The Plank

Simple is, as simple does ...

The Plank has evolved over three different versions, using three different lenses.

The genesis of the project was a Linhof Select 65mm Super Angulon, in a Compur 00 shutter from 1960, which just about covers 4x5. Short lenses are ideal for point and shoot cameras due to their great depth of field, and the fact that the camera can be kept relatively small.

The Plank 4x5 The Plank 4x5 The Plank 4x5 The Plank 4x5
Plank 1.0
Plank 1.1
Plank 1.1.1
Plank 1.0

The second major ingredient was a couple of short planks of American Black Walnut. This was the second camera project to use this material, and I really like its colour, its workability, and its stiffness and strength. It's also quite stable when seasoned, or re-sawn.

The first version was the simplest, with the craziest lens- a simple moulded 50mm biconvex that came out of an old Agfa slide viewer. This focal length was chosen because it matched the shutter position when mounted without a focusing helical, which was to come later. This produced a tiny image circle, with a lot of wildness around the edge, a wildness made worse by the lens being placed in front of the diaphragm, producing a lot of pincushion distortion.

I suppose this version produced pictures like a demented Holga; although it lit up an area close to 4x5, it was most successful using a 6x9 roll film back Adding to the effect was the focusing system- the shutter was mounted on a lens board that could be selectively tilted as well as moved in and out.

This camera had a simple wire frame viewfinder, which was replaced by an optical viewfinder in the next version.

Eventually, the correct cells were put back in the shutter. The focusing system was upgraded using a helical from a Zuiko 50mm; luckily the rear element just fitted. The lens board was carefully shimmed to ensure the correct parallelism and flange focal length, and the focusing scale was recalculated to take account of the slightly longer lens.

This camera is completely usable, it has a great lens. Although it can be used handheld, it does benefit from being set up on a tripod. Super wide angle lenses have their own limitations, you really need to be able to get up close when you're using 4x5, but what some dismiss as 'distortions' do not exist, that's just how the lens projects an image. The effects of the wide projection around the edges of the frame can be emphasised or minimised, according to the intentions of the photographer. I usually prefer to minimise the effects myself.

For the third version, I found another biconvex lens to go in the shutter, from a loupe this time. The focal length had to match the position of the shutter when set up for the 65mm Super Angulon, which turned out to be around 80mm. This had another benefit, it increased the image circle slightly, but it was still very wild. It did produce pictures on 6x9 which had a very distinctive character, but those pictures really are an acquired taste, and many photographers can be dismissive of them. However, using it can be a liberating experience, if you can bring yourself to get over your prejudices...

There was one other addition, a bracket that allows an iphone to be used as a viewfinder. This is actually a very useful addition, and it means that The Plank has finally gone as far as it can in this guise. I'd like to make a new one, from scratch. Maybe using a 90mm, with a collapsing lens mount, and shift...