In your bag No: 1693 – Max

Max goes “optically analog” with some fine eclectic glass you’ll find in his daily pack.

I began taking art ‘seriously’ (as much as that is even possible) more than 15 years ago, and switched over to photography from painting and digital art. Started with 35mm film on Bessa rangefinders, continued with medium and large format view cameras, then finally transferred to digital when mirrorless “adapt anything” bodies hit the market (beginning with the Sony A7 pictured here, which is ‘vintage’ by now, I guess).

The thing is, once I had used view cameras extensively, I ended up missing, in traditional ‘fixed lens’ photography, the fluidity of perspective control and three-dimensional focus large format gives you; tilt/shift 35mm lenses are, unfortunately, quite cumbersome things and the opposite of ‘fluid’ in operation- so that wasn’t an option.

Around the same time as I was beginning my search, to no avail, for a pre-existing ‘dynamic digital view camera’, my photography and theory interests became more, well – fringe? Or perhaps ‘elaborate’, trying to dynamically capture depth, time and light in relation to the body’s and nature’s movements (and often some arcane Zen concepts thrown in there as well – I won’t bore you with that any further, let’s look at the gear).

So, no better solution to above ‘problem’, really, (…) than building my own digital ‘view’ camera. That’s the thing on rails you see on the left hand side of the bag shot. Carbon rails, Drylin bearings, rod clamps and tiny Manfrotto head (which holds a Sony A7r right now) are stock, the rest was designed in 3D CAD and came out of an industrial 3D printer – this is the third iteration. Bellows are hand cut neoprene. You hold it like a gun (do NOT try this in the US), rack focus, unlock the tripod head and tilt/shift without limits (until you hit the end of lens coverage, that is).

Mounted on the rig is a Schneider APO-Symmar 5.6 120mm large format lens (apochromatic), which crops to ‘pretty much tele’ on 35mm sensors. The ovals next to the lens mount are openable stray light ports. Next to the camera, current set of ‘go to’ lenses, in descending focal lengths:

  • Grandagon-N 90mm 6.8 large format lens (center, unmounted, so the uninitiated can see what a large format lens looks like during its day off); crops to ‘a bit less tele than the 120′ on 35mm. ‘Linhof select’ version- I am sure this makes me a better artist.
  • Grandagon-N 75mm 4.5 large format lens (right row, center, mounted in custom bayonet with stray light ports); crops to ‘about normal’ on 35mm
  • PC-Nikkor 28mm 3.5 (bottom right, mounted in custom bayonet); only ‘true’ small format lens in the kit, has enough coverage and, well, behaves like a 28mm.
  • Schneider Ultra-Anamorphic MC 2x (the golden thing); mounts to either the 90 or 75 Grandagon as taking lens and gives you “tilt/shift anamorphic” perspective – horrible in use, double focus, heavy and experimental only.
  • Finally, Sony A7 (bottom, center) pictured, with 50mm 1.4 Tokyo Nikkor (LTM) mounted; loveliest Sonnar ever made, in my opinion, and ‘rare’ as it’s the Tokyo version, not ‘Japan’ (I’m sure this makes no difference whatsoever, optically).
  • The bag- random old North Face backpack that looks sufficiently grunge not to further attract attention (you already get enough, with that sort of a cam).

Finally, apologies for not showing you any film cameras; this setup is digital only, for practical reasons- however, there’s not a single ‘digital’ lens in it, so consider it ‘optically analogue’. You may ask ‘why primarily use large format lenses’? Because they are superb, even though, in my experience, by far not as sharp as modern 35mm lenses. And that’s why I like them- the tilted bokeh is unique. As they’re symmetrical designs and flange focal distance becomes very short the wider the lens gets, 75mm (lf) is unfortunately the widest usable. Anything beyond that and you hit the mount at infinity, plus very oblique rays don’t resolve well on modern sensors. Thus, going ‘wide’ I had to use standard format shift lenses (e.g. the Nikkor).

Well, this is probably quite enough from me – if you’re interested in what images come out of this rig, pay me a visit, I’d appreciate it. I do custom prints, hit me up if you’d like one. -Max

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