About

I built a great big camera, and figured there might be a few folks who would be interested in the process. The idea started when I read something about people using x-ray film in regular cameras as a cheaper alternative to photographic film. For 10 sheets of the film I normally shoot with, I could get about 125 sheets of the x-ray film. This new film, although cheap, is very fickle stuff, but once you learn all the tricks, it can be just as sharp as most other films, but it really requires special handling. When the film is wet, you can rub the emulsion off with your fingers, so tray developing must be done with extreme caution. You can’t develop this film in a rotary tank because it’s got a photosensitive coating on both sides which will cause spots on the negative where developer has gotten behind the film in the tank. Of course, if you really want it to work, it will, and you’ll learn a whole lot in the process.

I started researching lenses and materials for probably a year before I decided to do it. The was no design in place. It seemed easier for my head to build the camera one section at a time. The bellows were first. I had to move my couch and almost everything else out of my apartment’s living room just so I could lay the material flat and glue everything together. Two weeks of hard labour, windows open, and contact cement everywhere. When it was time to fold the bellows down, they wouldn’t go. I tried all kinds of things, clamps, taping them to the floor, coffee, nothing worked, I had measured incorrectly. All that time was wasted with exception to the hard lesson. The next day, I ordered more of the materials and 3 weeks later, I had my bellows. From the bellows, I built the rear portion of the camera, then the front, the rails, etc. I used my 4×5 and 8×10 cameras as reference for building the different sections. Construction time was about seven months, although I still don’t consider it done.┬áThere were so many design ideas that I tried, and now laugh at, but that’s just part of the process. Shooting with the camera much more difficult than my 4×5 or 8×10, but the results are quite impressive. The success is always mixed with failure, but that’s ok.

33 Responses to About

  1. sonina says:

    darren! this is so amazing! i’m impressed…really this creation is inspiring. i can’t wait to see the camera!

  2. ed works says:

    nice camera, will you bring it to the maker faire?

  3. Pingback: Massive Six-Foot-Long Homemade Large Format Camera

  4. S.W. Schilke says:

    Dear Darren,

    I really like your shot 04_embarcadero_F16_4min_burn_right_HDR1.jpg are there prints available?

    Kind regards

    sws

  5. Myles Cowherd says:

    Darren,

    I love the images and live in the Bay Area, are they available for viewing anywhere?

    Really nice work, thanks.

    Myles Cowherd

  6. Matthew Hinton says:

    I just saw the video and then I found out you are in New Orleans today. Anyway if you are still taking pictures in the area I would like to photograph you for the The Times-Picayune.

    Thank you,
    Matthew Hinton
    staff photographer

  7. Very interested in seeing this camera. Keep in touch. JoeG

  8. Gary Liggett says:

    Artur Kowallick shared a link to your video on Facebook. What you have achieved is so impressive Darren. You have surely built the ultimate ULF panoramic camera… and I thought me ULF 10″ x 12″ was big! Congratulations! Gary

  9. pannawit phoemsri says:

    I have to got it ( This’s Lens )

  10. Darren: Our mutual friend Keith Mosier put me onto you and your site. Keith and I have been fly-fishing buddies for the last few years, despite our separation (Keith currently lives in LA). I used to be a super large format camera photographer too. I have an 11×14, and 8×20, an 8×10, a 5×7, a 4×5, and can shoot roll film in smaller formats using a special 4×5 back. I have two enlargers, an 8×10, and a 4×5. I contact print all my 11×14′s. I used Tri-X and Super XX film. I withdrew from active work in 1996 when my son died, but I plan to return to it eventually.

    Maybe we could meet sometime and compare notes. I’ve traveled all around the Western US photographing, but not in years. My biggest problem was patchy skies in my negatives (I used Pyro developer).

    E.Mail me: cmfaville@sbcglobal.net
    Curtis Faville
    Kensington California (East Bay)

  11. Wow! I’d love to see these up close… have you ever considered uploading a few to Gigapan.com? If you haven’t heard about the site, you should check it out. They host HUGE images, I’m sure yours would be one of the top pics.

  12. Gregory Mone says:

    Amazing. I write about wild DIY projects for Popular Science magazine, and would love to chat about this if you’re interested. Please let me know.

    Thanks,

    Greg

  13. Darren Samuelsohn says:

    Hey Darren,
    Read the article about you in the New Orleans paper. I would be interested in meeting you — another Darren Samuelso(h)n — when you make it to DC. If you have a few mins drop a line.
    - Darren

    • darren says:

      Hello Darren! Sorry, you got buried in my blog. I just found this while I was reading some old comments. My last name is Swedish, on my dad’s side, and it would have had an additional s, like this “Samuelsson). I was told, however, that when our family came here from Sweden, it was a different name altogether. My first name was my mom’s idea(according to my dad), and is not a family name.

  14. Hi Darren,

    I cam accross your Great Big Camera project via Endgadget and thought that it would be great to make a story about it on my local photo news site http://www.eestifoto.ee (two actually, I include them in my blog also). I hope that it is ok to use the shots from your site to illustrate the story? The text will however be in Estonian so you won’t be able to check it :)

    Actually there is currently an exhibition of photos made with self made cameras in our little photo museum (http://linnamuuseum.ee/fotomuuseum/en/). I have 5 shots there, though my “DIY cameras” are solargraphy cameras where I’ve only used tin cans and photo paper. You can find some shots on my blog under Foto -> Solargraafid (I’m still building my site, so I haven’t had the time to make it bilingual yet).

    Cheers,
    Kristian Saks

  15. Hi Darren,

    I tried emailing this, but it bounced back :) So here goes:

    I would appreciate it if you could send me some camera details, I’ve taken the lens and ground glass data from the blog but if you know them by heart, then it would make writing the story easier for me :)

    Where do you get the film for the camera and how does the darkroom process look like? I myself am just graduating to 6x6cm film in the darkroom.

    What size are the largest prints that you have made?

    Do you do the whole process yourself or do you require assistance at some stage?

    What is the aim of this big camera? Is it only the size or are you striving for the high resolution and quality?

    I’ll write some more, if I think of anything else :)

    Thanks in advance,

    Kristian

  16. diy film says:

    Amazing things here. I am very glad to peer your article. Thank you a lot and I am looking ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a e-mail?

  17. Wendy Sarrett says:

    Darren,

    I heard about your project on Chris Marquardt’s podcast. Absolutely fascinating. Quite the effort but as with everything hard work yields great rewards. The additional details in the prints are even noticeable to someone, like myself, who is not an experienced photographer.

  18. Wendy Sarrett says:

    Darren,

    I heard about your project on Chris Marquardt’s podcast. Absolutely fascinating. Quite the effort but as with everything hard work yields great rewards. The additional details in the prints are even noticeable to someone, like myself, who is not an experienced photographer.

  19. Thank you for another informative blog. Where else may just I get that type of information written in such a perfect manner? I’ve a venture that I am just now working on, and I have been on the glance out for such information.

  20. Hello there, You’ve performed a fantastic job. I will definitely digg it and in my opinion suggest to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this website.

  21. Robert says:

    Where do you purchase your x-ray film from? I have a “little” 8×10 camera.

  22. Alex Johnson says:

    Darren, Amazing work. I am currently a first year MFA candidate at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi and have started photographing using x-ray film in a large pinhole camera. As part of my class I am required to do research on a photographer who is working with similar materials. I was wondering if i could email you a small set of questions to help with my research? I would love the chance to explore this medium to the extent that you have. Amazing work.

  23. Francis Fullam says:

    Sorry you did not make it to Chicago on your tour.
    I am trying to build a 20 x 24 camera and just got a 1210 Apo Nikkor. I think you have the same lens. I have a question. There is an f stop control that goes ranges from 12.5 to 128. There is another adjustment on the lens – a lever that adjusts from o to 90. Could you tell me what this other adjustment does?

    Thanks
    Francis

    • Francis Fullam says:

      I figured out what the lever was for on the 1210 mm Nikkor. Since you are the only person I know of with experience shooting with this lens, I would appreciate any tips and insight about it. My 20 x 24 camera is almost done and I have a supply of 100 asa film so I am about to get underway
      Thanks
      Francis Fullam
      Chicago

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