There’s a new camera on the block and it just so happens to be the latest addition to the CAMERADACTYL family. I call it the HOMONCULUS 69 – because it can take photographs up to 6×9 in size. Clever, that. In this article, I’m going to be talking about the birth of the HOMONCULUS and show you some of the configurations available. It’s on sale right now on CAMERADACTYL.COM for $120.
So, my friend Nick Lyle, co-host of the Homemade Camera Podcast has camerabedies worse than most. He’s the type of high-energy friend, where you might just wake up one morning to 37 texts, 3 emails, and a voice message from the middle of the night when he’s been dreaming up his next (or in this case, MY next) creation. Sometimes I just have to ignore him for a while if I am working, usually on something less pleasurable, but I always get a kick out of him and what he is working on and thinking about.
I have been following Nick’s (and Graham’s) podcast almost since the first episode. It’s two guys talking about how cameras work, how they are built, what they have built, and what they’d like to build, and other people’s camera builds that interest them. When I found it, I felt like they were out there making a podcast just for me. I couldn’t imagine that there were other people as or more interested in this type of thing than me. For maybe the first 15 episodes, I would send them spirited rebuttal emails with comments and critiques. The type of thing where if Graham and Nick were Miley Cyrus, they probably would have filed for a restraining order, but they were real mensches about it, and slowly we’ve become good friends.
This is a long-winded introduction to explain how I came to the CAMERADACTYL HOMONCULUS 69. You see, Nick loves Mamiya Universal Press lenses cameras, and all things “Universal.” He is always going on and on about adapting this thing to that thing, and how with just such a part anything is possible. I am more Mr. Negative. I had sent Nick and Graham matching CAMERADACTYL OG 4×5 Hand Cameras a while back and went on their podcast to discuss it.
I facetime or Skype or Google Hangout a bit with both Nick and Graham, but I’ve never had them both in the ‘same room’ unless Graham is recording us. Nick was pretty into the camera although he doesn’t shoot all that much 4×5 film, and was adamant that I could just shrink the thing down to make an excellent camera that took Mamiya press lenses and Graflex 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 (6x9cm) film backs. He had actually been pressing this privately for weeks before the podcast, but ‘on air’ and in the company of friends, I finally agreed to take on the challenge.
Nick generously shipped me an extension tube and one of his lenses to make some measurements, and they sat on my desk, making me feel terrible for my inaction for about a month. I generally shy from commitment. I buy airfare at the last minute. I promise little. I almost never sell something or take a contract unless I am 1000% sure that I can deliver, and have a really good Idea of what the end product will look like and how it will work. I have been burned in my younger years.
Finally, I had a bit of free time and got to work on Nick’s dream camera.
At first, the thought was to just use one of the extension tubes, glued into the body of the camera to provide a lens mount, and to model the film magazine mount from scratch. I disassembled an old RB back that I had in my camera graveyard and was able to model a back mount pretty easily.
I found though that I was going to have to cut the extension tube so that it didn’t stick too far into the body, which would have caused vignetting. I looked them up, and it looked like nobody was producing new ones, and while I could get my hands on a few through eBay, they were in short supply and I knew that getting my hands on them would significantly increase the price of a final product,. Besides, the thought of cutting and gluing a metal tube into a plastic camera would never be slick enough for my liking.
I took a week to design a lens mount from scratch, which took some tweaking but in the end wound up being one of those things where I really impressed myself with how sturdy a piece I could create. Once I had the body sorted, I made a few prototypes of the full camera.
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Generally, the way I work is that I draft a mechanism, print that individually with some sort of test bed or housing over and over until I get it right, and then incorporate that mechanism into the full camera. That way I don’t have to iterate a full camera 10-20 times before I get a mechanism right.
The camera was not at all so simple as scaling down an OG. I had envisioned a conical body, much like some of my previous designs. The size of the lens mount required a front face almost as big as the rear face of the camera. The geometry required to prevent vignetting forced me back to a more square design, and a new one from scratch at that.
I originally used a grip very similar to the OG 4×5, on the right side, which Nick complained about. He really wanted a left-hand grip, but at this point, the project already owed me 3 weeks pay, and I was pretty certain I couldn’t sell left-handed cameras. I don’t like them and I think I am in the majority here.
Nick is nothing if not persistent though, and ultimately pushed me to a compromise that I loved. It was much better than the original three grip designs. I made a symmetrical grip, that could be mounted to either side of the camera body with two standard 3/8″ tripod screws. This also allowed for adding two more cold shoes, one on either side of the body, their shape adding to the solid mounting of the grip to the body, and adding additional mounting points for future accessories. It was the best of both worlds, Nick got his left-hand grip, and I got a camera that had a few more features and would be compelling for Ethans and southpaws alike.
A few hundred hours of prints and tolerance adjustments later, and I had a camera that Nick and I love, and I hope lots of others will too. It’s light, it’s extremely durable, it takes a wide range of excellent and relatively inexpensive lenses from 50 – 250mm. It takes standard Graflex 2-1/4×3-1/4 backs in any format from 6×4.5 all the way to 6×9, as well as standard Mamiya RB67 backs, which almost everyone seems to have sitting around somewhere these days.
Here’s how the finished product looks in various states of configuration: 50mm – 100mm lenses, meters, rangefinders, optical view finders, frameline finders…it’s flexible.
It’s got a total of 5 cold shoes for mounting viewfinders and rangefinders and light meters and flashes – three on the top, one on each side. Assuming you have a grip installed, only 4 are useable at any one time. It’s got a standard 3/8″ tripod mount on the bottom and strap lugs at the top. I have been using it as has Nick and the results are great. I can’t wait to take mine backpacking when it cools down here just a bit. Even more, I can’t wait to see what work people will make with it all over the world. Seeing pictures come back from the other side of the planet taken with my cameras always gives me such a kick!
The HOMONCULUS 69 is available now at CAMERADACTYL.COM for $120 plus shipping to wherever you are in the world. I’ve still got about 7 projects that need to be finished in my queue, some of them based on this camera system, some totally different. Either way, you can expect to hear from me again very soon!
Thanks for reading!