Thinking outside the box: the Hamm Camera Nubox 1 aka self-support in the analogue film community
There’s no argument that 2017 was a good year for the analogue photography community but in my humble opinion, the assumption that it was the industry driving the analogue resurgence – or whatever you want to call it – couldn’t be further from the truth.
Kodak’s surprise EKTACHROME announcement at the very beginning of 2017 did a lot to raise both visibility and levels of chatter around analogue photography, but it’s important to remember that the vast majority of the new products announced and released in 2017 not only came from small-scale vendors and one-man-bands, but had also been in development for some time already.
They were not (as some have reported), a knee-jerk reaction to the Big Yellow Box rumbling into action.
The needs of the many
2017’s analogue photography explosion was the result of years of dedicated and mostly silent efforts from the community in an effort to help themselves in the absence of organised and effective industry support.
In short, it was members of the community stepping up to serve needs that weren’t being met.
One of the projects created as a result of trying to meet those needs is the Nubox, a new box camera created by Robert Hamm of Hamm Camera, which blipped to life on my radar in the second half of 2017.
Even in the mainstream of the analogue photography community, box cameras are seen by many as vestigial organs of early film photography; an almost Stone Age representation of camera technology. That said, there’s no arguing that they have stayed the course and many of us can still be found out and about on the streets shooting with these odd, 100 year old, leather covered biscuit tins.
What is it about box cameras that has kept them alive and why do they continue to enamour and attract so many photographers, especially when there are so many options out there for exercising absolute control over exposure? More to the point, what on earth does a new box camera have any business doing coming to market in 2018, and why would anyone in their right mind think it was a good idea to try and make it happen?
For an answer to these admittedly ranty questions, I felt it would be best to wad them into a ball and throw them over to Robert Hamm and his PR director Andre Domingues. They accepted with glee and we’ve remained in close contact for the best part of the past four months. The Q&A you see in this article has been put together over the past fortnight and a bit.
Robert and Andre speak in one voice and whilst they’re not quite at the point of finishing each other’s sentences, they’re close. With that in mind (and coupled with the fact I was writing notes, not recording audio), you’ll see responses to my questions below answered by a single, merged entity I will informally call Hammingues.
If you want to learn more about the Nubox before reading the rest of this article, please head on over to Kickstarter to get yourself up to date.
Ready? Here goes…
Why the box, guys? Surely an SLR would have been more in keeping with what people want to shoot these days?
We get this question a lot, in different variations, you know. Sometimes it’s about large format, sometimes it’s about INSTAX or 35mm format. These kinds of questions – about one format or another – are simply a matter of building a stable platform that’s easy to develop on. In that respect, any format other than 120 could have been viable.
The deeper question has to do with the assumption that 35mm is what people “want” to use. We chose 120 because no one else was doing it. We chose the box because the “mainstream” thought was that the box camera was dead – not so! We can see very clearly from our campaign’s success that the public wants something more.
NuBox was born out of this desire to reintroduce a medium and platform to the public that most creators have forgotten about. In this way Hamm Camera Company was able to successfully launch a Kickstarter Campaign and have it funded within 19 hours. We did all of this without a marketing budget. Our only voice was that of our launch partners, of which we are excited that you are among.
EMULSIVE: at the time of publishing, the Kickstarter Campaign has over 200 backers and sits at 200%+ of its initial $8,000 goal.
What’s in store for the NuBox 1 after you meet backer rewards? Where do you see that going? What’s the future once the box is finally back?
Even with the current state of new camera manufacturing aside, the camera hardware world is packed and highly competitive. The Nubox 1 is just that, number 1. We have an entire ecosystem of products and ancillary services in the works, not to mention our plans for building out an engaged and vibrant community around all of that.
Hardware-wise, right now we have two additional camera designs, which cover 35mm film and INSTAX options, as well as the additional lens cartridges mentioned in the Kickstarter. There’s a whole bunch of other refinements, add-ons and enhancements that we have planned but it’s important not to let the creation of ideas run away from you.
What’s really important to us right now is delivering on our Kickstarter commitments and continuing to reach out to and engage with the community. The box camera community is already rich, passionate and influential. These folks are out there modding decades old cameras to shoot pinhole, wet plate and other film formats, they’re flipping lenses and creating new products all on their own.
So we ask ourselves, how can we support that? The NuBox 1 isn’t a closed product. We want people to mess with it and not be afraid to tinker with it. Anything from flipping the lens, to adding custom strap lugs and doing stuff we’ve not thought of yet.
We want to encourage people to create and share, and not only on social media, as you’ll see over the coming months.
You’re using 3D printing for your prototypes and say that you plan on continuing to do so when you enter mass production. Why not use a traditional manufacturing method when you begin producing to scale?
Let me start somewhere in the middle of the beginning…throughout the project we learned that we’re creating reference hardware for the next generation of photographers – a baseline that acts both as a starting point for expansion, as well as a platform that can be scaled and enhanced.
You see, we started off thinking that we could use 3D printing to quickly create and iterate a product that a traditional manufacturer could then use to create a (traditional) melamine box product. To this end I picked up a 3D printer and began testing ideas for the camera. Very quickly – within a couple of minor iterations – the results far, far exceeded our expectations and we thought, could it be…? Could this be it?
We wanted something stronger and more durable, and started testing different materials to steer the finished product away from what you traditionally associate with the “look” and “feel” of a 3D printed object. Once we were happy with that, we decided to see if and how it could be taken further. We used hand tools to finish our initial prototypes and get that weathered look you see in the product shots we’ve shared and honestly, we don’t mind saying it’s beautiful.
The Kickstarter is built around securing a single production line to create somewhere in the ballpark of 80 finished cameras ready for packing and shipping every week. Demand dictates how this expands, and 3D printing allows us to do so quickly and in a modular fashion. Part of the scaling will benefit from being able to buy raw materials at scale, but the basic production is built around meeting that initial Kickstarter goal.
So I guess the answer is that we keep the platform and own the production; we’re ready to meet the demand resulting from the campaign as it stands today and we’re ready to scale up to meet demand as it grows in the future.
Let’s consider that by a couple of weeks into your crowdfunding campaign, most of the people you planned to attract to the NuBox have already pledged their support. What about everyone else? Why should someone who’s never thought of a box camera be interested in buying one from you, and what would you say to convince someone sitting on the fence?
We don’t think that we have reached our entire potential base just yet. We’re continually gaining new backers every day and from what they tell us, we know that 25% are either first-time analog photographers, or new to medium format. That’s why we feel we are only scratching the surface.
As to the fence-sitters, we think that both digital and large format shooters could gain a lot from remembering what box cameras meant to previous generations: a way for people to capture memories with family and friends in a way they may never have experienced before. For the digital folks that’ll be through the “realness” of a film negative. For the large format shooter it’s the ease of use and portability.
Is there anything you’re burning to get off your chest and share with the community out there? Perhaps something you’ve not yet made public?
We love film! That’s why we brought back the box. More to it, we believe that hardware innovations from the Maker Community will lead the way in this area.
With this in mind, Hamm Camera Company would like to announce NuBox 35. This is the spiritual successor to NuBox 1, but in 35mm film format. Many of the design elements will transfer form it’s bigger brother, but have to be redesigned for the the smaller format.
NuBox 35 will be available as soon as we begin shipping NuBox 1 to our backers – so around July 2018.
We have two additional projects in development; one will be based on an instant film platform, and the other will be a complete redesign of the 6×9 format. As with NuBox 1, none of these formats will be a simple clone.
Our concepts will use the current media in a completely new way. It’s pretty exciting!
Sampling the goods
Before I let Robert go, I grabbed a few sample images (the same as have been shared on the Kickstarter campaign), and asked Robert for a little context. It’s not quite a 5 Frames With but it works for me.
Over to Robert:
We expect final image quality to be similar if not better with regard to lens fidelity. That said, these are pre-release images and also show some of the challenges we’ve overcome. A few notes about the images below…
I should say that when used at f/5.6, the depth of field is very shallow and the lens tends to flare a bit. We recommend measuring the distance between the lens and subject to make most use of hyperfocal distances and ensure the subject is in focus.
The images all come from a single roll of Fuji Acros 100, scanned and developed by me in ID11. I applied light editing in Lightroom to clean up water spots and dust and up the clarity slightly.
The first image is actually the last one from the roll. You can see banding from where the shutter broke. Luckily it shutter broke in the closed position. Many images on the roll were double exposures, or overlapped, because I was not using a backplate with a frame view window. I just wanted to get out and shoot, and it is what it is.
You’ll see in many of the shots show an amazing shallow depth of field. This is because I we are using very large apertures compared to traditional box cameras. Those same large apertures meant that I had to be precise with my near and far focus limit calculations. I took several instances of each image and decided to share my favorites.
The images were taken when the light was conducive to the camera. This means that the images were taken over several days. I was specifically looking for an EV of 13 to 15 for this camera and unfortunately, some days were too cloudy. In the shot of my son by the tree, I used my car headlights to help light him up. It was dipping past golden hour, and with the film I was using I needed more light to get to an acceptable EV. I talk about that image in several videos. As you’d expect, there is a lot of grain in the images taken in darker environments.
I think that there is an interesting characteristic to the images when a large aperture is used. There’s very little vignetting, and only a slight softness in the corners. Achieving nice bokeh in the background meant making sure that there was a long distance between my subject and the background. I think this is easiest to see in the images of my son in the field. In those images the background was about 100 feet behind the subject.
Here they are…
A massive thanks to both Robert and Andre for taking the time out to answer my incessant questions over the past few months. Watching the project develop from the sidelines, and hearing of all the updates and changes has been an absolute pleasure.
With the exception of Lomography on one end of the scale and Leica on the other, none of the old guard hardware vendors out there – seem to be interested in making new film hardware. Every camera we saw last year, from Reflex to Japan Camera Hunter and yes, even Ihagee, came from small companies taking their first stab at camera hardware.
I’m glad that Robert and Andre have thrown their respective hats into the ring and although the Kickstarter campaign currently has over 200 backers and is 200%+ over target, it seems to me that there’s room for it to grow even more.
…and, in a stroke of perfect timing, today also saw the start of the 2nd International Brownie Camera Day kicked off by Chuck Baker, Mr Brownie Camera Guy himself. Don’t let the name fool you though, it’s running all through February 2018.
Thanks for reading and if you haven’t quite made your mind up, please do have a think about supporting the NuBox 1.
Keep shooting, folks,
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