How to put a barrel lens in a shutter

February 15, 2017  •  4 Comments

Shutters Options for Barrel LensesVarious Shutter Options for Barrel LensesLeft to Right: (1) Cut & Mount of 35" RDA in Compound #5, (2) Sinar Copal Shutter, (3) Packard Shutter

Many desirable lenses for large format, and especially ultra large format, never came with shutters or their shutters are so old they don't function. So how can you use them? Well there are a bunch of different options that vary in terms of price and efficiency:

Option 0. Don't buy the barrel!

Many barrel lenses seem very enticing but when you add in the cost of adapting them to a shutter (usually around $400 or more) then they aren't quite such a bargain. In fact, often for a few hundred more you could get a more modern lens that might be coated, apochromatic so you can use them with color film, and shuttered. Think hard about why you want to have that barrel, what are its properties that you couldn't find with a cheaper alternative.

Option 1. No shutter - no problem

You don't need a shutter if you have slow film (like paper or wet plate) or a small aperture. Just pop a lens cap or hat over the front element and make sure to reinsert the dark slide into you film holder. Of course this might not work in very bright light, or with a wide open aperture. Photography did just fine for decades without mechanical shutters!

Cost: Free

Best when: You have a slow lens or slow paper. When you don't need to use a flash, when the subject is stationary.

Option 2. No shutter - actually you're wrong there is one

Some lenses post-WWII were designed to fit a standard shutter size and thread pitch. It may be as simple as screwing in the lens elements to an older standard shutter like an Compound or Ilex or even a Copal. The key is finding a well functioning shutter preferably with the right aperture scale. But don't worry if you can't get the same aperture scale - SK Grimes and others can make them for you.

Cost: $50-$350 depending on the shutter. Many shutters are easier to buy with damaged lens elements that you can discard. $30 for custom aperture scales from SK Grimes.

Best when: Your lens elements simple screw into a standard shutter and are designed to sandwich a shutter.

Option 3. No shutter - cut and mount it in

This tends to be the most expensive option. First you need to source the right shutter to fit your barrel. Some shutters might constrain your maximum aperture size so you can loose a stop or two. It's really a trade off between max shutter speed, accuracy/age, and max aperture - looking at the largest sized shutters, the modern Copal 3 shutter is quite a bit smaller than the older Ilex 5 and even smaller than the older and much rarer Compound 5. SK Grimes has a list of commonly mounted barrels and what is their suggested shutter and whether that shutter will result in a loss of maximum aperture.

Cost: Total $400-$700: Shutter purchase $50-$350, Lens to Shutter mounting $300, Lensboard to Shutter mounting $30, Custom Aperture Scale $30, Lensboard $5-$40.

Best when: You have a barrel that isn't huge, when you need great accuracy and faster shutter speeds, or are using artificial strobe lighting, and when the barrel has elements that can be sandwiched around a barrel or front mounted on the shutter. You may want to give up your iris (if you have one) or keep it. Old irises tend to have more leaves and give better bokeh than modern shutters.

Option 4. No shutter - get one Copal Sinar Shutter for all your barrels!

The Sinar Copal shutter fits Sinar cameras (and some others that use the Sinar standard). The shutter sits between the camera front standard and a barrel lens which must be mounted entirely on the front side of the board. The great news is if you are planning to have a whole bunch of barrel lenses you can simply mount them on a Sinar board and then use the same shutter for all of them. Downside is the maximum shutter speed in 1/60 (which actually if quite fast compared to most of the other options).

Cost: Total: $400-$550 for the first lens, $30-$100 for each subsequent one: Sinar Copal shutter approximately $300-$400 used, Lensboard to Barrel mounting $30-$60, Flange if you don't have one around $50, Sinar style lensboard $5-$40 (if you want a genuine one).

Best when: You have multiple barrels to mount, and the barrels can all be mounted on the front of the lensboard.

Option 5. No shutter and huge lens - front mount a Packard

If you have an especially large barrel lens no Copal, Ilex or Compound shutter will work. You need a Packard shutter. They are still made today and are very simple pneumatic affairs that typically give you a max shutter speed of 1/25 sec. Usually they are mounted on the front of the barrel, and you can have filter threads made to sit between the lens and the shutter. Sometimes with older view cameras a Packard shutter is part of the front standard and works sort of like a Sinar Copal shutter. There are a number of similar simple mechanical shutters from defunct manufacturers like the ILEXPO but I'd stick with the Packard given the company is still in operation and a fair number of used ones come up for sale.

Cost: Varies: Packard shutters start with an opening of 1.5" all the way up to 9" and are priced from $150 to $1400 depending on features. I would suggest going for the regular No. 6 version with the "instantaneous" option included. Then you have to figure a way to attach it to the lens or fit it behind the front standard. Which can be as cheap as some cardboard tubing and tape, to a machined metal and rubber custom fitted option from SK Grimes.

Best when: You have a giant special barrel to shutter which will fit no other shutter, when that lens has a really nice iris that you want to keep, and when the barrel cannot be cut (e.g. Apo-Germinar 750mm f9) or the lens is very special and you don't want to cut it. The shutter works really well for longer exposures in "B" and "T" as well as the approximate 1/25 instant option.

Other considerations:

Filter rings: Barrel lenses, especially the older ones, don't always come with filter threads in the front element. If you are keen on using filters you may want to have a slip on filter ring custom made or some other fancy machining done. Try to keep to a "standard" filter size like 52mm, 67mm, 77mm, 95mm, 105mm, 122mm etc. Using step-up rings is a messy compromise best avoided.

Lens caps: Many barrel lenses had leather or some other style of lens caps. Often these are missing. Far better to find one from Schneider (they make about every size imaginable) or have one custom made during the shuttering process.

Some more resources:

Reinhold Schable's fast meniscus lenses for sale with shuttering options

14x17 ULF Lens Recommendations (some ideas from me on ULF lens options, many of which are barrel lens)

The Compound 5: a big shutter for big barrel lenses (a post by me on the biggest baddest shutter on the block)

Dan Fromm's list of large format lens resources that includes information on Apo-Artars, Apo-Nikkors, Apo-Ronars and G-Clarons etc.

Allen Rumme's extensive list of process lenses


Photo credits from top of post: Cut & Mount of 35" RDA by Angus Parker, Sinar Copal Shutter with barrel by Peter de Smidt, Front Mount Packard Shutter by Reinhold Schable

How to avoid Fix Exhaustion

January 24, 2017  •  3 Comments

Recently I purchased some test strips to see how much dissolved silver was in the fix that I use for film developing and what was it's pH. The results shocked me. I had been using fix that had 2-3 times the recommended limits and certainly have not be fixing my film to archival standards for probably six months or more. So that got me to thinking how should I change my work flow so that I don't get into the same situation down the road. Besides testing the fix which is expensive and a pain, the simple answer is just to count the surface area of the film you are processing. The fix that I use is TF-4 Archival Fix from the Photographer's Formulary. You can also get it from Freestyle and B&H (store pick up only). What I like about TF-4 is that it is a non-hardening fixer which makes it excellent for prints that are to be toned or retouched. Moreover, it works great for stain developers like Pyrocat-HD. I use a Jobo to process my film so that pretty much means that I reuse a full liter of stock solution TF-4 (1+3) regardless of which format I'm processing. I develop 120, 4x5, 8x10, 11x14 and 14x17 formats so you can image keeping track of all this for the fix would be a nightmare. So I came up with a nifty laminated sheet where I just check off equivalent surface areas. I simple rule of thumb is that 1 roll of 35mm with 36 exposures, has roughly the same surface areas as 1 roll of 120mm Medium Format film, which has roughly the same surface areas as 1 sheet of 8x10 sheet film. 4x5 sheet film is a 1/4 of a sheet of 8x10, 11x14 roughly two times the surface area and 14x17 roughly three times. So if you keep track in equivalents you will exhaust your fix after 20 uses (or equivalents) of 1 litre of TF-4 stock solution (1+3). To be on the safe side I made it 19 for some margin of error (thinner or thicker negatives will affect the fix) although I imagine things would average out of that much film.

You can download a PDF of my sheet here.

Click here for PDF












Some other good rules to follow from a discussion on the Large Format Photography Forum:

  • Use separate batches of fix for film and prints. Permissible silver levels are higher for film than prints.
  • Use the Clip-test for film fix to determine exhaustion. When the clearing time reaches 2x that of fresh fix, discard the fixer.
  • Keeping track of throughput as per the manufacturers specifications.
  • Use a two-bath fixing for fiber base prints. If you use test strips, test the first bath and discard when dissolved silver reaches 1.5-2g/liter. Add to this tests for residual silver and hypo to confirm your workflow.

Book Review: Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II

January 23, 2017  •  2 Comments

Un-American by Richard Cahan & Michael Williams

Every once in a while a great photography book piques my interest, usually because I learn something about the medium and technique, sometimes because I get to simply enjoy the beauty of the images, and more rarely because I learn something about the people and time when the images were taken. This book has undeniably beautiful, if tragic, images but more importantly it speaks to a shameful period in U.S. history where mass hysteria against the "other" led to internment of legal residents and American citizens in incarceration camps. Unfortunately today history appears to be repeating itself and the "other" in this case, Muslims and Mexicans, are being targeted - so this book is even more timely in its message of tolerance and the need to be ever vigilant against hatred and bigotry.

In 1942, more than 109,000 Japanese Americans, including 70,000 US citizens, were sent to incarceration centers, most for the duration of the war. In a quirk of fate, the same U.S. Government that was committing this crime, was paying to document it, with a team of famous photographers including Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Clem Albers, Francis Stewart, Tom Parker, Charles Mace, and Hikaru Carl Iwasaki. Nearly 7,000 images in all, most 8x10 large format but some medium format, are now stored in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, and the Library of Congress in Wsahington, DC.

On February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order authorized the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans, German-Americans and Italian-Americans to internment camps.

On March 24, 1942 the "Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1" and others like it, were issued which gave Japanese Americans living on the West Coast just six days to settle their affairs and bring only what they could carry for transportation to one of 10 incarceration camps in remote parts of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Businesses and equipment were sold for pennies on the dollar, since white buyers knew the Japanese Americans had little choice but to accept their offers. Entire neighborhoods were simply erased and replaced as very few ever returned to their former homes.

The U.S. government allowed white farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl to work farms "abandoned" by Japanese Americans. After the war, many former owners just gave up their farms to these interlopers not having the stomach to try to regain their title. The Japanese Americans living in Terminal Island near a naval base, an airstrip and the Port of Los Angeles were given particularly harsh treatment. They were told to leave in 48 hours, their houses were condemned and bulldozed, and their fishing boats requisitioned as patrol vessels.

The camps had several things in common: guard towers, barbed wire fences, and armed soldiers. All but four of the 15 confinement sites had previously been racetracks or fairgrounds. The stables and livestock areas were cleaned out and hastily converted to living quarters for families of up to six. In addition, crews built standard 120-by-20 foot barracks. These went up in less than an hour, were made with shoddy construction per government order with green lumber that would shrink and leave gaps in the walls. Thin tarpaper didn't keep the wind out and insulation wasn't added until much later. The barracks were designed for soldiers in combat zones - hardly suitable housing for women, children and the elderly.

In many camps, the U.S. Government took advantage of literally captive labor and hired Japanese Americans incarcerated at the camps to make camouflage nets for the War Department. Pay was one tenth the going rate outside on the free market. Workers complained about the poor food, dust, fumes and long hours. Eventually, the factories were closed after resistance from many of the workers walking off the job.

Trying to recruit volunteers for the army, the US Government forced those incarcerated to answer a questionnaire to determine their loyalty. Questions 27: "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces on combat duty?" and Question 28: "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor?" were particularly problematic for many. Some second generation (Nisei) Japanese Americans thought it was inappropriate to ask such questions of U.S. citizens. 12,000 either refused to answer the questions or wrote "No". They became known as the "no-nos" and were sent to the now renamed higher security Tule Lake Segregation Center. To make room for the new arrivals, "loyal" inmates were set away to other camps. 34,500 of the "loyal" inmates were able to leave in 1943 and 1944 when they could prove they had a job or means of support in a community that was not antagonistic towards Japanese. At the end of the war, about 3,000 first generation (Issei) Japanese and 5,600 second generation (Nisei) inmates requested to be sent to Japan. In the end, 1300 people were deported.

The 170 images in the book show bewildered and tired Japanese Americans children, parents, and grandparents, assembling with their few belongings, camp life where inmates try to live as normal a life as possible given the circumstances, and some rare moments of genuine resistance. All in all, it's a portrait of dignified people behaving extraordinarily placidly in the face of a clearly illegal action to strip the rights under the US Constitution. In fact, so many rights were violated it would take too long to go into depth but you can read more here. In 1988 the U.S. government issued a formal apology to all former internees and paid $20,000 to each surviving internee. The text accompanying the images provides specific and general context to the images. While most of the images can stand on their own, the stories behind them really brings home the experience of the inmates and the impact on their lives. It wasn't just the inmates who were affected, many of the photographers also suffered physically because of what they saw and documented.

An interesting side story is how U.S. Census data was used to round up Japanese Americans. Although the Census Bureau was barred by law from providing specific information that could be linked to an individual, this protection was temporarily repealed under The Second War Powers Act of 1942. As Scientific American reported in 2007: "Despite decades of denials, government records confirm that the U.S. Census Bureau provided the U.S. Secret Service with names and addresses of Japanese-Americans during World War II." Might history be repeated with talk of a registry of Muslim Americans? I found it chilling to read one particular passage of the book which I will quote in full:

"You are kidding yourself if you think the same thing won't happen again," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of law students in 2014. He warned that camps similar to those opened in World War II might be built again. The government was wrong to force US Citizens into detention centers based on only suspicion, Scalia said, but he pointed to Roman philosopher Cicero, who cautioned: "In times of war, the laws fall silent."

Of course this being America, Scalia's words were used to support the entirely false proposition that President Obama was setting up FEMA Concentration Camps to intern or possible even murder loyal patriotic U.S. citizens!

On happier note, after the formal apologies and reparations by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and President George H.W. Bush in 1992, the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II was dedicated on the Washington Mall on November 9, 2000. Inscribed on its base are the words of Daniel K. Inouye, US Congressman, US Senator and Captain of 442nd Regional Combat Team:

"The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group."


You can buy the book from Amazon for $30. Worth every penny.

My favorite black & white developers

January 08, 2017  •  2 Comments

Over the past couple of years, I've tried a number of developers for B&W film. Here is my top three picks that each have their own role one of which might fit your needs:

Rodinal, an Adox product, is the longest continuously produced developer in existence having been patented in 1891! Why is it still so popular? As Ed Buffaloe says, Rodinal "produces little fog and no stain even at high temperatures, is relatively fast-working, is less temperature-dependent than other agents, can be mixed and stored in very high concentrations, and retains developing potential even at very high dilutions." It’s not a fine grain developer so best not used with 135 or 120 format.

Xtol, a Kodak Alaris product, is IMHO, the king of B&W developers. As Mark Covington says "Xtol is one of the few developers that do not contain hydroquinone. It uses derivatives of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and Phenidone as developing agents. Claimed advantages include low toxicity (important for environmental reasons as well as occupational safety), easy mixing (but see below), and an unusual combination of fine grain with high film speed (true shadow speed, not just push-processing)." Its a true fine grain developer and can be used with push or pull developing. The only pain is that it comes as two powders which have to be mixed with water (not so easy in fact) to make 5 liters of developer solution that then must be stored in airtight containers. I use 0.75l wine bottles with Vacu Vin wine stoppers to do the job.

Pyrocat-HD, "is a semi-compensating, high-definition developer, formulated by Sandy King. The advantages of formula include greater effective film speed, shorter development times, consistent staining action, lower toxicity, and no streaking or mottling with reduced agitation. Users have reported reduced printing times with UV light sources due to the different stain color, as well as reduced base plus fog density in rotary processors." If you plan to contact print your large format negatives in silver, as well as, platinum this is the go to choice. Silver development with visible light ignores the stain and gives a thinner negative. Platinum development with UV light recognizes the stain and gives a thicker negative needed for this kind of printing. Make sure to get the version with the B solution using Glycol. It's less toxic than alternatives. Pyrocat comes in many flavors, none of them drinkable! Pyrocat-HD is particularly good with rotary processors. Pyrocat-MC might be the other version to consider.

Now if you are stuck in some remote place and can't access regular developers why not mix up some Caffenol? I kid you not, you can develop film in instant coffee, baking soda and vitamin C!

B&W Developer Choices
  Rodinal / Adonal Xtol Pyrocat-HD  
  Rodinal_DeveloperRodinal_Developer XTOL_DeveloperXTOL_Developer Pyrocat_HD_DeveloperPyrocat_HD_Developer  
Fact sheet Here Here Here  
Price Low Very High Low  
Shelf Life when unmixed

Long (years)

As a powder - long (years)

Unmixed liquids A and B - long (years)  
Shelf Life when mixed One shot - use right away When mixed and in airtight containers - months One shot - use right away  
Toxicity Low Low Medium - use nitrile gloves  
Features Some grain, best with large format Very fine grain, box speed, can be used with 135, 120 and large format Staining developer, can use the same negatives for Ag and Pt printing  
Where to buy Freestyle B&H, Freestyle Photographers' Formulary  



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