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.

The impetus to build the camera came from a grant awarded by the Rasmuson Foundation to photographer Adam Ottavi.

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


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.



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.


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.

See some of the 16X20 images here.