Last updated on June 13th, 2007
This site tracks the progress that I made building the Bender 4x5 View Camera. I will post pictures, descriptions, and anything else that I learn building the camera. Hopefully this will be useful to other future camera builders. by Giordano Biondani


The 100 Megapixel camera

The Bender 4x5 is a camera that costs a little over $300 (without lens), and still well below $1,000 even with a good lens. That's the same price as an entry-level digital SLR with a mediocre lens, and for that this is what you get:
  • Exposures that can easily reach 100 megapixels and more (up to 500MP)
  • The largest and brightest viewfinder you'll ever see
  • Complete perspective control (for example, you can take a picture of a building from below with little or no perspective distortion)
  • Complete control of the focus area (for example, you can have far and close objects in focus at the same time)
  • Unlimited battery life (it doesn't need any batteries!)
  • It doesn't become obsolete after a few months, like digital cameras do. Cameras like this have been in use for decades and will be in use much longer
  • It actually makes you think about what you are doing when you take pictures
  • A lot of its features (FPS, shutter lag, focusing lag, and more) actually improve over time (as you learn how to use them)
  • It doubles as an interesting object to display in your drawing room
  • You get a lot of attention when you use it in public places
  • You can build it on your own, and if it brakes you can fix it yourself!
See more pictures of the 100 megapixel camera here and here. Note that I made a few modifications to it, including replacing the original knobs with brass wingnuts. If you think that the wingnuts make the camera look less professional (as Jay Bender does), rest assured that the kit comes with different, bigger knobs, as you can see in the second picture on the right. By the way, in the second picture you can see the camera with my new Schneider-Kreuznack Symmar-S 5.6 210mm. More about this later. 

If you want to know more about this camera, read on. If you want one too, here is where you can find it.

In some of the reviews linked below, you'll read about some drawbacks of this camera. It's true that no product can be without any drawbacks, and you'll be able to make up your own mind about the Bender. However, I'd like to address three of the criticisms that I feel are unwarranted: 1) the camera is sturdy, 2) the joints don't need any kind of reinforcement, and 3) the focusing mechanism based on the monorail without gears does work well. Of course this is true of well-built exemplars; sloppily built cameras will probably show these and more problems.
Also I have to point out that according to what has been reported in forums and reviews, and also in my own experience, Jay Bender (the inventor and producer of this camera kit) is very good at supporting his clients when they have questions and problems.



Bender Camera Resources and Info

Useful Supplies and Services

Large Format Photography Links and Resources

  • Lensboard Drilling (see article "Lensboards")
    • Machine Arts: convenient and reliable if you don't feel like drilling the lensboard on your own.
  • Brass Knobs (see article "Knobs")
    • Lowe's: not for hard-to-find hardware, but has all the basics.
    • Woodpecker's: some specialized brass knobs that you won't find in many other places.
    • TrueValue: they have some more specialized hardware than Lowe's or Home Depot.
  • Woodworking Supplies (see article "Work supplies")
    • Lowe's: most tools and supplies are available and relatively cheap.
    • Woodcraft: good for more specialized woodworking supplies; go to Lowe's first though, because they carry a lot of the same stuff but Lowe's is cheaper.
  • Film and Film Holders (see article "Film")
    • Adorama: well-known and generally trusted NYC megastore.
    • BH Photo & Video: another well-known and generally trusted NYC megastore.
  • Film processing, scanning and printing
    • Tech Photo and Imaging: I found out about them on the LF forums; I has my first pictures developed and scanned by them and I'm very happy of the results.
  • Camera Repairs (see article "Lens")
    • Flutot's: specialized in shutter repairs. Forum posters speak very highly of Carol, and I was happy of the work she did on my shutter.
    • SK Grimes: specialized in different kinds of camera repairs; recommended by many Forum posters. I haven't personally used them though.
  • Submit New Links!

My Links

Photo Galleries

  • The Camera
  • Pictures taken with the camera (will be updated soon)




The beginning of the project

Today I received the package from Bender Photographic, so I quickly set up this blog (Update: when I first started writing this, it was a blog. Now that the project is completed, the blog has become a static page). I want to record the progress in the project for posterity... maybe this will be helpful to other photographers starting the job after me.

Everything is there, very neatly packed. It looks a lot smaller than I would have thought. This is going to be fun!

I will probably start posting some pictures over the weekend, when I have time to actually do some work. In the meanwhile, tomorrow I will try to explain what sold me on this camera and on large format photography in general.


Why large format and the Bender

I have been interested in photography ever since I was a teenager. In 1999, the emergence of digital photography with the possibilities that it created has renewed and invigorated my interest. See in my photo gallery some of the results of the last couple of years' work.

Though I immensely enjoy digital photography, I have learned to recognize its limitations, mainly its inability to rival film's image quality at large print sizes. This has prompted me to rediscover medium format and to start thinking about large format, the non plus ultra of film.

Besides the image quality, I also like the idea of slowly, methodically and deliberately making a picture in LF, instead of quickly, casually and spontaneously taking it with digital.

Different experiences, and both have their place. I don't plan to abandon digital; in fact, I will probably use the LF camera only a couple of times a year, when the conditions are best and the investment in time and inconvenience is justified. The rest of the time, the digital will be with me.

Why the Bender?
I have been researching a lot of different camera options, and the Bender turns out to be by far the best bang for the buck. It's light, it has more possible movements than most other cameras, and it's relatively cheap. Plus, you get to build it yourself!


The parts

I checked the contents of the package. Everything is there, but one of the pieces was cracked. Jay Bender will send me another one. It looks like the good things that everybody is saying about Bender's customer service are true.

I would like to get brass knobs in place of the standard black ones but they seem to be pretty hard to find, in fact I haven't found them yet, either online or in brick&mortar. It's too bad because I don't really like the black plastic knobs. I'll keep searching. In the meanwhile, in the next couple of days I will get all the tools and supplies needed and start the work.

Here is a picture of the contents of the box. I ordered an extra lensboard and the focusing cloth; the rest is part of the standard kit


The lens: Caltar-S II f5.6 150mm

Large format cameras take very unusual lenses. They don't zoom, they don't focus (automatically or manually), they have the shutter and the aperture controls right next to the glass (not on the body of the camera), and at first sight you don't know how they can possibly be attached to the camera.
Well, zooming is achieved by using different lenses of different focal lengths, or by walking.
Focusing is achieved by using the camera's body movements. Focus is checked on the ground glass on the rear standard before inserting the film and taking the picture.
The lens is made of three separate parts: the front element, the shutter, and the rear element. The front and back element are screwed onto the shutter. To operate the shutter you first rotate the gear to the desired speed; then you cock the shutter lever to load the springs and then, when you are ready to take the picture, you pull the release lever. This can also be done with a remote cable release, and the advantage is that there is a much smaller risk of shaking the camera.
Attaching the lens is easier than it sounds: the back element is unscrewed from the front element and shutter assembly; these are inserted in the hole of a lens board, and the back element is screwed back on, keeping the whole thing together. The lens board is then inserted in the front standard. Each lens has its own lens board, so when you want to change a lens, you only have to attach the lens board to the camera standard.

Important features when choosing a large format lens are, as with all other lenses, sharpness and contrast. However, large format lenses also need to be able to project an image circle large enough to accommodate for as many camera movements as possible. This is not a problem with small, medium and digital format cameras because they can only always use the same portion of the image circle.
The Bender camera is capable of very large shift, rise, fall, and tilt movements, so a lens with a large image circle is important (assuming that you plan to actually use the movements).
As I mentioned above, large format lenses usually (but not always) come with a built-in shutter. The quality of the shutter is also an important element in selecting a lens.

Focal lengths may seem strange to those used to smaller format cameras; in large format, a 150mm lens is considered "normal"; 90mm is considered wide, and the widest lenses are about 47mm; telephoto lenses are 300mm and up. As with any other format, the focal length you select depends on the kind of photography you want to do. Of course, it's possible to buy several lenses and use them interchangeably.

I eventually decided to go for a Caltar S-II f5.6 150mm in a Copal no. 0 shutter. I found it on e-bay for a pretty good price, but I later found out that the aperture lever was bent, probably due to a fall, and the shutter was very dirty. I had it serviced by Carol Flutot and it came back as good as new. All the speeds are dead-on, except 1/500 which is actually 1/400. It's a good idea to have old lenses checked so you can make sure that the exposure you set is the exposure you get.

This is a lens that was manufactured between 1976 and 1983 by Schneider in Germany for Calumet Photographic. It's exactly the same as the Schneider Symmar-S. It's a 6-element in 4 groups plasmat design. The glass is multicoated and the lens is pretty sharp.
The shutter was made in Japan and has speeds from 1 second to 1/500, plus Bulb and Time settings.
The image circle is pretty large (about 210mm) so it should accommodate a good variety of movements (it covers about 140% of the film diagonal).

A brief history of this lens design:
In 1892 Emil von Hoegh, a 27-year-old mathematician, invented a new lens. It was sold under the name "Double Anastigmat Goerz" by Goerz Berlin and became immediately very popular. In 1904 it was renamed "Dagor". In 1920 Paul Rudolph, a mathematician who had previously organized Zeiss's photographic department, designed a series of lenses based on the Dagor and known as "Plasmat". They were sold by Hugo Meyer of Goerlitz. The Plasmat design was then adopted by Schneider for its 1914 trademark "Symmar". The Symmar was ameliorated over the years, and the Symmar-S (and Caltar-S II) were born.


The lensboards

The lens boards that come with the Bender kit don't have a hole; this makes sense because different lenses may need different sized holes. My Caltar requires a Copal no. 0 hole, which is approximately 1 3/8" (34.6mm) in diameter (1.362" to be precise).

Unless you have a drill press with a good hole saw of the appropriate size, you won't be able to drill the hole by yourself. I tried looking for machine shops in my area that would take such a small job, but couldn't find any.
Fortunately over on the LF Photo Forums I found a machinist/photographer in Santa Barbara (CA) who did it for me at a very reasonable price.

I received the the drilled lens boards a couple of days ago and they fit perfectly. Here are some pictures of the lens mounted on one of the boards and the spare board by itself. The boards are made of an acrylic material; they come with a protective adhesive paper sheet, as you can see in the last picture; the material itself is black and very glossy, as you can see in the other pictures. I'll keep the second lens board around for the next lens.

Update: it turns out that I also needed a lensboard wrench; without one it's very difficult to tighten the lens on the lensboard without damaging either; with one it's extremely easy. You can find one here.

Update: building your own wooden lensboard

 Because of the modification I made to the lensboard holder of the Bender (see here), I had to drill four relatively large holes in the corners of one of the lensboard. Unfortunately it cracked, and while it still feels safe enough, I didn't want to take chance. Therefore, I decided to build my own lensboard out of wood.

First of all, I wasn't sure that wood would be the most appropriate material for a lensboard; it would seem that it can warp and deform and those don't sound like the right things to have happen to the piece that holds your lens.
I guess I was wrong though, because many threads on several forums talk about building wooden lensboards, even using as humble materials as plywood.

I decided to buy a board of curly maple from Woodcraft, in part because it looks good (on their website), in part because it's one of the few types of wood that they carry that cames in 1/8' thickness.
It turns out that it doesn't look so good after all (not 5$ better than any regular wood anyway) and it wasn't really 1/8', more like 3/16'. So I had to sand a lot to bring it down to a reasonable thickness.
I don't have a large enough drill bit or sawing bit for the lens hole, and I didn't want to spend another $20 or so to have somebody do it for me, so I just drew the correct sized circle, drilled a lot of smaller holes inside it to remove most of the wood, and then polished the hole with sandpaper. The process was long and tedious, the result not perfectly round, but good enough to hold the lens securely and without any light leaks.
It turns out that the science of drilling a lensboard doesn't need to be as precise as I had thought.
I then drilled the holes for my customized lensboard holder, stained and finished the outside surface, painted black the inside surface, and I think it actually looks a lot better than the plastic lensboard:



As I wrote in an earlier post, I don't really like the black plastic knobs that come with the Bender kit. After a long search, I found two sources of alternative knobs that look better than the standard ones:
  • Lowe's carries brass wing nuts of the right thread size (1/4 - 20, which apparently is not the most common for this kind of product). They are branded Hillman, with UPC code 0-08236-72037-2. Problem is, they are smaller than the kit's star knobs, but slightly larger than the kit's knurled knobs, so I'm not sure that they will work well for either. I am planning to use them in place of the large kit knobs.
  • The online store Woodpeckers offers brass knurled knobs, also with 1/4 - 20 thread, in two sizes. The small ones (reference 13-kn120) are just lightly smaller than the kit's small knurled knobs; the large ones (reference 13-kn125) are slightly larger than the kit's knobs. I am planning to buy the smaller ones, because they definitely look much better, and use them in place of the small kit knobs.
Even though the sizes don't exactly match, I believe that the functionality should be pretty much the same. I guess I'll know for sure only when I'm done building the camera.

Update: I ended up using only the Lowe's wing nuts. They seem to go well in place of both the small and large knobs.

The problem with changing knobs is that the original knobs are closed: they are supposed to be glued to the threaded studs and used basically as thumbscrews. I won't be able to do that using the wing nuts because they are open. So I will probably use machine screws in place of the threaded studs. The question is whether there is going to be enough room for the screw heads once the camera is built. I guess I'll find that out later.

Update: it turns out that there is enough room to substitute the threaded studs with machine screws everywhere except at the base of the back standard and on the monorail riders. In these places I left the original threaded studs and used the open nuts anyway. It doesn't seem to be a problem.

The picture above shows the wing nuts that I bought at Lowe's, along with the kit knobs. For a picture of the brass knurled knobs at Woodpeckers, look here.


Work supplies and tools

I bought the supplies and tools that are suggested on the Bender instructions and other websites (see links on the right), plus some more that I'm not sure I'll need now, but that I'll certainly need for my next project, a completely hand-made pinhole camera.
Of course, some of these tools I already had before.

Anyway, this is what I 'm going to use:
  • Four 3" C-clamps
  • Two corner clamps
  • Two Stanley squares
  • An 8" Wilton bench vice
  • A generic brand wooden ruler
  • A Freemans stainless steel precision cabinetmaker rule
  • A 5" General Tools Vernier caliper (I'm not sure I'll need this, but I liked the idea of having one... see here for more information)
  • A General Tools steel protractor
  • A small slotted screw driver
  • A medium Phillips screw driver
  • A Nicholson 6 pcs. file set
  • Black&Decker power drill with, among others, the Bender-mandated 1/16" and 3/32" bits
  • A 10" Stanley fixed frame hacksaw
  • A pine board
  • Two small poplar boards (1/4" x 2" x 2') that I will cut up in pieces to use when clamping, to protect the camera wood
  • A bottle of Titebond weatherproof premium wood glue
  • A can of Titebond fast dry contact cement
  • Masking tape
  • Sandpaper: Gatorgrit 100 (medium) and 220 (extra fine); 2 packages of 5 sheets each
  • Two 3M between coats finishing pads Update: I think these work a lot better than regular sandpaper between coats of finishing.
  • A 1-quart can of General Finishes Environment Friendly black cherry wood stain (for the camera); I already had this laying around: 1 quart would be too much otherwise. Update: after testing this stain on the broken piece that I received, I decided to go for a lighter, more reddish color; so I bought a 1/2 pint can of Olympic Premium Oil Based American Cherry wood stain. This seems to go much better with the brass hardware and also brings out better the wood grain.
  • A 1/2-pint can of General Finishes Country Colors black wood stain (for the light-traps) Update: I didn't like working with water-based paint; it was very difficult to clean off the foam brushes. Next time I'll just use oil-based paint.
  • A 1-quart can of Minwax Helmsman Spar-urethane wood finish, clear satin, for interiors/exteriors
  • A set of foam brushes
  • A 1-quart can of Crown paint thinner
Update: during the construction of the camera, I also bought the following:
  • A Craftsman 8" Universal drill press stand with a Wilton drill press vice; this turned out to be necessary for the modifications that I decided to make to the back and back holder. Without these modifications, it wouldn't have been needed.
  • More foam brushes: the water-based black paint and the finish tend to stiffen the brushes after they dry, even if you wash them well. Stiff foam brushes don't work very well. In order to get good results, it's best to have a good supply of fresh foam brushes available.
  • A set of General wood carving knives: these were very useful to cut the sharp edges of the wood, where I wanted to have round edges. If you leave the edges alone, you won't need the carving knives.
  • A 3.25 fl.oz. tube of Elmer's Carpenter professional wood filler in natural color: I bought this when I needed to fix one of the monorail riders, because I had sanded it too much. It turned out to be extremely useful in other situations as well, to cover a few other mistakes that I made. Note: you can use wood putty only if you plan to stain the camera with a strong enough stain; if you are planning to finish it without stain (as Bender suggests) the wood putty will look really bad.
  • Jet corner clamps and 90 degrees miter clamp: these came in very handy when building square frames (see here, here and here). Bender doesn't list them in the tools page, maybe to help you keep the costs down, but they are really useful.
  • A General Precision pencil compass: I used this to determine exactly where to drill for the modification I made on the back holder (see here).
Most of these supplies can be found at either Lowe's (my personal favorite) or Home Depot, or similar stores. Some I bought at the nicer but more expensive Woodcraft, either because I couldn't find them at the more mainstream stores, or because I didn't realize that I could have.

Update: how to use a caliper with Vernier scale

This subject is slightly off topic, but interesting nevertheless.
I bought the caliper just because I liked the idea of having one (there is something that I find fascinating about precision tools), even though I didn't think it would be needed; eventually it did turn out to be very useful, especially for the ground glass holder, where you have to position the glass supports at exactly 11/64' from the edge of the holder.

The caliper has a scale in 1/16', and the use of that is pretty straightforward. However, it has a precision of 1/128th, and the interesting part is how you read the 128ths off the Vernier scale (it works in the same way for millimeters, up to a precision of 0.1mm).

The Vernier scale is made up by 8 vertical lines on the edge of the opening. Each line represents one 8th of a 16th, which is a 128th. All you have to do to read the number of 128ths is to find the first line of the Vernier scale that exactly matches the position of any 16th line. For example, look at the picture on the right:
  • the first line on the regular scale (A) marks 1/16, or 8/128,
  • the second line on the regular scale (B) marks another 1/16, or 8/128
  • only the 7th Vernier line (C) matches exactly the position of a 1/16th line (it doesn't matter which one); this means that we are 6/128 beyond the previous 16th (the first Vernier line represents 0/128, the second 1/128, and so on). The total measurement then is as follows:
    • 8/128 (A) +
    • 8/128 (B) +
    • 6/128 (C) =
    • 22/128
It works exactly in the same way for millimeters, except that obviously there are 10 Vernier lines (representing 0.1mm each) instead of 8. The millimeter scale is on the bottom of the dial.



Large format cameras don't use roll film like most other medium and small format cameras. The large format film (most common sizes are 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 inches) comes in individual sheets. This has the advantage that each sheet can be developed independently of the others, but the disadvantage that you have to reload the camera after each shot. Moreover, the fact that film doesn't come in self-contained rolls means that you need to be much more careful when you load or unload it. The risk of getting it ruined with light is significant.

This is the procedure to load a large format camera, take the picture, and unload it:
  1. Take the film sheet out of its package and place it in the holder. The sheet must not be exposed to light, so this operation has to be done in the dark. This means that either you load all of your film holders before you leave (in your house or hotel room), or, if you want to load in the field, you have to use a dark bag. This is a light-tight bag with light openings for your arms. You stick your hands inside, with the film package and holder, and you load the film in the holder inside the bag.
  2. After you have focused on the ground glass, remove the glass and place the film holder on the camera back.
  3. With the shutter closed, remove the dark slide from the holder: this will expose the film to the inside of the camera.
  4. Take the picture.
  5. Replace the dark slide in the holder; this will protect the film when the holder is removed from the camera.
  6. Remove the holder from the camera.
  7. Remove the film from the holder in the dark for processing.
Polaroid, Kodak and Fuji have developed special holders that make things easier (respectively: 545 holder, ReadyLoad and Quickload). These holders can be loaded and unloaded in the light. The advantage is that you can load them wherever and whenever you want, so you don't need to carry as many holders as pictures you plant to take, there is no risk of fogging up a sheet by inadvertently exposing it to light, and you don't risk getting dust on the film.

The disadvantage is that film is more expensive and there are far fewer film types available.

This is the loading procedure for these films:
  1. After you have focused on the ground glass, remove the glass and place the film holder on the camera back.
  2. Insert the film package in the holder and pull out the envelope.
  3. Take the picture.
  4. Push the envelope back in, remove the film package from the holder and remove the holder from the camera if you need to refocus.
I decided to go for the Fuji quickloads for the following reasons:
  • Much easier to use than regular film, as explained above
  • The film that I plan to use is also available in quickloads, so film availability is not an issue
  • I won't be shooting so much with the LF camera, so film price is not so important
  • Fuji seems to have a better reputation than Kodak for this kind of product
  • The film that I plan to use is Fuji (Velvia)
The film I decided to buy is Fuji Velvia. I have done some research and I have found that I like the way it works with landscapes. It tends to make the dramatic light of early morning and late afternoon much more dramatic (more about light soon in my blog). It is completely inappropriate for portraits, but that's not what I plan to do anyway (at least not with large format).

Some interesting reviews and discussions of Velvia film can be found here, here, here and here.

I bought the film holder and a pack of 20 sheets of Velvia 50 from the online store of Adorama in NYC. You can find pretty much the same things at the same prices as at B&H.


General Advice

Here I collect some advice that is useful for the whole project, not to any specific assembly.
  • Do follow Bender's advice and glue the sand paper to small wood blocks; it will make sanding a lot easier and more precise. Make as many as you can right away, because during the work you want to be able to switch to a fresh one as soon as the one you are using starts getting dull. Be generous with fresh sandpaper, it's worth it.
  • You have to be very careful when drilling the holes for the T-nuts. If you drill a little too much you end up with a hole that goes all the way through the wood. This happened to me a couple of times, but I have to say that after having stained and finished the pieces, it doesn't look so bad. It looks "distressed", and that's not out of place in this kind of camera. In any case the best way to avoid this problem is to use a drill press.
  • Also about the T-nuts: the instruction manual suggests you use a 3/32 drill bit; I found that it may be too big: two of my T-nuts ended up being a little loose because the holes were too large. I since started using a 5/64 drill bit and the nuts are much tighter. You do have to pound a little more to get them in, but that's not a problem, the wood is sturdy enough.
  • For each assembly, first I glued it, then stained it, then finished it, and only at the end I set the screws (when needed); this is not what Bender suggests (the screws should be set earlier) but I found that the joints are stable enough even without screws, and I didn't want to get any stain or finish on the screws themselves.
  • I made a couple of modifications to the lensboard holder, back holder and back; the first was successful, but I completely messed up the second and third, so I had to reorder the parts from Bender. The modifications are mainly aestethic and make sense for the way that I plan to use the camera: I won't change the lens for a long time (I have only one and don't plan on buying another one for some time) and  I won't rotate the back very often (I prefer landscape-oriented pictures). If you do any of these often, I suggest you stick with Bender's design.
  • Do not use too much glue: use only a very thin layer that barely covers the piece of wood; using more will not make things any sturdier and it will make everything more messy and difficult, as the pieces will keep sliding as you try to clamp them.


Assembly no. 1: The monorail riders

I finally started building the camera, after almost 6 months of inactivity. A lot of other things held me up, but now I'm ready to go.

The instruction booklet is pretty straightforward about this first part, and there is nothing particularly complicated. I should however point out the following:
  • The whole in the riders for the carriage bolt has to be square; I found that the easiest way to make it square is to use a square-section rasp, and use grind away at each corner (see the picture below).
  • When I glued the riders, I simply wrapped the monorail in wax paper (see picture). This is much easier than following the instructions to the letter.
  • One of the riders ended up rocking just a little on the monorail (maybe half a millimeter, or 1/64 of an inch); I guess I sanded it a little too much. I don't know how much it would have mattered, but I don't like rocking things, so I applied a thin layer of wood putty, sanded it, re-stained and re-finished it, and afterwards it fit perfectly.
Here are some pictures of the progress:

The riders before and after making the whole square. Using a square rasp is much easier than the method suggested by Bender. Make sure that the opening for the rail is even and smooth.

Make sure that everything is squared up and aligned before sanding and again before gluing. When gluing the assembly together, I simply wrapped the rail with baking paper (only one layer, as to not add any significant thickness to the rail). It was very easy to set up and didn't have any of the problems that the manual and other builders warned about.

The finished assembly. You can see the small holes where the T-nut went through the wood. In reality they don't look very bad.


Assembly no. 2: The lensboard holder

The hard part about this is measuring and gluing all the pieces with the necessary precision. Don't use too much glue or the pieces will continually shift as you try to clamp them in the precise position. It pays to be precise in the measuring phase, because, while you can fix things later by sanding any irregularities, it is pretty hard to do.

Some pictures of the construction:

Two sides being clamped at the same time. Having several clamps at your disposal will speed things up.

After preparing each side, I glued them together one by one, then put the two halves together. I put the lensboard inside to make sure that it would fit snugly.

This is where I made the first modification. I didn't like how the lensboard is held by two thin strips of brass, so I decided to drive 4 screws in the corners of the inner ledge of the lensboard, cut 4 holes in the lensboard itself, and hold it down with knurled nuts.
This makes it less convenient to change the lensboard, but I think it looks nicer. I only have one lens, so I won't be changing lensboards very often.

Here are some pictures of the modification:

This is the lensboard with the 4 screws placed in the inner ledge. These are machine screws and they wouldn't hold on well to the wood, so I drilled the hole in the ledge very tight.
On the other side of the ledge, the bellows frame must fit snugly against the ledge itself, so I drilled countersinks to make sure that the screw heads were flush with the ledge.
I used four 6-32 screws.

This is the finished lensboard holder, with lensboard and lens.
The #6 knurled nuts can be found in most hardware stores.

The problem with this modification is that the holes at the corners of the lensboard are very close to the edge, and one of them was starting to crack. So I decided to build a new lensboard made out of wood (see here), figuring that it would be more resistant to cracking. It was, and I think it does look better, too:


Assembly no. 3: The back holder

The construction of this part is very similar to that of the lensboard holder; again, it pays to be very precise at the beginning when measuring and gluing the pieces.

Using corner clamps and a square makes it easier to make the corners square and the frame flat.

In the original plan, the back is attached to the back holder using two L-screws. I didn't like the look of that, so I decided to make the same modification that I made in the lensboard holder: insert 4 screws at the corners of the inside ledge of the back holder, and fit the back to it with knurled nuts. The problem is that I was trying to use #8 screws, and the ledge of the back holder is too thin to accommodate the necessary countersinks. When I was drilling for the countersinks I drilled all the way through the wood. I tried for the whole night to come up with alternative solutions but I only managed to completely ruin both the holder and the back. I ordered new ones from Bender and went back to work.

Because of my third modification (see here) I had two pieces no. 24 left over; then I had to buy a new back, so I got an extra 2 that I still didn't need, so I decided to glue them inside the 4 corners of the inner ledge; after gluing, I nailed them for good measure; then I drilled holes for the screws to go through. This time I used #6 screws and was able to drill the necessary countersinks without problems.
Just like the first, this modification makes it slightly less convenient to use the camera (in this case, it will take a  few seconds longer to rotate the back), but I think it looks nicer. Also, I won't be turning the back very often, as I usually prefer landscape-oriented pictures.

Here are some pictures of the modification:

This is what the corners look like with the part no. 24 glued to them. You can see the nail near the edge of part 24. I used a compass and a precision ruler to find the exact spot where to drill the hole for the machine screws, so that the screws would be exactly aligned with the holes in the back in both the landscape and portrait orientation.
The wood putty you see all over the piece is there because I used it to seal a couple of very small gaps; I subsequently cleaned it up.

The finished back holder. The machine screws in the corners will hold down the back.


Assembly no. 4: The back

Building the back has the same challenges as building the lensboard holder and back holder, but at this point you should have already learned how to be precise.
The back must accommodate the film holder, so I think it's important building it with the actual holder available to check the fit. In particular, two ledges have to be slightly rounded to fit two ledges that are on the bottom of the film holder.

This is where I made the third modification. The ground glass holder is supposed to be pushed against the back by two springs. Again, even though I'm sure there is nothing wrong with this solution, I didn't really like it because it didn't seem very steady. So I decided again to use machine screws and knurled nuts; I screwed two eye screws in the ground glass holder, parallel to the back; then I drove two screws through the back itself and the eyes of the screws attached to the ground glass holder; and firmed everything with the usual knurled nuts.
When I want to insert the film holder underneath the ground glass holder I just have to loosen the knurled nuts, slide the film holder in, and re-tighten the nuts.

Here are some pictures of the modification:

The ground glass holder by itself
The ground glass holder with the film holder inserted below it.


Assembly no. 5: The ground glass holder

The ground glass holder is the most critical element. The glass must be placed in the holder so that it rests at the same distance from the lens as the film, when the film holder is inserted. If this is not the case, the focus of the pictures may be off.
In order to achieve this, you have to adjust (sand or glue shins to) the ledges where the glass rests (see the picture left) until the distance between the glass and the back is the same as the distance between the back and the film (when the film holder is inserted). I measured the distance using the caliper (see here to find out how to use the high-precision Vernier scale), and also using the method suggested by Bender. It didn't take too long to get the glass in the right place.
When I first glued the ledges to the holder I made sure that they would place the glass just a little too far; this way, in order to adjust its position, I would only have to sand them. I think that gluing shins to them (if the glass had been too close) would have been a lot harder.
When you sand the ledges, you have to make sure that you do so uniformly: it's easy to end up sending only the outer portion of the ledge, which is then going to cause the glass to not be stable in the correct position.

As you can imagine, the ground glass holder is the most fragile component of the camera; when traveling it is important that it be well protected. To this purpose, I bought at Michael's an unfinished cigar box and some pillow foam; I glued the pillow foam inside the box using the contact cement that I had already bought and came up with the container in the pictures to the right.
I had it in my carry-on flying to Italy, in backpacks while on the go in Italy, and I even had to check it in a small soft bag on the flight back from Italy (due to heightened security requirements) and it survived without any problems.
This is a picture of what you can see through the ground glass.
The image is obviously flipped both vertically and horizontally; usually you will need a dark cloth in order to see a bright enough image, but if you are standing in the shade looking at a bright scene (as I did in this picture) you will be able to see clearly even without a dark cloth.
Note that the ground glass is 4x5 inches (10x13cm): a huge viewfinder indeed!


Assembly no. 6: The standards

Not much to say about these. By the time you get to this point you'll have done the hardest parts, so this is going to be a piece of cake.

The only caveat is that the standard should slide easily (not stick) but at the same time not be too loose. You may find that they are perfect before finishing the pieces, only to stick once the finish is applied. In this case, just sand them again a little and re-apply the finishing. I had to do this a couple of times but at the end they came out just fine.

The picture shows the first two pieces of the lower part of the rear standard being glued together.


Assembly no. 7: The bellows frames

Making the bellows frames is very easy, especially when using the the corner clamps.
Gluing the bellows requires some patience, but is also not difficult. The contact cement bonds very quickly, so when you glue the bellows make sure that you have already dry-practiced a couple of times how to insert them in the frames. If you put them in crooked there is little that you can do to fix them.

The final assembly of the back bellows frame. The corner clamps make it easier to make a perfectly square frame.


The finished camera

Here are some pictures of the finished camera. Note that all movements are greatly exaggerated in this pictures, just to demonstrate how flexible the Bender camera is. In most cases, the movements used are much more subtle.

Extended bellows: this configuration is used to focus on close objects.

Contracted bellows: this configuration is used to focus on far objects.

Front tilt and rise, vertical back: rising the front standard allows the photographer to frame a taller object from a lower position; the vertical back ensures that the perspective is not distorted.
The tilted lensboard moves the focusing plane, so that objects at different distances in different parts of the frame may be in focus at the same time.

Front and back tilt, back rise: both the front and the vack tilt control the position of the focus plane; the back title also modifies the perspective. The back rise allows the fotographer to frame object that would be outside the field of view without tilting the camera.

Back swing: this configuration of the back allows the photographer to control the horizontal perspective, for example when taking a picture from the corner of a building into the distance.

Front swing, back rise: the front swing, like the front tilt, enables the photographer to simultaneously focus on objects that in different parts of the frame are at different distances. The back rise frames a different part of the image.

Front and back shift and swing: I shot this just for fun; the light clearly can't even get from the lens to the ground glass.

Front and back shift, swing and rise, back tilt: it's not necessary to try to figure out what this configuration would do because, again, the light can't get from the lens to the ground glass.

More pictures are available in the gallery.


Resolution comparison: Bender 4x5 vs. digital

See the look of the 105 megapixels that the Bender 4x5 offers: resolution comparison between 4x5 and a digital SLR.

Copyright (c) 2006-2007 Giordano Biondani