• Stories from Photographers: Jim Sincock on Bulding a Wet Plate Camera

    Admin note: We're pleased to present Jim Sincock's story on building his own wooden large format camera for wet plate collodion. This is the first installment of an occasional series of Stories from Photographers about their experiences and/or use of homemade, adapted, or invented apparatus and materials.

    from Jim Sincock:
    While I had been using a 4x5 camera for about 25 years, Iíve always wanted to step up to an 8x10 camera. But unfortunately the cost of the camera and film has always kept me from buying one.

    Last year, I started working with the wet plate collodion process and really wanted to create images larger than quarter plate. Buying an 8x10" camera was still out of my price range, so I decided to build one. My first prototype was made from a cardboard box, which I then redesigned using black foam-core. (You can read about that camera here >> ) Both of those actually worked quite well for paper negatives, but wouldnít hold up to wet plate use.

    I picked up a copy of Alan Greeneís Primitive Photography book, and decided to build a wooden camera and plate holder using the plans in the book. The nice thing with his design in that you donít need to be a custom woodworker with a shop full of fancy woodworking tools. With some fairly basic tools, and materials from your local lumber yard or big box store, you can build a fairly nice camera for wet plate, calotype, or modern paper negative.

    Using the camera in the field has actually been quite nice, but did show me a couple issues with my camera. Shooting my first ambrotype, I found that there was a light leak coming from either the plate holder, or the slot the holder slides into. Keeping the focusing dark cloth over the holder area while making the exposure solved the problem. Focusing is done by sliding the boxes back and forth. It can be a bit clunky, but it seems to work fine and Iím getting really sharp images.

    Iím using an antique 10Ē brass rapid rectilinear lens on the camera, which is a little short for this camera design. For still life or portraits, I can mount the lens board in the normal manner. For landscape I actually need a recessed lens board so I can focus to infinity. To do this, I am simply mounting the lens from inside the camera which is almost like having a 3/4Ē recessed lens board.

    I initially figured Iíd mostly be using this camera for my studio still life work because it would be too much of a beast to take in the field for my landscape work. While the camera is a bit bulky, it is actually very light. Considerably lighter than my old Calumet 4x5 camera.

    Making a home-made camera like this is a great and inexpensive way to step up to making larger images in-camera.

    You can email Jim here >> or see his website here >>

    Get a copy of Greene's wonderful text here >>

    If you enjoyed this "Story" please considering supporting more articles like it with a $2 contribution via Paypal.

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Ned.Lewis's Avatar
      Ned.Lewis -
      This is very inspiring. I've read Greene's book through and through again. In this article, I was glad to see that the first version was a cardboard box, then a foam core, and then finally this great camera! Sounds like a good progression for me, too!

      The results are great. One of the criticisms I've read of Greene's book is that there are not enough example photos ( there are some...). Nice to see such wonderful results.
    1. colray's Avatar
      colray -
      Great info. I really wanted to give wet plate a go .. but the cost of buying the material and the government licence required for sending from the eastern states was way over my budget. Colin
    1. Tom Persinger's Avatar
      Tom Persinger -
      Colin, have you thought about trying lith film (with low contrast developer) instead of wet plate? i know it doesn't have the same tactile quality and doesn't involve the chemistry, but lith film has a very similar spectral sensitivity.... just a thought to get closer to the look of collodion, without the chemistry.
    1. colray's Avatar
      colray -
      Thanks Tom I will look into using lith film
    1. Tom Persinger's Avatar
      Tom Persinger -
      sure thing Colin... you might look for my article in photo technique. Outlines the entire process: http://phototechmag.com/making-in-ca...ilm-negatives/
    1. colray's Avatar
      colray -
      Thanks Tom it looks like I will need a 'printed back issue' for the full transcript . Can you remember what edition your article was published in ? Colin
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