I have been stuck inside my house for about 5 months now. Quarantine for me, more or less is like the rest of my life. I work alone, in a shop in my backyard, and in some ways I am a bit of a hermit. I have noticed, and really started to miss what little social interaction I used to have before the pandemic. The biggest difference in my day to day is that I no longer spend every Tuesday tinkering on one project or another with my friend Joe Van Cleave, who lives only a few miles away. We’ve seen each other a few times, at a distance, wearing masks, but it makes collaboration awkward. I think that there are lots of people who are in about the same boat.
People are starting to migrate parts of their social life online. I have spent more time on Facebook in the last 3 months than I have ever before. A silver lining of the whole pandemic for me has been the way in which people are starting to meet me on the internet, where I live the majority of my life. The Homemade Camera Facebook group is growing faster than ever. At the time of writing this (August 10th), we picked up 50 new members yesterday alone, and I suspect that by the time this article comes out, we will have close to 2000 members. OK, statistics wise, a vast majority don’t actually listen to our highly niche podcast, but that’s alright with me. It’s been really interesting to see all of the great projects that people are building in their homes.
A few months ago someone put up a post about having a convention for homemade camera builders online. I thought it was a good idea, and I obliged. Graham and Nick and I came up with a silly name and put The Homemade Camera Podcast’s Unconventional Camera Convention on our calendars and on the Facebook group for July 19th.
On the 19th I hosted a google meet which was basically a show and tell for adults, presenters had anywhere from 15 minutes to about an hour to show their camera builds, diagrams, workspaces, photos, and then take and answer questions from the audience. We went for 7 hours straight. I didn’t even present at the end, there were so many other fantastic projects, and I think everyone was getting pretty squirmy by hour 6 of the videoconference.
I wasn’t originally sure how the event would go, but I recorded it for posterity. I had a really good time seeing all the things people were working on, and seeing what questions the audience had for the presenters and how they answered those questions. I feel like it got to the core of what the Homemade Camera Podcast is really about. It took me the entire rest of the day to cut the recording into segments and export them, no real editing per-se, just each presentation in a little chunk of video. The recording quality is no better than google meet, and people’s webcams and computer microphones, but the content is compelling, very much so, if you are into that sort of thing. I don’t think I have seen anything quite like it on youtube or anywhere before. I wound up with 15 individual presentations totalling about 6.5 hours of videos that I threw on youtube on our brand new Homemade Camera Podcast Youtube Channel. It’s never going to be super popular, youtube-wise, but I think it’s the type of material that a bunch of people will really enjoy in the years to come. It inspired us to record some more podcast episodes over our webcams, which I think has been going fairly well, at the very least I enjoy watching them. I hope to do this again, maybe once or twice a year.
Here’s a quick list of the presentations that we had:
Table of contents
Click the links above to jump to a specific person, or just scroll down the page.
Peter showed up in the middle of the night from Tasmania and showed us all sorts of wacky cameras that he’d built literally from things he had found in the town dump. He had a stereo skull camera, a lighthouse camera, and a gigantic camera which he has been shooting Xray film in.
Lucus was stuck without his things, living out of a suitcase in California having just moved before the pandemic, but he ran through some of the photos he’d taken with and of his excellent and beautiful cameras. He’s working his way up to a Leica M6, and has gotten impressively far already.
His latest is a brass bodied coupled rangefinder for street photography, but his work really spans the gamut, ranging from handheld pack film cameras, to cast aluminum cameras, to what might just be the worlds smallest plate film camera. Lucus also showed us a camera that he’d made out of an iPhone box, which he was not the only attendee to show one of these gems.
Brian showed some of his 3D printed polaroid mods, from a 4×5 back on an old roll polaroid folder, to a Mamiya press mount for a Fuji Instax camera. Brian is a student of electrical engineering now, and I am excited to see what more he comes up with in the years to come.
Chris is largely responsible for putting the germ of the idea of this convention in our heads, showed us his pinhole and lumenbox cameras, and talked about teaching photography and shoebox cameras.
Sandeha was a favorite guest on our podcast and frequent contributor to many of the online analog community groups. His work is fairly well known for being excellent woodworking and beautiful objects in themselves. I particularly love his cameras that really take on a midcentury modern aesthetic, rather than the traditional stodgy cherry or mahogany and brass camera making that we all love and do from time to time.
Sandeha sometimes uses some really catchy colors, and is a master of the pinhole camera. He even showed some nice sharp pinhole pics he’s managed to take handheld. Sandeha is a sculptor, and that really shows in his cameras, and it was a treat to see them on video rather than just photos, and to watch the audience light up asking him questions.
Denny showed up with some 3D printed mods to his Gowland Pocket Field camera, which he made himself when I dropped the ball on a potential Cameradactyl order. I am glad I did though because he did a beautiful job. This lead to a discussion on Gowland cameras and Peter Gowland, who was a bit of a homemade camera icon in his day.
Denny also showed off some of his electronics work – he has been building a multi-contrast LED enlarger light source and timer. He and I went on a bit of a tangent about electronic connectors and I had to cut it off when I noticed everyone’s eyes glazing over as I opined about JST-XH cable terminals. We finished that discussion the next day (unrecorded) where I spent about half an hour showing Denny all of my different cable ends and crimping tools.
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Heather showed us a Dollhouse camera and her moving truck pinhole camera. I bought and sold cameras for a living for about a decade and I thought I had seen everything, but I was extremely wrong. Heather’s cameras are beautiful objects in themselves, and she takes some excellent pictures with them.
Oscar of Panomicron fame tuned in from a cabin somewhere in the Swiss Alps I imagine, and showed us some of his amazing 3D printed cameras. I always rib him for being so young, but in reality, I would like to be him when I grow up. Oscar is an industrial design student and an excellent mechanical engineer and his presentation really spanned discussion of the two fields and how he balances engineering and design to build what I would consider the pinnacle of 3D printed cameras in the world so far.
Nick did a quick presentation of some of his Polaroid mods. I was really impressed that he had modded a few cameras so that he could shoot expired pack film where the film was still good but the pack batteries were dead, by using an external battery. I thought it was really clever and a mod that would be useful to so many people.
My friend Joe Van Cleave showed up to show some of his pinhole and falling plate cameras and discuss his youtube superstardom. At some point, I presented him with a 3D printed youtube play button oversized belt buckle as an award for his breaking 10,000 subscribers. Joe is a super smart and inquisitive guy and I always love talking to him about cameras, airships, novel imaging devices, chemistry and computers.
Lots of people know him from youtube now, but I thought it was really nice to be able to share him with the group in person and see where the conversation would go. My girlfriend says that Joe is one of the original hipsters and marvels that he never lost any curiosity about anything.
Our very own Graham Young showed off his in-progress 4×10 panoramic field camera build that he had painted like a racecar. It’s still not finished, but I’ve been eagerly watching his Instagram feed since, I think it’s going to be a super good build.
Denis showed us an 8×10 camera that was about as Frankenstein as it gets… starting with about 1/3 of a beautiful Arca Swiss and adding ball heads, aluminum bars and machined parts, he cobbled together an 8×10 and managed to shoot some really stunning 8×10 x-ray film portraits with it, and discussed that process.
Francois is someone we have talked about on the podcast many times, but have never actually spoken to and it was a surprise and a delight. Francois had a maddeningly terrible webcam, but the most amazing homemade cameras and attitude. He built a camera out of orange crates with a working shutter and a real lens, the housing of which was a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels.
I think he really embodies the ethos of homemade cameras, and really inspired me to make a bunch of challenges on the podcast based around his work. I have been begging him to come on the show for an interview ever since, and I think I’ll get him to do it once he comes back from some fishing trip in the Quebec wilderness where he is undoubtedly fishing with tools that he made from toilet paper rolls, dental floss, and pieces of old tin cans. Seriously, the video quality was a bit of a bummer, but I think this was my favorite presentation all day.
Nick showed some of the projects he has been working on, in particular a camera he made out of half of a baby speed graphic and a bevvy of orphaned lenses that he had on his desk. We did an entire show about this camera – our first youtube podcast – and I enjoy watching Nick’s system camera continue to evolve.
Jeff of 20th Century Cameras showed us around his workshop and a few of his prototypes and absurdly large and excellent 4×5 SLR’s which he had modded in one way or another.
I really enjoyed this day, and really appreciate all of the people who came and took the time to show what they’ve been working on. The internet age certainly has changed film photography, but in the way that it has brought some people with super niche interests together, I think it has been for the best. I was exhausted from moderating and keeping things moving for seven and a half hours, and then about as many cutting everything down into youtube segments late into the night, but for me it was all worth it and I would (and will!) do it all again.
Graham, Nick and I are thinking about doing the convention once or twice a year. I know that there were at least 15 people who couldn’t make it this time who have amazing work that I would love to see them present, and I have a sneaky suspicion that most of the folks who did show up will have something else to amaze me with every few months.
We’re hoping to try holding another Unconventional Camera Convention again sometime at the end of the year, maybe between Christmas and new years when everyone is home and cozy in their pajamas, hacking away at their cameras with cups of hot cocoa.
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