Large Format View Camera From a Cigar Box




Introduction: Large Format View Camera From a Cigar Box

Everyone wants a lightweight high quality field camera but not everyone has a grand to plunk down. Pinhole cameras are OK but you may want to matriculate to a variable focus view camera with an actual lens & shutter
Parts/Construction Material needed:

1 Cigar Box 6x6 inches 3 inches deep

1 piece of 4x5 scrap glass

some scrap 1/2" plywood or "hobby birch"

1 sheet of black felt from walmart

1 hardware handle

small piece 4x4" 1/8" thick hobby birch or sheet plastic

2 sets of chopsticks

Screen widow thumb tabs (about $4 at Lowes/Home depot)

Black Permatex silicone sealer or liquid electrical tape, Electrical tape or black cloth tape

600 grit polishing compound ($12/lb on ebay) or a sheet of 600 grit carborundum paper


Black paint

2 1/4" threaded inserts for tripod sockets

6 small sheet metal or wood screws

Lens & shutter (lens should be 110mm-135mm focal length)

Mamiya extension bellows

Film Holders

Tools Needed

1 hacksaw blade

Palm sander or access to one

Access to a drill & drill bits

Access to a dremel type tool

Phillips screwdriver

Step 1: Layout the Area for the Film Holder

For this build I'm using some odd 3.25 x 4.25 inch film holders I have lying around that were included with other film holders I purchased from ebay so they were kinda orphaned & unused. I laid this out a tad off-center towards the edge so that I can grab the dark slide tab. Put it in place and draw an outline around it

Step 2: Layout Cutout Area of the Actual Film Area

After drawing the outline for the outside edge of the film holder, remove the dark slide and center it in the previous outline and draw a line around it--this is the area we will be cutting out where the film will be exposed

Step 3: Film Area Cut Out

with the 2nd inner space defined by the outline of the dark slide we use the hacksaw blade to cut the first hole--we only mark off & cut the area of the actual slide metal/plastic insert area thats visible when inserted in the film holder--make sure you leave a margin for the film holder to rest on all sides

Step 4: Layout the Area for the Bellows

Flip the box over and position the Mamiya bellows to be centered opposing the hole you cut on the opposite side. Stick a pen in the lens hole and trace an outline on the box from the inside of the bellows

Step 5: Hole Cut for the Bellows

This shot shows the hole cut that will be covered by the bellows & lens. I start the cut with a dremel and then insert the hacksaw blade for the majority of the cutting

Step 6: Paint the Inside Surfaces Flat Black

Paint the inside black with cheap flat black paint--about a buck a can at any good hardware store

Step 7: Line the Edge of the Bellows Cutout With Black Felt

Here we have the area where the bellows will be mounted prepared with black felt strips glued down for light-tight

Step 8: Making Ground Glass to Focus On

A sheet of 10x12 3/32" thick glass is about $3 at Lowes and they will cut it for you--this gives me 4-4x5 pieces. Take 1 and a spoonfull of the 600 grit polishing compound (available on Ebay for about $12/lb shipping included) and add a few drops of water to make a messy black slurry. Buff the glass with the palm sander for about 5-8 minutes adding water as needed. Only polish ONE side. When you go to use it the frosted side faces the lens--the side that is still somewhat reflective from not being buffed faces YOU. As you can see this is a messy proceedure and best done either outdoors or on a low maintenance surface that is easily wiped down afterwards. A sheet of 600 grit carborundum paper can be substituted but I prefer the grit

Step 9: The Finished Frosted Glass

This is what you will be focusing on-- a piece of professional looking ground glass you just made from scratch--keep in mind that this can be done for ANY view camera--NEVER spend huge amounts of money for something so easily made

Step 10: Using Chopsticks for Glass Standoffs Vs Gutting a Film Holder

The idea here is that in a film holder the film sets up a bit from the very edge and from my eyeballing it the chopstick is pretty much the space I need. I use Gorilla Glue to attach the wood to the glass.
You *could* gut your worst film folder and mount the glass in that for a consistent no doubt about it setup but I only had 3 of these oddball holders and none of them were beaters that I could tolerate gutting. It would be desirable and probably much more trouble-free for sharp focus to take a film holder, remove the septum , buff the glass and set the glass in where the septum was. This will assure you of getting the sharpest focus and for your first build this might be advisable over the chopsticks--you may have post-completion adjustments otherwise

OPTIONAL MODIFICATION: the 2nd photo is of a film holder that was gutted and glass inserted where the film septum would be. I used 2 strips of rubber cut from bicycle tire inner tubes as lashings to hold it fairly tight--you need 4 more screws on the build. Focus on the glass and then slip the loaded film holder under it--the overall tension holds the real film holder tight in place. When not using the camera the one dark slide protects the glass and the glass stays with the camera--no misplacing it or dropping it. Cosmetically not as sleek but some might argue functionality

Step 11: Other Side of Glass

after the glue sets on the one side flip it over and repeat on the other

Step 12: Making the Cradle for the Film Holder

For this I needed about 1 foot of 1/2" square wood glued into place with the gorilla glue. I used some liquid electricians tape in the corners for light seal and then glued some felt strips down the the edges all around for more light-tight\
This would also be the best time to seal any lid seams with electrical tape from the inside--check for light leaks

Step 13: Check for Fit

Here we see the film holder in it's future cradle--there should be near zero play in the fit

Step 14: Cradle All Painted Black

Paint the wood framework flat black ( remove filmholder before doing so of course)

Step 15: Thumb-tab Hold Downs Installed

Here we see the screen window holders engaging the chopsticks of the focus glass-- you would insert the glass- set focus, then remove and slide in the film holder

Step 16: Film Holder Engaged by the Thumb Tabs

And here we see the film holder also being held in place once the focus glass is removed

Step 17: Bellows Mounted

Cut some of the black felt into strips and glue them to the edge of the bellows hole, With a drill and small bit drill a hole on each edge just smaller than your screws. Put a bead of the black permatex silicone sealer on the felt and place the bellows and screw it down. Let it setup overnight and check for light leaks. The easiest way is to take it into a windowless bathroom or closet and shine a flashlight on to the inside--look for light leaking out--then peer inside and shine the light from the outside all around. Any pinholes or leaks can be addressed with electrical tape or the Liquid Electrical tape from Lowes (real handy stuff to get in at corners & such)

Step 18: Lens Board Cut From Birch or Sheet Plastic

This can be made from 4x4" thin 1/8" birch from Michaels or Hobby Lobby or from thin scrap plastic from the discard bin at any decent hardware store. Outside diameter 3"-- inside hole for a copal 1 shutter just over an inch

Step 19: Lens Board Mounted in Place and a Word About Your Choice of Lenses

plastic lens board mounted awaiting the lens.Here you would check fit and if needed lightly sand the inner edge with a dremel sander to fit the shutter. Used the last 2 of the 6 screws specified in the build. You will also want to smear some of the black Permatex silicone or Liquid Electrical Tape into the edge where it meets the metal. A word about the shutter & lens combo--depending on the minimal focal length of the lens you need to consider how deep the cigar box is that should be used. For example, if you want to use a wide angle 88mm lens, in order to focus at infinity it has to be 88mm from the glass. a 3" deep box is roughly 77mm but you also have to allow for bellows and lens board stand -off space. The bottom line is, if you are checking focus and rolling the bellows all the way back and you are a little shy of obtaining sharp focus at infinity then you need A. A longer lens or B. A box of more depth. The ideal lens for a cigar box of 3" depth is approx 110-127mm 4" box 135-150mm. Just for laughs I put a 210 on it and had NO focus as there was not 210mm bellows length & box length to the glass to focus with. You could *possibly* use an 88mm lens with a 2" deep box for a wide angle scenic camera

Step 20: Tripod Socket Inserts

These are actually furniture repair parts. These are 1/4" 20 thread to the inch inserts for things like table legs, The threaded interior is a perfect fit for a standard US tripod. Drill a slightly smaller hole than the outside diameter of the insert in the body of the cigar box where the tripod will connect. I use 2 , one horizontal and one vertical edge

Step 21: The Finished Camera With Carry Handle Mounted

And here we have it folks--all done & ready to take photos.
Some things to consider: while it's not a fancy camera with tilt & swing movements it's extremely light weight and compact. Much better choice for a field camera than a 10lb monster with a beefy tripod needed to support it. The lighter the camera the more film , holders, water and food you can carry. If it takes a dive you are not singing the blues.It's rough appearance is not attractive to a potential thief. Please consider these things before putting a Lindhoff at risk. The camera cost me $56 or so all said & done. And notice--this was built by "eyeballing" everything--not once was a tape measure or ruler used. For a cost breakdown the cigar box was a dollar at a tobacco shop. The bellows was $10 on ebay. The lens & shutter was $35 on a "make offer" Ebay sale. The black felt was .39 cents at walmart. I already had glue & electrical tape as household items. The thumbtabs for the back hold -downs were about $4 and the tripod socket inserts $3.50. The handle was $2.50 Your costs and choices for a lens/shutter may vary greatly. Film holders can generally be found for about $5 each--maybe $65 is a more realistic price point

Step 22: First Test Shot

Xray film in diluted 1:40 xray developer f11 1/60sec. No light leaks or major defects

Step 23: 2nd Test Shot With a Zeiss Lens

first test shot was a 105mm Ysaron lens--this shot was taken with a 135mm Zeiss lens on xray film 1/30 sec f32. I would say my focus is good-- the distance that my focus glass sits at sandwiched between the chopsticks matches the distance where the film rests in the film holder

2 People Made This Project!


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6 Discussions


4 months ago

Test photo update! I'm really happy with it so far, the sloppiness of the picture has much more to do with my lack of experience shooting/developing. Possible that there's some offset issues with the ground glass, but more likely it's system processes I'll have to work out


3 years ago

This is such a cool project! I'm a digital photographer, but I may have to try my hand at making one of these and using film. Brilliant use of materials, and your test shots are stunning!


Reply 3 years ago

Thanks Eltoaster...if you need links for film and developer formulas msg me

Uncle Kudzu
Uncle Kudzu

3 years ago

What a cool project! Very creative use of materials. Good to know somebody is still working with larger format film.


3 years ago

thanks Swansong :)


3 years ago

Your photos came out really well :)