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Modern digital cameras are impressively small, but sometimes big is beautiful. Large format film cameras, most often designed to accept 4"x5" cut sheet film, have a certain charm. It isn't just because the big film is cool, but also because of features like very flexible tilt and shift. Features that ought to be able to work with your mirrorless camera body....

This instructable is about building your own adapter to mount your mirrorless camera in place of film.

This isn't the first digital sensor mount I've made for a large-format camera; in http://aggregate.org/DIT/4X5/ I describe how I packaged the sensor from a cheap webcam so it could be used in place of a 4x5 film holder. It was way back in the late 1970s that I built a back to mount my Minolta SRT101 film SLR on the very same 4x5 camera. In fact, on eBay for between $150 and $200, there are now various sellers offering similar backs with the additional feature that you can slide your DSLR horizontally in order to create stitched panoramas. They don't seem to come with mounts for mirrorless cameras, but you can always just stick an adapter on the DSLR mount to convert it to your mirrorless mount. Sounds pretty good, right? So why build your own?

Well, first off, the unit described in this instructable costs more like $10 to build. No, the digital camera can't slide for panoramas -- but that's ok, because most large format cameras allow the lens and/or the entire back to do that, giving exactly the same functionality! In fact, the lens can shift in both the horizontal and vertical directions, giving better functionality. However, the primary motivation is more subtle and more important: the mounts of necessity force a DSLR to be quite far behind the original film plane (unless you can push your DSLR partly inside the open back of the camera, as in http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:18989), making it impossible to reach infinity focus with some lenses. The shorter flange distance on mirrorless cameras, combined with the lack of front-facing protrusions, allows them to come much closer to aligning with the intended film plane of the large format camera... so infinity focus is much more likely to be feasible and lens tilt and shift features are less likely to be impeded by mechanical obstructions.

Step 1: Stuff You'll Need

There are lots of options for parts, materials, and tools in this project. Read the whole instructable through to make sure you have everything you need before you get started making. Here's a rough list of stuff you'll need:
  • A mirrorless camera (which should not be harmed by any of this)
  • A large-format camera (which should not be harmed by any of this)
  • A cheap extension tube set -- the kind with front, back, and three screw-threaded in-between segments
  • Any tools required for removing the large-format back (typically a screwdriver)
  • Material for the board; probably either scant board or plywood
  • A saw and sandpaper to cut and finish the board to size
  • An adjustable hole saw or other device that can make a hole in the board
  • Paint and brush or other finishing materials
  • Glue for setting the extension tube in the board hole
  • Electrical tape or other light-sealing material (e.g., black paint)
  • Thin metal/plastic and craft foam to make flat springs to hold the back in place

There is a good chance you have pretty much all the above -- except the extension tube set. You can get that on eBay for less than $7 shipped. They're made in China, but you can get them shipped from within the US for about $0.50 more.
this looks awesome! so are the extension tubes permanently attached to the adapter and then screwed onto the camera?
Thanks. Only one tube (the #2) is permanently attached. The body-end tube is screwed-into the fixed tube for use. The NEX body then bayonet mounts on/off as if the 4x5 were an ordinary, if rather large, E-mount lens. ;) <br> <br>For really long lenses and/or high-magnification macros, you can even push the NEX further back by simply screwing more tubes between the fixed tube and the body-end tube. I actually had to do that to get infinity focus on the Goerz lens, which has a back focus longer than the bellows. Of course, the &quot;tunnel&quot; created by extra tubes limits how much you can shift the lens before vignetting.
<p>Great project - am just getting into large format in order to perfect some still life shots that need to use camera movements - you can get some great very good value 5 x 4's on ebay but the issue is digital backs that start at $10,000 for 22mp. Did you get anywhere with your lower cost digital back? I find it hard to understand how Canon can produce a mirror-less 18mp camera for $300 when the nearest medium format back is so expensive. If you could produce an affordable digital back sure there would be a big market for it - I would be first in the que! - let me know if you are still working on the project?</p>
Hi, We may be distant cousins, (I'm a Dietz from a line in the central New York area immigrated Germany from the 1690's). Anyway, to my question, I have a Busch Pressman &quot;D&quot; that's back doesn't come off easily, but it stretches wide enough for a grafmatic, I was thinking about mounting the first section (#2) of the extension tubes to the center of a film sheet holder, Taking the center piece and the glass off is easy, perhaps I could slip the first part of my film holder device under the spring back, screw the second section in when I've slide the film holder in and then mount the camera. What do you think, I'm thinking it should work, especially if I replace the center piece with a thin piece of wood or metal. I'd like to know what you think. Thanks Thomas
I didn't notice your comment until now (had a major research exhibit at the IEEE/ACM Supercomputing conference last month).... Good chance we are related; my family is from NY. <br> <br>Anyway, it's unfortunate the back doesn't come off your Pressman, but using the back to hold your mount as you describe sounds reasonable. If I understand you, with the glass removed there is still structure there that would hold the mount in place under the spring back, and having the extension tubes screw-in through the back sounds fine. I wouldn't use a real sheet film holder -- it's easy enough to make a dummy, and you might even be able to put a plate on it to align it with the hole where the glass would have been, thus making it a little thicker and very stable. I wouldn't do anything that isn't reversible to the Pressman. <br> <br>I've 3D printed a lot of camera parts lately (including lens mounts) on a MakerGear M2, and it's quite easy to print a sheet film holder shape with the appropriate mount rather than attaching an extension tube. I did this to make a shiftable back for E-mount to a &quot;little&quot; B&amp;J Watson. I even made the retaining springs as an integrated part of the 3D print. You could certainly do something like that. The catch is that now I can literally 3D print a custom lens mount with tilt, shift, and focus so there isn't much advantage to using the large-format frame. I've been busy with other things, but will eventually get around to posting all the 3D-printed camera parts on Thingiverse if not here. I have a few camera parts up at Thingiverse, but nothing posted yet for large format cameras.
Hey congratulations on being a finalist in the hack it contest! Good luck to you!
Thanks. Nice to know my little hacks are appreciated.... ;)
My fingers are crossed for ya. :D
Originally, I concluded this Instructable with a comment about being able to use a similar approach to make custom lensboards. In retrospect, that's worthy of its own Instructable... so I wrote one: <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Custom-Lensboards-For-A-Large-Format-Camera/" rel="nofollow">https://www.instructables.com/id/Custom-Lensboards-For-A-Large-Format-Camera/</a>
This is a great idea indeed. <br>However, a large format camera has, well, a large film/sensor to capture images. <br> <br>At best, a compact mirrorless camera will have an APS-C size sensor, which will be 0.8625&quot; wide. This means a x5.8 ratio as comparing sensors. <br> <br>The whole point of medium and large format cameras is exactly working with a much bigger sensor size, which will produce much better image quality. <br> <br>I don't mean to be offensive at all... maybe I'm missing something?
In my research, I'm working on a new technology aimed at producing a cheap 4x5 sensor with at least 500MP. The claim has been made that existing large-format lenses cannot resolve sufficiently well for that to make sense. However, the NEX-5 happens to have the same pixel size, so I now have proof that there are large-format lenses up to the task. <br> <br>I have many goodies I can put in front of my NEX cameras: over 100 lenses, a tilt adapter, bellows, etc. The tilt/shift abilities of my old 4x5, plus the huge extension of the bellows, can do things none of my other equipment can. Also, the &quot;look&quot; of the large-format lens images is surprisingly different and desirable. <br> <br>Of course, it'll be more impressive with a 500MP 4x5 sensor. ;) <br> <br>
500MP... and half of the storage and computing power available at University to store/process the images! :) <br> <br>Again, it's a great idea :)
Did I mention I'm a parallel supercomputing guy? Here are the toys in my primary machine room: http://aggregate.org/SENSORS/108AMARK/now.jpg <br> <br>I guess it would be too scary for me to mention that I want the sensor to be capable of high-speed video at 500MP.... :)
Impressive lab...<br><br>Now... 500Mp at 60fps (not very high speed anyway) would mean 90GBPS transfer speed... <br><br>Not meaning to sound pedantic, but... I don't know of any storage capable of registering 90Gb is a second... not too sure about any suitable size electronics capable of such transfers... I might be behind the times now though.
Actually, my research is targeting at least<em>&nbsp;1000FPS</em>&nbsp;-- equivalent to&nbsp;<em>1TB/s </em>of raw data, but processed using a massively-parallel nanocontroller array. This&nbsp;is neither the time nor place to discuss details of this research....
Ahh, but Prof, you've given us such a fine teaser with the bandwidth goal statement!<br> <br> I'll be looking forward to future announcements in that area.&nbsp; :)<br> <br> Thanks for this very interesting instructable, it's got my mental gears turning.
I been looking how to do this; <br> <br>I had a long message but the instructables robot said my session expired. so I lost everything.
I think the idea is that the digital camera samples a small portion of the field of the large format image. This eliminates/minimizes errors like distortion, intensity falloff towards the edges that one would get with the camera's own lens system. The example photos at the end should convince one of it superior quality.
Urnammu, you would get the exact same result with a longer focal length.
I just added a better way to make the springs that hold the back in place: <strong>using a free laminate sample chip</strong>. It's stronger and prettier. I've added photos and text explaining this to Step 9.
I'm not quite getting this project. Are you using the lens of the 4x5 camera with the sensor from your digital camera? <br> <br>The whole advantage of a 4x5 camera is the huge &quot;sensor&quot;, not the lens. I would think this project is the equivalent of putting a telephoto lens on your digital camera -- but because the lens was designed for a huge frame, it probably is not an optimal telephoto lens for the tiny sensor of a digital camera, although I read your evaluation that it seems quite OK. <br> <br>Also, because the image is such a telephoto view, the usefulness of focul plane tilting, etc. seems reduced. <br> <br>Am I missing something? <br> <br>-SB <br> <br>
What a wonderful idea. <br>The detailed instructions are excellent <br>I have got to try this on my 8x10 Gundlach Korona. <br> <br>Thanks Professor. <br> <br>Mickey
Might I suggest trying flickr to upload better images? I believe you can upload the full resolution sets there. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this out!
I'm going to pass this along to my girlfriend (Eve Tait) as she may want me to make a modified back for her camera. Since we have a laser engraver, likely I can draw up something accurate and cut it that way. <br> <br>I had not thought about doing this... very nice idea. If I do it and it works well enough, I'll make her an aluminum or steel backing. (CNC is a good thing!) <br> <br>Thanks for such a great idea! <br>Jerry
Poor ol' workhorse. I have a Graflex from WW2 a buddy used in the Navy. <br>Neat idea, did this kind of thing a few years back with either my Omega 4x5 or Cambro 8x10 with an adapter. Great Instructable !

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Bio: I'm an Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor at the University of Kentucky. I'm probably best known for things I've done involving Linux ... More »
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