Titanium in building a View Camera

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Anyone have an idea of the positives or negatives of using Titanium in building your own view camera? I can get it and am looking at using it for the metal pieces in many places on the camera if it will work well. Any reason not to use it?

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), May 09, 2001


Pure titanium or titanium carbon steel alloy? On the positive side, it's light weight and rigid. On the negative side, it's very expensive and very difficult to process. Good luck, Dan.

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEk@AOL.COM), May 09, 2001.

I seemt to remember an older post in here or photo.net concerning this.

titanium can be worked by fairly competent machinists. If you don't have access to large Monarch lathes, Bridgeport Mills, with large spingle HP, then I wouldn't recommend it.

Titanium is also expensive. I would recommend 6061-T6 aluminum for structural work and 303 stainless for custom steel work, 316 stainless for screws and fasteners.

There is no positive for using titanium in a view camera. Titanium is only good as a structural material because of its high fatigue strength limit, flexibility, and strength at a decent weight. Aluminum exceeds titanium in this respect.

Delrin exceeds aluminum as an engineering material for some components of a view camera.

-- edward kang (ekang@cse.nd.edu), May 09, 2001.

The positive sides of titanium is its light weight, strength and its practically corrosion proof. The down sides are its expensive and difficult to work. I use Ebony field cameras with their titanium hardware they are incredibly strong and rigid yet quite light in weight.

-- Trevor Crone (trevor.crone@uk.dreamcast.com), May 09, 2001.

I gather, as the others have said, that it is very difficult to work with.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), May 09, 2001.

Perhaps a better forum for your question about using titanium would be the Cameramakers mailing list. You can find more informaiton about it at http://rmp.opusis.com/mailman/listinfo/cameramakers

I likewise have access to titanium stock but decided aluminum would be better (lighter, more cost effective) for the camera I'm building. It doesn't come with the same bragging rights as titanium, though...

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), May 09, 2001.

Hi Dan: Main features were already well described by others, but beware. There is so much hype about titanium started by Golf doo- dahs that soon someone will make Titanium toothpaste. If your camera called for 500 grams of stainless the weight saving would be about 200 grams, no big deal you would be able to tell your Golf friends that your camera too is Titanium and steal their thunder!!...but perhaps not, the hype has now moved to Titanium Plus. I do not know what that is and neither do the golfers but so what, it sounds cool and worth the money (?)

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@ora.auracom.com), May 09, 2001.

Errr, I hate to say it, but Titanium toothpaste probably already exists. One of the most commonly used white pigments is Titanium Oxide.
I even found TiO listed as an ingredient in some 'rosehip tonic' pills, which were supposedly 'free from artificial flavour and colouring'. I'd hate to think what they classed as artificial.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), May 10, 2001.

Ti02 is probably closer to you than you realize. It is used in many synthetic fibers. Polyester, nylon, etc. From an old string engineer.

-- Gene Crumpler (nikonguy@att.net), May 10, 2001.


Guess that explains all those pre-approved Titanium Visa and Mastercard offers that seem to clutter my mailbox on a daily basis. Guess my old Platinum and (gasp) Gold cards aren't as fashionable as they once were.

WRT to titanium as a material for camera construction, others have done a good job summarizing it's advantages and disadvantages. It does have a better strength to weight ratio than steel, so it is useful for some applications where high strength combined with low volume is desired. For example, if a very thin, yet strong, piece is needed due to space constraints, titanium is a good choice. On the other hand, if all you're looking for is absolute weight savings, various aluminum alloys, magnesium alloys and carbon fiber are much lighter, and depending on the application strong enough. Like titanium, these other materials have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Aluminum, in general, is the least expensive in terms of both raw material and manufacturing cost. One of the problems with titanium is that it's so hard that it tends to dull cutting tools at a more rapid rate, requiring more frequent replacement and thus higher manufacturing costs (due to both the down-time required to replace the cutting tools and the cost of the cutting tools). Aluminum is realtively soft and easily machined. Also, once hard anodized, aluminum is very resistant to the elements. Low cost, light weight, ease of machineability (new word I just invented) corrosion resistant finish, etc. all combine to explain why so many of the leading large format cameras (Canham, Toho, Arca Swiss, etc.) are made of hard black anodized aluminum these days.

Magnesium is even lighter than aluminum, but has it's own issues (saftey during manufacturing being one). Like carbon fiber, magnesium is starting to be used in camera support products. I recently returned from a backpacking trip with another LF photographer, and atop his carbon fiber tripod was a Velbon magnesium ballhead that weighed less than 6 oz. The total weight of his tripod and head was between 2 1/2 and 2 3/4 lbs. Although this combination isn't adaquate to support a 10 lb. studio monorail (or even a 6 lb. field camera), for backpaking with his 2 1/2 lb. ultralight field camera, it was a good match and adaquate for the task. This is a great example of the weight savings possible using these various materials (in this case magnesium for the head and carbon fiber for the legs). Just a few years ago a tripod and head of similar height and capacity would have weighed at least 2 - 2.5x as much. Three or four years ago I replaced my Bogen aluminum tripods and three way pan heads with Gitzo carbon fiber leg sets and aluminum ballheads. The weight of my general purpose tripod/head combo dropped from 12 1/2 lbs to 6 lb. 2 oz. And the new conbination is both taller and more rigid. Similar weight savings (and improved rigidity) was gained for my backpacking tripod/head (from 9 lbs. to 3 lb. 12 oz.). And it looks like this is an area where munfuacturers continue to innovate through the use of new materials (Velbon and Gitzo both have magnesium heads in their current product lines).


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), May 10, 2001.

Anyone know the actual composition of the'magnesium' heads? If it's pure magnesium I'd hate to use it near a geyser.

-- Struan Gray (struan.gray@sljus.lu.se), May 11, 2001.

Well, I am not a phot professional, but check out Ebony 4x5 cameras. In particular http://www.ebonycamera.com/cam/main.SV45Ti.SV45TE.html

The SV45Ti is Ebony + Titanium. The cameras are beautiful and rugged (look at the max extension).

They are expensive though ( http://www.robertwhite.co.uk ) but the answer is YES you can do Titanium bodies.

Send me a photograph when it's done!

-- Chris Weiner (chris@creasoft.com), May 14, 2001.

I just build a 8x10 field camera and did the metal parts of aluminium. To anyone who wants to do that (stole from the Beatles): let it be. I made this fault because it was a little cheaper than brass and I regret it. The material smears and so you have to do a lot more work on it than on harder metal. I strongly recomend to use brass, and put clear varnish after polishing on it. Of course you can use Titanium but it brings no benefit to you rather to the seller.

-- Matthias (matthias.schuerfeld@uni-koeln.de), May 15, 2001.

I will ask this in the thread rather than asking a new question. If I have access to almost all kinds of metals, which would be better than another in making the pieces needed for a View Camera? I can get brass, copper, titanium, stainless steel, aluminum and many alloys in pieces, sheets & odds & ends. Part of the making of a personal View Camera is just the idea of doing it and part is in making one that has the best attributes of my favorite Deardorff with the little things I would like it to have to make it 'mine'. Things like a front standard made to fit the specific lens collection I have and plan on. A bit tighter movements, more like my Linhof. A front shift (cross) movement. Built in spirit levels. All the things that I like from the various cameras I have and have had, with inlaid wood for vanity reasons (I do woodworking & this is a nice touch for purely personal reasons) exotic metals that work with light weight & strength... and no varnish or coatings on them if possible. (one reason Titanium is a consideration)

I am still looking for the right bellows materials. Leather has a major attraction but finding leather thin enough that will take a color & look right is one I am working on right now. I like a burgundy or purple rather than black but this could change. Even a really nice synthetic is an option if I can find the right materials.

So, anyone know of practical reasons to choose one metal over another when I have friends who are master machinists who can help with the work & design and can get the metals needed (or wanted) for free?

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), May 15, 2001.

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