Have you ever taken a look at Ansel Adams' photographs and thought, "I wish I could do that!"

And then you may even wonder how it is possible that Ansel Adams could take such great pictures with his "predeluvial" technology, while no matter how hard you try with your latest and greatest camera with all the bells and whistles, you cannot come even close.

Finally, you start asking the right question: "To latest and greatest, or not to latest and greatest? Whether 'tis nobler to point and shoot or to adjust the bellows. To point and shoot, perchance to die! Aye, there's the rub!"

And then it dawns on you. The latest is not the greatest. Why, is Windows greater than Unix? It's simpler to use, all right, but you can't finetune it. For that, you need Unix.

Remember, camera manufacturers are not in the business of making cameras. They're in the business of making money. It is much easier to make money with millions of easy-to-use point and shoot cameras than with a few that can take great photographs but require the photographer to think.

The easy-to-use cameras use small film (35 mm). They have sturdy bodies which means the film is always parallel to the lens. It has autofocus and autoexposure. And it takes ugly pictures which are either blurry or way too sharp, over- or underexposed, without proper perspective, etc.

The cameras Ansel Adams and his contemporaries used were quite different. For one, they were big. You certainly could not carry them in your pocket. They used large film: 4x5 to 8x10 inch large sheets of film (not rolls). The advantages of large film are the same as those of a 1-Gig bitmap as opposed to a 1-Meg bitmap: They store a lot more information, lot more detail.

To make an 8x10 inch print from an 8x10 inch negative, you just place the film on the photographic paper, place a glass plate over it (to keep it flat) and expose it to light.

To make an 8x10 inch print from a 35 mm negative, you use a magnifier and pray. You are magnifying not just the image but the grain. Essentially, you are decompressing an image stored with very lossy compression.

The rest is the same: You still need to use chemicals to make the image visible and fixed.

Secondly, their cameras were not sturdy boxes. They consisted of two movable planes connected with a flexible bellows. The front plane had the lens, the back plane had a glass plate used for focusing. To take the picture, the photographer adjusted the distance between the plates and their angle. He then closed the shutter, put the film sheet at the back plane, and released the shutter (and closed it at the proper time).

Certainly much more work than with a point and shoot cameras, but these people were not taking snapshots, they were taking photographs. Big difference!

Now, mind you, I'm not suggesting to turn the clock back. Most people don't care about the fine details of classical photography. For them, point and shoot cameras are great.

But some of us, call us photogeeks, love tinkering with our cameras. We like to have complete control over what we do when we photograph.

Nor am I saying noone manufactures view cameras anymore. But since photogeeks are an exception rather than the rule, these cameras are very, very expensive. Thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars. And just because you're a photogeek does not mean you can print your own money on photopaper.

The beauty of being a geek is that you can do your own things. The beauty of the view camera is its simplicity.

Not only can you make your own camera, you can do it for a little money and use it for professional quality pictures.

For the record, I have not made my own camera yet. The idea just appeared to me yesterday. I searched the web and found two places that can get you started. If you want to build a view camera from scratch, see http://www.srv.net/~vail/index.html for complete plans. Estimated cost for an 8x10 camera: $150-$300.

Unfortunately, I can build computers but am not good at woodworking. For people like me, Bender Photographic makes camera kits. They have a 4x5 kit, an 8x10 kit, even a pinhole camera kit. These kits will let you make wooden cameras, but the wood is all properly precut. The kits contain everything you need to build the camera, except the lens which you will need to get separately (except, of course, for the pinhole camera which does not use a lens). You'll need your own tools and glue.

They have a web site at http://www.benderphoto.com/. Their 4x5 kit costs $279.50 as of this writing (2000-08-10). I'm starting to save my pennies now.

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