Introduction: 4x5 Film View Camera
A lot of people would claim that film is dead but that would be news to my photographer friend Frank Jackson.
Frank and I have been good friends for over 30 years and long ago we talked about making a large format 4x5 sheet film view camera. Frank is an exceptionally talented photographer and I wanted this to not only meet his desires for a hand made 4x5 view camera but also be a view camera that was built to last (and pretty to look at)- sort of an heirloom product.
A camera like this is a lot of work to make but I love making tools for other people to use- especially when it's for a really good friend. I was incredibly excited to see the first images taken with it. The floating egg photo is a recreation of the first photo of Frank's that I saw when we first met. It's just wonderful.
The photo of the coffee cups is in relation to a series Frank has been doing for a very long time- he's been taking amazing photos of coffee cups in their natural environment all over the world. You can read a couple of interviews with him here and here.
This is a big project and I used a lot of tools and materials to make it. It involves machining, laser cutting, 3D printing, and woodworking. The aluminum and titanium parts for the frames and uprights were laser cut by SendCutSend. They are a fantastic company and I seriously could not have made this without them.
Cordless circular saw
10-32 threading die
6mm threading die (yes I'm mixing SAE and metric!)
1/4-20 threading tap
10-32 threading tap
6-32 threading tap
4-40 threading tap
Drill bits- Use 135 degree split point Cobalt drills (with lots of cutting fluid) when drilling Titanium.
80/20 aluminum extrusion- I used 1030 series 1" x 3" for the camera base.
1/4" thick aluminum plate- I purchase most of my metals from a local metal recycler as it's far less expensive.
3/8" thick aluminum plate
Round brass rod- 1/2" and 1/4" diameter
1/4" square brass rod
1/4" round stainless steel rod
Cherry wood- I used 1/4" thickness and 3/32" thickness material I found at my local hardware store (I believe it is made by Midwest Products.) Another good hardwood to use would be walnut.
Gorilla Glue polyurethane glue
1/4-20 knurled brass knobs- 11 each
10-32 knurled brass knobs- 9 each
6/32 knurled brass knobs- 6 each
1/4-20 hex head bolts- 11 each
10-32 socket head cap screws- 4 each
6-32 socket head cap screws- 26 each
6-32 flat head socket screws- 5 each
4-40 socket head cap screws- 8 each
6-32 threaded rod
6mm socket head cap screws- 6 each
1/4" ACME steel threaded rod
1/4" ACME steel nut
1/4" ID x 3/8" OD bearings- 2 each
Camera parts used-
Wista 4x5 lens board- This is a very common size lens board for lenses suitable for 4x5 view cameras.
4x5 Graflok back- Graflok backs allow for an enormous variety of film holders and also hold the ground glass. They are relatively easy to find used- just search online for "Graflex 4x5 Inch Camera Film Backs and Holders". This particular one came from an old Toyo view camera. A Graflok back even allows you to use instant film- there is a LomoGraflok 4x5 instant film back that uses Fujifilm Instax Wide film. There is a nice writeup on using the LomoGraflok on PetaPixel.
Bellows- This supplier will custom make a bellows for you, just provide them the dimensions for the openings/flange size and the total extension you want.
Now let's make a camera!
Also there are notes on the photos so be sure to click on them.
Step 1: Design
View cameras can be as simple or complex as you can imagine.
The design criteria for this camera was to make it as modular and rigid as possible while still keeping a full range of movements- there is a full explanation here of view camera movements (and why you would want them.) We also wanted to have it so the camera could easily be fully disassembled. The design of this camera is sort of a hybrid between a monorail design and a field camera. It's heavy and solid like a monorail with a huge range of movement but it has more of the appearance of a field camera.
Both front and rear frames have tilt, shift, swing, and rise/fall. The rear frame has less movement than the front in both shift and swing. Also, the rear frame is correctly positioned at its lowest point when the front frame is centered for rise/fall- so in order to get an effective rear fall you have to raise the front frame further up. The standards pivot near the base and have four knobs to set the rise/fall. It was done this way purely for rigidity and the ability to set rise/fall independent of tilt. You could easily make it so the frames are attached to the upright with a single bolt that adjusts both rise/fall and tilt and the tilt at the base is eliminated.
The base of the camera is designed around a 80/20 1030 series 1" x 3" aluminum extrusion. This provides a really solid/rigid base upon which the camera standards can be attached (a standard is the name given to the frame/upright assembly- so you have a front standard that holds the lens and a rear standard that holds the film holder.)
The base is split into two parts- the forward and rear sections. The rear section is fixed while the forward section slides forward and back when turning the lead screw- this allows for fine focusing. The cherry wood rails on the sides keep the front and rear base sections aligned while focusing. The forward aluminum extrusion is made so it can be swapped out for either a short or long version. The short version is used for wide angle lenses where you want the standards very close together and the long version is for longer lenses when you want the standards far apart. By making it this way and having them easy to swap out makes the base really rigid compared to a very long overlapping sliding base. With this type of base you set the position of the front standard according to the lens you are using, then loosen the front knobs on the side of the base in order to adjust your fine focus with the lead screw.
The forward upright pivot is also reversible so you can have the pivot behind the tightening knob in order to get the standards really close together or flip it around to push the standards as far apart as possible when using the shorter front extrusion. With the forward front pivot tightened down you are still free to shift and swing the front standard by loosening the knobs located on either side of the center knob. The rear standard is free to shift and swing by loosening the two knobs at its base- you can also move it slightly forward and back.
The standard frames are laser cut 3/8" thick 5052 aluminum with cherry wood bonded to it. The aluminum makes the frame exceptionally rigid while the wood border provides a recessed fame material that holds the bellows ends, camera back, and lens board. By bonding the two materials together you avoid having to machine a recessed lip in the frames (I don't have a milling machine big enough to do that.) Plus the wood makes it pretty!
The upright frames/bases are laser cut 1/8" thick Grade 5 titanium. Totally overkill but they are very rigid/strong and they will never corrode. Making them from 1/8" thick 6061-T6 aluminum would work just fine.
I didn't want to have huge knobs on the sides of the camera so in order to be able to really tighten down the knobs that secure the pivoting uprights and the base plates I made a little key/rod that hides away in the front of the base plate. It can be difficult to reach your fingers in underneath the frames to tighten down the base plate knobs and having the the key to provide additional leverage makes it much easier.
Files are provided for laser cutting the frames, uprights, and upright base plates.
The frames were drawn in Inkscape and the upright parts were done in Fusion360. SendCutSend will accept both Inkscape .eps files and Fusion360 .dxf files for laser cutting. Have a look at their guidelines for cutting parts. They also do CNC routing as well as bending/forming if you want to make changes to the design or use different materials.
The leadscrew endplates for the base, as well as the side rails and center pivot, were designed in Fusion360 for 3D printing and .stl files are provided. I ended up making the side rails from cherry wood and the center pivot for the front standard from aluminum with a stainless steel pivot pin. I have also included .pdf files for the frames should you decide you want to use them as templates to make the frames from wood. I would have liked to CNC machine the leadscrew endplates but printing them was the only practical solution at the time. PCBWay does offer a service to CNC mill parts for those interested. You could probably even 3D print the entire thing, with a few modifications.
Note that almost none of the dimensions on any of the parts are critical. The pivots on the uprights and the lead screw bearing fit is probably the only part that really matters. The advantage of a design like this is that you can build it without a high level of precision and it'll still work just fine! Having said that it's still challenging to build a camera like this due to all the machining/thread tapping involved and figuring out how to get everything to work just right due to all the moving parts. Also depending on what camera back and lens board you use you may need to modify the files for the laser cut parts, which will change the height/width of the camera and subsequently the fasteners/hardware used. In that aspect, think of this a build guide/starting point for a design that you can modify as you see fit.
Step 2: Building the Base
The base for this view camera is really solid and versatile
The camera base is what the lens upright and film holder upright are attached to- it should be very rigid and have a smooth focusing mechanism while allowing for a decent range of adjustment when using different lenses.
Since the base side rails are made from wood the first thing I did was make a little mount for my mini cordless circular saw so I could cut thin strips of cherry wood. I just cut a slot in a piece of scrap plywood and bolted the saw in place- instant mini table saw! I glued together a square from scrap wood so I could cut the wood straight. I could have cut all the wood by hand but this was a real time saver and gave me very accurate cuts.
The dimensions for the base are absolutely non critical- you can make it as short or as long as you want! I designed this so the total side rail length is 6" -that is enough length to have a 1.5" long rear extrusion to hold the rear standard and still have a good extension for the forward aluminum extrusion.
To make the side rails I cut two lengths of 1" x 6" x 1/4" thick cherry wood and then glued a 1/4" square strip down the center of each piece. The 1/4" square center strip is what slides in the aluminum extrusion. The fit should be snug while allowing the extrusion to slide freely. Two 1/4" holes were drilled in each rail and a notch was cut out for bolt clearance. The notch is necessary only if you are using 1/4" carriage style bolts that have a square section under the head- if you use a regular hex head bolt this is not necessary. When fitting 1/4" bolts to slide in the extrusion tracks it is necessary to grind a small bevel on two sides of the bolt head in order to get it to slide in the extrusion like a T-nut and not turn when the brass knob is tightened down.
The extrusion ends are tapped with a 6mm tap. I found this is the best size bolt to thread into the existing holes in the 1030 series 80/20 aluminum extrusion. The rear section is assembled by pressing the 1/4" ID bearings into the printed plastic end caps and bolting the end caps onto the extrusion. The 1/4" lead screw is slid through and set screw collars are fit to both ends to keep the lead screw in place. The back end of the lead screw is turned down and threaded with a 10-32 thread so a brass knob could be fitted.
The forward extrusion has bolted to it a 3D printed plate with the lead screw hex nut fit into a recess on the back side- the lead screw nut is sandwiched between the printed plate and the aluminum extrusion. This way, when the two forward large brass knobs on the wooden sides of the base plate are loosened the forward aluminum extrusion will move forward and back when you turn the lead screw knob at the back of the camera. The lead screw only needs to be long enough to allow the forward extrusion to fully extend. It's incredibly simple and works very well.
Two 6mm threaded brass inserts were made for the front facing end of the forward extrusion. These inserts have a 6-32 internal thread so two flat head screws could hold on a nice looking 1/4" thick plate on the front of the forward extrusion. I did this so I could engrave our names on the top edge of the aluminum plate- plus I thought it looked nice!
By making two complete forward extrusion sections (one long and one short) they can be easily swapped in minutes for different lenses.
Step 3: Building the Frames
The frames are sort of a composite construction.
I liked the look of of wood cameras but I wanted the solidness of a metal camera- and the design I had in mind required threaded fasteners be placed on the sides of the frames. So I had a crazy idea- why not combine the two? After several tests I discovered that Gorilla Glue polyurethane glue bonds wood to aluminum extremely well!
Problem solved- The wood gave me the appearance I wanted and would also provide a frame to go around the Graflok back, lens board, and bellows flanges. I began with the camera back by placing it on the aluminum frame and scribing a line around it- this would tell me where to locate the wood strips. Then I cut strips of 1/4" thick cherry wood and glued it to the aluminum using spring clamps to hold everything in place, forming a sort of picture frame. I cut the wood strips slightly wider than necessary so I could later sand it flush to the edge of the aluminum using a belt sander.
Once I got the Graflok back figured out, I repeated the process with the bellows flanges and lens board. Super happy with how this process turned out!
Holes were drilled and tapped in the corners where the bellows fit for 6-32 socket head cap screws. A small notch was filed in each corner of the bellows flange to allow clearance for the screws. This way the bellows could be easily removed if it ever needed to be repaired or replaced if it was ever damaged vs having it glued in place.
Step 4: Making the Uprights
The uprights are made from laser cut titanium.
I wanted something that I knew would be very difficult to bend or damage and titanium totally fit the bill. Since the uprights pivot at the base I needed to make small plates in which a pivot screw and a tightening screw could be located. These were cut from 1/4" thick aluminum plate using a bandsaw. Two holes were drilled and threaded with a 6-32 tap in the bottom of each plate and a 6-32 threaded hole was made for the pivot while a 10-32 threaded hole was made for the adjustment tightening screw. The aluminum pivot plates were then attached to the base plates after drilling two holes for 6-32 socket head cap screws in each end of the base plates.
I drilled the holes in the ends of the titanium base plates using a 135 degree split point cobalt drill. With a bit of cutting fluid these holes were no problem to drill. With titanium the choice of drill bit is super important and you can really only drill it once. If you try to drill a small hole and then drill it again with a larger size drill it becomes extremely difficult and has a tendency to destroy drill bits and not leave a nice clean hole.
Brass pivot bushings were made in order to allow the uprights to easily tilt forward and back when the adjuster screw is loosened. These bushings need to be a close fit with the pivot hole in the upright and should extend just beyond the inside surface of the upright to keep it from binding when the pivot screw is tightened down.
Tilt adjusters were made by attaching short lengths of 1/4" square brass rod to each upright and adding a 6-32 threaded hole at the bottom of the square rod. A short length of 6-32 threaded rod had a small brass knob secured to the end using red Loctite. This threaded rod adjuster was then fit to the square brass rod. The adjuster length was trimmed so that when the adjuster is screwed in all the way the upright will be at a 90 degree angle to the camera base.
Step 5: Making Hardware and Fasteners
Time to make a lot of hardware!
This is the part of this build that probably took the most amount of time. Brass retaining washers were made to secure both the lens board and the Graflok back in place using 6-32 socket head cap screws screwed into threaded holes in the frames. They are all the same with the exception of the washer located at the top of the lens board. This washer has a flat filed on it so the lens board can easily be removed when the washer is rotated. A modified 6-32 brass knob holds the upper lens board washer in place- a small lip was turned on the back side of the knob so it would sit inside the edge of the washer. A short length of 6-32 threaded rod is threaded into a hole at the top of the lens board and secured with blue Loctite. To remove the lens board just loosen the small knob, rotate the washer and lift the board out. There's no need to loosen the washers at the bottom of the lens board.
The sides of the front and rear frames had holes drilled and tapped with 10-32 threads to accept mounting studs. 10-32 threaded studs were then made to attach the frames to the uprights- these have thick brass spacers on them with a lip that rides in the slot on the upright. The studs were turned on the lathe from 1/4" diameter stainless steel rod and the spacers were made from 1/2" diameter brass rod. This part was not fun. I did this because I didn't like the look of larger brass knobs on the sides of the uprights (and threading 1/4" studs into the 3/8" thick aluminum frames would have been sketchy at best) and I wanted a smooth non threaded surface on the stud to slide in the titanium upright slot.
There is a way around making all this hardware- make the slots in the uprights narrow enough when laser cutting them to have just enough clearance for a 10-32 fully threaded stud. Then just make plain brass spacers. They will wear out faster due to the threads sliding against the slot in the upright but they will be way less time consuming to make- and they will look the same. Instead of the fancy retaining washers holding the lens board and camera back just use plain flat brass washers held in place by a socket head cap screw (but they won't look as pretty.)
I could have stuck with the same style brass knobs for tightening the tilt adjustment on the base but I wanted something a bit cleaner with a bit more clamping force. To replace the knob I took a short length of 1/2" brass rod, drilled a hole through it and tapped one end for 10-32 threads. Then I cross drilled a small hole through it.
To make a tightening key for the tilt adjustment knob I took a length of 1/4" diameter stainless steel rod and machined a step on one end so both 10-32 and 6-32 threads could be cut. A small step was machined in the opposite end. A 6-32 brass knob was then secured on the threaded end using red Loctite. Now I made a 10-32 threaded hole in the front aluminum base face plate so the key could be stored by threading it into the camera base.
Drilling six equally spaced holes in the upright base plate knobs that match the end of the key allow for the key to be used to tighten the base plate knobs. The easiest way to do this was to tighten two of the brass knobs onto a hex head bolt and secure them with a nut on the opposite end. The bolt head then served as a marker for locating the holes and held them securely in place while drilling the holes.
Step 6: Assembling the Standards
Assembling the standards is done by first threading the studs into the frames- secure them in place with red Loctite. Next assemble one side of the the front upright by sliding the large brass washers over the studs and attaching the frame to the upright. Then attach the second upright to the opposite side. Repeat this process for the rear standard.
One additional thing I did at this time was to add center locating holes to the front upright and frame to act as an alignment marker. This would allow for quick camera setup when setting the height of the front lens frame in the upright.
Now all that remained was to wax all the wood surfaces (I just used some carnauba wax I had on hand) and attach the finished uprights to the camera base, then attach the bellows.
Step 7: Finished!
After all this time building this camera I couldn't wait to send it to my friend for him to use.
Overall we are both pleased as punch with how this project turned out (so much so that another smaller film camera is in the works.) I think it's one of my most favorite things I've ever made and I know it's built solid enough that it should outlive both of us.
I hope the build methods described in this instructable will encourage people to make their own custom cameras. There really is no right or wrong way to do it as long as it accomplishes what you want out of it. It's incredibly satisfying to build a tool that someone uses to make art- even more so when it's a dear friend.
As always, if anyone has any questions please just let me know- thanks!
Grand Prize in the
2 months ago
without a doubt one of the most beautiful projects I have ever seen on Instructables; or any where for that matter.
I am 76. When I started taking photos one of my neighbors (an old man himself then) Gave me an old camera he had that used 120 roll film. The only adjustments on the camera ere speed & aperture. I used that camera for years until it was unrepairable. I had so much fun.
Still do but the cameras are a "bit" better now (Globally massive understatement there).
2 months ago
I've got the original! My father user it those days. No roll film, cards of film
1 year ago
Incredible!! Once again i am struck with what exceptional craftmanship can be found on instructables. You truly deserve to win this contest (by far). Good luck!
Reply 1 year ago
Thank you so much!
1 year ago
This is epic! Thank you for such an incredible Instructable too!
Reply 1 year ago
Thanks so much!
1 year ago
I do very much appreciate your work and wanted to ask, how this camera is used. Is it used with traditional film and the aperture and exposure control is comprised in the lens?
Personally I would love to see this technology combined with a modern digital capture chip in order to have a method to avoid falling lines when photographing buildings or other tall objects. I think the main reason for this type of camera is to have all degrees of freedom of alignment between film respectively sensor and lens. I'm very curious to see pictures which have been taken with this camera and how they where taken.
Reply 1 year ago
It is used with traditional film and aperture/exposure is through the lens. This site explains how a view camera is used (it is linked in the instructable)- https://www.alexbond.com.au/understanding-large-fo...
Cameras with movements are very much used when photographing architecture for exactly the reason you describe. It is possible to fit a digital back with a huge image sensor to a Graflok compatible 4x5 view camera to capture the full image (they are obscenely expensive.) Alternatively there is a Graflok compatible adapter to fit a Canon DSLR camera to a 4x5 camera- https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/995355-REG/... It's a bit odd in that you are taking images of sections and then stitching them together.
There are medium format cameras that combine limited movements with digital backs but they are also super expensive (like the Hasselblad FlexBody and ArcBody.)
There are tilt/shift lenses and adapters available for both Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras. I'd love to have a macro one for taking jewelry photos at my work.
Reply 1 year ago
I went to a workshop where we used photosensitive paper instead of film with a camera similar to yours, the results are very good and fast since one skips the film developing process.
Fantastic instructable btw.
Reply 1 year ago
That's a really cool idea!
Reply 1 year ago
You will find some amazing adaptations using large/ medium format camera with flatbed scanner as digital compromise.... its all diwn to ones imagination and time allowed in construction....
1 year ago
Beautiful! Digital cameras are amazing, but they can't compete with the beauty of film cameras :)
1 year ago
That’s fantastic! I have a 100 year old Kodak (?) 3x5 that I may replace the bellows now that You gave me a source, thanks!
Reply 1 year ago
Thanks! The bellows from the supplier is very high quality- super happy with their work. Check out the link here in the comments too for a bellows supplier.
1 year ago
Just one word WOW !
Reply 1 year ago
1 year ago
Every time I get feeling like I'm doing some great stuff in my shop, someone comes along and brings me back down to Earth. This is a fantastic build. I'd love to see some of the pictures that come out of it. You really did a great job. Fantastic might be the correct word.
Reply 1 year ago
Thanks so much! As my friend uses it more I'll be sure to add more photos taken with it.
Question 1 year ago on Step 1
A really great project. Can you fix the link to
there is a full explanation here of view camera movements
Answer 1 year ago
Fixed it- thanks!