Large Format Mediums

One thing I like about having fragments of cameras all over the place is making the occasional frankenmonster. More on that later.

I’ve been lucky to collect numerous types of lenses and shutters from a clear out at work which then enabled me to buy a lensless Graphic View monorail 5×4 camera ‘body’ for £105 (including postage) from

It’s a beautiful camera. The red bellows look the part and the movements feel fine, it’s old and a wee bit creaky but it’s all good.

Along with this camera I also found 4 DD’s in the carry case, three of which were plate holders.

Wet Plate baby! This is a sign (if you believe in signs).


I have a few nice lenses lying around and at first I went for my 203mm Kodak Ektar lens, not particularly fast at ƒ7.7 but a good enough start. Looking through the GG was actually quite dark and pretty hard to focus on subjects even in bright light. Hmmm …

I took a couple of frames regardless but focussing was pretty tough and light was low.


I then switched to a 135mm Schneider Krueznach Xenar lens rated at ƒ4.5 but I still found it difficult to focus.

I went on to try taking a portrait of Lou and Anna using a basic flash setup. This was good fun.

The flash failed to fire on the last frame but since the flash was really used as a fill it didn’t affect the frame too much.

The dark GG I fixed by switching the GG from the Crown Graphic, which actually turned out to be two GG’s, and putting them into the Graphic View. Now it looks great.

I lost my senses for a few days thinking I had flashes strong enough to affect paper. I had a couple of flash setups with the strongest flashes I had but they were total fails.

I’m blaming this thinking on the Flu I succumbed to days later which I’m still getting over a week or so on.

Oh the horror.

What I think is important about a blog is to not be afraid to show the world you’re failings. Everything isn’t always amazing and it certainly wasn’t that day.

Moving on – I got angry and did a 50s exposure at ƒ4.5 and got these paper prints of a bowl of fruit to prove it was me and not the paper.

… and to think I had a flash bright enough to light that for paper.

The next lens I thought about using was a Dallmeyer ƒ4.5 enlarger lens. I broke out the shitiest piece of cardboard I had and made the shitiest lens board I’ve made to date …

The buggering thing worked a treat!

I am the Cardboard King!

I did a quick setup with some flowers using a sheet of Ilford Multigrade IV RC paper and a sheet of Fomapan 200 or Adox 100 that I had lying around because I opened the DD by accident and exposed part of it.

Wowzers it worked well. The exposure was about 10 seconds in overcast light at ƒ4.5. I used an oversized lens cap as a shutter.

The film shot looked fine too though overexposed and of course with the wee strip burnt in at the edge.

I’m not fast enough to do 1/6 of a second.

A Scanner Darkly
Anybody who follows me on the twitters or Instagram, ‘sibokku‘, will know where I’m going here. I had a brain storm of epic proportions a few days ago.

How about using a shity HP Photosmart All-In-One scanner/printer as a digital back!?

…. so I made it …

First results were quite promising, just scanning the back of my Large format cameras …

I couldn’t wait to get home and get started on an enclosure ….

It was “too weird to live and too rare to die” or obscene like a half-shark/aligator-half-man.

I sat the scanner in the back of the box and set about scanning those flowers from earlier.

Sadly things weren’t working like they did …

The lens didn’t appear to be letting in enough light and when it did it was just a thin strip of nonsense. I must admit I felt a bit deflated.

I think it might be down to the lack of light in the room as well as the size of the lens. It was getting late with only one low powered bulb from above and an x-ray viewing lamp from below or the side.

I went back to using the scanner on the back of the Graphic View with similarly mixed results

And the images …

I’m not done with this yet. I’m going to start looking for an 8×10 lens and start again.

I’m feeling a burning desire to make my own camera but this time not from 2 picture frames with screwed on metal feet from an old microwave, cardboard struts and bin liners for bellows.

I’m talking real wood and stuff!

More of this bloody nonsense to come.


PS …

I have a wee project I’m about to start which will hopefully be a series of 4×5 portraits. I have still to decide how I wish to approach them but they will be using the studio lights I’ve just purchased and will probably be on both paper and film.

I do still need subjects to photograph and to decide how to photograph them but I’ll be looking at some books on portrait paintings for additional ideas over the next few weeks.

When I know the angle I’ll be putting up flyers looking for participants in the Edinburgh area. If you’re reading this, live in Edinburgh and are keen to participate just let me know!

I believe I have one potential subject booked in but it depends on how things go over the next few days/week. I’ll probably offer digital scans of the images and if I have time I’ll also try to do prints as gifts.

Ted Forbes talks about expanding or trying different things to get out of a creative block so here we go!

I always wanted to try portrait photography but was always scared. Time to grow up.



12 thoughts on “Large Format Mediums

  1. Man, you make me feel lazy. Always enjoy looking at your experiments. It’s something that has been mostly lost in photography. If you end up working on wet-plate, hopefully you can do a really thorough post on the process and results?


    1. Thanks James. I love the experiments but I now need to start using it on subjects. Portraits are the way to go but still unsure how to go about it other than model releases and things like that.

      If I get to do wet plate I won’t stop talking about it and you’ll wish I hadn’t started.


      1. You don’t have to worry about model releases unless you intend to use the images for commercial purposes (e.g. advertising). You don’t usually need a model release (in the UK) for editorial purposes even. So unless you’re planning to get into stock or agency photography where a picture will be used commercially you can do without the model release and make everything much simpler. Too many people get hung up on model releases and there are a lot of myths out there about them.

        If you want a legitimate model release then the model should receive either money or something of value in return; this is mentioned in detail on the release form. I would forget about the form and just verbally check that the person is happy for you to take their picture for personal (or editorial) work.


  2. Brilliant post and I love everything that you’re doing. You are the camera DIY king and it’s fascinating!! I think the scanner results are pretty good. I wouldn’t expect to see that much better to be honest. Keep up the great work Si!


  3. Awesome post. I’ve not yet shot large format, but I want to build a 4×5 camera, too. I’ve been looking at a lot of plans online. Might be a project for this winter.
    I’m glad to see you tried the scanner on the back of the large format camera, because that’s something I’ve thought about too. A question about the big scanner camera you built — is there something acting like ground glass for the image to focus on? Maybe a sheet of vellum paper on the scanner?


    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s been thinking about using flatbed scanners like this! I love large format because it forces me to stop and think but it’s taken me a while to actually do that with the 4x5s.

      I did have something there as a ground glass substitute but it didn’t work. I tried grease-proof paper but sadly no good, I used the preview scan function.

      I know I need a larger lens and I’m looking at my bank account to see how much of it I can sacrifice for something that’ll cover 8×10 or larger.

      I want to make photos onto large sheets of paper, because they’ll be easier to develop, since wet plate chemicals are scarce in the UK and expensive to import.


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