• Making a panoramic roll film camera

    The camera mentioned in the title came about as the result of a comment made to me by a good friend of mine.

    It all started when I was directed to the fact that a local large format camera maker was producing what could only be described as a half dark slide for 5×4 film dark slides. The concept enables the user to take 2 images approximately 6×12 cm on a single sheet of film.

    I took a look at the item and it got me thinking. I could see a couple of issues, firstly keeping track of which position the half slide was in when making an exposure, secondly taking care when taking both 6×12 cm and full 5×4 inch images in the same session, thirdly the cost of half a dark slide and finally the availability of 5×4 film.

    Whilst I like the 6×12 format, I felt that there must be an alternative. Since I already have 2  pinhole cameras that make images in the 6×12 format an idea started to emerge. How about building a camera and using a large format lens that I already own? Another point worth mentioning is that a manufactured 6×12 camera of any quality comes with a hefty price tag, so a homemade camera made a lot of sense if it could be built inexpensively.

    A short while after, the idea still floating around in my head, I happened to be in our local branch of The Works with my wife, I spotted a large plywood box that had been discounted due to a minor fault and voila! The basis for a 6×12 film camera.

    Using my Noon 6×12 pinhole camera as the inspiration and basic template for the new camera, I set about making the main body of the camera – this involved cutting the newly acquired wooden box approximately in half and reusing a section for the top plate and create a solid rectangular body.

    Perhaps I should mention at this point that I rarely commit measurements and drawings to paper, I tend to work it out in my head then start work! This is what is commonly called ‘My rule of ish’

    Having previously fitted the lens I intended to use to my 5×4 camera body and set the focus to infinity I measured the overall depth that was required for the new camera to enable the lens to be focused at infinity.

    The next stage was to create the film chamber, (this was made from a surplus picture frame), I used backing paper paper from a used 120 roll film ascertain the dimensions of the film guide, I wanted it as wide as possible whilst still supporting the film. Every surface of the film plane had to be perfectly flat and smooth to ensure the film emulsion did not get damaged when being moved across it, the outer edges were curved down to again prevent damage to the film emulsion.


    The film chamber and winder assembly


    After this the back of the camera was assembled, I decided to make it so that it fitted inside the main body of the camera to prevent light from leaking onto the film inside. A film pressure plate was then made to hold the film flat in the film chamber and against the film mask.

    Next came the tricky part, that of making sure the lens was focused at infinity at the film plane. This entailed cutting a hole in the front of the camera body for the lens to be placed over and fixing a focusing screen in the film chamber on the actual film plane, then it was outside with a dark cloth and a ruler to verify the distance the lens had to be placed at. – Back to The Works for another much smaller box!

    I intended to use a 90mm Schneider Angulon lens and as this had already been fitted to a lens panel and already included an additional modification I wanted to keep the lens on the panel to enable me to also use it on my 5×4 camera without having to reassemble the modification each time, so having obtained another plywood box I set about reshaping the front to hold the lens panel whilst still making it possible to remove easily when required – the design of it similar to that used on other large format cameras.

    Before I could put a roll of film through the camera a very important step – Make a film transport assembly.  The idea was to have  fixed locating pegs on the of the film chamber an a winder assembly at the top. I found some bolts of the correct size to locate inside the film spool to hold it in place for the bottom and for the winders I cut ground down some longer bolts to make them thinner and shorter. The winder bolts had a slot cut in them, into which a small flat section of metal would be wedged. Before this; winder knobs were made from a small section of broom handle, a hole drilled through the centre for the bolt to fit, in turn a small hole was drilled through the knob and bolt into which a small pin was forced to enable them to turn as one. Parallel holes were drilled top and bottom on both sides of the camera body into which the bolts were fitted. Packing blocks were fitted inside the camera at the bottom to hold the film spool in the correct position, at the top the bolts were pushed through a short section of spring was added then a tap washer pushed over the bolt to keep the spring in place and finally flat sections of metal were wedged in – the purpose of these are to locate in the top of the film spool to enable the film to be advanced. At this point I also added a tripod bush fitted into a piece of 5mm ply to the underside of the camera.

    The next stage was to use a 120 film backing roll to create the start point ie. frame 1 marked on the backing paper (note that 6×6 and 6×12 framing uses the central numbers on the film roll) was calculated and a hole drilled through the camera back and pressure plate, a section of red film was sandwiched between the back plate and the pressure plate to enable the film numbers to be seen when advancing the film.

    Having glued and secured all parts of the camera body together, it was time to dust out the interior and give the insides of the camera a coat of matt black paint to reduce risk of internal reflections.

    At this point I should mention that to produce 6×12 images the film is advanced to uneven numbers to obtain the correct spacing, ie 1,3,5 etc.

    Time to load the camera and take some test photographs.

    The first images were not good, apart from a miscalculation of frame spacing there was a large amount of overall fogging present. This was going to require a little more work!

    Frame spacing was easily solved by adjusting the frame start point – a new hole was drilled to more accurately observe the frame numbers on the backing paper.

    I deduced that the fogging was caused by the use of thin ply on the front of the camera – since the internals of the camera were now fixed in place, the solution was to cover the outside of the camera body with adhesive aluminum foil, not pretty since my initial idea had been to have a dark wood exterior on the camera but at least it was now light tight.


    Lightproof aluminum foil applied to front


    The second test roll of film showed a lot more promise, no overall fogging but there was a light leak causing a streak across the top of the image including what should have been the unexposed edge of the film.

    At this point I added extra light absorbing baffles inside the camera plus some thin light seal foam around the camera back. Up until this point the camera back had been held in place with a couple of elastic bands.

    Time for a third test roll, this time success! Time for some tidying up. The camera body and back was covered with a matt black adhesive plastic purchased at a bargain price from a local supermarket, 2 small brass finish clips were fastened to the backplate and camera body – no more rubber bands!

    The matt black finish


    Testing now complete – Time to apply the final finish in the form of a wood veneer to enhance the overall appearance of the camera, lens panel and back panel were given a matt black detail finish. The veneer was stained to enhance the grain and given 2 coats of wax polish to help waterproof the camera body.

    The final wooden finish

    Rear of camera with frame count viewer

    Top view – winder surround detail added

    Sample images

    All sample photographs were taken on Kodak Tri X film and processed in 510 Pyro developer.




    This has certainly been an interesting experience. If I were to make another panoramic style roll film camera and yes I am considering it! Maybe even a 6×17 format camera, I would make the front of the camera of thicker material and lightproof the interior of the camera rather than the outside that way I could have a polished wood exterior from the outset. In addition to this I would also permanently fit a lens to the camera rather than make it removable.

    Watch this space!





  • A Tale of Two TLRs

    What follows is a test of two TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) cameras, but first a little background information.

    I already own 2 TLR’s. – When one started to have problems with the shutter mechanism I switched to my second camera and soon after it too was having shutter problems, knowing that it might be difficult to get either repaired due to parts no longer being available I started looking out for a replacement. I found a Chinese made Seagull WWSC for sale at a very reasonable price, so I purchased it. Then a couple of weeks later I was browsing a local junk shop when I spotted in the corner of a display cabinet another TLR make and model not clear, I asked to take a look, it turned out to be an early Yashica C. The camera was very reasonably priced and the shutter appeared to be working ok, so I purchased it. I did not feel it was fair to leave it laying forlorn in the cabinet any longer – that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!

    The obvious question is. What do you do when you have 2 new (to you) TLR cameras? The answer is to take them out for a side by side test!

    For the purpose of the test both cameras were loaded with Rollei RPX 400 black and white film, all exposures were measured using a Lunasix light meter, apertures were set identically on both cameras and shutter speeds set accordingly. Both cameras were tripod mounted to eliminate the chance of camera shake and to enable identical photographs to be taken.


                                                         Seagull WWSC                                                                                                         Yashica C

    Year of manufacture            Approx 1996                                                                                                              1956

    Film format                              120 roll film                                                                                                              120 roll film

    Number of exposures         12 – 6×6 frames                                                                                                         12 – 6×6 frames

    Film advance                          Lever wind                                                                                                                  Wind wheel with safety button

    Viewing lens                          Haiou 75mm f2.8 – 3 elements in 3 groups                                                          Yashikor 80mm f3.5  – 3 elements in 3 groups

    Taking lens                            Haiou 75mm f3.5 –  3 elements in 3 groups                                                          Yashikor 80mm f3.5  – 3 elements in 3 groups

    Focus range                          1 metre to infinity                                                                                                       1 metre to infinity

    Shutter                                Between lens leaf shutter – B, 1 to 1/300th second                                                 Between lens leaf shutter – B, 1 to 1/300th second

    Shutter  actuation           Auto cocked via film advance                                                                                     Shutter cocked via separate lever

    Focus                                 Flip up hood with magnifier, ground glass screen with fresnel split                    Flip up hood with magnifier and ground glass screen

    Focus mechanism           Front standard focus via wheel                                                                                   Front standard focus via wheel

    Flash Synch                      At all shutter speeds/X +M / PC socket                                                                       At all shutter speeds/X +M / PC socket


    Loading the cameras

    The Seagull and Yashica cameras are both loaded the same way – that is that the unexposed film is placed in the lower chamber, the leader is fed onto an empty film spool in the upper chamber, the film is then advanced until the start indicator on the film lines up with the two dots on the back of the camera (see photo). The film back is now closed and locked with the wheel on the base of the camera and now the film is advanced via the wind crank in the case of the Seagull and the wheel in the case of the Yashica C. Reversing the Seagull’s crank lever cocks the camera shutter, the Yashica C shutter is set with a small lever around the lens – with the Yashica it is essential to set the shutter speed prior to cocking the shutter.

    Film start markers

    The cameras in use

    Both cameras a similar in operation – they have a pop up hoods with spring loaded magnifier to aid focus, the magnifier is utilised by pressing the centre of the hood, the magnifier then unlatches and flips up so it is above the focussing screen, once you have done with it just press it back into the hood where it will lock back into place. The Seagull has its focus wheel on the left side of the body, whilst the Yashica focus wheel is located on the right hand side. Aperture settings are adjusted via a lever and in both cases the range goes from f3.5 through to f22. Shutter speeds are likewise changed with a lever on the opposite side to the aperture scale, whilst the Seagull shutter speeds are from B, 1 ½, ¼, 1/8, 1/16, 1/30, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/300, the Yashica having an older generation Copal shutter its speeds range from B, 1, ½, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300. Since most negative film has a degree of latitude the variation between the cameras is not an issue, it may however cause a problem with less tolerant transparency film.

    For those wishing to use a lens hood or filter, it is worth noting that the Seagull has a screw thread mount of 34mm, whilst the Yashica uses a more common mount found most other TLRs that being a Bayonet 1 mount.

    I noticed that focusing with the Seagull is a little easier due to the split prism centre spot in the focusing screen, but at the same time that the focus wheel

    The Results

    Since both the Seagull and Yashica have a similar optical setup, admittedly with a 5mm difference between focal length, the results were quite close. Neither lens was super sharp at full aperture, usable but only just, major improvements were seen by f8 and gained a little more sharpness by f11, nothing more was gained by stopping down to f22. Vignetting was well controlled on both lenses, not causing serious issues at any aperture. The only major difference between the two cameras was that the lens on the Seagull showed  slightly better control of flare, this is due to the fact that the Haiou lens is multi coated rather than the single coating on the Yashicor lens.

    Seagull WWSC                                                                                        Yashica C

    Seagull WWSC                                                                                                      Yashica C


    Either camera will give acceptable results, the lenses are not ‘state of the art’ sharp enough to provide a 30cm square print without too much trouble.

    The Seagull WWSC is suspected by many to have been built on old Japanese TLR tooling, the shutter has more than a passing resemblance to an early Copal shutter. Added to this the build quality is good but not stunning The WWSC is said to be the export quality of the Seagull 4a model. Putting a precise age on the WWSC is difficult due to the myriad of Seagull models released with little information on production dates.

    My Yashica C has definitely seen better days, but in saying that it is still a well built robust camera.

    Which camera would I recommend? Simple answer if you can find either one in good working order then both will give good results, just remember treat them carefully, set the shutter speed before cocking the shutter on the Yashica C and all will be ok