Release the Kraken: accessible 6×12 wide format film photography for all

I am Graham Young and I am one of the hosts (along with Ethan Moses and Nick Lyle) of the Homemade Camera Podcast. We yammer on every fortnight about making cameras and taking pictures with those cameras.

The Kraken 612 with Super Topcor 105/4.5, printable glassless finder, optional bubble level and rangefinder.

I’ve been messing around with building my own lensed cameras for the past three or four years but have been making pinhole cameras off and on for the past 35 years. My middle school teacher was a photography enthusiast who set up a darkroom at the back of the class and not only taught us to make our own one-shot paper-negative pinhole cameras but also allowed us to shoot paper negatives in his Graflex press camera (at least I think it was a Graflex).


I have long had a desire to make wooden pinhole cameras that are as aesthetically-pleasing as the pictures they produce; cameras like those made by the likes of Karl Richards. When I returned to shooting film in 2013, I made quite a few pinhole cameras though I have yet to meet my woodworking goals. I have made a few that have produced some pleasing images but not many that are visually pleasing in themselves.

While spending far too much time on Flickr in those days, I began to come across panoramic medium format cameras that employed large format lenses with built-in leaf shutters. The quality of the images they produced was far beyond the quality of the 35mm cameras I was shooting at the time. It’s hard to argue with the technical quality of an image that uses so much film area while employing lenses that were produced to exceptionally high standards. I began to play around with the bodies of old folding cameras like the Voigtlander Bessa 6X9 coupled with large format lenses like the Schneider-Kreuznacht 65mm f8 Super-Angulon; building hybrid “Frankencameras.”

Forgotten. Kraken 612 with Schneider-Kreuznacht 65mm f8 Super-Angulon.

About this time, I began corresponding with Nick Lyle on Flickr. I would tell him about how I planned to build my cameras and he would tell me how they should be built. He was the one who introduced me to the concept of a focus-free hyperfocal setup (placing the lens in a position so the far end of the depth of field stretches just to infinity allows the near end of the depth of field to be as close as 5 feet from the lens depending on f-stop and focal length) and I built a few cameras using hyperfocal principles.

Not long after, I became aware of a Kickstarter campaign for a 3D printed 6X12 camera that used a hyperfocal setup and Schneider Super-Angulon lenses, the K-Pan. I backed Paul Kohlhaussen’s project but unfortunately, it fell short of its goal. I sent him an email, encouraging him to continue the project (something I would love to still see happen) but I was unsuccessful in encouraging the further development of the concept.

Kraken 612 with Super Topcor 105mm/f4.5

I began experimenting with a Makerbot 3D printer that was deposited in the computer lab I teach in (I am a professor of Graphic Design and Web Design at a community college in Florida) and one of the first things I designed was a 6X12 camera very much on the same order as the K-Pan. I bought a Fujinon 65mm f8 4X5 lens and set it at the hyperfocal distance from the film plane. I shot a roll of film. I found out that the filament I was using was not opaque and the walls of the body were extremely thin.

I switched out my filament thanks to an article by Todd Schlemmer and printed it again. I shot another roll. It seems the translucent body was the easiest of many issues to fix: Light leaks were plentiful; the lens cone cracked; the advancement knob sheered off. I abandoned the project.


I honed my skills in 3D design, built other cameras, started the Homemade Camera Podcast with Nick, and started talking to Ethan Moses of Cameradactyl. Early in our podcast, Ethan was a regular correspondent, “rebutting” assertions we made on the show. He was helpful and he discussed things well beyond my understanding.

I designed a small pinhole camera, the 24Squared, that I sold on my Etsy shop and that experience highlighted the deficiencies in my business model: Namely, I am not set up to produce a product for sale. I contracted with Ethan to print a couple of batches of these cameras and the double shipping (from Ethan to me and then from me to the customer) made the price point much higher than I think it should have been. I still like the little camera but I would love to have it available in the $20 range instead of the $50+ it cost.

This leads me to the major stumbling point in the manufacture of goods for sale: Shipping. I was able to send a 24Squared camera across the US for $5 using the US Post Office’s First Class Package rate: a reasonable rate given the cost of the camera. However, to the EU (and the UK was part of the EU at the time) the cost was $24, a wholly unreasonable cost in my eyes.

Foggy dawn on the St. Johns River. Kraken 612 with Kodak Ektar 127mm/f4.7 on Ultrafine Extreme 100 developed in stock Xtol.

It seems the current English-speaking film photography community is — centered around the two websites EMULSIVE and 35mmc as well as the podcasts Sunny16, Negative Positives, et. al. — is about half in the US and Canada, a third in the UK and the rest scattered across the EU, Asia and Oceania. This means my products — at best — could reach half of the English-speaking market. Sorry, Matthew Joseph in New Zealand, Matt Jones in Thailand and Matt Murray in Sunny Brisbane Australia, you cannot reasonably afford the shipping for one of my cameras should you want one.

To see if these costs could be brought down, I explored (along with Ethan) some retail opportunities within the EU that would have us shipping cameras to a retailer for distribution. In the end, the costs to the end-users remained unchanged. Ethan and I had many discussions about this issue and, as many of you know, he made the decision to release his Brancopan as a set of files funded through Kickstarter.

With the Kraken, I am following Ethan’s lead, though I am not releasing it through Kickstarter, I will be selling it through my Etsy shop with support of videos and lens buying guides on my website FrozenPhoton.com. The Brancopan campaign has shown that there are people out there who are interested in and able to print a camera that fills an underserved niche. I see the Kraken as a similar product.

Kraken 612 with Fujinon 65mm/f8, rangefinder, glassless finder and bubble level painted in Gulf Racing Livery (the blue is much lighter in person).

The Camera

The Kraken was designed, first and foremost, as a camera I would want to shoot. That means it had to be relatively easy to use, easy to handle, and easy to load and unload. I wanted a focusing helicoid because, while hyperfocal cameras are fun and (very) easy to use, I wanted to be able to select my focus and employ the short depth of field these lenses are capable of. It needed to be easily set to a hyperfocal setting for a given aperture for quick use. The need to use roll film for convenience and economy was paramount in the design (I began this project before I ventured into 4X5 photography and did not yet have sheet film developing tanks).

I love squares in photography. I love panoramic images in photography. Why not combine the two? The Kraken produces an image that is essentially two squares put next to each other. I find that when shooting with it, I’ll split the image in half with one subject on the right and a second subject on the left. In-camera diptych, anyone?


During one of the discussions I had with Ethan and Nick after one of our podcast recordings, I explained this method of shooting. Nick said, “Two images for the price of one.” Ethan came back with, “One image for the price of two.” Either one of those works for me!

One of the elements that drew me to the K-Pan was its two-knob bi-directional winding system. I am one of those people who always winds too far and ends up with overlapped frames. This greatly affects my image-making as I tend to show the edges of the frames when I present images. I crop in-camera and show the whole frame as a challenge to myself. Get it right in the field is the standard I hold myself to but do not expect out of others.

Evening on the creek. Kraken 612 with Fujinon 65mm/f8 on Ultrafine Extreme 400, developed in stock Xtol.

By having two knobs, one for each spool, you can wind back when you overwind. This has the added benefit of allowing you to keep tension on the takeup and supply spools, greatly reducing the probability of creating a “fat roll” that exposes the edges of the film. After 40 rolls in an alpha version, a beta version and a Mark I version, I have fat-rolled just once (and, of course, it had to be Portra 400).

From the beginning, the camera needed to be able to accommodate a variety of lens options. That means I needed to design a series of lens cones for the lenses most likely to be used on the camera. Starting with the Schneider 58mm XL Super-Angulon and going up to several different 180mm models, I designed cones for over 30 different lenses. Then, I began to think of all of the lenses out there that are not common but are usable. I added all of the lengths between the 58mm and 180mm lenses in 1-mm increments. I ended up with 129 different lens cone lengths.

Each set of files will ship with all lens cone designs. If you have three different large format lenses, you can have a lens cone for each one.

Swapping out lenses was very important to me and I made it as easy as I could. The lens cone-helical-lensboard-lens unit can be switched out in about three minutes with the use of a hex wrench or screwdriver with a hex bit. While there is no dark slide, if you want to switch lenses mid-roll, all you need to do is roll the film back to before the first frame, swap the lens, and roll back to the frame you were on. I did it just the other day.

The film advance is a red-window affair though there is no red filter in the hole. I have found over the years that modern backing paper is great at keeping the light on one side without letting it get to the other side and I have yet to see a light leak (other than the aforementioned fat roll). Red window material would be very difficult to standardize and distribute for a camera that uses otherwise off-the-shelf parts. Further cementing the decision to omit the window is the lightening of the numbers on modern backing paper. Fujifilm and Lomography seem to be the only ones producing dark black numbers on their backing paper while Ilford, Kodak and others have gone to light gray printing. Ruby windows make those lighter numbers very difficult to read.

Whyfor you have to be so mad Mr. Lion? Kraken 612 with Super Topcor 105mm/f4.5 on Ultrafine Extreme 400, developed in stock Xtol.

Changing rolls of film in the field is important. It should be as quick and as easy as possible while still being reliable and user-friendly. I knew that with a film gate the size of the Kraken’s top-loading or bottom-loading was a non-starter: The film and backing paper would curl too much by the time it was slid down into the camera and catch before it was fully inserted. I entertained a swing-open door for a while until I saw how much that mechanism added to the width of an already large design. I decided on a removable door that is held closed using a system similar to the sliding bars of a Graflok or the lens board mounts on the front of large format cameras. When changing film in the field, I put the back in my pocket until the film is loaded. The sliding locks are held in place by two 3mm hex bolts that can be quickly tightened or loosened as the camera wears so you can maintain the proper friction to keep it closed.


Accessories

In the past, I’ve shot quite a few cameras that have neither a rangefinder nor viewfinder, and the Kraken can easily be shot without them. However, I included three cold shoes across the top deck and I usually have a rangefinder in one and a viewfinder in another.

I have had good experience shooting a Fujinon 65mm f8 and using a Mamiya Press 65mm external viewfinder of late. The viewfinder is designed for a 6X9 camera so it shows an accurate image top-to-bottom but the lens covers areas to the left and right that are not visible through this particular finder. When shooting, I waggle the camera a bit to the left and a bit to the right to get a better view of the scene I am recording on the film. It’s a reminder that the 2:1 image is different from what I’m used to as I shoot.

The Kraken 612 ships with a glassless primitive viewfinder that can be adjusted to fit the lenses within the 58mm to 180mm range but for angles wider than about 75, an accessory finder is a good option.

Kraken 612 with Super Topcor 105mm/f4.5, Helios Viewfinder (left), bubble level and Petri shoe-mount light meter (right).

The Mamiya Press viewfinder and the included printable viewfinder also have an accessory shoe on top and I’ve slipped a small cold shoe bubble level in there. While holding the camera off-level is often noticeable on other formats, an uneven horizon on a 6X12 image is greatly exaggerated. The bubble level helps me address that issue.

On the bottom of the camera are two tripod mount holes; ¼-inch and ⅜-inch. I have been using a ⅜ to ¼ adapter in the larger hole as this gives me a metal-threaded interface that mates much more easily with the tripod than the metal does with the plastic of the camera. However, if you’re careful, you can use the ¼-inch hole effectively.

The Cost

My original idea was to sell the 3-D printable files through Etsy for US$25 for the body and US$5 for each of the lens cones. Ethan talked me out of this as being a file-juggling nightmare so I have decided to sell it for US$30 for the body and all of the cones so there is no extra cost for multiple-lens setups. While there is no shipping cost, some places will be required to pay tax (in the state of Washington) or VAT (UK).

Filament for printing the whole camera is under US$15 (about half of a spool of opaque black — I recommend eSun PLA — then about an eighth of a spool for the color parts–you can also print the color parts in black).

The coolest cameras in town. Kraken 612 with Super Topcor 105mm/f4.5.

On February 4, 2020, I uploaded all of the files to 3dhubs.com to see what they would charge to print all of the parts. They returned a quote of US$239.07 with a turnaround time of 4 business days. Immediately afterwards, I searched Amazon for a Creality Ender 3 on Amazon (US) and they quoted a price of US$239.99 with free Prime shipping (if you don’t have Prime, shipping might be extra). You can get the Ender 3 for US$209 from the Official Creality Store.


An M65 17mm-31mm helical (available across the world through Amazon, eBay, AliExpress or the like), $25-$30.

A lens that covers an image circle of at least 125mm. All 4X5 lenses will cover this film size and many lenses that are designed for 6X9 cameras will as well. The lens must have a shutter as part of its assembly. The shutter size can be as small as is practical but it cannot be larger than a 65mm in diameter including locking ring as it needs to fit inside the M65 helical. Copal 00, 0 and 1 shutters are all good to use. You can also use a shutter that has an intermediate size; just print the lens board that is smaller than the hole size and cut away some of the plastic to let the shutter mount fit through while still fitting tightly. Lens costs vary greatly. I use a $50 Graflex Optar 135mm f4.7 (from eBay) to great effect. It would be reasonable to pay $600-$900 for a Schneider 58mm XL Super-Angulon. Your budget is the deciding factor on this. I have some recommended lenses on my website.

Optional Accessories

A rangefinder. I use a 1930s cold shoe rangefinder I bought on eBay for about US$40. I’ve seen them in the US$20 to US$50 range. If you’re good at zone-focusing and are using a wide angle lens stopped down a bit, you can forego this accessory once you have your camera calibrated with the lens. You can use any SLR or rangefinder camera with a focusing scale on the barrel of the lens to accomplish the calibration.

A light meter. I use the Sunny 16 rule a lot and have had little issue. If you want to use a camera-based light meter, that will work too. My buddy Ethan has one for sale or you can go with Matt Bechberger’s design once he is done with fulfilling his Kickstarter campaign. In tricky lighting conditions, I use a Minolta incident meter and love it to death.

A bubble level. I buy them in 5-packs from eBay, AliExpress or Amazon. I’ve found that the ones that have two levels perpendicular to each other are better than a single bubble. US$5 for 3 of them is a reasonable cost.

A camera strap. The Kraken has strap bars on either end of the camera. I don’t suggest straps with rings on the end as they might start to wear through the plastic. I think it would take a bunch of years of normal use to get through but why risk it?

Before the start of Spring. Kraken 612 with Super Topcor 105mm/f4.5.

Access to a 3D printer. You don’t have to own one yourself. There are services across the world that will print it for you and send the parts off in the mail. If you own a printer like mine (Creality Ender 3), it’ll take about 30 hours on the printer. You could have this camera up and running by the end of the week.

You can also buy full kits from my suppliers in the US and in the UK. Please see my website for more detail.


Final thoughts

Kraken 612 with Super Topcor 105mm/f4.5, bubble level, glassless finder and Prazisa rangefinder.

When you start using any camera, especially one that is of a format you aren’t very familiar with, there’s a bit of “figuring it out” time and the Kraken was no different when I started using it. Mostly, I had to get used to using a finder that shows the proper height of the image but leaves out much of the sides. A little horizontal wiggle lets me see what’s outside of the viewfinder’s frame.

After that, it’s the same as any uncoupled rangefinder camera: Check the distance reading and transfer it to the lens; check the meter reading and transfer it to the lens; reframe and shoot. There’s a cable release slot in both the left and the right hand grip that helps for people who like to shoot by pressing a button. I also shoot by pressing the shutter release lever on the lens and have had no issues working that way.

Overall, this has been a great camera to shoot. I made it for myself but I’d like to share it with you.

Thanks for reading!

~ Graham

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Graham Young
Graham Younghttp://frozenphoton.com/
I make small batch cameras through Etsy and co-host the Homemade Camera Podcast.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. Now I just need to retire,, get my man cave / shed / workshop setup. Seems, like when you’ve got a 3D printer everything is a camera waiting to be printed. And another podcast to subscribe to.


  2. I’m so glad someone resurrected Paul’s idea. I remember seeing so much buzz around that thing, but it just fell off the planet after the Kickstarter and I never could figure out what happened. You’ve definitely got my support for the project.

  3. It’s a fantastic 21st c. Idea! I hope it catches on because I know from experience that big film means juicy images. It’s hard to convey how much better an image gets when the film gets that much bigger but when you see it you’re hooked!

    You might mention too that your resulting images can be contact printed OR enlarged. Uh oh, time for a 3D printed enlarger 🙂

  4. So you’re against people spending 50+ for a camera that should cost 20 but you’re selling your 3D print designs for over 20 anyway? How does that logic work?

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