Do It Yourself
Build Your Own Recessed Lensboards

Carefully measure the front standard of your camera to determine the overall size of the lensboard and make a full-size drawing of it before cutting the foamcore. Note how the original lensboard is held in place and mark where notches and grooves will have to be cut to clear toggle mechanisms, clips and corners. Also measure the inside of the bellows and plan the recessed portion, or well, to be no larger than 70 percent of these dimensions and no deeper than 11/2". Even if it physically fits into the opening, an oversized well will interfere with the bellows pleats when perspective control movements are used.
Photos © 2003 Tom Fuller, All Rights Reserved

For our project this month, we will be making very inexpensive recessed lensboards for large format cameras. As a commercially-made board of this type easily goes for over $100 and our homegrown version costs about $10, I especially want to point out its cost advantage as well as the simplicity of materials and assembly. The project can be done easily in an afternoon by anyone with a modicum of do-it-yourself skill and classifies as a Level 1 undertaking as defined below.

My new Do-It-Yourself Level Scale refers to the tools and skills needed for Shutterbug projects. Level 1 can be done using only items found in the typical home by those able to follow detailed instructions, with the successful assembly of a plastic model kit being a good reference point. Level 3 requires "home improvement" tools, such as a soldering iron or power drill, and enough hands-on experience to replace a wall thermostat. Level 5 is for readers with serious toolboxes and an equal degree of technical savvy, such as those who replace their own brake pads. Few of my projects reach Level 5, and all will fully detail any special parts or materials that may be needed.

A recessed lensboard simply places the rear element of the lens closer to the film plane. It is used when the front and rear standards of a view camera cannot be moved close enough together to infinity-focus a short focal length lens. This is often the case when a pleated (rather than a bag-style) bellows is used, as the folds become too thick when completely compressed. Even when a bellows does adequately compress, a recessed board may still be needed to let the bellows extend slightly, thereby freeing up a few pleats, to permit minor perspective control movement at the front and/or rear standards.

Our material is 3/16" all-black (both sides and interior) foamcore, available at office and art supply stores. It comes in a variety of sizes from several manufacturers, but one sheet of Hunt's 20x30" Sturdy Board ((800) 879-4868; www. hunt-corp.com) will do. However, don't toss the leftover pieces, for you'll find a host of other uses for this strong, lightweight material. While wood may seem the "proper" choice for large format accessories, foamcore has the distinct advantage of remaining virtually warp-free during construction and use. It's also exceptionally easy to cut by hand and needs only white glue for assembly.

Because a picture is truly worth a thousand words, I'll let the accompanying photos guide you through the procedure. Remember that this design can be used "in reverse" to make an extension lensboard, placing the rear of the lens farther away from the film plane, to focus long focal lengths on cameras with short bellows extension or to add closer focusing capability. The size of the board and the manner in which it is held onto your camera will vary widely from the one shown here, so be prepared to add a good amount of ingenuity to this basic design.

Foamcore is remarkably strong and durable if properly glued and taped. Although all-black foamcore makes for easier light-proofing of the finished lensboard, I made this one from the white and gray version to better show structural details. Measure the shutter mounting thread before boring its hole in case it differs from the now standard Copal No. 0, 1, and 3 sizes. You may need to glue thin sheets of model airplane plywood (available from a hobby shop) to the back and inside bottom of the well to make harder surfaces onto which to tighten the jam nut and shutter housing of a heavy lens. All edges must be cut straight and even (a sharp art knife and sturdy steel straightedge are a must), glued securely and covered completely with black photo tape. Coat all exposed foamcore with white glue to seal in loose particles. Light-proof the board with two thin coats of flat black paint on the inside and one on the outside, then topcoat the outside with Krylon or other protective spray. A Dremel MultiPro rotary tool and No. 561 bit ((800) 437-3635; www.dremel.com) is great for cutting the mounting hole, and while this step can be done with a knife, this miniature power tool system makes it and countless other do-it-yourself operations a snap. Whether cutting manually or with power, practice first on scrap to develop a steady, confident hand.

Foamcore is remarkably strong and durable if properly glued and taped. Although all-black foamcore makes for easier light-proofing of the finished lensboard, I made this one from the white and gray version to better show structural details. Measure the shutter mounting thread before boring its hole in case it differs from the now standard Copal No. 0, 1, and 3 sizes. You may need to glue thin sheets of model airplane plywood (available from a hobby shop) to the back and inside bottom of the well to make harder surfaces onto which to tighten the jam nut and shutter housing of a heavy lens. All edges must be cut straight and even (a sharp art knife and sturdy steel straightedge are a must), glued securely and covered completely with black photo tape. Coat all exposed foamcore with white glue to seal in loose particles. Light-proof the board with two thin coats of flat black paint on the inside and one on the outside, then topcoat the outside with Krylon or other protective spray. A Dremel MultiPro rotary tool and No. 561 bit ((800) 437-3635; www.dremel.com) is great for cutting the mounting hole, and while this step can be done with a knife, this miniature power tool system makes it and countless other do-it-yourself operations a snap. Whether cutting manually or with power, practice first on scrap to develop a steady, confident hand.

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