Guest post by JG
The primary reason why I was slow to embrace digital photography is because for roughly 15 years prior to purchasing my first serious digital camera in 2005, I was almost exclusively a view camera user.
A lot of the photography I do is architectural in nature (although it's not, strictly speaking, architectural photography) and using camera and lens movements to correct perspective distortions and control depth of field is common practice among architectural photographers. Thus it will come as no surprise that for as long as I have been using digital cameras, I have wanted one that has view camera movements available.
While a variety of commercial options have existed over the years and in fact, several very nice ones exist today, none of them have been or are particularly well suited to my personal needs—nor can my photography budget stretch to accommodate their purchase.
Many DIY versions have also been made, although most use medium- and large-format lenses because their larger image circles allow for a greater range of movement, and a majority of them are intended to be used in a studio and/or for macro photography, not in the field.
Because I am inveterate tinkerer with all things electrical and mechanical, I have tried several times over the years to cobble together workable alternatives using various digital camera bodies and view cameras, starting with a 4/3-format Panasonic DMC-L1 in 2006. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, every one of my previous attempts has missed the mark one way or another and ultimately ended up on the figurative scrap heap.
Until this past weekend, that is, when I attached a Sony A7R body to the rear standard of a Toyo 45G view camera and a Contax N lens mount to the front standard, and by mixing and matching and slightly modifying bits and pieces from several Toyo cameras, I was able to move them together closely enough along the rail that I could focus the lens at infinity...success was finally mine!
Here's a quick photo of the front side:
And here's a photo of the rear side:
And here is the very first photo I took with it (standing just outside my front door, because it was literally 109 degrees in the shade this past Sunday afternoon) using my much-appreciated Contax N 17–35mm ƒ/2.8 zoom (set at 17mm and ƒ/8, with approx. 4mm of front rise, which is pretty much the maximum possible at this focal length, increasing to ~5–7mm at 21mm and ~8–10mm between 24mm and 35mm):
Using this lens at its widest focal length was the toughest test I could think of to throw at this camera and it succeeded admirably. (No, the image quality is not perfect—there is some smearing visible in the corners at 17–19mm, among other things—but it appears to be entirely adequate for my needs and in the original files there is, of course, that wonderful Zeiss "pop" that I enjoy. And yes, my particular A7R is damaged somehow—hence the magenta highlights and noisy shadows—so I'm actively looking for another one as I write this.) As a bonus, by swapping the lens board with another one I fabricated, and repositioning the standards an additional 16 mm apart, my "Frankencamera" also works with Contax 645 lenses, too!
Of course, this project still has a way to go until it's finally and fully finished. Because the Toyo 45G is a film-era camera, it was designed during a time when the term "precision" meant something very different than it does during the digital era, so I will be going through the camera and tweaking things to optimize its tolerances and performance. I also intend to make sure it's as square and/or parallel as I can make it and then lock everything down tightly, because I don't anticipate using swing or tilt movements very often. I also have in mind a few additional modifications that should further improve the camera's stability/rigidity and, I am hopeful, further improve its performance as well.
Once all of that has been done, my last step will be to incorporate the guts of either the Kipon or Fringer smart adapters into the lens and camera body mounts such that I can control the electronic apertures of the Contax lenses from the A7R body instead of having to work with them in preset mode, which is the case right now. If I use the Fringer adapter, I may even be able to get the autofocus working, too! Wouldn't it be a hoot to have an autofocusing view camera?
To be sure, this isn't the most practical camera ever made, because it's fairly bulky and heavy (and requires a fairly bulky and heavy tripod, too). And because both tilt-shift lenses and Photoshop exist, many people will think what I've done here is silly and pointless, and to some extent, they have a valid point. But it was inexpensive to build (excluding the basic Toyo 45G camera and various accessories, which I already had, I've spent less than $125 on this project so far, most of which was for the pair of lens adapters from which I salvaged the lens and camera body mounts), it does exactly what I need (want) it to do with my favorite lenses, and in my opinion it will be a lot of fun to use for the type of photography I prefer to do. (YMMV, of course!)
Perhaps most important of all, though, is that I was finally able to scratch an itch that had bugged me for more than a decade. If nothing else, there's a lot of satisfaction to be had from that alone!
JG has been photographing a variety of subjects, using a variety of cameras, for more than 40 years. For the past seven years, though, he's been infatuated with B&W nighttime photography and during the wee hours, he explores the Phoenix, AZ metropolitan area with his camera. He posts many of the resulting photos at his photo-blog.
Original contents copyright 2016 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:
Graham Byrnes: "Making things that work is always cool, in my opinion, whether they are needed or not."
Richard: "Your 'Falling Frond' photo is one of the most perfect pictures I've ever seen. Breathtaking. And what a cool project."
Gato: "Looks nice. I have often thought of doing something similar, though I doubt I'll ever carry through with it. Though for many years I made my living with 35mm, most of my personal film photography was done with 4x5 view cameras. What I miss, I think, is the ritual aspect and the enforced pacing. The view cameras, especially my wooden Deardorff, brought a sort of gravity to a portrait sitting and engaged the sitter in a way I have never quite been able to achieve with smaller cameras. I miss it, but don't think I'll ever go back."