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Built my own 35mm camera

Since moving out to live on the homestead, I've learned how to build a lot of things.  But, this is the first time I ever built my own 35mm film, twin lens reflex (a.k.a. TLR) camera from a bunch of plastic parts.  This was a DIY camera kit, from Fotodiox, which Janice gave me as a Christmas gift this past holiday.

Just a few points about the camera:  as I mentioned above, it is a twin lens reflex camera.  This basically means that, the camera has two lenses, one that projects an image onto the film, and another through which the user views to frame the shot.  The lenses are one on-top of the other, and you look down, into a hooded view finder with a mirror, which allows you to see the scene in front of you.

This particular camera uses 35mm film, which is manually wound between snaps.  Apart from the springs used for the shutter and a number of tiny screws (which holds the camera together) this camera is a plastic, including the lenses.  But, this isn't a bad thing.  The plastic that is used in this kit is pretty good quality; nice and heavy, which ultimately makes a surprisingly sturdy camera.

Along with all of the necessary parts, the kit includes assembly instructions as well as a few tips on taking photographs with this particular camera.

Fotodiox TLR Camera Kit

It took me approximately two hours to put the camera together.  Now that I've done it once, I think that I could build another one in half that time.  The reason that it took longer to do the first time is that there was a bit of deciphering going on, as it appeared to me that the instructions were translated into English from another language.  And with most things when they're translated, sometimes sentences don't make compete sense.

The most complicated (and as a result, time consuming) part of the build was the assembly of the shutter mechanism.  I can't put all the blame on the translation for this part, as the positioning of one of the springs in the mechanism had to be placed in a certain way that I would have had a tough time to put into words if I were writing the manual.  But, with a bit of reverse engineering on my part, I was able to figure it out.  And if I had to do it again, I'd have the shutter assembled in just a few minutes.

Shutter Mechanism Assembled

Obscura assembly and right side.

View finder mirror and rear door

View finder and twin lens housing

What I really enjoyed was seeing how all of these pieces come together to build a camera.  It gave me a better understanding of how a camera actually works to produce a photograph.  As a result of this hands-on approach, I was able to make a small adjustment to the shutter mechanism that provides me a way to take long-exposure photos.  This wasn't something described in the instructions, but, as I was trying to figure out how the mechanism worked, this minor adjustment was easy to implement.

This was a fun project and it sent me back to my model building days, when I was a kid.  Of course, I'm glad that I didn't have to glue anything together this time.

Now that I have the camera built, I'm looking forward to getting out and taking some photos with it.  I'm hoping that, because of it's plastic lens, I'll get photo results similar to my Lomography Lomo'Instant camera, which I really like.


Fotodiox TLR Camera Kit Build Completed



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Alan on :

What a great little gift and project. I think the only camera I've ever made is a little pinhole one (basically a cardboard box with a hole in it) when I was a kid.

I look forward to seeing what sort of results you get.

David on :

Hi, Alan!

Yes, it was a very nice gift and the project took me just long enough not to become tedious. I like to tinker, but don't nearly have as much patience for such things as I used to have. So, this was perfect! ;-)

I'll be sure to post some photos once I take them and get them developed.

Thanks for visiting!

Andrew on :

Hey David! Haven't heard from you in an age. How are things going out there? I trust everything is good and you're looking forward to seeing Spring arrive soon. Love the old-school cameras you've been collecting, especially the one you just built. Have a chance to take/share any photos with it?

David on :

Hello, my friend! So great to hear from you. Yes, it has been a long time. I hope all is well with you and that 2017 has been treating you well.

Yes, we are definitely looking forward to spring. The snow geese have started to arrive, on their migrations north. So, it must be not too far away (although you could never tell by the weather we've had this past weekend). Temps are supposed to get in to the double plus digits by mid-week. We hope they're right!

The cameras have been a fun and inexpensive hobby for the winter months. I do have a few photos to share, which I took with my DIY camera. They can be found here:

Andrew, please, if you have time, send me an email and let me know what you've been up to.

All the best,

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