaces, and hand painted with flat black acrylic paint on the inside surfaces.

Step 7: Finishing and Assembly

Picture of Finishing and Assembly

All of the edges need to be light-sealed as well as the internal separations that protect the film spools from exposure to light coming through the lens. I cut craft foam to size and sandwiched it between all the edges. I checked the light-tightness with a bright flashlight in a very dark room, looking for any light leaking through.

The inside of the back is lined with foam, and some extra foam is placed on the camera side as well. There is a thin piece of aluminum, painted black and glued to the back foam that serves as a pressure plate. It helps keep the film flat and in the right place during use. If the film isn't flat, the image can be distorted. The back also has some blue plastic over the film counter holes. Red is the ideal color but I didn't have a gel for that. Right now it serves better as a dust cover than a proper light filter. A big flat fridge magnet makes a great cover on the steel back.

I glued a 2-way spirit level to the top of the camera to help with getting the horizon level in landscape shots. A level with separate axes would be useful too.

The viewfinder attaches with guide pins and magnets to the steel top plate. The original one was fastened with screws and nuts, but I was having problems with it. The fixed viewfinder sticks up too far and the camera won't fit into any camera bags I have like that, so I made a removable one that uses the same mounting holes but uses magnets instead of screws to stay on. The guide pins that go into the holes make it return to the correct position repeatedly. The bracket itself is made of 1/8" thick, 1" wide aluminum bar, bent with a gentle 90 degree at the bottom. The magnets and guide pins are press fit into it.

Step 8: Finished

Picture of Finished

This is the finished camera. I don't know what else to say about them so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Using the camera is really easy. Just meter the scene, set the aperture and shutter speed on the lens and cock the shutter, look through the viewfinder and release the shutter with your thumb. On the Schneider lens the shutter release is perfectly placed to let you hold the camera from below with your right hand and press the shutter with your right thumb. The total weight is just over 1 kilogram.

I'd be more than happy to answer any questions (best I can) for anyone who is working to build their own camera.

Step 9: Photos From the Camera

Picture of Photos From the Camera

The first roll I shot was pretty bad. There were a lot of light leaks and reflections inside the camera, so the negatives came out almost black. I was able to pull some images back in Photoshop but it was a struggle. After adding some more foam to the camera to properly seal it from external light as well as light getting into the film spool areas, the results were much better.


JohnK291 (author)2016-07-11

Matt, You wanted to know when I got done with my 3D printed camera, well it is done and details can be found at:

Your design was very helpful but I ended up using a different film advance configuration, similar to that on my RB67 to help get a flatter film at the image site. You can follow some of the other links to get more details about the build.

Again thanks for posting your build as it really got me headed ing the right directions. If you have any questions on my build please do not hesitate to ask.


mattthegamer463 (author)JohnK2912016-07-11

Hi John, looks like you did a fantastic job on it. I'm glad to hear you managed to make use of the information I provided.

Schneider90mm (author)2016-06-15


Is the 90,8mm focal distance from the front lens element or from the back element to the film?

How did you got the lens fitted in your "body"?

Thanks for sharing this!!!

Greeting from Belguim

Neither. It is from the front face of the lens board.

The lenses come apart for installation on the lens board. Look at this link for details:

mattthegamer463 (author)2016-06-08

That is the distance from the face of the board that meets the lens to the film, so the thickness of the lens board is included in the distance.

JohnK291 (author)2016-04-21

Very nice build you have given me some great ideas. I personally am looking at a build using a Schneider 90mm f8 Super-Angulon MC lens for weight mostly. I was also planning on printing most of the body on my 3D printer. This will allow me to have light weight and also due to the fact that I do not have the precise metal cutting and metal break equipment required. The 3D printing components can be made very accurate so that the flange focal distance can be as close to perfect at possible. Of course these parts will have to be quite thicker to retain the rigidity needed I will also be looking at the ability to micro-adjust this by printing the final section that will mount the lens. The major change though will be that I would reverse the film travel so that it is analogous to that on a film back for say a Mamyia RB67. This will ensure that the film is flat as the natural curel will be opposted by the winding of the film itself, without the need for a backing plate. I would think that keeping the film plane absolutely flat with such a long surface is the biggest challenge if the film is rolled in the traditional manner as it is in your design and typical folding medium format and even 35mm cameras.

I do have one question though. I did not see any details on the actual viewfinder you used. Where did you get that?

Thanks again for a great design and sharing this these great ideas.

mattthegamer463 (author)JohnK2912016-04-21

Sounds like a good plan. A body made of 3D printed panels would work well. you could shim it to final precise dimension using paper sandwiched between the printed pieces. if you have trouble making it light tight, look at possibly using rabbet joints like woodworking, and painting the inner surfaces with flat black paint. Reducing reflections inside is important. The viewfinder is a large door peephole from the hardware store.

Good luck to you and I'd like to see more as you complete it.

alorosarioz (author)2016-01-07

Hi again! So, I am still going to build the camera, but I am looking for a less complex shape. I was hoping I could make it rectangle shaped. Which measurements do you suggest? I was looking at the blueprints and I thought maybe it could be 8" (length), 4" (width) and 4" (height).

The exterior can be whatever shape you would like but your lens flange focal distance must be precise. I cannot stress that enough. Only pinholes have that "anything goes" mentality.

Ok! Thank you! I will make sure the distance is as precise as possible.

alorosarioz (author)2015-08-30

Hi, Could you please explain what you did inside the camera? how do I install the spools? where is the shutter? Where does the roll go? etc.

The spools are held in place by the knob peg at the top, and the wooden insert at the bottom. It's clearly shown in pictures in Step 7.

The shutter is built into the lens, as is the same with virtually all large format lenses.

The film goes from one spool to the other. One is the supply and the other is the takeup, same as in any medium format camera.

SergeyM4 (author)mattthegamer4632015-10-27

Thank you for this tutorial.

May I ask why you did choose metal and wood at all?

Wouldn`t it be much easier to make a 3d modell, and print it out on 3d DLP printer?

It would be so much easier to adjust the model, to print it and to fix it if somethng broke, beside the lower weight.

mattthegamer463 (author)SergeyM42015-10-28

I can't imagine a DLP print of this camera would cost less than $400, and be pretty terribly fragile.

SergeyM4 (author)mattthegamer4632015-10-28

Yeah I didn`t think about that.

Is there a simple way to modify it to slr?

I thought about going the way of Mamiya rb 67 system, cuting out window for ground glass, adding a mirror to reflect the image and a dark slide to film back.

mattthegamer463 (author)SergeyM42015-10-28

The lens and film have to be 90mm away from each other, this doesn't leave a lot of room for a large mirror. You could build a partial SLR viewfinder on the top, but it would not have total image coverage. 35mm and medium format SLRs have focal lengths designed around the mirror box, but this lens is intended for a non-SLR large format camera only.

It could be possible to make a film back for the camera, allowing you to focus on a ground glass, attach the film back, remove a dark slide, and shoot. This would allow you to compose the image at the image plane, just like a large format camera. This would be fairly simple to do.

I find the viewfinder system is pretty accurate. I composed all the sample images using it and it never came out drastically different than what I had planned.

AlondraR (author)2015-08-27

Hi, I was looking to make a panoramic camera for a school project and I just wanted to ask you, what do you wish you would have known before building the camera?, and do you have any improvements you wish you made?

mattthegamer463 (author)AlondraR2015-08-27

I'm not sure what I can suggest as my build went pretty smoothly. I think you should not be afraid to use light-sealing materials. Keep light-tightness at the forefront of your mind when making material choices. Direct sunlight can find a way into the tiniest of cracks and ruin your photos.

Feel free to ask me if you have any questions, I'd be happy to help.

yosemitesamiam (author)2015-04-07

This is really very exciting to me! I'm looking at cheap brass turn of the 20th century glass though...old Kodak and Goerz Dagor there a chart like that Giant Lens Chart that outlines the old stuff too?

No charts that I know of. its not too hard to determine the size of the image circle if you know some things about the camera the lens was meant for. The lens will have a image circle at least as large as the diagonal dimension of the film, also if the camera has any rise/fall and left/right slide movements you may be able to add those in too (only if the camera is meant for one specific lens though). The best thing to do is to test it with the lens in hand but if you are buying online you can't do that.

Don't forget, turn of the century glass was made with turn of the century knowledge and techniques. It may be cheap because the image quality may not be acceptable to you. Keep this in mind when choosing a lens.

That does make sense. I'd be building the same camera built here basically. 6x17.

Let me ask this of you.... when you see a lens that is labeled 75 f/3.5, is the 75 the distance from glass to film? Or is it related to the field of view of the lens like a modern day lens would?

The 75 is related to the effective focal length, in millimeters. With a simple lens, the focal length is the distance from the lens center to the point which it focuses all the light. There are some other forces involved like aberration, but this is the basic idea. See this image:

When you make a camera lens, you use multiple lenses so the result is an effective focal length equivalent to what you would have if you only had a single element. For example, a fisheye view using a single lens would require the element to be say, 8mm away from the film/sensor. This will have poor coverage and also is physically impractical for a SLR. Therefore the answer is to add additional glass elements to give you this fisheye view without having to be so close.

Each film/sensor size has a focal length which is considered "normal" and does not give a wide or telephoto view. For a 35mm camera, this is about 50mm. For 6x6 its usually 80mm/90mm, for 4x5 its usually 210mm and for 8x10 its usually 300mm. This is why my 90mm lens when shooting a 6x17 negative gives a very wide view approximately equivalent to 21mm, whereas a 90mm on a 35mm camera would give a telephoto view.

More related to what you are looking for is what's called the Flange Focal Distance. This is the distance from the lens mounting point to the film/sensor. Wikipedia lists the FFD for pretty much all lens mounts, and large format lens makers often supply this information (its less important with LF because of the bellows focusing system which requires the user to check focus by eye)

Let me know if you have more questions or need help figuring out something.

fmlopes (author)2014-08-17

Congratulations !!!! Very good work !!!! Lomo style Killer !!!!
Regarding the scanner process, do you have a "office" flat scanner or do you make one contact sheet before the digitization ?


mattthegamer463 (author)fmlopes2014-08-17

Hey glad you like it. I don't currently have the room for a printing setup, not even contact prints, so I just scan on an epson v600. The quality with direct scanning vs. contact print scamning is probably better anyway. The sad thing about these negatives is I probably will never have an enlarger big enough to do enlargements from them with. I would need to build a custom enlarger with a large format 210mm lens or something since 8x10 enlargers are way too big and pricey.

For printing, you wouldn't need to try and match the enlarging size of an 8x10 enlarger since 6x17 is half the size of a 5x7" sheet so you would only need to locate a 5x7 enlarger and make a mask for the negative carrier. Many 5x7 enlargers aren't much larger than a 4x5 enlarger and can be found from time to time on 'the bay'. Don't give up hope on enlarging these.

niz___ (author)2014-08-26

Wahooo many many thanks mattthegamer463, this kind of built is in a part of my brain since a long time.
I've saw many (let's say some) example like :


But nobody give plans...
Probably to keep the secret, but you do and I thank you again.

I'm really interested to produce mine, but inches are inches -USA stylee- and I live in europe, millimeters are more easy for me.
So could you please propose a version of your plans in the International System of Units ?

Just to add some informations/questions :

* this chart is more convenient that the one you proposed in your text because it is dedicated to 6x17 (for example it gives you the equivalent focal length in 35mm for each lens)

* Focusing ring with helicoid are not so expensive, it cost less than 100$ and it can help you a lot to obtain better image quality.

* Tripod mount can be found here :

* Where did you find your level ?

mattthegamer463 (author)niz___2014-08-26

Some of those cameras you link to were part of my inspiration, I studied their work for ideas and came up with my own arrangement.

That 6x17 lens chart is very useful and I will add it to the guide so people can find it easily.

Please send me the link to the sub-$100 focusing rings because I couldn't find them. Having the ring also doesn't solve the issues of how to actually focus without a ground glass (careful calibration of the distance scale on the ring is the only way, I presume) and since with a small aperture the DOF is so big, it's really not a big deal. I doubt I will ever have a situation where I can't get the photo I want.

Also, my bottom plate is metal, those tripod mounts would not work. They are for wood only.

I got my level on eBay for $0.99. I recently bought a magnetic one direction level which I will be using on the camera as well, to make it more convenient to level only side-to-side and not up/down, when needed. I don't always want the horizon through the middle of the image.

Ignoto (author)2014-08-18

What about focus? I imagine you calculate the lens position for infinite focus, it can be ok for landscape but limited the use of the camera. Anyway it's a great work and great images result.

¿Que hay del Enfoque? Imagino que calculaste la posición de la lente para enfocar al infinito, eso está bien para paisaje pero limita el uso de la cámara. De cualquier modo es un gran trabajo y las fotos resultantes sin magnificas.

mattthegamer463 (author)Ignoto2014-08-18

The focus is fixed at infinity. By dropping the aperture, the depth of field can become great enough that you can get the foreground in focus as well. According to this DOF calculator at f64 (max for this lens) the focus in front will be 4.14ft to infinity. 

The difficulty with focusing a camera like this is that the helical focus mounts for Schneider lenses are in the hundreds of dollars, even for a Chinese cheap version, and since it is roll film you can't take the back off to focus with a ground glass.  The camera would have to be much more elaborate to incorporate a focus mechanism and ground glass to get a usable focus-able system.  You'd be much better off using a 4x5 view camera for that.

In short, this is a specialized camera for doing panoramic images, not portraits or closeup work.

lathe_makeatio (author)2014-08-18

Great project and nice construction. I wish i haven't sold my 90mm Schneider lens many years before. Also my b/w lab has replaced by digital equipment. So if you have one you sure can make nice contact prints from the negatives..

bcelik1 (author)2014-08-17

What would be the difference to make this in a pinhole fashion? Would the hole be adapted to the framelength or would the length have to be dropped in size? Really good instructable, sir!

acboother (author)bcelik12014-08-18

A pinhole is in focus at every focal length so the edges would also be in focus BUT... the light hitting the edges/sides would be less than the centre and the image would start to be stretched. If you could, you would make the pinhole camera with a curved focal 'plane' with its centre point the same as the pinhole position. Light falling would be equal and distortion minimised. You could experiment with photographic paper in a box to see the results noting that the exposure times will be significantly greater than with film + lens.

acboother (author)acboother2014-08-18

You can also make a pin hole camera from a 35mm film case. Put a small hole in the side and cover, and some photo paper inside. Place your 'camera' on the ground, uncover the hole.... return in a minute or so and cover the hole. Nip into the darkroom and do the magic. Of course you will have a negative image but drop it onto your scanner and reverse the image in a photo manip program... low tech+high tech

mattthegamer463 (author)bcelik12014-08-17

Lots of stuff would have to be changed. I recommend you take a look at an earlier Instructable of mine. Thanks for the comment.

sconnor2 (author)2014-08-17

I don't quite understand how you are getting around the fact that your focal plane is virtually twice the distance at the edge of the picture as it is in the center. Without the focal plane being curved, to create an even distance from the lens, I would think that you would have some serious issues with focus at lower f-stops.

dddddd (author)sconnor22014-08-17

It's not a problem.

The lens is designed for a particular frame size, and this instructable respects that.

Here's the manufacturer's page for this lens:

Note that they give the frame as 13x18 cm, so the quality will be good a the edges of a 6x17 cm frame.

Alienjones (author)sconnor22014-08-17

See my reply a few seconds ago. I center spot neutral density filter is needed.

mattthegamer463 (author)sconnor22014-08-17

You would have the problem you described if it was using a pinhole , but the elements in a glass lens correct for this. This is a major reason why we use glass lenses, along with how they gather more light, again by using curved optics.

They aren't perfect though so the center is always in slightly better focus than the corners. In-depth digital lens reviews often go into these kinds of things and the difference between a lot of distortion and a little distortion in the corners is a big factor in what separates slow quality and high quality lens.

Great question.

padbravo (author)2014-08-15

How does you know how many turns you have to make in order to advance the film "one frame"?

mattthegamer463 (author)padbravo2014-08-15

120 film has a backing paper that has numbers printed on it. There is a little window on the back of the camera that you use to advance the film the right distance. Using the markings for the 6x4.5 you advance 4 frames at a time, starting at #2.

rimar2000 (author)2014-08-15


seamster (author)2014-08-15

Wow! This is impressive. I love the wood touches, it's got a very nice antiquey look to it. Great project!

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