One Of The Largest Large Format Cameras You Will Ever Have Seen

When fate lands a very high quality lens in front of you, what do you do with it? If you are [Tim Hamilton], the solution is obvious. Use it in a huge large-format camera.

The lens came from a newspaper magnifier made redundant by digitalisation and used as a paperweight. It’s an extremely high quality piece of optical equipment so seeing it wasted in this way was a source of distress. So after characterising it an enormous scaled-up box and bellows was constructed, and set upon a suitably substantial wheeled tripod.

Instead of a huge piece of film or some unobtainable giant electronic sensor, the image is projected onto a large screen at the rear of the camera. A modern digital camera is mounted inside the box just beneath the lens and photographs the screen, resulting in the feel of the largest of large format cameras with the convenience of a digital format. The resulting images have a special quality to them that recalls pictures from the past, and definitely makes the camera a special if slightly inconvenient device.

This may be one of the larger cameras we’ve featured, but it’s not the first that uses a similar technique.

19 thoughts on “One Of The Largest Large Format Cameras You Will Ever Have Seen

  1. Reminds me of some of the cameras used in the early days of circuit boards where the “negative size” was the 1:1 size of the circuit board and the artwork could be enlarged or reduced depending on the scale. (also used for circuit board silkscreens) The cameras were permanently fixed in place and about the size of an MRI machine in a dedicated room. We used to do the artwork with stick-on component footprint decals, dimensioned “trace” tape, an xacto knife and rubylith on a drafting table. Good times….

    1. I recall doing 2:1 layouts, and the camera reduced it to actual size on the litho film. The rub-on decals were 2x actual size. The camera was certainly not “the size of an MRI machine” — more like a bar fridge. I also recall those damned mercury lights were murder on the eyeballs. Long time ago…

      It made for pretty organic layouts, but I have no longing to go back to those days.

      On the other hand, I could respin a board in a single day — everything was in-house.

  2. Aren’t the lenses from those rear projection box TV’s bigger in diameter than this one? Grab them now. The cropped header pix had me thinking the camera was the size of a 2 stall outdoor loo.

    1. Lenses for rear projection box TVs tend to be just barely good enough to handle the finest resolution that the TV was designed for. Quite often, those lenses are of very poor quality, indeed.

  3. Cool. Do you think they could replace the digital camera with the guts of a bunch of old flatbed scanners? Sure it would be impossible to take a “quick” photo, but the resolution of stills should be amazing.

    1. Using a flatbed scanner as the sensing mechanism for a large format camera has been done by amateurs many times. An internet search will reveal several such projects.

    2. There are odd effects and unpleasant artefacts where anything moves in the scene (even landscapes are rarely completely still) so scanning backs like this have basically gone out of fashion. Since medium format digital is now in the 100M pixel range landscape work has been taken over by these, with 35mm at the budget end.

      1. Well if you did a couple of scans (3?) with the scanners you could probably remove the most artifacts by comparing the scans in software (which would be needed to stitch the picture together anyway) but it would of course be best for things like architecture, far landscapes and artworks.

  4. Not very mobile though. I once got a tour of the convoy of vehicles used by the Ordnance Survey to produce updated maps under (battle)field conditions. The camera took up an entire Bedford ‘S” truck body, the accompanying printing press unit was installed in a semi.

  5. great concept but those photo’s look awful (almost like a vsco filter). There is no DOF that large format (or even medium format) cameras have.

    If he used a whole bunch of dslr’s focused on the image plane as a virtual sensor then that would be in line with a 4×5 or 8×10 depth and clarity.

  6. It is hardly a camera, really a projector using a digital camera to photograph the image. No great images shown, and effects that just look like they are done in photoshop. Sorry. The other large format camera links were much more interesting.

  7. I had the good fortune to be given a tour of the mapmaking camera facilities at Natural Resources Canada in Ottawa some time in the last millennium. The various layers on a topo map are from multiple separate negatives, up to about 2 meters square. The camera used to reproduce those and layer them onto the multiple negatives (for colour litho) was two rooms with a lens between them, with a focal length of several meters. Of course each layer had to be perfectly registered too. A pretty involved process, even before taking into account the sheer scale of it. All digital now, I’m sure. And probably requiring a tenth the number of people too.

  8. Sorry but this is not a large format camera. It’s whatever size format the digital camera is, taking a picture of something large. Very similar to going outside and taking a digital picture of the sky. By this article’s logic that’s “large format”.

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