Articles, reviews and tutorials about photography
Home About us Commercial Photography Print Gallery Articles/reviews/blog  
 Was our site of help?
Please buy though our links
Visit Keith's G+ page
Page contents

MPP Canon view cameraA Canon MPP view camera

Full camera movements for a DSLR

Keith regularly uses the Canon 24mm and 90mm tilt/shift lenses for his work.

The range of tilts and shift is relatively limited, compared to the traditional large format view camera.

Buying a digital view camera can cost £15,000 -- what could be done with an old film camera (loads of them on eBay now) and £10 to make an adapter to a modern digital SLR?

The basic design can be used with -any- make or model of digital SLR camera.

An SLR to large format camera adapter project

This article shows how Keith adapted his Canon 1Ds as a digital back for a MPP monorail view camera.

There is information on what you need to make and how the camera works in practice.

  • Note - This article is aimed at those from a DSLR background, not the seasoned LF shooter - who knows what a 'compendium' is ;-)

Starting out

Now that film is being relegated to more niche and specialist markets, there are a lot of old 5"x4" cameras on the market (or 4x5 as they are known on the other side of the Atlantic :-).

Can they be used with modern kit? Time to experiment...

  • Build one of these and you will comfortably be able to talk about camera 'movements' to to those down at the local camera club who insist on telling anyone who will listen that 'real photographers' use large format cameras not digital :-)

This particular one is a studio monorail camera by MPP.

digital B/WFYI: I've set up a LinkedIn group (~6500 members) for people interested in all aspects of Digital Black and White photography: Digital Black and White

It came with a couple of lenses, one 150mm and one 180mm.

MPP monorail cameraOne of the lenses was fitted to a shutter - I'll cover more of these 'odd' features later (well perhaps odd to someone from a purely 35mm film or digital background).

There were also three 'double dark slides', which still had film in them - big sheets of 5 inch by 4 inch film.

The process by which you take film pictures with a camera like this is (to my mind) a long and torturous one, that still appeals to some people.

If you are curious I have links at the end, to places on the web where much more info can be found ;-)

MPP monorail camera

When I first got the Canon 24mm TS-E lens it took quite a bit of experimenting to get the hang of using it.

If you are interested in the 'easy' way of getting tilt and shift on your digital camera, you might also want to have a look at my articles about using the 24mm (mostly used by myself for interiors and architecture) and 90mm (mostly product photography).

The lever at the back of the MPP holds the ground glass screen in place when you focus the camera. This moves forward to allow the boxes (Dark slides) with unexposed film to be inserted.

A study of how it was built, suggested that removing the screen would leave a convenient 12cm x 15cm slot that could be used to mount a digital camera back.

You can actually buy view camera DSLR adapter plates. They will cost you a lot of money - certainly a lot more than the $20 or so that mine cost to make... (There are even systems like the Horseman LD - not bad for £1400 ;-) :-)

The picture below, shows my adapter plate being slid into the slot. Note the metal clips at the top and bottom. You can also see the black felt lining which the original film holder would rest against.

fitting adapter plate to camera

The plate is made of 2mm aluminium, which is both strong, and easy to work with.

You can see the two small clips holding the plate in place. These go under two small plastic blocks, which are screwed to the rotating back. These blocks are where the original ground glass screen fitted.

The picture below shows the screen assembly (note that the rotating back shown above is rotated by 90 degrees from its orientation in the picture below).

mpp view camera ground glass screen

The ground glass focusing screen and film holder clamp is not needed.

But how to attach the camera?

If you look at the front of a Canon 1Ds (the camera I'm using for all this experiment) you can see that various parts of the body protrude in front of the lens mount.

This means that some form of tube is required to link the camera to the plate.

extension tubes

Once again eBay to the rescue...

A cheap Chinese extension tube set provided the parts. What's more the lack of electronic coupling meant that the tube was full aperture, with no parts to get in the way when using large shifts.

I've used just the shortest tube, and taken off part of the end of the tube.

The 1Ds is designed to have light coming in from a lens directly in front of it, not moved about to the extent that this setup will manage - vignetting is a potential problem, and making the adapter plate hole as big as possible will help.

The tube is epoxied to the plate with 'Metal Epoxy'

To make sure it all stayed put, I added two small self tapping screws the next day (after the epoxy had set) The extension tube top is a light alloy, easily drilled.

If you have the equipment (and skills) you could drill and tap the holes to take proper screws...

adapter plate rear

I've also painted the inside of the plate matt black to cut down on light reflections.

You can see that the hole is positioned so as to be in the middle of the aperture where the film holder went. The additional length of the plate just makes it easier to attach and remove.

Take care with your measurements when making the plate...

Here it is in place, with the lens shutter open.

fitted adapter plate

Note the red dot on the mount.

This is what you have to line up with your camera body.

Take care when fitting the tube in place that you line up the various parts correctly

adapter plate detail

If you are inclined, then I'm sure you could sand down the epoxy, and paint the back plate :-)

Well, here it is with the camera attached, outside of my house.

MPP Canon view camera

The camera backplate assembly rotates (90 degrees anticlockwise here)- I've also used a Canon angle finder to make it a bit easier to focus, and a remote shutter release to minimise shake.

Not that I don't trust the screws/clips/epoxy, but I've also wound the camera strap round the top of the monorail.

Using the Canon 'View Camera'

First a little background on all those levers and dials you can see...

MPP side view

The vertical bits are called 'Standards'.

The bit between the front and rear standards is where the bellows go.

The lens is attached to the front standard, and the film (or digital sensor of my 1Ds) is attached to the rear standard.

With this camera both the front and rear standards can be raised of lowered, giving rise and fall effects

The dial on the front standard allows you to tilt the lens up and down.

The monorail at the bottom allows you to slide the standards back and forth.

The fitting in the middle clamps the monorail (it can rotate along its axis) and attaches to a sturdy tripod.

back tilt

Back tilt

The standards on this camera can also tilt.

along a lower axis, by releasing the locking levers.

In this case the back standard is being tilted back.

Note the small spirit levels on the standards that make it easier getting everything level (if needed).

The standards can also rotate at their base, giving horizontal tilt, or swing as it is known.

Just above the swing indicator is the horizontal shift, which allows standards to be moved side to side.

This being an oldish camera, the units are twentieths of an inch :-)

Just below the swing scale, are the fine controls for racking the standard back and forward.

swing and shift adjustments

For focusing on distant objects it is often the front standard that is moved, however for close-up work, moving the rear standard is often easier.

mpp view camera with rodenstock ysarex 150The lens is mounted onto a 'Lens board' and includes a mechanical shutter.

You can see the slides at the top and bottom of the front standard, which hold the lens board in place.

The lens is a Rodenstock 'Ysarex' 150mm f/4.5 with Synchro-Compur shutter

This is about equivalent to a 'normal' ~50mm lens on 35mm kit.

Much like DSLRs with cropped sensors, you need to consider a multiplication factor when thinking of equivalents (for 5"x 4" format film).

However when using a 150mm lens with my 1Ds, then the Ysarex 150mm should give the same view as my EF 70-200 2.8L IS at 150mm (i.e 150mm is 150mm whatever the lens).

If you attached a Canon 400D (XTi) or any other DSLR to the MPP then you would still have a 150mm lens - the field of view would just be smaller, due to the smaller sensor size.

If you start looking at Large Format lenses, you will find a bewildering array of odd names for them.

Many seem to have names inspired by cheap science fiction novels, Two of my favourites being the 'Super Anglulon' and the 'Flektogon'.

I'm sure there was logic somewhere in the naming...

...well actually there is (of sorts), you just get very lost in the history of photographic optics (examples)

The shutter needs to be mechanically cocked and is then fired using the cable release.

The view below, shows the shutter speed settings and the aperture setting for the lens.

Fortunately I have a rather good focal plane shutter in the 1Ds, so I've set the lens shutter to 'T', where one press on the cable opens the shutter and a second releases it.

The shutter works fine, and if you were worried about vibration you could use it instead of the digital one -- just fire the camera shutter on a long exposure (B) and then fire the lens shutter - there is less of a clunk)

ysarex 150 and synchro compur

150mm lens and shutter

Just to the right of the green lever is a flash sync socket, if you were feeling really experimentally minded...

schneider componon on lens boardA lens board can be made from a 14cm square bit of 2mm aluminium.

Here, I've made one for a Schneider 180/5.6 Componon enlarging lens that came with the camera.

This lens has no shutter, but as I've mentioned, this isn't a problem.

Being an enlarger lens, it's optimised for closer focusing, making it ideal for macro work.

By mounting it ahead of the lens board, the axis of tilt is no longer through the lens, but it makes it easier to get a long extension for larger scale macro work.

The focal length of 180mm is only true for focusing at infinity. As you move an object closer to the lens, the focal plane moves away from the lens and you need to use extension tubes or bellows.

Camera with 180mm lens

If you are using film then there are all kinds of calculations you can make to work out the exposure, but with a digital back, the histogram is your friend :-)

Schneider comonon 180 5.6

Schneider Componon 180/5.6

Note that, as is common in large format lenses, the aperture goes down to f/45. With most digital cameras you would be able to detect a fall off in image quality due to diffraction at much over f/16 (approximately)

f/45 will also show up the tiniest specks of dust on your sensor too.

As an aid to avoiding flare, a lens hood is always useful...

compendium lens hood

Camera with Compendium

The camera came with an extensible lens hood or 'Compendium'.

Yet another term from digital prehistory ;-)

More info on Lens Hoods

A side view

view camera set up

The compendium lens hood extended for outdoor use.

The view above also shows why the adapter plate needs a tube to reach the camera.

Camera with no bellows

The bag bellows are ideal for use with the 150mm lens, but the 180, used for macro work, will need to be too far away.

Fortunately the bellows simply clip onto the standards, the same way as the lens board.

The traditional folded bellows easily extend to the maximum length of the 12" monorail.

front and rear standards

types of camera bellows

The leather bag bellows are best for shorter lenses and moderate close up work.

full bellows extension

Full extension with the large bellows and 180mm Schneider lens.

For Macro work it is easiest to focus with the back standard, since at this distance, even a slight movement of the front standard will shift the plane of focus quite noticeably.

As regular readers may know, I generally dislike using tripods for my work...

Unless the camera weighs several kilos that is.

If you try building your own view camera attachment for your DSLR, then be sure to have a sturdy tripod available.

This one has a solid video head on it and can take the weight.

Do remember that the centre of balance will move quite a bit when you tilt the camera forward.

You can make use of a longer rail and attach the tripod forward of the front standard if you are tilting the camera very far forward, so as to move the centre of gravity nearer the centre of the tripod.

Until you are very sure of how solidly your tripod mount is locked, then its best not to leave the kit alone...

view camera on tripod

Some examples of use

This article is mainly about building the camera, so I'll just show a few examples of its use.

rear view of MPP Canon 1Ds view cameraI'm aiming at writing a more detailed guide to getting the best out of it, and using existing tilt/shift lenses at a later date (I do have a 'real' job to do ;-)

The 1Ds is used just as if I were using it with a normal lens mounted.

From experience with Canon tilt and shift lenses, the built-in metering is easily thrown off once you introduce movements.

Make use of the camera histogram or even get that light meter out of your bag that you haven't used for years...

A captured image on the LCD viewer at the back of the 1Ds (lightened slightly to show in this picture)

Looking down the street outside of my house, the 150mm lens gives a fairly narrow field of view.

Raising and lowering the rear standard changes which part of the image falls on the camera sensor - The image doesn't move, you just capture different parts of it.

individual images

3 shifted images

stitched image -rise and fall

By moving the camera back and not the lens, there are no parallax errors when stitching the images.

The three images were stitched using a flat stitch, using RealViz Stitcher, although the lack of parallax would make it fairly easy to stitch images like these in Photoshop.

Notice how the shift has kept the verticals of the buildings true.

This is one of the main reasons I use the Canon TS-E 24 so much for interior photography (where I do usually use a tripod)

With the amount of shift, rise and fall available, you could easily obtain many more images to stitch together (as long as nothing moved between shots).

Stitched image showing rise and fall

20 degrees tiltThe View camera has much more capacity to tilt the lens than the 8 degree single axis tilt of the Canon shift lenses.

However it turns out that 8 degrees is more than enough for a lot of work.

The amount of tilt shown here is far more than needed to get the ground in sharp focus from the base of the camera to infinity.

Using my trusty tilt tables I find that at ~1.5 metres above the ground, a tilt of ~6 degrees will suffice for a 150mm lens.

The first picture below had the tilt set to 6 degrees and then by moving the lens back and forth (focusing), the plane of sharp focus was tilted to make it match up with the street (at pavement level) right the way down the road.

Remember that tilt only moves the plane of focus, it doesn't give you more depth of field - look at the top of the nearby tree (taken at f/11)

The second picture uses a swing of just under 3 degrees to have the plane of focus about 3 metres to the right of the camera.

There is also a bit of rise added to get more of the buildings in (camera is level).

Once again the camera was focused to align the plane of focus along the line of buildings.

tilt swing and rise

I'm going to write another article explaining more about how to use ordinary shift lenses as well as the 'Canon view camera' but in the mean time I'd suggest checking some of the links to articles I've included at the end.

The shot below was taken with the 180mm lens and long bellows, shown earlier. The board (an old Apple Mac processor card) has been positioned flat on to the camera, so as not to need any tilts or shifts.

closeup image from Canon view camera

Full frame image - the field of view is ~10cm x 16cm

Racking out the lens allows a higher magnification.

macro image

Maximum macro with 180mm lens at full extension for the short 12" monorail.

This image is at approximately 0.7 magnification (i.e. the frame is about 50mm wide)

I have an alternative 20" monorail which would allow for even higher magnification, particularly with the 150mm Ysarex lens

The depth of field is very small - I focused on the top of the component and at f/11 the main board is slightly out of focus

detailed image crop

A 100% crop of the image - this component is 7mm x 4mm in size

A shorter focal length lens would allow even higher magnification, but for best results you need an lens designed for such work. I use my Canon TS-E 90mm lens with extension tubes for detailed work, but I'm keeping my eye out for alternative lenses that I could try with the view camera setup.

The 'Humongocam' (a comment from someone who saw it in the street outside of my house) was initially intended as an experiment more than a tool for my professional work, but has taught me some useful principles that I'm now using more in my 'paying' work.

With lots of old film kit coming on to the market, the Canon view camera is an interesting way to learn a lot more about some of the technical aspects of photography, without going to all the trouble of reverting to film, or spending vast amounts on a digital back.

Thank you to everyone who has ever purchased something via these links. If you follow a link and then buy absolutely anything it helps me run this site (the articles are all written by myself in my spare time)
- Keith (Other ways to help the site)
Amazon UK link / Amazon France / Amazon Germany
Amazon USA link / Amazon Canada / Amazon Italy

I'd really welcome any comments from anyone trying this out...

Note - you can comment below, via Disqus

Notes added after initial publication...

  • Using shorter focal length lenses
  • One of the problems with shorter lenses is that the 1Ds lens mount is 23mm back from the original focal plane (now the front of the 2mm thick metal plate). The image sensor chip is an additional 44mm back from that. You thus effectively have a 36x24 sensor (43mm diagonal) at the end of 67mm tube.
  • If the new shorter focal length lens has a fairly large rear element and by dint of its short focal length is quite near to the back plate, then it will not take much movement to get noticeable vignetting from blocking of the light path. This will be lessened at smaller apertures, but will still be much more of a problem than with the 150mm or 180mm that I tried.
  • One solution to this would be to make the back plate in a similar way to a recessed lens board, where you have a recessed part sticking -out- for attaching the lens mount. A quick sketch indicates that this would cut down vignetting significantly, but pressing/cutting/milling shapes like that is well beyond my (fairly basic) engineering skills. The lens mount from the extension tube is ~5mm thick, so the raised part would only need to be ~16mm - maybe some stepped tube would do?
  • I need to work out the sizes a bit better and have a bit of a think about the 'Mk. II' lens plate design, now that I know how well the 'Mk. I' has done :-)
  • It's been suggested that you could use a lens adapter ring as the mount - looking on eBay, some of these are pretty cheap, you just need to file off any extraneous metal lugs or tabs on the inside. Whats more, if you get an 'AF confirm' version then you may be able to use your camera's autofocus system to check for correct focus. This would be particularly useful for smaller sensor DSLRs where the 'focusing screen' is not actually designed for focussing. I tried an AF confirm adapter ring on my 1Ds, to use with a Zuiko 50/1.2 lens. The lens works a treat, but the chip locked up my camera - fortunately it's only epoxied on, and was quickly levered off...
  • Lot's of interesting comments received - glad it's been of interest and helped people try their own experiments.

Helpful information

Other 'unusual' projects :-)

Keith also provides bespoke personal photography tuition to private individuals in the Leicester area (UK) - this is in addition to Northlight's corporate training services, and is aimed at at photographers looking to learn more about particular aspects of photography, such as architecture and landscape. It includes using various tilt/shift lenses, which are available (with a FF DSLR) to use during sessions.

Add your comments and questions
comments powered by Disqus

You can search all the many hundreds of articles and reviews on the site for more information

Have you found an article on the site useful or helpful?

If so, please consider sharing a link to the article or mentioning it on a forum or blog - Thanks to everyone who's helped the site become better known.

Explore our site... Digital Black and White photography and printing - some of Keiths thoughts, techniques and tips for those interested in a digital approach to black and white. There are many hundreds of entirely free articles and reviews on the site. New site content appears on the News, articles and reviews page.

Thanks to the visitors who've made Amazon purchases (any kinds of items whatosever)
via: Amazon UK/Amazon France/Amazon Germany/Amazon USA/Amazon Canada
It won't save extra money we're afraid, but it does help in the running of the site, and we really appreciate it...

Northlight Images is based in Leicester in the UK and supplies Commercial Photography services
Visiting Leicester or wondering where it is? We have views from the Leicester traffic cameras.