DIY 35mm Panoramic Camera - First Updates

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my DaYi 617 for the 6+ months I’ve had it. I love composing in the panoramic aspect ratio, and I love the enormous negatives it produces. However, it has its drawbacks - it’s big, heavy, and essentially impossible to handhold. The past few months I’ve found myself daydreaming after a similar camera, but one that I could actually take with me on a regular basis.

Naturally, I, like just about everyone else, found myself hankering after an XPan. However, I don’t have the 2-3 thousand dollars lying around to drop on such an object of beauty. I had also been toying with the notion of building a camera myself, so these to ideas seemed like a great new project, now that the weather here in Seattle isn’t quite as conducive to outdoor activities.

I decided upon the following specification: I wanted the camera to expose 35mm film at a 3:1 aspect ratio, producing 24x72mm negatives, more than twice as wide as a standard 35mm negative. I also wanted the camera to expose the sprocket holes, which, if don't crop them off, give me that extra hip aesthetic. I purchased a 65mm large format lens from eBay, which has a leaf shutter and aperture built in, meaning that I only needed to construct the body of the camera to hold the lens at the appropriate distance (with adjustments for focus) and to move the film across some sort of pressure plate to keep the film as flat as possible.

 The very first version of the camera, cobbled together late at night out of foam-core.

The very first version of the camera, cobbled together late at night out of foam-core.

After disassembling a $1.99 35mm point and shoot from Goodwill, I started out by cutting foam-core posterboard with an xacto knife to get a feel for dimensions, then switched over to a CAD application (with guidance from Adam) where I designed a first prototype, laser-cutting the parts out of 1/8 inch plywood. I built a takeup reel and rewind knob to interface with the film canister out of some chopped up nylon washers and dowels.

 Laser-cut parts for the 3rd version of the camera, dry-fit and ready to be glued and clamped.

Laser-cut parts for the 3rd version of the camera, dry-fit and ready to be glued and clamped.

I then tweaked the dimensions a bit and built a second prototype, which held the roll of film firmly but not too tight. I felt like it was now time to try out the camera's light-tightness, so I made a very simple pinhole lens, painted the interior matte black, and built a simple light seal around the back with two interlocking pieces of plywood and some black yarn.

I loaded a roll of T-max 400 and taped over the seam of the back plate with masking tape for good measure. Having measured the diameter of the pinhole using my scanner (~600 µm) and distance from hole to film (24mm), I was able to calculate the f-number of the optical system, f/40. I then could get a decent estimate of exposure using the light meter Becca got me for my birthday (thanks Becca!). I knew that the pinhole I had made was larger than the optimal diameter, but the primary goal of this prototype was to evaluate the camera body, and I could worry about sharpness once I'd attached the real lens.

I wandered around UW's campus at lunch time, taking a few photos – I was able to get 9 frames out of a "24 exposure" roll of film, 1 more than I had guessed. I then came home, eager to develop my film and see how things worked!

 The first roll of film on my light table. Notice the light leaks and fogging visible between frames.

The first roll of film on my light table. Notice the light leaks and fogging visible between frames.

I pulled the roll out of the developing tank and immediately could make out discrete frames, so I knew it wasn't a total failure! As expected, the images were quite soft (appearing out of focus) due to the larger-than-ideal aperture, but they were absolutely recognizable. More unfortunately, there were pretty significant light leaks evident on the film, especially evident as fogging of the film in the areas of the roll that were between the canister and take-up reel when the camera was outside in direct sunlight. Here are a few scans. 

All in all, however, I was very pleased with the performance of the first prototype. Today, I designed a new, larger door with a large rim that will fit entirely around the body of the camera, and I will line the seals with black felt and craft foam – hopefully this will take care of the light leaks once and for all. More updates soon!


Best of Summer '18

As is now somewhat of a tradition, I’m back to post my favorite photos from the summer, and some statistics, as well. What a summer it was, with an extra month of fun, thanks to UW’s classes not starting until the end of September. Becca and I made good use of our time off, starting odd with a road trip back to the west coast from Ithaca. We then spent a month in Europe, visiting Spain, France, Iceland, England, and Scotland, before settling into the Pacific Northwest from plenty of time climbing and camping. Other highlights include my successful summits of 13 additional Bulger Peaks, putting me at 76/100 - starting to feel like the end is achievable!

Here are some numbers:

  • Total Photos Taken: 10,064 - 83 a day!

  • Miles Driven: 14,920

  • Miles Flown: 20687

  • Miles Hiked: 347.15

  • Vertical Feet Climbed: 125,665

  • Nights Camping: 50

  • Summits Summited: 28

Of those 10,000+ photos, here are my 30 favorite! Captions should include information about location, and for photos taken on my latest toy, a large format panoramic film camera, the film and exposure information.


Patience and Flexibility: Galapagos Wildlife

Over winter break, my family travelled to the Galapagos for 10 days, an experience we were all incredibly lucky to have. While the landscapes of the archipelago are stunning, I think it's fair to say that the biggest draw of the Galapagos is the unique wildlife. Of course, I was excited to photograph the birds and other incredible animals that we were going to see.

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Best of Summer '17

This summer was an especially wild one, filled with perhaps even more adventures than in previous years. The most notable of these adventures wasn't even photography related – I spent three weeks in Tanzania leading field work for a computer science study on user interfaces for mobile phone applications in rural Africa. Of course, this trip was far from devoid of photographic opportunities, the highlight of which was a three-day ascent of Mount Meru, a 15,000 foot volcano that's the second highest summit in the country.

My time back in the states was no less busy than in the past, with ascents every weekend of 100 highest peaks, and numerous midweek trips to alpine locations – a typical weekday would see me leaving work and driving straight into the mountains for sunset, staying up for astrophotography, catching a few hours of sleep, and then waking up for sunrise before hiking back to my car and driving straight to work, often taking a conference call with Tanzania on the road.

My summer was bookended by drives to and from Seattle, the former including a weeklong stop in Utah for a backpacking, joined by Adam and Dan, who flew in from opposite sides of the country to join me. I was delighted by some wonderful company on many of my trips, not only Adam and Dan, but also Margaret and Leah on a great trip to Tipsoo Lake, and Becca, who came up from the Bay Area for a long (and spectacular) weekend of peak-bagging in North Cascades National Park.

August proved a bit more challenging weather-wise, with thick smoke from British Columbia inundating both Seattle and the surrounding mountains, while my drive back to Ithaca was beset by fog, heavy rain, and general grossness. Despite this, I had a wonderful time, enjoying photographing waterfalls during my first visit to Glacier National Park, as well as revisiting some favorite spots from last year's drives, including Steptoe Butte in the Palouse, Devils Tower in Wyoming, and Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

My summer ended with a week with family in the Adirondacks, where my bad weather luck followed me to the summit of Saint Regis Mountain twice, thankfully my third consecutive night camping there ended with a gorgeous sunrise over the numerous lakes and ponds that dot the area. Not wanting to leave the mountains, I opted for one final night with Dan at Connery Pond, having just 30 minutes to photograph the dawn before hopping in my car and driving straight to Ithaca in time for my first lecture of the fall semester.

Per tradition, I put together some numbers about my various shenanigans. Between leaving Ithaca in May, and returning to Ithaca in August, managed to spend 60 days in the mountains, with 21 various trips. I spent 32 nights camping, compared to the 35 nights I spent in my own bed in Seattle. Between my drives to and from school, my travel in Tanzania, and my trips to the mountains, I drove a wince-inducing 11,839 miles, paling in comparison only to the 20,296 miles I flew. More encouragingly, I hiked 214.52 miles, climbing 82,325 vertical feet in the process. I summited 30 named peaks, including 12 more of the Bulger Peaks, putting me at 63 out of the 100 highest mountains in Washington State. The real fun, of course, came from the 7021 photos I took, averaging one photo every 19 minutes! This only slightly misleading statistic places a concerning emphasis on quantity over quality, and I wouldn't want you to misjudge my priorities, so let's just look at my favorite 45 photographs.

Click on any image below to view a larger size. Captions and full-resolution downloads are available

here

. Please contact me before printing or editing any of these images.

Photoessay: Adirondack Blue Hour Scenes

The hour after sunset is when you can find some of the most beautiful and varied tones and colors in the darkening sky. It's a more nuanced beauty than the direct light and bright colors of the setting sun, but it's still my favorite time to be in the mountains – the air is still and cool, and most other people have headed back to their cars or off to camp. I, on the other hand, love to linger on the mountaintops as long as I can, hiking back down by headlamp. Here are four images taken with a telephoto lens from the summit of Mt. Jo over the Adirondack High Peaks.

Photoessay: Sunrises from Saint Regis Mountain

Star trails behind the St. Regis Mountain Fire Lookout.

Many of you know how much I love my nights on top of Saint Regis mountain – the past two summers I've probably spent a combined 15 nights camping up there.  Even though I've spent so much time in the same place, I keep on coming back because every morning is different. The patterns formed by the fog on the hundreds of lakes and ponds, the shape of the clouds and rising mist, and the light are never the same. It's always a treat to fall asleep gazing up at the stars, and then wake up to my phone's alarm a few minutes before dawn and climb up into the fire-lookout (pictured above) with a telephoto lens and start snapping away. I picked out a handful of my favorite sunrise photos to share – please enjoy.
You can click on the images to view them full-size.












Belated: My Favorite Images from 2016, or, a Year in Photos


Hey Friends, I know I'm a little bit late to the party here, but I would like to share with you my favorite images from 2016. I spent quite some time selecting these photographs in particular – as you may imagine, there were quite a few to chose from! Last year I said that I intended to take fewer photos and emphasize quality over quantity, but it would appear that I didn't quite make that happen – In 2016, I took 18,321 photos, averaging to one photo every 29 minutes! That's an increase of 8.6% over 2015's 16,868 images.

On the more positive side, I'm pleased to report that I managed to not destroy a single camera or lens in 2016, a decrease of 100% from 2015! Less great, though, is that I managed to have all of my gear stolen not once but twice, from both my house as well as my car – consider this a reminder to stay up to date on backups and make sure your gear is insured!

With so many images to choose from, selecting my favorites to include in this post was, as you might expect, quite a challenge! I thoroughly enjoy looking back through my photos (and this is something I'm pledging to do more often), because it offers an opportunity to reflect upon my strengths and weaknesses as a photographer. I feel like this year I progressed the most in terms of composition and post-processing. My compositions feel more dynamic, and, I notice, seem to take even more advantage of the unique perspectives that are possible when using lenses on the far ends of the focal length spectrum, both very wide-angle and extremely telephoto. I feel that my skill in black and white photography has also improved, as well, and I've become more comfortable increasing the contrast in post, something which really makes the tones stand out and takes full advantage of the possibilities of monochromes. I also notice that this year many of my images are stitched composites of several photos – I find that I really enjoy the way that super wide-aspect panoramas emphasize the vastness of some of the landscapes that I was lucky enough to visit in 2016.

Of course, there's always room for growth, and in particular this year I feel like I've spent even more time admiring the works of those photographers who both humble and inspire me – my pseudo-namesake Galen Rowell perhaps comes to mind first, as a master who effectively created the genre of what we would now call "adventure photography." In 2017, I would like to focus more on improving my photographic eye for compositions, and especially my ability to multitask in an alpine environment, to be able to think creatively and make great photos while also focussing on staying safe and achieving my mountaineering objectives. As mentioned earlier, I also would like to be more deliberate with my compositions, as well. Decreasing my tendency to shoot every possible angle and pick the best later will require me do a better job of visualizing the image before I click the shutter, but will also, in the long run, make me more efficient as a photographer and reduce the burden of culling and post-processing.

For me, selecting these images has been a much-appreciated opportunity not only for self-reflection but also to fondly reminisce over the wonderful times and adventures of the year, with good friends as well as alone. I've greatly enjoyed all of the urban photography that I've done, but I've chosen to limit these images to mostly ones of the wilderness in order to tell the story of my 2016 through my favorite photographs. As always, your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated.

Skiing with Adam over winter break was good bonding and good fun as we both encouraged one another to jump off of even bigger rocks!
Please find the rest of the images below the fold. Click on images to view them at full size.

Over break I also enjoyed getting out on trips by myself, be it backcountry ski camping by Mt. Baker or visiting Ruby Beach on a rainy day, as in the photo here.



Spring break was spent on an absolutely fantastic backpacking trip with Dad in the Escalante River wilderness in Southern Utah.

And then finally come the end of May I was back in the Cascades, working on my 100 Highest List Peaks. This is my camp at Gnome Tarn, with the silhouette of Prusik Peak in the background.

In July our family departed for the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska... 
...where we Kayaked the incredible fjords!



I don't really consider myself a wildlife photographer, but I really loved the way these Oystercatchers mirrored the island behind them.

Back in the Cascades it was back to bagging list peaks, in some stunning alpine environments! This was sunset on Mt Arriva above the Upper Fisher Creek drainage...

...and sunrise the next morning from the same camp! Goode is visible in the background.

Ellie tagged along on some adventures, like hiking the PCT to Snowy Lakes.

I was also working full time at the UW Computer Science department, but that didn't stop me from making some midweeknight jaunts to the mountains, including catching sunset on Mt. Rainier....

...and then watching climbers on the Emmons Glacier under the Milky Way.

By far the most meaningful trip of the summer was with Dad into the Spickard-Redoubt range to tackle his last two remaining 100 highest, the Mox Peaks.

We had perfect weather for our ascent of Hard Mox, the first peak we climbed....

...but the weather turned to absolute shit for our climb of "Easy" Mox, making its ascent one of the more harrowing in both of our climbing careers.

Afterwards, we headed with Margaret to the more-travelled yet equally stunning Snowfield range, where we enjoyed some of the best sunsets and sunrises of the summer.

Finally, come August, I waved goodbye to the Cascades and headed off alone in a newly purchased Subaru towards Ithaca. This was my last sunrise in Washington State, at Steptoe Butte, looking into Idaho.

I enjoyed the Perseid Meteor Shower from Yellowstone, and managed to avoid capture after illegally sleeping in my car at Grand Prismatic Spring.

Heading east, I watched an amazing thunderstorm followed by Mammatus Clouds at Devil's Tower.

In the Dakotas I visited Badlands National Park for the first time....

...and decided that I need to return!

After 5.5 days of solo driving, I finally arrived at my grandmother's camp in the Adirondacks, and faithfully climbed up to the top of St. Regis Mountain for one of my favorite summer traditions, camping at the fire lookout on the summit.

I spent at least 3 or 4 nights up there this summer, and each morning the patterns of the fog are always uniquely beautiful.

As summer turned into fall and classes picked up in Ithaca, I found myself escaping back to the Adirondacks more and more frequently, loving the fall colors, crisp air, and stunning sunrises.

I also enjoyed making some more abstract images – the reflections of sunlit trees and fall foliage at Crane Mountain Pond were especially interesting. 
Over Fall Break, I travelled with Adam and Becca through Vermont, camping at Chittenden Reservoir, on our way to New Hampshire. I'm especially fond of this image because it was featured by REI on their Instagram feed.

In New Hampshire, the three of us enjoyed 4 days of fantastic climbing at Rumney, amidst beautiful surroundings. 
My last trip to the Adirondacks of the fall was an overnight at Indian Head, overlooking Lower Ausable Lake, one of the most stunning views in the High Peaks. I'm especially fond of this spot because it's one of the first spots I ever camped with Becca, during a Fall Break trip our Freshman year.


With the leaves in the mountains having mostly fallen, I turned my attention back to exploring the Finger Lakes, enjoying several trips to Taughannock Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Rockies.

Taughannock Gorge

I also was delighted to return to Lick Brook, one of the first places around Ithaca that I explored, and still one of my most frequently revisited. It's so fun to see how the same place changes through the years and the seasons, and it's an enjoyable challenge to try and photograph these changes.

In November I flew back to Seattle for a quick weekend, but still was able to sneak in a quick backcountry skiing trip with Duncan up by Mt. Baker.


On the hike back to the car, I loved the way that Bagley Lake looked, draped in snow and cloud. 

Thanksgiving Break brought a wonderful trip to Arizona with Becca's family, where a few uncharacteristically damp days in Sedona were unable to dampen our spirits. Sunrise the last morning greeted us with bluebird skies, and the previous days' rainfall offered plenty of full potholes for interesting reflections.


Sunset at Saguaro National Park was also delightful, despite a ranger hounding us to get out of the park. 
Back in Seattle, Duncan and I headed into Silver Basin with Ellie to camp in the middle of an impressive winter storm, waking up to almost 8 inches of fresh snow on our tent.


In Ithaca for final exams, I found myself captivated by the black and white compositions found in the many gorges, with stark contrast between the dark, wet rock and the lighter tones of flowing water.
The final adventure of the year was a big one, with our whole family journeying to Morocco for two weeks at the end of December. The highlight for me was spending Christmas Eve camping in the sand dunes near the border with Algeria, an environment totally new to me. While the sunrise Christmas morning was absolutely stunning,  it was the clarity of the night sky that stands out to me the most. Even though December isn't normally the most ideal time for astrophotography, Leah and I enjoyed staying up late exploring the dunes together and photographing the stars.