By Oren Grad
Shen Hao and Chamonix aren't sharing their numbers, so we'll never know. But it sure is the fastest-selling large format camera of the millennium—maybe ever.
As I write these words, just after midnight on Saturday, April 13, Ben Syverson and Justin Lundquist are on the verge of blasting past the ambitious $75,000 Kickstarter fundraising target for their new Wanderlust Travelwide 4x5-inch camera. Over the past eleven days, they've sold 655 large format cameras. Six hundred and fifty-five. Before I go any further, a disclosure: I'm a backer, and I've been rooting for the campaign to succeed. But I have no financial stake in it other than—I hope—getting a camera.
Ben Syverson shooting with the Wanderlust, handheld. (Screen grabs.)
The Travelwide is an ultra-light-weight, plastic-bodied wide-angle camera that accepts 4x5" film holders and is designed to be practical for hand-held use. At the launch of the campaign, the expected objections could be heard. It's not so precise as…it doesn't have movements…it can't do this…it can't do that…it's not really ultralight because you have to carry all those holders…film and processing is too expensive…the 90mm Angulon can't match modern lenses…there aren't enough 90mm Angulons to go around….
Well, it appears that the community has blown a collective raspberry at the skeptics. There are three very good reasons why:
- It costs $99.
- There are lots of fun and useful things it can do.
- It costs $99.
Messrs. Syverson and Lundquist have put a lot of thought into the camera, refining concepts and testing prototypes over many months to arrive at a design that should hold manufacturing cost to a bare minimum while maximizing versatility and saleability. The camera body has been designed first and foremost as a platform for a helical-mounted 90mm ƒ/6.8 Schneider Angulon, a very compact and lightweight lens that was in common use on press cameras up to the early 1960s. But many other 90's can be mounted as well. The body is scaled so that without the helical it can serve as a fixed-focus box camera for a 65mm lens. It will ship with a pinhole, so users who prefer that or whose budget is especially tight can get started making pictures right away. And from the discussion board buzz, you can look forward to seeing the Travelwide serve as a base for a wide range of DIY hacks.
You could say that it's in the spirit of Lomography, except that instead of being grossly inflated for the camera's hipster appeal, the price is a steal. It will open the door for many who couldn't afford or justify earlier scale-focus LF box cameras at five or ten times the price or who have been put off by the klunky studio monorails or heavily-battered Graphics that have been the usual alternatives for trying large format at such a low cost. It's cheap enough to be a nice accessory for experienced LF photographers who'd like to try something a little different. And it's cheap enough that if, in the end, you lose interest and write off the camera entirely, the experience will still have been well worth the price.
Also very much unlike the Lomo way: put it on a tripod, and with careful technique you can make negatives that are technically a match for Ansel's and cover the wall with enlargements of your masterpieces. But you don't have to. I'm looking forward to using mine as a walkaround snapshot camera and making little silver contact prints. Ben has been shooting color neg with a prototype, hand-held. There will be a veritable army of these out in the field from day one with pinholes mounted. There will be Travelwides with multi-sheet Grafmatics or instant film holders or rollholders for 120 film rubber-banded to the back, users exposing enlarging paper to make paper negatives or loading up with the Harman Direct Positive paper or coating their own plates….
Here's their link again. Have a look; what do you think you could do with one?
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
jlsalvignol: "Oren, what a great little project! I'm the 629th backer. A real spring sunbeam. Good luck all."
pbg: "I sent MJ a link to these guys a couple days ago, hoping it would make it to TOP. Really excited to get my hands on this; it will be my first large format camera."
Mike replies: Thanks to you, and to everyone else who sent me a link to this. I'm sure Ben and Justin thank you too!
Richard: "Make sure you read the 'risks and challenges.' I've backed a few Kickstarters (Pebble, an iPhone case with polarizer lens...) and they've have been hugely late with their delivery times and way over-optimistic on the quality of the end product they ended up with. Frankly, I'm done with Kickstarter for now as far as gadgets and gear items go. I'll buy it once it becomes a viable product, if it ever does. But I do hope it does...."
Bill Tyler: "I'm grinning from ear to ear. Just pulled my old 90mm ƒ/8 Super Angulon out of the closet. The glass is clean and the shutter is running smoothly. Can't wait to get the camera."
Ken Ford: "I'm getting a chance to see one of Ben's prototypes tomorrow (at a Rangefinder Forum get-together in Chicago.) I've held off subscribing only because I can't decide which version I want; tomorrow I'll pull the trigger when I get home. I'm glad this is proving to be so successful, because I hope it will lead to a budget 8x10 camera body—I lust for contact prints!"