This is what Max Grew, co-founder of Intrepid Camera told me when I asked him what the driving force behind his company was in a conversation we had some days before the closing date of their successful 8×10 Kickstarter campaign.
“I’d say that we’re coming from a very different perspective to most companies making camera’s these days. Our stance is more a case of, here are the tools, go and experiment with them. Don’t worry about your camera, we’re here to fix it for as long as you, it and we are around.”
Followers of the Intrepid story will need no introduction but for those hearing about this British upstart for the first time, Intrepid camera are now in their third year of bringing compact, lightweight and affordable large format cameras to the world. What started as an idea between two founders was brought to Kickstarter in late 2014 and has created a revolution in the large format camera community, with appeal to photographers both new and old.
Read on if you dare…
EM: So how long have you wanted to make an 8×10 Intrepid?
MG: “The 8×10 concept has been bubbling away for quite a while now. As we built a reputation for not only making cameras but also cameras what worked, people kept asking us and quite early on we got to thinking, yeah, why not?
When you visit film photography forums you see quality of the photographs people take with 8×10 cameras but at the same time it feels like there’s a huge barrier stopping people from entering this end of the photography spectrum. The cameras, lenses, film…they’re all more expensive than 4×5, which in itself is a barrier to many. Then there’s the weight!
We started designing the 8×10 in earnest about a year ago but the past six months have seen the most activity to bring the idea to life.”
“First of all let me say that failure is super important for us and with the best will in the world, there are certain things that you simply can’t test for in a controlled environment. These cameras are such organic objects and if you change something you have to take the physics of the material and the properties of light into account. It’s not simply a case of scaling up the existing design to the right dimensions, as some might think.
So, even though the design process and our own internal prototypes were tested for failures at each point, we needed more real world information. For the 8×10, we sent a production prototype to Justin Lowery and got lots of invaluable feedback on what could be refined for use in the field. All that has gone into the version we’re in the process of delivering today.”
EM How important is customer feedback and input to your process?
MG: “We deal with all customer feedback with an open mind but not as quickly as we’d always like. We literally get hundreds of emails!
Actually, the 4×5 reducing back on the new 8×10 is a good example of direct response to customer feedback. We teased the new camera for a few months before the Kickstaeter campaign went live and had a number of requests for this functionality. Over the course of a few days, we built a prototype, tested it, refined it and added it to the campaign. That’s a really good example of our customers thinking about stuff before we’ve not had a chance to yet.
The 4×5 camera is at what we call our version two, which came out about a year after the original Kickstarter. There were so many ideas we had for an update that along with customer suggestions that it got to the point where we just needed to draw a line in the sand and make v2.
The current version has a bunch of refinements over version one, the most notable being changes to the way that various parts lock down and improvements to the rigidity of the film back mechanism. We’re always thinking about how we can extend the life of the camera.
That’s not to say that our ideas stopped coming after version two was released, far from it. We believe that believe that there are refinements that can be made to improve it but we’re not ready to draw a line in the sand just yet, so don’t expect an imminent announcement. We’re a small team and have a lot on our plate with the 8×10!”
EM: Speaking of which, how does it feel to have absolutely obliterated your Kickstarter goal?
MG: “Hahaha! Well, I remember putting the campaign live and really wanting to just sit there refreshing my web browser to see how it was going. I somehow resisted the urge and went out to lunch before getting down to the business of building cameras.
When I checked back a few hours later we were WAY past the goal. In fact, it took only 12 minutes to fund the campaign!
That’s incredibly humbling. That we were asked by the community to do this, and by many more people than we’d expected…well, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have an effect on all of us here.
The funds we originally asked for were to cover the cost of upgrading our milling machinery to reduce waste. Our frames and other wooden components are made using a large mill and it’s not scaled for the size of pieces we need to produce for the 8×10. When I say scaled, I mean that in terms of efficiency. Our mill is capable of cutting up what we need but it produces quite a lot of waste with the 8×10’s requirements, something that we’re very conscious of.
With the upgraded mill, we’d planned to order enough material to produce 100 8×10 cameras (a little more than we would have needed if we scraped past the goal). We’re now looking at having to produce over three times that.”
EM: You mentioned that you’re a small team…just how small?
MG: “We’re small in headcount and large in numbers. In fact, I believe that we’re regarded as the largest manufacturer of large format cameras in the world now. Quite an accolade.
As of June 29th 2017, there are now five of us at Intrepid and the workshop is what we like to call a great mashup of traditional craft and modern techniques, ranging from lasers to good old sandpaper and elbow grease. We’re hoping to grow a massive 20% over the next few weeks to a team of six.
James is our bellows guy. We make a few different colours and his favourites seem to be seasonally affected. These days he’s enjoying the blue more than the others but he had a brief thing for yellow last year and we still have one sitting on a shelf in the office. I can’t tell you exactly how we make our bellows but suffice to say that it’s not as simple as you may think. As with the rest of the camera, we’re always refining our design, making improvements and trying to create elegant solutions to complex problems. The bellows is an example of where we’ve made some unique adjustments to an idea that goes back to the dawn of photography…but as I said, I can’t tell you exactly what.
Ben works on grinding glass (as you can see in one of the earlier pictures). He starts with big sheets and grinds them down by hand to achieve the finish we need for our focusing screens. Each piece takes about 40 minutes to grind and has to be secured in by vacuum because anything securing the sides of the sheets would stop us from getting a clean edge-to-edge finish. After grinding, we cut down each piece and etch grid marks and our logo. It probably takes an hour in total to complete each piece and no, it’s not just a case of wax on wax off, as you suggested 😉
Gemma does the finishing for each and every camera, making sure it’s built to specification and just right. We build each camera to order, not to sit on a store shelf for an indeterminate amount of time. So, each camera needs to be made right the first time round before being packed and shipped. On that note, I have to say how great it feels when we see customers unboxing their cameras and then later out in the field doing what they’ve been designed to do!
Thom is so new (at the time of writing, it’s his second day with us), even we don’t know what we does yet. What I can tell you is that he looks just as good sat at a desk surrounded by wooden camera components as he does in a big, heavy apron. If we had a forge on-site, we’d probably be asking him to work there. I can also confirm that his beard is softer than freshly plucked goose down.
Max (me), well…I have the most important job. I make the tea and intercept people like you so the folks with the real talent can get on with their work.“
[EMULSIVE: Since Max wouldn’t disclose what exactly goes into making the Intrepid’s bellows, I sent someone off to ask James about the design directly. Sadly I last heard from him several days ago as was as he was leaving the local Tesco’s with a pack of Tunnocks Tea Cakes for the Intrepid team. The local authorities have been informed. On another note, it seems that the yellow bellows MAY be available but only if buyers are interested in a Minion-themed camera. Go figure.]
EM: What’s next for Intrepid?
MG: “When we first started, it was just me, Eddie, an idea and little else. We now have a team and to be blunt, we know what we’re doing. Taking the initial idea for the first version of the Intrepid 4×5 into production was our biggest challenge and we learned so much thanks to honest feedback from what we’re very proud to say is a supportive and understanding customer base.
Given the strength of the prototyping and testing we did with the 8×10, and lessons learned from that with version 1 and 2 of the 4×5, we’re confident that we’ll be hitting our delivery milestones for the most recent Kickstarter campaign.”
“We’re also sticking very hard to our support and aftercare model. It’s simple: if you break the camera, simply pay the shipping cost and we’ll usually turn it around within a couple of days as a repair or replacement depending on what exactly went wrong. Naturally, if the if the issue is with on our end camera, then we’ll cover shipping, making the process free.
Our plan is to continue offering free service for life (for problems relating to our build), for as long as we or the customer are around to do so.
On the community side, we feel that large format photography is still male-dominated and we’re trying hard to fix that by engaging female photographers and getting their feedback on the cameras, too. I think that’s a hangover from when large format photo was still the predominant force for photography.”
“These days, customers are an interesting mix of younger people who are getting into it for the first time, as well as older, more experienced photographers who have been shooting digital for a while and have decided to make a return to film. We’d like to learn more about our base and make further efforts to engage them, and get their feedback and ideas.\
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re hoping that Intrepid will continue to cater to all kinds of photographers looking to take a first dip into large format photography, or looking for alternatives to something that they may already have.
Being a company that focuses on making niche products, we’ll never be able to be all things to all people and nor do we want to.
We’re happy just doing the best we can in our little space and as I said earlier, it’s humbling to be asked by the community to keep doing that.
Before I let you go, there’s one more thing.
Max has agreed to allow Intrepid to become the next
victim participant of the EMULSIVE Community Interview series. Details will be released in very early July, so get your thinking caps on.
As with all the Community Interviews, the doors are open for you to ask whatever questions you would like of the team, serious and irreverent. Stay tuned for details of the interview, the panel and our starting questions!
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