It’s been a busy couple of years as far as analogue photography and Kickstarter are concerned.
Several products have made the jump from brainwave to real-life; Sam Cornwell’s Solarcan, which takes long-exposure photographs on photographic paper; the FilmLab scanner that turns a smartphone into a film scanner; the Lab-Box daylight development tank; and the Reflex SLR, the first newly designed 35mm SLR since the Voigtlander Bessaflex of the early 2000s.
As Kosmo Foto writes this, another project has just met its funding target after only a few hours – the Chroma, an acrylic large-format camera designed and made by Steve Lloyd of Everyday Photographics.
But there’s another project due to finish in a few days that has also met its funding target, backed by more than 200 people so far. This is the NuBox 1, a 120-format box camera made by Virginia-based Robert Hamm, the founder of Hamm Camera.
The NuBox 1 is inspired by the classic Kodak Brownie of the early 20th Century, the camera that did more than any other to turn photography into a democratic art form. They were simplicity itself, often being focus-free, having only one or two shutter speeds and a limited range of apertures.
But Box Brownies were built in their millions until the middle of the 20th Century, eventually being replaced by more sophisticated cameras with more features, viewfinders and detachable lenses. But by then had arguably captured more of the ‘People’s Century’ than any other camera.
So it’s intriguing that more than a 100 years after the Box Brownie’s heyday, Hamm is brining out a similar-looking model in the era of mega-pixel iPhones and DSLRs with face recognition.
As the project nears the end of its crowd-funding run (if you want to grab one of these for the Kickstarter price of $79 (£57) you have until 14 February) Kosmo Foto spoke to Hamm about why he chose this veteran style of camera and his plans for the future.
Where did the inspiration to build this come from?
It all started at grandmother’s house. About a year ago. I went home for a visit and started talking about film and cameras, you know how it goes. Grandmother was listening patiently and decided to ask me if I was developing my own film. Of course I indulged her with my expertise and went on for a spell. Then she produced an old 127 box camera from the shelf, opened it up, and asked if I could developed the 70-year-old roll of film inside. Surprised I said, “No, its too old and needs an expert.” She just looked at me and said, “I thought you were supposed to be the expert!”
Oh boy, did we have a laugh. However, it was at the moment I looked down through the ground glass viewfinder and saw my grandmother’s face that I knew I had to do this. It was divine inspiration at its best.
Had you used box cameras before?
No. I seemed to prefer 35mm cameras at the time – Minolta Hi-Matics and especially my beloved Olympus 35mm series. I LOVE those cameras. The box camera was never on my radar. Of course I understood its history and impact on photography, but I was never moved to photograph with one.
Talk Kosmo Foto through the camera’s special features.
We brought the box back, but it’s not just a copy of a box camera from days past. Our design is new, That’s why we call it NuBox, because it’s a modern design inspired from the original article.
I wanted to really push the envelope of what people expect form a box camera. So I decided to include features that no other box camera had. Features like 1/200 of a second shutter, wide aperture selection from f5.6 to f32 were obvious upgrade paths. I figured it out, but wanted more.
Then it hit me – the standout innovation for NuBox is the ability to change lenses! You heard that right. NuBox ships with a standard field of view lens-cartridge. We have plans for a wide-angle and telephoto lens cartridge to follow shortly. The former will be available in June 2018. This means that when the user changes their film they can also change their field of view, like with an SLR, except that the user will only be able to change lenses when they change film because the lens is built into the film cartridge. We are really excited about this.
Is this the first box camera with a 1/200 speed?
This is the first box camera with an official shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. Other then people in the Maker and Modifier community, we are the first to add this to a box camera. The reason is simple: most box camera lenses and apertures are very small. The user needs a slow shutter speed to compensate for a relatively dark aperture. We used much larger lenses and apertures in NuBox. This means that our shutter can be faster because we can use apertures that let in more light. The benefit is two-fold: on the one hand we reduce motion blur because of the faster shutter speed, on the other hand we allow for more dramatic bokeh effects because of wider apertures. It’s a complete win-win!
How have you solved lens vignetting?
The reason older box cameras suffered from vignetting is because of the diameter of the lens. The lenses were often too small. For example, most medium format box cameras use a lens diameter of about 14mm or less – our lenses are much larger in diameter, 7mm or more to get specific. This means that our lenses can create an image circle much larger than necessary to properly expose the film from corner to corner. Properly exposed film from corner to corner means no vignetting. Simple as that.
How big will your assembly line be?
Our production process is a hybrid three-dimensional fabrication line using stereolithography and fused filament extrusion technologies. Because we own the designs, and because I personally designed each part in computer-assisted drafting software, I can easily send the models to the printers for production. In this way our production line can scale with demand. Our initial capability is about 500 cameras per month. From production, printing, finishing, packaging, and shipping; it all happens in the same building.
How long will it take to assemble a finished camera?
The prototyped took a total of three days to produce. However, on a production line, we will focus on batch processing each part and then assembling the cameras at an assembly station, sending them to finishing, and then installing the optics before we quality check the cameras for packaging and shipping. This process means we can create a camera from finished parts in just a few minutes. Remember, we designed these cameras to be reference hardware for the Maker generation of photographer. In this vein, they are not difficult for a user to repair, take apart, or modify. This means they are not difficult to assemble either.
How have you been able to build an assembly with such wide apertures?
Aperture is simply the result of focal length divided by iris diameter. For example, many people are familiar with a 50mm lens. Let’s say the aperture is f2. What does f2 really tell us? Most people would say it’s a measure of light gathering capability. While that’s true, it’s not the whole story. F2 is a ratio of focal length to Iris diameter. F2 actually tells us how wide the aperture is. In this case the ratio is f= 50/2, therefore f=25. A 50mm f2 lens has an iris at its widest diameter at 25mm.
So, how did we get f5.6? We took our focal length of 95mm, divided it by 5.6, and realized that we needed our widest aperture to be 17mm in diameter. That’s it. So, every one of our shutter blocks contains an aperture of 17mm and each of our shutter rotors has an aperture of 17mm. Want to shoot at f5.6 on NuBox 1? Just pull the aperture stick all the way out. Voila – f5.6.
Who is the camera aimed at?
Nu Box 1 is aimed squarely at the new photographer. Its simple design makes it a great camera from the first time film shooter. We didn’t stop there. We added features that the savvy photographer would love as well. That’s where the faster shutter and wider apertures come into play the most.
We expect that the simplicity of compose, shoot, and repeat to be attractive to people that are looking for a casual and fun experience. At f16 and higher, NuBox 1 performs much like any other box camera. The focus is about six feet to infinity. Just point and shoot. It’ll come out great.
The savvy photographer will enjoy the challenge of photographing at f5.6-11. With these wider apertures, the depth of field should be measured with a laser tape measure. At these apertures the depth of field becomes very shallow, about a third-of-a-metre deep at f5.6. Therefore, knowing where the depth of field starts and ends will be important in composing portraiture. This challenge is rewarded by rendering beautiful bokeh and produced perfectly round out of focus highlights.
Is this the start of a family of cameras?
Without a doubt. Nu Box is a line of cameras in three formats. NuBox 1, NuBox 35, and NuBox Instant. This nomenclature denotes the film format used with the exception of NuBox 1. NuBox 1 is our launch model. It uses 120 roll film. After the launch on Kickstarter concludes, the NuBox 1 name will be retired for the retail name, NuBox 120. Those that back the box now on Kickstarter are the only people in the world that will have a NuBox 1. It’s an exclusive club of about 200 members right now.
What has the response been so far?
It’s been great. The film community has been on fire about NuBox 1. We have been featured on some of the most prestigious photography blogs and podcasts out there. Our idea is so innovative and exciting that Mint Camera, creators of the TL70, hosted a one-hour live stream on their Facebook page to help build awareness of NuBox and Hamm Camera. It’s been an exciting ride.
That being said, my numbers show that our market saturation only hit about 35-40,000 people. That’s a small number when you consider the film community as a whole, but even with this we managed to raise over $20,000 in capital from backers with an average pledge of $96. That’s pretty amazing. We expect to see very rapid growth as we continue to develop our current platforms, seek out distribution partnerships, and shipping NuBox 1 to our backers and developer preview team.
* Follow @RobHammPhoto on Twitter for more updates.