The Forth Bridge. It’s where I take any newly aquired photo kit to try out. The Intrepid Camera was no exception. Since backing the project at the end of 2014 I’ve acquired a couple of lenses to use with it and in the past few weeks I’ve been preparing dry glass plates to expose in it. Until the camera arrived I really had little idea of how these would all work together.
So my early morning outing to Queensferry was for more than just checking over my new Intrepid. My two large format lenses, a Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm f/5.6 in a Copal shutter and a Schneider Kreuznach G-Claron 240mm f/9 in a Compur shutter had both been won on eBay auctions since I made my pledge to back the Intrepid project. This would be my first opportunity to check out their operation in situ and the fields of view they offered. My other eBay win that I wanted to check out was one of a job lot of very old and worn plate holders. I had these loaded with glass plates that I have cut, prepared and coated myself with Silverprint SE1 emulsion. Finally, having used Harman Direct Positive paper for years in large format pinhole cameras I was keen to compare a lensed image with one created with the pinhole lensboard supplied with my Intrepid.
The Intrepid Camera
For a large format camera The Intrepid is very light and compact. Made from birch plywood with anodised aluminium components it weighs just 1155g with folded dimensions of 215 x 180 x 83 mm. It is hand made and available to order from The Intrepid Camera Co. with a choice of red, blue, green or black bellows but be prepared to wait as there will almost certainly be a queue!
Setting up was a quite straightforward process. Of course I’d viewed the very good ‘How to’ videos and tutorials on the Intrepid website so I had the sequence in my mind: Set up the base on a tripod, raise the back, secure the back supports, position and secure the front standard, position and secure the front. Simple. The tripod mounting felt secure but I do have reservations about just how secure. The threaded bush is set behind a securing plate. When I attached my Manfrotto quick-release plate it took barely one and a half turns of the thread to tighten. I’d be more comfortable with at least another full turn.
Once set up a lens can be attached. Lens and shutter assemblies need to be mounted in a Linhof Technika type lensboard. When looking for lenses I initially found the realationship between lens, shutter and lensboard quite confusing. The lens fits in to a shutter of a particular size and the aperture diameter of the lensboard needs to match the size of shutter and be of the mounting type to fit the camera. Once I got these four variables straight, buying lenses became much easier! Attaching the lens is just a matter of sliding up the top catch, locating the lensboard in the bottom catch and sliding the top catch back down to hold it in place. The front of the camera is adjusted for rise and fall by loosening off a small locating screw then the two larger adjustment knobs. There are notches in the slots to reposition the front centrally. The locating screw only locates to hold the front in place when it is in this ‘home’ position so tilt adjustments rely entirely on the tightness of the larger knobs. The locating screw is short and fairly loose fitting in its thread. I felt it would be easy for it to fall out and be lost when not locating the front in the ‘home’ position.
For swing or side movements the front standard is moved. There is a small locating screw which fits into a countersunk thread inserted in the base when the larger central adjustment knob is located in its ‘home’ notch. On my camera I found that the locating screw rubs and jams against the inside of the upright of the front standard. I also found that when it and the adjustment knob are located, the front standard is very slightly out of alignment with the baseboard, giving a swing of about 1º to the right. As the locating screw seems to serve no other purpose than to secure the front standard in the centred ‘home’ position, I opted not to locate it at all but I suspect a greater degree of precision was intended for this part. The front standard can be secured by the adjustment knob alone although it might be better if some sort of friction material was added to the base of the front standard to give some grip.
At the back of the camera is the focussing screen assembly which can be rotated for landscape or portrait orientation. The Intrepid’s design team were proud of this part when it was first produced and rightly so. It works very well. Rotation is simple, it slots into position and is held firmly by four magnets. The focussing screen on my camera is one which the team designed and made in house and gives a very clear bright image. Focussing is by a ratchet mechanism in the base, controlled by a knob on the right of the base and a corresponding locking knob on the left. It looks like the focus movement will be a bit rough but in fact it all works very smoothly. The focussing screen is held in place by bungee cords that allow the screen to be held open for the insertion of either film or plate holders. I used both and had no problems with either. They slot securely in place but care has to be taken not to accidentally move the camera. The back is fitted with Graflok type fittings which permit replacing the focussing screen with alternative backs such as for Polaroid or Medium Format film.
When I was packing up I noticed when folding down the back that one of the allen bolts securing the back to the base plate and around which the back folds, had worked loose. It’s easy to see how this can happen and simple enough to tighten up by hand but perhaps I need to invest in an allen key to keep in my kitbag.
While I’ve listed one or two niggles, they are mostly minor and do not spoil what really is a very good camera. I found it very easy to set up and use. The focussing screen, when used in conjunction with a dark cloth, is bright and clear and the focussing mechanism is smooth and sufficiently precise to more than satisfy my expectations. Film holders were located firmly and securely. As an affordable entry into the world of large format photography The Intrepid succeeds in every respect.
It’s one thing messing about with a piece of hardware but I went out to make pictures too! My go-to place when trying out new kit is Queensferry and the Forth Bridge. As a long-time pinholer I am quite accustomed to setting up a camera without having reference to a viewfinder and together with the familiar location I had no difficulty locating my viewpoint for the images I wanted to take. But for a photographer used to choosing a spot by looking through the viewfinder, a large format camera will prove a challenge and quite awkward if the camera has to be set up and then moved around as the scene is viewed under a dark cloth to find the right viewpoint. Taking time to walk around imagining the scene to be photographed, will pay dividends in time spent setting up the camera!
I intended to make just four exposures, all from the same viewpoint: On Harman Direct Positive paper I wanted one exposure with the Intrepid’s 140mm f/280 pinhole lensboard and a comparitive one with my Sironar-N 150mm lens. Then on the glass plates that I have been preparing over the past few weeks with hand-poured Silverprint SE1 emulsion I wanted to make one exposures with my Sironar-N 150mm lens and one with my G-Claron 240mm lens to give a comparison of the field of view of each lens. I would also have comparitive images of Direct Positive paper and SE1 emulsion taken with the 150mm lens.
For these exposures I rated both the Direct Positive paper and the SE1 emulsion at ISO 3. The light was fairly flat and constant over most of the shoot but brightened a little towards the end. For consistency I should really have adjusted the final exposure by a half stop to account for the changing conditions, but didn’t. Now that I see the images I was probably underexposing by half to one stop anyway!