• 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!





  • Agent Shadow – First Impression

    Whilst at the Photography Show in Birmingham last September I had the opportunity to meet with Stephen Dowling, the man behind Kosmo Foto and the promoter of two black and white negative films – Kosmo Foto Mono, rated at 100 ISO – available as 35mm and 120 roll film and the recently released Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow 400 ISO film, available as 35mm film which is being reviewed here.

    Neither film stock is a new emulsion, Mono is made by a European manufacturer (Foma) and Agent Shadow by a respected manufacturer with over 100 years experience. More about that later.

    There are those who would say that a rebadged film is a waste of time, but look at it this way – Ford does not make every component for their vehicles, a large number of parts are bought in from specialist manufacturers and nobody complains!

    On to the testing of Agent Shadow. I exposed one roll at the box speed of 400 ISO and a second roll at 3200 ISO. Agent Shadow is advertised as having the capability of being pushed to 6400 ISO. Both films were processed in 510 Pyro developer using the appropriate development times. Agent Shadow is marketed a being an emulsion harking back to the Film Noir Era, low light levels, lots of contrast and deep shadows. Both the rolls I exposed were taken under fairly flat lighting conditions, so contrast would be a bonus.

    For the purpose of the test I used a Nikon FM with either a Tokina 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 or a Nikkor 28 – 70 f2.8 lens. Exposure was set using a Gossen Lunasix lightmeter.

    How did the film perform?

    Having scanned both films at base settings I examined the results at 100% magnification in Photoshop. Both films displayed good contrast, a bit higher with the 3200 rated film – but this was to be expected and grain more evident but never obtrusive. Both films showed good levels of sharpness, combined with excellent shadow and highlight detail. Put plainly this film will work well under most conditions subject to correct development. If the film is processed in something like Rodinal, then expect more grain and a bit more contrast, but that is the nature of Rodinal and that is a matter of individual taste.


    The above photographs were exposed at box speed of 400 ISO

    The above photographs were exposed at 3200 ISO and processed accordingly

    How does Agent Shadow rate against comparable films?

    In practical terms, Agent Shadow has a slightly coarser grain structure than Ilford HP5 and Kodak Tmax 400.

    Agent Shadow is described as ‘similar to Ilford HP5 but a little less silver content’. This is also the description given to Kentmere Pan 400 ( a clue to its heritage?)  The processing times are identical another clue? Similarly Agfa APX 400 and Rollei RPX 400 also share the same processing times and are also both marked as produced in the UK, likely to indicate that they are the same emulsion all produced by Harman (Ilford). However since everyone has a personal favourite brand this is hardly an issue.

    If you are looking for a good all round film that will push process well, look no further than Agent Shadow.