Homemade Camera, Part 3: A Dream Comes True

Welcome to part 3.

In the last episode I’d finally constructed the two box compartments, the main body and the focusing back, in this episode ‘the hard bit’; creating the two backs for the ground glass and film/paper.

We start with designs for the film/paper holder and how to secure it.

In the above design I thought about cutting a mount frame to hold the Ikea picture frame in place. This mount would then be placed flush against the back of the focusing section held tight with screws and rubber bands.

This is a fail because it would be a pain-in-the-arse to cut the mount frame not once but twice, one for the GG and one for the film/paper, and there was no guarantee of continuity with my shoddy woodwork ‘skills’.

Above was really an idea for creating a GG holder before I realised a picture frame would be better but it’s the genesis for what I eventually did use. Multiple layers of thin board holding the material in place.

Each layer to be replicated exactly on each back.

This is pretty much the final design minus one additional layer of white card.

On the front of the frame, the end that faces the camera, I attached one layer of thin board which is slightly smaller than the frame. This frame has no ‘top’ covering only the sides and bottom.

I also decided against the inside lip dark slide idea, pictured in the drawing and in the photo above, after realising I didn’t have enough frame width to make it work with the dark slide being too small and leaking light in like an S.O.B.

On top of that layer I added another layer of white mount board that was a similar in size to, but slightly larger than, the picture frame itself. In previous mockups the dark slide was slipping out of the frame and it wasn’t being held firmly enough when sliding back and fourth.

If you look closely at the above photo you will see I left a thin strip of white board from the bottom frame; that was a mistake and I re-added it later because it held the dark slide better.

Above, the final layer being glued thanks to a few cook books. Here’s a first look video below.


The final layer was a similarly sized piece of thin board but with a taller head which when held against the back minimised light leaks.

I went on to paint the inside of the board black and actually freaked myself out because when wet the board warped way more than I thought it would but fortunately dried flat. In the video above is pretty much the final result.

The ground glass back was easier to make, I just needed to replicate the layers from the dark slide.

Making the ground glass itself was a bit more half-assed compared to the 8×10 test so a lot more work still needs to go into that, maybe even get the silicon carbide powder I shoulda bought in the first place.

Completing the Design
I had numerous little details to finish before the first big test picture like running sealant on the outer edges of the main camera and on the inner side of the focusing back.

I also painted the inside of each compartment with matt black paint and fixed some wooden blocks for the backs to rest against, like the illustration below.

Finally I ran some rubber sticky seals along the inside where the backs rested to minimise light leaks from the backs but the seals stuck out too much but were fine after a brief knife attack.

When holding the backs tight onto rear I used ‘old favourite’, duct tape, to hold them firm rather than screws.

Making the First Frame
In preparation I had ordered some Ilford Multigrade paper from First Call Photographic because I’d used that paper before in my Titan pinhole camera and Graflex Graphic View/Crown 5×4 cameras. I also bought an additional 10 sheets of Kentmere graded paper to test at a later date.

In total, including shipping, we’re talking about £50 for 20 sheets of 16×20 paper(!).

I then had to convert Anna’s bedroom into a temporary darkroom. I was kindly donated a surplus Kodak safelight from a Radiology department I’ve been doing a lot of backend DICOM work with over the years which was an amazing help.

I didn’t tell Louise I was going to do this but I snuck in my developing trays in preparation for developing the first frame using Ilford Multigrade paper developer (1+9), water as stop bath and Rapid Fixer (1+4).


Make the Damn Photo!
I positioned the clothes horse and focussed the back using a long winters coat as a dark cloth. My 16×20 ground glass is still pretty bad so it was tricky with the limited light in the kitchen to focus. My studio lights are still at work to be used in my portrait project.

Once focussing was done I set about loading the paper into the dark slide back only to find the Ikea frame is a half centimetre smaller than the paper so I had to snip off a guesstimate edge to fit. That aside it was time to photograph!

I metered for ISO2.5 at ƒ4.5 resulting in around 39seconds exposure time which I then rounded up to 50 seconds from previous experience.

I used a chopping board as my lens cap after frantically searching the kitchen for something other than a heavy cooking pot that might damage the lens.

Up went the dark slide and down went the chopping board.

I nervously watched the seconds trickle down on my iPhone timer and at 50s I lowered the slide not knowing if it properly slid back into place or not (!!).

Fortunately it did but I might draw a mark on the slide to illustrate if it was a successful ‘touchdown’ or not.

Back to the darkroom to develop. I only had 1l of chemicals so I had to get that all over the sheet of paper as best I could.

Swishing the developer over that sheet was a nervous time until something started to come up quite quickly.

“Holy Shit!” I thought, it’s worked!

No shards of light cutting across the paper from any number of potential holes and no large pockets of bludgeoned light puking through a large gap I’d forgotten about.

I did fail to fully cover the paper with developer, bottom left, but it’s only a small area.

I was very happy with this first test print.

There were a couple of times where I thought I was being a bit silly even trying to attempt something like this. 16×20″, Ultra Large Format, in just over a year of my resurgence back into photography as my main creative outlet?

Not too many years ago I would never have done something like this. I would’ve just thought ‘too difficult’ and tried to forget about it only to feel regret across the years.

I guess it’s just maturity and a confidence I’ve managed to accumulate by default as I’ve matured.

Below Anna exclaims “is it a bra?”

I’m sure my wife will be happy to see the project almost complete, the back bedroom has been turned into a shithole.


What’s next?
Well I still have to give two sides of the backend feet to help the focussing back to stay flat for photos 3 meters or closer.

I need to test out the Kentmere paper because it was slightly cheaper than the Ilford Multigrade and better for projects I have less conviction with. I understand it might be a ‘slightly faster’ paper so I’m interested to see how that translates.

I want to include this camera into my slightly stalled portrait project and if I can get a sitter this week that’d be awesome!

Anyway, that’s it for now folks.

Le Fin

7 thoughts on “Homemade Camera, Part 3: A Dream Comes True

    1. Thanks Brendan. I’m not sure, I might get another picture frame to make a second dark slide but I’ve now realised the lens coverage might not be as great as I thought for photos maybe 5m-10m to infinity. If that’s the case then I’ll keep it as a portrait camera ergo – near a potential darkroom.

      I am contemplating engineering a portable darkroom which might just turn out to be a dark cloth setup in the boot of my car.


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