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Large Format Photography by ARTalk

[by Biyeun Buczyk '10] Please, please let there be no light-leaks.

[by Biyeun Buczyk ‘10]

I need a mule. I also need to train for a marathon. Why? I’m now the owner of an 8×10 view camera.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was in the process of building an 8×10 camera at the MIT Hobby Shop. After months designing and building this camera from scratch, in between classes and a summer job, I finished it in August, just in time for its first shoot during the Student Art Association’s Photo Safari class.

I worked feverishly the week before its debut, polishing the brass and oiling the cherry, with the hope of having the camera in working order before the class left for the weekend. I pulled an all-nighter on the last day, finishing just in time to glue the bellows, roll it up, and assemble the camera before piling it into a car.

After a nighttime shoot (with a smaller camera), I spent a few hours struggling to fold the bellows together before falling asleep, leaving the bellows half done on the floor. The next morning I barely finished folding the bellows before packing up the rest of my equipment for the Quabbin Reservoir shoot. It was not until we reached the Quabbin Reservoir parking lot that I attached the bellows to the camera body, readying it for its first (and hopefully successful) shoot.

With two hours left, my goal was to take one photo. Just one. I carried the camera to a decent spot along the lakeside, not too far from the car. With a little help, I mounted the (roughly 20 lb) camera on a tripod.

After fiddling with the focus, framing the image, taking a light-reading, and setting the aperture and shutter speed on the lens, the camera was ready for its first shot.

Please, please let there be no light-leaks.

I removed the dark slide from the film holder, triggered the shutter, and that was it.
Well, sort of.

Later that week, after spending a half an hour in complete darkness developing my sheet of film, I finally realized the success of that day.

And guess what? My first camera…worked!

The first photo at Quabbin Reservoir.

Since that day, I’ve quite a few more shots. My favorite thus far is the one I took up in Maine about three weeks ago:

One thing I must note is that these images, after scanning and jpeg compression, are nowhere near the quality of the actual photographs. If you’ve ever done any analog photography, then you are probably familiar with 35mm film. And most of you are probably aware of many new full-frame digital SLRs on the market that can match the quality of 35mm.

Now realize that the negatives that produced the images above are 8 inches by 10 inches in size.

For an illustration of this comparison, you can fit roughly 57 35mm frames into a single 8×10 frame. The range of tonalities that you get out of this is, of course, phenomenal.

Although I’ve taken mostly landscape photos so far, I’m excited to use this camera for portrait photography (especially after seeing the Karsh exhibit the MFA). I have taken a couple portraits so far, but I’m thirsty for more. The good thing is, I’m currently taking “Learning to Photograph People” at the Student Art Association. So far, the shoots have required a lot of moving around (not a happy thing for a heavy camera), but in the next few weeks we’ll start more work in the studio. I’m quite excited.

And now for a close-up of the camera:

Photo taken by Graham Ramsay.

And in case you were wondering, its name is Zaphod.

8 responses to “Large Format Photography”

  1. scanner says:

    I love film photography so much. Can you give more details on how you made it? How did you get the lens? Does MIT have somewhere to develop the film? How big must the enlarger be, geez! I envy you.

  2. This article is actually a kind of followup to Biyeun’s previous ARTalk blog on making the camera:

  3. Anonymous says:

    Zaphod = king of universe

  4. Anonymous says:

    Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy? You da man!

  5. Paul says:

    Lovely photos. smile

  6. Colton says:

    The photos are great, but you might want to try to get more contrast out of them. Try making the sky a little more dramatic by using a red filter or something of the sort.

  7. Biyeun '10 says:


    I built the camera at the MIT Hobby Shop and kept a blog of its construction at The Hobby Shop has both woodworking and metalworking equipment.

    The lens is a 300mm Caltar S-II (Calumet’s brand, but manufactured by Schneider) that I got off of ebay. It came with a Copal #3 shutter. You can get brand new lenses like this, but they tend to be very, very pricey.

    I develop my film at the Student Art Association ( They’re well equipped for developing black and white stuff. They do have color chemistry, but developing color film by hand is a bit tricky and an art that I have yet to learn.

    The enlarger needed is huge and requires fair amount of distance to project the image. The SAA does not have an 8×10 enlarger at the moment, but they’re working on it. So, until we finally get that enlarger (hopefully soon), anything larger than 4×5 has to be a contact print.

    The images above were all simple contact prints–I did not do any work to them. I plan on spending a few hours in the darkroom over this long weekend, and hopefully I come out with better versions.


  8. Biyeun '10 says:


    Finding a red filter for a lens this size isn’t as simple as finding one for a smaller camera. This lens takes 105mm filters, and those are difficult to find and can be extremely expensive–remember, student budget. It took me some time to find just a simple UV filter. I had to look around, since I didn’t want to spend $200-ish for one.

    Also, at this size it’s better to get a filter holder with various adapter rings (if you get more lenses) and purchase gel, glass, or polyester filter inserts. Finding a good set takes a bit of research, which takes time–of which I have very little at the moment.

    But I do plan on getting a set of color separation filters that will include a red filter, so I can finally make some successful color gum bichromate prints. And believe me, I wanted a red filter for that shot.

    If you have any recommendations for filter sets, do let me know.