This is not a pumpkin.
But we’ll get back to that later.
So, it’s time to introduce you to Ninja Zarl, aka the $95 ‘What the hell was I thinking?!’ auction camera.
It’s a Speed Graphic 4×5 camera, definitely older than Zarl, but I have no idea how old. Maybe 1910s? 1920s? The curtain shutter works like Tank‘s, and even has a similar shutter speed chart on the side, but no date.
I still have no memory of what I was thinking when I bid on this camera, except that there had been a bunch of other Graflexes go for what I thought was crazy inexpensive (although still more than I could pay), and I guess I just wanted one. I knew I didn’t remember looking at it in the preview, but it didn’t matter – regardless of its condition, it wound up going home with me anyway.
In the car on the ride home, I sat it in my lap and tried to examine what exactly I had bought. My main concern was that the lens and shutter were there and working – I seriously bought this camera without even knowing if it had a lens! I am an idiot. But happily, the lens was there, and although a little more complex than what I was used to, seemed to work just fine.
That was a relief! At least, if nothing else, I got a lens out of the deal. Maybe I hadn’t overpaid too badly after all.
Further inspection revealed two serious flaws to the Ninja Zarl (I started calling it Ninja because it’s painted all black). The first, and most serious flaw, is that the bellows was completely shot. It wasn’t just pinprick holes in a few corners, it was more like holes you could almost poke a finger through. Not good. The second flaw, which fell into the ‘irritating, but not fatal’ category, was that the viewing hood that is supposed to surround the ground glass focusing screen in the back had been removed. The ground glass, although hazy, still worked, but without a viewing hood, was difficult to see and focus on without a glare.
The day after the auction Travis and I packed up both Zarl and Ninja Zarl and took them down to the camera show, with the thought that maybe we could get a lensboard for the lens in NZ and use that in Zarl (since the $5 lens’ shutter is iffy and aperture ring is designed for a larger format camera). We wound up talking to a guy who specializes in large format cameras (he’s the one we bought the new lens and lensboard for Zarl from). I told him about how I had bought Ninja Zarl and paid too much for it, and he took a look at the camera.
The lens, he said, was probably worth about $100, which was good to hear, although I partially suspect he was inflating the value some to make me feel better about how much I had spent. But even though NZ had some neat features, replacement bellows were expensive, and so this would probably wind up being a camera that sits on a shelf. And then he turned his attention to Zarl, and went about finding a new lens (not a great lens, but an affordable workhorse lens) and lensboard combo for it.
We got that taken care of and left soon after, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what he had said – that Ninja Zarl was destined to become a shelf camera. Every instinct in me rebelled against this. I did not just pay almost $100 for a shelf camera. Oh hell no. I may have some cameras I don’t use very often, but I expect them all to be functional if required. Besides, Ninja Zarl had some neat features on it that Zarl doesn’t have. For example, there’s a little flip up viewfinder on the top that I quite like, even though I’m not sure how to use it (I assume it shows you what the picture looks like with the lens set at infinity, but I’m not sure).
Also, strangely, there’s a magnifying loupe built into the back door of the camera. That’s the brass cylinder thingy sticking out in the picture of Ninja Zarl above. Even the camera guy who sold us a lens said, when he was examining NZ, “I’ve never seen one of these before.” It’s actually pretty cool, though – you just compose your picture, fold down the back door, and then look through the loupe so you can achieve maximum sharpness. You can’t see your entire image, obviously, but if the center of the picture is what you want in focus, you’re in good shape.
Clearly, NZ wasn’t all bad. It certainly deserved a chance to perform before being relegated to a shelf camera (and I don’t have anything against people who put cameras on display, I just don’t have the room in my house to have something as big as a 4×5 camera that doesn’t actually do anything). So, now what?
I had to fix the bellows before the camera was usable. But, after looking around on ebay, the cheapest I could find something that might work was over $50, and most bellows were priced between $75 and $100. I definitely couldn’t justify that cost.
However, what I did have was some leftover black out fabric that I had purchased from Freestyle. I had used it to make a curtain for the darkroom so I could seal out any light that might come in from the doorway.
Unfortunately, after getting the fabric back out, I realized it was too thick and sturdy to be used to protect the bellows. But, it just might be perfect to construct a new viewing hood.
I went to work sewing, and about 15 minutes later, I came up with this:
It’s a removable hood! I slid a wire through one of the channels along the edge of the hood to give it a little bit of structure. The magnifying loupe turned out to make a perfect anchoring point for the hood.
I tried it out yesterday morning. With the sun behind me, it seemed to help at least a little. The photo on the top is looking through the ground glass with the hood; the photo on the bottom is the ground glass without.
So, onto the bellows! My idea to repair that was to just leave the original bellows in place, but to make a sort of light tight bellows cozy to fit around the existing bellows. You think I can write the word “bellows” any more? Bellows bellows bellows. It’s starting to look weird to me.
Anyway, the blackout fabric was too stiff to be able to expand and contract easily (since I have to slide the front of the camera back and forth to focus). Serendipitously, this past weekend, I also wound up buying a brand new (used) film changing bag. It’s gigantic, which will let me easily load and unload sheet film on the fly. My old bag, won in an ebay auction for $1, worked fine, but was just too small to handle working with 4×5 sheet film comfortably. Since the changing bags are made of two layers of thin, light tight black nylon, it seemed like the perfect fabric to use for the bellows cozy.
I cut off the end with the zippers, cut off the sleeves, and then trimmed the fabric down to where it would cover the bellows when fully extended, plus a couple of inches. I put some velcro squares on the short ends, and then sewed a piece of stretchy brown ribbon to the longer ends (if you’re making something like this, be sure to stretch out the elastic as you sew it, to make the fabric get all bunchy). It only took a few minutes to do. I removed the front of the camera off the rails, wrapped the cozy around it, and then slid the camera back on. What I got was this:
After it was in place, I popped off the lensboard and held the camera up to the light, looking to see if I could see any light passing through it. Everything turned out looking fine and light-free. Yay!
So, here’s the revamped Ninja Zarl:
There’s only two issues with the camera now, both of them minor. The bulk of fabric with the bellows cozy (since I made it to extend the length of the bellows) means I can’t close the camera with the bellows in place. That’s kind of a pain in the butt, but it’s not too difficult to remove the cozy. I’m just lazy. The second is that the way the cozy flares out around the face of NZ makes it look like the camera is wearing a Victorian mourning bonnet or something. It’s a little undignified, and I seem to have renamed Ninja Zarl ‘Bonnet Zarl.’ Which isn’t anywhere near as bad-ass as Ninja Zarl.
Yesterday morning I took Bonnet Zarl out for a test drive, since I couldn’t be positive that the bellows cozy worked until I actually shot with the camera. And that brings us to the pumpkin at the top of the post. It’s not a pumpkin. It’s a detail from this picture, the first one I shot with BZ:
It’s actually a clematis! Here’s the obligatory van shot:
And a detail from the above at 100%:
I used the magnifying loupe on the back of the camera to aid in focusing. That thing is handy!
So, anyway, now I have a working camera, not a shelf camera, and I’m no longer freaked out about having spent that much money buying a broken camera, since I was able to fix it for free. Yay! Behold the mighty power of sewing! I’m just lucky the shutter works – I’m very good at taking apart shutters, but I have yet to successfully put one back together.