Advice on 8x20, 7x17 camera construction/manufacture.
Hello to members!
I have just joined and am anxious to find out how you all might to react to a wild idea. I have photographed in small formats for over 20 years. Over the past 5 years I have been an active in 4x5 and 8x10 shooting. For the past 2 years I have contemplated manufacturing a few 8x20 and or 7x17 wooden view cameras. Two things spur me on. First, to see if my idea will fly. Second, because it darn well hurts my feelings to see what these things go for new. Easy to spend 6,7,8 grand before even talking lens, holders, etc. I understand laws of supply and demand, but really!
My idea is to use, for example, a Folmer Schwing 8x20 (modified to take Korona style holders) as a construction template and basic concept. Then add improvements, generally along the lines of increased front movements (incl. full tilt, swing), increased rigidity, etc. I can fabricate metal and wooden parts, access sourcing for GG, bellows, spirit levels.
Any gut reactions out there to the raw concept of the folder field camera (a la F&S, Korona)? Made beefier (1920's cameras were, kind of, minimal) and with increased/improved movements. I'm thinking maybe 25" bellows, 30" max. And I'm still pondering over issues like extension rail and rigidity problems which Korona solved with struts. BTW, did the F&S employ Korona-style struts? An F&S 8x20 refurbish/rebuild Jeff Wheeler (extremely helpful and knowledgeable) showed me at Quality Camera in Atlanta actually had an add-on/bolt on base to add rigidity when cam was used.
A strategy could be to simplify and avoid trying to go head to head with the "big boys" like Wisner, Lotus, Canham, etc. I've watched for three years how fast folks snatch up the Koronas and F&Ss. I am haunted by thots of trying a lower-priced, simpler, "budget" 7x17 or 8x20 market entry. Ship out of stock. No waiting, no deposits, no horror stories. Do like I understand Keith Canham does. Take a bunch of orders without deposits, make 'em, sell 'em. Do what you say you'll do or face the wrath of large format forum scuttlebutt.
Sorry to be so long but this was the only way I knew to float my ideas. (Got to have a break, myself, from my therapy clients, anyway!!)
Many thanks in advance to all!
I think that there may be a market for a lower priced ULF camera. I use a Korona 12X20 that has been modified to have appr. 36 inches of bellows extension. The one fact that I would mention is that as format size increases the number of potential users decreases. The ULF market is a much smaller portion of the market then 8X10 and smaller still then those who would use 4X5. Additionally, cameras are much easier to construct then holders since the tolerances are "tighter" for holder construction.
Good luck in your efforts.
You might need to shoot with an ULF camera for awhile to ascertain if this is something you really want to take on commercially. There is a lot of competition out there, with a small but growing inherent market. This is probably the biggest reason for the high prices.I think you can take three roads here...go less expensive and simple, or the middle road, or totally maxed out. The middle and maxed out roads have been well traveled so that leaves only the least expensive. Bellows can be a problem for these cameras unless ordered from somewhere else which is costly. You really have to ask yourself this question...can I make a camera that is cheaper than anything out there and just as good and will attract an audience that can't afford the other offerings? A 7x17 Wisner is $3195, a 7x17 Canham is $4900, a 7x17 Ebony is probably 10 to 15 grand. A used 7x17 at $1200 to $1500 or so. If you could bring it in at around $2000 to $2500 you might have some customers. But the bellows from England will probably cost you $500 + shipping. Not much left for profit. There is also the possibility that Shen Hao will enter the ULF market and do a titanium/teak version for $2500 or so and really put a wrench in the works. Think about it.
I had some of the same thoughts about two years ago when I decided to embark on a similar quest. I wish you luck. the more vendors making affordable LF cameras of all formats the better for all of us. Here is some background about my curent project. Feel free to pm me about your specific ideas. I am more than happy to provide feedback.
I have begun to build lightweight ULF cameras that are affordable to most photographers. Priced about 1/3 to 1/2 of current vendors and provide enough features to make them more desirable then purchasing used ULF cameras.
My goal in the endeavor is two fold. First to provide cameras that will increase the population of ULF users to help ensure the continued availability of materials; second, to help provide tools to photographers who want to continue the tradition of contact printing taditional silver prints or using alternative processes from original ULF negatives.
So I have started a company. Great Plains View Cameras. After two years of designing, testing, building, I have come up with a series of light weight ULF cameras built on a modular concept that includes proprietary film holders.
The first camera will be introduced on APUG around August 1st. An 11x14 camera made from lightweight 6006 aluminum that weighs 14 lbs. (same for the 7x17 and 10x16). It is a monorail design that breaks down and sets up quickly and easily for easy transport in a backpack or case. Features include, reversable back, geared focus, geared front rise, front shift, tilt, and swing, rear swing and tilt (rear shift and rise available as options). Zero detents on movements, 40" bellows draw, accepts 8x10, 5x7 and 4x5 backs.
The rear standard uses a positive locking system instead of springs which allows lighter materials to be used and eliminates the possibility of moving the camera when the film holder is inserted. The film holders are made in house to fit the back and have the same film plane to lens distance as the gg.
Because we custom make the backs, we can build a back to fit any other film holder (lisco/fidelity, AWB etc). We can also build backs specific to glass plate photography as well as the holders.
We can build a camera or back to meet custom sizes. Full or half English plate sizes, 10x16, 7x14 etc. Components can be matched or picked for a variety of applications. Example: You could purchase a camera designed to take both 11x14 and 7x17. Bellows and rear standard dimensions would be 11x17 and you would have both 11x14 and 7x17 backs. An optional vertical tripod mount allows you to "safely" shoot tall 7x17 negatives without hanging the camera out on the side of the tripod.
Because the holders and backs are designed together we can use a simple design that is easy to load and rugged. For the same reason we can build film holders for any format or custom negative size, or build a back to match any available holder.
Probably the most time in designing these cameras (up 20x24) is the tedious job of deciding on materials and hardware. One way to keep the cost down is to make the bellows in house. Untill we can manufacture our own the current bellows are made by Turner Bellows. No they are not kid leather. But they are excellent, will last just as long and do the same job. If someone wants leather we can order one from Camera Bellows in England and tag on the extra cost. All the hardware with the exception of special rollers are off the shelf pieces.
The front standard and rail assembly are common between all formats 12x20 and smaller. So one could have the option of having a bellows and rear standard for 8x10 with 5x7 and 4x5 backs, and the 12x20 rear standard and bellows, (standard and bellows are easily exchanged) with optional 8x20, 11x14, 7x17 backs. One rail assembly, two rear standards with bellows and 7 formats!
The price for the 11x14 will be $2150. That will include 2 11x14 double side film holders. An 8x10 back would be $140 and would accept fidelity/lsico style holders. 7x17 the same price. The 11x14 and 7x17 combo with two film holders for each format will be tentatively priced at $2700. Aditional film holders will vary in price but for example an 11x14 or 7x17 holder will be $100.
I will make money off the cameras and accesories, such as the vaccum film holders and low cost vertical deep devloping tanks. But this is not my sole source of income, rather an addition to my other job and activities. So while it is a labor of love it is also for profit.
Being a new vendor, I ask for the trust of customers when purchasing something from me. In return I offer 30 day money back gaurantee, lifetime gaurantee on all parts, and peices from any breakage caused from defect or wear except the gg, as long as proper care of the camera is maintained. (ie, don't drop it down the side of a mountain, although dropping it in a lake won't hurt the camera). I also consider the ordering of a camera to be a contract with the individual. Cameras will be shipped within 6wks from when payment or deposit is received. I will give a shipping date and for every day a camera is past that date I will refund $10. But I don' plan on ever shipping late.
APUGers will get a chance to purchase either an 11x14 or 7x17 (including two film holders) for 1/2 price in August ( $1075). I'll ask for names and if more then one person PMs me I'll draw a name out of a hat. More specific information, images of the camera, hopefully a review or two and possibly a website on August 1st.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
JIm, when you are ready can you post some pictures? I would be interested in the 12x20, but I am not sure a monorail design will be sturdy enough. I like my Korona, but I am definitly tired of fiddling with it.
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Yes, pictures are coming. The 12x20 is "beefier" then the smaller formats with a stronger rear standard. There is one improtant difference between my cameras and regular "spring back" cameras. A wooden 12x20 requies some hefty springs to hold the large film holder in place. This in return requires a heavier wood frame, fist to be able to mount the springs, second just due to the shear size of the back. The size and weight of the back requires a heavier frame, and heavier wood to mount the hardware that provides mounting points for movements. Also a heavy frame to make sure the ground glass does not break when the back is opened.
The back on my camera is a machined 3/16th aluminum frame, reinforced at the pivot points and around the outside of the 2" width to eliminate any wobble. The film holder is an aluminum frame of 2.5" depth that is attached either directly to the 3/16" standard or to a 1/8" back for a camera with interchangeble backs. The ground glass is in a frame that is exactly the same as a film holder with the exception that the gg is a film thickness farther forward.
The ground glass "floats" in the back, secured tight for focus and composition, and then moves back as the film holder slides into place. The ground glass is secured by the locks, which seats the film holder, in the exact location as the ground glass was.
The back rear standard without the 1/8" back weighs about 4lbs. Add a 1.5 for the interchangeable back. Film holder weighs about 2lbs. So it does not take a massive amount of material to keep the holder in place. it is more about using the proper design and bracing. As a matter of fact, when working with metal in ULF the weight of the bellows is more of a concern as the one place you cannot really shave weight.
Actually, although I have not done the calculations but only crude drawings, I think if one could live with a 12x20 with no rear movemnets, and only the 12x20 format (but be able to shoot vertically with a tripod adapter) and live with some very light and somewhat exotic material for bellows, you could have a 12x20 minus film holder and lens weighing in at about 10 lbs., give or take depending on the extension needed.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
In fact I am sure of it. The Shen-Hao 8X10 sells for less than $2000 and the cost of labor or materials to build a ULF camera in 11X14, 7X17 or 8X20 size would be virtually identical to the 8X10. Just a question of time before we see Shen-Hao ULF cameras in my opinion. And as the owner of a 5X7 Shen-Hao I would buy a 7X17" model in a second.
Originally Posted by Emile de Leon
Thank you Jim, this answers some of my questions, as I had the same thought when I was thinking of building a camera myself. I figure I could have the actual film holder machined out of aluminum and just have a wooden frame to hold the film holder. I am more concerned with the flexing of the monorail and how it would behave in wind. A 12x20 by necessity requires at least 25 in of bellows, and this is cutting it short. When the bellows is extended it acts like a sail. I guess my questions are:
What did you figure out to prevent flexing and harmonic vibrations?
How does the camera set up and break down?
What type of holders will it use? Are you going to make the holders or can the camera be made to fit Korona holders?
And lastly, what kind of lensboards will it use, can you make an adapter to fit Linhof Technika boards?
Jorge, This is a little long but will answer your questions.
The monorail is machined 2"x1" aluminum channels that are asembled to allow carriage rollers to move in between the channels. Their is no vibration. To extend the monorail you add a section that locks inside the center rail. Center rail is 14" front and rear rails are 13" although these can be altered to fit a specific application. They lock with a telescoping section and lock in place with a pair of indexing spring plungers.
The rail does not have a sliding tripod mount. Instead their art 4 seperate mounting points in the rail. Two in the center rail and two in the back rail. This allows you to mount the camera with a variety of center of gravity points. This does two things. First allows you to better balance the camera as opposed to a single mounting point under the rear standard as on field cameras, and by eliminating a sliding mount I eliminate another potential point of movement and vibration.
As far as holders go, I can do either. We can make a back to fit a specific holder brand and make sure that the gg frame is also designed to go with that holder. That would make it more accurate then almost any other camera. The only problem is I don't own any current ULF holders. I have always made my own and sold the older ones I had. So I would need you to send me a holder so I can make the back to fit. Unless I can get someone to rent me a Korona holder for a few days. Camera cost would be the same.
We are building our own holders becaue we can manufacture them consistently with the backs and much more inexpensively then current holders. That allows us to sell holders with the cameras for a good price. And as almost everyone will agree, the cost of holders is usually the number one reason people site for not getting into ULF. If we build copies of current holders it really ups the cost of the holder and defeats the purpose of what I want to accomplish.
With regards to the bellows, it doesn't matter what style or make of the camera, a bellows that large is a problem in the wind. one answer would be a round bellows with just enough square on each end for smooth movements. Another possibilty would be a rigid bellows in the middle that is round but as a helical design that would expand and collapse. One thing I have done personally is to take very flexible palstic about 3mm. I used a plastic sled that was nothing more then a 4ft by 2ft peice of plastic with handles. cut a piece that would wraparound the bellows and ran velcro down the long length. The plastic was stiff enough not to collapse in the wind, but not so strong that the velcro would not hold it. It really cut down on the wind vibration. You could have a couple or three peices that would work for different bellows extensions. It rolls up pretty tight and a couple of strong rubber bands will hold the roll tight. I may provide one with each camera for a middle bellows extension.
The lens board design at this time is 6" square. If the customer tells us the shutter size or specific hole requirement we will drill the board. Each camera also comes with one additional board that is center drilled so it can be drilled later by the customer or a shop . If the customer specifies a size for the second board we will drill that at no extra cost. We plan in the future to make the back of the front standard set up to take a Packard shutter but can make those modifications upon request.
To answer your question I would be happy to adapt the current lensboard to a Linhof board. Like the film holder I wuld need to see a board. If someone does send items such as a lensboard or film holder I have insurance so if they are lost or damaged in shipping I would replace them.
I hope this answers your questions. As I stated in an early post I have been researching and working on this for 2 years, so I think we have thought many potential problems out. The idea is to eliminate as many of the barriers to getting into ULF as possible. Two other goals are to provide a cost effective rugged tripod that will be a good match to our lighter cameras, and a vertical tank devloping system for film and prints to eliminate the need for all the space requirements for developing and printing ULF negs in trays.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
Thanks Jim, you did answer all my questions and it seems you have a working solution. When you are ready let me know what the price will be for a 12x20 and I will send you a holder and a technika board.
One more thing, will the camera have any back movements? Sometimes I use back tilt and/or swing. I suppose a pic with the specs will go a long way to answer all of this, but you got my attention.