Large Format Photomicrography part: III

The Homemade Camera

At this point I’ve got everything I need to shoot some 4×5 film. I could load some film into a holder, and start shooting without any delay. I wonder though, what about everyone else? What if I didn’t have a trinocular BalPlan, a working System II shutter assembly, the proper camera body, and the right adapter? What if all I had was was a basic monocular microscope and dreams of shooting 4×5? Could I get away with something simple and homemade or would that be too impractical. Thinking about the preceding one is apt to consider the old standby of shoe-string photography: the pinhole camera. Such a camera need be nothing more complex than an opaque box with a pinhole at one side. It should then be entirely possible to use the same principles in the task at hand; replacing the pin-hole with a microscope wouldn’t do though. One would need some way of determining focus. Depending on what’s to hand it may prove more or less feasible to solve the problem of focus by building two cameras; the one for focusing only a screen of some sort in place of a sheet of film. Two identical carers could be easy (perhaps two identical shoe boxes) or nearly impossible at a moments notice (the recycling picked up yesterday). In any case I have a ground glass and a film holder so a single camera seems easier. A student should be able to borrow both from the art department or one could buy a holder second hand and make their own screen easily enough.The question now becomes how to attach the box that will be our camera to the microscope. With a basic monocular microscope with inclination joint, using it in a fully horizontal arrangement seems ideal. One needn’t bother with standing on a chair to view the screen or precariously balancing the “camera”. So far, no consideration has been paid to the question of a shutter. The simplest option would be to ignore a shutter in the traditional sense and merely block out the light source with a bit of light opaque material, tin foil, for example. Then we need only consider the need to ensure that the only way light may enter the camera is through the microscope. Easy enough, a hole only just the size of the ocular tube is made in the camera and the connection masked with a bit of gaffer tape. All that remains is to consider how the film holder will be held to the box. This being the most complicated aspect of construction it has been left for last. One need cut away enough of one end of the box so that the light may reach the film. This hole may be made large enough to utilize the entire film or it may be masked so as to provide a circular photomicrograph. With the hole cut one should then glue a few layers of soft dense material to the area the film holder will press against. This material will serve as a light seal. A few layers of dark colored fleece or soft foam insulation will do nicely. To hold the film holder in place one has a number of options, the first that occurs to me is to poke four holes through the box and insert through the same a pair of dowels or pencils, mask the ends with tape for a tight fit, and then stretch rubber bands from end to end to hold the film holder tight against the light seal.

1. Place the specimen on the microscope stage and position the “camera” at the ocular.

2. Affix the focusing screen to the camera.

3. Turn out the room lights, turn on the illuminator, and focus the microscope.

4. Taking care not to move anything, remove the screen.

5. Place the loaded film holder in position.

6. Block the light of the Illuminator with foil.

7. Pull out the film holders dark slide.

8. Briefly remove and replace the foil in the illuminators path to control for exposure.

9. Replace the dark slide with the exposed film indicator facing out.

10. Process exposed film as per developer instructions and enjoy!

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