Polaroid 195 Procam with Xenotar 100mm f/2.8 Lens Conversion/Rangefinder Mount
Welp, I can finally after all this time call this project complete. Sorry to everybody for the wait and even more so my apologies go out to the customer for the wait. What began as a back set project when it arrived turned into a three+ month fiasco not do to the camera built itself but all the other meetings, doctors appt., lawyers, SSD hearing, death in the family and a multitude of random other issues that set back the progress of the camera build. All in all I began to think I was never going to find enough time to get it completed in a reasonable time frame. And after certain problems keep arriving with issues of the camera itself I began doubting if this could be done all together.
It proved to be a much more challenging task then I had first thought it would be. So I figured I'd do a full write up on some of the process I went through, some of the obstacles that I faced making it a challenge and over all how I feel about the build in it's self and how ultimately feel about whether or not the cost, time and machining involved was worth the effort in the long run.
So I guess for starters I really wasn't looking for a new project at the time. When Alex was hunting around for somebody to that could tell him the conversion could be done I was in the mist of customizing a Speed Graphic 4x5 for a local Large Format'er-
and just happened to run across Alex's post on the facebooks. I noticed he seemed to be having troubles finding anybody that would take on the project and so I wanted to just drop in and give my two cents and suggestions, little did I know that would eventually run it's self into a new job on my already full plate. I guess I saw it as a challenge, something I'd never quite done before(mount a rangefinder on a non-rangefinder body),plus he wanted it done up and given some flare, right up my alley I suppose. We got together, discussed his vision, went hunting for a lens(the super shmexy 100mm 2.8 Xenotar!) and made a plan. A few weeks later it arrived
And to my surprise I was amazed and the stark deference's between original Polaroid pack cameras and the quality of the Japanese versions. I had known from pictures on the webs but I guess to see one in person and get to poke my screw driver around was more than I'd expected. While at this time I still wasn't 100% certain I had the brain power to make his dream a reality, lol; I kept doing as much research as I could find and hoping I could run into a similar project. While I could run into a mass amount of lens conversions out there I however I couldn't find anything out there about a rangefinder adaption. I found one attempt but they had given up in the end. Thanks to everybody that sent me the following pictures to study, they did prove to be very useful throughout the process.
I hunted down a business, out of Japan I believe; that appears to be offering the high end lens convert/rangefinder calibration service for around a $1000.00+ depending on options(wood accents/grips). A little high for my tastes and thought to myself there can't be that much work involved for a higher end lens(i.e. f/4.5 - f/2.8 lens) to be mounted to one of these bodies to justify the cost since the service is a "send your own lens and body" service. In the end I did come to figure out why they might be charging so much for the service and I'll go more in depth on that in a minute. I had heard rumors over the years that the original Japan company that made these cameras had offered a service to mount a rangefinder on the non-rangefinder models so I figured how hard could it be right? It seemed from the way it was designed this wouldn't be an enormous problem to find a way, that would prove to eventually be a lot harder to get to the final modification then I had previously believed. But lets go back to the beginning and work through. After studying all the pictures and the post about the failed attempt I began to brake the camera down,
take all the measurements needed and plot out a coarse to get everything in place. I needed to come up with a way to do the most important step and that's if your going to slap a new lens on it then you have to place the new one at infinity.
Since the design allows you to brake down the entire chassis, scissors, and front standard, unlike original pola pack cameras. I decided I wanted to get the focus arm as close to focus range as possible as to allow for as much proper movement of the focus arm as possible, in hopes this would allow for the focus/cam lens of the rangefinder to move throughout the length of the lenses curve to hopefully match it as much as possible(I'll go into what that means in a little more detail later).
Once that was set to where I needed it to be it was time to set the front standard to take the rest of the length needed to get it set in infinity. Now this is where it got weird. I'd gone into all the measurements and milled out what needed to be and bam, there it was in what appeared to be perfect focus! Erica moment right!? Yeah that's what I thought too. So with that supposedly in place I began moving forward to get the rangefinder mounted, and while this proved to be an insanely difficult task I finally managed to get it mounted with proper alignment and was super excited as all I would have had left was to make it pretty and get the rangefinder calibrated.
So with that said I began working on the grip out of Paduak hardwood, getting it carved out to the right shape I was looking for.
Then onto milling out the mount for it and getting the finger divots also to I could begin working it into a beautiful finish.
Now that that was ready it was time to get the accent on the front standard with some more Padauk veneer.
And wallah, I was excited to be nearing the clear. So I slapped it all back together with it's new look to begin getting the rangefinder calibrated to match the new lens and settings. Put it in the studio area and snapped a couple quick shots for a sneak peek and mounted it on the tripod to begin.
Now calibrating rangefinders is no easy task to begin with, so it's kind of a dreaded task for anybody I've ever talked to about it and I'm no exception to that rule, lol. But once I began, something just seemed off. The infinity was off, what! How?! I had already taken care of all that and so off the tripod it went and back to the table to figure out what was going wrong, what was I missing? Still to this day I have no idea what actually happened, it was perfect and then it wasn't. And that's all I've figured out. So the only thing to do was to tear part of it back down and measure again. I find it's 0.71mm's off. Still baffled, I decide to try and think it through, maybe I was just missing something. By this time other things going on in my life had already began ensuing a hectic daily ongoing chaos of things to deal with and my health was beginning to suffer and head quickly down the tube. I should have stopped right there and let everything settle down. So without thinking it all the way through I taped up the front lens plate, slapped it on the mill and began to mill down the missing 0.71mm's. When I was finished I not only had successfully milled what was needed but I had busted up all the finished veneer as well. Yippy!! Lol.
So now I had to cut out and finish a whole new front end, not cool Chris.
Well, so it's all back together and ready for the tripod again. Whew, no more booboo's after that. So now all I needed to do was wait for the weather to let up and off to the tripod we go. But calibrating the rangefinder is among the more difficult tasks to complete. The problem with all lens swaps on these is not getting a "cam" to match the lens's characteristic curve but more of trying to get two entirely different lens curves to match each other. And this is why the current lens conversion-ist will tell you that they can't be matched and that you'll need to chose whether or not you want it to focus close-up or far away and to f/stop down when out of a certain range. Truth is it's not impossible to match a lens but more then likely not it won't be the lens you were hoping for, as in this case. Even though I got it extremely close it's still not perfect.
So what you see circled above is where all the problem with lens conversions lay. What you see here is the intake lens(front) and the "cam" lens(rear). You see, in order to actualy get your new lens mounted and perfectly calibrated to the rangefinder you would need to redesign and cut a brand new "cam" lens to match the new lens and I suspect you might possibly need to redesign these two lenses as well in order to match the new "cam" lens.
But since I have no expertise in designing and building lenses I really can't offer such a thing to help get lens conversions to focus as they were intended to be, I wish I did but so far I haven't and I think i'd rather leave that to those that do know how, lol.
All in all I have logged in around 167+ hours in camera build, but mostly in calibration. I rebuilt the cam link three times and different lengths in hopes to find a workable curve to be able to find the closest match to the rangefinders lens cam curve. And after days of crappy weather, sweat breaking hot days, and a whole lot of cussing I believe I found the best "sweet spot" where both curves are at their optimal match. And while it wasn't an exact match like i'd hoped to achieve it is however something I'd now be proud to own and have in my collection, in fact I'll kind of be sad to see it leave. It truly is a beauty, and that lens on such a light-weight body is just amazingly nice. And I got to say I'm a little jealous.
My true over all thoughts on the whole project, well I'm a little on the fence about it. While it's amazingly nice to have a wonderful lens such as the Xenotar mounted to a light chassis such as this the amount of time and work involved to convert it, the overall cost involved to end up with a body that can't focus to it's optimal focus range has me a bit put back about it. There were a few other ways I could have approached the build and in fact I do however wish I would have designed and CNC'd the front standard. In that I would have been able to easily build another quickly in the case of somebody else wanting the same thing do with the same lens and then the 3d rendering could have been modified for other lenses easily. But that's just something for me to think about down the road for future reference I guess. All in all it's a beautiful build and like I said I was able to find what I believe to be the "sweet spot" and the focusing is pretty right on the money with only a small area towards the infinity mark being needed to be f/stopped down, but mostly at that range you'll be able to judge it accordingly over a small amount of time after you've gotten used to the way it focuses. It only took me a few frames to dial the focusing in with no out of focus shots. And like I mentioned before it's ease of use, look and overall function has made me wish I could just keep it and put it into my own collection, Hahaha. I'm certain the customer will be excited to take it out for a spin and in that right it makes it all worth it for me in the long run. Who knows, truth is I might be a little bias due to I've been shooting with the Evo for a few years now but per say if i'd never had gone into the Evo project then who knows, I might have been thoroughly estacic about the finished product. Hahaha, who's to say.