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New Kickstarter: Mercury, a universal, open camera system

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by rhizomeblur, Jun 5, 2016.

  1. rhizomeblur

    rhizomeblur Member

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    Hi Folks,

    My name is Zach Horton. Over the past two years I and a few friends have been developing a fully modular, open camera system capable of shooting any format (all sizes of medium format, up to 6x9, plus large format film, Instax Mini and Wide, etc.). It can accept nearly any format-appropriate lens. I created this not as a for-profit activity, but out of a desire to make what is for me the ultimate camera, to free users from proprietary, locked-down camera systems, and to enable new combinations of lenses, camera backs, and formats.

    The Mercury now exists in working prototype form, and is ready to be produced on a larger scale. What we need to make this work are the funds to create the molds (main body panels and other pieces subject to a lot of stress will be injection molded, while specialty parts and threaded parts will be 3D printed) and an active, passionate community of maverick users. To attain both of these goals, we have launched a Kickstarter campaign. I hope that you will take a moment to look it over and support the project if it is something in which you are interested.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/294564710/mercury-the-worlds-first-universal-camera

    I'd like to use this thread to take any suggestions and answer any questions that the APUG community has. I've learned a great deal from APUG users over the years, and hope to give something back in the form of the Mercury.

    This project will thrive or wither based upon community support, so I hope you will join us!

    Regards,
    Zach
     
  2. OP
    OP
    rhizomeblur

    rhizomeblur Member

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    Here's an image:

    Mercury- medium format side-sm.jpg
     
  3. jeffreythree

    jeffreythree Member

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    Pretty cool concept I need to think about supporting. I had to laugh at the title that made me wonder this was about, since Universal Camera made a Mercury camera in the '40-50s.
     
  4. Kawaiithulhu

    Kawaiithulhu Subscriber

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    Yeah, you may want to do some basic copyright and trademark research before getting married to the Universal or Mercury names and especially in combination. 1940 was not that long ago.

    Have you worked out extensions for common 4x5 lenses? How will the focus throw compare to a basic Graflex press camera? I'm not sure that just a helicoid has enough throw to get into head & shoulder portrait range from infinity.

    Other than that, fun idea! Best of luck.
     
  5. michr

    michr Member

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    This is an exciting project. The large format camera is on my wish list.

    This is the first project like this I've seen that is this versatile and lightweight. I hope you have a lot of success with this project. What is most compelling is your prices are competitive with working used gear, and the helicoids and backs are cheap. These have been a sticking point for my buying anything like this in the past.

    A couple of things I hope you address: The viewfinder is very delicate looking. It looks like it would snap in a strong breeze. I'd rather have something a little more substantial, or nothing at all. Which leads to my second point. How durable are these cameras? At this price point, I know I can't expect much, but my experience with 3D printed objects thus far leads me to believe they are quite brittle.
     
  6. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    How about subscribing to APUG? You are asking for money. You join us, then we might join you.
     
  7. ozmoose

    ozmoose Member

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    Not for profit? Oh, come on, Zach. You intend to donate all the money you make to a charity, of course?

    Kickstarter should be for nonprofit goals only. $50,000 in one month is asking for a lot. And offering what in return? Again, this is business. What I mean is, if I were to invest in this, what's in it for me? As I see it, this is business, mate. Set up a company and sell shares. I would want to read your proposal and prospectus first, and then decide. As an investment. To make money.

    I enjoyed your narrative (in the K video). A bit short on actual detail, nice story line, good music (original?). Your GF is beautiful. She may have a good future in acting.

    Have you shot any images with this baby? If so, posting them would go a long way to help us work out how the thing works.

    As jeffreythree noted, Mercury was a camera produced during the Second World War era. You will need a new name for it. Patent and copyright issues will surely apply. A RhiZomeFlex?

    The camera body reminded me of a Zeiss Ikonta I once owned.

    Bearing in mind the cost of 120 and 4x5 films these days, will you be adding a 35mm back?

    Is that a Leica or Contax adjustable viewfinder on the top? It looks like a Leica adjustable finder to me. I had one years ago, most useful but flimsy and fiddly, like peering down a tunnel. Also ancient now. No longer being produced, but Leitz & Co. may have something to say to you about that.

    Some aspects of your project (as I see from your model) need to be thought out and developed further. For a start, have you discussed all this with an attorney specialising in patents? Do you have a business model? A marketing plan?

    Otherwise, it seems an interesting enough project. Many technical challenges for you. The posted image intrigued me. You seem to have freely borrowed from every medium format camera around. Which is OK, proven worth and all that, but again, think patents, patents, patents.

    Me, I have a camera curiously similar to yours. A Hasselblad SWC.

    Nice one, tho. Seriously meant, this. I'm not trying to be super critical or cynical in this post. Just keen on you thinking laterally, and considering the big picture.

    To echo what another poster wrote, "other than that, fun idea! Best of luck." From me as well.
     
  8. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    I love supporting Kickstarter projects related to photography. They have to have the promise of solving a real problem though. This one? I'm trying to understand how it could possibly be a better mousetrap. Mostly, it isn't clear what problem it is actually solving.

    It would be hulking overkill for shooting 35mm. It would be woeful underkill for large format. Its compromises to solve those problems would make it less than ideal for medium format. The huge variety of (now very cheap) camera bodies in each format have been refined over many years to ideally solve the needs of that format. And each format is targetted to different needs. This camera is targetted to - what, exactly?

    I'd have to agree with other posters as well regarding 3D printing. It's great for prototypes, but I wouldn't depend on it for a production artifact.

    Sorry to be critical. But at this point I can't see a purpose in making a pledge.
     
  9. OP
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    rhizomeblur

    rhizomeblur Member

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    Hi Folks,

    A big thanks for all of your feedback so far! Let me try to address as many of your questions as I can...

    "Mercury" - Yep, a mostly forgotten rangefinder from the '40s. Luckily, that company (Universal) went belly up many decades ago, and thus the trademark has long since expired (trademarks have to be renewed every ten years). Also, to avoid any confusion, I describe this as a "universal camera" but "universal" is not actually part of its name. The collective that designed this (myself and several friends) is called "Mercury Works," which has my own trademark pending. I'll also be patenting this, but only to protect its future open source status.

    3D printing: I'm sorry about any confusion here. Yes, the prototypes are fully 3D printed, but the final product is meant to have many injection molded parts, including the basic body panels, back adapters, and front spacers. However, injection molding is terrible for threads, so all threaded parts will be 3D printed. Ultimately, then, the system is a hybrid of manufacturing methods, which we've thought through very carefully to have the right process and materials for the right parts. The helical focusing unit, for example, was a huge breakthrough when we worked out a way to create very strong and durable threaded parts from 3D printing. We were shocked at how that worked out. I'll say this, though: there are a lot of misconceptions about 3D printing that are a result of people printing PLA material (very brittle, not suitable for rugged applications) on sub $1000 printers. Our results have been consistently excellent, printing with high-temp ABS materials (and sometimes nylon alloy). Nonetheless, for various reasons the larger, squarish parts will be greatly improved by injection molding. The cost of tooling for that is the lion's share of what we're trying to raise through Kickstarter.

    Durability: Even with the 3D printed prototypes, they have proven extremely durable. Collectively we've traveled many times, domestically and internationally, with Mercurys in both carryons and checked luggage, without anything every breaking. They are nowhere near as durable as a metal camera, but practically speaking, they are tough. The final versions will be even tougher. And the benefits of plastic are huge here: these cameras weigh very little, which makes them very travel (and hiking, etc.) friendly. My first prototype was metal, but later I realized that plastic was the way to go. (In the future, though, we could potentially produce more expensive wood and metal variants for other uses.) The one exception to durability is the sportfinder. Frankly, this is not 3D printable. However, an injection molded one will be much stronger. This is designed to be modular for travel: it breaks down into three pieces, so it won't break in your bag, etc. It will also be extremely inexpensive to replace. :wink: And finally, we have also developed full viewfinders that are pretty tough. Those aren't available in the Kickstarter just because we're trying to keep things relatively simple (ok, not easy with a camera with so many parts/options)...

    Design inspiration: Yes, we have certainly borrowed many elements from many cameras! Our goal here was to produce a shapeshifter. It is nearly infinitely extensible, and can theoretically mate to most gear out there. So a Mercury could be configured to do exactly the same thing as a Hasselblad SWC, or an Alpa, at a tiny fraction of the price. But the same camera can also shoot 4x5, and full-frame Instax, and take regular Hasselblad lenses, etc.

    Focus range: Our main Focus Unit has 17mm of extension, so you can compare that directly to a Graflex focus scale by measuring it. As far as close focus, that gets you to 2' on a 75mm lens, 2'9" on a 90mm, 4' on a 120mm, 6' on a 150mm, and 7.5' on a 180mm tele. For longer lenses or shorter close focus, we also have a "rotating helicoid" that goes much farther, but rotates the lens as it does so. This is how the Schneider 270mm tele is mounted on the Mercury at the very beginning of the Kickstarter film, for example.

    Ozmoose, thanks for your substantial post. To answer two of your specific questions: That's a Russian turret finder (for Kiev/Zorki, copied from Zeiss) on there! As for sample photos, I've put a handful on the main Kickstarter page. I'll be posting higher-rez versions on Flickr soon.

    Profit: We all have other jobs (I am a filmmaker and university professor, Andrew is a robotics engineer, Alex is a PhD student and teacher, and Joe is a wood and metal machinist), and we really are not counting on this making us any profit. The Kickstarter goal will pay off the significant debt that I've incurred while designing and testing this over the past two years, pay for the expensive tooling for the injection molded parts, and all of the machines and materials and operators for the 3D printed parts. If by some miracle we receive more money than we spent, it will go straight into further Mercury design work: adapting new products, purchasing new machinery, testing more vintage gear, etc. All designs will be open sourced. Frankly, this is not a very lucrative idea, as it is predicated on giving the user as much control and as many options as possible--you can adapt any brand's equipment, modify the designs, make your own parts, etc. This is pretty much the opposite strategy of every major camera company. So if we're not trying to make any money, why devote years of time to this project? Because we are crazy dreamers and want to create something that no camera company would do, something that a community will carry forward far into the future.

    Cheers,
    Zach
     
  10. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    So, you're still asking for our money but you won't subscribe to APUG???? That is offensive.
     
  11. OP
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    rhizomeblur

    rhizomeblur Member

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    Kevin, actually I'm very happy to support APUG, and was in the process of taking your first suggestion, quite likely while you were posting your subtle reminder! :smile:

    My next order of business was to answer's Chuck's very fair "better mousetrap" question. What does this camera do better than any other? I've already tried to address this a bit in the post above, but here's what I think it can do that nothing else can do as well:

    • It can adapt anything to anything else. A 19th century lens to Instax, a Hasselblad lens to 6x9, a Canon lens to 645, etc.
    • It can switch formats. Just about ANY format. You don't need to carry along two cameras if you want to shoot both large format and medium format, for example.
    • It is extremely light and compact. A tiny fraction of the weight of a Graflex, or an RB67, or a Hasselblad, or even most 35mm SLRs. This makes it far more portable than any other medium or large format camera I'm aware of, with the exception of old folders. But those don't have changeable or modern lenses...
    • It can take true wide angle lenses like a Hasselblad SWC or Alpa, but costs a tiny fraction of their price.
    • It is completely modular and open source, so you can easily modify or invent a new component to make it do just about anything you can think of.
    • The system includes parts/adaptations that don't exist in any other form, like Graflok Instax backs and Pentax 67 lenses to Ilex shutter adapters.
    Now, I'm not saying that everyone wants these features. As you say, camera models and even formats have been adapted to particular uses and tend to accomplish their assigned tasks quite well. I love shooting with a variety of cameras, each for different reasons. The Mercury, however, is for folks or tasks that fall outside of those expected parameters, and for those who wish to take those parameters into their own hands with an adaptable camera. Or maybe just for folks who want a cheap, light, portable 6x9 camera that can take the world's best lenses... I can't tell anyone what they should want or do with their camera, but I'm sure that there are folks out there who want some or all of these features. I know because that was me. :wink:
     
  12. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    Thanks for subscribing and I wish you all the best with the project.
     
  13. ozmoose

    ozmoose Member

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    Hello, Zach, I'm back. Found I'm sufficiently interested in all this to return and read again.

    As others have said, many thanks for your latest, detailed posting. It cleared up a lot of questions I had wanted to ask.

    I still think you are putting together a Hasselblad in disguise. Good to know the price won't be anywhere near that of the 'blad. And I do like the prospect of shooting 6x9.

    However, you should remember the dangers inherent in trying to be all things (= formats) to all photographers.

    A most important question for you to consider (and tell us if you want to), would be, I think, this: What market is there for this contraption? A good marketing plan will be crucial for you. Unfortunately, if you find only a very small market exists, you will then end up manufacturing in small numbers, and having to price the cameras accordingly.

    A new medium format FILM camera in the digital age?

    You are a brave lot of lads (and one lassie?) to be trying to do all this.

    Anyway, I will follow with interest.
     
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  15. avalladares7439

    avalladares7439 Member

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    This looks like a really awesome and cool idea. I'm a little hesitant to put my money into this but I'll probably cave in and back the instax reward. This is just a suggestion you guys should tell lomography, Ted Forbes ( The Art of Photography YouTube channel), Matt Day ( Matt Day Photo), and the film photography project so that you guys can get more exposure and hopefully more backers. Just a suggestion
     
  16. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Are you familiar with the ups and downs and pitfalls of the Wanderlust Travelwide camera? It was a large format camera system, much simpler than yours, launched on Kickstarter a couple years back. They had very similar dreams to your dreams - a lightweight travel camera that could use large format lenses, had both pinhole and helicoid focusing system options, and was made via injection molding/3D printing (they ended up with everything injection molded). The cameras were delivered about two years behind schedule, and a LOT of people were very pissed off, not at the product, but at the makers, because they over-promised and under-delivered (several items, such as bonus rewards, were cancelled, and even some features of the camera that were promised (a useable focusing screen, for example) were not delivered). Go look at their Kickstarter and read through all the comments, and look at the threads about it here and on Large Format Info so you can get an understanding of their experience and hopefully avoid their pitfalls.
     
  17. ciniframe

    ciniframe Member

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    Ozmoose asked if there is a market for this. I think the KS campaign will answer that question. I backed for the basic 2X3 adaptable kit. It surely is a slow start and would have to pick up considerable momentum to make the goal. If the KS campaign fails then I think the answer will be fairly obvious as to the market volume, too small. This has posted on several photography platforms by now and has already garnered wide discussion. I hope they are successful, I want that helical. (Yes, I know I can go on that auction site and find a Chinese made helical, I'd still prefer to support these guys).
     
  18. momus

    momus Member

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    An interesting idea, but one loses the smaller, more portable size and weight of a normal 35mm camera or MF/TLR, loses the through the lens focusing, and most people generally shoot just a couple of formats, which makes it easy and economical to just carry two cameras. Although truthfully, most people decide on a format for their particular task at hand and just bring one.

    When I shot 4x5 I did always bring a TLR (and 9 times out of 10 preferred the shots from it). Never saw the need to bring anything smaller. For 10 bucks I bought an adapter to put Leica R lenses on my Nikons, and used a lot of great M42 lenses on my FD bodies w/ adapters that cost about the same.
     
  19. EdSawyer

    EdSawyer Member

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    It looks a lot like a plastic version of the Cambo Wide, more than anything else. It would be nice to get more people shooting film, so if that helps to that end, great! However it's not like the world isn't already awash in tons of great, cheap, well-designed film cameras for pennies on the dollar, that already do what this one does and then some.

    What the world really needs as far as new development in the photography realm is bring back materials that are no longer available: True infrared film with high spectrum sensitivity (color & bw) for starters. How about super-high contrast graded paper like Agfa Brovira 5 or 6, perfect for solarization/sabbatier printing. Instant film of any type, esp. with the imminent death of FP100c.

    Cameras are the easy part, that's already been solved. The market that needs serving is in no-longer-available materials.

    Just my $0.02.

    -Ed
     
  20. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    It reminds to me the concept behind the Silvestri cameras (silvestricamera.it). The goal is to have a lighter and especially cheaper product.

    I understand the rationale behind this project, and I think it would have been great at the time of film photography.

    Now, with all the interest that I can have in this endeavour, I agree with @EdSawyer that this effort goes, somehow, in the wrong direction.

    The film photography "ecosystem" is in danger not for want of film cameras, but for want of chemicals, laboratories, printers, film variety, specialized repairers. Film cameras will survive if the entire "film ecosystem" survives. A new camera, however interesting, imaginative, and revolutionary, is probably, in this particular "historical" juncture of film photography, a step in the wrong direction. In a few years, things might be very different and the project might be quite successful.

    I wish you all success for this endeavour, but not without saying that, personally, I would have found more interesting a firm producing an equivalent of the Jobo drum processors, or a simple versatile drying cabinet, or a firm devoted to recreating by machining any spare part not any more available. Maybe an enlarger, a slide projector, especially for APS format. Maybe a firm which produces 126 and 110 cartridges.

    For instance, a product which solves the single problem of using Instax material with decent real-glass lenses would be immediately useful for the photographic community. An "Instax evolution" camera (with another name obviously) obtained by accurately coupling a quality lens to an Instax camera. A simpler project with a possible wider audience, IMHO.

    In any case, I wish your project all the best!
     
  21. michr

    michr Member

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    I wish you a lot of success, however I'd echo the sentiments of the user in this thread that pointed you to the discussion of Wanderlust cameras. There's was a more basic offering and still they had problems. Figure out how you're going to get these items to the users once you have them. Figure out how you're going to handle dissatisfied users and bad publicity, how to handle large scale manufacturing mistakes, basically anything that can go wrong on the large scale. Because for myself, my patience was tried with Wanderlust, and I never even got close to buying one. We're expecting this to be a more seamless experience.

    Unfortunately, you're going to have to think of lots of situations that involve lawyers and money, so I hope you can get those nailed down.

    Finally, I hope you can cater to the LOMO crowd. This is the perfect tool for that much larger group of people, for whom point-and-shoot is their mantra moreso than the exacting and particular group that sometimes frequents APUG.
     
  22. OP
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    rhizomeblur

    rhizomeblur Member

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    Again, thank you all for your thoughtful comments! Ozmoose, truthfully I don't know how large the market is for this camera. I think it is large enough, but hard to reach. Our big challenge is getting the word out. Thanks to those of you who provided suggestions along those lines.

    FlyingCamera, yes, I have carefully studied the Travelwide debacle, and promise to avoid those pitfalls! First of all, we are careful not to overpromise; we're only offering things that already function in prototype form, and aren't stretching into territory like promising to produce ground glass... rather, we've sourced inexpensive ground glass and have adapted it to plates of our own design (available as optional add-ons). We've also solved the helical problem that plagued the Travelwide for years. Our engineer, Andrew, has produced a 3D printed helical unit that meets all of our specs and can be fully controlled in manufacture (injection molding such tightly fitting threads was Travelwide's mistake). We produce those already using high end printers and materials, and careful assembly and quality control. We're only launching after already engineering the system, so we can avoid many of those "launch too early" problems. More importantly, we are fully committed to complete, transparent communication. That's the essence of the project, as we are trying to form a community of creative camera users who will adapt crazy things, help design new parts, etc. This will be an open source camera system that will hopefully move in exciting new directions, as dictated by the interests and ideas of the user community. So communication is not just something important; it's the essence of the project itself.

    Momus, it's true that one can always carry multiple cameras (I've certainly done my fair share of that!). The Mercury is definitely lighter than any other medium or large format camera, though, and has many other advantages: being able to adapt lenses to backs/formats that were never intended by the original manufacturers, and the ability to assemble a highly customized camera. So not for everyone, but a new option for folks exited by custom cameras, folks who need really light weight medium and large-format cameras, instant film enthusiastics, etc. So far I've received many great messages from people with great ideas and no existing solution to accomplish it.

    Ed and Diapositivo, I agree with you that we need many items in the film ecosystem, perhaps more than new cameras. However, this camera is definitely designed for the "scarce film" era, as it allows folks to make use of a lot of great vintage gear that was otherwise limited by its own system. For example, Instax is a relatively recent film format that very few cameras can shoot. A lot is to be gained by utilizing great optics and manual control with this format. That's one of the primary uses of the Mercury.

    Diapositivo, you nail it perfectly: "For instance, a product which solves the single problem of using Instax material with decent real-glass lenses would be immediately useful for the photographic community. An "Instax evolution" camera (with another name obviously) obtained by accurately coupling a quality lens to an Instax camera." This is exactly what the Mercury does. :smile:

    Cheers,
    Zach
     
  23. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    Hi Zach,

    I appreciate that you addressed my note directly. I do wish you all the best, but I remain unconvinced. I'm sure you can build a camera that can mount a variety of lenses, and a variety of backs. That doesn't make it "universal". It may make it somewhat flexible, for certain combinations of lenses and backs.

    But advertising "universality" is probably a bit of a false promise. Consider: My Mamiya 6MF 75mm lens is quite possibly the most perfect lens I've ever used. I'd be thrilled to have its quality with my large format kit. Your campaign seems to promise that. But it won't happen, for a couple of important reasons:

    1) The Mamiya 6MF lenses have integrated shutters that are electronically fired by the body. The lenses also include complex interlocks that preclude the shutter from releasing in a number of important conditions specific to the Mamiya 6 body. Making an adapter that would work sounds pretty far beyond the scope of your "universal" project.

    2) The coverage of the lens would make it a non-starter for 4x5 format. It wouldn't cover the film at all, not to mention movements.

    So basically, using one of my favorite lenses with your camera would be difficult, and in fact using it on its original body would be far simpler, and much less bulky, and much more efficient.

    How about using my favorite large format lens with medium format film? I already have that feature with my large format camera. But my large format camera also provides movements. So I can get great quality, in medium format, with movements (swing, tilt, rise, fall, and shift). All in a large format body that I'd wager is actually lighter than the camera you're proposing (mine's a Chamonix 045n-2 - light, flexible, and sturdy, and weighs less than my Nikon DSLR).

    So, using my large format lenses on 35mm: I shoot 35mm for quickness, convenience, or highly candid shots when any bulk is a problem. A 35mm camera is an optimized tool to meet these needs. There is no room for a large format lens in that use case. I'd never find any use to shoot images through a large format lens onto 35mm film. I have wonderful 35mm lenses that work well with my 35mm bodies.

    How about my 35mm lenses on medium or large format? Your box would be good for that, right? Well, not likely. My 35mm lenses don't cover the format. And they don't have shutters. I'd have to fit a shutter. I might as well put my 35mm lens on my 35mm body, and shoot 35mm film.

    Color me skeptical, but I really don't hear an actual *use* case, other than the geeky pleasure of mixing and matching for the heck of it. I haven't read (or seen on your video) an actual compelling example of it solving a real problem that would lead to better results, other than maybe allowing one to construct a better instax camera. But in the case of instax, I'd argue that the lens isn't the limiting element in the quality chain.

    But best of luck. I'm sure it'll be fun, sounds like you've been having fun so far.

    -chuck
     
  24. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    Hmm let's see if I've got this right ...

    APUG Community: We're all doomed! No-one makes film cameras any more! The world is going to hell in handcart! Digital is awful!

    Zach: Hey look guys, we're making a new film camera! Why not support us?!

    APUG Community: What a ridiculous idea. No-one wants your stupid camera, there's no market for it. Just subscribe to APUG and then shut up.
     
  25. calebarchie

    calebarchie Member

    Messages:
    251
    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2014
    Shooter:
    35mm
    First time I've heard that one..
     
  26. RauschenOderKorn

    RauschenOderKorn Member

    Messages:
    279
    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2016
    Location:
    Bavaria, Germany
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I like the idea and the project. And in analogue photography, you cannot be too picky about new products. So any new product is welcome ...

    To me this camera looks like a universal Lomo (materials & pricing), which I believe definitely has market to sell to.
    Of course, it is built to produce high quality pictures, so we will see.
    I just hope Wanderlust has not scared people away from projects like this one.

    Two questions to Zach:

    1.) From what I can see in the KS-Project, focusing screens are not included in any of the packages. Do you plan a package which includes a LF focusing screen?
    2.) When will a device to lock sheetfilm holders to the camera be available? A rubber band may be ok for a prototype, but is too DIY imho for a "commercial" camera.