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
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!
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
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,
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 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
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.
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
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
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
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:
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.
- 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.
I ended up using only the
Lowe's wing nuts. They seem to go well in place of both the small and
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.
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
the kit knobs. For a picture of the brass knurled knobs at Woodpeckers,
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:
during the construction
of the camera, I also bought the following:
- Four 3" C-clamps
- Two corner clamps
- Two Stanley
- An 8" Wilton
- A generic brand wooden ruler
- A Freemans
stainless steel precision cabinetmaker rule
- A 5" General
caliper (I'm not sure I'll need this, but I liked the idea of
having one... see here for more
- A General
Tools steel protractor
- A small slotted screw driver
- A medium Phillips screw driver
- A Nicholson
6 pcs. file
power drill with, among others, the Bender-mandated 1/16" and 3/32"
- A 10" Stanley
- 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
premium wood glue
- A can of Titebond
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
- 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
Spar-urethane wood finish, clear satin, for interiors/exteriors
- A set of foam brushes
- A 1-quart can of Crown paint thinner
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
pencil compass: I used this to determine exactly where to drill for
the modification I made on the back holder (see here).
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:
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.
- the first line on the regular scale (A) marks 1/16,
- 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
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
- 8/128 (A) +
- 8/128 (B) +
- 6/128 (C) =
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:
Polaroid, Kodak and Fuji have developed special
holders that make things easier (respectively: 545
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.
- 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.
- After you have focused on the ground glass, remove
the glass and place the film holder on the camera back.
- With the shutter closed, remove the dark slide from
the holder: this will expose the film to the inside of the camera.
- Take the picture.
- Replace the dark slide in the holder; this will
protect the film when the holder is removed from the camera.
- Remove the holder from the camera.
- Remove the film from the holder in the dark for
The disadvantage is that film is more expensive and there are far fewer
film types available.
This is the loading procedure for these films:
I decided to go for the Fuji quickloads for the following reasons:
- After you have focused on the ground glass, remove
the glass and place the film holder on the camera back.
- Insert the film package in the holder and pull out
- Take the picture.
- Push the envelope back in, remove the film package
from the holder and remove the holder from the camera if you need to
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).
- Much easier to use than regular film, as explained
- 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)
Some interesting reviews and discussions of Velvia film can be found here, here, 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.
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
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
- 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
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
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
there is nothing particularly complicated. I should however point out
Here are some pictures of the progress:
- 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
- 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
|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
||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.
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
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
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
Here are some pictures of the modification:
|This is the
lensboard with the 4 screws placed in the inner ledge. These are
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
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
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
#6 screws and was able to drill the necessary countersinks without
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
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
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
|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
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
Making the bellows frames is very easy, especially when using the the
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.
this configuration is used to focus on close objects.
this configuration is used to focus on far objects.
|Front tilt and rise,
vertical back: rising the front standard allows the photographer
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
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
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.
Bender 4x5 vs. digital
See the look of the 105 megapixels that the Bender 4x5 offers: resolution comparison
and a digital SLR.