I’ve had this Leitz 100mm Macro Elmar copy camera lens around for ages, something a friend gave me. Oh, what to do with it? Since I’ve been wanting a larger camera than my 4×5, I decided to check the lens and see if it would cover a larger piece of film.
I grabbed a cardboard shipping box, cut a cardboard lens board, and stuck the lens in it. Kind of funny seeing an expensive lens stuck in a cardboard box camera! The concept is that the lens board slides back & forth to focus the image. I used a piece of tracing paper to focus on, and eventually made a “film holder” out of more cardboard. To try to get the film on the same plate as my focusing screen, I ended up just taping the tracing paper in the film holder. The idea was to just shoot paper negatives.
When I started making it, I was thinking of using it for landscape images, but it turned out the lens only gave a 3″ diameter image (as seen here) when focusing at any distance. At first I was disappointed at the image coverage, but then figured it may be worth playing with anyhow.
Since the cardboard box wasn’t too accurate on keeping the film in place, I decided to make another version of the camera with black foam core. That way I could be more precise, yet still have a very cheap camera. This time I modeled it after the old sliding box cameras of the daguerreotype days. While I do own Alan Greene’s “Primitive Photography” book, I pretty much went with my own design… and designed it on the fly. (Sorry, no design plans to share at this time, but I may add some in the future.)
Once the camera box was made, I needed a film holder. I did take an idea from Greene’s “Primitive Photography” book on this one, and decided to use the film holder to hold the focusing screen as well. But, being lazy, I only made one holder, and I swap out the “ground glass” when I’m done focusing, and ready to load a dry plate (or wet plate, or paper negative.) My ground glass is actually just a piece of glass with tracing paper taped on it. It works okay, but definitely is not the best for critical focusing. I’m thinking of making my own ground glass, or being lazy and just putting frosted Scotch tape across the glass instead of the tracing paper.
As I dialed in the camera and holder, I was testing to see how close I can get to the subject—wow, then it hit me! This is a macro lens, it not only allows me to get in tight, it also gives me almost an 8″ x 8″ image size. ( I made the camera a little too small to fit 8″ x 8″, so the film holders actually take a 7.5″ x 7.5″ piece of glass.)
So now I have a macro large format camera which cost about $10 for the black foam core, and a sheet of black mat board. The mat board was used in making the film holder. The dark slides use the mat board, and I also used it to create the spacing for the dark slides to slide in & out. The main frame of the dark slide is made out of the foam core. I ended up spraying a sealer on the dark slides and part of the inside of the hold, so that it is somewhat water-proof for when I use wet plate collodion in this holder.
I first tested the camera with this still life set up, and shot it wide open at f4 to see if the lens gives any interesting effects, and it does! You’ll notice some interesting swirly movement in front of the bottle, and the background blurs out nicely.
I still trying to set up a tripod mounting method. I added some tabs to the front and back pieces of the camera where I’ll be able to clamp them to a board. I used a T-Nut on the bottom of the board so I can screw it to my tripod. The T-Nut might not be the best idea since it backs out of the wood when you tighten it too much. I tried glueing it in for now, and it seems stronger, so we’ll see if that helps any. For now, I’ve just set the camera the table when I’ve taken images with it.
Making your own box camera can be fun! Give it a try!