My wife Susan has been experimenting with both 4×10 and 8×20 Banquet Cameras. She has done some really nice work using these cameras and was wanting to expand the creative possibilities by shooting the cameras in the vertical orientation. She first explored this elongated vertical format by rotating her 4×10 field camera on its tripod head. Not exactly easy to operate the camera in this position, but it did prove to be an interesting format that she wanted to further explore.

Her 4×10 was an off-the-shelf 4×5 wooden field camera with a 4×10 conversion back. The manufacturer offers a conversion back that consisted of the rear focus rack, 4×10 rear frame with associated hardware, ground glass back and bellows. To convert the camera you disconnect the bellows from the front standard, roll the 4×5 back out of the base and then roll the 4×10 rear assembly into place and reattach the bellows to the front standard. Not a bad idea, but it does have some shortcomings. . . read on.

Her first truly vertical 4×10 camera was constructed by modifying the 4×5 back from the standard camera. I removed the 4×5 rear box from the rear mounting hardware and fabricated a 4×10 box to replace it. Since she had a horizontal 4×10, all she had to do to convert to vertical was roll the horizontal 4×10 back out of the bed, then install the vertical back onto the bed focusing track. Then move the ground glass back and bellows to the vertical back. Simple and easy. . . well almost. . .

There were several inherent problems with this system. First, you had to swap the rear standards, move the bellows and ground glass back. Not always easy in the field. Not the best way of getting from horizontal to vertical, but certainly workable.

The biggest problem with this design is the front standard does not have enough rise to place the lens in the center of the back. And in the vertical mode, you almost always need some front rise for framing. This meant tilting the bed upward and then releveling the front and rear standards. It works, but not exactly user friendly.

So, having proved the validity of the vertical format, we set off to explore the options available to design and build a truly vertical banquet camera. Knowing there were no manufacturers that offered such a design, we knew we were looking at a totally custom piece of photographic equipment. Several factors came into play at this point. First the cost of a totally custom camera. Next, the time it would take for delivery. Susan wanted the vertical 4×10 for an upcoming trip. . . and. . . I didn’t mention she also wanted a vertical 8×20!

To meet the deadline we had and to keep our sanity the only logical solution was to build the cameras myself. I am not a master tool and die maker, but I am a half decent machinist. I already had a lathe and vertical mill, but I was sorely lacking in wood working tools. With a little upgrading of the shop with a few new pieces of precision wood working tools, I was ready to start the design.

The basic idea was to design the vertical cameras exactly like the horizontal factory models. The main difference would be the bed of the camera would be the same length as the back, and the front standard would allow for generous front rise. It was just a matter of scaling up some of the parts and then fabricating them. We ordered several mahogany logs, some brass and aluminum stock. I spent some time measuring and drawing the plans, both using AutoCAD and hand sketches. Then the process of fabrication, finishing and assembly began.

The vertical 4×10 was built first. Once the first project was finished and confirmed as valid, the 8×20 project began. Follow the links below to view the photo chronicle of the construction of the vertical 4×10 and 8×20 cameras.

NOTE: Let me warn anyone that thinks this is an easy tinker’s project. IT ISN’T!!! I can assure you it isn’t! I have over thirty years experience as an electrical and mechanical designer. You are not going to build a camera like this with a few hand tools. If you are a serious photographer, you are better off spending your energy making photos. This was something that myself and my wife undertook as part of a larger photographic project. Necessity is the mother of invention. . . and sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. . . Please don’t think this is a simple project you can hack together with little or no experience. You will need serious metal and wood working skills along with the proper tools.

Realize that this is not a how-to article, but more a, where we have been story. I have posted this to our web site at the urging of friends, so others can see what is possible.

Please do not write asking for plans or parts. I have a few CAD drawings, but the majority of the plans are just pencil sketches and in my head. All of the hardware, except for machine screws, woods screws, etc. are custom made. I am not in the machine shop business. . . . and if I were, I would bill labor at $75.00 per hour, two hour minimum, so a single custom knob would cost you $150.00. . . Please; don’t even ask!

Now, having made my disclaimer, here is how it happened. . .