Topic – Light Large Format

This post could be about either of two things: It could be about a new plastic very portable, hand held, large format camera from some enthusiasts in Chicago. Or it could be about the trials and tribulations of the crowd funding such a project.

Both stories would be interesting I think. So let’s do them together, sort of!

The Wanderlust Travelwide really is an odd animal today. It is a camera for large format photography, where large format is a huge 4×5 inches. To use it you need the camera itself, a suitable large format lens and shutter, and lastly a large stock of 4×5-inch film cassettes! For most sane photographers this is an area better not trodden, for others it is an extremely interesting project.

Since I occasionally dabble (in the worst sense of the word) with large format photography my threshold is low for this kind of fun, so I sponsored the camera when I first saw the plans. A portable, light weight, camera seemed like a good thing and  $100 quickly changed hands – or accounts, as it were.

I also managed to acquire a Schneider-Kreuznach Angulon 90 mm lens at f/6.8. Initial plans were to use the lens instead of the 150 mm lens on my current large format setup. However the lens board on that camera is not recessed enough to accommodate a 90 mm lens (or this 90 mm lens anyway) so the lens stayed in a cupboard waiting for the Travelwide.

The camera itself lends to a long story of manufacturing problems. The initial plans were delayed several years because of different plastic materials and their behaviour/weaknesses… I had no idea how much labour, both mechanical and mental, that goes into even the smallest plastic thingie that surround us today.

Different plastics acts differently when subjected to heat, humidity and mechanical stress, either one by one, or all of them together. During manufacturing the plastic is squeezed into a mold, and that mold must take into consideration cooling shrinkage and material twists until the final result is acceptable. All of these plastic defects, and more, require redimensioning of the mold, revision of the plastics involved etc. A long process I was unaware of, but which I think was worth the cost of the final camera in itself. It was an interesting journey even just reading about the problems. Today I have some strange “respect” for plastic parts around me:)

The manufacturing story is however not mine to tell, let’s leave it at “it was complicated and took way longer than expected”. Because it was and it did.

“All is well that ends well” the bard puts it. And this particular story did end well, this autumn I could finally fit the lens to the camera:

wanderlust8

Large format cameras normally use bellows and a ground glass to project the image. The Travelwide has a fixed bellows (i.e. not a bellows at all, just a chamber)  between the lens and the ground glass, which is actually not glass either, but a piece of removable see-through plastic. As usual you benefit from a dark cloak over your head while focussing.

My other large format camera has  f/4.5 lens which is considerably brighter than the f/6.8, to the point that is is actually quite difficult to focus on the plastic supplied with the Travelwide. Some training and getting-used-to is clearly needed here!

wanderlust7

The camera can also be used as a pinhole camera with the optional “lens”. This little lens has a hole of 0.38 mm (measured through a microscope with built in ruler, so I am pretty sure the diameter given is correct). In a microscope the hole has very sharp edges and appear to be of high quality, much better than I managed myself with a needle and aluminium foil. However theree was something blocking part of the light, so a careful “trim” was undertaken with a sharp needle and a smooth rotating movement in the aperture. This is something I would not have done without the microscope, so beware!

wanderlust6The pinhole lens and its nifty lens cap!

There is also an option for using a 65 mm lens. The pieces below act as a front standard in that case. I extend to use this together with the pinhole lens above. With 65 mm focal distance the combo would have a f-stop of 65/0.38= f/170!

wanderlust5

On some tarmac and a simple tripod the camera looks like this with the ground glass (plastic) semi-pulled out: wanderlust4The ground glass (plastic) is held in place by the long metal springs and is easy to insert and remove. 

Some more pictures. It may look large here but that is just because it is so ridiculously close (the Canon S95 did not want to go this close!).

wanderlust3wanderlust2wanderlust1

The camera is very light (well it is hollow, you know!), and this cheapy tripod has no problem carrying it.

The season (winter with only 6 h “daylight”) has kept me from using it much. A few test shots as a “proof of concept” has been taken. As they have no photographic qualities whatsoever, I shall spare you the pain (and me the embarrassment). There is however a flickr-group with lots of photos!

For now it is setup as the pinhole variant. As the reciprocity failure of Fomapan is considerable the pin holing activities must be postponed until April at the earliest.

wanderlustAs a pinhole camera it is even smaller with a snubbed look. I am still surprised by its weight (or lack thereof), the pinhole really is the simplest and lightest camera imaginable.

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