Building a technical camera – Part III

20150404_183123Step Three of Building a technical camera: milling out part of the back element

Good news! I was able to modify the back element of the Fuji GX camera that I took apart some time ago (see here for details about taking this guy apart).

Did I mention this project is VERY exciting? Yes? Well, I’m even more excited, and using power tools is something I really enjoy.

And so I was really happy to use a milling machine (see picture higher; big fancy machine) in order to remove parts of the back element of the camera in order to make a nice platform I will use to fix a rail for left/right (pano) movement.

ATTENTION: I would like to stress out that you should not use power tools and machine aluminum (or any other material for that matter) yourself if you do not know how to use such tools. They are extremely dangerous if not used properly, and they can injure badly, or worse… So please be careful, and let the “pros” handle them 🙂

As a reminder, you’ll find below the picture of the camera “skeleton” showing with red arrows the parts of the back element that need to be removed (milled):

Sans titre-1 copie

You will see in the next few photographs the part after milling. For those who are not familiar with machining, you can see where I removed metal because it looks all shiny / silver. As I mentioned before, I had to remove the posts for the screws entirely, as well as some of the front and back vertical stands to make a nice leveled platform.

Let me point out that the level must be as close to perfection as possible, if one want to ensure movement in the horizontal plane rather than having a left/right shifted image that will be higher or lower than the previously shot image.

20150404_183158 20150404_183140 20150404_183130Let’s do a comparison of before and after milling:

11046131_10153153202593485_1501836423_o20150322_130154 20150322_130218Next step:

Fix the rail system where you can see the nuts in the last two pictures. This rail will be used in order to shift the camera left and right in order to make panoramas. This is another very delicate step, as the rail needs to be perfectly parallel to the stands of the back element (that is perfectly perpendicular to the optical axis), unless it will introduce a change in the position of the sensor plane while shifting, therefore leading to unwanted blur in the final image.


1/ I had lots of fun milling the back part of the Fuji camera. Making chips and machining using tools like a milling machine is incredibly fun, but you have to be very careful and need to know what you’re doing, so PLEASE don’t do it yourself if you have not been taught how to.

2/ Now that’s it, even if I wanted to go back and put the camera in it’s original state I could not. I am not overly concerned the project won’t work, but when you take one like this you have to keep in your mind you may waste a lot of money and time. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take because it’s fun, and also because the goals are well worth the risks 😉

3/ You have to plan well in advance about the next steps you’ll take, if only because you have to order parts which may come from China and take time to get there. I have to admit I am better advanced than I’m showing right now, and things are looking good for now.

6 thoughts on “Building a technical camera – Part III

  1. thibaultroland Post author

    Kris, I wish! I know it’s a pun, but I actually thought about it… How to make it a consumer product, but each copy would require too many adjustments making sure all parts are straight etc. Also, It seems like a tough product to market when it’s so dependent on supplies of Fuji GX680 bodies…
    But I’ll keep you in mind 😉 Can’t wait to work on the next steps!!

  2. Michael Diblicek

    Hi Thibault,
    This is all looking extremely exciting and i must admit it’s great to follow the updates when they come in.
    Just a couple of stupid questions (probably) but why are you taking the Fuji GX680 route??
    why not just buy, or produce, for example the two upright sections of a view camera??
    What are the benefits of buying a GX680 body over the view camera??
    Is it costs?? or more the technical side ??

    A really great project all the same which i follow eagerly. looking forward to part IV.

    All the best


  3. thibaultroland Post author

    Hi Michael!

    I’m really happy you too find this little project exciting! Lots of things can go wrong if I don’t pay enough attention to all of the different adjustments, but the finished product should be really cool!
    As for your questions, no worries, there is no such thing as a stupid question 🙂 The reason I started off a GX680 is because it already has all kind of cool front movements, which are the trickiest things to set up, like you realized with me looking and asking around for parts to add rear swing.
    Some people do start from scratch, but that’s usually when they build big large format cameras or don’t need extremely high precision.
    Otherwise yes, you’re right on spot! It’s mostly a question of price! I’m trying to keep the costs at a minimum, and using an oldish film body helps most of the time. Every new such system available commercially costs more than 1000 USD at best, and every additional plate, mount or item is 100 USD or higher. The idea of my system is that if I need an extra lens board for instance i just get a ~10 USD reverse ring, ~<10 USD 4×4'' sheet of aluminum and a few screws and voila!
    The whole system should be well under 600 USD all considered I think.
    Another reason is that I can always control better what my system does and add functionality, make it better over time. Tough to do on a commercial system 🙂

    Hope this helps and answers your questions, Mike? 😀
    Let me know if you have other questions, and I'd be happy to read you if you have suggestions etc!



  4. Mike Diblicek

    Hi Thibault,

    Thanks for the response, and yes that answers everything at the moment. 🙂
    As i said i’m following this really closely so hope to pick up some more info as you progress.
    I will wait until you have completed this project, and then i may do something similar like with the Alpa system.
    I’ll let you make all the mistakes, so that i can learn what to do, and what not to do. LOL

    Bon continuation.

    All the best

    p.s. you might like this link.

  5. thibaultroland Post author

    Very cool website Mike, thanks a lot for the link, I’ll definitely check it out more first chance I get 🙂
    The Alpa system is great from what I heard but the price point pretty high 😦 if you go for it I’d be curious to hear your feedback 🙂
    As for making mistakes for you don’t worry, I’m sure I will do them… lol. But you let me know when you do some as well… deal? 🙂

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