Monthly Archives: July 2009

Adapted camera

First posted 26 July 2009

For many, many years I have played around with putting odd lenses on cameras and making my own cameras out of whatever has been available. An interesting lens which I have used for many years is the Kodak Aero Ektar 178 mm f2.5 (7 inch).

I first acquired this lens back in 1981 when I bought an old wooden reflex camera locally. The lens was really beautiful for portraits and the camera took quarter plate glass in the dark slides, so some jiggering around had to be done to load them with film. Often the dark slides would scratch the film and ruin a shot, so I removed the back and built a crude 5×4 holder.

From that point onwards, I was able to get a more consistent result and shot many portraits on Polaroid type 55  (See the portrait section of my website at; ), until the shutter finally gave up about ten years later. The camera laid unused on a shelf for many years and I thought about looking for another wooden reflex camera, but instead I had a bit of a brainwave;

I removed the mirror, screen and shutter mechanism from the broken camera and cut the back of the camera down. I then attached a Pentax 6×7 body. See picture;

Thornton pentax camera

I could now shoot hand held on roll film and get the same result, although the angle of view was reduced dramatically.

Here is a shot from the first film I took on it;

staring horse

The small image here doesn’t do the lens justice, it is really sharp on the eyelash of the horse and falls away quite quickly into softness. The ‘bokeh’ (a word I hate) is better with this lens than any other I have ever used.

I put this camera together in June of 2008 and used it for a few months until the 10×8 Walker Titan I had commissioned was delivered. Once I had that, sharp images took precedence, so the ‘Thornton Pentax’ was left unused.

Having said that, the camera got another outing this weekend after the paper negative images I mentioned at first. I went out to do some landscapes using this camera loaded with Ilford SFX. and an orange filter.

Paper negative

First posted 26 July 2009

I have been using resin coated paper in an old kodak Specialist 7×5 camera this weekend. I wrote recently that using it had distracted me from actually looking for pictures, but I keep being drawn back to it.

I have had a student of mine staying over for two days, Jamie Hawksworth is his name and he is from the university where I teach in the north west of the UK. We used the 7×5 to take pictures of each other and the view from the garden while we waited for my teenage daughter to get up and get ready (How is it that teenage kids can take three hours to get dressed?). Jamie wanted to do some portraits of her and eventually did, but we did the paper negatives in the meantime. The resulting images, processed later that day, were an improvement on my depressing shots a few weeks ago.

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An unproductive time

First posted 7 July 2009

My posts have been delayed recently because I have been away a couple of times and had a number of teaching workshops to do.
In my personal work, I have been using a 5×7 inch Kodak Specialist camera with old Ilfospeed paper in the back. This technique can produce lovely results, but often the paper negatives are difficult to print.

Recently, I acquired a box of old Ilfospeed RC paper from the photographer David Ellwand (author of the book ‘Fairie-ality’). I tested it and found out the effective speed, then shot a tree in my garden as a test. I discovered that it had an unusual texture (when used as a negative) and I liked the look of it.

Our tree

I had also been playing around with various lenses on the 5×7 camera and managed to grab myself half a day to go out and do some tree shots. I thought the combination of this paper with one particular lens would give me a really nice result.

That evening I processed the negs and did contact prints.
The resulting images were really disappointing, there was one neg which had potential, but the other seven were terrible. What had I done wrong? I was really hacked off with my wasted half day and had a good old moan to my wife later in the evening.

She wisely suggested that I spend the evening watching a programme on a photographer online (Annie Leibovitz). We watched it together and I immediately knew what I had done wrong,  -I was concentrating too much on the process of photography and not actually looking for things that needed photographing.

The next morning I grabbed a 35mm camera and spent 15 minutes at most walking around the garden taking pictures of things that looked interesting. The experience was electric! – I shot a curled up hosepipe, a plant, some interesting pebbles collected on holiday last year and one or two other subjects and totally enjoyed finding pictures instead of playing with equipment.

I can see now that this has happened before and I have allowed myself to get too wrapped up in an enjoyable, but distracting area of photography.

The next free day I have, I will let the picture dictate the appropriate equipment, not the equipment dictate the picture. A valuable lesson learned.