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  • Writer's pictureMadeleine Muzdakis

Experimenting with a Homemade 4x5 Camera


What do you do if you really want to try 4x5 photography but are a law student with very low funds? Well, build your own of course. My plan carefully executed over time. First, I acquired a vintage enlarging lens from Etsy. The model I chose was a Bausch + Lomb Tessar lens from BrassLens. While the casing is dented in one spot, the glass is fairly clean with minimal dust. The lowest F stop is 4.5, and the focal length is enough to easily cover a 4x5 frame. I am not sure what time period the lens is from, but likely the 1920s or 30s. I chose Bausch + Lomb specifically because I am a Rochester girl, so it's hometown glass.


I next acquired two 4x5 film holders and a cheap [not great but it works] plate of 4x5 replacement ground class. Next, I went to Blick. There I found a thick, black cardboard that had enough rigidity to be stable but was not so thick as to be unwieldy. I bought way too much of it. This entire project was inspired by this article where Cary Norton creates his own 8x10 camera from similar material. I came up with my own measurements based on the 4x5 film holders. With an exacto knife and tough black stage tape, several hours later I had a sliding box camera and ground glass slide. Throwing a dark cloth over my head, I tested it out by focusing on the Christmas tree. It worked!





I tried my best to make it light tight. However, leaks are inevitable. I hope to recreate it in wood modeled off of late 19th century box cameras sometime soon. I picked up some FPP X-Ray Film [ISO 10] to test it out. As the vintage lens I used has no shutter [I wish it did], I have to choose low light, long exposure situations. The above shot of Prospect Park was taken at a less than 1 second exposure given the brightness of the scene. It was my best "hand shutter" approximation by holding a light proof cloth across the lens and quickly "flashing open." By contrast, the below shot of flowers on my table was taken under low artificial light [ceiling lamps]. With reciprocity failure, I left the lens open about 17 seconds. Both images have been super poorly combined, in a rush, by myself, as I scan on an Epson 600. Film was developed at The Color House in NYC.


Next, I hope to continue experimenting with how to prevent light leaks. I'd also like to try some low light portraits at F4.5. In future, I hope to actually set this lens in wood and create something new. Any suggestions for me?



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