I had a problem: I love the large format film camera I have, but film has become too problematic and expensive. Actually, film always was expensive. To use this camera now, it would cost me nearly $20 per shot as it uses large sheets of film. large means 5×4 inches, or 20 square inches of film for each shot.
What is great about this large camera is it forces me to slow down. Also it is an entirely analogue device with dials, and levers, it has a tactictile and visceral quality. And because of its large format, it delivers stunning detail. It also allows me to manipulate perspective and focus in a way that regular cameras don’t. If you have heard of Tilt and Shift, this camera has tilt and shift at both ends of the camera plus a couple of extra movements that modern cameras have forgotten about.
Every problem has a solution. Mine was to bringing this camera into the digital age by fixing my Digital SLR camera to back of the camera where the sheets of film used to go. A visit to my local engineering shop and it was done.
The digital camera has a small image sensor of only 1 ½ square inches – paltry compared to the original film the camera used. The answer to this problem is to move the Digital SLR camera across the back of the large format camera, taking photographs every 1.5cm or so and then digitally stitching the images. This gives me an effective image sensor of 90mm or 3½ inches wide.
I went on the hunt for lenses also. What is amazing is that the lenses designed for these cameras are insanely sharp. I also found a photocopier lens on eBay for 1 Euro and an enlarging lens for rather more. Both of these lenses are offer more sharpness than my camera can resolve.
The beauty of this camera and the lenses is they do not zoom, they do not attempt to read your mind or make you take photos they way a camera engineer in Japan thinks you should taken. The camera offers you a blank canvas and you have to decide where you put each brushstroke.
When I first got the camera to work I was amazed by the results. I got all the advantages of digital capture and could produce panoramic images of up to 20,000 pixels with pixel level sharpness. That translates to prints of over 2 meters that are still sharp when examined closely. I even won some awards using this camera, in a competition for large format cameras and I scored against others using digital cameras costing $40,000 and more.
The total cost of my rig was a tenth of that.
The rewards, stacks of fun solving a photographic problem. Contact me if you want to find out more about this camera or want to make one yourself.