View Full Version : Hunting for a #10 Cirkut Camera

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04-06-2008, 04:01 PM
Ron in Alaska wrote:
"I have been trying to get Chinese cirkut film for a while, but my contacts there get stymied by the factory that makes film. The factory keeps telling them they can't make it. If you know how it works in China, you can understand the problem exactly. You have to make contact with EXACTLY the right person. YES, they do make film!!!, I saw more than one cirkut camera and prints made by them while traveling through China."

Just a naive thought here, but maybe a request to the same contacts but from a large film distributor, instead of a private individual / photographer, would go further? No offense / sarcasm intended. And no, I don't <edit: have> the ability to do any better.

04-07-2008, 11:30 AM
Hello All,

Well, I have done a bit of on-line research in the last couple of days, so I know a bit more, from all of your web-sites and posts to various forums. The spring, clockwork gear train, and release mechanisms all work on my #6 back, although they need a good cleaning. I can't tell yet whether there is excessive wear. It is quite noisy, mostly I reckon, from the fan drive-shaft. The run-out appears rather large, though I have not measured it yet. It may have a slight bend. Also, I wonder if it will run more smoothly with a fan attached? So, I wonder if someone who has a fan type governor could post a picture or a link. I was unable so far to find a picture of the fans.

Thank you.


04-07-2008, 01:03 PM
Have you tried Hugo Zhang?
I know him only from his posts as an ULFer and from those I understand he is the US contact for Chamonix cameras. Perhaps he knows a guy.........
I'd like in on some 8-10 inch film to, heck I'd settle for 6

And who has a contact for Agfa aerial ??? I tried multi email refs from Europe to New Jersey until I got a reply from someone who said sure, send me a credit card number. As I had not received any info as to price, choices, etc etc, I got cold chills.

>I seem to recall Bill McBride showed me pictures of a Chinese pan camera that used 8" to 10" width film. I've always wondered if there is a China source for film used in that camera.

I am the person who originally bought the Chinese Cirkut camera that Bill McBride owns. I found the camera in Beijing china in 1985. It came with a roll of Chinese film. As well, the camera only shoots 8 inch film. I tested the film and it was like Plus-X. The camera is an interesting object, but not for a user. I'll bet very few were ever made. When I opened it up to see what made it tick, I found that the gears were hand cut, probably by just using files. The camera ran with weird batteries and odd voltages, It only had one lens (8 inch focal length) that was not interchangeable. Bill has one of the finest collections of cirkut cameras in the world and I knew right away it belonged with him.

I have been trying to get Chinese cirkut film for a while, but my contacts there get stymied by the factory that makes film. The factory keeps telling them they can't make it. If you know how it works in China, you can understand the problem exactly. You have to make contact with EXACTLY the right person. YES, they do make film!!!, I saw more than one cirkut camera and prints made by them while traveling through China.

Ron in Alaska

jamie young
04-07-2008, 03:37 PM
clarence - I wouldn't run it much without a fan. It does work a lot better with the fans attached. I don't think it's very good for it without the fan on. I'll post a photo of the fans some point soon

04-07-2008, 03:40 PM
Hello Jamie,

Thanks for the heads-up. I only wound a bit of tension on the spring. It did sound like it needed some load to run properly.


04-08-2008, 04:08 PM
From an email I sent to B&H - they tell me that they can get the 2402 and 2405 b/w aerial film. Hoping you guys buy some, so that Kodak keeps making it and has some for me when I buy a #10. Haven't found any source for #8 film, and don't care to cut it in the dark.

Below is the cut-paste from B&H, recieved by me today:

"Subject: 9.25" Aerial Film

Our Answer: Here is the info you requested ...

KODXA9250Q 8 rolls available today
KOPXA9250Q 6 rolls available today

Thank You , & get back to me if you need further assistance."

Len Robertson
04-08-2008, 06:14 PM
Doug - Thanks for passing on the B&H aerial film information. Aerial film may not be the ideal solution for Cirkuts, but it is nice to know something is available. If you can stand to wait to find a #10 Camera, rather than an #8 Outfit, you will probably be better off. However, people do various type of film slitting all the time, so it is possible. I think the secret is take the time to make a good film spool holder and cutting guide. I've heard there is a black mylar plastic that works well for leaders and trailers.
An idea for finding a Cirkut, if you have the time - go around to old established commercial studios and camera stores and see if they know anyone who might have a Cirkut. I found one of mine this way. A studio owner knew a former employee who had a partial #10. Camera store clerks may know of serious collectors who have a Cirkut. I know one collector in Seattle who had half a dozen in his collection. As professional use of Cirkuts has dwindled, I suspect a lot have ended up in collector's hands. And while you are looking, you could ask about outdated aerial film.
Clarence - I've never seen an instruction book for a fan camera. All the reprints on eBay and elsewhere seem to be for the later governor cameras, although much of the information is the same for both types. You will learn quite a bit from the later style i.b. if that is all you can find. Keep watching eBay for a #6 gearhead. They are really difficult to find, but not impossible. In the end, you may have to make one. Cutting almost 300 teeth sounds tedious to say the least, but compared to what some people do making model live steam locomotives, it is nothing. One thing in your favor - you don't have to make an exact reproduction of the original gear head; just something that functions. For what a #6 gearhead will probably cost you on eBay, you can buy a nice dividing head from eBay and an involute gear cutter, and have the dividing head for future projects.
Ron - Thanks for posting your gear cutting method. I've been curious what method you use. I haven't looked at that hobbing article in HSM in a few years, but I still remember it being a rather involved thing to build. Regarding the Chinese film idea, I had a feeling you had checked on this. I remember Bill McBride saying you found the Chinese camera, although I couldn't remember who ended up with it. If you are in contact with Bill, tell him I'm still alive. I never make it to the Puyallup camera swap anymore. Maybe next year.


04-08-2008, 06:36 PM
Thank you Len,

I have a rotary table and dividing head, but I want to know exactly what the final product should be before starting. While I do this for fun, it can be quite time consuming, and I am often amazed at what one can buy used, with a little luck (in terms of time and materials to make oneself or have custom made). Also, buying from someone who has already got a set up (and has learned from experience) is worth a lot. I only have to make gears that work together, since I am starting from scratch - although obviously there are a number of constraints. It would be nice to stick to the original design, both for authenticity, and the possibility of getting another unit.

Ron, what material are the ring and pinion gears made of, more importantly, what does one use today. I ask, because I will be in the south (of Canada) in May and like to shop for supplies and haul them back.


jamie young
04-08-2008, 08:15 PM
Hi Clarence The big ring gear was chrome plated steel, and the small gears were brass. I had a gear place in Milwaukee cut me a big ring gear for my #16 - a 20" gear with 600 teeth. I had them do it in stainless, and it has worked fine. Ron knows the machining and materials choices better than me though. I shot some images of the fans and gears and will get them off my camera soon.

Len Robertson
04-08-2008, 09:51 PM
Clarence - Maybe you found this already, but I just ran across a downloadable #6 Outfit instruction book:



04-08-2008, 10:07 PM
Thanks Jamie and Len,

Butkus if great - first place I went, but thank you for the link. People spend a lot for manuals, when a small donation will get them what they want.

Well, there is brass and then there is brass. The trick is to get the metals matched and all playing nice. I am no expert at this, but the fact that yours works fine, Jamie, is useful information. Stainless (also many types) can be a bit of a challenge to the duffer (me). I'll pm Ron and see what he thinks.

Thanks again guys.


04-08-2008, 10:25 PM
Regarding films...

A Cirkut camera has long been on my list of dream cameras. I love panos and I love contact prints. They were made for me!

But I've wondered what you were all using for film. I know next to nothing about Cirkut film, but I wonder if it is something Simon at Ilford would consider a run of. What thickness is the base? Is there a "common" spool? Does the film have a backing paper? If so, is it like 120, over the whole roll, or like 220, just at the end(s)?

Edumicate me, please.


04-08-2008, 10:30 PM
Does Arvid Olsen ever sell any of his Cirkut equipment? He buys a lot of Cirkut stuff on eBay (as arvideo). I sold him a Century No 10 years ago, and he's still active: for example (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=110220517764). I seem to recall he recently bought a spare 6" tripod and ring gear from Australia. What does he do with all of it?


Len Robertson
04-08-2008, 11:05 PM
Ed - Cirkut film is like wide 220. Paper backing at both ends. As I recall, the thickness is approx. .004 inch, more or less the same as smaller roll film. Isn't sheet film about .007 in.? I love your Lee Friedlander quote. One thing with a Cirkut shot - everything and everybody in the area gets in the picture.

Charley - I've wondered myself about the eBay Cirkut buyers. I watch most all of it sell, and it seems there are a couple of the same names pretty often. Buying for resale? Compulsive hoarders? When I first looked at the link you posted, I thought Yikes, as far as the price for a basket case Attachment. But then I saw the gears included. That must have been what he was after.


04-08-2008, 11:36 PM
In fact most are made out of 1/8 inch brass and nickel plated to make the surface hard. I've only seen 1 #10 steel gear, and 2 #16 steel gears.

Brass is just fine to use and a lot easier to cut.

The big thing is to have the top face of the gear perfectly flat or the camera will wobble slightly when revolving and could cause problems. In the factory they would often add small paper shims to level the gear on the tripod head. Usually the problem is not the ring gear but the rollers having flat spots. They need to be perfect, and have a slight crown on them like an over inflated tire. When the wear down and get flat, they have to skid slightly when going around and then start wearing out even faster. Think of it like a car going in a tight circle, the outside wheels need to turn faster. If both sides of the car's wheels were fixed to the axles so they had to rotate at the same rate, one side or the other would have to skid. In a microscopic way this is what is happening to the roller on the turntable unless it is crowned.

Also, be sure to keep everything oiled, not soaking with oil as that will attract dirt, but oiled often and then wiped down. 3 in one oil is OK not anything heavier unless you are going to Death Valley in August. This applies to the gear shafts in the camera too. Use a very small brush to apply just one drop to each journal, run the camera then wipe. Do it often, but NEVER lube the gear teeth, Brass gears run dry, or you are asking for dirt to stick in the teeth and cause banding. I can go to great length to tell you how to clean up a cirkut gear train. I have a couple of good tricks to keep things clean too.

My #16 is a fan camera and I can run it without fans attached but it is noisy and not worth the risk of vibration damage. I cheated and put ball bearings in the guts. This was not for the fast speed, but to give me more power when I am using a really big fan like a ten second job or even bigger. I just make sure the wind isn't blowing or it will never run smooth. To prove the point, cup your hand around a running fan for shelter and it will noticeably speed up.

jamie young
04-08-2008, 11:38 PM
I shot a few quick reference images and updated my web site with images of the fans and fan mechanism on my #10 camera- The link here
I have other info on some other pages as well
and images shot with the camera here

I got my #16 on ebay for an extremely reasonable price, but had to get a lense, make a big gear, get and have made small gears, fans, tripod, etc. It was a project and all worked out after about a year. I'm always amazed at what comes up on ebay though.
On aerial film, this image was shot using 5" plus x aerial stock. Probably not the best example but hey.

Ed on film: It's like 220 film- Just leader and trailer, no backing. It should be around the same thickness as 120 - this does matter!

04-08-2008, 11:51 PM
There are probably a lot of better ways to cut gears, but this how I make mine and so far they have worked just fine for every cirkut I have ever used.

You need a metal lathe and a milling machine fitted with a dividing head and tailstock. As well you need the correct gear cutter installed on the mill and centered to the tailstock.

You will need to make a special arbor shaft that allows a rough gear blank with a ¼ reamed hole to be added. I have a 5/8 shaft turned down to ¼ inch and then threaded on the end with ¼ 28 thread. After I made it, I hardened the steel. The arbor shaft is center drilled on both ends so it can be set up with a face plate and lathe dog to turn it.

I rough cut my brass gear blank with a band saw and drill an undersized ¼ hole which I ream to exactly ¼ inch. Then the blank is put on the arbor and turned down on the lathe to the right outside diameter. Then it is moved to the dividing head on the mill and the teeth are cut. After the gear is cut and before it is removed from the arbor, it is put back in the lathe and lapped with very fine grinding compound using a spare prime number gear with a steel shaft. I simply hold the lapping gear shaft in my hands and mesh it into the fresh gear. My lathe can run in reverse so I lap in both directions. This removes edge burrs from the gear cutter and just evens thing out a bit all over. Final polish is with tripoli.

My arbor shaft allows for five blanks to be cut at once, or with smaller spacers I can cut just one gear as well.

So that covers the basics, but there is some great math needed to calculate the outside diameter of the gear blank, the depth to set the gear cutter, and which dividing plate to use for the right number of divisions. It isn’t difficult, but you have to think about it all the time. I made more than a few gears that came out goofy and had to be re-cut to make a gear with fewer teeth before I figured it out. Mostly, as with anything, it just takes patience.

If you are curious about the math, it goes something like this:

If you need a gear with a specific number of teeth say 37, add one to the number needed (this gives 38 in our example). Then divide by the pitch (cirkuts normally use 32 pitch except for #5 and #6 cameras, they use 48 pitch) That will give you the outside diameter of the gear blank. 2 divided by the pitch number gives the depth to run the cutter, but you also need to go slightly deeper for clearance. (I go 5% – 7 %, and sometimes less, this is where the practice comes in because of the range of teeth each cutter can make causes some fudging to be required) There are plenty of books telling you how to use a dividing head, I am always amazed at what plate and number of holes end up with the division you really need, it just never seems right but it works.

Hope this helps.


04-09-2008, 12:11 AM
I knew better than to read through this post. Sheesh, this stuff is so contageous. I gotta quit my real job and just play non stop with old cameras. I bought a roll of Aerial Panatomic the other day that is fogged next to the reel on both ends. It would make gorgeous 8" film if someone trimmed 3/4" from both ends. I wonder who does that and how? My one picture I made with an 8, I trimmed down 9.5 aerial film, but it was horrible to try to work with in the dark. Hacksaw. Nightmares. The rough edges caused banding I'm pretty sure as it played out un-evenly. My approach since the film wasn't a big expense was to just load the camera in the dark and skip the paper leader and trailer.

04-09-2008, 12:51 AM
Hello Jamie, Ron and Jim,

This is all very helpful. Great photos of your #10, it explains a lot. The fan shaft has an internal thread. It appears that each fan has a machine screw with knurled head inside the barrel and is permanently attached to each fan. Are the fan blades press fitted into slots?

Ron, do you use free machining brass for your gears? Is the large ring gear cut from one piece of stock, or formed from an over-sized strip, brazed and then machined? Is the brass ring gear durable enough to use without plating, that is, do you know if anyone has got any amount of use out of an unplated one before wear becomes a problem?

Jim, this camera you sold me is getting expensive.;)


04-09-2008, 07:14 AM
I bought a large sheet of 1/8 inch free machining brass years ago for my gears before brass became the price of gold. Some of the older cirkuts use gears that are made from thicker brass and I scrounged a piece of 3/16" for those. I was going to make a gear out of a fifty cent piece once just for a joke. It would probably work.

Some of the commercial places that make gears seem to make "thick" gears and they really don't mesh well with the cirkuts. They are advertised as 32 pitch, 14.5 degree pressure angle, but the fit to the original ring gear is lousy. That is why I started making my own and taking a close look at the original gears and their fit.

The ring gears are made from one piece of flat brass, not a formed strip. And yes you can use them without the plating as most of the old cameras seem to have worn plating. I've even seen deep ruts, but that cannot be good. A simple fix would be to make a thin flat ring slightly smaller than the gear teeth that fits on the top of the gear and just glue it down if nothing else. A guy could use thin stainless and it wouldn't increase the height enough that the pinion shafts would be affected.

Although I have blanks cut to make 12" ring gears, I've never made them because there has never been a demand and I have enough for my machines. Mostly the issue is my lathe cannot swing that diameter and I need to us a friend's. That makes for a lot of running around. I've always wanted to make a ring gear with an odd number of teeth to change the ratios for some of the different lenses I use. A 10 inch ring gear would be better for wide angle work and a 14 inch gear for telephoto stuff would be dandy as the pinion gears would be slightly bigger.