Do It Yourself
Build An Ultra Wide Shift Camera Part 1

sorcadmin's picture
Our DIY shift camera is a "bellowsless" view camera designed specifically for one ultra-wide lens, its only perspective control movement being the slide action of the long panel on which this lens is mounted. The panel creates rise and fall when the camera is positioned vertically, or left and right shift when placed horizontally. By using a two-way or revolving camera back, any combination of rise, fall, and shift can be had in a vertical or horizontal composition.
Photos © Tom Fuller, 2000

This month we have a Level 5 project (see the April 2000 issue for an explanation of the DIY complexity scale) that I've broken into two parts for convenience. This part describes the concept and the basic camera design, with next month's Part 2 covering construction details, finishing, and use. Made of bass or other easily-worked hobby shop wood and ordinary hardware, materials for the camera body should cost around $30, but the required lens, ground-glass back, and optional rollfilm holder could run several hundred dollars if you do not already have them. Please read both parts carefully before beginning and, if the purchase of the major components is necessary, weigh the total cost against that of a ready-made version of this specialized camera type.

A wide angle shift camera is a hybrid 4x5" or medium format view camera with only front rise and fall movement. Because the exceptionally short focal length of the lens, usually no more than 65mm, places its rear element only millimeters from the film surface, the creation of swing and tilt with a bellows and moveable front and rear view camera standards is impossible. Often used to capture expansive architectural subjects, such cameras rely upon this extensive lateral rise/fall action to achieve the desired composition without having to angle the camera up or down and introduce "falling over" subject distortion. As the inherent depth of field of short focal lengths is considerable even at medium-sized apertures, the absence of other perspective control movements is seldom a problem.

This type of camera is typically used with roll film in 6x7cm and 6x9cm formats for architectural photography, as well as the 6x12cm format for panoramic imaging. We are using a 4x5" camera back to provide ground-glass focusing and to receive a 120 or 220 rollfilm holder, such as one from Calumet's slide-in C2n series or a Graflok-attached model from Horseman or a number of other manufacturers. If you do only occasional ultra-wide photography and don't want to invest in a rollfilm holder, consider shooting the image on a full sheet of 4x5" film and either cropping the medium format image area from it in printing or physically cutting the processed transparency down to size. As the camera body is built around an existing 4x5" view camera back, consider the design shown here to be only a starting point and modify it as needed to fit the component you have. Be sure to read both parts of this article and study the diagrams carefully before beginning your DIY ultra-wide body.

This design uses 4x5" and 120 film, the latter via a removable rollfilm holder, and is designed around a specific ground-glass back and lens. Consider building the body to accept a rented lens if you do only occasional ultra-wide photography, but make sure the same make and model of lens will be available each time you need it. A 4x5" ground-glass back can be cannibalized from a beaten-up press camera bought inexpensively at a photo swap meet (see Coming Events in this issue), also a good source of used rollfilm holders. Those with a 4x5" view camera can simply borrow its back and size the body to fit. Despite its sophistication the project is fairly easy to build and requires only basic woodworking tools, but very accurate measurements and careful assembly are a must for sharp, fog-free images.

The accompanying table lists a number of currently produced short lenses and their useable formats. If you are buying a lens, check the specifications of other view cameras you own or are considering to be sure it will infinity focus on them (using a bag bellows and a deeply recessed lensboard) to maximize your investment. Again, perspective control movements will be minimal or nonexistent with the very short lenses on many view cameras, but most will allow some swing and tilt with the 55-65mm focal lengths. If PC movements or other view camera-related concepts are new to you, invest in a good book on basic large format photography before pulling out your tools or your checkbook.

Approximately equal to a 17mm lens on a 35mm camera, the 35mm f/4.5 Apo-Grandagon covers the 6x7cm format with more than 20mm of rise (or lateral shift) possible along its long dimension. This exceptionally well-corrected Rodenstock design also produces expansive vistas on the 6x12cm format, although with minimal perspective control movement. Its 43mm flange focal length (the distance from the front of the lensboard to the film plane at infinity focus), precludes the use of a conventional bellows-equipped view camera and makes this near-fisheye optic a good candidate for a dedicated ultra-wide shift camera. In use, the rear element is only millimeters from the film.

Focal Length Table

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 65mm f/4
Manufacturer: Nikon
Maximum Useable Format Size: 4x5"
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x12cm
Flange Focal Distance: 71mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 65mm f/5.6
Manufacturer: Schneider
Maximum Useable Format Size: 4x5"
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x12cm
Flange Focal Distance: 72mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 65mm f/4.5
Manufacturer: Rodenstock
Maximum Useable Format Size: 4x5"
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x12cm
Flange Focal Distance: 70mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 65mm f/4.5
Manufacturer: Caltar
Maximum Useable Format Size: 4x5"
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x12cm
Flange Focal Distance: 70mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 58mm f/5.6
Manufacturer: Schneider
Maximum Useable Format Size: 4x5"
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x9cm
Flange Focal Distance: 69mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 55mm f/4.5
Manufacturer: Rodenstock
Maximum Useable Format Size: 4x5"
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x9cm
Flange Focal Distance: 68mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 47mm f/5.6
Manufacturer: Schneider
Maximum Useable Format Size: 4x5"
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x9cm
Flange Focal Distance: 59mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 45mm f/4.5
Manufacturer: Rodenstock
Maximum Useable Format Size: 6x12cm
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x7cm
Flange Focal Distance: 56mm

Focal Length And Maximum Aperture: 35mm f/4.5
Manufacturer: Rodenstock
Maximum Useable Format Size: 6x12cm
Maximum Recommended Shift Camera Format Size: 6x7cm
Flange Focal Distance: 43mm

Flange focal distance is the distance from the front of the lens panel to the film plane when the lens is focused at infinity.

All of the above lenses are available in Copal 0 shutters with speeds of 1 to 1/500 sec, plus T and B.

Considerably more lens rise, fall, or shift is possible when a film format smaller than the maximum size is used.

Share | |