Travelwide - new ultralight 5x4 cameras!

02nd April 2013
In: Gear, News, Blog
I thought this was a worthy cause to bring to everyone's attention.

A couple of guys in the US are trying to bring to market a pair of ultralightweight 5x4 cameras, one built for a 90mm Angulon with helical focus, and one fixed focus for a Super Angulon 65mm f/8. They're going to sell for $99, which in real money is about £60-70 depending on the exchange rate. Interested yet?

I think this is a great endeavour for two reasons. One, its a way into large format for what is, relatively speaking, a pittance. 90mm Angulons are readily available on the second hand market for not much more than a working shutter costs, after that all you need to add is a film holder, cable release, and you're away. Also, since 4x5 is so big its much easier to scan to give a decent result with just a consumer flatbed scanner. And of course there's also the appeal of a light 5x4 camera to carry around and use as a point-and-shoot. This isn't what I'd use it for but the way I see it, the more people we can get using large format film the better for everyone.

Secondly, my other reason for liking it; these cameras are light, I mean really light. I think of my Chamonix or Ebony as being lightweight weighing in at a mere 1.5kg, before you add any lenses or film. But these new Travelwide cameras are looking like they'll weigh in at about 600g including the lens and film holder. What this lightness, and not to mention durability, means is these could turn out to be great cameras for landscape use in the mountains, without the worry of a fragile wooden camera in your bag, or bellows to blow around in the wind.

From what I've read on the forums and Twitter, the 90mm helicoid will have enough travel to accommodate most other 90mm f/8 or f/6.8 lenses such as Super Angulons, Grandagons, Nikkors and Fujis. It'll probably work with some 100mm lenses too. The 65mm camera is fixed at about 70mm which should give infinity focus with most modern 65mm lenses, and possibly the Super Angulon 58mm XL too. So that's a lot of versatility for not much cheddar. The back system looks to be built for normal double-dark film holders, but indications are that unscrewing the spring may allow use of thicker holders such as a Grafmatic or 6x12 back if you're prepared to hold them in place with thick rubberbands or bungees, and so further increasing the utility of the camera.

Now I've owned both the intended lenses for these cameras, the 90mm Angulon and the 65mm f/8 Super Angulon - maybe I should have kept hold of them? The 65mm is a nightmare to compose with on a ground glass as its so dark, but its sharp, has ample depth of field. Both of these lenses only just cover 5x4 so in reality are poor choices as general purpose lenses on proper field cameras, but that makes them the ideal lenses for these fixed-body cameras. And what's more they are both sharp, there's no worries there.

For anyone new to 5x4" film, in addition to a camera and a lens and a filmholder/s, you would also need the following to get you started on the cheap:
  • A changing bag or a totally dark room to load the film. An interior toilet or bathroom with the lights off is traditional.
  • A box of film. Colour slide or negative film is best sent to a lab for processing (I suggest Peak Imaging in Sheffield) unless you know what you're doing and have the correct kit. Best option for novices is a box of Ilford black & white FP4+ or HP5+ as its relatively cheap and forgiving of exposure or processing errors, yet very high quality.
  • To process yourself you can get away with three trays, a bottle of any black & white developer, and some fixer. Use your darkened bathroom to develop it. A pair of rubber gloves and some small bulldog clips to hang the film to dry is beneficial. There are also various tank/drum processing systems for those who prefer to do it with the lights on.
  • Developed film is best stored in some type of storage sleeves/album pages.

Now presuming you will want to view or print your images, 5x4 film is easily scanned on many cheap consumer flatbed scanners. Or alternatively it can be enlarged if you know anyone with a 5x4 enlarger, you can contact print them onto photo paper (google that!) or you can actually stick your film against a lightsource, such as a lightbox, and take a photo of the film with a digital camera and invert the negative image on the computer.

Anyway, I hope that anyone reading this will support these guys, so have a look on their Kickstarter page. They need to raise $75K in the next month - its a tall order but one that I hope all large format shooters get behind.

EDIT: Since posting this original item the guys behind this have made it clear that they will be including a precision etched pinhole with each camera so anyone without a lens can still make images straight away, and also a perspex ground glass for composition and checking focus. This seems like a great idea. The Ilford/Walker pinhole camera which came out recently is a similar idea to the Travelwide, although it is more expensive and doesn't accept a lens, so the Travelwide looks like even more of a good deal when you factor in the pinhole, and the lighter weight, and the three hotshoes, and the strap lugs, and the viewfinder........ Nice work guys.

EDIT:In a remarkable 11 days the project has now been fully funded on Kickstarter, over $78k pledged as I write this. Its great to see the large format community worldwide get behind this project, and hopefully it will have attracted a few new sheetfilm users to, which can only be a good thing. I thought they would reach the magic figure of $75k but I honestly thought it would take all 30 days. I will review both the 90mm and 65mm models when they arrive on our shores hopefully later this year. Keep watching.


Photo comment By blake: interesting sure.thanks
Photo comment By Ioanna Sakellaraki: Hi, tried to find this camera online and buy it but is impossible to find it. Is it still on sale somewhere? Thanks for your help Ioanna

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