A Canon MPP view camera adapter
DIY Canon MPP 5×4 view camera adapter
Full camera movements for a DSLR on a view camera – make your own digital back
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A simple DIY camera adapter to replace the film back of a view camera with a plate to attach a DSLR camera.
Experimenting with camera movements. The basic design can be used with -any- make or model of digital SLR camera.
This 2007 article was updated in 2020 with new versions of most of the original images (one reason I always save my RAW files). It also links to more of the articles about tilt and shift that I’ve written since 2007.
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 ;-)
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 4×5 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.
It came with a couple of lenses, one 150mm and one 180mm.
One 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 ;-)
When I got my first 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 tilt/shift.
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. Some will cost you a lot of money – certainly rather more than the $20 or so that mine cost to make [some examples from Fotodiox]
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.
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).
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
First a little background on all those levers and dials you can see…
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.
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.
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.
The 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 Angulon’ 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.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).
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.
150mm lens and shutter
Just to the right of the green lever is a flash sync socket, if you were feeling really experimentally minded…
A 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.
Camera with 180mm lens
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.
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 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…
The camera came with an extensible lens hood or ‘Compendium’… More info about Lens Hoods
A side view.
The compendium lens hood extended for outdoor use. The view above also shows why the adapter plate needs a tube to reach the camera.
Below – 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.
The leather bag bellows are best for shorter lenses and moderate close up work.
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 it’s best not to leave the kit alone…
This article is mainly about building the camera, so I’ll just show a few examples of its use.
I’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.
A captured image on the LCD viewer at the back of the 1Ds
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…
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.
3 shifted images – click to enlarge
By moving the camera back and not the lens, there are no parallax errors when stitching the images.
The three images were originally (2007) stitched using a flat stitch, using RealViz Stitcher, In the 2020 version this was a simple job in Photoshop.
Stitched image showing rise and fall
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).
There is much more about this in my article: How to use a shift lens on your camera
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).
Tilting the lens
The View camera has much more capacity to tilt the lens than the 8-10 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 rightwards tilt (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 vertical shift (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.
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 tilt or shift.
Full frame image – the field of view is ~10cm x 16cm
Racking out the lens allows a higher magnification.
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
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.
Notes added  after initial publication…
Using shorter focal length (wider) 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 36×24 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. What’s 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…
We’ve had a lot of interesting comments received – glad it’s been of interest and helped people try their own experiments.
2020: Using a mirrorless camera such as the EOS RP drops the flange distance to 20mm. The lack of mirror box in the new cameras also reduces potential vignetting issues. It may be time to dust down the MPP.
- All articles/reviews on this site related to tilt/shift
- How to use lens shift
- Setting up tilt – a guide to setting tilt on lenses
- Tilt shift lenses – the Canon 24mm TS-E
Keith’s first article about using a tilt/shift lens with a DSLR
- Using an adapter to add tilt and shift to medium format lenses on a mirrorless camera
- Basics of the View Camera
Good introductory guide on WP
- Focusing the View Camera
Very detailed information on just what’s going on when you tilt and shift various parts of a camera. This really is one of the key resources I used to learn about using tilt and shift.
- Large format photography
Lots of information, articles and forum
- MPP monorails – Info on MPP cameras from the users club (UK)
Note that this is now an archive.org archived link
- More examples – An article (in French) with more examples of using an adapter like the one I built
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All articles and reviews are listed on our main Articles and Reviews page, or use the search box at the top of any page. Experimental items, hacks and how-to articles are all listed in the Photo-hacks category Some specific articles that may be of interest:
- Using old lenses on your DSLR
- The 1Ds digital pinhole SLR camera A Canon 1Ds pinhole camera, making a 50mm 'standard' pinhole and a 200mm zoom version - results are compared to a lens some £1400 more expensive.
- Canon View Camera An adapter ($20) to use an old MPP 5x4 view camera with a Canon 1Ds. Article shows details of construction and just what it can be used for. Could be adapted for any DSLR and many old large format cameras.
More of Keith's articles/reviews (Google's picks to match this page)
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...My book about how to use tilt/shift lenses is now available.