Could you build a 4x5 camera with fixed focus, shutter speed, and aperture?

Grain rain

A
Grain rain

  • 0
  • 1
  • 83
Dancer In Motion

A
Dancer In Motion

  • 4
  • 1
  • 107
Birds eye view

A
Birds eye view

  • 2
  • 2
  • 127
EmptyName 7.jpg

A
EmptyName 7.jpg

  • 10
  • 8
  • 331

Recent Classifieds

Forum statistics

Threads
189,787
Messages
2,646,815
Members
97,347
Latest member
A Modest Mouse
Recent bookmarks
0

blee1996

Subscriber
Joined
Jul 25, 2008
Messages
571
Location
SF Bay Area, California
Format
Multi Format
Build your own camera is fun in itself. It simplifies photography into a lens, a dark box, and some recording media. And you can be very innovative in doing it.

I was visiting a giant camera Obscura, where the entire lighthouse was used as the "camera body". And they have mirrors and condensers to project the image on a mapping table. It is way before any "Single Lens Reflex"...
 

GregY

Member
Joined
Apr 12, 2005
Messages
1,953
Location
Alberta
Format
Large Format
My 4x10 from 15 yrs ago...
Screenshot 2023-10-25 at 10.19.08 AM.png
Screenshot 2023-10-25 at 10.19.21 AM.png
 

Xylo

Member
Joined
Dec 6, 2008
Messages
359
Location
South of Montreal, Canada
Format
Multi Format
They used to make some fixed focus wide angle cameras that were used mainly for crime scene photography. But then you do have to use an exposure meter (unless you sunny-16 it or use an exposure chart).

With a 90mm set at it's hyperfocal, it should be pretty close to what the OP wants.
 

grat

Member
Joined
May 8, 2020
Messages
2,044
Location
Gainesville, FL
Format
Multi Format
The OP never suggested any such thing. He said build a camera. I imagine he means a simple wooden box with a slot for a dark-slide.

A lens to cover 4x5 wouldn't be hard to find, but one already fitted in an 'I'-and-'B' shutter might be. The project might turn into an exercise in copying the shutter from a Brownie box.

Sorry, didn't realize there was a pedant in the thread. My mistake.

So the OP wants to take the concept of a large format camera that produces beautiful, high resolution negatives, and take away all the controls for making a good exposure?

It's much easier to grab a lens already mounted in a shutter if you're building a 4x5 camera. A fixed focal length cone for the lens, with a helicoid for coarse focusing has been done as others have suggested, with the Will Travel, the Chroma Snapshot, and a few others.

But still, removing the aperture / shutter speed removes a great deal of control that is essentially free with most large-format lenses.
 

Dustin McAmera

Subscriber
Joined
Feb 15, 2023
Messages
384
Location
UK
Format
Multi Format
Make yourself clear in the first place, and people will know what you mean. Insulting people who don't isn't likely to help.

removing the aperture / shutter speed removes a great deal of control that is essentially free with most large-format lenses
Sure it does (but those large-format lenses aren't exactly free in the first place).
I wouldn't be without the fine control that some of my cameras give me, all the time. But I still have time for my simple cameras too. Cameras with an 'I'-and-'B' shutter, an achromat lens, no iris and no focusing made important photographs for millions of people for generations. With such a setup, big film helps.

I don't think I'd set out to do what the OP proposes*. Since I already have cameras with controls, it's easy for me to just be lazy with setting them, if I'm ever in a box-camera frame of mind. But I don't decry the idea of building a 4x5-inch box camera. With a bit of thought and luck about where to get the components, I guess such a thing might cost a few tens of dollars. 4x5 film costs what - a couple of dollars per sheet? It's not so rare or expensive that it has to be reserved for people with thousand-dollar cameras. Me, I like old cameras, and I have limited practical skills, so I'm more likely to seek out an existing old box camera than build one. A falling-plate magazine camera appeals to me - but most of those have focus and exposure control.

* That said, I have a set of three quarter-plate film-holders that I bought by mistake, which don't fit any camera I own. I could make a box camera specially for them...
 
Last edited:

jwd722

Subscriber
Joined
Jan 15, 2012
Messages
335
Location
michigan
Format
Multi Format
Conley Camera Co. made a 4x5 box camera which used dry plates around 1900 to 1910.
A meniscus lens with a fairly sharp center and softer corners. Shutter was timed or instantaneous.
Fixed f16 aperture at 1/50 sec.
 

Donald Qualls

Subscriber
Joined
Jan 19, 2005
Messages
11,321
Location
North Carolina
Format
Multi Format
didn't realize there was another pedant in the thread.
Fixed that for you.

IMO, 4x5 film is a little on the high side to shoot without controls, but if someone has a lot more disposable income than I do and wants to simplify things to composition and nothing else, there's nothing wrong with building a box camera to use 4x5 sheet film. I probably won't, because I have to think hard before buying a box of Fomapan in 4x5, never mind Kodak or Ilford or Fuji (if you can even find Fuji). Then again, I've never flipped the lens in a Brownie Hawkeye Flash for the "artistic" field curvature, I'm not a heavy Holga user, etc.
 

maltfalc

Member
Joined
May 11, 2007
Messages
108
Format
35mm
..because nobody ever took a worthwhile photograph with a box camera; it's a complete mystery why they kept making Brownies for seventy years.

do you know how they managed that? hint's in the rest of the sentence you quoted a small fraction of out of context so that you could criticize me for something i never said.
 

maltfalc

Member
Joined
May 11, 2007
Messages
108
Format
35mm
The OP never suggested any such thing. He said build a camera. I imagine he means a simple wooden box with a slot for a dark-slide.

A lens to cover 4x5 wouldn't be hard to find, but one already fitted in an 'I'-and-'B' shutter might be. The project might turn into an exercise in copying the shutter from a Brownie box.

"a 4x5 camera with fixed focus, shutter speed, and aperture" is what the op suggested. not a brownie.​

 

MattKing

Moderator
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2005
Messages
46,723
Location
Delta, BC, Canada
Format
Multi Format
Moderator hat on:
The subject of a 4"x5" "box" camera seems to have brought rise to some passion.
Please keep your posts civil.
Hat off.
And yes, a "4x5 camera with fixed focus, shutter speed, and aperture" would indeed be very similar to a larger version of a box Brownie.
 

DREW WILEY

Member
Joined
Jul 14, 2011
Messages
12,232
Format
8x10 Format
Sure you can build one. That's the easy part. The hard part is convincing scene lighting outside a studio to become an invariable constant. You could opt for a somewhat larger fixed aperture plus a provision for optional neutral density filters.

My mother used a Box Brownie camera for decades and was totally consistent with it - never a good picture ever. In fact, almost every picture was tilted a little. She'd look up from the camera, say, Smile, and unawares slightly tweak the camera angle as she pressed the shutter. But it's amazing how much latitude for exposure error and being stored improperly films like Kodak Gold were engineered for. As long as faces weren't green, it was considered a success.

I know someone who ordered up a beautiful handheld mahogany box camera for 8x10 film, fixed focus but controllable aperture. No light meter. He let a neighborhood film lab handle all the development and printing headaches. His contractor career doesn't spare him enough time for anything other than a quick shutter punch. It was just for sake of a bit of quick fun on the run. Then he gave the prints to the people he photographed. I was one of those people, and have kept the print. I had a lot of contractor customers like that - one dressed like a pirate and always had a live parrot on his shoulder wherever he went. Three others had beautiful pet wolves that accompanied them everywhere. Another had a tiny little terrier in a basket with him. And this fellow had his pet box camera always with him. Why not?
 
Last edited:

Donald Qualls

Subscriber
Joined
Jan 19, 2005
Messages
11,321
Location
North Carolina
Format
Multi Format
convincing scene lighting outside a studio to become an invariable constant.

Well, it's worth noting that there are many fixed-everything cameras still being made (I have one for half-frame stereo on 35 mm, as well as a number of 35 mm, 127, and 120/620, though the latter two formats seem to have dropped out of the "simple camera" market). If anything, modern film has more exposure latitude than what was available in the 1950s, never mind the 1890s when Kodak sold their paper-roll camera that you sent back to them for development, printing, and reloading, if you ever finished the roll of 100 exposures...

The biggest advantage of 4x5 over these smaller formats is that you can make contact prints that are big enough to see well (6x9 also does this, but the Baby Brownie -- 127 -- that I have with a partial box shows the size of a contact print from that 4x6.5 cm frame). And with a contact print, precise focus is a little less critical (I sometimes shoot with a 105 triplet on 4x5 and set hyperfocal to get everything from 6 feet to the horizon sharp). The main disadvantage of 4x5 is cost per frame -- Fomapan has gone up, like everything else.
 

DREW WILEY

Member
Joined
Jul 14, 2011
Messages
12,232
Format
8x10 Format
Another big problem when dealing with larger format box cameras with fixed-focus is that unless they are of the pinhole variety, the longer lenses necessary are going to make the problem of determining your plane of focus far more difficult, unless everything is at infinity. In the case of the individual I mentioned earlier, and his own 8X10 box camera, he simply got accustomed to shooting his subjects from a particular standard distance away. It was about 7 ft or so. I don't recall the exact focal length of his lens; but it seemed to be around 10 inch, providing a slightly wide angle and good depth of field along with a relatively short holdable box design. And the results were also printed small, almost contact sized (although they weren't actual contact prints). It worked for him at least.
 

Donald Qualls

Subscriber
Joined
Jan 19, 2005
Messages
11,321
Location
North Carolina
Format
Multi Format
longer lenses necessary are going to make the problem of determining your plane of focus far more difficult, unless everything is at infinity.

My experience is the opposite of this. As I noted, I've got a 10.5 cm Agnar triplet that just covers 4x5 at f/16 and hyperfocal; everything between six feet and infinity is sharp -- not just sharp enough for contact prints, but quite acceptable for 8x10 or larger prints from 4x5. And IMO, six feet to infinity isn't a restrictive distance range.
 

blee1996

Subscriber
Joined
Jul 25, 2008
Messages
571
Location
SF Bay Area, California
Format
Multi Format
My experience is the opposite of this. As I noted, I've got a 10.5 cm Agnar triplet that just covers 4x5 at f/16 and hyperfocal; everything between six feet and infinity is sharp -- not just sharp enough for contact prints, but quite acceptable for 8x10 or larger prints from 4x5. And IMO, six feet to infinity isn't a restrictive distance range.

105mm (10.5cm) on 4x5 is wide angle, so hyperfocal is quite easy. It is not a longer lens in terms of equivalent focal length. 😄
 

Donald Qualls

Subscriber
Joined
Jan 19, 2005
Messages
11,321
Location
North Carolina
Format
Multi Format
105mm (10.5cm) on 4x5 is wide angle, so hyperfocal is quite easy. It is not a longer lens in terms of equivalent focal length. 😄

Oh, very true -- it's about like a 35 mm on full frame 35 mm film (roughly). Lots of folks shoot exclusively with lenses that wide, though, and many simple cameras were commercially made with similar FOV -- Holga has a 60 mm on 6x6 ("normal" would be 80 mm), and many/most of the compact simple cameras for 35 mm have 35-38 mm lenses. Even a lot of "serious" 35 mm cameras had 40 mm, which is still fairly wide.

The only reason you'd want a 150 or longer lens on a fixed-everything 4x5 is if you intended to use it only for portraits; then you'd set it up for your preferred distance (head only, head and shoulders, or upper body) and tie a string below the lens with a knot to mark where the subject's nose should be...
 

DREW WILEY

Member
Joined
Jul 14, 2011
Messages
12,232
Format
8x10 Format
Few modern 105's cover 4x5 film well, especially not at those wider stops needed for handheld shooting. I do sometimes use an optically superb 105/3.5 Nikkor M for 6x9 roll film holders; but, based on testing, 6X11 would be its realistic limit, and only at small stops. You get a little bigger image circle out of plasmat W-normal design 105's, but not a whole lot more. But at least those don't stretch the corners of the image like most true wide-angle lenses do.
 

Donald Qualls

Subscriber
Joined
Jan 19, 2005
Messages
11,321
Location
North Carolina
Format
Multi Format
Don't forget the original question was for a fixed-everything camera, like a cardboard box camera for 120 but sized for 4x5. I'm not at home, but I'll try to remember to come back later and post an image or two that I made with my Agnar in my Speed Graphic or Graphic View.

For this kind of camera, you wouldn't be looking for a "modern" 105, you'd pull something out of an old postcard format folding camera, or check coverage on the meniscus out of a 6x9 box camera. The only really sensible reason to build "fixed everything" is to make a 4x5 camera that costs less than a box of film.
 

blee1996

Subscriber
Joined
Jul 25, 2008
Messages
571
Location
SF Bay Area, California
Format
Multi Format
There are a few popular wide-angle choices that are both small and cheap while having enough coverage for 4x5 P&S. Same can be used for a 6x12 P&S camera. You can set them to hyperfocal distance, or add simple M42/M65 helicoid focusing.
  • Schneider Angulon 90/6.8 in a Compur/Copal #0 shutter. This is my current solution for a hacked Holga 120 Pan, and it is excellent optically.
  • Wollensak Extreme Wide Angle (EWA) 90mm f/12.5, in a Rapax shutter. Stop down to f/22 and smaller aperture, it works well with decent quality.
  • Wollensak Wide Angle Raptar 90mm f/6.8: never tried
 

DREW WILEY

Member
Joined
Jul 14, 2011
Messages
12,232
Format
8x10 Format
I began a fixed focus at infinity handheld 4x5, but not ultra-cheap. The body is carbon fiber. Never finished it. Maybe someday.
 

abruzzi

Subscriber
Joined
Mar 10, 2018
Messages
2,476
Location
New Mexico, USA
Format
Large Format
I do sometimes use an optically superb 105/3.5 Nikkor M for 6x9 roll film holders; but, based on testing, 6X11 would be its realistic limit, and only at small stops.

I test shot my Nikkor-M 105/3.5 on a sheet of 4x5, and yeah, it gets ugly in the corners--it covers, but not usably.
 
Photrio.com contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.
To read our full affiliate disclosure statement please click Here.

PHOTRIO PARTNERS EQUALLY FUNDING OUR COMMUNITY:



Ilford ADOX Freestyle Photographic Stearman Press Weldon Color Lab Blue Moon Camera & Machine
Top Bottom