Making a turn of the century 16X20 collodion camera

It’s not every day I am asked to make a camera much less build a large format camera that uses technology dating back to 1851.  The technology known as the “collodion wet plate process” uses a colloidal silver mixture poured over glass, loaded into the camera, exposed, and then developed while still wet.  The resulting image has greater resolution than the human eye.

Below each photo I will walk you through the parts and process…

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Here I am making the ground glass cartridge that is used to focus on the image.

make a colodian camera

Above is the film cartridge.  The outside dimensions are exactly the same for both the film and ground glass cartridges.

how to make a 16x20 camera

The difference is that the film cartridge has a 1/4″ plywood slide that runs in a dado slot in back to block light once the film is loaded.  There is also a 1/2″ slide in front to block light.

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On a router table I made a channel on the top and bottom rails of the actual camera box.  This is where the cartridge will slide in and out.

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I failed to take a good picture of the box before fastening the bellows but at the bottom of the post there are some photos of the prototype that will clarify things a bit.

Side by side: one camera manufactured yesterday and the other over 100 years ago.

homemade 16x20 camera

Here is the proud owner with his new 16X20 camera.

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