Category Archives: Quick and Dirty

Building a technical camera – Part IV

20150322_130154Step Four of Building a technical camera: adding left/right shifting to the back element

Last time, I showed you the results of milling out a chunk of the back element of the Fuji camera. Today, I’ll show you why I did it, and how to mount different parts together and insure they are perfectly parallel or perpendicular to each other.

For that particular step, I bought a cheap Chinese precision rail system on eBay. For $8 USD, it’s hard to get a better system that can be modified, drilled, cut or tapped. The following picture shows you exactly what this part looks like before modifying and mounting on the camera.

DSC01151First step was to take apart the rail itself (with the screw sticking out of the slot), from the support piece that is originally meant to attach on the tripod head. In the final design, the parts will be flipped: the rail will become the support (attached to the camera, see below) and the other part with the precise movement knob and the stopper. The latter part will be modified so I can attach a support plate for the camera.20150404_192705

You will find below a few pictures that I shot while adjusting the rail to the camera so that these two part are perfectly perpendicular to each other. This step is very delicate, because the slightest misalignment between them will lead to the sensor plane not being perpendicular to the lenses, effectively creating unwanted tilt. 20150404_192717

To make sure the parts were perpendicular, I used the precision of the milling machine and an indicator, see below:

20150404_192732

Just so you have a better sense of what things will look like eventually, here is a photograph of the back element with the inverted support part that I’ll drill and tap in order to mound the camera standard:20150404_193117No a few photographs of the camera with the rail system, where you can see how left/right shift will work:

DSC01173 DSC01171 DSC01164 DSC01160 Next step:

Drill the rear standard support (part with the two knobs in the pictures higher).

Conclusions:

1/ this was one of the most delicate but easiest steps so far. Easiest when you have the right tools, but these are hard to come by and even harder to let a machinist let you use his toys πŸ™‚

2/ I found a solution to add rear swing (left/right tilt) by ordering a precise optical rotating stage for about $80 USD from China. I’ll give you the details in a later post if you are interested (please use the comment below if so). I’ll first work on a prototype that won’t have swing, see how it goes and then add the rotating stage.

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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 πŸ™‚

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.

Conclusions:

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 πŸ˜‰

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.

Building a technical camera – Part II

20150322_125637

Step Two of Building a technical camera: taking apart a GX680

For those of you who did not see my first post about it, you can find it here. In a few words, after many discussions with my photographer friend Satoru Murata, I decided to throw myself into a new project: building a technical camera that I can use to mount almost any lens on a Sony a7/II/R/S body, much like the Cambo Actus system, but on the cheap side.

Getting to it now. You will find higher and below a few pictures of the (very functional) Fuji GX6800 III I bought recently and took apart these last few days…

Scary, right? πŸ™‚

Because it was the first time I took one apart, I actually ended up removing more parts than I should have, but I guess it does not matter too much since I’ll show you next that I basically milled (cut out with a power tool) entire parts of the camera (already done) and I’m now too committed to go back and put things back together.20150322_125815

To get to the bare minimum of the camera (front, back elements and railing, see the terrible phone picture below), all I needed to do was de-attach the bellows from the front and back elements, and mostly to unscrew and remove the camera body (back element) from the railing system.

11046131_10153153202593485_1501836423_oThe idea now is to keep the front standard as is, because it has all sorts of movements (tilt, shift, swing) for the lens. However, I want to modify (mill) the back element in order to remove the different parts with red arrows on the picture below: a couple of posts that were used to screw the body on and the front and rear metal parts on which it rested.

The goal is to create a platform on which I can fix a 2-way rail. This rail will eventually be used as a support for the camera board and it will allow for left/right shifting of the camera (great for shooting panos, blue arrows on the picture below).

Sans titre-1 copieI’m also thinking about adding swing to the back of the camera. The way I see it, it will require a precision rotating stage (similar to what can be found in science labs doing optics), but I’m having issues finding something cheap and precise enough. Ideally, it also has to be about 1 to 2 inches (~25-50mm) in diameter and I would like to have: a knob to rotate the stage, and one to lock in it place. It also needs to handle 3-4 pounds (~2kg) of weight. If you have suggestions, please fire away!

Conclusions of this part:

1/ Taking this guy apart was easy peasy, and probably the most straightforward part of the project. I can’t stress enough that I’m happy I’ll never have to put the Fuji back together. It seems now that I have multiple small parts all over my work table, and I have no clue where most of them would go πŸ™‚

2/ Next part is using a milling machine to reduce some of the back element in order to create a nice resting platform. I’ll show you some pictures of this step, but if you are not familiar with how to work these machines, please don’t go ahead on your own repeating what I’ll do. You can get hurt. Badly. If not worse.

3/ If you are aware of where to acquire new or used (small 1 to 2” dia) rotating stages (with a precision adjustment knob and able to carry ~3-4 pounds), please shoot me a message. I am currently designing the next steps, and would love to get my hands on one. Worse case scenario, I’ll start with a prototype that does not have swing if I can’t find one.

4/ As usual, if you have questions or ideas, send them my way!

Till next time!

Building a technical camera – Part I

$_57Fuji GX680 III basic body with rear and front elements and bellows. Missing lens, film back and viewfinder.

Step One of Building a technical camera

I have a new project: the ultimate DIY camera fun.

After much discussion with my buddy Satoru Murata, I decided to take on a project for the next few weeks. I will share with you some of the steps I will take into building a technical view camera… of sorts.

For those who are not familiar with such cameras, you can find a description here and a sketch below: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_camera

In a few words, this camera is made of a front board which holds a lens, and bellows that ensure the image coming from the lens goes without interference to a back element containing film or a digital sensor (there are also other types of capturing media but no need to go into such details here). What makes this type of camera special is the ability to move the front (and back) element in order to obtain large amounts of tilt and shift.

If you have been following me for a little while, you know that I use tilt and especially shift in my work, and sometimes using such special lenses in particular situations (for instance when you find yourself very close to the subject). For those who are into technicalities, another limitation of regular modern style T/S lenses is that movement happens at the front of the camera and not at the back. Back movement is however preferable because moving the front element changes the position of the image circle, and it usually is better to tilt (in particular) the rear element rather than the lens in order to avoid such changes in image circle position.

Now, you also now that I use Sony cameras for my work, as well as different sorts of lenses, ranging from modern and old Full Frame lenses to 30-ish years old Medium Format lenses (and I even also do Large Format film for fun). All these lenses are great, and MF provides a larger image circle, meaning that I can do larger movements than with FF lenses. Unfortunately, none of the adapters available on the market allow for full access to the MF lenses image circle, and some of them simply cannot be used, period (such as Mamiya RZ67). It is also impossible to use LF lenses on modern FF or MF dSLRs and backs.

So here is the idea: build a technical camera that will let me mount ANY (and I insist on ANY) lens (FF, MF, LF) on a modern digital FF mirrorless dSLR or MF back, and give TILT and SHIFT movement both at the front and back elements.

After some research online, I found that people can hack a Fuji GX680 body into doing something like this.

So I present you a new member in the family: a cheap (~$200 USD) Fuji GX680 III body which I will start stripping off its different elements in order to keep only the base body and moving elements.

$_573245Next steps to come, after I removed all the unnecessary parts! πŸ™‚

On a different note, I’ll need to find this camera a name after it’s finished… let me know if you have suggestions! πŸ™‚

New architectural photograph coming soon

10295073_10152794782118485_2926526480416932124_oI finally finished a long exposure image I’ve been working on for the last 3 weeks…
Iit’s a 6 photographs panorama that I took in Boston recently (each image is about 5 minutes exposure and 36MP, shot with my new @Sony β€ͺ#β€Ža7R‬ camera), that I stitched together in post to make a final file about 10,000 x 8,000 pixels, 16 bits.
After upgrading my computer system, I finally nailed it! I so needed fresh “blood” to handle 500MO tif files πŸ˜€
Will share soon~ish…

In the mean time, you see here an image representing the finished picture, with some of the hard selections I made in post-processing in Photoshop.
I know it’s pretty abstract right now, but if you look hard, the picture is there, I promise πŸ˜‰

Back from California, full of new images

There it is, I’m back from my trip in California.

As a reminder, here is my rough planed itinerary. I hit every located but for Joshua Tree, and added a few on the road:

Loop2014Map

I’m very happy that I got to visit so many iconic places that were shot by amazing artists such as Ansel Adams, and sad at the same time that I could not keep going, and did not have enough time to swing by some places I really wanted to go, such as Kings Canyon NP, Sequoia NP, Pinnacles NP and so many more.

For those of you who did not follow my trip on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’ll find bellow some of the behind the scenes images:

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In the airport waiting to board the plane to Las Vegas, NV.10556437_10152600727723485_7248009828693195371_n

Finally Las Vegas, baby! πŸ™‚10487313_10152602893223485_3736478368378318548_nUnder the blazing sun in Death Valley NP, probably the hottest place in the Parc: Devil’s Golfcourse (125F/52C). Hard on the cameras!

10599500_10152605314918485_2595824104220014100_nMono Lake area: gorgeous place and skies, perfect for long exposure!

10537386_10152606292543485_8825312066160115185_nSunrise on Mono Lake. A very early start of the day, but the wonderful colors and clouds made it all worth it πŸ™‚

10014539_10152606232013485_4232817371124794983_nAnd did I tell you about the tufas? They are incredible rock formations sticking out of the lake. Very surreal, feels like you just landed on a wild uninhabited planet.

10306552_10152606658318485_2792756942413484067_nA little later in the morning. Colors are so as nice, but still. What a dream for landscape photographers!

10599227_10152610837008485_3730984380069454479_nΒ  Bodie Ghost town near Mono Lake. a rough and long drive to get there, but very cool material for nice photography.

10583972_10152611909338485_1072964833468490978_nYosemite at last! Feels like being in Ansel Adam’s path. Very inspiring and humbling… how could you do better than him? πŸ™‚

10534092_10152612013173485_5061974192059941879_nView of the half dome from Glacier Point. So high, so nice!!

10369984_10152610863288485_380645085482201297_nA very nice lake after a tiring hike. The rest was welcome, and long exposure gives plenty of time for rest πŸ™‚

10441287_10152614161418485_5946638993380921493_n

The famous Rat’s Island in China Camp near San Francisco. My second time here, and I just HAD to go back…

1609752_10152615515098485_6823114523591059489_nFound a few nice poles off a beach in Sausalito. Interesting experience: clamping the tripod down to avoid the waves from sweeping it away.

10615559_10152619942863485_5984643549050641413_nOff from SF, heading South, you’ll find this great place: Pigeon Point lighthouse. Some very nice angles. Can’t wait to process these images!

10614361_10152622233093485_8759896559569613004_nShipwreck and pier shooting near Santa Cruz CA. This boat was madeΒ  of concrete in the 1940s because wood was getting rare.. Can you imagine that: a concrete boat!

11294_10152624196453485_1353950726242694036_nBig Sur, CA, after whale watching 24 mm tilt shift on @Sony #A7r, 4 minute exposures, 2 pictures that I will stitch in PP. Can you guys see the waterfall illuminated by the sunset?Β  πŸ˜‰

10606320_10152624550768485_864807398192758664_nMore pier shooting!! San Simeon CA. Doing panoramic photographs using the 24mm tilt shift.

10559791_10152624961968485_5756207432212015102_nAvila Beach CA. Some clouds, a nice life guard station and a sunset

10013617_10152626246403485_4602424592896322134_nThere are so many piers in California… a dream come true for photographers! πŸ™‚

10577095_10152626884123485_3982820803987515772_nΒ Β  Sunset on the Santa Barbara pier, CA.

Now for those intrigued by the cloth I wrapped the camera with, the reason is to prevent light leakage on the sides of the camera because I use Tilt/Shift lenses. Those are very special kinds of lenses that can be moved in all sorts of directions to prevent distortion due to pointing up or down, and also allow to do some stitching more easily.

During that trip, I had the occasion to use the new @Sony #A7r camera, as well as the new @Formatt-Hitech filter called Firecrest. I will soon make a couple small reviews on them, pointing out what I liked (or not) about them.

So stay in touch!