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Mens et Manus: Building a Camera at the Hobby Shop by ARTalk

[by Biyeun Buczyk '10] If you have an idea, you can build it.

[by Biyeun Buczyk ’10]

Around November, a crazy idea nested itself in my head. I was experimenting with large format for the first time–building my own 4×5 pinhole camera out of foam core and playing with the Student Art Association’s Speed Graphic.

I loved the results: The fine tonalities…the fact that you could barely see the film grain under the enlarger.

I fancied seeing what an 8×10 negative would look like, but the thought of buying my own 8×10 view camera burst as soon as I looked up the price range for a field camera with decent movements. The bellows alone would cost me around $500, and I was on a student budget.

But what if I built my own? I could easily make the entire camera (used lens and all) for around the cost of just the bellows.

So I spent the rest of the semester dreaming of how the camera would look like–promising myself to start on the construction after finals week, for fear of not getting anything else done. But, of course, as soon as classes ended I set to work designing the camera in between study sessions using Google SketchUp, and working off of pictures, designs of smaller cameras, and anything else I could find on the Internet.

The (not quite) final design is above–the current working design is a bit messy at the moment. The camera will be made out of cherry and brass, with my homemade, faux leather bellows in the middle.

During the two weeks before IAP, I spent my time at my other home (Seattle, WA) designing and building the bellows for the camera.

A week into IAP, I walked into the MIT Hobby Shop, design in hand, and absolutely no woodworking or metalworking experience.

But that’s the great thing about the Hobby Shop. If you have an idea, you can build it, and someone will be there to help you along the way. Needless to say I had no idea what I was in for–originally thinking the project would take the rest of IAP, I’m now on my fourth month. But I’ve learned a lot.

Ken Stone ’72 (left), the director, and Hayami (right) are in charge of the Hobby Shop. They are the people to go to if you are really stuck and have no clue how to begin (like me). I’m constantly looking for help (as both of them can confirm), but by now I have enough experience (thanks to a lot of instruction) to work a little on my own before something completely new comes up.

One of the best things about working at the Hobby Shop is seeing what other people come up with. During IAP students came in to build their own speakers out of MDF as part of a class. As the spring semester began, class projects and UROPs popped up everywhere. Zach Bjornson ’10 is building a replica of the 1736 Hemsch harpsichord on display at the MFA. Ilan Moyer ’08 is working on his thesis: an inexpensive circuit board milling machine.

In addition to individual projects, the Hobby Shop holds classes during the semester that you can take for credit.

For example, SP.777: Water Jet Technology teaches students how to use the Hobby Shop’s water jet by creating something for the local community. This year the class is working with The Boston Home, designing a device that makes it easier for people with multiple sclerosis to drink from a cup without fear of dropping it.

As for my camera? Well, it’s come a long way from just a crazy idea. Since I’ve been spending so much time on it, I decided to turn it into a UROP under the Edgerton Center, with Thery Mislick as my supervisor. When I’m done, I’m planning on releasing the plans and other documentation online under a Creative Commons license in case someone out there wants to build their own 8×10. You can follow my progress at I Build a Camera (I’m hoping to make an update for my work in April at the end of the week…things get busy around this time).

See that knob there? I made it out of a solid cylinder of brass, and it makes me happy.

Here you can see the rack and pinion that moves the focusing rack. The brass pieces across the rack will have a slot cut into them so that the front standard (the part that holds the lens) can move from side to side (in addition to twisting, tilting, and moving up and down).

The frames on the left will hold the ground glass and the film holder. Eventually I will put a spring-back in there before it drives me insane.

I can already picture the finished camera. With the toughest part of the camera behind me, all I have left to do is the front standard and attach the back to the focusing rack.

Once my camera is finished, I’ll be exploring all sorts of alternative photography processes with Thery this summer. This of course brings forward another crazy idea: making a Daguerreotype. It’s a method from the very beginnings of photography–an image on a polished piece of silver-plated copper, and probably one of the clearest, life-like pictures I’ve ever seen. However, it has a slight problem. The plate is sensitized with mercury (or iodine) vapor, and developed under liquid mercury. This definitely requires a fume hood and a lab, so I’ll need to work that out somehow. (Also, getting the mercury…)

Before I end my entry, I’ll leave you with a mini-tour of the MIT Hobby Shop.

The Hobby Shop has two sides to it: the metal side and the wood side. This is the wood side. In the picture: a jointer, a thickness planer, and an edge sander.

More of the wood side: a band saw, and a couple drill presses.

This is the metal side. You can find a list of all the tools on the Hobby Shop’s website.

More of the metal side: a couple of milling machines and a drill press.

Countless projects have gone through the Hobby Shop. Anything from chairs and tables to guitars, sailboats, and airplanes–the Hobby Shop has seen it all. Perhaps one day you can add another to the list.

A quick note about the alternative photography gig: The Wiesner Gallery (2nd floor of the Student Center) is having an alternative photography show with gum bichromate and calotype prints starting Tuesday the 6th. If you’re around, go see it!

18 responses to “Mens et Manus: Building a Camera at the Hobby Shop”

  1. Paul says:

    This is really cool. A few of my friends really like to use the Hobby Shop, you’ve definitely motivated me to check it out sometime soon!

    Also, did you mention something about a robot ball? :D

  2. Aww…Paul beat me to the xkcd reference.

    The hobby shop looks awesome. I have quite a few project ideas that have never gotten off the ground because I don’t have access to decent equipment.

  3. This is awesome. I didn’t realize you could literally walk in, get trained, and start using stuff, nor did I realize it was in DuPont. Great blog, Biyeun smile

  4. And I apologize for all the spam comments, I don’t know why they’re circling around this blog like flies. I’m deleting them as fast as I can.

  5. Piper says:

    Wow, that’s so awesome! I gotta look into hobby shop, I have a friend in it and she likes it a lot…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Does Harvard has all these stuffs? Are there people around there doing all this cool projects?

  7. lulu says:

    yeahhh i hear the hobby shop is run like butter

  8. Looking forward to the birthing of countless crazy, late-night ideas.
    Always wanted to make a crank-powered flight machine… Right, getting on that…

  9. Anonymous says:

    Your camera is beautiful. =)

  10. biyeun says:

    Thanks, Anonymous. smile

  11. Rachel'12 says:

    I visited the hobby shop during CPW. The little waterjet cutter is awesome! Love this place.

  12. This is really awesome. I hope to get inspired like you did and pursue a project like this. What is your intended major?

  13. biyeun says:

    Taking too many IB exams,

    I’m course 8-B (physics) with a focus in optics. I was course 6-2 until midway through this semester.


  14. Tanmay '12 says:

    Geez… I just love building stuff! But ion propulsion thingies aren’t cheap these days… grin

  15. Anonymous says:

    Wow, great question: “Does Harvard has all these stuffs? Are there people around there doing all this cool projects?”

    Can anyone answer this? I wanna know the answer…

  16. @ Anonymous:

    Ask a Harvard student? I’d say check their Admissions blog, but they don’t have one.
    But yeah, MIT is so much cooler than Harvard.

    Beaver love,

  17. Alex Slocum says:

    Awesome, just awesome. It reminds me of when I was an UG at MIT (and I never left!) The Hobby Shop and all the folks there just rock! Geek meets Get ‘R Done!


  18. The kid just digital camera from Fisher-Price cost about seventy dollars. The memory card can hold about 50 images. There is some distortion when you look through the lens and the resolution is low, but these cameras are idea for youngsters. No matter what kind of pictures these cameras take, the kids love them.