Old Fashioned View Camera




About: i am a photolab technician and an incurable packrat. i have made swords ,chainmail, crossbows.cameras,bike trailers,kayaks,guitars{slide and electric},knives,various film winders and vacum easels for the ph...

Today i am going to reverse engineer a camera i made several years ago{pre instructable era}.
This camera features solid maple construction, full tilt and shift capability,screw driven focusing rack,
and a 100 year old ebay lens.

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Step 1: The Story

i like stories.
well i have always wanted a view camera but raising children puts a serious drain on ones finances especially if your career choices arent as lucrative as some so therefore i could never afford one.
many moons ago a friend of mine who shared the same wish and i got brainstorming about how to do this.
rather than put together some slapdash contraption{some experiments were tried but then scrapped}
we decided to go all out and make nice cameras.
he wanted to make a nice monorail type 4x5 camera a good choice since he has a lens from a more modern camera and some 4x5 film holders.
i wanted to make a field camera type{folding preferably but this one doesnt fold}.
the rough design was eyeballed from a 1904 reprint of the sears roebuck catalouge from the local public library and a few that i saw for sale on ebay
after working out a system to make a bellows{see previous instructable. https://www.instructables.com/id/EDITKGPCR7EP28788U/
i bought an old lens on ebay.
what i ended up with was a beautiful little anso lens that came from a 4x5 camera{it also came with a busted shutter and a mildew problem but we got around that}.
so once the designs were chosen we needed to work out how to build it and where to score some good wood.
we decided to use a modular stick and box joint type of contruction{kinda like a pile of jenga blocks lol} as for wood my buddy had a well seasoned hunk from a maple tree under his shed.{i think it still had bark on it lol}
after much mincing planing and tablesaw work we had a pile of 1/2 x3/4 inch sticks of various lengths we also had some that were 2 x3/4 too to form the sides and other solid bits.
at this point i took my pile of popsicle sticks home and started to assemble.{note my bud has a much better equipped workshop than me and the use of his tablesaw router and planer have made most of my projects so much better. he is also better at the fit and finish department too but he never smacked me for my indifferent carpentry thanx dave}

Step 2: The Chassis

here are some pictures of the base of the camera . more details are pasted on each picture

the first picture here is the front of the chassis showing the thrust bearing for the focusing gear, the feet{from a defunct stereo} and one of my jenga box joints lol.

the second shows another view of the same part but you can see the bolt that drives the front standard forward and back.

the third fourth and fifth all show the focusing knob at the back it stared as a large bakelite knob that came from the junk bin but the first time it was turned it cracked so i took a plaster cast of it and casted it out of zinc on the end of the threaded rod i had to drive the focus.
i got the zinc while taking a walk through a former scrapyard{closed in 70s} and picking up little chunks of broken doorhandles and mirrors from 50s and 60s cars.

the sixth and seventh pics show the threaded rod passing through the shuttle block that the front standard mounts on.

the eighth pic shows the side of the shuttle block and the rails .

the ninth shows the top of the shuttle block and the bottom of the front standard

while the tenth shows the screw on feet that came from my first cd player {god rest its expensive yet shoddy soul}

Step 3: The Uprights or Standards

next step is to make a pair of uprights called standards to support the lens assembly in the front and the film and focusing screen in the back.
i made them both from the 1/2 x 3/4 inch sticks the top {no slot in it} was made from 3 pieces the sides from 2 each and the bottom was made with a slot in it so it could slide around and pivot on the mounting bolt.. for more details see each picture and the yellow notes.

Step 4: Camera Body and Bellows

im sorry i cant show good details about how the bellows attaches to the front and rear frames as i glued it in but i can describe what i did .
first thing was to make the frames they were made from the 3/4 x 2 inch blocks and were finger jointed {kinda crudley lol} i measured them up to leave enough clearance between the frame and the standards for the frames to be able to slide easily up and down in the uprights also allow room for a washer on either side as this will help when pivoting .
inside each end box a smaller box was glued in {just mitred sticks really} to give a place for the bellows to attach and fot the lens board to mount onto.
holes drilled through the both sides of the boxes have a carriage bolt put through each one which passes through a washer and out through the slot in the uprights whith a section of plastic hose to act as a roller bearing ,another washer then a wingnut complete the attachement.. again take a look at the notes they will explain in depth.

Step 5: Lens

well the lens i got for this camera came from ebay (i think i paid 15 bucks for it or something like that)
it is a nice ansco lens in about 4 inch focal length the patent date says july 23 1901 .
when the lens arrived i found one of the shutter leaves was missing and the lens had a good coating of mildew on the glass.
so i turned it over to my talented friend who has all the tools and he cleaned it up and made a new shutter leaf out of plastic which he then painted to make it lighttight.
all the speeds didnt work right but that wasnt important all i needed was for it to open and close on bulb setting.
as you can see from the pics the lens will fire with manually or with an air bulb.
the bulb is about twenty years old and was designed to fire manual SLR cameras from 30 feet i cut the hose down to two feet and slipped it right on the end.

then i took a sheet of 1/8 aluminum and cut the lensboard from it{the first test one was masonite} and drilled holes through it into the wood behind to mount it up.
the mounting rings came with the lens but if it didnt i`d have hot glued it in place or used a rope ring

Step 6: Why I Didnt Finish

i know the camera looks complete but it lacks one important feature.
and that is a system to hold the film in place and to focus on.
i did test it though.
as you can see i made a place on the back out of card board big enough to hold a polaroid film pack.
i also had a polaroid film back mated to it for a while but i had to give that back.
when i tested it i took a used film pack and a plate of glass coated with matte laquer spray as a focusing screen, then using another polaroid pack i made a black paper slide that could slide in and out.
i loaded it with graphic arts film did some test shots then tray developed it in black and white paper chemistry. the resulting image can be seen below.
after the testing shifting interests and the fact that photography as a hobby for me was too much like work.{ i was a darkroom technician at the time ,wish i had some of that gear to play with now}
i may get back at this someday and complete it if i do i will post it here.

Step 7: This Is Just a Showoff Page

here are a few pictures of some other projects ive done over the years.
i may do up instructables for some of them as time allows .
this may be something all you long time tinkerers out there might emulate.
show us pics of the stuff you made in the 70s or just last year.
this may encourage us to redo old stuff .
thanks for looking and if you see anything that your curious about just ask

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    22 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 7

    You've got some brilliant stuff here, Lenny! I build my own cameras and also do chain mail, so I have to ask two things. First, where did you get enough metal coat hangers to make mail!? Wow! Are the resulting rings sturdy? And second, my photo buddies and me were trying to figure out how to draw the silver out of old fixer and use it -- how do you draw it out of the solution and make it usable? Keep up the great work!

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    i cant believe i haven`t seen this comment before.

    sorry for the lateness of my reply. to answer the first question i asked my mom for them,she never chucks anything out until its ready to be chucked out. and yes the rings are very stiff so stiff in fact i injured my fingers bending them open and closed and had to stop pretty much where you see it in the picture.

    as for exhausted fixer some labs i worked at used an electrolytic silver recovery machine to plate out the silver onto a stainless steel drum very high quality silver from this but its very hard to duplicate at home. the one time i tried it myself it stank ...man did it stink.

    also it will self plate out on copper not very pure though. just put some copper pipe in a tank of fixer and check it out after a day or two . the fuzzy sliver or black you see is mostly silver. this will eventually dissolve the pipe ( just leave it in long enough for the fuzz to stop growing ) and the silver will have some copper still in it.

    but others used a steel wool cartridge and that i did at home. simply when you pass used fixer through a very fine ( 0000 grade ) steel wool the silver and iron want to change places and if you run enough fixer through it you will get silver wool and rusty stinky water. the silver wool requires very much melting and remelting to get anything like pure silver ( borax is your friend here).but if you had enough going through it you could get a nice bit.

    one lab i worked at did not recover the silver from the one hour film processor so i made a simple cartridge for the waste to pass through. after 3 years or so i had 8 pounds of 90ish percent silver alas i have very little of it left (it was over 20 years ago ).

    hope this answers your questions. cheers and happy new year.



    10 years ago on Step 7

    you are my epic hero thanks for the inspiration and bringing back the meaning to innovation and amazing! You should post a picture of your shop... or tools of trade. It would be interesting indeed.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 7

    lol thanks for the kind words but my shop is just an overcrowded garage or basement or sometimes even the front porch.{usually its a horrible mess} i rent so i dont have a permanent shop {though the one i have right now is ok} there are projects from 6 different houses represented above and the ones i have lined up to do next will bring it up to 7. as for tools they are a hodgepodge of old stuff i mostly got at yard sales with a new ones bought as needed. when i need something i dont have {lathe, welder etc} i call on my large circle of family and friends {and they call on me too} between us all we have a complete setup.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Odd question, but is the image on the ground glass bright enough to get a digital picture? I can't have a darkroom (expense and kids) but I've been wondering if I could rig a box around the film carrier with a digital camera in it instead of film and take a picture of the glass.

    8 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    You definitely could! Look for something called a T-mount (cheap on surplusshed.com). It is basically an adapter for your brand of camera (if you have an SLR that is) that lets you screw on old threaded t-mount lenses. I cant remember the thread size, but you could find it pretty easily. mount a similarly sized and threaded piece of pipe or whatever to the rear standard the same way the lens and lensboard are on the front. screw your t-mount to the pipe and attach your camera. now the whole camera becomes your lens! wanna know the f-stop? (roughly) focus on something FAR, FAR, and away measure the distance from the sensor to about the midpoint of the lens. then measure the diameter of the lenses aperture. Divide the F ocal length by the aperture diameter (aka the aperture STOP) and voila! an f/Stop that should be close enough for government work. Now make sure your camera is on Manual and just use your shutter speed to control your exposure. if its too bright a range, slap a couple of netral densities filters on. Oh yeah if the lens already has the focal length listed use that, but by using the other method you can use ANYTHING just about anything for a lens. oh yeah...beautiful Camera!


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    get a 4x5 polaroid back. they're about $100 on ebay. to answer your question - you theoretically could take a picture with a digital camera but it would be a pain in the ass, probably not work outside a pitch black studio, and require a long exposure time


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Any spring-loaded back will work with a Polaroid back or a standard film holder. I doubt you'd want to fix a polaroid back to the camera permanently.

    Still, I used to use type 55 positive/negative film, and the quality of the negative is very high (if you keep the rollers clean and unscratched on the pola back.)

    I have no idea what polaroid film costs today--they have a virtual monopoly on instant photography (sued kodak to sink the competition) consequently the sales guys always said they never made money on polaroid products (pro products, anyway.) I haven't used a polaroid since I went digital--no need to proof the lighting setup with a digital camera....


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Put it this way - if you're worried about money, don't go the Polaroid route. About 40 shots of any of the 4x5 or 8x10 Polaroid and you're just spent an amount of money that could easily have gotten you a used darkroom setup. 4x5 black and white is around $60 for 20 exposures, 8x10 color is around $250.00 for 15 exposures. 6x7 stuff can still be had relatively cheaply.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Looked in the old fridge film drawer, and much to my surprise, still have three unopened packs of polaroid 669 (3 1/4 by 4 1/4) for my medium format. Seem to recall that a box (double pack, or 20 shots) was about $22 or $24 USD, about 7 or 8 years ago. But Polaroid makes (or made) instant print film in 11x17 inch format, and even larger. Like the 8x10 format, the bigger sizes must use a motorized roller system. Can you imagine spending hundreds of dollars for a single exposure? I assume they had a test back with three or four smaller pola backs to fine-tune the setup before the 'big one.'


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    the stuff was always pricey. imagine yourself back in the 50s paying $1.50 per exposure and translate it to todays money {10 bucks would buy your grocerys for a week in the 50s}.it was definitley a keeping up with the jones`s sort of gadget. i seem to recall that a polaroid folding camera was $127us in 1967{from a nat geographic ad}. my god you rented a house for that in 67 that was bigger than some peoples income for a month.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    If I had $100 to blow, I could have a darkroom and not worry about it : ) I guess our ideas of 'to expensive' differ : ) The darkroom is the box that would be the film carrier, deep enough for the digital camera's focal length.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    i dont know i never tried it. might work though i guess it depends on how good your digital camera is for exposure compensation. you also may find a camera like this could be mated to a scanner to take super high res pictures. some people have made scanner cameras but it requires a certain type of scanner. if your camera can be set for film put the camera on the scanner bed and do a lores pass looking at a light bulb{or window} focus it at differnt places until you get a clear pic of the bulb


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Nice-- home-built view camera with full swings and tilts! Very well done. Too bad about the film back, but I'm sure with your ingenuity, you'll make something to fit a standard film holder. (I have a ground-glass film back that converts a 5x7 camera to 4x5 film holder. The 4x5 part can be unscrewed. If you want it, it's yours--don't have a 5x7 camera.) Also, love the adjustable bass bridge. I'm thinking of something similar for a Teisco 6 string (big suprise--the pickups are sick on that thing, way underrated.)

    2 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    thanks g i appreciate the offer but 5x7 is way to big for this guy. hang on to it you never know when the perfect pile of junk parts may fall your way. hey who ever tossed that strat you fixed might pitch a 1911 conley camera in the same place next winter lol.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    The ground-glass and frame/springs are only 4x5, and are mounted on an aluminum plate that fits a 5x7 camera; basically so the 5x7 could use 4x5 film holders/packs. But I expect you'll come up with something...

    hey who ever tossed that strat you fixed might pitch a 1911 conley camera in the same place next winter lol.
    ;) if I find one I will definitely post it here...