Introduction: Hack Your Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim Camera [Updated]

No, its not on the International Space Station....yet!  The Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim was a simple point and shoot plastic camera barely worth the few dollars it costs …..Now it is the quintessential hipster, retro, future, anarchist imaging device!The cost has gone up in proportion with its popularity and now commands $25 to $50 for one of its many clones.  I bought mine at a thrift shop for $1.50 so I'm not too afraid to dig into it and do some modifications!

For all its cromulence, the camera is a little limited in photographic capability.It has one shutter speed (1/125 sec), one aperture (f11), and one focal length (22mm).

In this Instructable, we’ll modify the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (hereafter called UWS) and give it some additional photographic control features such as:

1. Multiple Exposure Capability 

2. Variable shutter speed

3. Bulb shutter speed

4. Cable release capability

5. Tripod bushing

6. Easy open back

7. Filter Capacity

8.  Hot Shoe

Some may argue that adding additional photographic features defeats the purpose of a simple point and shoot.  I for one like to have the capability to extend my creative vision--however myopic.  The best part of these modifications is that it does not change the basic functionality of the camera.  You can just ignore the added capabilities and stick to what you know. 

Step 1: Camera Overview

 I can only imagine how astonished the Vivitar executives were at the success of a small and nondescript camera aimed at the low end camera market.  It was just one in a long line of crappy plastic cameras.  The only real difference was an exceptionally wide angle lens designed for expanses like the Grand Canyon. 

I'm sure that Vivtar has lost whatever patent rights they had on the camera design because there are plenty of clones out (mostly from Superheadz) there now ready to sell to unsuspecting hipsters at premium prices.  All the clones seem to be about the same, except in different colors.  Many from Superheadz models are shipping with a nice ruggedized rubber coating.

The camera design has some issues

1.  One well known issue is the quality of the winding mechanism.  With high torque, a small piece of plastic can break off making the winding mechanism useless.  Many will only use 24 exposure rolls to minimize the stress on this part. 

2.  The 22mm lens is prone to flare.  Most people consider this a feature rather than a limitation.

3.  Viewfinder covers about 80% of what ends up on the film. 

4.  The back cover is notoriously difficult to open.

Despite these issues, the camera has earned a cult following...lets try to increase the congregation by adding some additional capabilities.

** One note on naming conventions.  When I say left or right side of the camera, that would be as if you were standing behind the camera just like you would be if you were composing and taking a photograph.

Step 2: Opening the Camera

 OK, before we can start adding goodness, we'll have to disassemble the camera.  The UWS is an easy camera to take apart.  To do all the modifications, we'll have to go two "Layers" deep.  Before you start, get a few bowls or  trays to hold your parts.  Also I like to keep a magnet around to corral the small screws and springs.  If you lose a spring, you may render your camera useless!


1.  Set of small cross tipped screw drivers.

2.  Needlenose pliers.

3.  Parts Trays.

4.  Magnet (to keep track of screws).


1.  The first thing you want to do is take out the rewind crank.  No rocket science here; squeeze the prongs with some needle nose pliers and pull the part out and put into a tray. 

2.  Take out the lone screw you will find on the left hand side of the camera and put in a tray with the magnet.

3.  Open up the camera back and locate the two screws on the left hand side of the camera inside the film supply chamber.  Take those out and add to the tray with the magnet.

4. Carefully depress the shutter release button and begin to separate the front cover of the camera.  Once you get it going a little bit, depress the rewind button and gently wiggle the front cover until it comes off.  Set the front cover aside for a while.

5.  Now you are looking at the guts of the camera.  The lens board is secured with three screws.  Take those out and put in a tray with a magnet. 

6.  Lift the lensboard off along with the shutter release button (they are attached with a spring).  Set these aside in a tray.

Now you are ready to start modifying the camera!

Step 3: Modification #1 Multiple Exposure

 Multiple exposure is a technique where you take multiple pictures on the same piece of film.  It is nice for spirit photography,  avant guard photography and the covers of Psychology Today magazine.


1.  Cyanoacrylate glue.

2.  Dental floss.

3.  Paper clip hook.

4.  Needlenose pliers.

5.  Matches or firestarter wand.


1.  Before we start messing around in the camera, I secured the spring that goes from the shutter paddle to the spring post.  Add asmall drop of cyanoacrylate glue (superglue) to both ends of the spring.  This will keep you from losing the spring.

2.  Actuate the shutter a few times and you will notice the cocking lever on the lower left hand side of the camera.  This is the target for attaching the dental floss.  Carefully tie a length of dental floss around the lever.  Use a bent paper clip and needle nose pliers to help...its a little tight.

3.  Add a small drop of superglue to the knot to make it permanent.

4.  Feed the floss between the thumbwheel and out the left hand side of the camera.

5.  Trim the tail and melt a little bit of the end to prevent fraying.

6.  Actuate the shutter and recock using the dental floss (just pull on it to the left) to prove it works.

Step 4: Modification #2 Bulb

Bulb is an old photography term that refers to a shutter speed that was originally controlled with a pneumatic bulb...hence the name.  Basically, the shutter will open for as long as you want.  You can use this to take pictures in dark places and get artifacts from moving lights like automobile headlights, fireworks or star trails.


Dental floss.

2.  Superglue

3.  Dremel rotary tool with cutting wheel.

4.  Drill and small bits.


1.  Take another length of dental floss and tie it to the base of the shutter paddle and feed over the take up chamber and out the left side of the camera. 

2.  Trim the tail, melt the end and make secure with a drop of superglue as before.

3.  Fit the paddle on its post again and mark where the floss crosses the support spacer for the lens board.

4.  File a notch through the support spacer.  The floss will sit  in this notch.

5.  Dryfit the lensboard and mark the corresponding spot on the lensboard.

6.  File or grind away another notch in the lensboard.

7.  Optional:  apply a light coating of dry lubricant (graphite) to the paddle and lensboard to help the paddle move easily.

8.  Remount the lensboard.  Do not tighten the screws too much as that will make the shutter paddle bind.

9.  Test the function of your bulb modification by pulling the bulb floss straight out the left hand side of the camera.  If the paddle binds, loosen the screws in the lensboard.

10.  Dryfit the front cover and mark where the strings for the double exposure and bulb function will come out.  The double exposure will be about in the middle and the bulb will be towards the front of the camera.

11.  Drill the holes for the dental floss to exit.

Step 5: Modification #3 Cable Release

 A cable release is a handy feature that allows you to trip the shutter release with very little vibration.  This will give you clearer pictures.  Also good if you want to trip the shutter from a distance.


1. Nut with correct threads for a cable release.

2.  Drill and/or rotary tool.

3.  Epoxy glue.


1.  First you will need to locate a nut threaded for a cable release.  I just tried all the small nuts in my ammo can full of hardware until I found the correct one.

2.  Dry fit the nut in front of the shutter release button hole in the front cover.  Mark the plastic front cover  inside the nut.

3.  Drill a small hole where you marked.

4.  Use a small amount of super glue to glue the nut over the hole.  Be careful to center on the hole before the glue flashes (quickly cures).

5.  Mix equal parts hardener and epoxy resin and reinforce the nut with the glue.  Ensure you don't get any glue on the threads of the nut.

6.  Once the glue has cured, test your work by screwing in a cable release and ensure it makes contact with the shutter release.

Step 6: Modification #4 Tripod Bushing

 The bulb feature is pretty useless without a tripod bushing.  This keeps the camera rock steady for long exposures and can even improve short exposures by eliminating camera shake.


1.  Nut with correct threads for a tripod screw.

2.  Large washer.

3.  Epoxy glue.

4.  Dremel rotary tool with grinding bits.


1.  Locate a nut with the proper threading for a tripod using the same method from the last step.  Also you will need a washer to add a little space and spread the load of the nut to a larger area of the camera.

2.  Dry fit the washer and nut to the center of mass of the camera attached to the guts (not just to the front cover. Mark the plastic where the washer and nut combination will go.

3.  Score the plastic with a razor knife to increase the surface area for the epoxy to adhere.

4.  Super glue the nut to the washer.  Be sure to center the nut on the washer.

5.  Mix equal amounts of hardener and epoxy resin and glue the nut and washer assembly to the camera.

6.  Once cured, dry fit the front cover and estimate the size of the material you need to cut away to accommodate the tripod bushing.

7.  Use a file or rotary tool to excise the plastic to allow the front cover to fit.   

Step 7: Modification #5 Easy Opening Back

 I usually waste more time trying to open the back than taking pictures with my UWS.  Although it looks a little tacky, the time saved putting a "handle" on the rear door will more than make up for the embarrassment. 


Plastic map pin.

2.  Epoxy glue.

3.  Box cutter knife.

4.  Dremel rotary tool with grinder or wire cutters.


1.  Obtain a plastic map pin in a color of your choice.

2.  Grind away the medal part or simply heat up with a flame and pull out with pliers.

3.  Locate a good spot on the rear door and score to increase surface area.

4.  Mix equal parts hardener and epoxy resin and glue the plastic pin to the rear door.

Step 8: Putting It All Together

 Putting the camera back together is basically reversing the steps you used to take it apart.  You have a few extra steps due to the modifications.

1.  Thread the floss through the holes you drilled in the left hand side of the font cover.

2.  Depress the shutter release and the film rewind button and seat the front cover securely .

3.  Replace the two screws from inside the film supply chamber.

4.  Replace the screw on the left hand side of the camera.

5.  Replace the film rewind crank by simply pushing it through hole.

OK, your camera is now together, but we have a few housekeeping tasks to complete.

1.  Glue two magnets to the left hand side of the camera.  One between the holes (the slack magnet) that have the dental floss and one magnet near the screw (the Bulb magnet).

2.  Tie the dental floss to a ferrous washer.  One for each floss.

3.  Trim the tails of the dental floss and melt the ends to prevent fraying.

4. Add a drop of super glue on the knot if you like it reinforced (always a good idea).

Step 9: Handy Belt Clip Pouch

Not really a modification, but it will help keep your UWS handy and protected from cuts and scrapes.  The UWS is coated in silver paint with black ABS like plastic underneath, so any scratch stands out like a turd in the punchbowl!  This pouch will go a long way in keeping the camera looking good.

1.  Buy a "Blackberry" belt clip pouch from the "Dollar Tree" store.  If you don't have a "dollar" type store around, any pouch designed for the old style Blackberry device should work.

2.  Insert UWS and clip to belt.

Step 10: Modification #6 - Filter System (update)

Filters have a long association with photography and can be used for a variety of effects from special effects to subtle color adjustments. The UWS does not support filters per se, so we’ll add that capacity. My first thought was to glue on a step up ring of your choice and use threaded filters. This is an expensive option as you have to buy expensive mounted filters. I chose to go with the Kodak series 5 filter system primarily because I had an adaptor laying around anyway. It takes 30mm glass filters that can be had rather inexpensively at Surplus Shed (surplus optic company). They also carry 30mm lenses if you want to fool around with those as well. You can also use 31mm or 32 mm filters as well, but the retaining ring will not screw down all the way. The drawback with this set up is it will probably cause some vignetting of the image area.


1. A filter assembly (adaptor).

2. 30, 31 or 32mm glass filters/lenses.

3. Dremel rotary tool with grinding, cutting bits (optional but recommended).

4. Small screwdrivers.

5. Epoxy or similar glue.

6. Small file.


1. Disassemble the camera so the front plate is free.

2. Grind down the plastic pegs that affix the decorative plastic ring on the front.

3. Pry off the plastic ring with a small screw driver.

4. Dry fit and mark your filter assembly to judge how much material you need to cut away.

5. Cut and/or grind away the plastic so that your filter assembly fits flush with the face of the camera. In this case I had to cut out some plastic for the tabs on the adaptor.

6. Once you are satisfied with fit of your filter assembly, epoxy the assembly in place.

Step 11: Modification #7 - Hot Shoe (update)

A flash (or strobe) is a very useful when taking photos indoors or in low light.  The UWS is designed for blazing sunlight and gets less useful at night.  This modification will add a hot shoe to attach your flash and extend your UWS photography time.


Hotshoe from a donor camera with associated wires.

2.  Small screw drivers for assembly and disassembly.

3.  Dremel rotary tool with drill bits.

4.  Paper clip.

5.  Epoxy glue.

6.  Conductive glue.

7.  Small metal screws.

8.  Aluminum foil.

9.  A volt/ohm meter.


1.  Locate a donor hotshoe from a cheap camera.  Mine came from a Dollar Store camera that I used for a failed experiment.

2.  Disassemble the camera and disect out the hot shoe and wires.

3.  Dry fit your salvaged hotshoe on the top left hand side of your UWS.  Trace the outline and screw holes.

4.  Attach one wire to the base of the hot shoe with conductive glue (wire glue in this case).

5.  Drill holes for the wire, center electrode, and screws.  I didn't have a small enough drill for the small screws,  so  I melted through the plastic with a heated paperclip.

6.  Score the area that will sit underneath the hot shoe so the epoxy will have more surface area to bite into.

7.  Use epoxy to glue down the hot shoe and screw down with the small screws that came with the hot shoe.  Build up some epoxy around the sides of the shoe for maximum stability.

8.  Use conductive glue to glue the second wire to the center electrode.

9.  Use epoxy to glue the center electrode in place.

10.  Check the electrical continuity of the wires and electrodes.  If it is good, use epoxy to reinforce the wires underneath the hot shoe.

11.  Locate an area on the left hand side of the shutter box where you can place two screws that will act as electrodes.  They should be as close together as possible and placed so the shutter paddle hits both at the same time at the maximum movement of the paddle.

12.  Since I didn't have a small enough drill bit, I melted the hole for the screws with a heated paperclip.  The screws will go into an empty space in the camera, so there should be no light leaks.

13.  Glue a small piece of aluminum foil to the shutter paddle where it will "short out" the two electrodes (screws) at its greatest travel.

14.  Cut out a piece of plastic that will allow the wires to enter the shutter box.

15.  Attach the two wires to the electrodes inside the shutter box.

16.  Reassemble the lensboard taking care not to over tighten the screws (it will cause the shutter paddle to bind up).

17.  At this point you can attach a flash and actuate the shutter and see if it works as advertised.    

18.  If all works well, use some hot glue to glue the wires to the interior of the front cover.

19.  Reassemble the camera and enjoy your new hotshoe.

Step 12: Operation


1.  Normal operation:  Despite all the modifications, your UWS will function just like before.  Simply load up some film and take some photos as normal.

2.  To use your new tripod bushing: Screw in the tripod screw into the bushing until tight.  Now your camera will be ultra steady.

3.  To use the cable release socket: Screw the cable release into the socket.  To take a photo, push the plunger.  That will trip the shutter release with minimal camera shake.  This is best done on a tripod.

4.  To use the multiple exposure feature:  Take an exposure.  Take the bottom washer off the "slack" magnet and pull the floss out straight to the left side of the camera until you hear the click of the shutter cocking.  Return the washer to the "Slack" magnet. Recompose and trip the shutter release once again.

5.  To use the Bulb feature:  Take the top washer and pull to the left hand side of the camera to open the shutter.  When your exposure is done, release and reattach the washer to the magnet.  If you are doing an extended exposure:  Take the top washer and pull to open the shutter.  Attach the washer to the top magnet to keep the shutter open.  When your exposure is though, take the washer off the "bulb" magnet and replace the washer on the "slack" magnet.

6.  To vary the shutter speed:  Take the bottom multiple exposure washer from the slack magnet and let it hang free.  This will slow the shutter speed and increase the exposure.  To slow the shutter speed even more, add weight to the free hanging washer with an alligator clip or a magnet (be careful not to let the magnets on the side of the camera interact with your hanging magnet).  You will need to experiment with how much weight to add to get the shutter speed you desire.  The minimum shutter speed obtainable from manipulating the shutter is about 1/15 sec judged from my uncalibrated eyeball.  To do this: take the bottom washer and pull it out straight and keep tension on the floss.  Now trip the shutter release.  The shutter will not fire because you have the shutter mechanism under tension.  Slowly release the tension on the washer and floss until you here the shutter trip.  

7.  To use your quick opening back:  Grasp the handle between thumb and forfinger while operating the back release lever with your middle finger.

8. To use filters:  Insert your 30mm filter into the retaining ring.  Screw retaining ring on the filter assembly.  Make sure you note any "filter factor" that the filter will have on your exposure.

9.  To use a flash:  Put flash on hot shoe.  Adjust flash controls to control the power of the flash (if your flash has these features).

Step 13: Tips and Tricks and Sample Photos

Tips and Tricks:

1.  Film choice: 
The UWS has an F11 lens and 1/125 sec shutter speed so in theory, if you were shooting on a bright sunny day, you could use 64 ASA film however that would be very limiting.  I'd suggest at least 125 ASA black and white film or 200 ASA color film for shooting out of doors on a nice sunny day.  For overcast days, I'd recommend 400 ASA and indoors I'd switch to the highest ASA film you can find...1600-3200 ASA.  With your modified UWS, you can vary the shutter speed to some extent for some more creativity and potenially a wider coice of films.  Many people like to shoot E-6 process slide film and cross process it in C-41 process chemicals.  It gives a greenish cast to the image.  I've found that you should underexpose by a stop to compensate for the different chemicals.  So, 100 ASA E-6 film is a good fit for the UWS.  For "redscale" film (film that is shot backwards through the antihalation layer) its good to overexpose by a stop.  So, 400 ASA redscale film is a good fit for the UWS.

2.  Holding technique:  The UWS is...well....Ultrawide.  The wide angle lens will photograph your fingers if you hold the camera the same way you would hold any other camera.  The best technique is to hold the camera by the top and bottom only (fingers on top and thumbs supporting the bottom).  Also, put the wrist strap around your wrist.  Otherwise it will probably get into your photo as well.

3.  Flare:  A lot of people like the flare that comes from internal reflections when the camera is looking at bright point sources.  If you like it, point the camera at the sun or reflected hot spots.  If you don't like it, avoid these situations.

4.  Composition:  With any wide angle lens, things look far away.  OK for landscapes where the land is the subject, but not so great when you are taking a portrait.  My advice is to get close to your subject and make that subject dominate your viewfinder.  Remember that the camera sees more than you will in the viewfinder.

Step 14: Cleaning Up Some Loose Ends....Operations of Updated Modifications

Was pinged by someone wanting to know how to use the filters on the UWS and realized I didn't include here ya go!