Introducing Chroma: Inside 2018’s unique technical 4×5 field camera [with exclusive creator Q&A]
Update 2018-02-10: Chroma was fully funded mere hours after launch and currently sits at nearly 200% of its goal. FANTASTIC!
By the time you read this, the second major analogue photography crowdfunding campaign of 2018 will be getting into full swing. I’m talking of course about Chroma, a brand new technical 4×5 field camera with a twist (literally).
I’ve had the pleasure of following along Chroma’s build progress for the better part of a year now and I’m not the only one. Over the past 18 months, Steve Lloyd, creator of Chroma and Mad Hatter-esque modder extraordinaire has been sharing his entire build – warts and all – with members of the Talk Photography Forum. During that time, the project has seen five official “builds”, culminating in the final product on Kickstarter today, as well as countless variations therein.
To say that this has been a community project is an understatement.
I caught up with Steve a few days before the formal release of the project and have a bit of a Q&A with him below but before we get into that, let me introduce you to the camera itself…
The Chroma is a lightweight technical 4×5 field camera that comes shipped with a Linhof/Wista compatible pinhole lens board and blank second lens board right in the box. The camera itself is made from precision laser cut acrylic and each unit is hand assembled.
The camera weighs in at just under 1.6kg (3.5lbs) with the lens board and ground glass mounted; and provides the following basic specifications/movements:
|Lens board:||Linhof/Wista compatible. Pinhole and spare board included|
|Bellows min extension:||85mm|
|Bellows max extension:||300mm|
|Front tilt:||45 degrees backwards or forwards|
|Front swing:||Only limited by lens coverage|
|Front shift:||30mm left or right|
|Rear tilt:||17 degrees backwards / Front tilt only limited by lens coverage|
|Film holder:||Embedded magnetic rotating back for standard 4x5 sheet film holders and QuickLoad holders.|
|Ground glass:||Included bright ground glass screen|
180 x 210 x 117 (mm)
7 x 8.2 x 4.6 (in)
Open (no bellows extension):
180 x 210 x 235 (mm)
7 x 8.2 x 9.2 (in)
Open (full bellows extension):
180 x 330 x 235 (mm)
7 x 13 x 9.2 (in)
Body + pinhole lens board + grounds glass
The camera uses an innovative magnetic attachment system, which ensures that the lens board and ground glass are not only securely attached, but can also be removed/swapped-out quickly in the field.
Being made of acrylic, the base material of the camera is waterproof. In fact, the bellows are created and bonded to the camera in such a way as to make them completely watertight, too. Steve has left an acrylic build out in his garden for the last 12 months, throughout the UK summer and winter, with no ill effects.
A modular large format camera system
The Chroma platform uses a unique magnetic locking system to attach film backs to the camera. Standard 4×5 film holders can be swapped out within seconds and unlike a traditional spring loaded Graflock system, film backs can be changed without fear of moving the camera, even on smaller tripod systems.
Current development, timeline and sustainability
On launch, the Chroma will come in a single version available in 9 colours (purple, gloss black, matt black, red, pink, blue, white, green and yellow).
With each camera assembled by hand (including the bellows, which are made in-house), approximately 6 cameras can be built per week, with some additional time required for stress testing and quality control before they’re packed and shipped.
Here’s the official timeline:
Post-Kickstarter, multiple colour and engraving options mean that for the forseeable future at least, each Chroma will continue to be built-to-order with no “shelf stock” to speak of.
Supporting the Chroma
You can back the campaign right now over on Kickstarter, with the earlybird pricing of the camera, spare lens board and pinhole lens board for £275 / US$382.
Steve and I have spoken at length about his build and motivations for creating the Chroma. One of the main questions for me was the “why” of it all. I’ve collected some of my most salient questions, Steve’s answers and heap of unreleased production images below.
EM: Why build a large format camera? There are any number of large format camera manufacturers out there, so why add yourself to that list?
SL: Simple really: to see if I could. I’ve always built one-off and custom cameras for myself and to order. The Chroma started off as a project for me; something I could use to first see if I could do it and second to confirm my own confidence in the design. You could call it a curiosity satisfaction project.
The whole thing started off during a conversation in the pub on a photography meet-up about a year and a half ago. We were talking about the perfect large format camera (as you do), and came up with a load of ideas to make this mythical beast. On the train home, I put together my first render and started what’s now my build thread over on the Talk Photography forum.
It’s been great to read people’s thoughts and comments on the progress and I love sharing all the behind the scenes work – it’s a great way for me to clear my head and get new perspectives on the project as a whole. Over the past year and a bit I’ve changed the design based on their feedback, reworked aspects of the build that looked great on paper but just wouldn’t be feasable for the first generation. That human interaction with a diverse family of photographers has been invaluable. I trust their experience and viewpoints, no matter if they’re a 60 year, or 60 day veteran of shooting film!
Before doing this, I’ve only ever shot with one other large format camera – a Polaroid 110 which I bought out of curiosity and converted to 4×5. I built Chroma because I could. My time is limited because of my young family.
EM: Material choice. Acrylic seems to me to be an unusual choice for a large format camera but you have a history of using unusual materials in your builds. Were you simply trying to be different, or is there something else at play here?
SL: First of all I love the material. When you cut it, it gives you a really clean edge and you know exactly what you’re getting. When layered up, you also get a lovely balance between rigidity and flexibility that works really well in the hand.
I love building unique cameras and the materials for each of my projects reflect that. I could have gone down the wood route like Intrepid and many other manufacturers before them but I wanted something unique.
The acrylic also allos me to quickly prototype materials that will look and behave pretty much 100% percent as the final product. I have used 3D printing in the past but for me and for this project, laser cut acrylic was absolutely the way to go.
That it offers more flexibility in the finished colour, is a huge bonus, too! If someone wants a pink camera (which one person has already preordered!) I can do that. If they want a rainbow or harlequin Chroma, that can be done too. The possibilities really are endless.
Finish aside, the material also allows for very fine adjustments to be made and makes the process of developing custom add-ons much simpler for both testing and final production.
EM: What’s in store for the future? We’ve spoken about adding new formats to the Chroma platform but what do you see as your priority?
SL: First and foremost my priority is to refine the build and testing process to make sure that I can meet the initial demand from the Kickstarter and a few pre-orders I’ve taken through an informal system I set-up a few months back.
The camera itself will likely go through a few minor refinements between now and the real build process starts in March but that’s my nature, I’m always trying to improve!
After campaign rewards and pre-orders are met, my plan is to continue developing the INSTAX wide module for the camera. I have a working prototype already, so half of the battle is won! Next will be 120/220 rollfilm holders in various format options, although it’ll likely be a 6×12 back. 6×17 is a possibility but I’ve yet to decide if that will form an add-on to the Chroma, or a brand new camera.
As ever, I take my queue from the community that’s supported my efforts for over a decade now, and there are already requests coming in for 5×7, 8×10 and even stranger configurations of the Chroma. One really interesting idea is to create a light and simple 4×5 “snapshot” camera – something that’s been tried but never really perfected before.
Anything is possible, it’s a case of assessing demand. It would be lovely to be able to grab my CAD designs and just stretch them to shape for larger formats but sadly it’s not as simple as that!
Thanks very much for reading and I do hope you’ll consider lending Steve your support. Steve’s Kickstarter runs until Sunday 11th March 2018, so head on over and check it out!
If you’re not totally worn out still sitting on the fence, Hamish Gill over at 35mmc also has a really nice write-up on Chroma and Steve.
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